Matthew 25: Still with the Judgment

We continue through Matthew 24-25, a lengthy discourse that Jesus gives shortly before his death.  Last week, we look at the two halves of chapter 24.  Monday was all about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.  Tuesday was all about the parable of the faithful and wicket servants, with their talents.

There has been some themes building through the two chapters.  There is a theme, first, of Yahweh’s return, finally, to His people.  And yet, this theme possesses a surprise, that God’s return will benefit some who least expect it and will mean judgment for those who thought they might receive blessing.  Tied into this is an underlying understanding that somehow Jesus’ own actions represent and advance God’s return.  Jesus’ teachings seem to wander from Yahweh’s return to his own ascension to God’s presence to the judgment that will exhibit on the earth. This is a braid of prophetic material not easily unraveled.

Matthew 25:31-46 is no different.  In these 16 verses Jesus further identifies his own work, his own being, with the work and life of God Himself.  How one is impacted when God does return and returns with judgment is intimately tied to how one responds to Jesus’ life and work.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

Immediately the reader ought to be drawn back to Daniel 7 and Psalm 2, at least.  The Son of Man, as we’ve mentioned before, comes into his glory in the presence of the Ancient of Days.  Again, Jesus is not speaking of his second coming, but of his approaching ascension, his entering into the presence of the Father, in the model of Daniel 7.  There in Daniel’s vision, the Son of Man enters presence of God, who is surrounded by the heavenly court.  There the Son of Man receives authority and dominion, an everlasting kingdom, a throne.

32 “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

This, too, fits with Daniel’s vision.  “And to him [the one like a son of man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14, ESV).  Moreover, “the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom” (v.22, ESV).  In the process of the Son of Man receiving his dominion, he does so on behalf of the oppressed people of God.  In so doing, those people of God are vindicated for their faithfulness and the wicked nations of the earth judged.

33 “And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

The King here is the Son of Man.  That is, after all, why the Son of Man came into the presence of the Ancient of Days – to receive an everlasting kingdom.  And he is in the process of vindicating the true people of God, as Daniel had foreseen.  And he is doing so on the basis of their actions towards the disadvantaged.  This is classic Old Testament prophecy, is it not?  It is Jesus’ version of Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now comes the flip side of judgment.  Where there is vindication for the righteous, there is condemnation for the wicked.  The reader receives the hint in Jesus’ story that this second group is thoroughly surprised by their judgment, just as the five foolish virgins were perhaps surprised to be shut out of the marriage banquet (Mt 25:11-12), and just as the foolish servant was perhaps surprised at his master’s severe rebuke (Mt 25:26-30).

There is a persistent theme throughout Jesus’ ministry, that the lines for deliverance and judgment fall, not along ethnic or political borders (ie, Jew vs. Gentile), but in line with the character, work, and life of Jesus himself.  And at Jesus’ telling, just a few days before his execution, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus is telling his disciples that the process of judgment and vindication begins shortly.

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Matthew 25: Israel the Wicked Servant

Here we are, trucking along through Matthew 24 and 25.  Last week, we talked about Jesus’ speech about the “end” in Matthew 24 was really about a terrible event to come in 70 AD.  We discussed Yahweh’s expected return to Israel.  Yesterday, we addressed the first parable in Matthew 25, and suggested its meaning lay along a similar path.

Today, I want to quickly look at the meaning of Jesus’ next parable, regarding the three servants who invest or squander talents entrusted to them (Mt 25:14-30).  Rather than offering commentary alongside the text, I want here to address the overarching theme.

But first, the text (ESV):

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.  Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant!  You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

Once more, the master in question here is more than likely God the Father, not Jesus.  It is, by first century Jewish understanding, Yahweh who has left His people for a spell.  It is His return for which they hope.

Further, this parable draws on the notion that the Creator has entrusted care of His creation to humankind.  Implicit in the parable is the understanding of the master, that he wishes his servants to multiply what’s been given them.  Jesus’ story launches from the mandate first given in Genesis 1:28.  “And God blessed them.  And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'” (ESV).  The same mandate is echoed over Noah in Genesis 9:7, and is tucked away under God’s initial invitation to Abraham, that He would make him a great nation (Gen 12:2).

It has been, from the start, the Creator’s desire for humankind, those made in His image, to represent Him on the earth, to govern the earth on His behalf.  This mission, first given to Adam and Eve, and subsequently to Noah and Abraham, ultimately lands in the hands of Israel, God’s servant.

And there lies the crux of Jesus’ parable.  This is the great surprise of this short story and the warning that hides within.  Israel has been entrusted with the care of Creation.  It was through them God had hoped to reap a harvest.  But certain members of Abraham’s family have been found wanting, and what they have will soon be taken from them.  Indeed, at the time of the parable’s telling, it was being taken and would finally be stripped within a generation.

Matthew 25: The Virgins Are Waiting for God

Since we last week briefly explore the two halves of Matthew 24, I want to forge ahead into the 25th chapter, which is filled with parables very closely related to the themes of chapter 24.

The first of these parables concerns the wise and the foolish virgins and their oil.  We should remember, before diving in, Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:40ff.  He has been warning his disciples of a time approaching within a generation in which God will return to His people as promised, but will turn ill for some who expect blessing.

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

It should be asked, at the outset, Who is the bridegroom?  We are accustomed, in the church, to associated this with Jesus, the Christ.  This is rightfully so on the basis of Revelation 21:9, among other passages.  But I wonder if in Jesus’ own day, the bridegroom might have more accurately represented God himself.  It is an image the prophets used often enough for Yahweh, as a God married to His people (Isa 54:5; 62:5; Hos 2:7, 16).  The kingdom of heaven is the people of God waiting for His triumphant arrival.

2 “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

If indeed the virgins represent Israel is Jesus’ telling, all of them eagerly anticipate Yahweh’s return, though only half do what is necessary to endure a long wait.

5 “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

This is proving a sobering parable indeed.  All of Israel longs for God’s return, for their nation’s vindication, for the restoration of all their hopes, from rescue from centuries of great evil.  And yet, when He does return, half will find that they are thoroughly unprepared.  They may have thought themselves within the family of God, but they will find, likely to their unfortunate surprise, that they are in fact on the outs, shut out of the family after all.

11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

There’s the rub.  Yahweh is forced to answer half the people of Israel, “I do not know you.”  This is quite the opposite effect of another famous parable, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff).  The son, to change metaphors, is here not welcomed, but spurned.

Again, Jesus provides this warning to his disciples, to whom he is speaking, remember.  He has just informed them of terrible events to come, but they must (1) be patient and (2) not be swayed off course.  They are, by their association with the true Christ, Jesus, currently “in,” but they ought to watch and wait for the vindication they anticipate.

Matthew 24: Two Signs of God’s Return

Yesterday, we took a quick look at Matthew 24:1-35, in which, I believe, Jesus prophesies, not the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem, which found its unfortunate fulfillment in 70 AD.

Today, I want to return to Matthew 24 to look at the last half of the chapter, verses 36-51. We’ll walk through bit by bit, as we did yesterday.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son but the Father only.”

Remember, Jesus is speaking about a coming judgment against wayward Jews, who desire to revolt against Rome and find their salvation and restoration in that manner. When this day might come, says Jesus, even he could not pinpoint.

37 “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Remember, again, that “the coming of the Son of Man” likely refers not to Christ’s coming back to earth, but his coming into God’s presence in heaven to receive the everlasting kingdom over the whole earth (compare this with the imagery in Dan 7).

38 “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

When Jesus does enter the presence of Yahweh to receive dominion over the world, it will be a day much like any other. There will be no indication leading up to it, that anything is really much different. Nevertheless, those proceeding in a manner that opposes the way of God will find themselves in an awful position.

40 “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.”

According to NT Wright, “taken” here should not be thought in terms of rapture, but in terms of judgment. Two Israelites will suffer different fates. Their status as descendants of Abraham will not guarantee their salvation. Rather, they will be separated along different lines, namely, whether they are aligned with the way of Christ himself (Jesus and the Victory of God, 366).  I’ll admit, if you’re in the rapture mindset, this seems a stretch.  But if you’re thinking of Romans pouring into the city and executing those who oppose them but leaving others alone, it begins to fit the pattern.  Again, we’ve got to see this within the context of Jesus warning the disciples against Jews who desire to achieve “salvation” by overthrowing the Roman presence.

42 “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Once again, where is the Son of Man coming to?  He’s coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive power and authority, an everlasting kingdom.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”

At this stage we start to bleed into a theme that Jesus will continue with the parables that follow in chapter 25.  It’s a similar theme to that brought up earlier in Matthew’s gospel, the parable of the wicked tenants in chapter 21.  The servants ought to be regarded, generally, as the people of Israel.  The master is God.  While God had set His servants over this particular plot of land, the land of Canaan, they often turn out to be wicked servants, taking little or no care of the place.  They are poor representatives of their Master.  But of course, there is one faithful and wise servant, at least.  And this one, Jesus, does precisely what his Master would want.  And will his Master not set him over all His possessions very soon, at his ascension?

48 “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Now we get to it.  We’ve mentioned previously the Jewish hope in the first century that God Himself would return to the nation.  But, says Jesus, many of the Jews will find that when Yahweh does return to His temple, they will find it a very unpleasant day indeed.  Far from being the people of God, many of the Jews (not just in Jesus’ day, but throughout their history) turn out to be His enemies, for they treat one another with malice.

The sum total of Matthew 24 is intriguing.  Ultimately, what Jesus is outlining is the course of events that will mark the very return of Yahweh to His people, indeed to the whole world.  Jesus is telling his disciples those signs that will indicate that God has in fact returned as promised.  And the signs, it seems, are two.

First, there will be a terrible sign: the destruction of the temple, wars and rumors of wars, famine, despair.  In short, the sign that God has returned to His people will be the destruction of Jerusalem itself.  The disciples witness this in 70 AD, within a generation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Second, there will be a subtle sign.  Jesus has been giving sideways hints, I believe, at his own ascension.  He repeatedly mentions the Son of Man’s “coming,” which I believe would have been understood to mean his coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive an everlasting kingdom (Dan 7:13-14).

Of course, these two signs stand, chronologically, a generation apart.  Jesus ascended into God’s presence around 30 or 31 AD.  Jerusalem is destroyed in 70 AD.  Nevertheless, these two events signal the fulfillment of the hope of Israel.  There is salvation and judgment wrapped up in these two, for in these two events, God has returned to His people.

Matthew 24 Has Already Been Fulfilled

A discussion broke out in an eschatology (end times) class last night over N.T. Wright’s statement in Surprised by Hope that “during his earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about his return” (125).  One astute student quickly thrust her hand in the air and inquired about Matthew 24.  Surely this (and the following passages) was about the second coming of Christ.

I believe Matthew 24 (and Mark 13 and Luke 21) are best understood as Jesus’ prediction of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  This fits much of the prophetic themes of the Old Testament and of Jesus himself throughout his ministry.  Israel longed for God’s emphatic return to the Temple.  They longed for God to judge the enemies of the people of God.  But the prophets repeatedly warn Israel, lest she find on that day that she too is counted among the enemies of God (see, at least, Mal. 3:3-5).

This prophetic speech that Jesus gives his disciples in Matthew 24 then serves as a historical vindication of his role as prophet.  He read the signs of the times and pronounced that if the people of Jerusalem kept going the way they were going, they would find themselves under judgment, and that judgment would vindicate his warnings.

Let’s look at the text.  We’ll investigate Matthew 24:1-35 today, the rest of the chapter tomorrow, and then we’ll slip into chapter 25 as well next week.

1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.  2 But he answered them, “You see these, do you not?  Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Indeed, Titus’ armies demolished the temple in 70 AD.  Much of the city of Jerusalem was left in ruins, not one stone upon another, as it were.

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”

Two notes.  First, the Mount of Olives is just east of Jerusalem, and the temple mount is easily visible from there.  Second, when the word “coming” is used throughout these passages, it should not be read “return,” but as “entering the presence of God,” a la Daniel 7:13 (“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.”).  The question the disciples are asking is this: “When will you be vindicated by God as the King of the Jews, which would of course result in the restoration of Israel?”

4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.  5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”

It is important to remember that the Christ, or Messiah, was expected to restore Israel’s fortunes, not least in the political realm.  The Christ was expected by many to overthrow the Jews’ foreign oppressors (in this case, Rome).  But Jesus’ message all along has been to the contrary.  He’s not there to overthrow Caesar’s rule (though it was certainly unjust in many ways), but Satan’s rule, which animated Caesar (and his ilk).

6 “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

War breaks out between the Jews and the Romans in 66 AD, led in part by the messianic figure Simon bar Giora.

7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”

These wars, which broke out in 66, were not simply the Jews v. the Romans, but tensions were high among Jews against the Greeks as well.  Indeed, there were plenty of tensions among the Jews themselves.

8 “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.  9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”

This should not surprise us.  If Jesus’ disciples stick to his program, they will not join the fighting against Rome.  They will declare that Rome is not the true enemy, but another.  They will declare that the Jews’ hope and salvation had already come.

10 “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”

In this context, a false prophet might be those encouraging their fellow Jews to join in the fighting against the Romans.

12 “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Verse 14 essentially outlines the book of Acts, in which the good news that Jesus is in fact Lord of the whole world spreads throughout the Roman Empire.  All of this occurs before these wars break out in Judea.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.  19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!  20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.”

What, exactly, the “abomination of desolation” refers to is debated, but if it is a sign of coming war, then Jesus’ instructions afterwards make sense.  Don’t stick around in the city.  Get out fast!

21 “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.  22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved.  But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”

Even Jesus can use effective hyperbole.

23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

We’ve mentioned this already.  A false christ would likely be encouraging the revolt against Rome as God’s part of God’s plan to restore the fortunes of Israel.

25 “See, I have told you beforehand.  26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out.  If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.  27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Remember, the coming of the Son of Man is the entrance of Christ into the presence of God (Dan. 7:13).  It is his vindication as Lord over the whole world, not just Israel’s deliverance.

28 “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.  29 Immediately, after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

When Jerusalem falls to the Romans, it will be as the end of the world for the Jews.  Nothing will be as it was.  Indeed, the temple is never reconstructed in Jerusalem after 70 AD.  Following these conflicts with Rome, the whole face of Judaism undergoes massive shifts.

30 “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Again our attention is directed toward Daniel 7.  Once these events take place, Jesus is saying, people all over the globe will recognize that his words are vindicated, that he was indeed the Christ, that he is in fact Lord over the whole world.  If Jesus was right in foretelling this great tragedy, might I need to take a second look at his other teachings and actions?

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.  33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Jesus simply assures his disciples that they can count on the veracity of his prophecy.  In fact, they ought to expect its fulfillment within their lifetimes.  And, as history unfolded, it did, about 40 years later.

Times and Seasons

Courtesy biblekids.eu

I’ve been doing a bit of brushing up on resurrection and eschatology themes lately, and it’s brought me to Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1.  You know the story.  Prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2, the apostles get one last brief meeting with the visible Jesus before he disappears from view.  It’s a curious conversation they have.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8, ESV)

With a bit of background, the disciples initial question seems straightforward enough.  They had been wandering about Israel with Jesus for three years, expecting that he would, as Israel’s messiah, overthrow the nation’s Roman overlords and restore Israel to a place of political autonomy.  This is what messiahs did.  (Or, I should say, this is what other self-proclaimed messiahs attempted to do.)  Alas, Jesus was crucified for just that.  He was put to death as a potential threat to the Roman presence in Jerusalem.  He claimed to be king of the Jews and to the cross he had to go.  The disciples, for their part, were then driven into hiding or back to their old lives.  The dream of being a part of a successful messianic movement was shattered.

But the resurrection changed everything.  With Jesus back in action, their hopes were revived, and they asked with eager anticipation.  Are you now, after all this, finally going to restore Israel to political prominence?

Jesus’ response gives a hint that the disciples, though they’re thinking the right direction, are thinking way too small.  They needn’t worry, he says about “times and seasons.”  Times and seasons for what?  For the ascending and descending of world empires.

Jesus is likely alluding, once more, to Daniel 7 (I tell my students they should write “2 Sam 7” and “Dan 7” in the margin of every page in their New Testament).  Remember that in Daniel 7 a vision comes to Daniel in which he sees several beasts ravaging the good peoples of the earth.  He learns eventually that these are representative of wicked empires that oppress people rather than govern them righteously.  In verses 9-10, Daniel sees in the midst of this terrible affair, the Ancient of Days take His place on the throne of heaven.  Good news: the Creator is about to do something about these injustices.  The one great beast is then destroyed (v. 11), while the other beasts are permitted to live “for a season and a time” (v. 12, ESV; chronou kai kairou, LXX).  It is then that Daniel sees one like a son of man, engulfed in the clouds of heaven, coming to receive authority over the entire world from the Ancient of Days (vv. 13-14).

The disciples do not have to worry much about the duration of oppressive political powers, i.e., Rome.  It may yet linger on for a season and a time.  But rest assured, Jesus is saying, one like a son of man is about to enter God’s presence and there receive a kingdom that spans the entire globe.  (And oh by the way, he’s about to be engulfed in a cloud in Acts 1:9.)  And the disciples ought to concern themselves with the task of informing (or witnessing to) the world of this new state of affairs.

Teaching People to Live the Story

I’ve begun a new project at work this week.  As director of education at Wellspring Church, I’m taking a fresh look at the enrichment programs we offer to our adults.

In the past, we’ve primarily done interesting classes here and there, typically revolving around the interests and skills of the people teaching them.  We would do a study of Esther because an elderly woman wanted to encourage other women to take their rightful and active place in the Kingdom.  We would offer a class on parenting because, well, we hadn’t done one in a while.

These have all been good classes, but the approach is unsatisfying.  There has been little method to our madness.

As I’ve been brainstorming some new ideas about what we want to accomplish through our enrichment programs, I’ve been coming back to a theme again and again.  The theme is story.

I want, naturally, for the people at my church to become biblical Christians.  What I mean is, I want them to exhibit lives that flow out of the story God began with Adam, Abraham, and Israel, the story that reached its climax with Jesus, continued on through the apostles, and is still active today.  They do not have to know the Bible inside and out, but I do want them living in such a way that others would see them and say, “That person is part of Christ’s family.”  In NT Wright’s words, I want them to be “fifth act people.”

Connected to this, I want our people to know their place in the story.  I want them to know their unique gifts, abilities, and passions.  I want them to recognize how those unique combinations fit into the things the Lord is doing in and around them.  And then I want them to get excited about living it.

So that’s the project.  Does it make sense?  This feels a lot like new territory for me, so any input anyone’s got, I’ll take it.