Monday, December 6

A revelation

Eschatology comes from the Greek ‘logos’ describing the final or last event, but it also can mean the end of an age or time. In monotheistic religions (religions believing in one God such as Christianity Judaism and Islam) eschatological writings, amongst other things, supported a hope and desire for a kingdom free from suffering and evil. In that context the prophesies were intended as a solace to those suffering, under siege or subject to tribulation to revive drooping hearts with prophetic majesty.

At the time of Jesus a new Messiah was eagerly awaited in Israel, since the Jews, whose ‘Promised Land’ was being confiscated by the Romans, were unable to pay the punitive crippling Roman taxes being imposed, and were being imprisoned or forced to become fisherman, or executed. The Jewish people longed for a Messiah (an anointed one) to come in glory to end the Roman yoke and usher in a new just kingdom. Despite the Roman rule with their multiple Gods worship the Jews were allowed to practice their own religion. The Jewish authorities imposed additional taxes for the upkeep of the temple and priests, creating an uneasy alliance with their Roman occupiers in exchange for continued religious freedom.

It was within this seething cauldron of politics and unrest that Jesus was born and to whom their hope for a new kingdom was attributed. But very little is known about Jesus as any study will quickly conclude historically he barely exists – since there are only two fleeting references outside of the Bible in the whole of cumulative history. References by Tacitus and Pliny in the first century A.D. don’t prove that Jesus Christ existed but rather confirm the existence of Christians at that time.
Within the biblical texts we know a lot about his death and subsequent events but virtually nothing ( except for a brief reference to his excursion into the temple whilst with his parents ) of his earlier life, since what is recorded is almost exclusively confined to his short public ministry, which scholars think lasted only one to three years. All we have in any detail are the accounts recorded in the gospels which consist of parables loosely interwoven into the story of his ministry and death. It seems very likely to me the communities, while initially devastated by his death, thought he would shortly reappear to establish a new messianic kingdom. The fact the gospels were not written until maybe 60- 70 years after his death adds weight to the idea the early church saw no need to record in history what was believed would become irrelevant to be soon supplanted by the establishment of a new messianic kingdom. Further evidence is in Paul’s letters to the fledgling Christian communities in Asia Minor written only about 20-30 years after Jesus’ death which are all strongly rooted in eschatology.

As time progressed the immediacy of this eschatology softened so that by the time Revelations was recorded maybe 80-90 years after his death the language becomes descriptive and less definitive; symbolic seals, plagues, beasts, trumpets and the number 7 describe a new age clothed in mystery. Our modern day understanding can best be understood by reference to allegory, metaphor and myth. Revelations is a personal and cosmological perspective of how Christ’s death and those who suffered martyrdom solidified an everlasting gift of atonement; the metaphorical reference to the slaughtered lamb is the atoning victory of Christ. Revelations is not so much a prophesy about the future but more of an existential revelation, rich in imagery and symbolism of the continuum of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Revelations rallies against the transitory nature of the emperor’s power whose earthly reign is both temporary and illusory compared with the primacy of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The real revelation is the mystery that the kingdom of God is already established as an existential reality, but that it lies tantalizingly outside of the realms of our earthly restraints.


Mercutio said...

On the whole, it is very much like the market, all over again.
Expectations generally are driven primarily by fear, and any degree of rationality can be noted only over a period of time rather than in any particular moment.
Indicators come, fundamentals shift, expectations change. Again and again.
Consider this:
There was a merger announced earlier this month that, should it go through (which it will), will give Russian interests over 50% control of the US uranium resources.
Unthinkable in the time of Krushchev, not so long ago.
So, was glasnost a success?

Similarly, the Vatican sits in Rome where Augustus sits no more.

susan said...

The Book of Revelations is probably the most seriously misunderstood by those who would prefer to see and even agitate for an end to this world of wickedness. In all honesty fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, aren't wrong in recognizing that the corporate state is one completely missing spirituality but hoping for the fiery end of the world doesn't help matters.

I remembered a passage I'd read (and had to search for) about CS Lewis in conversation with JRR Tolkien when Lewis was still an athiest. Their conversation was about myths and Lewis insisted myths were lies but Tolkien responded: They are not. We have come from God and reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth is with God. Only by myth making can man aspire to the perfection he knew before the fall.

It's more than just unfortunate that many modern people seem to have lost the ability to understand myth as metaphor for deeper meaning most of us can only hope to glimpse.

You've done a wonderful job of describing how the mythic elements of Revelations came to be and I agree the answer must be at the level of individual understanding.

gfid said...

.... sigh.... and look around at what the life of a man who taught humanity about its potential has been bastardized into.... at least in north America... clots of vehicles jam the arteries of every city and town, vomiting their contents into malls and shopping centre, they, in turn vomit the contents of their wallets in exchange for trash that will, for the most part, be in the landfill by spring. And between now and that spring, the kings and queens of those merchandizing chains that profit from this gluttony of mammon will be far from the serfs and peons who labor in their desolate fields to keep them fat, just as kings and queens of old escaped to the country to ignore the squalor and disease of the cities that fed their wealth. the more things change, the more they stay the same.

but there are a few bright sparks, and you, wise and gentle one, are such.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Mecutio, Susan & Granny Fiddler
Thanks for your visit.

I think religion does behave in a similar fashion to the secular market; driven by supply and demand factors which change how people collectively worship and respond. However our response since Augustine’s time to the big metaphysical questions has not changed that much because we simply don’t have the definitive answers.

But I also think much of the growth in the so called fundamentalist religions is due their simplicity with little underlying religious philosophy or theology (dogma) to leave those questions up to the indivuals to decide for themselves. This current trend seems to be gaining traction.

Well said. Even the vengeful GOD of the Old Testament associated with justification for war as the ‘divine warrior’ is revealed by scholars to be later overshadowed by another ‘GOD’ declaring one is to put down the sword and turn away from judgment towards the blessings of a new holy life for a rejuvenated Israel. These priests of old such as Ezekiel had already begun the tortuous path of revealing that the vengeful GOD of old was not a true GOD after all but rather a misinterpreted myth.

Granny Fidder
True, not much has changed except for the fact that technological changes allow us to both live longer and have more material things both of which may be our undoing if we continue to destroy the environment upon which we depend. At the height of the industrial revolution in 1849 in Manchester the average life expectance was only 29. But is seems technology was never going to make us happy although many still place their store of happiness on a materialistic philosophy.

Best wishes