Great and Holy Pascha: The Restoration of the Kingdom

Blog 7 Great and Holy Pascha: The Restoration of the Kingdom

On great and Holy Pascha, we flash forward just a little from that Easter morning, and we read Acts 1, gazing upon the tableau of the disciples, talking with the risen Lord for 40 days, and listening to his final words. Luke rehearses for us the climactic conclusion of his gospel, and tells us that Jesus, after his resurrection, spoke to his disciple concerning not only the kingdom—which was the burden of his teaching prior to the passion—but also concerning the coming of the Spirit. The idea of the “kingdom” is not an easy one: N. T. Wright points out, discerningly, that Jesus spent all his earthly ministry in the flesh redefining that word for his followers. (It is also helpful to remember that “kingdom” is not a realm, first a foremost, but a rule: think “kingship”!) God’s kingdom is everlasting, and God has promised that he himself would be King over his people. At the same time, Judeans and pro-Jerusalem Galileans understood the “Kingdom” to refer to the lost heydays of David and Solomon, when the twelve tribes were united around Jerusalem: in their minds, they stored up the eternal covenant made with David. Indeed, they celebrated that promise in formal prayer, as they repeated the Psalm: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” (Ps 89:3-4). Despite the caveat in Scriptures that an earthly monarchy was not God’s first choice for Israel, a surface reading of the holy texts suggests that God’s kingship is bound up with the national kingship of David’s house.

What, then, did the disciples mean when they asked the Lord Jesus after his resurrection whether God would “at this time restore the kingdom to Israel”? I suspect that in their minds they were thinking of Jesus as a new David, flanked by themselves as his princes, much as James and John had asked Jesus for the right and left. After all, the resurrection had vindicated him as God’s chosen and anointed one. Jesus had brought the idea of the kingdom (or kingship, or rule) into connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in the books of the prophets, talk about the Spirit and the Kingdom often involved the idea of a renewed Davidic kingdom. Consider, for example, Ezekiel 37, where the vision of the enlivened bones, renewed by the Spirit, corresponds to a revival of Israel, to that nation being brought back home (37:12), and to a time when “My servant David shall be king over you” (37:24). The most natural reading of the prophecy would be to expect a united, national, “everlasting” kingdom with physical “sanctuary in the midst of them” (37:26) and “David my servant [as] their prince forever” (37:25).

Jesus knows, it seems, what is in their minds, for he says that “only God knows the times and seasons” (Acts 1:7). It is as though he is intimating that what THEY are asking about, an independent Israel without the oppression of pagan rulers is in God’s economia: implicitly, he is saying “no.” It will not be as you expected. A resurrection has taken place, but not all yet is fulfilled. (And we know that Rome continued to “rule,” changed from a republic to an empire, for several centuries, wreaking havoc not only with that first generation of Christians, but more intensely in decades to come: on the surface, it certainly looks as though the first generations of Christians did not see the Kingdom restored to God’s people, whether understood as Israel or as renewed Israel, Jew or Gentile). Yet part of his answer involves an affirmative. For in being given new power in Jerusalem, much of what the prophets have foreseen will be fulfilled—this new little company may not see a national kingdom, but they will themselves be made a house, a temple of the LORD, to which the nations will flock.

They will begin their rule with Christ, then, and so the “kingdom” (the rule, the kingship) will be, at least in part, “restored” to them. The situation of the first apostles, living in the holy Land but oppressed by a conquering nation, and the situation of the early Christians, surrounded by pagans who were hostile to them, holds parallels to the plight of the three youths who were captives in a strange land. The famous Old Testament text in Daniel, which we have remembered frequently during the past few days helps us. There, in Babylon, we spy the luminous story of three young men who will not bow down to a foreign idol, and who know God’s ability to save them. And such courage we see in three words: They know God can save them but if not they will not be idolaters. They are saved in the midst of the flames of the furnace, where another walks with them, where angels give them comfort: flash back in your imaginations to God walking with that first couple in the garden. Here, the Lord walks with them in the flames. And they rule, as Adam and Eve originally were meant to rule, before the Fall.

Consider the song that the young men sing, a song that enjoins every part of creation, inanimate, animate, human and angelic, to “sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.” The young men address the heavens (with the angelic host), the waters (with the powers), the celestial bodies, the meteorological elements, the earth with its plant-life, the animals in all parts of the earth, and humanity in all its diversity, rehearsing, with some amplification, the six days of creation. In doing so, they play a priestly role, giving a voice to those creatures that are mute, and directing all sentient beings, even the angels, to worship. We need to hear the whole song to grasp the enormity of creation and the place that the truly worshipping people of God have in this world, calling every element to worship with us:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and to be praised and highly exalted for ever;
And blessed is thy glorious, holy name and to be highly praised and highly exalted for ever;
Blessed art thou in the temple of thy holy glory and to be extolled and highly glorified for ever.
Blessed art thou, who sittest upon cherubim and lookest upon the deeps,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.
33 Blessed art thou upon the throne of thy kingdom
and to be extolled and highly exalted for ever.
34 Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven and to be sung and glorified for ever.
35 “Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
36 Bless the Lord, you heavens, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
37 Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
38 Bless the Lord, all waters above the heaven, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
39 Bless the Lord, all powers, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
40 Bless the Lord, sun and moon, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
41 Bless the Lord, stars of heaven, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
42 Bless the Lord, all rain and dew, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
43 Bless the Lord, all winds, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
44 Bless the Lord, fire and heat, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
45 Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
46 Bless the Lord, dews and snows, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
47 Bless the Lord, nights and days, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
48 Bless the Lord, light and darkness, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
49 Bless the Lord, ice and cold, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
50 Bless the Lord, frosts and snows, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
51 Bless the Lord, lightnings and clouds, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
52 Let the earth bless the Lord; let it sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
53 Bless the Lord, mountains and hills, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
54 Bless the Lord, all things that grow on the earth, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
55 Bless the Lord, you springs, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
56 Bless the Lord, seas and rivers, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
57 Bless the Lord, you whales and all creatures that move in the waters, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
58 Bless the Lord, all birds of the air, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
59 Bless the Lord, all beasts and cattle, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
60 Bless the Lord, you sons of men, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
61 Bless the Lord, O Israel, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
62 Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
63 Bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
64 Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
65 Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
66 Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever; for he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace; from the midst of the fire he has delivered us.
67 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.
68 Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures for ever.”

The holy and humble of heart, while in exile, even in the bowels of a furnace, show forth the promised role of humankind, and especially of God’s people, to “rule” with him. For there was another kingdom, another kingship, another rule spoken about in the ancient texts. God had brought his people out of bondage in Egypt to serve him as a kingdom of priests. “You shall be to me [says the Lord] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Israel was to do what Adam and Eve had been meant to do, taking custodial care of creation, and offering the elements of creation back in gratitude to the living God. But through not worshipping God, and not giving thanks to him (Romans 1), the first couple and all humanity lost that role, at least in part, and could not only rule wisely over the rest of creation, but also lost control over their own wills and hearts! Israel, too, would fall, not listening to the Law and the prophets, and eventually not, as a nation, recognizing the day of their visitation by God. Due to the fall, then, we see in humanity at large, and in the ancient people of Israel (who are a kind of object-lesson to us), the tragedy of rebellion against God, refusal to be thankful for reality as God has given it, division without and within. But there are glimmerings of hope, such as the courageous worship of the three.

Indeed, at the end of the ode the three young men, we see them taking stock of their own situation. They sing directly to themselves, whom God will deliver, a reminder that the human person, divided within by the fall, will again be whole. The mind and heart, tongue and hand, the whole psychosomatic person, will be renewed by the Holy Spirit, and, from within and not by compulsion “worship the Lord, the God of gods,” and with all creation “sing praise to him and give thanks to him.” Those in exile, whose voice is, quite remarkably, heard by the tyrant king, know that our God is the One whose character it is to deliver: “He has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace.” The result of their faithful and courageous injunction to praise is that they are given ruling positions even in a pagan nation—and no doubt that is the beginning of the transformation of that place—and that the usurping human monarch even acknowledges the truth about God, the only King: “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3).

Like the three youths in the book of Daniel, and indeed like their own King, Jesus (born of the house of David) the rule of those early saints might be seen upon a cross, within a prison, upon a cross, or in the amphitheatre with deadly animals. But that does not mean that theirs was not a royal calling. Some of those who ruled in the astonishing pattern of the Son were of Jewish heritage: others were called from the Gentiles: together, Jew and Gentile, they had been baptized into the death of Christ, and knit together in the unity of the God who alone is One. The only Son made known to them (and to us!) the character of the Father, who brings glory out of suffering and calls into existence real life from very unlikely situations.

These early Christians knew what it was, like their Lord, and like St. Paul, to be both abased and exalted. They followed the pattern of the Scriptural story through from beginning to end, knowing that God has promised not only to restore, but to give us even more than we had in the beginning— like Job, who lost everything, but had it restored many times over after he saw the Lord and heard his voice. We have seen more than Job: we have seen the true light in the face of Jesus Christ. “Shine, Shine, O Jerusalem, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. See, darkness will cover the earth as thick darkness upon nations; but upon you will the Lord manifest himself, and his glory will appear upon you. And kings will walk in your light and nations in your splendor” (Isaiah 60) —and so will babes and infants, and those who are the meek among us. For he is the Light of the world who enlightens everyone.

Deliverance belongs to him alone, for only he has plumbed the depth of Hades! Like the three, like Job, like the prophet Jonah, we have been brought out of the pit by His descent and resurrection. Surely, this is grace upon grace. Even that rescue from the pit would have been enough. But he has also made us to be “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” This is the true life. This is the light of Pascha that is never overcome by night. This is the One whose great humility has given us the power to become the children of God, while we await his great and final coming, when we will at last see the consummation of all things, and the true meaning of the “returned” Kingdom.

11 comments:

  1. I don’t think Jesus is saying no to the disciples’ question–Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?–but, essentially, “Mind your own business.” It seems to me that the very physical and literal sense of the prophecies is transformed, but not discarded, by the New Testament. Christ will return and reign on a throne as Son of David from Jerusalem: yet, at the same time, his “Kingdom will never End” and the new city will have no need of a Temple. It is the traditional Jewish hope, but transfigured.

    1. David, I hear you. It seems that the answer is “no” in the sense that they mean it. Jesus will not be a national King of Israel, not then, not ever. But of course, there is a bigger “yes”–it is their understanding of the Scripture that is the problem, not the question itself. It is not for them to know the “seasons” of the Father’s plan, but certainly in one sense the kingship has been restored in Christ: they will soon hear the angels tell them about his coming again, when the complete fulfillment will be seen, and they are NOT to know about the time of that “coming,” as Jesus also said in the gospel. No one knows except the Father. And when he comes again, it will not be a national, but a cosmic Kingdom, for he is the King of Kings, and it will be a reconstituted “Israel” with believing Gentile and Jew, across the ages. Also, the center will be in the New Jerusalem, not in Jerusalem “below” (as the book of Hebrews puts it). I’m not sure we actually disagree in the central things. However, I am surprised that you suggest Jesus will rule from Jerusalem. When he returns, every eye will see him, and it will be the time when the new heavens and new earth are joined together. From our reading of the NT, we know that the early Church center was in Jerusalem, with the PIllar apostles, since this was the historical beginning; but I don’t think there is a sense in the NT (gospels, epistles or Apocalypse) that this earthly Jerusalem remains the center, for the Temple is now the Body of Christ, the Church, spread throughout the world). The Scriptures are certainly partially fulfilled, and will be completely fulfilled, in Christ. There will be, it seems, both continuity and discontinuity. We will be resurrected, with newly enSpirited bodies, not just resuscitated. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and a garden-city constituted by God’s people, and the presence of the Holy Trinity. It is the “New Jerusalem” that we await, not simply a revamped earthly Jerusalem. We probably cannot imagine where the continuity will be seen, and where there will be complete transformation. The analogue, I think, is Jesus’ resurrected body: certainly Him, complete with the scars as trophies, but not immediately recognizable unless spiritual eyes are opened, not limited by physical barriers, and incorruptible. God has prepared what eye has not seen and ear has not heard! Yet, it will be like coming home.

      1. Christ is risen! Edith, I think we agree on most things, but certain questions still nag me.

        For example, “every eye will see him”–of course I confess this, and of course I would affirm alongside of you that Christ’s kingship is a kingship that embraces the whole cosmos, not simply Dan to Beersheba and the River to the Sinai Peninsula. And I think what you point out, that all of our thinking about the eschaton is, to use N.T. Wright’s language, “like a signpost pointing into a fog” is a helpful thing to remember.

        But there’s an element to this where I’m left wondering: if Christ is to return bodily and reign in our midst–albeit, heaven and earth renewed and rejoined together fully and completely, and the whole cosmos transfigured–will there not be a throne somewhere? And I think that’s my question with regards to the “specifics” of Jewish hope and how they are received and transformed in the NT: they gain cosmic significance, to be sure–e.g., the renewed Israel, the Church, is made up of Jews and Gentiles–but do they not retain, as you say, their scars as trophies? If all creation will be renewed, would it not make sense that the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem will be joined, even as earth and heaven will be joined?

        These are questions I’m wrestling with as I continue to try and stake out an Orthodox Christian theology of Jews, Judaism, and Israel and their continuing significance in God’s plan, as I think a major theme of some Jewish-Christian dialogue has been where our eschatological hopes intersect and diverge. I’m sure your thoughts on all of this are worth more than mine. :)

        1. Sorry to have taken so long to respond. Your musings are interesting. I think, however, that Bishop Wright’s comment serves as a good warning–we are talking about something eye has not yet seen, at least clearly.

          It may be that only the holiest among us retain scars, as did Christ. Perhaps the rest of us will have completely healed “Spirit-enlivened” bodies (1 Cor 15) in the new creation. As to the relation between Jerusalem and New Jerusalem, that is hard to say. We have also to contend with Galatians, and the typology used by St. Paul there, where he drives a wedge between the two, though in a complex way.

          As for Israel, is Tom Wright correct in reading Romans 9-11 (and especially its ending) as the apostle leaving open the door for each Jewish person individually to be rejoined to the New Israel, or are we to think of a group conversion at the eschaton? Perhaps there will be a spatial focal point in Jerusalem for Jesus’ throne, but I think that Orthodox liturgy and typology directs us elsewhere–either to the Theotokos, who is now “the throne of the cherubim” or to the entire Church, the new Israel, the temple of the Holy Spirit upon whose praises the Lord is enthroned (a true fulfillment of that psalm). There will be some kind of physicality in the new heavens and earth, but the man-made Jerusalem Temple was judged and destroyed (the fig tree, Matthew 24, etc.). The Church is now the Temple, made up of physical people who will retain their physicality (though glorified) in the resurrection. Somehow, perhaps the people of God will be the focal point: will we be, and are we even now, the throne upon whom Christ rests, so that our feet are on the renewed earth, our heart and head in the New Jerusalem, which needs no Temple? (Several verses suggest this: we are salt and light in the world, we must be in the world, but we must set our heart on things above, where our life is hidden with Christ, and here we have no continuing city, but have come to a mountain of worship that cannot be touched). If this is the picture we can deduce from heaven, then we are on the verge of a mystery: somehow our future life will be a continuation of what we have here and a fulfillment of it, but somehow it will be entirely new. So then, we will reflect the Lord almighty, who resides in the heavenlies, but whose glory fills the whole earth (Is 6)–and all this, because of the God-Man, who became what we are so that we might become what He is! In the book of Revelation, chapter 5, Jesus has two resting places–on the throne with the Father (“in the midst of the throne”) and on the earth with the elders and creation (“in the midst of the elders”)–that is, with us, for the elders represent the church. So, we too will have two proper locations–the heavens AND the earth. There is an interesting spot in the letter to the Hebrews where it is not certain whether the author is saying that Jesus sprinkled the “holy places” in the heavenly Temple, or whether he sprinkled his “holy ones”–that is, us–with his blood. We are, after all, his sanctuary, and therefore also his throne. This same ambiguity comes into some of the prayers for Holy Saturday, I noticed this year.

          Anyway, I am not prepared to say that the return to Israel in the 20th century has nothing to do with God’s plan, though I know some pro-Palestinian Orthodox who are quite sure that it was a very bad thing, and indeed may be wicked. But I am also not prepared to throw my lot in with Christian Zionists, who I believe read the prophetic and apocalyptic books far too literally, and go beyond what can be known–with political fallout as a result. It is important to think and read sanely with regards to the present conflict in the middle east, to keep that separate from our theology, and to continue to be charitable and hopeful with regards to every human being, whom God loves and is calling. I am quite sure that God is not finished with those who identify themselves as the children of Jacob, for as St. Paul told us, God’s promises are irrevocable, and Israel after the flesh is beloved because of the patriarchs. Jesus is their Messiah, too, and it would be unloving for me not to proclaim this (ever so carefully) when invited to do so. However, we need to be careful in confidently asserting that we know how eschatological passages will be fulfilled. Those Jews of Jesus’ day who expected a political/military Messiah did not recognize the day of their visitation; today, we must continue to be careful and vigilant, not saying more than we know for certain about such matters. For me, the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 9-11 are the model, and I continue to pray that those broken off the vine will be engrafted in, so that “all Israel”–renewed Israel, Jew and Gentile, will be saved. I say this with great yearning and remembering the pain of our Jewish brothers and sisters on this solemn day, Yom HaShoah!

          1. Edith, I resonate very deeply with much of your response. Being in a Paul class currently where Rom 9-11 has essentially been the lens of our approach to Paul, trying to discern a properly Pauline and properly Orthodox eschatology has been a joy and a challenge this semester.

            On the subject of Rom 9-11, I remain unconvinced by Wright’s exegesis of Paul on this. I think the plainest sense of Paul’s language is that the message will go out to all the nations, “the fullness of the Gentiles will come in,” and then Christ will return and Israel be reconciled. While not a huge topic of interest in much of Orthodox theology, I am always enriched by this short sermon from Met. Kallistos Ware on Rom 9-11, where he embraces love for the Jewish people and their continuing witness to the true God and hope for their reconciliation to the Church as a thoroughly and non-negotiably Orthodox principle. (http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/misc/kallistos_ware_rejected_his_people.htm)

            On this basis, I agree completely that the eschatological value of Israel’s return to the land is incalculable–it cannot be determined at this time. It may be a part of God’s plan to consummate the ages, as may be the cross which our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ: indeed, on this latter part, I think we can agree that the suffering of the Church is indeed part of God’s plan to redeem the world, for “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” as the hymn says, and through this the Church participates in Christ’s messianic sufferings on behalf of the whole world. At the same time, this particular theological issue has a very here-and-now consequence, as it is used to support all kinds of hateful and other-ostracizing positions by Zionists and anti-Zionists alike. For the time being, then, we can say that God permits them to be in the land just as he helps you and I to breathe, and whether he permits them for a greater purpose is yet to be seen.

            Turning to the issue of Christ’s eschatological throne, I suppose I’m a both/and sort of person. I see no reason to reject or exclude Israel’s perennial hope for a return of the exiles and an eschatological pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem to worship the one God together while at the same time affirming that that hope has been utterly transformed and given new depth and meaning by the incarnation, anointing, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God, and that this has already begun to happen by Gentiles coming to worship Israel’s God and be engrafted into the renewed Israel through faith in his Son Jesus. Here, there is room for a mystical/spiritual reinterpretation of the promise, which also at the same time “remembers” (to use language Donald Sheehan would have approved of) its original scope and, rather than casting it aside or using it up, transfigures and retains it. To refer back to the resurrection metaphor again, Christ’s body is still the same body, but it is glorified and also discontinuous with his previous body: recognizably him only once he has given us eyes to see. As Wright has said, there will be plenty of moments in the eschaton where we will say, “Oh, duh, of course it had to be that way.”

            To go a little further with this, I see no reason to deny the future redemption of earthly Jerusalem while at the same time affirming the Church’s identity as the heavenly Jerusalem, and I see no reason to suppose that in the eschaton the two will not be wedded even as heaven and earth are joined together and transfigured in glory that we cannot at this time begin to imagine. I guess the question occurs to me: if Jesus will return, not just in cosmic glory but also in his specific body in a particular moment of spacetime (which then breaks open spacetime to eternal glory), where is he likely so to do? Cleveland? I moreover see no reason to deny that Christ, upon his return, will be hailed as King of Israel and Lord of the Gentiles, and will reign from Jerusalem, while at the same time affirming that this reign will not be established through violence, that his kingship has already been obtained through the cross and the empty tomb, that the Theotokos is the first throne that he has taken. On this point, however, I think I would interject that in our hymns to the Theotokos as the throne of Christ, we are referring to Christ in his Deity–she is “wider than the heavens” because the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took up residence within her and “made her womb into a throne.” But this is not the same as confessing what St. Luke’s Gospel does when the angel says to Mary that “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1.32-33)–i.e., an inheritance of Christ that belongs to his Humanity as the heir to David, the true Israelite, and ultimately the Second Adam. He is creation’s rightful lord twice over, and so we must acknowledge both his heavenly inheritance as the eternal Son of God and his earthly inheritance as the temporal, flesh and bone, earthy, material son of Mary the Davidide virgin (at least, as most of the second century authors believed she was).

            There are perhaps (or even quite probably there are) entirely legitimate reasons to reject these ideas and I don’t see them, but again, if they are there I don’t see them. I don’t see why we can’t have it all, though of course renewed and transfigured in Christ. Oftentimes in my prayers I will use the Shemoneh Esrei as a litany, and I will find that there is very little that I as an Orthodox Christian have to pray differently from the actual text. As you point out, we do not look forward to the restoration of the Temple cult, which has been fulfilled in its purpose; unlike Judaism, we acknowledge a son of David to have already come, and our present discussion revolves around the details of his future reign; the Birkat HaMinim, provided it is the form used by most Jews (lacking the indictment against Nazarenes) sounds much like the prayers of St. Basil for the end of schism and the prayers for the destruction of heresy that we use in the Litany.

            I stand with you in the fervent desire to see Abraham’s physical children once more grafted into the Tree: I think the day of reconciliation between synagogue and church will be a miniature eschaton unto itself in terms of the glory and riches we will both once more partake of: “Now if their transgression means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!…For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (Rom 9.12, 15). I pray for this often.

            Excited to hear your further response! :)

  2. David, thank you for your last comment. It was very rich and I have been too busy to respond until just now. I agree that NT Wright’s exegesis of Romans 11 is not the only compelling one, and am happy to have read the article by Metropolitan Ware, which I had not seen until you pointed it out to me. It seems to me that Wright is reacting to bizarre dispensational readings of Romans and Revelation that work out a road map of rapture, etc. etc., and it is interesting that one of the strong variants in 11:21 includes the temporal notice “now”: “In order that they may NOW receive mercy.” Clearly the apostle is not closing the door to the return of Israel-after-the-flesh: whether he envisages a last minute return, such as you see described in 11:26, or a bit-by-bit return of Jews to the Messiah through the ages, they are not irrevocably cast off. On that we agree. It does seem to me that the “all Israel”, coming as it does after the discussion of the mutuality between Gentile and Jew, might well be a way of referring to the whole New covenant community. But I would not stake my life on it! These things are, as they say, theologoumena. I think that your intuition that earthly Jerusalem will be the focal point of Jesus’ return is the same kind of thing. We don’t at this point know which parts of this world will be transformed and which will continue as they now are. Because the point of Zion was the Temple, its holiest place, my instinct is that the focal point is now the Lord Jesus himself, who is himself and Temple (as now we are) will arrive to transform this space-time world so that EVERY eye can see him. This does not sound like it leaves room for Jerusalem itself, but I could very well be wrong. This reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said about “pious” and “skeptical” dogs thinking about the life that their masters have–the pious dog would be offended at the idea that we eat and drink like they do. So, then, until we see the relationship of new heavens and new earth, we cannot be sure. However, my reason for bringing in the Theotokos, and the Psalm which speaks of the Lord enthroned on the praises of his people was to suggest that perhaps the focal point, or the place of connection, will not be singly local, but trans-local, wherever we worship, and that somehow our coming together in the synaxis will be joined with the heavenly temple, and so the Lamb will be the temple, and ourselves the New Jerusalem. Every time I try to describe it, it runs like sand through my hands, however. My problem is that your account sounds too Jehovah-Witnessy, or too Razi-ish (2 Macc 14:37)–as though the new creation and day of resurrection were just a ramped up version of what we now have.

    Again, all of this is speculative. I agree that we should pray for the restoration of the Jewish people. I agree that we should hold loose to making decisions concerning the return of the Jewish people to Israel. And I agree that their turning to Christ is always a blessing for Gentile believers–I have a converted Jew in my NT class, and she is VERY helpful. In the end, all I can say is, we do not know precisely what will continue and what will be wholly changed when we receive what eye has not seen nor ear heard. Thanks for making me think more about these things!

    1. Edith,

      No worries on delays! I’m prone to them myself, as you can see. :)

      Let me affirm along with you that the eschaton will completely transform the cosmos as we know it and that the world to come will be utterly and radically discontinuous with our present experience. My concern, in affirming that, is not to miss or downplay the deep continuity that will persist as well. The cosmos is redeemed and remade, but not rejected: the risen body of Jesus is on the one hand a completely new body, and yet on the other there is no second, older, now unneccesary body still lying in the tomb. Or, to take an image from the Apocalypse: the ending vision is not a rejection of all that has come between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20, but a garden-city that encompasses and transfigures the whole human story into something which glorifies God.

      I agree wholeheartedly that, when talking about the eschaton, everything we can say is theologoumenon, save what is directly told us in the scriptures and the Creed–which are themselves unclear and often raise as many questions as they answer. So, for example, to take the passage from Luke I cite: I think we have to say that Jesus will indeed sit on David’s throne and reign over Jacob’s house, else Gabriel be called a liar, but HOW that will happen and precisely WHAT that reign will consist in is open to theological speculation, and specifically the transformative filter of the Gospel.

      I say this in response to your completely legitimate concern about sounding like JW’s in our eschatological hope. It is plausible that their eschatology is rooted in their errant Christology: if one rejects the Incarnation one is duty-bound to reject the deification of creation and its ascension to participate in the divine life. That deifying grace is not absent in my hope to see Christ reign as Son of David: rather, I see Christ’s reign as Son of David as essential to the consummation of his mission to reconcile all things in himself and hold primacy in all things. In other words, I think that if we take the Incarnation seriously, we must make room in our theology for Christ as the human fulfillment of divine promises to Israel. As God, Christ is preeminent over creation as its creator and rightful lord; as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, Christ stands at the head of humanity, the true heir to Adam, and thus to creation. He is, as I may have said last comment, the world’s true lord twice over. My concern is not to emphasize either to the detriment of the other, but both to our enrichment.

      This has been a deeply enriching conversation for me! Thanks for helping me articulate my thoughts and then reevaluate them!

      1. Yes, David, thanks for the conversation. I suppose we differ mainly in the degree to which we think that Jesus has already fulfilled the promises to Israel! In him, I would say, all the promises of God are “yes!” Already he sits on David’s throne, and already the kingdom has arrived, in him and in the newly constituted Israel, made of Jew and Gentile. The new Anthropos is here, and in him we participate. But what shall be further fulfilled, we wait to see….Come, Lord Jesus!

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