Three Days with Paul in Northern Greece

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Over three successive mornings this week, it will be my privilege to lead the Anglican clergy from the Province of Queensland in a series of Bible studies during our clergy conference on the Gold Coast.

Rather than select texts with some perceived relevance to the conference theme (“Leading your church into growth”), the Bible studies will simply focus on the readings from Acts that are set in the lectionary cycle for those mornings:

  • Acts 16:11–24
  • Acts 16:25–40
  • Acts 17:1–14

When read within the context of this clergy conference, these lectionary texts invite us to reflect on the significance of Paul’s missionary activities in ancient Greece for us today. As a leader within the emerging Jesus movement in the first generation after Easter, Paul was instrumental in the Gospel finding fresh expressions in new contexts. As we explore these excerpts from Acts 16 and 17 we shall be open to hear what the Spirit might be saying to the church in our time and in our place.

The full text of the three sessions is now available online.

  1. The world behind the Acts of the Apostles (Tuesday morning)

In this first session we note the historical setting of Luke-Acts, and selected key issues shaping the outlook of both the author and his first readers. This will include a date for Acts well into the parting of the ways with Judaism, and a time by which Paul has been embraced as a major interpreter of Jesus. It is also a world of empire, and one aspect of Luke’s agenda seems to be to assist his readers in finding ways to live faithfully in a world system that mostly ignores Christians, but finds little reason to respect them when they come to the attention of the authorities.

[PDF | PPT]

2. The world within the Acts of the Apostles (Wednesday morning)

What kind of Paul does Luke offer us in the Acts of the Apostles? What kind of Christianity does he invite us to embrace? What kind of ministry does he promote? How does that resonate with or challenge our assumptions about church life, ministry, and mission? And in what ways does any of this connect with our context?

[PDF | PPT]

3. The world in which we read the Acts of the Apostles (Thursday morning)

What kind of a Bible do we desire to have? Do we have a book of answers, or a compendium of practical mission strategies? Or do we have something much less tailored to our natural desires, and yet perhaps far more relevant to the challenges we face as the people of Christ in the twenty-first century? How central is the Bible to our mission and character?

[PDF | PPT]
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St George’s College Jerusalem

The Most Reverend Suheil Dawani, Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, has announced the appointment of the Reverend Dr Gregory Jenks as Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem.

SG-College-Dean-Announcement

St George’s College, Jerusalem is an Anglican community of education, hospitality, pilgrimage, and reconciliation. The College offers continuing education courses to students from around the world, as well as providing professional development resources for Anglican clergy in the Middle East. Dr Jenks comes to the role of Dean at St George’s College after serving as Academic Dean of St Francis Theological College in Brisbane since 2007. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University.

During his time as Academic Dean at SFC, Dr Jenks has been especially responsible for academic administration relating to courses offered at the College. He led the development of an active research culture with the College, including membership of the Consortium for the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel where he serves as its Coin Curator.

Dr Jenks will take up his new role, which also includes an appointment as a Canon of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, later this year. His final service at St Francis Theological College is expected to be the Valedictory Eucharist on Sunday, November 1.

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Burial or Cremation in Christian Funerary Rites

Recently I was asked for my opinion on the question of burial or cremation as the more appropriate process for Christians to dispose of the physical remains of our departed.

The question came out of left field as I am not someone who spends a lot of time reflecting on death and addressing my own mortality. It is a given that I am indeed a mortal and that death will be an unavoidable experience sooner or later.

Here is the question:

What is the Anglican Churches position on burial. Should Christians be buried in a cemetery or is cremation of the body ok? My friends who are Catholic Church members are positive that burial is the proper manner. They believe in the resurrection of the actual body. I was just wondering what is your theological position on burial? For example, if one of your parishioners came to you and asked for your advice, what would you tell them?

My response to this question was as follows:

I do not think it makes the slightest difference how one’s remains are disposed of after death.

There is a very simple logic at work in all this.

If someone dies after being attacked and eaten by a wild animal, or in a fire, or is lost at sea (or in outer space), there is no option for either burial or cremation. Our theology of death and resurrection has to be flexible enough to accommodate such realities. In any case, “resurrection of the body” does not mean that a deceased person gets back the same body that they once had. Knowing what we now know about human cell cycles and what we anticipate to be the realities of any afterlife (e.g., no digestive system, no body waste, no sexual activity) then our whole concept of resurrection body needs a total makeover.

The point of 1 Corinthians 15, as I understand it, is that there is some kind of continuity between the body before death and the body after resurrection; but there is also radical change. There is no requirement for physical and chemical continuity between one body and the next body, otherwise those who die without prospect of burial or cremation would be without hope of resurrection. Such an idea would not — in my opinion — be a Christian concept of life after death. Rather, Paul talks about a spiritual body that is from above, and quite different from the physical body from “below”.

I am not sure if these opinions help in any way with the questions you are considering, but it is quite clear that both the Anglican Church and the Roman Church accept cremation as a perfectly acceptable way to dispose of the remains of the deceased person. Some people may prefer one option or another, but those are personal preferences and cultural traits. They are not matters of deep theological significance, and my own pastoral response would be to ascertain the preferences of the deceased and those of the immediate family. Nothing else matters really. (In my view.)

For those may like to think further about the interpretation of Paul’s resurrection tex in 1 Corinthians 15, there is an extended discussion in my Jesus Then and Jesus Now, pp. 135–39.

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A boundary crossing God

A GOD WHO CROSSES THE BOUNDARIES

A sermon for the third Sunday after the Epiphany (25 January 2015) at St Luke’s Anglican Church, Haifa

Introduction

As always it is good to be here with you, and I appreciate the privilege of giving the sermon for our liturgy this morning.

As always we open our hearts to receive the portion of Scripture assigned for this week by the church. It is not always easy to understand the logic of the lectionary editors, but it is a valuable spiritual discipline to accept the set readings so that we pay attention to a wider array of texts than may be the case if the priest simply chose the passages that appealed to him.

As always, as we come to the table of the Word, we are seeking to discern what the Spirit might be saying to the church, here today, here in this place, here in these words.

Our Gospel today comprised two brief stories. One concerned the healing of a leper. The other involved the healing of a centurion’s servant. What has that got to do with us? And what might the Spirit be seeking to say to us through these stories?

THE PURPOSE

We can be sure that the point of these stories is not to offer us health advice. We are not intended to glean information about dealing with skin complaints, or expect a miracle cure every time we feel unwell. Just as the parable of the sower is not designed to teach farming techniques, these stories are not intended to influence how we seek medical help when we need it.

Rather, the stories are celebrating the healing power of God that we experience in and through Jesus, and that is an important theme in these weeks of Epiphany. We can expect to encounter the God who reveals himself in all kinds of everyday situations, and we can expect that God to transform and heal our lives.

Most of all, of course, these stories are about the significance of Jesus for us. As Christians, Jesus is our supreme epiphany or revelation of God. He not only shows us what God is like, but also what we can be like. He reveals God to us, and also reveals ourselves to us.

CONTEXT

That epiphany process will most likely happen in the everyday events of daily life, so that gets me thinking about context. Who we are, where we are, what we are, who we are with, and what opportunities are before us????

You will have noticed, I expect, that these are local stories. Maybe this is so routine for you that you do not even notice it all that often. But these are stories about places not far from here. They are set near the lake in Galilee. We could be there in less than an hour!

You are blessed to live in this land, even if living here is not always easy. When you look around the hills, and the valleys, and the lake, and the ocean – you are looking at the same sights that Jesus once viewed. A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same.

As a visitor – even one who comes here often – I find myself asking if Jesus is any more present here than in my own country on the other side of the world? On this Australia Day weekend that is a question that comes to mind for me. Jesus has never walked the hills of my ancient land, but for sure he is no stranger there.

Where ever we are in the world, Jesus calls us to follow him, to be instruments of his grace, and to be agents of God’s kingdom in that place, at this time, and among those people.

CROSSING BOUNDARIES

So let’s go back to the stories from today’s Gospel and see if we can discern anything the Spirit of Jesus might be seeking to say to us.

When I do that, I notice something about these two stories. They both involve Jesus crossing very clear social boundaries in his own culture and among his own people.

The first story involves a leper. We are not quite sure what illness such a person had, but the consequence of their skin infection was that they were outcasts. It was understood that the infection could go away and the person could be given the OK to return to everyday life in the village. But until they had been checked by the priest, no one one was to go near them. Jesus crossed the boundaries. He accepted the person back into everyday life and then sent him to the priest to get the paperwork completed!

The second story also involves crossing pretty clear social boundaries. An army commander comes to Jesus and asks for his help as his servant is unwell. He may not have been a Roman centurion, as they were not based in Galilee at the time. But he could have been a Greek commander in the army of Herod Antipas. The same Antipas who had killed John the Baptist and had his men looking for Jesus. We often think of this story as being about the trust that the centurion had in Jesus, but it may also be a story about Jesus having great trust in this centurion not to arrest him!

THE GOD WHO CROSSES THE BOUNDARIES

One of the things that Jesus reveals about God this Epiphany is that our God crosses the boundaries that we like to enforce. God escapes our labels and our definitions.

Another of the things that Jesus reveals about us this Epiphany is that God expects us also to be people who cross the boundaries, and act out of compassion. We are not to stay back behind the lines. We are not to worry what people will think about us. We are not to be afraid to take risks with people who we can barely trust.

Imagine if we actually lived like that.

What a different kind of place the world would be!

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The final lectionary notes

Friends:

The lectionary notes just published for the Feast of Christ the King (23 November 2014) will be the last of my regular weekly lectionary posts.

I have been preparing and distributing these notes since 2002, so it seems time to conclude this weekly task and focus my energies on other projects.

The complete set of archived notes will continue to be accessible on the Jesus Database web site.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing these reflections with you over the past 12 years. No doubt I shall still post the occasional comment on the Sunday readings, as well as other topical matters, but the regular weekly posts have now ended.

Gregory C. Jenks

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Christ the King (23 November 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 & Psalm 100 [Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 & Psalm 95:1-7a]
  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Matthew 25:31-46

The Reign of Christ — Judgment Day

This Sunday (known as the Feast of Christ the King in some traditions) completes the annual cycle that began on Advent Sunday last year. The liturgical year ends with a celebration of the cosmic significance of Christ. It may be helpful to consider this week as a time to gather up the insights that have been contributed by the various seasons and holy days throughout the previous twelve months. Each of the readings will contribute in some way to this week’s central theme of Christ the King.

The story of Christ as the great king on the day of judgment is found only in Matthew 25, but it is one of the best known NT passages:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:31-46)

Approximately two-thirds of the 522 items in the inventory of historical Jesus traditions developed by John Dominic Crossan are represented in a single independent source. The remaining third occur in at least two independent sources, while just 33 are found in more than three independent sources.

Like this week’s Gospel, some of the best known sayings of Jesus have survived in just one independent source:

While this week’s Gospel has many parallels in the Old Testament and the later Jewish writings from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, it has none among early Christian writings. Even the Revelation to John fails to provide a parallel to this story, despite having its own version of the Great Judgment in Rev 20:11-15.

Jewish parallels

Parallels in Jewish texts include the following:

Break your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.
When you see the naked, clothe him. [Isaiah 58:7]

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right– if he does … does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully–such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord GOD. [Ezekiel 18:5-9]

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; [Proverbs 25:21]

Give some of your food to the hungry, and some of your clothing to the naked.
Give all of your surplus as alms, and do not let your eyes begrudge your giving of alms. [Tobit 4:16]

When he was about to die, <Joseph> called his sons and his brothers and said to them:
“My brothers and my children.
Listen to Joseph, the one beloved of Israel.
Give ears to the words of my mouth.
In my lie I have seen envy and death.
But I have not gone astray: I continued in the truth of the Lord.
These, my brothers, hated me but the Lord loved me.
They wanted to kill me, but the God of my fathers preserved me.
Into a cistern they lowered me; the Most High raised me up.
They sold me into slavery; the Lord of all set me free.
I was taken into captivity; the strength of his hand came to my aid.
I was overtaken by hunger; the Lord himself fed me generously.
I was alone, and God came to help me.
I was in weakness, and the Lord showed his concern for me.
I was in prison, and the Savior acted generously on my behalf.
I was in bonds, and he loosed me;
falsely accused, and he testified on my behalf.
Assaulted by the bitter word of the Egyptians, and he rescued me.
A slave, and he exalted me. [Testament of Joseph 1:1-7 – OTP]

The first thing:
When the congregation of the righteous shall appear,
sinners shall be judged for their sins,
for they shall be driven from the face of the earth.
and when the Righteous One shall appear before the face of the righteous,
those elect ones, their deeds are hung upon the Lord of the Spirits
he shall reveal light to the righteous and the elect who dwell upon the earth,
where will the dwelling of sinners be,
and where the resting place of those who denied the name of the Lord of the Spirits?
It would have been better for them not to have been born.
When the secrets of the Righteous One are revealed,
he shall judge the sinners;
and the wicked ones will be driven from the presence of the righteous and the elect,
and from that time, those who possess the earth will be neither rulers nor princess,
for they shall not be able to behold the faces of the holy ones,
for the light of the Lord of the Spirits has shined
upon the face of the holy, the righteous, and the elect.
At that moment, kings and rulers shall perish,
they shall be delivered into the hands of the righteous and holy ones,
and from henceforth no one shall be able to induce the Lord of the Spirits to show them mercy. [1 Enoch 38:1-6 – OTP]

[The Lord of all Spirits] placed the Elect One on the throne of glory;
and he shall judge all the works of the holy ones in heaven above,
weighing in the balance their deeds … [1 Enoch 61:8 – OTP]

Thus the Lord commanded the kings, governors, the high officials, and the landlords and said, “Open your eyes and lift up your eyebrows—if you are able to recognize the Elect One!” … On the day of judgment all the kings, governors, the high officials, and the landlords shall see and recognize him—how he sits on his throne of glory, and righteousness is judged before him, and that no nonsensical talk shall be uttered in his presence. … After that, their faces will be filled with shame before that Son of Man; and from before his face they shall be driven out. [1 Enoch 62:1,3, 11- OTP]

Commenting directly on Matthew 25, Samuel Lachs (Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, 393f]) observes:

All of the deeds mentioned here are acts of kindness (Heb. gemilut hasadim): feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, hospitality, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and freeing captives. He who performs any one of them is considered praiseworthy, and it is as if he has done them to God himself. “He who receives his fellow man kindly, it is as if he has received the Shekkinah.” “He who visits the sick will be saved from Gehinom.”

Critical scholarship

With such an extensive overlap between the underlying message of this story and traditional Jewish lore over several centuries, it is hardly surprising that the Jesus Seminar voted this passage Black, indicating that it preserves neither the words nor the ideas of Jesus, and that is an opinion shared by the conservative Roman Catholic Jesus scholar, John P. Meier. Gospel scholars of all persuasions seem to agree that we are listening to Matthew here, rather than to Jesus.

Gerd Lüdemann, Jesus, 236f observes:

This concluding text of Jesus’ eschatological discourse fits Matthean theology seamlessly. After the paraenesis in 24.32-25.30 the judgment by the Son of Man is depicted in a great painting. The judgment is of all human beings, but Matthew has his community in particular in view: cf. 13.37-43,49-50. In view of this similarity we must seriously consider whether the whole passage should be regarded as a Matthean construction.

John P. Meier, the conservative Roman Catholic Jesus scholar, shares the same view. When commenting on the use of phylake (prison) in Matt 11:2, Meier [Marginal Jew II,198] notes that “the whole passage depicting the last judgment is either a Matthean creation or heavily redacted by Matthew.”
The wisdom embodied in this famous story is found in all the great religions: a kindness done for the stranger is an act of devotion to one’s God. What is interesting here is that Matthew associates that older wisdom with Jesus. And Matthew may have been right in doing that, for this universal religious insight does fit well with what we know of Jesus from other traditions.

Not everything said by Jesus had to be original to him. He doubtless thought and said many things that were also taught by others, and especially by his own Jewish religious tradition. In this case, we may have a story created after Jesus’ lifetime which still captures something of his sense that God’s kingdom is not so much a future dream as an immediate possibility. Acts of kindness and service are not simply good things for religious people to do, but signs of God’s kingdom already present in our midst.

The kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ teaching and action. The Greek phrase (basileia tou theou) used in the gospels is best translated as “God’s rule,” or even as “God’s empire.” This reminds us that Jesus lived at a time when people thought there was only one empire that mattered: Rome. Such hierarchical language can pose problems in today’s world when used as a primary symbol for God’s gracious presence, but Jesus seems to have challenged Rome’s imperial pretensions with his radical idea of a kingdom of nobodies found wherever two or three of “these little ones” gathered to break bread, declare each other’s sins forgiven and celebrate the pax christi.

While this story has often been understood as teaching that admission to heaven depends on how we treat other people, it may also be helpful to read it as affirming that our religion should make the world here and now a better place for others. When read that way, this story has been a classic text for those who stress the social justice implications of the “good news.”

At its core, this story is about the final judgment. As the parallel texts from 1 Enoch demonstrate, this is an idea that comes from an apocalyptic belief system that despairs of human capacity to build a just and godly society, and instead awaits a divine intervention to set things right. In the past, the prospect of “meeting one’s Creator” and giving an account of one’s life has been a powerful influence on both private and public behavior. While this belief continues to be affirmed in the creeds, it is not clear that it still exercises much of a hold on the contemporary imagination.

If we lose a sense of ultimate accountability to God, do we also lose an important moral element of being human?

Are there ways to visualize our collective and individual responsibilities for the Earth and for other living creatures that avoid the hierarchical power structures implicit in many biblical symbols?

What would mutual responsibility look like in a Wisdom context?

Tolstoy, Where Love Is, God Is

Leo Tolstoy’s 1885 story, Where Love Is, God Is, (also known as “Martin the Cobbler” in a Claymation video) retells this classic NT story.

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

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Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (16 November 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Judges 4:1-7 & Psalm 123
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
  • Matthew 25:14-30

Waiting for God’s son from heaven

From very early times, Christians have anticipated that Jesus would come (back) to our world from heaven as the glorified and all-powerful Son of God. After almost two thousand years without such an appearance taking place, that primitive Christian belief is losing its hold on the spiritual imagination of many people but there remain large numbers of people for whom the “Second Coming of Jesus” is an event expected to occur almost any day. Indeed there are Christians who drive cars ands other machinery with stickers warning that the driver may disappear at any moment, should Jesus return and call them to his side!

As the common Eucharistic acclamation demonstrates, the idea of a return by Jesus is the other side of the Easter affirmation. The one raised to glory and now seated at the right hand of God is the same one who must come to earth with that divine power to set things right in the messianic age:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

When Easter is understood as God raising Jesus to heaven (rather than returning him to normal human existence), it is highly likely that Easter faith will include some expectation of either his continuing presence and/or his eventual return. We see this expressed clearly in the sermon that Luke puts on Peter’s lips in Acts 3:

When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:12-21)

This belief is so early and so well-attested that it ranks as item #2 in John Dominic Crossan’s inventory of historical Jesus traditions. Only the traditions about the Mission and Message of Jesus rank before this item. That is a powerful reminder of how close this belief takes us to the core of the religious aspirations centered on Jesus, the risen Lord, that were the drivers for earliest Christianity.

Crossan lists the following texts as witnesses to the Apocalyptic Return of Jesus:

(1) 1 Thess 4:13-18;
(2) Did. 16:6-8;
(3) Matt 24:30a;
(4) Mark 13:24-27 = Matt 24:29,30b-31 = Luke 21:25-28;
(5a) Rev 1:7
(5b) Rev 1:13
(5c) Rev 14:14;
(6) John 19:37.

Even that list is far from exhaustive, since there are several additional references to the appearance or coming of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians, not to mention 2 Thessalonians:

For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1Th. 1:9-10)

As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!(1Th. 2:17-20)

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th. 3:11-13)

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (1Th. 4:15-17)

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. (1Th. 5:1-11)

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (1Th. 5:23-24)

An interest in the coming of the Lord is a particular concern of 2 Thessalonians, and the additional details provided about this belief have made some scholars think that we are dealing with a later (post-Paul) stage of the tradition in this document:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2Th. 1:5-10)

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2Th. 2:1-12)

While the admonition against idleness does not explicitly associate that problem with millenarian expectations of the Lord’s imminent appearance, it seems likely that this is a further dimension of the problem:

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. (2Th. 3:6-13)

The parousia of the Lord

The most common term used in the NT for the coming of Jesus is parousia. In general use, parousia was simply a noun used to denote the presence, participation and/or arrival of some person or god. However, with Paul the terms seems to have taken a special significance as a term for the future arrival of Jesus as the divine Lord of all things.

According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT 5.860), the customary honors on the parousia of a ruler included the following ceremonies:

  • flattering addresses
  • tributes
  • delicacies
  • asses to ride on and to carry baggage
  • improvements of streets
  • golden wreaths (natural or precious metal)
  • feeding of the sacred crocodiles

Allowing for developments in technology, it seems that not much has changed in the way that visiting dignitaries like to be treated.

TDNT summarizes the situation in imperial Roman times as follows:

The imperial period with its world ruler or members of his household, if it did not increase the cost, certainly invested the parousia of the new ruler with even greater magnificence. This could be done by the inauguration of a new era … or holy day … or by buildings … or by the minting of advent coins, e.g., in Corinth on the coming of Nero: Adventus Augusti, or the like. Hadrian’s travels produced such coins in most provinces. That the parousia of the ruler could sometimes be a ray of hope for those in trouble may be seen from the complaints and requests made on such occasions, e.g., that of the priestesses of Isis in the Serapeion at Memphis (163/162 B.C.) to the “gods” Ptolemy Philometor and Cleopatra.

This common use, and especially its wide dissemination as imperial propaganda stamped on the coins used in daily commerce, reminds us once again that Paul is drawing on political terms as he develops his newly-fashioned Christology. Not only are Christians the ekklesia of God, but the divine kyrios they worship is soon to make his parousia as he ushers in the age of ultimatepeace and security. At every one of those highlighted terms, there was a direct conflict with the imperial theology of Rome.
Parousia occurs some 24 times in the NT and we can see the range of meanings went well beyond the “coming” of Jesus:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying,
“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming [parousia] and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3)

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west,
so will be the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:27)

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man.
… and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away,
so too will be the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:37,39)

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits,
then at his coming [parousia] those who belong to Christ. (1Cor. 15:23)

I rejoice at the coming [parousia]of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus,
because they have made up for your absence; (1Cor 16:17)

But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival [parousia]of Titus,
and not only by his coming [parousia], but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you,
as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2Cor. 7:6-7)

For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong,
but his bodily presence [parousia tou somatos] is weak, and his speech contemptible.” (2Cor. 10:10)

so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus
when I come [parousia] to you again. (Phil. 1:26)

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence [parousia],
but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (Phil. 2:12)

For what is our hope or joy or
crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming [parousia]?
Is it not you? (1Th. 2:19)

And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness
that you may be blameless before our God and Father
at the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th. 3:13)

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming [parousia] of the Lord,
will by no means precede those who have died. (1Th. 4:15) May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless
at the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Th.5:23)

As to the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, (2Th. 2:1)

And then the lawless one will be revealed,
whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth,
annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming [parousia].
The coming [parousia] of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan,
who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, (2Th. 2:8-9)

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.
The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth,
being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
You also must be patient.
Strengthen your hearts, for the coming [parousia] of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you the power and coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2Pet. 1:16)

and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming [parousia]?
For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” )2Pet. 3:4)

waiting for and hastening the coming [parousia] of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? (2Pet. 3:12)

And now, little children, abide in him,
so that when he is revealed we may have confidence
and not be put to shame before him at his coming [parousia]. (1John 2:28)

Like a thief in the night

One of the interesting twists to the parousia expectation of the earliest Christians is the metaphor of Christ coming like a thief in the night. This image modifies significantly the dominant metaphor of the triumphant visitation by a new emperor. Now we have an unexpected intruder coming under cover of darkness and catching the householder unprepared.

This motif is also widely-attested in the early Christian texts:

012 Knowing the Danger

(1a) 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5
/1/ Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. /2/ For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. /3/ When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! /4/ But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; /5/ for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

(1b) 2 Peter 3:10
/8/ But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. /9/ The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. /10/ But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

(2a) Thom 21
/1/ Mary said to Jesus, “What are your disciples like?” /2/ He said, They are like little children living in a field that is not theirs. /3/ When the owners of the field come, they will say, “Give us back our field.” /4/ They take off their clothes in front of them in order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them. /5/ For this reason I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives, and will not let the thief break into their house (their domain) and steal their possessions. /6/ As for you, then, be on guard against the world. /7/ Prepare yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can’t find a way to get to you, for the trouble you expect will come. /8/ Let there be among you a person who understands. /9/ When the crop ripened, he came quickly carrying a sickle and harvested it. /10/ Anyone here with two good ears had better listen! [Complete Gospels]

(2b) Thom 103
/1/ Jesus said, “Congratulations to those who know where the rebels are going to attack. [They] can get going, collect their imperial resources, and be prepared before the rebels arrive.” [Complete Gospels]

(3) Q Gospel ( Luke 12:39-40)
/39/ “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. /40/ You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
=Matt 24:43-44
/43/ But understand this: if the owner 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 unexpected hour.

(4a) Rev 3:3
/3/ Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

(4b) Rev 16:15
/15/ (“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”)

Jesus Database

  • 178 The Entrusted Money: (1a) 2Q: Luke 19:(11)12-24,27 = Matt 25:14-28; (1b) GNaz. 18.
  • 040 Have and Receive: (1) Gos. Thom. 41; (2) 2Q: Luke 19:(25-)26 = Matt 25:29; (3) Mark 4:25 = Matt 13:12 = Luke 8:18b.
  • 125 Gnashing of Teeth: (1a) 2Q: Luke 13:28a = Matt 8:12b; (1b) Matt 13:42b; (1c) Matt 13:50b; (1d) Matt 22:13b; (1e) Matt 24:51b; (1f) Matt 25:30b; (2) Dial. Sav. 14e

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

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