Friday, December 11, 2009

Reading Messianic Prophecy (As a Christian)

As we draw near to Christmas, I find joy in rereading the prophets: “’Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I am coming to you and I will dwell in your midst,’ says the Lord. ‘And in that day many nations shall flee to the Lord for refuge, and they will be His people, and they will dwell in your midst, and you shall know the Lord Almighty has sent Me to you’” (Zech 2:14,15 LXX [2: 10,11 Heb]). This promise of the coming of the Messiah in the flesh is set in the context of the promise of the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon, and so we have both a literal reading of the text—the promise of the return of a remnant of God’s people from the physical land of Babylon to the physical city of Jerusalem—a promise fulfilled in the sixth century before Christ. However, there is also a messianic reading of the text. This is the reading of the New Testament writers, the reading of the Church.

In the Church’s reading of this text, Zion is no longer an earthly city, but the Jerusalem from above. It is an eschatological reality realized in the Church, in which we are built together as living stones to form the city in which God dwells. Many misguided Christians read this and similar messianic texts as though Christ’s coming hadn’t changed everything. They read these texts as though the coming of the Messiah, the entry of the “nations” into the “Daughter of Zion” and the establishment of the New Covenant through the trampling down of death by death had not made everything new, as though God has somehow made everything new for the entire creation—except for those who reject the Messiah, yet still call themselves Jews: for these there is still the option of the old.

The Church has taught from the beginning, indeed a great deal of the New Testament deals with this issue, that there is only one Israel, one people of God. Even in the literal reading of the Old Testament, the Israel of God is continually winnowed to leave only a remnant. Abraham has two sons, one by a slave woman, according to the flesh, and one by his wife, according to the promise. Both are sons of Abraham, but from only one comes Israel (Jacob). Jacob has twelve sons, the “sons of Israel,” the children of the promise to Abraham, who go on to become a great nation and to inherit the physical land promised to Abraham. But even here, ten of the twelve tribes are lost, and the promise from Zechariah (quoted above) doesn’t even make mention of them. By the sixth century before Christ, “Israel” no longer exists except as an idea, and the promise of restoration is given to the Jews (literally, the inhabitants of Judea, those few descendents of Jacob who remained faithful to the temple worship in Jerusalem). Certainly, even under the Old Covenant, Israel does not refer to the biological descendents of Abraham, but to those faithful to the God of Abraham.

The Church has taught that those who “receive” the Messiah, those who repent and begin to live the new life in Christ, are given eternal life (the very new life they begin to experience even in this world), and God will raise them up on the last day. Those who do not receive the Messiah, regardless of their ancestry, are condemned by their own choice of darkness rather than light. There is no longer a promise of land for those who believe, the heirs of Abraham according to the promise, but a promise of the kingdom to come, a new heaven and a new earth where all sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Until the fulfillment of this promise, when Christ will come again to judge the living (those who long for his coming) and the dead (those who dread it), the promise of God exists now in the hearts of the children of the promise, in the church, even while the people of God, the church, remain in this corrupt and corrupting world—the world that is passing away. Those in this world without hope in Christ have nothing to cling to but this sin-scarred world. They (and we believers too in as much as we cling to this world) are to be pitied who cling so desperately to prestige and profit and position and property. If some who call themselves Jews and have rejected the Messiah want to have a homeland in the Middle East, God bless them. In obtaining what they want, may they find the One whom their hearts truly desire, the One who is the fulfillment of the promise of which land is only a faint shadow.

Of course to claim property, one inevitably must take it from someone else, and this is the tragedy of the human story: the children of those terribly persecuted in one generation have become persecutors themselves. Through our prayers and physical aid, we who have our hope in heaven must do all we can to assist our suffering brothers and sisters who have lost their earthly homeland so that others might find theirs. At the same time, we must not judge too harshly the children of the Holocaust. Have they not done what all other human beings have done throughout the bloody history of mankind? Those with no hope outside this world fight and kill and steal to hold briefly in their hands an illusion of hope in this world.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Re: your last paragraph: I almost never read the news or political commentaries because I 1. am a skeptic about journalism and 2. usually find it boring, if not overwhelmingly depressing - but, I atypically picked up this book the other year:

http://www.amazon.com/Ambivalence-Adventures-Palestine-Jonathan-Garfinkel/dp/0393066746

I realized as I read it that I had preconceptions that were somewhat similar to the author's before he went to Palestine. Where had I picked up these ideas? I think mostly from Christians who believed that Israel as a state *had to* exist, in order for the "end times" to arrive.

I think Garfinkel presents a fair and balanced report on what he found in the Middle East. It is, of course, a personal account flavoured with his own dashed expectations, which may be why I found it easier to read than a news report. Not for younger readers, but I recommend it.

Do you know about the group called Zochrot ("to remember" in Hebrew)? They're a group of Israelis who put up monuments to show places where Arab villages once were or where Arabs were killed.