Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Mallow Castle at night

journal photo

Subscribe to Journal

May 3, 2016

5:24 AM

The Change of the Ages

The Change of the Ages
Given the Christian view of the imminent transformation of the world and the establishment of God's kingdom, an apostle like Paul should have looked back to the life and ministry of Jesus as a milestone, a crucial point in the ongoing pattern of salvation history which would culminate in the Day of the Lord

The Jewish conception of history and time was fairly simple. The period
stretching back through known history was the "old age," an age of sin and evil and darkness, when God had permitted Satan to rule, when the righteous were persecuted and divine justice was delayed. The "new age" would begin with the arrival of some heavenly figure or messianic agent of God who would direct the overthrow of Israel's enemies and the forces of evil generally. This would be preceded by a build-up period in which woes and natural disasters would be visited upon the earth, to test the faithful.
Apocalyptic Expectations 
In some apocalyptic pictures, an archetypal evil figure, Satan himself or his lieutenant, would direct all this final mayhem, but he would ultimately be overthrown and the kingdom would dawn. Later, in Christian thinking, this figure would be known as the Antichrist. (He had a predecessor in Jewish thought known as the "man (or son) of lawlessness"; he surfaces in 2 Thessalonians and the Apocalypse of Elijah.) Still, the pattern of salvation history, stretching in a line from past through to future, fell into two sections: the old age and the new. Scholars refer to this pattern as "two-age dualism."

According to the orthodox picture of Christian origins, however, a radical new dimension has been added. The Messiah had come, but not the kingdom with him. Christ had died and been resurrected, but still the new age had not dawned. That was to be delayed until his return, this time in glory and as judge at the Parousia. Between the two comings of Christ, as brief a period as that might be, the gospel message had to be carried to as many as possible and the world had to be made ready.
If this was indeed the scenario faced by the first few generations of Christian preachers and believers, we would expect to find two things. First, a significant recasting of the two-age pattern; the coming of Jesus would have been seen as a pivotal point in the ongoing scheme of redemption history. Second, that very failure of expectation would have required explanation. For no one could have anticipated—and no one did—that the arrival of the Messiah would not be accompanied by the establishment of the kingdom. We would expect to find an
apologetic industry arising within the Christian movement to explain this strange and disappointing turn of events.

But do we find either of these two features in the epistles?
We have seen several passages in the Pauline letters which speak of the long hidden divine "mysteries" which God has revealed to "apostles and prophets." There was no sign of Jesus' ministry there, no indication of a distinctive stage between the primal event of God's promise and the present apostolic movement heralding the new age (as in Titus 1).
But the revealing passages are those in which Paul expresses his
eschatological (End-time) expectations. The first to look at is Romans 8:22-3: Up to now, we know, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth. Not only so, but even we, to whom the Spirit is given as firstfruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly while we wait for God to make us his sons and set our whole body free. [NEB] Here Paul's orientation is squarely on the future. The whole universe is groaning, waiting. Where is the sense of past fulfillment in the life and career of Jesus? Were some of the world's pains not assuaged by his coming? "Up to now," says Paul, has the universe labored to give birth, leaving no room for the dramatic pivot point of Christ's own birth and acts of salvation. Moreover, when
Paul does refer to present or immediately past events, what are they? Only the giving of the Spirit, the revelation by God which has enlisted men like Paul to preach Christ and his coming. We have here no deviation from the traditional two-age picture. 
To be continued...

0 user comments.

There are no comments to this entry.