Holy Tuesday 2017
These three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End ; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. …“Now is the Judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to “this world” and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the “last time.” “The fashion of this world passeth away…” (I Cor. 7:31).
• • •
Of all the weeks in the year, Holy Week moves me to think about “ultimate” matters. Life. Death. Life after death. Things to come — the world to come, the age to come. The “end,” the goal, the consummation. Indeed, as the quote above says, this is an intended emphasis of in the Church’s observance of Holy Week, especially on Monday through Wednesday.
The signal events of Christianity involve Jesus dying, being buried, rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven. All these events have some measure of meaning for our daily lives, but their true significance is transcendent. They are events indeed that, by the testimony of scripture, have “cosmic” import — for Israel, for all nations, for all people, for all creation.
Jesus announced that God’s long-awaited kingdom was dawning, and the Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension are presented to us as divine actions that bring God’s reign to light. At Pentecost Peter proclaimed that the last days had arrived. The age to come has invaded the present. A sense of something new causes us to lift up our eyes and look expectantly toward the horizon.
As far as I can tell, Christian faith has always been practiced in the context of eschatological expectation. My early adult days in the context of the Jesus movement was rife with dispensational-style “Jesus is coming” fervor. Discussions, debates, arguments, hard lines of conviction, and even schisms throughout the days of my ministry within evangelicalism often revolved around positions one took regarding the details of various prophetic schemes.
Some of that fervor has abated within evangelicalism over the years, as pragmatism and an emphasis on church growth led many in the movement farther and farther away from doctrinaire fundamentalism.
In the more recent past, scholars such as N.T. Wright, building upon a more narrative-historical approach to scripture, have placed more and more of Jesus’ teachings about “the end” in the context of historical judgments such as the Fall of Jerusalem rather than as matters of “eternal destiny.”
I’ve come to appreciate the hard work of Andrew Perriman at P.OST, who has tried to apply a consistent narrative-historical hermeneutic in his studies of the New Testament.
Perriman builds upon a simple yet far-reaching presupposition: prophecies about God’s judgments and future cataclysms are always about events within history, not harbingers of the end of the world. Both OT and NT share a “geopolitical realism.” No matter how poetic, metaphorical, or apocalyptic the language, the seers and prophets were envisioning things that would take place in the course of ongoing national and international circumstances.
That leads him to conclude that the destruction of Jerusalem is the primary focus of Jesus’ “end time” teachings. And he also holds that the subsequent prophetic outlook of the NT is targeted toward relatively near events within history, to be specific, the ultimate triumph of Christ and the church over the pagan nations, Rome in particular.
I think the focus has to be on the challenge that this vindicated Jesus movement presented to the oikoumenē or ‘world’ or empire or culture of Greek-Roman paganism. This was the ‘defunct world order’ that the creator God, who had been the God of Israel, would eventually pull down and over which he would reign through the one who had been appointed Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. (Perriman)
To be sure, Perriman does have a futurist eschatology as well, and he sees it particularly in the final chapters of Revelation, where, after God triumphs over “Babylon” (Rome) there is more to come — namely a thousand year period when Christ reigns with the martyrs, followed by a final judgment of all the dead, and the appearance of a new heaven and new earth.
If I read his timeline correctly, we find ourselves in that “thousand years” following the victory of God and his King over the Roman empire. “Christendom” is the formal name for the public vindication and triumph of Christianity over the pagan empires. We now live in “post-Christendom,” a time which Perriman suggests is “off the radar of the New Testament”
With a wink of the eye and a chuckle, Perriman calls his scheme, “Double Post-tribulational Pre-Amillennialism.” (I’d so love to throw that line at one of my old professors!) And, like all good prophetic teachers, Andrew has a chart:
Whatever you might think about Andrew Perriman’s interpretation, there is one thing I really like about it. It puts you and me squarely in no-man’s land. We — living when we do — have no idea what’s to come, except in the broadest of terms, expressed in apocalyptic language at the end of the book of Revelation.
We today, after the triumph of Christendom and before the last judgment, are living in an eschatological wilderness. Perhaps that’s why no detailed prophetic program that purports to describe “history before it happens” has ever appealed to me.
So, in a sense, I’m as much in the dark this Holy Week as the disciples were on the first one. Maybe even more, for they had at least had a historical context that led them to expect some kind of imminent historical upheaval. As Perriman writes, “For the disciples on the mount of Olives what loomed large when Jesus directed their minds towards the future was the war against Rome and the destruction of the temple.”
As for me, if, on Holy Tuesday, I am called to lift up my head and look forward to what’s coming because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, I have to confess my hopes are vague and my expectation beset with riddles.
Commence lament mode: “How long, O Lord?”
• • •