Monday, December 30, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 14: The Coming Appearance

[Paul] is saying, as he says extensively in Romans 8, that the whole creation is longing for its exodus, and that when God is all in all even the division between heaven and earth, God’s space and human space, will be done away with (as we see also in Revelation 21). Paul’s message to the pagan world is the fulfilled-Israel message: the one creator God is, through the fulfillment of his covenant with Israel, reconciling the world to himself. This involves, it seems, a triple exodus. Israel is redeemed, in the person of Jesus, for the sake of the world. Humankind is redeemed, through Jesus, so that the image of God may be restored. Thus creation itself is redeemed, and the creator God will be all in all. – N.T. Wright, p. 91 of What St. Paul Really Said

The Greek word used in the New Testament for the Second Coming is parousia. In Greek, it means presence, arrival, or official visit. The main use of the term in classical Greek is in reference to the physical presence of a person. Less commonly, a secondary meaning of the term is in reference to a person’s substance, property, or inheritance. The meaning of the Greek term parousia and its scriptural uses are related to the words that have been handed down to us as “epiphany” and “apocalypse.”

Epiphany in Greek means “manifestation, striking appearance,” and is rooted in a word that means “I appear, display.” The roots are “epi”, which means “upon”, and “phaino”, which means “I shine, appear.” The term epiphany, giving context to the meaning of the Second Coming of the Lord of all that exists, then, means something like, “a shining upon an appearing.” Thus, it harkens back to the idea of Christ, the Messiah, the King - the Annointed One. David didn’t have the sign of the cross traced on his forehead with holy oil. He was covered in it; to be anointed is to shine. The idea of epiphany was mentioned previously in this blog series HERE, in a discussion on a Greek god associated with how things appear in sensible reality and in reference to the idea of “the god who comes.” Christ’s anointing became apparent in both the Transubstantiation and when he was covered in a jar of oil that costs a year’s wages by a beloved prophetess.

The term apocalypse is from the Greek apocálypsis. “Apo” is from the Greek root meaning “un”, and “calypsis” is from the Greek root meaning “to cover.” Apocalypse, then, is an uncovering, an opening up of something previously closed to us. It is the Greek word handed down to us as “Revelation,” the title of the book that tells us about the finish line of the race we are running. This use of the term Apocalypse as Revelation, meaning the lifting of a veil - as in the veil of a bride when she sees the bridegroom – came to common usage in the 1300s. To recall from our history, that was when we started to be concerned with accurate visual representation of reality as perceived by the eye, so the new translation of the time fits. Also, like epiphany, the term gives context to the meaning of the term parousia in reference to the Second Coming.

I mention paruousia, because one verse used by Moses to support his idea that heaven both is and will be “there” (rather than here) is where Jesus says, “Where I am, there you will be also.”

First of all, why does Jesus say “Where I am,” rather than “Where I will be, there you will be also?” The answer might be obvious, but let’s not take for granted that the basic idea of the answer is found in the last post of this series. “Divine power and essence, which is the universal cause of all things, is infinite: consequently God through His power touches all things, and is not merely present in some places, but is everywhere.” This harkens back to God’s answer to the original Moses in Exodus 3 when God told Moses the name by which he could refer to Him to his fellow Israelites. To have said “I will be” is to risk the implication that He IS not somewhere at some given time, which is impossible. In fact, to say it is impossible for him not to be somewhere at a given time is really a mere shadow indicating His eternal Being.

To quote the context more fully, from John 14: 1-10:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; trust in God, trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?

That I can think of, the only meaning of “a place for you” to which Jesus here refers that would make sense in the context of scripture itself – and not in the context of modern history’s photographs of the earth from outer space and pagan history’s beliefs in the immortal soul and the underworld – is Revelation 21: 10. That says: “And he [an angel] carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like…” I included “her brilliance” from verse 11, because it refers to the idea of the lifting of a veil, at the heart of the meaning of Revelation in the first place.

11th Century Greek Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection of the Dead:

Anyway, the point I’m making is that John 14: 1-10 is, partially, in reference to the idea of and events surrounding the Second Coming. Thus, he is talking about an APPEARANCE. This is why “from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” fits perfectly in the context of and helps complete the meaning of Christ’s saying “Where I am, there you will be also.” That Christ’s eschatology is ultimately about the renewal of creation (Revelation 21: 10), rather than the disappearance into an elsewhere, is why the Greek word for “dwelling places” in John 14: 2, which is often translated as “rooms” or “mansions”, is the Greek word monai. Monai, in Greek, actually means “wayside inn.” In other words, according to N.T. Wright, when Jesus referred to his “Father’s house” as heaven, he was referring to a temporary abode for man until the ultimate resurrection and appearance of new life that is promised by the covenant narrative. N.T. Wright discusses the original Greek of that term monai and it’s relationship to Christian eschatology HERE.

Besides the Greek term monai, another point of discussion in that youtube video of N.T. Wright’s discussion of life after death (which is based on a book of his) is a shift that occurred “around 1200 A.D.” (Wright’s words) in how we tend to imagine life after death. In the early and middle stages of medieval times, like the icon shown above of the resurrection of the dead (from the 11th century), we saw images of humans, having been given flesh and life, rising from the earth in defeat of death. Suddenly, with Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” (1580’s), we see that a huge shift in emphasis had occurred. After 1200, A.D., which, remember from previous posts, was when the number zero entered western culture and man became much lighter, the emphasis is largely on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. In Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, you still see souls rising from the dead, but it is a very different image from the 11th century icon shown above. Now, however, our imagination has abandoned the part about what appears in the Last Judgment as souls rising from the dead and in medieval icons as bones rising from the earth, receiving flesh and gaining victory over death.

This is because, as discussed previously, we no longer identify with our bodies. You see that change in self-identification as you trace the change from the 11th century to Michelangelo's time to the recent "Left Behind" series, which pretty much ignores the resurrection, because we become what we behold.

The true meaning of the paruousia (partially informed by the meaning of the Greek term monai), then, is why it makes sense that the place to which Christ referred when he mentioned “a place I am preparing for you” ultimately ends up here rather than there, and in body and flesh. The end “opening up” to human sense isn’t a revelation of a disappearance into what can’t be sensed. And, considering that there was NO SUCH THING as “outer space”, but that man’s sense of reality was constrained by the sensible limits of the dome of heaven, the place from which “she” (the bride of Christ) appeared would not have been “out there” in the first place.

He says, “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” He does NOT say, “I will come again, receive you to Myself, and we will ascend again together, so that you may disappear with me into the spiritual realm.” In effect, however, that is precisely what the Gnostic apocrypha – discussed HERE previously in this blog series - say. In terms of the relation between sense and nonsense, it is also what happens when we talk on the telephone, watch TV, listen to the radio - all previously discussed HERE - or even look into a microscope. We become what we behold.

Also note that “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” fits with and was one of the sources of Aquinas’ idea of physical reality being CONTAINED BY the “bigger” spiritual reality of angels or of God, mentioned above in this post and discussed in the last post as well.

Above, I mentioned that John 14: 1-10 is only partially in reference to the idea of and events surrounding the Second Coming. One might also ask why the following, also from John 14: 1-10, fits into the context of a discussion of “where Jesus went": And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. That is in reference to the passion of Christ, his path and journey to the Cross. Once he got there, he was THEAtrically “raised on a pole” for all to see. This means that when Thomas asked Jesus where he was going, Jesus used it as an opportunity to teach his disciples about their own rough and difficult path ahead if they “endure” and remain faithful to him. The whole context of “Where I am, there you will be also” is in reference to his coming, his mission in doing so, and our mission afterwards.

John records the words of Jesus two chapters previous, in Ch. 12, verses 24-28, of which John 14: 1-10 becomes an echo and an affirmation:

The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone – a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them. Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead’? But that is the very reason why I came! Father, bring glory to your name.’”

In other words, when Jesus referred to “where he is going” and our “being there with him,” he was referring to the cross (by which a number of the apostles would later become dying kernels of wheat). This places John 14: 1-10 in the context of the covenant, which I will discuss in the next post.

“All in all”, then to, quote N.T. Wright from the beginning of this post, where we thought we were talking about where Jesus went was actually a conversation about His coming appearance, both “raised on a pole” and in the Second Coming, the parousia. “Humankind is redeemed, through Jesus, so that the image of God may be restored.” Look again at the 11th century Greek Orthodox icon of the general resurrection of the dead, shown above, and make note of what is seen. In the center of the image is an image of Christ. With powerfully bent and muscularised legs and feet, he is depicted as the image of strength, and clothed in white and gold, with the wounds of his passion still visible, he is imaged as the symbol of victory. With that strength, he straddles the grave and plunges the cross into it, forcefully breaking the chains and locks of death, shown falling meekly into the darkness below. Our having received flesh and the breath of life promised in Ezekiel 37: 4-6, on the right side of the audience’s view of the icon, you and I are shown being raised from death by and with Jesus. Some of those earlier medieval icons even show the bones of the grave that are to receive ligaments and flesh. Finally, on the left of the image is shown the believing saints, already victorious over death, praising and worshipping God for it! Hence their being clothed with splendor in crowns and fine garments. The basic idea of a redeemed humanity as the restored image of God is difficult for us to imagine or live out from our individual seat in heaven given to us by the course of our history.

One other use of parousia in scripture, which is not directly in reference to the Second Coming, is 2 Peter 3: 12. Here, parousia is in reference to the coming of the “Day of the Lord.” But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. In terms of the overall Christian idea of what is “to come”, this “Day of the Lord” and the “Second Coming”, however, are in reference to the same event. If we are focusing on a “coming appearance,” then we have to ask what these references to disappearance mean. Again, this points to the bigger context of the covenant narrative, the topic of my next post.

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