Posted by: Dan | February 19, 2007

An Eschatological Criticism — of the Church?

Jesus' critique of the Temple is not strictly economic, legal, or even political — it is eschatological. Economic or political failings would call for reform, legal failings for purification (compare the Maccabean rededication) — they would not necessarily call forth a prophetic sign of judgment and destruction. Jesus' problem with the Temple was rather one of eschatology: the cult as it stood had failed to effect the eschatological event that its sacrifices — in particular, the Passover sacrifice — were supposed to bring about: the forgiveness of Israel's sins and the Return from Exile

the Temple, which was supposed to be the site where the “forgiveness of Israel's sins” took place, had failed to bring about the eschatological event for which it had been designed: i.e., it had failed to bring about the ingathering of the exiles… As a result with the coming of the Son of Man, it would be destroyed, and the Messianic king would succeed where the Temple had failed.

~ Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement, 288, 375-76.

Those who understand Jesus and Paul to be engaging in subversive (and even revolutionary) activity have often pointed out the socio-political and economic implications of Jesus' prophetic actions within (and sayings about) the Jerusalem Temple. Consequently, those Christians today who seek to live subversively, and who have challenged culturally-conditioned forms of Christianity, have used Jesus' criticism of the Temple as a springboard to criticise the socio-political and economic abuses propagated by “mainstream” Western churches.

However, what has been missing in much of this contemporary criticism is that which Pitre argues is at the core of Jesus' critique of the Temple — the eschatological element. Certainly the socio-political and economic elements of Jesus' critique of the Temple should not be dismissed, but they need to be understood in context, and in context these elements must be seen as consequences of the more basic (and fatal) problem: the Temple had not brought about the forgiveness of sins and the end of exile. Because it had not accomplished these things, the Temple actually achieved the opposite goal: it perpetuated exilic conditions by shunning the sick, by oppressing the power, and by supporting death-dealing power structures.

Therefore, those of us today who wish to criticise “mainstream” Western churches cannot simply focus upon the ways in which the “mainstream” Western churches perpetuate exilic conditions by shunning the sick, by oppressing the poor, and by supporting death-dealing power structures. Rather, if we are to get to the core of the problem, we must examine the way in which much of the contemporary Church fails to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and bring about the end of exile. It is this failure that is the fatal flaw of much of the Church — and it is this failure that makes me wonder about the way our churches will be judged when the Son of Man returns.

If we are to truly be God's out-of-exile-people, if we are truly those who possess the eschatological Spirit, if we are to succeed where the Temple failed, and if we hope for vindication when the Son of Man returns, then we must communally embody the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, and live in such a way that reveals, to both churches and society, that exile is over/ending. Living in this way requires us to rethink much of what we take for granted, indeed, it requires us to rethink all areas of our lives.

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