Part 1 of 4
There is much confusion in Christianity today surrounding the milieu of biblical eschatology. Specifically, there is widespread misunderstanding about the nature and timing of Jesus’ coming, arrival or presence (parousia in Greek). In popular preaching and imagination, it’s often called his “second coming” or “return.” Many life-long Jesus-followers are surprised to learn that these are notterms found in the Bible – and then to consider how these terms effect our thinking on just what this all means.
But the rabbit-hole goes even deeper: What if the confusion about Jesus’ coming reaches even farther back, to a more basic misunderstanding about what a ‘coming of God’ really was in the first place? What was a coming of God according to the Hebrew Scriptures?
In this series, I’d like to try and shed some light on this concept of a ‘coming of God,’ and why it matters to us today.
Before looking at what a ‘coming of God’ is according to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), let’s see if Jesus fit the pattern of a ‘coming of God’. Did Jesus come when, and to whom, he said he would come? Can we show that Jesus kept his promise to come again, in the glory of his Father, to his first-century believers?
Where Do We Begin? Jesus.
In taking a deeper look at this often-taken-for-granted concept, let’s refresh ourselves on when and how Jesus said he would come again. Most Christians today have picked up a futuristic paradigm through osmosis – it’s in the religious air we breathe. Because of an a priori commitment to the idea of a future second coming of Jesus, we bring the baggage of a futuristic paradigmto Scripture, not even stopping to question whether a solid interpretation of Scripture allows for this or not!
Our inherited futurism causes us to inadvertently run right over the plain teachings of Jesus about when and to whom he said he would come. It causes confusion because ministers have not been taught how Jesus fulfilled his prophecies to come, and yet they feel compelled to preach that “the Bible is true.” So while Christians believe Jesus is trustworthy – even the Son of God – their futuristic worldview causes them to necessarily (and yet needlessly) deny what Jesus plainly taught. And that’s a big deal.
Just for a moment, let’s set aside our futuristic presuppositions and open ourselves to questioning the idea of a future second coming – a proverbial “sacred cow” in conventional Christianity. Let’s ask: What do the Hebrew Scriptures show a ‘coming of God’ to be? Then let’s compare this to what Jesus actually taught about his coming. Then let’s hold this in light of what actually happened during the time Jesus said his prophecies would come true.
If a divine pattern emerges out of this that substantiates Jesus’ promise to come to his generation of believers, and if this pattern is different than what traditional Christianity has taught us to expect, then we may need to be open to questioning our previously-held beliefs. We may need to ask ourselves: Who do we trust more – the teaching of tradition or the promise of Jesus?
Let me introduce a thought that will help the rest of this make sense: why did this ‘coming of God’ need to happen, and why did it need to happen when Jesus said it would? Because Jesus didn’t teach that he was coming back to judge the whole physical world – this is something we read into Scripture. He was coming back to judge his conceptual world: the generation that crucified him, and to reward his first century saints.
Jesus was coming to end the world of political and religious power that the old temple system centered upon. It was called the ‘heaven and earth’ of the Old Covenant world. It was a world of concentrated power, burdensome laws and temple sacrifices. It had served its purposes, but its time was up. That world killed Jesus and yet, Jesus made this system obsolete with his life, death and resurrection.
My possibly-provocative assertion – that we will flesh out in upcoming posts – is that after the Great Revolt beginning in AD 66 and subsequent Roman siege of Jerusalem and destruction of its temple in AD 70, God no longer lived in a temple made with hands. God lived in a temple of people now – his Kingdom of people on earth. So Jesus was coming back to establish the ‘heaven and earth’ of the New Covenant world. And Jesus would be the Sun of Righteousness who would never stop shining in this new Kingdom of hearts and lives. Like the new wine that burst the old wineskins, Jesus was coming to establish the new ‘heaven and earth’ and to speed the passing of the ‘heaven and earth’ of the Old Covenant world.
When – and to whom – did Jesus promise to come?
When? This first question is so important. All New Testament eschatology is based on Jesus’ teachings about his coming. And Jesus’ teachings are based upon earlier teachings in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Jesus taught that he would come to his first generation of believers, both explicitly in direct statements, and implicitly in parables and other typological fulfillments of Hebrew Scriptures. I will only be able to touch on a small sample of Jesus’ many consistent teachings to this end.
To Jesus’ followers:
Truly I tell you, some of you who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:28, cf. Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27, emphases mine here and throughout)
To Jesus’ followers:
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23)
To Jesus’ disciples who explicitly asked him when he would come again to end the Old Covenant age:
So also, when you see all these things [seven signs], you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away untilall these things take place. (Matthew 24:33–34)
To Jesus’ disciples:
These are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written…when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is near…when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:22, 28 31)
Therefore I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.’ …When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they understood that he was speaking about them. (Matthew 21:40-41,43,45)
From now on, you [Caiaphas, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, the whole Sanhedrin] shall be seeing the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69)
If I want him [John] to remain until I come, what is that to you? (John 21:22)
When did Jesus say he would come? Certainly within the lifetime of his first believers. Jesus taught he would come to his then-living generation of followers to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures, end the Old Covenant age, fulfill the Kingdom of God and dwell with them forever.
But instead of trusting this teaching of Jesus, we are taught from traditional pulpits that Jesus did not come when he said he would come or fulfill what he said he would. This nonoccurence is thought to be so obvious that evidence for it is not even needed. After all, we are all still here, people are still crying and dying, and no new ‘heaven and earth’ or utopian world has replaced our world. But is a physical body floating down from the clouds to take up residence in a new physical planet really what Jesus promised? And did Jesus massively fail in doing this?
If we deny the clear time statements of Scripture pertaining to when Jesus’ coming would occur, then Jesus failed. And if we interpret the nature of the presence of Jesus and the new ‘heaven and earth’ through a physical-literal lens, instead of seeking to use Scripture to interpret Scripture as to the nature of these events, then Jesus failed to keep his promise. If Jesus missed to boat on such a frequent and blatant assertion, we have no reason to believe or follow him. There is no getting around this. We cannot make excuses and call a 2000 year nonoccurence a minor “delay.” It is a massive failure. Especially when Holy Writ holds itself to the mat in asserting that this great coming of God would be happening, posthaste:
For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. (Hebrews 10:37, circa 60s AD)
Looking anew at what a ‘coming of God’ was according to Scripture will shed new light on what Jesus and the whole Bible teaches about the nature and timing of Jesus’ coming into his Kingdom. If we set aside futuristic presuppositions for just a moment, letting Scripture and Jesus speak for themselves, these very time statements that have confounded so many become a reliable guidepost for Jesus’ right-on-time arrival. And Scripture itself helps us define the nature of the presence of Jesus and the new ‘heaven and earth,’ or Kingdom that was to come.
This work of discovery is taking context into consideration. It is reading Scripture in light of the ancient near-eastern apocalyptic context that these words were first breathed in. Jesus taught to a predominantly Jewish audience, and he used Jewish ideas – often quoting directly from the Hebrew Scriptures – to communicate with them in a way that his hearers would have understood more readily than we do today. This contextual view must be taken into account. When we do this, a whole new world – and a whole new kind of ‘coming of God’ – appears.
“Did Jesus’ AD70 coming fit the biblical pattern of a ‘coming of God’?” If it does, then far from being wrong, failed, or inexplicably delayed, as many teach today, Jesus’ promise to return to his first followers came right on time.
Stay tuned to this series to see how Jesus is quite vindicated in the pages of both Scripture and history – and why this matters to us today.
Last week, we looked at what Jesus had to say about the timing of his ownparousia, or “coming.”
So where else does the ‘coming of God’ show up in Holy Writ? Was a ‘coming of God’ like the world-devourer Galactus‘ herald Silver Surfer, gliding in from the sky all bright and shiny? Or was it a demonstration of God’s power in spiritual, physical and the visible realms? Let’s delve into the internal language of Scripture to discover what this concept means to its original speakers.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, a ‘Coming of God’ had many forms; a voice in the Garden, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire. A ‘coming of God’ in judgment was usually when God used the means of an enemy army to discipline a city and its inhabitants. God’s presence was recognized in that hostile army because God sent a prophet to warn of the event beforehand. In the biblical narrative, the pattern looks like this:
- A Prophet uses apocalyptic language to Tell people that ‘God is coming‘ to change the ‘heaven and earth’ of their society ->
- The Prophet tells people to repent and turn to God->
- The People don’t turn to God ->
- An Enemy army comes. and people “see” God – meaning, they recognize that God visited them in judgment ->
- God reorients the ‘heaven and earth’ of the political and religious order of their society.
Like Father, like Son:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27)
We sometimes forget the poetic stirrings in the ancient Hebrew writers, setting their evocative words in concrete, beyond all original recognition. Max King’s depiction of prophecy, though, brings me back to a primary understanding of how prophetic language functioned for its earliest hearers: “Prophecy is figurative language describing the spiritual significance of temporal events.”
This is how God came in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and this is how Jesus was prophesied to come “in the glory of the Father” in the New Testament. Many Christians do not know this, but in 70AD, that is exactly what happened. The presence of God, in the paradoxical form of Roman armies, trampled the city of Jerusalem for 42 months, or 3 1/2 years – just as prophesied, “…it is given to the nations, and they will trample the Holy City for 42 months” (Revelation 11:2). Afterwards, even the Jewish historian, Josephus, recognized that this was a Divine intervention – a Coming of God – breaking into and changing history forever.
The main difference between God’s comings in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus’ coming was that Jesus’ coming would be the climax of comings of God in history. His coming would consummate the New Covenant age of God’s Kingdom of people on earth.
“Now once at the consummation of the ages he has been manifested to put away sin.” (Hebrews 9:26)
Jesus’ coming would simultaneously cause the heaven and earth of the Old Covenant to become obsolete, disappearing from the relationship between God and humanity. And it would give way to the dawning of the New Covenant age, the heaven and earth of the New Covenant Kingdom of people.
“When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
Jesus’ glorious arrival would be into his New Kingdom – and that New Kingdom is us! Jesus arrived to give life to his own body on earth – the body of Christ.
Through Us, Not To Us
It’s time to adjust our lens. The purpose of God’s coming wasn’t to physically renew the earth into a utopian state in an instant. It was to consummate the marriage relationship begun, the New Covenant relationship, with the New ‘Israel of God’ in Christ. Historically, marriage has had the purpose of producing legally recognized descendants who could be designated as heirs to a father’s land or Kingdom. Such is the case with God, his bride and his children. God came and consummated a New Covenant world, making a new relationship with his bride, the New Humanity, so that they could begin producing spiritual children, heirs with rights to all the promises and benefits as God’s all-pervasive Kingdom.
This consummation has nothing to do with the end of the material world, or the beginning of a utopian earth. It is about belonging to a spiritual reality that we can live in now, amidst our material world. It is a Kingdom that is coming into the physical world through us. You can opt into it and recognize your belonging to it at any time.
It is not that God isn’t changing and powerfully transforming this world toward God’s own victorious influence of justice, mercy, hope and glory. No, its that these changes are breaking into the world through us, as we live out our lives seeking to be a benefit and blessing to all the world, opening ourselves to the very real and powerful presence of an all-in-all God. God is coming into this world through us, right now, not coming in one earth-ending future installation “to” us.
To End a Covenant World
So let’s look at the pattern in the text again.
There were many “Coming of God” events prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, complete with earth-ending and cloud-coming apocalyptic language, signifying great change. But was this language describing the end of the physical planet? Or was it the end of a society’s religious and political order – the end of their world as they knew it?
The Bible and history both confirm that this apocalyptic language was consistently describing the end of political and religious worlds – or societies – like Greece, Edom, Babylon, Egypt and Israel, as you can see from Scriptures we’ll explore below.
A Coming of God, in biblical literature, was never literally a physical deity dropping out of the ‘sky,’ although this cloud-coming language occurs to many modern ears that way. But an ancient person at all familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would have recognized that Jesus was quoting the Hebrew descriptions of past comings of God from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Thus, they would have reason to hear Jesus’ words in the same way – as a poetic and apocalyptic way of describing God’s end of Israel’s Old Covenantal world through the use of an enemy army. Jesus was not describing the end of the material world – not in his future, nor in ours.
Jesus, a prophet in the line of Hebrew prophets, predicted a ‘cloud-coming’ judgment on Jerusalem in his generation. Jesus was not predicting the end of the world, time or history! Jesus simply quotes his Hebrew Bible and follows the same Hebrew biblical pattern set by many before him, in a way his first century Jewish audience would understand. Jesus was predicting great covenantal change, as signified by his paradoxical presence in Jerusalem being given over to its violent strategies via Rome in AD 70, having ignored Jesus’ Way of Peace (Luke 13:34-35).
Stay tuned – we’ll be exploring more about the coming of God next week!
In this series, we’ve been exploring the possibility that Jesus’ “coming on the clouds” was a symbolic way of speaking about the spiritual meaning of the one of the most significant events in the First Century CE: The Jerusalem civil war, and subsequent Roman attack, culminating in the destruction of the Hebrew Temple.
But is this the only time Scripture describes God “coming on the clouds”? If there are others, do we see these “cloud comings” of God in history following a similar pattern of nature and timing?
Here I want to show how the nature of the rich, evocative language of trumpets, clouds, darkening of the constellations, burning up of the heavens and shaking of the earth’s foundations are ways the biblical writers envisioned God coming with armies in judgment.
The timing of these ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events is within one generation of when the prophet spoke the words of warning.
Jesus and his earliest followers stand in precisely this lineage of the Hebrew prophetic pattern when they proclaim a coming of God in the coming judgment on Jerusalem and the new paradigm that was emerging.
Let’s take a look at several of these Hebrew prophetic precedents.
God’s Coming to End Saul’s Kingdom – 1000 BC
Then the earth shook and quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling and were shaken, because he was angry. Smoke went up out of his nostrils, fire from his mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and he came down with thick darkness [on the earth] under his feet. And He rode on a cherub and flew;
And he appeared on the wings of the wind. And he made darkness canopies around him, a mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky…The Lord thundered from heaven…And he sent out arrows, and scattered them, lightning…at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
(2 Samuel 22:8-16, emphases mine)
Notice the descriptions: God came down and God appeared. Did God visibly appear, like a Stan Lee Marvel movie walk-on cameo?
This would be difficult to comport with the worldview of the ancient biblical writers. God is Spirit, and later Scriptures say that no one has seen God (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). So we have no reason to believe that these prophetic authors held that these ‘comings of God’ were bodily or even visible. Nonetheless, they were very real and perceptible in the spiritual and social worlds of their hearers, for those who had “eyes to see” and minds to perceive the spiritual significance of divine involvement.
Notice also that the ‘shaking of heaven and earth’ were symbolic ways of describing the decline of a nation. For example, in Haggai,
Tell Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations…
For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations…
Likewise, the shaking of the temple system of Old Covenant Israel is symbolically described as God shaking the ‘heaven and earth’ of old in 70AD:
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.’ And this word, ‘Yet once more’ symbolizes the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken…
God Comes in a Cloud Against Ancient Egypt – 700s BC
Behold, Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and comes to Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall tremble at hispresence; and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians.
Notice that God’s coming to Egypt is described as sending the Egyptians to fight a war. The Egyptians are depicted as acting as God’s instrument, doing the divine will, in this prophesied war.
God Comes to Judge Nineveh – 600s BC
The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries, and He reserves wrath for his enemies…in whirlwind and storm is his way, and clouds are the dust beneath his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the blossoms of Lebanon wither. Mountains quake because of him and the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by his presence; the world and all the inhabitants in it.
In this cloud-coming judgment God’s presence is prophesied to destroy the world. But we know from the context and from history that the biblical authors mean the world of Nineveh – not planet earth.
I hope you’re beginning to see a biblical-language paradigm for this-worldlysymbolic Divine appearing, in the form of temporal events whose spiritual significance was intelligible to their hearers as fulfilled within a generation of their prophesying. This stands in marked contrast to the literalistic, far-futuristic, science-fiction caricatures that – through our collective cultural amnesia – have pervaded our public discourse on prophecy and eschatology.
Join me right here at the Presence blog next week as we look at five more Hebrew biblical examples of God’s comings in history.
In this series, we’ve been exploring the Bible’s rich, haunting, and sometimes-confusing language of trumpets, clouds, darkening of the constellations, burning up of the heavens and shaking of the earth’s foundations.
What I’m suggesting is that just as Jesus’ “coming on the clouds” was a symbolic way of speaking about the spiritual meaning of first-century temporal events, so there are other recorded “cloud comings”of God in history following a similar pattern. These can shed valuable light on an often-overlooked aspect of biblical prophetic speech.
Last week we looked at several of these cosmic occurrences – predicted and fulfilled – in ancient Israel’s history. This week we’ll examine several more examples that take place during the time of Israel’s exile.
God Comes to Judge Egypt in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC
The day is near, even the day of the LORD is near; It will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword will come upon Egypt, and anguish will be in Ethiopia; When the slain fall in Egypt…And they will know that I am the LORD, when I set a fire in Egypt…I will also make the hordes of Egypt cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He and his people with him, the most ruthless of the nations, will be brought in to destroy the land; and they will draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain. (Ezekiel 30:3-4,8, 10-11)
Notice the “Day of the Lord” mentioned here is a local judgment – or war – on Egypt. According to the author of Ezekiel, God says the acts of Nebuchadnezzar are really from him, and God intends to make his presence in that war known. The army is used as an instrument of judgment in God’s hand to judge Egypt, just as the Roman army was used to judge Jerusalem.
God Comes to Judge Edom in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC
YHWH is enraged against all the nations, and angry with all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them…the stench of their dead bodies will come up; and the mountains will melt in their blood. All of the host of heaven will be dissolved. The heavens will be rolled up like a scroll, and all its armies will fade away, as a leaf fades from off a vine or a fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven. Behold, it will come down on Edom, and on the people of my curse, for judgment. Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood… a great slaughter in the land of Edom…For YHWH has a day of vengeance…From generation to generation, it will lie waste. No one will pass through it forever and ever. (Isaiah 34: 2-6, 8-10)
Notice that Jesus quotes from this passage in Isaiah when Jesus prophesies the Destruction of Jerusalem to his disciples in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Isaiah says that the whole host of heaven will be destroyed, the very sky will be rolled up like a scroll and God’s sword will be bathed with blood and in the sky. This is cosmic and universal-sounding language describing local events with spiritual implications.
God Comes to Judge Israel at the Time of the Babylonian Exile – 500s BC
…I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face… All flesh shall see that I, YHWH, have kindled it…Thus says YHWH: Behold, I am against you, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked. …all flesh shall know that I, YHWH, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath.
(Ezekiel 20:33-35,47-48; 21:3-5, emphasis mine)
Behold, [God] goes up like clouds
And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, That you may be saved…I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void;
And to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
And all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness,
And all its cities were pulled down Before the LORD, before His fierce anger. For thus says the LORD, The whole land shall be a desolation,
Yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it. At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees;
They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; Every city is forsaken, And no man dwells in them. And you, O desolate one, what will you do?
(Jeremiah 4:13-14, 23-30)
Notice the references back to creation. Is the prophet saying that God is going to terraform the planet? No. This is poetic and apocalyptic language to describe a war – the end of the world as they knew it.
God Comes To Judge Ancient Babylon Using the Medes – 500s BC
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. See, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity…
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished. See, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.
(Isaiah 13:6-11, 13,15-19, emphasis mine)
Is this verse saying that the earth was blasted with asteroids and falling stars? Were the sun, moon and stars all destroyed so that they wouldn’t shine anymore? Did the earth come out of its usual orbit and shake?
This is apocalyptic and symbolic language describing the shaking of the political powers of a nation – specifically, the ramifications of the Medes on the social, political and religious order of Babylon. The ‘heaven and earth’ or ‘sun, moon and stars’ language here refers to the shaking political order of the nation itself, just like the symbols you see on a nation’s flag today – a red sun for Japan, an earth for Brazil, the crescent moon and star for Islam, the 50 stars for the States of America. All universally recognized national, political and religious symbols. This same use of symbols in language is present in Biblical times.
God Comes During the Maccabean Period
For I have bent Judah for me, I have filled the bow with Ephraim; and I will stir up your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and will make you as the sword of a mighty man. YHWH shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord YHWH will blow the trumpet, and will go with whirlwinds of the south. YHWH of Hosts will defend them; and they shall devour, and shall tread down the sling-stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar. YHWH their God will save them in that day (Zechariah 9:13-16)
Bows and Arrows, Swords and Slings, Wine and Bowls, and altars. Battle meets ritual in this prophetic depiction of war.
I hope the biblical-language paradigm of using symbolic language to uncover the spiritual meaning of this-worldly symbolic Divine appearings is plain now. Temporal events were interpreted according to their inner significance to the soul of a nation, in a way that their original hearers understood. This stands in marked contrast to the woodenly literal, endlessly-deferred, sci-fi interpretations that – through pious repetition – have lit up our airways, bookstores, and movie screens with tales of a highly abstract future woe.
Riley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blog, at Living the Question.