Published by Worldview Publications
September/October 2002 

“His Judgment Is Come”1

In Greek thinking ultimate reality is a substance or essence. Any consequent relationality is not “substantial” but “accidental.”2 These suppositions were adopted by the Western world during the Axial Age (800-200 BCE) and have been tenaciously held ever since.

On the other hand, in ancient Hebrew thinking relationality precedes and underlies all reality. Substances, entities, individuals are the consequence, not the precedence, of relationality. Moreover, for the Hebrews the concept of “covenant” is a metaphor for ultimate relationality.

Although covenant has a lot of different faces, it is the basic framework for the Hebrew experience of God’s transforming presence in their life. It is the root metaphor and it writes a sacred story. It is the religious deep story out of which this people lives. They live into it and they live out of it. Each of the successive forms of the covenant is a particular story which is a version of the cultic deep story. . . . Covenant, with all its variations of plot and subplot, remains the religious and cultic deep story of the Hebrew people.3

The Unspeakable Covenantal Gift

It is in this context that God constitutes the Covenant. God is El-Berit (Covenant) (Judges 9:46). God is Ultimate Covenantal Relationality.

I the Lord have called thee [Messiah] in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles . . . I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another . . . — Isaiah 42:6, 8 (emphasis supplied).

Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee [Messiah] for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages . . . — Isaiah 49:8 (emphasis supplied).

Thus, when God metaphorically said to Noah, “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you . . . ” (Genesis 9:9), God was actually saying, “And I, behold, I establish myself with you . . .

In the ancient biblical world the royal concept also was employed to define the relationship among people. In this setting God was the only authentic King:

But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. — 1 Samuel 8:6, 7 (emphasis supplied).

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. — Zechariah 9:9 (emphasis supplied); see Matthew 21:1-9.

Thus, “covenant” and “King” are metaphors for God himself. Together, these metaphors are embraced by the Temple, which also is a fundamental metaphor for God (Revelation 21:22). However, the Temple is not only the place of the covenant and the throne for the King. Also, the Temple extends its metaphor to the historical actions of God, beginning with his heavenly enthronement (Most Holy Place), then his human embodiment (Holy Place), and finally his earthly baptism and sacrificial death (Outer Court). The Temple metaphor thus presaged the incarnation, life, ministry and death of God as Jesus Christ. In this covenantal action God took upon himself the burden of predatory self-existence, of contractual law wrongly applied to persons as property, goods and services, of sin as the disruption of covenantal relationality, and of death itself.

The Temple metaphor further portrayed the embodied resurrection, ascension and enthronement of God as Jesus Christ — for the sacrificial act symbolizes not only death but also the creation of new life.4 Jesus Christ was the inaugural “fillment” of the new Creation/new (covenantal) order. Finally, the Temple metaphor embraced the promised covenantal return of Jesus Christ as the human embodiment of God:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. — John 14:1-3.

The Unspeakable Tragedy

However, to conclude that God himself constitutes the covenantal parties (both fully divine and fully human), the covenantal terms, and the covenantal “fillment” raises the most piercing question of human history. If God is the Covenant and is thus the eternal and irrevocable Fulfillment of the covenant, why has he delayed his return? Why has he not yet granted mankind the full covenantal blessings of his presence? Why has he not returned to transform mankind from primal animality into the image of his own true humanity? How can we explain the nearly 2,000-year delay in his Parousaic appearance (Second Coming)?

The painful answer to this question goes back to the period of the Second Temple. Beginning with their return from Babylonian exile during the reign of Cyrus I (ca. 538 BCE) and the subsequent “reforms” of Ezra and Nehemiah (ca. 445-428 BCE), the restored people of Israel became convinced that they themselves constituted the human party to the covenant. Because they saw themselves as the earthly manifestation of the covenant, rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem symbolized to them the restoration of their covenantal autonomy. Throughout the Persian, Hellenistic (Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Hasmonean) and Roman periods of the restored Israel, these misguided covenantal convictions only deepened. In fact, with the emergence of the sectarian movements (Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc.), there was a growing conviction that Israel itself was the Temple, that Israel itself possessed God, that Israel itself constituted the covenant and its imminent “fillment”!

At that very same time, the imperial cult rapidly emerged within the dominant pagan Roman Empire. The imperial cult divinized the deceased Caesar Julius, declaring that the reigning Caesar Augustus was the Son of God.5 Similarly, Herod the Great, who represented Rome during his reign in Israel, contended that he himself was the promised Messiah!6 Surrounded by these claims, the Jewish people professed not to worship Caesar. Yet they did make sacrificial offerings on his behalf!7

It was in this immediate setting that “the fulness of the time was come, [and] God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). With amazing timing, mankind was confronted with the historical reality of God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ, of his human life in Nazareth, of his ministry throughout the Promised Land, of his sufferings and death in Jerusalem, of his embodied resurrection from the tomb and, finally, of his ascension to the heavens from the Mount of Olives.

In his last words to the disciples before his ascension, Jesus declared, “ . . . [Y]e shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis supplied). Lest these words be misunderstood, it here should be apparent that the followers of Jesus did not constitute the covenant, nor were they a party or agent of the covenant, nor were they called to fulfill the covenant. Rather, they were called to testify that the God who had become human had himself fulfilled the covenantal promises as both the divine and human parties. Acting as Jesus Christ, God had made “his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). God had become human in order that he might constitute the full liberation of mankind from possessional bondage to the fullness of covenantal life. This one-and-only Human God therefore constitutes the freedom of the new Creation. He constitutes faith, hope and love on behalf of all humanity, all life, all the universe. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

Yet over against the “unspeakable gift” there has been the unspeakable tragedy. From the day of Pentecost until now, the followers of Jesus have perceived themselves as the covenantally chosen people who have superseded the Jews. They have believed that they themselves constitute the covenant and thus possess God (Gnosticism, panentheism, charismatic movement, New Age movement), are God (pantheism), or are destined to become God (so-called “orthodoxy”). They all have followed in the footsteps of our first parents in the Genesis story, who fell for the deceptive claim, “ . . . [Y]e shall be as gods, [covenantly] knowing [yada] good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Thus, for nearly 2,000 years the professed followers of God have obstructed his parousaic return. They have established religious power structures and have allied themselves with political, socio-economic and other power structures in order to supposedly demonstrate their own covenantal identity, inherent destiny and autonomous divinity. This has persisted through the apostolic, patristic and conciliar eras and then throughout the medieval, renaissance and modern ages.

Today the world is witnessing an extreme religious fundamentalism that is rapidly emerging from (and in alleged opposition to) a deeper and even more pervasive secular nihilism.8 This religious fundamentalism characterizes all three monotheistic religions — Jewish, Christian and Islamic. While the tripartite religious fundamentalists are arrayed one against the other, they are profoundly similar in their aspirations. They believe that they constitute the covenant. They believe that they possess God, are God, or are in the process of becoming God. They believe that the created order — including all “others” — is expendable and that Creation itself is dispensable.

In a recent interview on her treatise, The Battle for God,9 the British scholar, Karen Armstrong, stated:

Fundamentalism cannot be defeated, and, in a sense, fundamentalism has won a great victory. By the middle of the twentieth century, it was generally assumed that religion would never again play a role in great events. Today, however, no government can ignore it. Israel began as a defiantly secular state, for example, but now the Prime Minister of Israel must go hat in hand to the religious parties to make a government. In Egypt, Islamic fundamentalism is as popular today as Nasserism was in the 1960s. Even in the United States, politicians have to flaunt their born-again credentials. . . .

But, on another level, fundamentalism represents a defeat for the religious traditions that fundamentalists are fighting to preserve, because they tend to downplay compassion, which all the world faiths insist is the primary religious virtue, and overstress the more belligerent and intolerant aspects of the traditions. At the root of fundamentalism are nihilism, hopelessness, and despair.10

As we observe the world today, we see a battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-16: Har Moed = mount of assembly; Har Migdo = God’s fruitful mountain) being orchestrated to pit the so-called God-lovers against the so-called God-haters.11 Beneath the surface, all sides in this exploding conflict contend for the Hegelian premise that —

All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State [power structure]. For his spiritual reality consists in this, that his own essence — Reason — is objectively present to him, that it possesses objective immediate existence for him. . . . For Truth is the unity of the universal and subjective will; and the Universal is to be found in the State, in its laws, its universal and rational arrangements. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. We have in it, therefore, the object of history in a more definite shape than before; that in which Freedom obtains objectivity. For Law is the objectivity of the Spirit . . . Only that will which obeys law, is free . . .12

God intended mankind to be open, free and responsible. However, instead of exercising these prerogatives as intended, we have evidenced our ignorance, our willful arrogance, our inhuman power structures. We have failed to understand the nature of God’s own promises. We have exploited every opportunity except the privilege of witnessing individually and communally to the reality of his “unspeakable gift.”

Called to Be Witnesses

We are now about to witness the total collapse of the worldview under which mankind determines to possess God, to be God, or to become God — and thus to further the Adamic sin. The ultimate arrogance of global nihilism and its despicable intentions are soon to be fully unmasked. “The hour of his judgment is come” (Revelation 14:7).

We are now about to witness the foundational truth that God as Jesus Christ alone is the Covenant and its Fulfillment. He alone has already overturned all power structures, all possession, all dispossessive exclusion, all contractual bondage, all sin and death. He alone has effected covenantal liberation, covenantal justice, covenantal faith, hope and love. He alone is the Unspeakable Gift. He alone can extend the benefits of himself as the Covenant to all mankind. “The hour of his judgment is come.”

We are now called to be God’s witnesses. We are called to free ourselves from ultimate dependence on all structures, entities and endeavors that purport to be covenantal agencies or that support such purported agencies, since such dependence would compromise our witness. As human individuals and communities, we are called before the throne of God to acknowledge, accept and celebrate his revelation in the final court of judgment — to embrace his promised Parousaic appearance (Second Coming) and transformation of Creation into his own likeness. It is time to grant Jesus Christ his justice. It is time to freely give ourselves to him as he already has given himself to us — for “the hour of his judgment is come.”

Notes and References

  1. Revelation 14:7. (go back)
  2. “‘Substance’ is a key Aristotelian category: something is what it is, but also has some ‘accidental’ configurations. A human individual is the same human individual whether she or he is tall or short, dark or light, has many relationships or few. The human self is an autonomous self; it first exists and then enters into relationships. The relationships may change, but the individual, autonomous self remains fundamentally the same self. Accordingly, the philosophical category of ‘relation’ is a philosophical ‘accidental.’ It is undoubtedly this deep conviction about the individual, autonomous self that has promoted . . . Greek reflection . . . ” – Bernard J. Lee, Jesus and the Metaphors of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), p. 59. (go back)
  3. Ibid., p. 49. (go back)
  4. “ . . . [A]ny sacrifice is, in turn, the repetition of the act of Creation . . . ” – Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return: Or, Cosmos and History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 11. (go back)
  5. See Will Durant, Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from Their Beginnings to A.D. 325 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 226. (go back)
  6. See Louis H. Feldman, “Palestinian and Diaspora Judaism in the First Century,” in Hershel Shanks, ed., Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992), p. 6. (go back)
  7. See Abba Eban, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (New York: Summit Books, 1984), p. 79. (go back)
  8. “ . . . [T]he Christian is, in a certain sense – in an ultimate sense – a ‘Nihilist’; for to him, in the end, the world is nothing, and God is all. This is, of course, the precise opposite of the Nihilism . . . where God is nothing and the world is all; that is a Nihilism that proceeds from the Abyss . . . ” – Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (Forestville, CA: Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation, 1994), p. 96. (go back)
  9. See Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000). (go back)
  10. Interview with Karen Armstrong by Jonathan Kirsch, in Armstrong, Battle for God, “A Reader’s Guide.” (go back)
  11. Editorial Staff, Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM ed. (1997), s.v. “Armageddon.” (go back)
  12. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (New York: Dover, 1956), p. 39. See also “Popper compiles for us a number of characteristic statements: ‘The Universal is to be found in the State’, Hegel writes. ‘The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth . . . We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is difficult to comprehend Nature, it is infinitely harder to grasp the Essence of the State . . . The State is the march of God through the world . . . The State must be comprehended as an organism . . . To the complete State belongs, essentially, consciousness, and thought. The State knows what it wills . . . The State is real; and . . . true reality is necessary. What is real is eternally necessary . . . The State . . . exists for is own sake . . . The State is the actually existing, realized moral life.’” (go back)

Last Revised September 2011

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