Discussing
Atonement, Justice and the Resurrection

Paul Vander Klay

Rickd
September 27, 2010

Why Should the resurrection energize a Christian’s participation in public justice? If anything, it is the death of our own personal ability to achieve justice. One could just as well argue that all of our efforts are bound to fail and only God alone, in his own self-sufficient power, with no assistance, brought supernatural justice. The resurrection signifies the death of our ability to create justice through the sword, the power of the state, the power of sheer numbers, the powers of persuasion, the power of moral example or even the power of self-sacrifice. There is no law of inevitable resurrection resulting from suffering from evil or providing an example of self-sacrifice. It is all a work of grace completely outside our agency.<br><br>How do we use Colossians 1: 15-20 as a basis to actively work towards political and social justice? That really seems to do violence to the plain or literal sense of the scripture. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that is what is being said or even implied here.<br><br>I agree that the resurrection is the first fruits of our hope, but it is a hope located in the reality of the eternal after-life as 1st Corinthians 15 says. Or as Peter puts it, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”<br><br>Colossians 3:2 “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”<br><br>None of Jesus’ band of 12 took up social justice issues. Not that it is wrong, but it was obviously not primary. No one railed against slavery, no one tried to put an end to Rome’s genocidal wars, no one reformed farming practices or no one decried the environmental devastation Rome was wreaking. The saints took care of widows...in the church. They shared their money and property...with others in the church. They took up an offering for those suffering from famine... within the Jerusalem church. They were invested in living an alternative lifestyle.<br><br>In fact one could make a case that it is even hopeless to be involved reforming the institutions of this world, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”<br><br>In some sense the resurrection put the last coffin nail in the reformation minded, social justice issues of the Old testament prophets who sought perfection in this world.<br><br>I always appreciate your depth of thought and I don’t mean this as criticism, but inquiry. And I do believe in our duty under a democratic form of government to strive for justice. But I don’t see it as in any sense, primary. I have done some reading on the theories of the atonement and Beilby’s book sounds fascinating. I will have to read it.

Wmrharris
September 27, 2010

It may be that it is the Christus Victor atonement model that best fits with politics. The nature of politics is so intensely pragmatic and often so filled with ideologies and self that the Gospel must stand against it, at least to the extent that politics can so easily be a tool of the cross-defeated principalities and powers. <br><br>But if the cross and atonement stands against politics in its absolutizing mode, the same also makes a different politics possible. The political action, even of the revolutionary -- perhaps most distinctively of the revolutionary, is one fundamentally grounded in a kind of hope. The atonement frees us to act in hope, without the demonizing or depersonalizing of the the political Other. <br><br>This model in turn leads to a true form of justice, based on the recognition of the other, that is, one of fundamental covenant instead of that common model grounded in a kind of nominalism, the sort usually found in social justice moments. Only when I see the other can I begin to act with real justice instead of fulfilling my own ego needs. (Appeal to Law, whether by left or right, necessarily brings in the knowing self, the cutting of corners and the like).

Tracey Sheneman
October 8, 2010

Jesus, social revolutionary par excellence (see "The woman at the well," "The Good Samaritan," "The Healing of the Centurion's Servant," "friend of tax collectors and sinners," "healing and picking grain on the Sabbath," etc.) and trailblazing prophet of God (the Alpha and the Omega of all biblical prophets) is the gold standard of justice and equity in human relations. From overturning revered customs and traditions to literally overturning the moneychangers' tables, Jesus leaves no room for doubt about the centrality of justice in the kingdom of God. But this is God's justice, justice that led Jesus, in Luke 16:15, to inveigh, "Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed [mammon, in verse 13] among men is an abomination in the sight of God." According to the distributive economic model of the kingdom of God, the only good use for money is giving it away! "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings." (Luke 16:9) <br><br>One of the priorities of the gospel, and the infant church, was the conscious and deliberate elimination of human barriers to worship, fellowship, and communion with God. Gone, in the new community of faith in Jesus, was the requirement of converts to Judaism of male circumcision and observance of Torah; gone was the forced separation of Jew and non-Jew, male and female, child and adult, slave and free, citizen and barbarian: in this community, all are included by way of faith in Jesus. This was, for pious 1st-century Jews, nothing less than the beginning of a religious and social revolution. This Way began to threaten the precariously-balanced status quo in Jerusalem and Judea. <br><br>In the present time we are called to live out Jesus' radical hospitality, mercy, and justice in the regnant milieu of consumerism, graft, and celebrity worship by defying the powers of money and privilege, despising the conceits of fame and status, and shaming the wise of this world with Christ's foolishness. If he freely lives in and through us, he has turned our whole worldview upside down, and the things that we formerly esteemed as essential are now revealed as the foul-smelling feces they actually are. What was once counted as gain is now counted as loss for the sake of him who loved us.<br><br>Justice, for the Christian, is realized only when the individual human will is completely subjugated to the will of Christ. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done" must be ever on my lips as my only supplication. I have no need of material goods and physical comfort, I need only know God's desire for me and possess the presence of mind and the Spirit's power to act accordingly. <br><br>Through the cross, God worked divine justice through arrogant, sinful human agency. In complete subjection to the Father's will, the Son made a public spectacle of the powers of darkness in an adulterous age, triumphing over his enemies as he endured the shame of the crucifixion. In his weakness, nakedness, and helplessness Jesus unleashed the most potent force in the universe: the unfailing, unfaltering, and unflinching love of the Eternal God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. <br><br>Justice delivered. Free at last!

Paulvanderklay
October 8, 2010

Wow, what a reply! Thank you.

Tracey Sheneman
October 9, 2010

You're welcome.<br><br>Interpretations of the atonement vary, obviously. I experience the atonement as death of malignant ego through one's identification with and surrender to Christ. The more Christ is incarnated in the human psyche, the more aware I become of the utter depravity of the sinful man within. <br><br>It is a Paul describes in Romans 7:24-25 (NLT), "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin."<br><br>In my mind I want to obey God, but the self-centered life of the ego sabotages my good intentions at every opportunity! The atonement is the means by which God renders the ego impotent, freeing us from the guilt of sin, and granting us new birth as children of God and partakers of the divine nature by the Holy Spirit. "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)<br><br>These are the true riches of God, the inheritance of every believer: "we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16) Nothing in this temporary existence can compare to knowing Christ, sharing in his death so as to obtain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11) Our God is great indeed, and unsearchable are the riches of his wisdom!

JCarpenter
October 13, 2010

By limiting any social justice activity to "within the church" Christians would need to re-think the Q &amp; A "Who is my neighbor?"<br>Were OT prophets seeking humanistic perfection, or were they declaring God's social justice through his servants' agency?

Rickd
October 13, 2010

This neighbor parable is given directly after the 72 disciples returned from healing, casting out demons and preaching the gospel to all the local towns of Israel. The subject of the parable is acquiring eternal life (what shall I do to inherit eternal life?). God loves everyone and desires to save everyone and so should we. That was the point of the Good Samaritan. Showing mercy to anyone who needs healing is a scriptural principle, and particularly appropriate as the disciples returned from their healing and preaching mission. The gospel is for everyman, love is not limited by race or nationality as the Lawyer incorrectly thought. It would be a mistake to view this as a social justice proof text.<br><br>Were the OT prophets declaring God's social justice to entire world through his servants' agency? I don’t think so. That is much too wide a description. The messages of ethical, religious and moral reform were incumbent on the nation of Israel. Foreign nations were judged for abusing the nation of Israel. As representatives of His glory the Jews were to reflect His moral perfection. Also, it is a mistake to impose our conceptions of social justice on ancient Israel. God instructed the Israelites to commit genocide on foreign nations and to enslave others. He “instructed their hands in war”. He gave regulations for the instituition of slavery and established capital punishment. All religions were not equal, GLBT people were stoned. The sojourner was to be treated with respect but did not have the same rights as the native Israelite. Businessmen like Jacob or Abraham aquired capital and invested, retaining the profits to expand their operations and were assisted by angels, dreams and revelations in their ventures.<br><br>I am just telling you how the direct hearers of the words of Jesus, the disciples that Jesus invested all his time in, interpreted his teaching with the aid of the Holy Spirit. No one railed against slavery, no one tried to put an end to Rome’s genocidal wars, no one reformed farming practices or no one decried the environmental devastation Rome was wreaking. The saints took care of widows...in the church. They shared their money and property...with others in the church. They took up an offering for those suffering from famine... within the Jerusalem church. They were invested in living an alternative lifestyle. It is instructive to examine how they actually acted on His word. That was my point.

Jcfish57
October 19, 2010

The disciples started locally, in the church; the mission expanded with Christendom; does not the hermeneutic expand also with present-day disciples?

Rickd
October 19, 2010

JC I am not sure what you are suggesting. “The disciples started locally and the mission expanded with Christendom”? Does that mean that the mission changed to social justice concerns when the church reached a certain size? The mission was always the great comission no matter the time or age of the church, even more so today. Do you find warrant for this future change of the fundamental mission in scripture? During Paul’s lifetime the church expanded from northern italy, to north Africa, Iran, Turkey and Aisa Minor. The hermeneutic didn’t change then. I am interested in what you are thinking but could you respond to the questions I raised? Thanks.<br><br>“does not the hermeneutic expand also with present-day disciples?” What you are suggesting is not an expanding hermaneutic, but a fundamental change of mission, a new theology.

Tracey Sheneman
October 21, 2010

The kingdom of heaven and her citizens are rightly concerned with justice, mercy, and peace, the things Jesus was concerned with. As a kingdom of priests under the new covenant, we are to show mercy and compassion to "the least of these [Jesus'] brothers." This attitude of love and kindness in us toward the outcast and "sinner" is the result of our receiving mercy and forgiveness from God through faith in Christ, who died "while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8)." The perspective of the regenerated soul is other-directed, not self-directed; it is imbued with Christ's love for the forgotten, abused and rejected things of this world. <br><br>If the Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead is in us, it is only natural, as those who have been born of the Spirit, for us to be concerned for those who are oppressed and abused by the dominant cultural-religious-economic system. Once we comprehend the depth of God's kindness and mercy poured out on such an undeserving and ungrateful brood as ourselves, it becomes our moral and ethical duty, and the Spirit's compulsion, to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV)<br><br>Distributive justice, and not merely personal salvation, appeared to be on the Teacher's mind when he encountered the rich young ruler, in Luke 18:18-23. On hearing of the ruler's inquiry regarding inheriting eternal life (as if it were another material item to be acquired) and his profession of religious scrupulosity, Jesus advised the man, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." The man who wanted it all went away depressed because he did not value the true riches of the kingdom. The one thing he lacked to gain eternal life was compassion. He loved the things of this world more than God and those made in His image. If he would have heeded Jesus' words, he would have gained Christ and "friends...by means of unrighteous mammon, that may receive [him] into an everlasting home." (Luke 16:9, NKJV)<br><br>We are daily presented with the choice to cling to our lives or lose them for the sake of Christ and his kingdom; to give of our earthly treasure, our time, and ourselves in the service of others. Given the opportunity to let our light shine before men, sometimes we more readily identify with the rich man, contented and self-satisfied, thinking we deserve to enjoy the good things our labors and wise investments have gotten us, "faring sumptuously every day;" at other times we identify with the beggar Lazarus, "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which [fall] from the rich man's table." (Luke 16:19, 21, NKJV) The choice, of where to place our love and loyalty, is never easy nor is it obvious. Ignorance, however, will not wash as an excuse with the Lord. <br><br>"But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:48, NIV)<br><br>What is the justice spoken and demonstrated by the Lord Jesus, as an example for us to follow (if you want a proof-text, brother, you got it!)? Try this: "But I say to you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners [that's us] love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners [us, again] do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that you? For even sinners [us] lend to sinners [us] to receive as much back. But love your enemies [see Rom. 5:10], do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:27-36, NKJV)<br><br>Let's not be like our Laodicean brethren, those who "are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot," whom Jesus will vomit out of his mouth. "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'---and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked." (Rev. 3:16, 17, NKJV) Rather, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (Phil. 2:3) <br><br>Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.<br><br><br><br>

JCarpenter
October 21, 2010

I think there is some latitude in the hermeneutic of both the OT prophets (justice, mercy, peace), linked to as well the NT compassion in feeding, healing, tending to the blind/sick/orphaned/widowed/powerless, that makes social gospel paramount. Expanding the mission isn't necessarily changing its focus; as Tracy states below, social justice concerns always have been part of the mission. I apologize if I lack clarity.

Rickd
October 21, 2010

Beautifully expressed as always Tracey, and much that I think is true. You have a gift for writing . I do want to clarify a couple things though. Who are Jesus brothers, those sick and in prison and naked? <br><br>Matthew says, “The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”<br><br>Who are these brothers of Jesus? Is it everyone in prison? Everyone in the world? That is usually the interpretation that the social justice community gives. However, Jesus tells us pretty clearly who his brothers are:<br><br>Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” <br><br>The sons of God, the brothers of Jesus, may be hungry like Elijah whom the widow takes pity on and feeds. It may be Jeremiah locked in prison and thrown into a pit. Some of the court officials of Israel took pity on him and raised him gently from the mud with ropes. It may be Christians in Somalia unfairly persecuted for their faith or the Christians of Northern India who have lost their homes and are destitute. To be a brother of Jesus requires faith in Him and may entail suffering.<br><br>“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”<br>“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” <br><br>Proverbs 31 is a letter written by King Lemuel’s Mother to the young King of Israel. It deals with how he should treat the citizens of the kingdom of Israel. One of her bits of advice, which we forget, is to give wine and strong drink to the poor. “Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more. Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” Of course, this did not apply to the needy of the Philistines or Jericho or Canaan.<br><br>In Luke 18 is Jesus establishing an economic system? Or is Jesus dealing with the rich young ruler’s worship of money? The love of money is the root of all evil and can be an idol. I think that is what is being taught here, not “distributive justice”.<br><br>Luke 6 is not dealing with how we should treat those who are poor or less fortunate. In this teaching, WE are the less fortunate. WE are the afflicted and abused, we are the captive and we are to love our unfair captors, possibly leading them to salvation.<br><br>This is not to say that we have no obligation to the poor, far be from it. It was said that Amy Semple McPherson kept poor of the city of Los Angelos alive with her free soup kitchens. Christians are usually the first to respond and the last to leave storm-wracked Louisiana or Haiti, giving should just be in our DNA. I really admire the work of the Warrens with the AIDS community. But these examples are different from what people usually mean by social justice, socialism, the welfare state, liberation theology etc. The Church’s first and most important commission is to preach the gospel to all nations.

Tracey Sheneman
October 22, 2010

Rick, we all need to expand our definition a bit of who is Jesus brother or sister. Certainly the Apostle Paul is a brother and friend of Jesus Christ. We see things from the Sunday (resurrection) side of the story: we, the saved, are called to evangelize them, the lost. We tend to forget that before we understood the significance of the Cross, we too were lost---alienated in our minds from the life of God, enemies in our human nature to Christ, hostile to the way of holiness. Before Paul saw the light on the Damascus road he was Saul, the zealous persecutor of the brethren (in truth, he was persecuting Christ himself!). But, transformed by incomprehensible kindness of Jesus of Nazareth he could confidently assert, "By the grace of God I am what I am today." <br><br>Matt. 25:31-46 and Luke 8:20-38 speak of the divine paradox: it is to sinners, enemies of God, that Christ is addressing his teaching. We, as sinners deserving condemnation, have instead received pardon, mercy, forgiveness and blessing. Christ fed us, clothed us, nursed us when we were sick, and visited us when we were in the prison of sin and estrangement from God. He turned the other cheek when we struck him in anger and resentment. He allowed us to rob him and deny him the dignity of his holy name. He came that we might have life, and we wished him dead and buried.<br><br>Despite our ingratitude and spitefulness, he loved us. We heaped abuse on him, and he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Now that he has appeared to us alive, risen and glorified, we worship him as Savior and Lord. He has forgiven the sins committed in our ignorance and unbelief, and given us the privilege of adoption as sons and daughters. He has heaped on us blessing after blessing, and grace upon grace. The problem is, sometimes we start to think we deserve these heavenly (and, often, material) blessings, as if they are a reward for believing the right things or doing the right things, and we begin to see others as unworthy of grace. There is always the risk that the recipients of grace will become hoarders and taskmasters over those most in need of it: sinners, like us!<br><br>Jesus reminds us of a simple spiritual reality: because he did all the work of atonement, justification and sanctification, we have no right to boast or talk up the merits of our actions. "When you have done all the things that are required of you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done what was our duty to do.' " (Luke 17:10) <br><br>Who are the 'least of these' Jesus' brothers? It's all of humanity, everyone in need. Our greatest need is God's love, and Jesus, his life, words, actions, and sacrificial death, is the ultimate expression of this love. He first served us to show us how to serve others. In the economy of holy love, goods and services are distributed to the ungrateful and undeserving, not according to merit but according to need. <br><br>One of the messages of Luke 18 is "Get your priorities in order!" The things humans tend to overvalue (money, wealth, possessions) are despised by God (see Luke 16:15) because they blind us to human need, pervert our value system, and distort perceptions of reality. Jesus rejected the material rewards of a crude human meritocracy in favor of the eternal rewards of God's government of grace: "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong; the base things of the world, and the things that are despised he chose, yes, and things which amount to nothing to shame things considered something, so that no person should boast in his presence." (1 Cor. 1:27-29)<br><br>We cannot reasonably expect the rulers of this present age to implement Jesus' radical grace-based economic model of selfless, sacrificial giving. Capitalism is based on personal gain. It is a very efficient model of production, but a very poor and inequitable model of distribution. God's kingdom, alas, is not of this world. But while we are in this world we are to be the light of the world, and model, by Christ working in us by the Holy Spirit, the very grace of the persecuted Lord who turned Saul, a vicious killer, into the gospel's chief apostle.<br><br>So, we have an obligation, not just to the poor, but to all who realize their true poverty and destitute spiritual condition. And as we carry out this ministry of reconciliation, may we grow in gratitude for the kindness and blessings we have received.

Rickd
October 22, 2010

Tracey, of course I agree completely with your sentiment “We see things from the Sunday (resurrection) side of the story: we, the saved, are called to evangelize them, the lost.” You are preaching to the converted here and that is a wonderful sermon you preach! But I think Matthew 25 is being taken out of context by some. Many use these same verses from Matthew 25 as proof texts that Jesus has called us to enact distributive justice, universal healthcare, institute a socialist form of government, march in an anti-war movement, empty the prisons and build a workers paradise. I am sure that Paul Vander Klay was not intending to take it that far, but the basis for this activity is his statement “The resurrection should energize a Christian’s participation in public justice “<br><br>The olivet discourse in Matthew 25 was addressed to a small, intimate group of his disciples, not to “sinners, enemies of God.” “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Every parable and teaching in the Olivette discourse is related to this original question, including taking care of Jesus brothers in prison.<br><br>Jesus introduces the sheep and goats teaching by saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory.” In the End Times, nations are going to be divided into sheep and goats depending on how they supported or mistreated these brothers. During the time of the tribulation Jesus talks about a worldwide persecution of Israel and the persecution of believers. <br><br>The brothers of Jesus are clearly those who do his will, whether Abrahams children or the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham. “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” Earlier he says, “This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children.”<br><br>Those who do not do his will are not his brothers. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God”. It’s really quite simple.<br><br>Yes, Christ fed us, clothed us, nursed us when we were sick, and visited us when we were in the prison of sin and estrangement from God as you say. So, if you are interpreting this symbolically and your point is that we ought to share the gospel with the poor the sick the hungry and those estranged from God, I am with you. If your point is we need to move to a socialist form of government, march in an anti-war movement, empty the prisons and build a workers paradise, then count me out.

Tracey Sheneman
October 27, 2010

“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God”. Indeed. <br><br>Let me just add, before light came, we sat in darkness. Before God's purpose for us in Christ was made known, we were subject to futility.<br><br>"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 6:1-6) Also, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph. 4:22-24) In addition, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." (Eph. 5:8, NIV-all)<br><br>Although Jesus' discourses, parables, polemics, and praise were addressed to specific audiences at a particular time, it is clear (as was the gospel writers' intention) that what is written in the NT is for a broader audience. "The Word of God is not chained." The sower scatters his seed far and wide. However, interpretations are as various as the readers and hearers of the Word. <br><br>In the case of the Olivet discourse, the immediate audience is Jesus' disciples, and from the context, all followers in every period. It is not altogether clear from Matt. 24 or 25 what the size of the group termed "disciples" was, precisely, as, besides the Twelve there was the Seventy (or Seventy Two) among others. Regarding the spiritual status of the addressees, whether "sinners" or "righteous," I am reminded of Peter's self-assessment upon witnessing the power of Jesus' compassion in Luke 5:8, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." I see here once again a "both/and," not an "either/or" interpretation.<br><br>The Olivet discourse, like much of sacred scripture, is partly literal, partly allegorical, part past tense, part future tense and fully present perfect tense. For example, Christians (well - some, anyway) believe in Jesus' imminent return, and we are instructed to "watch therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." However, besides the literal, physical return of Christ in the clouds with a host of holy angels to gather the elect from the four winds of heaven, there is a present tense spiritual dimension of watching for the imminent Christ to come in the happenstance and hustle of human experience. Be on guard, and watch for opportunities to serve Christ in the needs of others. Don't let the Lord catch you sleeping in the bed of ease and self-seeking. <br><br>The only thing I am dogmatic about is the fact that Jesus' mission and message centered on one central theme: God is love; his love is available to all, freely and without preconditions. Those who bear the name of the Savior are called (commanded) to demonstrate to others the love God showed us in the face of Jesus Christ. The gospels are nothing less than God's grace manifesto. <br><br>God's grace changes us from being God's natural enemies to adopted children, from deeply estranged and hostile to beloved and intimate. Only with a such a fundamental change is it possible for even start to understand God's will, much less actually fulfill it! Yet, it is the righteousness of Christ in us through the Spirit doing the works that are pleasing to God, for only Jesus can truly love and accept a sinner into his bosom. In Christ, the prodigal son (you and me) comes home to an unconditional welcome in our Father's house.<br><br>No, Jesus did not give his disciples or us a blueprint for an improved economic or social order. What he gave was himself. His kingdom, not of this world, stands in stark contrast to all earthly governments and models of state or empire. It does not mandate a market-oriented solution to human needs or impose a state-supervised socialist program to alleviate suffering and inequality. <br><br>Instead, the King demands absolute loyalty from his subjects, who are addressed relationally as friends and family but functionally as slaves. The King's subjects follow the King's orders and implement his plan on the earth of reconciling men and women to God, showing love to all in humble service, and sowing peace in the fertile fields of war and human conflict. The goal is not to usher is a theocratic workers' or investors' paradise but to please the King!<br><br>Fixing what's wrong with the world is God's business, and in his time, and using his own methods, all creation will be restored to a state of blessed union with the Creator. Our task is to walk in Jesus' footsteps along the seldom-trod path of self-denial, each carrying their cross (less complaining, slaves!) and together bearing the burden of love.

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