Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Yesterday, someone who visited this blog asked what interpretation I meant to ascribe to readings. Most of the time I really am not trying to interpret the text. I am just trying to hear what it says, connect what it says to New Testament writing and to Quaker writers that most of us are familiar with. I guess the overall interpretation I have of scripture is this - that while it is not really a piece of literature - it is more a library of books that have been written over many thousands of years - it has the character of "a piece of literature" because it has been authored and redacted by a "community" of people who have all bought in to a vision of reality that seems to be this: that the Creator God/Power/Spirit created man/humankind to be "like Him" or the "likeness" of that great entity, but that man has not been true to that goal and as a result a "conflict" arose in the story (history), which is still being worked out. That conflict causes great tragedy and disruption of the relationship God intended and over the many years of history that have passed, there have been some successes, and a lot of failures in working out that original intention. But there remains a constant hope and vision that the original purpose of our creation may someday - at the end of the conflict-driven history of man - come to fruition. I think early Christians thought that day was going to arrive very soon after Christ's death and resurrection, but it didn't. I think early Friends thought that that day was arriving with their more spiritual grasp of the message Christ brought; but it didn't in the end. The readings we've been looking at -- Ezekiel and now Joel, and certainly Revelation -- all see in deeply symbolic and mystical visions that are very similar a promise that this ultimate victory WILL COME. But when and how? In the future? In the present in a spiritual way? For all mankind or for us in individual moments of deep insight and faithfulness? I don't know.
Introductory information in the Jerusalem Bible indicates that the book may have been written around 400 BC, post-exile, when there was no king, more focus on public worship and a reliance on some of the earlier prophets, especially Ezekiel and Obadiah. Joel’s contribution to the prophetic tradition is his emphasis on “outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people in the messianic age” (1140-1141). Early Christians saw this prophesy fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit on the followers of Christ at the Pentecost gathering described in Acts 1. “Joel is the prophet of Pentecost” (1141).
Joel 1 – A plague of locusts and other vermin has invaded the land and laid it waste. “For a nation has invaded my country, mighty and innumerable; its teeth are the teeth of lions, it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and torn my fig trees to pieces” (1:6-7).
“The priests, the ministers of Yahweh, are in mourning. Wasted lie the fields; the fallow is in mourning. For the corn has been laid waste, the wine fails, the fresh oil dries up” (1:9-10). And “gladness has faded among the sons of men” (1:12).
The ministers of the Lord should put on sackcloth and lament, for “the house of our God has been deprived of oblation and libation” (1:13). The day of Yahweh is near, Joel says.
Joel 2 – The land is desolate, so the prophet cries out to Yahweh. “Sound the trumpet in Zion, give the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the country tremble, for the day of Yahweh is coming, yes, it is near” (2:1).
The Day of Yahweh will be a day of “darkness and gloom, day of cloud and blackness” (2:2). The coming of the locusts is described again, this time as if it were an invading army. “Like fighting men they press forward, like warriors scale the walls, each marching straight ahead, not turning from his path” (2:7).
But it is the Lord, Yahweh, who leads this army on. “Yahweh makes his voice heard at the head of his army, and indeed his regiments are innumerable, all-powerful is the one that carries out his orders, for great is the day of Yahweh, and very terrible—who can face it?” (2:10-11).
But, instead of urging destruction as we might expect, the voice of the Lord says this – Come back! “’come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn; turn to Yahweh your God again, for his is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent” (2:12-13).
Everyone should assemble and pray to God not to make his heritage a thing of shame. Yahweh will answer this prayer. “Sound the trumpet in Zion! Order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly . . . [let everyone say] ‘Spare your people, Yahweh! Do not make your heritage a things of shame . . . why should it be said among the nations, ‘Where is their God?’” (2:17).
Revelation 20 – An angel from heaven comes down with the “key to the Abyss” (20:1) in his hand. He overpowers the dragon (the devil and Satan) and chains them up for 1000 years. He will be released at the end of 1000 years, but only for a short time.
The martyrs come to life then too and reign with Christ for this 1000 years – the “first resurrection” (20:4), but the rest of the dead stay in the Abyss.
When the 1000 years are over, Satan will be released and will come out to deceive the nations. Armies will be mobilized for war and they will besiege the saints. They will soon be overthrown and consumed. Then the One on the great white throne will see earth and sky vanish and the book of life will be opened. Hades will be emptied of the dead and all will be judged “according to the way in which he had lived” (20:14).
“Then Death and Hades will be thrown into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was thrown into the burning lake” (20:15).