Ivy’s done two podcasts now on the Messiah, addressing the Jewish and Christian understandings, and speculating as to when the Messiah might arrive.
She made a few interesting points, but I’d like to respin a couple of them. One interesting point was the difference between Jewish and Christian theology, versus their different understandings of what happens when the Messiah comes or when Christ returns. Her point being that Judaism is more judgment-based, yet the Messiah’s coming is a time of mercy; whereas Christianity is more mercy-based, but Christ’s return in Revelation is a time of tribulation and terror.
In Judaism, she says the Messiah will come when we’ve made the world holy and pure; in Christianity, Jesus returns when things are about at their worst.
Moreover, she asserts that Jews look forward to the time of the Messiah whereas Christians fear the return of Christ.
That latter, though, isn’t true. We don’t. There are prayers that Jesus should return, and we look forward to that day with hope. Yes, the pictures in Revelation are horrific, but we don’t need to be terrified of Jesus. That’s a distortion.
I grew up surrounded by people who feared the end, feared God with a trembling that wasn’t awe as much as anticipation of a smack-down. I incorporated this view of God as sitting in wait for us to get so bad that He’d come in and whack us around like billiard balls, and it wasn’t until I spent a few months away that I realized how distorted that was.
Here’s a set of phases that I think every Christian goes through:
First you have the neophyte Christian. This can happen at any age, and it can linger a while. In short, the person realizes that the world is a sinful place and evil runs rampant. This Christian longs for Jesus to come set the record straight by punishing evildoers. The underlying tenor is “He’ll show them!” and “You just wait till Dad comes home, because I’m telling!”
This is where you get the “Left Behind” kind of theology. It’s all terror and justice and “You did this bad thing” and the good guys rubbing their hands together in anticipation of God coming to town and knocking heads together.
Secondly, you have the sophomore Christian. This Christian has had his faith tested a little and is more mature now, and understands that he too sins and is forgiven. In this stage, the Christian is more forgiving and begins to lift his head a bit, to look around the world to see that everyone is broken inside. The Christian in this stage prays not for Jesus to come knock heads together, but for Jesus to come in and fix the mess we’ve made of the world.
The third level of Christian has matured to the point where he sees the hand of God at work in the world, transforming evil into good, and understands that frequently God uses us to minister to one another. As Teresa of Avila wrote, God has no hands now but yours, no voice but yours. So this Christian speaks up for the poor and advocates for the needy. This Christian sees pain in the world and while praying for God to alleviate it, he also takes action himself.
In other words, the third stage Christian sees a mess and instead of demanding God come and smite the mess-makers, he grabs a broom to start sweeping it up.
The fourth and most mature level of Christian is so busy tending the poor and feeding the hungry (while praying for God to bless his work) that his work itself becomes a prayer. And in this stage, if Jesus did return, the fourth-stage Christian would probably hand Him a broom and say, “You take that spot over there.”
In other words, the more a Christian matures, the more he naturally begins to emphasize mercy over justice. We can’t legitimately act on our desire for justice in this world, but we can act on our desire for mercy, and as we mature, that’s what we do.
What I’ve witnessed among the more holy people in my life is a mellowing-down from the thirst for hard-core justice to a desire for mercy and wholeness. Moreover, the most holy people I’ve ever met have a very intimate understanding that without the grace of God, there’s no sin that they themselves would be incapable of committing.
So they do look forward to the coming of Jesus, but without the fear. They have trust. They pray, along with the Spirit and the Bride at the end of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And they wait with longing for the day of His return.
No, not so very different between the two faiths. Not at all.