A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, November 19, 2018

An Eternal King to Reckon Time: Some Thoughts on the Liturgical Calendar and the Reign of Christ

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14John 18:33-37

Daniel 7 recounts a portion of a vision the Prophet had, according to 7:1, "in the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon." In the ancient Near East time was often reckoned according to the reign of monarchs. Whereas we would date the calling of Isaiah to the year 751 B.C., the Prophet himself simply recounts his calling as taking place in "in the year that King Uzziah died" (Isaiah 6:1). When it came to the calendar monarchs mattered.

Knowing this is critical for understanding the Book of Daniel. That the Jews in exile now reckoned their own time by the reign of their oppressor kings was a constant and bitter reminder that they had no earthly king of their own because they had no homeland of their own. And they had many years and more than a few monarchs by which they were forced to reckon time, not only in exile but after exile being ruled by foreign powers in their own homeland.

Which is what makes the vision of Daniel 7 so hopeful for God's people. In the midst of their exile, their oppression, and their servitude, help will come from the God of Israel. Anathea Portier-Young writes,
Daniel seven received its final form during the persecution of Judean Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The vision of the one like a human being offered hope to Jews who had been subject to foreign rule for over four centuries and now were victims of state terror and persecution. Even as they saw their houses burned, their loved ones tortured and slaughtered, and their temple profaned by an “abomination that desolates” (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11), Daniel’s vision allowed them to see something else: the end of empires, the sovereign power of God, and their own future kingdom. The king who persecuted them would soon pass away. His kingdom, portrayed as a monstrous, mutated beast (7:7-8), would perish (7:11), just as the kingdoms before it had done (7:12). In its place God would establish a new and everlasting kingdom that would not pass away (7:14, 18, 27). It would be given not only to the one like a human being, but also “to the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (7:27).
The "one like a human being" in Daniel is bar nasha in Aramaic. It is translated literally in English as "son of man," terminology that Jesus used to refer to himself-- indeed it seems to be about the only title Jesus used to characterize his ministry. "Son of Man" was a Jewish way of referring to "a human being;" but it cannot be missed that in Daniel the figure coming on the clouds is described as "one like a human being," "one like a son of man." Here we have not merely an individual made of flesh and bones, but one that appears to have a more heavenly character. Could this be part of the reason Jesus uses the term for himself? In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world. If it was,his followers would be taking up arms to fight for him.

What should we conclude from Jesus' words? First, is that Jesus' kingdom does not originate from this earthly existence. That does not mean that Jesus' kingdom is a purely spiritual kingdom and has nothing to do with earthly political realities. To use Jesus' words here as an excuse for non-involvement in the affairs of the world misuse his words. In Jesus, God's kingdom is now present in this world, though it does not come from this world. Second, what that means is that God's kingdom does not operate as earthly kingdoms operate-- on brute force, coercion, and violence. That is why Jesus' disciples are not arming themselves and preparing for a battle that will result in bloodshed. God's kingdom does not conquer by the sword, but through the cross.

And that means that unlike the kingdoms of the world that often use such force to conquer, plunder, and oppress, God's kingdom will be one of righteousness and justice. And because of its divine character it will never fall. Daniel 7:14 states, "To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed."

It is because of this eternal king that time, once and for all, will be reckoned by his reign. That is already happening. Much of the world counts time by the birth of King Jesus. On January 1 of each year we begin another anno domini (A.D.), "year of our Lord." More importantly the church reckons its year by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the birth of Jesus' people, the church from Advent through the last Sunday of the ecclesial year when we proclaim that Christ is King."

Perhaps that is the most important reason for the church to follow the liturgical calendar. No matter who is president or prime minister, king or queen, each and every year the church reckons its days and months by the King of Kings and Lord of Lord; and in so doing it is a reminder to us of the wise words of Psalm 146: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish" (vv. 3-4).

Earthly leaders live and die, nations rise and fall. They are on borrowed time. But Jesus and his kingdom will last forever. We can reckon the days of our lives by that eternal reality come to earth.

Time is on our side. The Son of Man has made it so.

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