John Dominic Crossan on Biblical Eschatology
This is one of those posts where I don’t bother giving commentary but I just toss up a big quote for you to consider:
First, we misunderstand ancient Jewish and/or Christian eschatology if we think it was about the end of the world – if we think it was about the divine destruction of this physical earth. In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase “end of the world” is repeated in Matthew 13 (verses 39 and 49) and in chapter 24 (verses 3 and 20). But the Greek term translated there as “world” is actually aion, from which we get our word eon, meaning a period, a time, an era. What is to end is this present “era” of evil and injustice, suffering and oppression.
Our problem is that we can easily imagine the earth’s destruction because we ourselves can do it atomically, biologically, chemically, demographically, and environmentally – and that brings us only up to the letter e in the alphabet. For ancient Jews and Christians, by contrast, only God could destroy the earth, but God would never do that. Why? Because six times during creation God declared the product “good”, and when all was finished, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). On the one hand, therefore, God would never destroy God’s own creation. On the other, what God could do was not to destroy but to transform the earth. And God would do just that – someday.
Second, we misunderstand ancient Jewish and/or Christian eschatology if we think it was about evacuating a destroyed earth for a new heavenly location. Instead, that transformation would take place here below on an earth transfigured from violence to peace. It was not, as it were, a movement from earth to heaven, but rather one from heaven to earth. Recall, for example, that for Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer the Kingdom of God is about the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” The original mock-up for God’s earthly kingdom has been retained in heaven – like the model in an architect’s office – but the final construction site will be on the earth itself.
In imagining that transformed earth, eschatology spoke of a physical world, and animal world, and a social world transmuted from violence to nonviolence.
I thought that was quite an effectively concise summary of how what we mean by eschatology has changed so much from what was written in Scripture and was believed for most of the church’s (and Judaism’s) history.
The quote is from John Dominic Crossan’s God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now which I reviewed a while ago if you’re interested in my thoughts on it at the time.