[This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Shalom Mennonite Congregation, the fifth in a series on salvation and human flourishing. Here’s a link to the fourth in the series, “A Positive Reading of the Old Testament.”
Ted Grimsrud—October 8, 2017 [Luke 7]
There are some standard assumptions that Christians tend to have about the Bible—the Old Testament is old, outdated, primitive, problematic, violent and judgmental. And the New Testament is new, fresh, merciful, useful, peaceable and about forgiveness.
Well, I have spent a lot of time over many years trying—in sermons, classes, discussions, and writings—to show that the Old Testament is actually pretty good, that it’s an asset for faith and a guide for our quest for peace and justice in our hurting world. I know I have not persuaded everyone of this, but I’ll keep trying, though not this morning.
The New Testament’s dark side
The other side of the coin, though, is that the New Testament itself also has a dark side. It’s much shorter and not nearly as detailed in its accounts of political struggles. It covers just a short bit of time, unlike the hundreds of years the Old Testament has to do with. So the dark elements are perhaps a bit more subtle.
But we have things such as Jesus’s sharp, dare I say, even violent, dressing down of the Pharisees: “You blind guides, you white-washed tombs, you children of hell, you brood of vipers!” And his threats about God sending people to hell: “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
And then there are the writings of Paul and of the book of Revelation. It is kind of uncanny that three times, just in the past couple of weeks, I have kind of randomly gotten into fairly intense arguments with friends–good, pious Mennonites—about whether Paul is an asset or a liability for Christian faith. I defend Paul, but apparently not very persuasively for my friends. And those of you who sat through what probably seemed like interminable sermons that I preached on Revelation here several years ago know that I go against the stream and present Revelation as a book of peace, not a book of judgment and violence. But the New Testament does present challenges.
One other difficult New Testament text is the story in the book of Acts about the early Christian married couple, Ananias and Sapphira. They are struck dead when they are caught lying and not giving the church the full price of some property they sold.
These are all challenging texts that complicate our easy affirmation of the New Testament as a book of peace and mercy. There is another kind of issue with the New Testament, as well, that actually challenges fairly profoundly the kind of approach I want to take concerning God and faith and the Christian life.
Love all the way down—or not?
In a sermon I preached a year ago, I talked about the difference between a jubilee-oriented view of God and a debt-oriented view. And then, a little later, I developed that thought more and introduced the idea of a certain way of thinking about God’s disposition toward humanity. We may think of God’s disposition as love all the way down rather than as love resting upon a more fundamental bedrock of God’s retributive justice.
The Christian tradition has been more oriented toward the bedrock of retributive justice sensibility in its treatment of the message of the New Testament. The basic idea is this: Human beings are fundamentally alienated from God due to our innate sinfulness that renders us unacceptable to God as we are. God is a holy God, this view would say, who due to the moral character of the universe must punish and even destroy that which violates holiness. That is, we humans are bound for hell if something is not done. Well, something has been done—the argument continues. Jesus lived a sinless life as a human being and then gave up his life as a sacrifice that satisfies God’s need for retribution. This sacrifice allows God to offer salvation for those who trust in Jesus. That is, God needs this violent death in order to save.
The great peace activist and New Testament scholar Walter Wink saw this kind of theology as deeply problematic—and critiqued it with quite a rhetorical flourish: “The nonviolent God of Jesus comes to be depicted as a God of unequaled violence,” he wrote. “The view is that God first demands the blood of the victim who is closest and most precious to him. And then God holds the whole of humanity accountable for this death that God himself required. Insofar as it rejects such an image of God, the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion.”
Now, Wink does not actually advocate atheism—nor do I. He thinks what we need is to hold fast to the God of Jesus—and to reject the idea that God needs a violent sacrifice. And I agree. But it does seem important to recognize that there is a big tension here between an understanding of God where God simply offers mercy for all who turn (or repent) and where God requires some kind of satisfaction or payment in order to accept us.
It makes me think of the time when I was in the third grade and got into a fight with my friend Tom. Our teacher got upset with us and sent us to the principal. Our principal was not a real creative guy—his way of dealing with problems, not uncommon in that time and kind of place, was to get out the paddle. I didn’t like the idea of getting a spanking, but I knew that it would only hurt for a bit and then be over. I wasn’t too worried. But Tom dissolved in tears, even before he got smacked. I was kind of scornful at the time, but I realized later that what terrified him was knowing that his parents would condemn him. The physical pain wasn’t the problem; it was the emotional pain of fearing rejection from his parents and a sense of shame at his unworthiness of their love—that wouldn’t be over quickly. I suspect, the problem was living in a moral universe where love rests on the bedrock of retributive justice rather than it being love all the way down. There can be a lot of fear in that kind of moral universe.
Putting the story of Jesus at the center
So, how do we get to a positive reading of the New Testament? Of mercy, not sacrifice. I suggest that we let the story of Jesus be the center. What do Jesus’s life and teaching, at their core, show us about God, about salvation, about human flourishing? It’s a good thing directly to challenge some of the less than merciful materials in the Bible—perhaps to see that maybe they have been misinterpreted, perhaps to see that they are counter-testimonies that are secondary to the core message of love all the way down. But sometimes it is good simply to be reminded of what Jesus cared most about. That’s what I want to do in rest of my sermon.
There is a remarkable chapter at the center of Luke’s gospel that, as well as anywhere, I think, gives us the heart of Jesus’s message. So let me read parts of Luke 7, and while I am reading think of a word or two that you think gets at what his message is about. First, I will set the stage. Luke is describing Jesus’s ministry. This ministry—to quote Matthew’s account of these events—involved going “throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”
Jesus’s teaching is summarized in a long sermon (Luke’s version is a bit shorter than Matthew’s) that includes this fundamental statement given at Luke 6:27-36:
I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Parent is merciful.
And, then, in chapter 7, Luke tells us how Jesus puts these words into action:
After Jesus had finished speaking, he entered Capernaum. A Roman military officer there had a servant whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. He sent some messengers to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant. Jesus went, but when he was not far from the house, the Roman sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at the Roman’s faith. When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant in good health.
Soon afterwards, he went to a town called Nain. As he approached, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
The disciples of John the Baptist reported all these things to him. So John sent two disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. He answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”
Then a Pharisee asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house. A woman in the city, who was a sinner, learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, went to see him, and took an alabaster jar of ointment with her. She stood behind Jesus at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw it and said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner. Jesus said to the Pharisee, “Simon, Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”
So, what are some words that you think describe Jesus here?
A series of healing acts
I hadn’t really noticed before how all these events happen right next to each other in Luke, and, I think, help interpret each other. We have Jesus drawing his community together and giving them their marching orders (love radically, like God does). Then he immediately proceeds to show what this radical love looks like, one moment after the other.
First we have a leader in the military of the Roman Empire, the power that was occupying Jesus’s home area of Galilee—without the people’s permission and often with great violence and injustice. The Romans were enemies. But this officer is presented as a human being, one who has acted justly toward the Jewish people in the area, who loved his servant who is deathly ill, and who treats Jesus with great respect. So Jesus offers healing.
On the heals of that moment follows another healing opportunity, at almost the opposite end of the social spectrum. A young man has died, leaving his vulnerable, extremely needy widowed mother behind. With first her husband and then her son dead, she had few resources to move ahead in life, facing a very difficult future. Jesus offers healing, giving the son his life back and the mother her future back.
In these two quick stories, we see that what Jesus taught—God’s love for enemies and for the vulnerable—is embodied in his practice. Like with most of Jesus’s miracles, he makes a deeper point beyond just his extraordinary power. It matters who he heals—in giving life to the Romans’ servant and the to widow’s son, Jesus shows God’s love to be indiscriminate. There really was no way either the enemy Roman or the destitute widow could earn God’s favor or repay God’s generosity. “Do good and give, expecting nothing in return.”
Of course, these kinds of deeds by Jesus drew attention—a little later we will learn that they drew the attention of Herod the ruler, a foreshadowing of Jesus’s arrest and execution to come. Such violence is the way that status quo power responds to indiscriminate generosity. Here, in Luke 7, it’s a different kind of attention that is discussed—but also attention that foreshadows Jesus’s ultimate fate. The great prophet, John the Baptist, Jesus’s former mentor, has been imprisoned and soon will be executed by this same Herod, the son and namesake of Herod the Great who had unleashed great violence when he learned of Jesus’s birth.
John sends some followers to ask Jesus what he’s about. Are you the Messiah? Jesus’s answer is to point to the deeds he was doing. Healings and bringing good news to the poor. That is, Jesus in effect says, what truly matters in my work are these expressions of God’s overflowing mercy and love. Make of that what you will. As readers of the gospel of Luke, though, we know what to make of it. Jesus is the Messiah, the king. He witnesses to the genuine kingdom of God—a kingdom of healing, of love of enemies, of resistance to the ways of domination and empire.
And, then finally, as a kind of capper comes the amazing story of Jesus offering unconditional forgiveness to a woman who, it is said, had committed “many sins.” What’s remarkable here, to show the nature of Jesus’s “love all the way down” moral universe, is that there is no hint of satisfaction, of payment for debts, or of necessary sacrifices. What happens is an expression of the great insight seen in a Bruce Cockburn song: “If you love love, then love loves you too.”
Three core affirmations
So, let’s say that Luke 7 shows us the heart of the entire message of the New Testament (and, I would say, of the entire Bible). I would boil it down to three main affirmations.
First, God is merciful—and we are called to imitate that mercy. God loves even God’s enemies—and we are called to love even our enemies. God looks at the person; there is no othering, there is no holding back until one shows one’s worthiness. As Paul wrote, no slave, no free, no Jew, no Gentile, no male, no female. None of those distinctions is to become a reason to withhold love.
Second, the very core of Jesus’s ministry (which, again, is our model) is an affirmation of abundance versus scarcity. Healing is for all kinds of people, from the Roman military officer’s servant to the widow’s son. Jesus’s message is good news for the poor—which does not mean bad news for everyone else but good news for even the poor, especially the poor. No one is left out. The test of whether the news is truly good is that it reaches to the most vulnerable, to the ones most likely to be left out.
And, third, the consequence of God’s mercy and Jesus’s abundance is a call to welcome others without qualification. Jesus embodied that kind of welcome in a radical way when he embraced the so-called sinful woman, the one the respectable people scorned.
I believe these three affirmations can be seen throughout the Bible—including in the Old Testament, including in Paul’s writings, even including in the book of Revelation. God is merciful; Jesus’s is a ministry of abundance; the call is to welcome. Now, obviously, the Bible displays many messages—and some are in tension with these affirmations. But the message that God’s moral universe, ultimately, is about love all the way down is the truest message—and the message about love all the way down is what we most need to hear; it’s what we most need to put into practice.
If we say we are Christians and that we want to follow Jesus and his way, I think we do well to recognize that these stories in Luke 7, and the teaching in Luke 6 that precedes them, tell us what we most need to know. And that they challenge us to read the rest of the Bible—and the rest of life—in light of this message: “Be merciful, just as your Parent is merciful.” Amen.
17 thoughts on “A Positive Reading of the New Testament”
Nice work Ted.
May I suggest a helpful way to reconcile the judgement teachings with the love teaching. You understand the nature of sin to be primarily social, our society is sick, its institutions and its structures are coercive and morally corrupt. Most Christians would not agree with this, but I don’t doubt you accept this.
So, if our Lord came to heal that social sickness, he came to institute and plant and grow the institutions and structures of freedom, health, shalom and flourishing.
But our Lord came as a prophet of doom, for society he came to condemn a very specific set of social institutions: Old Covenant Israel. The target of the judgement rhetoric was NOT sinners in the hands of an angry God, in the afterlife (contra Jonathan Edwards).
Jesus was accused of ‘subverting our [vassal Jewish] nation.’ (Luke 23:2). The Jewish leadership was concerned about Jesus, saying: ‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our [vassal Jewish] nation.’ (John 11:48).
And Jesus targeted his judgement rhetoric squarely at his contemporary generation of Jewish leaders and their institutions.
The problem is when we take these pronouncements of doom and threats of judgement, and remove them from the First Century Second Temple target and apply them to sinners generally, and to some judgement supposedly in our future and/or in the personal afterlife that the scriptures do not teach at all (although we can take material about other things and make them mean a personal afterlife, it isn’t proper exegesis).
The anti-Jewish rhetoric in the gospels and epistles is fairly plain, and something of an embarrassment if we don’t correctly identify its significance. For example, Matthew records the Jews saying, “his blood be on us and our children” (Matt 27:25) which is enough to make a lot of people very awkward who profess God’s love of all nations.
We need to develop a plain and unapologetic theology of the avenging of the blood of the martyrs and to locate it where and when Jesus did: in Jerusalem at the fall of the city and the destruction of the temple in the First Century (Mat 23:29-39). Jesus said that would be the time when all the tribes of the land would mourn, the time when he would come on the clouds in judgement, the time when the sun would be darkened and the moon not give its light and the stars fall from heaven, and the time when the kingdom comes in power and the time of the redemption and salvation come (Mat 24).
Jesus said that in the fall of Jerusalem, all things written in the prophets would be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-24). Jesus said that all the blood shed on the earth since creation would be avenged in his generation (Mat 23:29-39).
So, we should take this teaching seriously and refute those who speak of divine judgement as incomplete, and those who threaten sinners with catastrophic judgement at some future tribulation / judgement day / day of the Lord. The governing authorities, who collected taxes and who wielded the sword (Rom 13:1-7), repaid the Israel who persecuted the Church (Rom 12:12f) and who rebelled against Rome (Rom 13:2), in fulfillment of the Song of Moses (Deut 32; Rom 12:19).
We now live in the new heaven and earth, where God dwells with man, and where there is no more death. It is where righteousness dwells. The Mosaic ministry of death suffered the death penalty. The governing authorities have completed their divine mandate and task with their terrible sword.
That holocaust was a tragedy and it was mourned by both Jesus (Luke 19:41-44) as well as Paul (Rom 9:1-4; Phil 3:18-19).
But the time for mourning is over. We now live in the messianic age of peace and blessings for all the nations. The leaves of the tree of life continue to go out to heal the nations.
David, I appreciate your comment; you are on the right track with your more thorough contextualization of Jesus and his message. I hear Ted persistently trying to make a grand theological point–that in YHWH’s moral universe there is only love, never condemnation. Well and good. Yet there is the world where our decisions have consequences, including condemnation. And it is that world to which Jesus proclaimed a very earthly and often divisive alternative, the Kingdom of God.
Tell me, how would you describe the social ethic to which Jesus calls us? Much of its content is rooted in the “Law and the Prophets,” don’t you think?
Regarding your last comment/question: ‘Much of its content is rooted in the “Law and the Prophets,” don’t you think?’
The law and the prophets prophesied about the messianic age to come, and a lot of the language used to describe it has been difficult for modern / Greek thinking people to correctly comprehend. What does it mean for the child to play on the snake’s hole, for example? Or for the mount of olives to be split in two? For the wolf to dwell with the lamb? For heaven and earth to pass away, to be rolled up like a scroll? For the son of man to come on the clouds? For the fortified city to lie desolate? What city? When? Why? How? We can’t discuss ‘the law and the prophets’ and their fulfillment in the age of Messiah without actually getting back into the apocalyptic genre and building the appropriate framework for the events such as the resurrection, the coming one, the messiah, the shepherd, the new heaven and earth, the kingdom, the tribulation, the labour pains and the birth of the new nation, the new Jerusalem and so on.
We need to really work through the legal and political meaning of ‘the law and the prophets’ and what they spoke about and what they predicted and promised and threatened.
A lot of the law was typological and prophetic. Not just the rituals and ceremonies, but also the civil law (see my paper here on that: https://www.academia.edu/34013537/Typological_Fulfilment_of_the_Civil_Law_of_Moses ). The death penalty for murder, for example, was fulfilled in the shedding of the blood of those who shed the blood of the prophets, at the fall of Jerusalem. The law for the leprous house that required destruction was fulfilled in the inspection and condemnation and destruction of the temple. And the royal regulations in the civil law of Moses were fulfilled in Jesus Christ as the king who actually performed and honoured the laws in his Kingdom.
So when we say that the content is rooted in the “Law and the Prophets” we need to say how. In particular, how is the law fulfilled and passes away when heaven and earth disappear, and when (hint: it is when the temple is destroyed). If we don’t agree on the ‘how’ we are going to disagree on a whole of of stuff and its application even if we agree it comes from the law and the prophets.
The other problem is the degree of antithesis between the Mosaic order and the Messianic order is generally and significantly understated. It is common to say that the current order is in harmony with the law of Moses, e.g. on the death penalty, divorce, eye for eye and tooth for tooth, swearing oaths and a whole lot more. Somehow too many Christians missed the memo of the Sermon on the Mount and think that the Christian civil and legal framework is a minor modification of the civil law of Moses.
Peter, the apostle to the Jews, taught that the saints had been redeemed from the empty way of life handed down from the fathers. The way of life handed down from the Jewish fathers was the law of Moses. Peter said Jesus redeems us from that. That old law was the ministry of death, and it held Israel in bondage. Peter and Paul taught that the elements of that law and that world would be destroyed and burned with fire. The essence and the substance of that law was to be destroyed and judged. So we need to be careful in how much harmony we expect to find between that old law and its fulfillment.
The new law is the new creation, the new heaven and earth. It is not like the old covenant (Jer 31:31f).
I guess there are two separate issues:
1. the Grand Questions of the Moral Universe and
2. The specific target(s) of Jesus and his judgement rhetoric, prophecies etc. (and likewise the specific manifestations of the Kingdom of God, the New Heaven and New Earth etc.)
The first point I think at some level Greg Boyd is right that the concept is that sin is its own evil and its own destructive and sick consequences — death, built in. Others deny this and put God in the role of moral totalisator, responsible for keeping moral balance in the universe by literally bringing people to a forensic judgement and imposing penalties.
The problem is when we take Jesus and the New Testament writers and their specific statements and warnings and threats and teachings about punishment and retribution and avenging and to presume, that they are expressions of timeless moral / theological truths (applicable again in our future).
Jesus warned specific targets about specific judgements coming within a specific timeframe (Jesus’ ‘this generation’) and located at a specific epicentre (Jerusalem) marked by a specific event / events (the Great Tribulation, the rebellion (a.k.a. the resurrection of the unjust), the war, the siege, the destruction of the temple and desolation of the Great City).
The problem is that almost all modern and traditional eschatology puts the resurrection (of the just and the unjust), and new heaven and the new earth, the Day of the Lord, the judgement etc. in a completely different time-frame (our future), and a completely different nature (new physical creation, new physical bodies for each person, resurrection of individual corpses, personal bodily return of Jesus in the body of a 5’5″ Jewish man’s body, riding a cumulus cloud etc.)
Now this futurist eschatology is so well entrenched that a) everyone assumes it is basically correct although they differ on the details and b) no one is willing to actually jettison the whole scheme and go back to the time-frame of the First Century and the connection with the fall of Jerusalem and get to a military parousia in AD70 and a spiritual New Creation, and the resurrection of the collective body of Christ as the church rather than each person having a personal body resurrection that obviously didn’t happen then and still hasn’t happened (and will never happen because that is not what Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke of by the term).
My proposal is simple: we need to use the right eschatological framework to get to the right theology and the right politics.
What is that politics? That social ethic? I think the term social ethic is frankly too nebulous. It can cover a multitude of incompatible concept and practices, and it is insufficiently specific in its meaning and application.
Jesus came to proclaim and found the Kingdom of God. He said all authority in heaven and earth was his. And that we are to pray for his Kingdom to come on earth as in heaven (which prayer was answered in 70 A.D.). But if we are to understand what is actually meant by these grand words and claims, we need to get to the specifics. The institutions and power-structure of the kingdom, and the manner that the King rules, and the specifics of his laws, and their administration on earth. For example, who does what in response to non-compliance with the laws of the Kingdom, and who adjudicates cases and how?
Jesus did not fail to provide us with the answers, but, as with the other teachings in the New Testament, we tend to ignore the specifics and speak in vague and grand moral generalisations. But Jesus was specific:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mat 18:15-20)
This passage is ignored and not dealt with in a way that analyses and interprets the specifics and seeks to apply them to build and advance the kingdom of God.
Jesus provides a legal procedure, a civil litigation procedure, and a forum. When Jesus prohibited suits and swearing oaths in the Sermon on the Mount he proscribed access to the Old law, the law of sin and death and coercion, the law of eye for eye and tooth for tooth and he did not leave us without his kingdom court. This passage tells us how to access the divine court of the Kingdom of God.
We have to follow the procedure. To the letter. This is law, not suggestion. We follow the exact steps listed and exactly as they are given to us.
But who is the ‘church’ (assembly) that we bring these cases before if steps one and two fail? It is a very strange church, because it has a judicial quorum of only 2 or 3. Have you ever been to a church that small?
We have to properly analyse this text and put it back into its original context to even follow what is meant here. The jurisprudence of the day included the court of the sages, which worked as follows. Each side chooses one adjudicator (sage), and together they choose a third. The three then hear the evidence and decide the case (by majority by a vote of 2 or 3 in favour). Think about what this really means. It means that it is a totally different judicial structure than Ex 18, where we have a hierarchy. It is something like a free-market in judicial and dispute resolution services, where the parties choose their own adjudicators and where the results are honoured by the honour of the parties and not by coercion. It is focused on mediation and negotiation with determination as a last resort.
Now this pre-supposes some wider community and social structure where people associate with each other and are aware of the honour of other members of the community that they do business with or otherwise deal with. A community that will shun the one who dishonours the rulings of the court. But they will not put him in a cage, nor beat him, nor take his possessions off him by force nor put him to death. Those coercive remedies are abolished along with the oath.
Not to give Ted too much of a hard time, but when was the last time you heard him discuss and teach on swearing oaths? The swearing of oaths, necessary to give sworn testimony in Jewish and secular courts, is something Jesus prohibited. I don’t remember Ted discussing this or giving any teaching about why this law was introduced in the New Covenant.
So, I submit that we need to grapple with the specifics of the laws of the Kingdom and the jurisprudence of it, as a very mundane and practical matter. The Kingdom of God is not some eschatological promise in our future, and it is not a coercive kingdom most Christians still teach is coming in our future. It was an eschatological promise from the prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus said that the time had come in his generation for it to arrive. He planted it and it would grow, it would rise (the resurrection of the just), up until the harvest time. But the weeds, the seed of the serpent, would also rise (the resurrection of the unjust) again, up until harvest time. This is Jesus’s exposition of the resurrection of Dan 12, when he taught in Mat 13. The harvest time is when the power of the holy people is completely shattered (Dan 12:7), i.e. in A.D. 70. Jesus gathered up his saints and took them out of Jerusalem and into the barn (the house of God). But the weeds were gathered up into Jerusalem, where they were burned. As Jesus said, the harvest is at the consummation of the age (Mat 13:39). And the end of the age is also the coming at the fall of the Jerusalem temple (Mat 24:3). It is then that all the prophecies of the Old Testament would be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-25). Since the promise of the resurrection of the just and the unjust is an Old Testament prophecy (Ez 37-39; Dan 12; Is 25:6-8; 65:13-25; 66:24), it was fulfilled when the sons of Satan rose up in rebellion in Jerusalem (66A.D.), leading to the desolation spoken of by Daniel:
And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. (Dan 9:26-27).
The politics of the Zealot rebellion are the politics we reject. We reject that eschatological system because we reject the politics, and we reject the politics because we reject the eschatological system. The Zealot rebels were the false christs and the man of sin. They were those who lived by the sword and died by the sword. They were deceived by Satan and were the deceivers. They were responsible for the descent of Jerusalem into lawlessness. They were responsible for dividing the Great City into three factions some of whom wiped out others. They were responsible for the famine in the Great City. They spoke proud words. And they did so in the name of God, and in the name of Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment in their day.
The Christian political stance was the same as that of Jeremiah:
“Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. 13 Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? 14 Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon’, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. 15 I have not sent them, declares the Lord, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.” (Jer 27:12-15)
Is that to make Jeremiah pro-babylonian? Not so, and likewise Christian politics was not pro-Roman or pro-imperial. But it was distinctly anti-rebellion and anti-war.
The point is that the main enemy of the Christian church, at the time the gospels and epistles were written (45-68 A.D.) was not Roman but Jewish, the synagogue of Satan, the Zealot revolutionary movement and parties. The polemic was primarily against those who were identified with the continued standing of the temple and the ultimate take-over of the temple by armed revolutionaries in the name of God and prophecy and misguided eschatology / politics. (The Romans hardly rate a mention as enemies or rivals.) If we can get back into this temporal and eschatological and political context, we can much better teach today’s law and kingdom and what it means (and what it doesn’t mean).
Interesting to read these fuller descriptions of your approach to the Second Testament, David, in light of your general affirmation of Ted’s post. I shall need some time to sort that out.
My first impression is that your presentation distorts and misreads the relationship between Jesus and the Kingdom of God (on the one hand) and the “Law and the Prophets.” I understand Jesus to be rooted in the stream that began with Exodus, includes the prophets and much of the Torah, and is so sublimely articulated by 2nd and 3rd Isaiah. And I understand Paul in his various letters to turn repeatedly to the Jewish ethical tradition as he gave moral guidance to the Gentiles entering the assemblies as Jesus-followers.
You read Jesus’ eschatology correctly, in my view, but not his First Testament-dependent vision of the Kingdom.
Thanks for your comment and feedback. Please don’t think I’m disagreeing with your identification of a tradition and stream in the law and the prophets that Jesus and the Apostles adopted and developed and instituted. I’m not disagreeing with that at all, provided the content and stream is what I presume it is.
My point, rather, is that we don’t just pick and choose bits of the Old Testament while leaving other parts discarded without further attention. That is contrary to the teaching of Jesus in Mat 5:17-20, which requires a very particular and specific treatment of the Law and the Prophets: none of it would pass away until it was all fulfilled.
So, our eschatology needs to match with our politics. We need to, for example, explain the fulfillment of the civil law of Moses, and its regulations on capital punishment. No one seems to have done this, so I have written it up under my paper on the typological fulfillment of the civil law of Moses (see https://www.academia.edu/34013537/Typological_Fulfilment_of_the_Civil_Law_of_Moses for the paper).
Sorry one more comment: there is a lot of material in the New Testament that is understood as anti-Gentile or anti-Roman that needs to be looked at more carefully to identify the correct targets of the subversive or polemic language. The Northern Kingdom was lost and dispersed among the gentiles, and often are called gentiles in the New Testament. In calling the gentiles, God called also these and made them full members of the commonwealth of Israel. And the zealots are frequently presented as the nations or the gentiles to describe not so much their ethnicity but their spiritual identity.
2 Thes 2 explains the nature of the rebellion and the take-over of the temple by the rebel leader:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
So, according to this text, the rebellion and the rebel leader would, after 51 A.D. when the letter was written, take place and appear, respectively. The rebel was already working but he had not yet been made manifest because he was then being restrained. The coming of the Lord Jesus would be against that rebellion / rebel forces and leader, and so it could not happen until the rebellion happened and the leader was revealed. This helps demonstrate the military nature of the parousia.
But the gathering of the rebel forces would be by way Satan and the deceptions of Satan.
Now compare that to:
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Rev 20:7-10)
These two texts are obviously parallel. As is this:
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Rev 19:19-21)
So the gathering of forces for the final battle is the same as the gathering of rebel forces in Jerusalem and taking over the temple. So we have the equivalence of:
The rebel forces and leader(s) in Jerusalem
Gog and Magog (the nations from Ez 38-39), and
The kings of the earth (earth being equivalent to the land of Palestine, i.e. the promised land of Israel)
So, who were these people? They who gathered in Jerusalem in rebellion and who were defeated in the final battle — it was the Zealot forces, ethnic Jews, but described as the nations / gentiles in Ez 38-39.
Now of course the Zealots would not see Ez 37-39 correctly, would they? They would see themselves as the resurrection of the just, and the invading Romans as the resurrection of the unjust, Gog and Magog. They saw themselves as Jews, and the Romans as gentiles. But according to the book of Revelation it is opposite: Those who say they are Jews are not, rather they are the synagogue of Satan (Rev 2:9). This was of course no different from Jesus who called those claiming themselves sons of Abraham children of the devil.
In the same way it is easy to mis-identify the Fourth Beast of Daniel as Rome rather than Israel. After the Greek kingdom (the Third Beast) weakened, Israel become independent again under the Maccabees, by revolution. But then Israel again lost independence to Rome, after a period of time. In Revelation the beast is destroyed (at least one of them was), yet in the First Century, the ‘beast’ Rome wasn’t destroyed at all! In Daniel, the destruction of the Fourth Beast is parallel to the destruction of the power of the holy people (Dan 12:7), and the desolation of the holy city (Dan 9:24-27). Both happen when the kingdom comes. Jesus applied Dan 12 to the end of the his ‘this age’ (i.e. the age of Moses and the law and the temple) in Mat 13:39, and he applied Daniel’s abomination of desolation to the fall of Jerusalem in his ‘this generation’ (Mat 24), and he said the kingdom would come in connection with the signs of the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 21:31). So, in effect, the Lord applied the fall of the Fourth Beast to the time of the fall of Jerusalem, suggesting that the Fourth Beast was the Jewish-Zealot kingdom.
And of course it is common to misidentify the Great City Babylon with gentile Rome rather than Jewish Jerusalem. But the Great City is where the Lord was slain (Rev 11:8), and was the one responsible for the blood of the prophets, and the one who filled up the measure of her sins and who was repaid at her fall, an event Jesus identified as the fall of Jerusalem (Mat 23:29-39).
In summary we need to take a lot of care to understand the code names and epithets and descriptions in the New Testament. The eschatological and political conflict of the time was driven by or at least expressed in differing identifications of who is who. This conflict was to be resolved at the revelation of the sons of God (Rom 8:19) i.e. when the blood of the martyrs would be vindicated and avenged against the zealots in Jerusalem, by means of that would the world know who had the correct eschatology and who was who. Now that we have that knowledge, we need not have that conflict anymore over identification of the sons of God vs. sons of the evil one, wheat vs. tares etc.
Response to David (10/10 at 3:41 PM) Yes, it strikes me as pretty complicated: pieces of the First Testament are fulfilled in the person and work of Messiah Jesus, pieces are fulfilled in the emergence of the new, Torah-honoring community called “church”; pieces are fulfilled in the military events of 70 CE, and pieces are discarded (and never fulfilled) because they constituted a false start (the entire “like other nations” aspiration and Davidic dynasty dead-end).
Yet it only seems insurmountable beause it is so seldom discussed within the spiritualized tradition of modern Christianity.
Agreed, there is a huge wealth of material and so much of it is glossed over or grossly distorted for lack of attention to social, legal and political nature of the material, and misplaced literalism of apocalyptic language and projection of last days events from the last days of Old Covenant Israel into the last days of the Christian age (which has no end). And a lot of the social, legal and political material and teaching is missed because it conflicts with contemporary statist political ideology.
I hope your patience and attention is repaid with much insight and clarity.
Thank you, David. You did characterize yourself as a thorough-going Preterist, as I recall. So I assume you date all of the Second Testament writings before 70 CE. That creates a conflict not only with “comptemporary statist political ideology,” but also with consensus scholarship. I think we can and should learn from the Preterist perspective, but not to the exclusion of that consensus.
Sure, I can accept the full preterist label, and yes, I don’t see any merit in dating the New Testament in the 70s and later.
I have read J A T Robinson’s Redating the New Testament and he seems to cover an enormous amount of material on the topic, to me at least, convincingly. Other than the book of Revelation, I’ve not looked into the issue of dating based on any other works.
For example, why does the book of Acts end where it does? And if it was written as the second book, after Luke, and if it ends where it does because that was where the story was up to, then it was finished around 62, and Luke must have been earlier. Luke records the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem exhaustively in the gospel, and in Acts he records it as about to happen, on the lips of Paul who spoke:
‘concerning righteousness, and temperance, and the judgment that is about to be’ (Acts 24:25). This was enough to scare Felix, being the person responsible for Jerusalem.
Now compare that to another ‘about to be’ prophecy of the book of Acts, that of Agabus. Luke records that it came to pass under Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28).
Why would Luke record a single event of limited spiritual and political significance, and care to add when it came to pass, but not the most momentous and spiritually significant event, subject to numerous and various prophecies, and never record when it came to pass? As well as not mentioning the fate of Paul or his trial?
There are a few issues that are suggestive of both dating and meaning that seem to be confounded here:
1. Who is the main polemical target. I identify it not as Rome but as the Zealots in particular (heading towards the rebellion of 66), and unbelieving Judiasm in general. Sure Rome and the Sadducees and Herodians do get some polemic their direction, and sure unbelieving Jerusalem does try to use Roman power, with some measure of success at times, but the persecuting power is unbelieving Jerusalem that got taken over by armed zealots in the end, leading to its downfall.
2. What event is the parousia and eschatological consummation. Obviously I identify this as the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, ending the age of the Old Covenant, of Moses and the Law, and at that time the kingdom comes in power and the Age to Come fully arrives, New Heaven and Earth, Resurrection etc. Therefore predictive prophecy is written before that event, or as that event is underway (as commentary and teaching/predicting how it is going to end).
3. Predictive prophecy. If we accept that the Old Testament predicted the eschatology re-iterated in the New Testament, which is what the New Testament writers claim, then we have no problem with predictive prophecy. And I believe that the prophecies came true as and when they were promised to.
4. Authorship is also important. A lot of people think that the New Testament books, or at least a lot of them, were not written by the authors who claim to have written them. Obviously some books are anonymous, or the authorship is not expressly claimed, like the Fourth Gospel, which I believe was written by Lazarus. If we want to date New Testament books after the fall of Jerusalem, we also often have to change the claimed author or traditionally ascribed author. But if not, we don’t need to.
I guess if you have a high view of inspiration then it is easier to accept they were written earlier, and were predictive of the parousia, and that the parousia predictions didn’t fail and weren’t delayed.
The main reason I hold that the New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem is because it nowhere discusses or refers to the fall of Jerusalem as a past fact, and every book refers to the eschatology as a) presently underway, b) about to be consummated, and c) connected with the fall of Jerusalem as a future predicted event.
I think the ‘consensus scholarship’ you refer to assumes that predictive prophecy is written up after the event and/or failed because it has a lower view of inspiration. And of course ‘consensus scholarship’ is surely overstated, there are always a range of opinions, and what is dominant scholarship today might not be tomorrow.
Perhaps I should give an example from books that ‘consensus scholarship’ dates very late: 2 Peter. If we look at 2 Peter 3, for example, what is the topic and who is the polemic directed against? Surely this helps us date the book.
The last days scoffers, who were they? They were the ones saying that since the fathers fell asleep, the creation goes on. The ‘fathers falling asleep’ is a very Jewish turn of phrase, generally ignored. Yet if the passing of heaven and earth is the fall of Jerusalem, as Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse, these scoffers are Jews who are saying the creation, that is the Old Covenant, created when the fathers fell asleep, would remain.
Peter says that the New heavens and New Earth is where righteousness dwells. Peter is talking about a new covenant world, a new moral and legal world, not a new physical world.
Peter says that the elements will be burned up with fire. These are the elements, the fundamental principles of the Old Covenant world, not the physical elements.
Peter says the scoffers were predicted in the Old Testament. Did the Old Testament predict gentile scoffers or Jewish ones? Check Deut 32:15; Is 28:14-17; it is the rulers of Jerusalem who are the scoffers who would be destroyed in Israel’s last days when the the new foundation stone (i.e. the new creation) is laid in Zion. Jesus said, at that time, would they be crushed by that stone, at the judgement of the vinyard.
Peter urges his readers to be found by him. This language suggests the readers should be expecting the day of the Lord and the events he is discussing in their lifetime. Peter is not saying it would not happen for a long time, if he was teaching that, the scoffers would be right! Peter taught that the end of all things was at hand and that the appointed time for the judgement had come.
Can you see how the nature of the events Peter is talking about, and the identity of those his polemic is directed to is so critical for the dating of the letter?
Peter quotes Paul’s teaching about God’s patience towards the objects of his wrath, destined for destruction. Didn’t Paul teach that it was the Jews who were storing up God’s wrath? Let’s have a look:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: (Rom 2:4-6)
This was directed at the Jews! And it quotes Jesus who promised to render to every man according to his works, in his generation:
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mat 16:27-28).
How about this teaching of Paul:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22)
In this context, God is being patient with unbelieving Israel.
How can we say Peter is quoting Paul, but not talking about the impending destruction and judgement of Israel/Jerusalem?
For the ‘scholarly consensus’ to be right, the writer of the letter, necessarily not the apostle Peter, is addressing his polemic in a very strange manner to some scoffers unknown to the Old Testament prophets, using mysteriously Jewish turns of phrase and apocalyptic language.
I like this a lot, Ted.
David, you will find my assumptions about authorship in the bible summary John K. Stoner and I authored, IF NOT EMPIRE, WHAT? The text is available online or in bound paperback from Amazon. Visit http://www.bible-and-empire.net
Thanks Berry, I was going to ask you to respond and fill us in on your views on the matters I raised, although I suppose it is implicitly invited.
You are right to describe your work as ‘assumptions’, I will read the entire work but just now I had a read of the section on Revelation. Here you assume the situation of writing the book and what the book is about without actually providing any argument for it at all.
Let me invite you to consider the matter with an open mind: when was the book of Revelation written? And what it is about? You have provided some indication of how you view the material, so let me propose the questions to you as alternatives, to highlight the alternative that I think you should try to engage with and consider and maybe even accept.
You mention the two witnesses of chapter 11, but you don’t mention where they provide their testimony. It appears to you to be a non-specific and generic testimony to the world. But, for the sake of argument consider the alternative: they are prophets sent to Jerusalem, they perform their prophetic ministry in Jerusalem, and they pronounce judgement upon Jerusalem, and they are killed in Jerusalem, and their blood is avenged against Jerusalem at the coming of the kingdom.
Let’s be even a bit more specific, this is what you need to address to either accept or refute the alternative.
What is the temple referred to in 11:1-2 and what is the trampling of the holy city by the gentiles for 42 months? Does it have anything to do with Luke 21:24, if not why not?
How about the 42 months and 1260 days that the two witnesses prophesy. Is this not the period of tribulation before the power of the holy people is completely shattered in Dan 12:7, if not, why not? What is the complete shattering of the power of the holy people in Dan 12:7 if not the fall of Jerusalem?
How about the plagues? Is this not characterising the Jerusalem below as the new Egypt as Paul did in Galatians and as Revelation does in 11:8? If not, why not? And what are these plagues and who suffers them if not Jerusalem?
Who are those who dwell on the earth, if not those who dwell in the promised land, i.e. Israel/Jerusalem?
Is not the resurrection of the two witnesses a quote from Ez 37:10, and therefore referring to the resurrection of Israel as a collective body, as it does in Ez 37?
Is the shaking of the earth in 11:13 not the shaking of the earth referred to in Hebrews 12:26-27, and referring to the removal and judgement of the Old Covenant and its city and temple? If not, why not?
Is not the seventh trumpet the great trumpet of Is 27? And so does not it signify the atonement for Jacob’s guilt when the stones of the altar are turned to chalk-stones and the fortified city is laid waste, as referred to in Is 27:9-10? If not, why not?
How about the vindication of the blood of the prophets. Is this not what is described in 11:18? Jesus said that would happen at the fall of the temple (Mat 23:29-39). If this is not what is referred to in 11:18, why not, and what is it?
How about destroying those those who destroy the earth. Somehow you read this as a judgement on those responsible for environmental degradation. To be fair to you, I guess this is an application rather than an interpretation, but it illustrates how you are approaching the book, in general. You are treating the book as a very general and abstract book, notwithstanding your attempt to locate its relevance and original application to its original audience.
But, since I am proposing alternatives for you to consider, let me state the alternative: those who dwell on the earth are the Jews, the kings of the earth are the rulers and powers of Jerusalem and Judea, and those who destroy the earth are the zealots who took over Jerusalem, killed those who were not sufficiently willing to take up arms against Rome, in their eyes, and who brought the city to lawlessness and banditry and famine, and who provoked the Roman siege and so those who destroyed the earth were destroyed in that event. If this is not what is referred to, why not?
How about the coming of the kingdom in power and the time of the destruction of those who destroy the earth? Jesus promised the coming of the kingdom in power in his ‘this generation’ (Luke 21:31-32), and while some who listened to him had died and while others still lived (Mat 16:27-28). And he said this would be in vindication of the persecution of his followers, even to death (Mat 16:24-26). So, doesn’t the kingdom come in power in the First Century in connection with the judgement of the persecuting power, which was Jewish? if not, why not?
So that is just one chapter!
Berry, I have read my way through most of the New Testament sections of the book and the main approach is valid and correct: the Christian community and movement is rival to the Roman empire, and is deeply and fundamentally social and political, in ways most Christians refuse to see, for lack of appetite for repudiating coercive power politics.
The only critique I would give is the failure to see the intensity of the rivalry and conflict between non-Christian Judaism and Christian Judaism. For example, in 1 Cor 2, who are the rulers of this age who crucified the Lord of glory. It is a no-brainer, isn’t it: the Romans killed Jesus, he was put to death by Roman soldiers by a Roman method of execution, case closed.
Only it isn’t that simple. Matthew records the Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion in terms that makes a lot of people uncomfortable: “his blood be on us and our children”. Lazarus pointedly records Jesus saying ‘Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’ (John 19:11). In Acts, Peter says the men of Israel crucified and killed Jesus by the hands of lawless men. (I.e. the Romans are so far from any fig leaf of legitimacy in Jewish eyes they can bear no moral responsibility!) And Stephen attributes responsibility for the death of Christ on the Jewish leaders who had betrayed and murdered Jesus. And in 1 Thes 2:14-16, Paul teaches the same thing.
In calling them the rules of this age, which age is he referring to, the Roman age or the Jewish age of Moses and the Law? Biblically, there is no such thing as the Roman age, that is a Roman imperial concept, not a biblical one.
Let’s see what Paul actually says about these rulers in 1 Corinthians. He says they are doomed to pass away. They are the natural man, that does not discern spiritual things. It is the world that is passing away, and the time for it to pass had grown short. It would pass away at ‘the end’, when Christ would deliver up the kingdom to the father after destroying all rule, authority and power, and put his enemies under his feet.
The problem is that the rulers and powers and authorities that were totally destroyed, a short time after Paul wrote, were the powers of Jerusalem, and not Rome.
So, basically you have a choice: identify the age, the rulers, the powers and the authorities being discussed as the Jewish powers in Jerusalem, or make Paul a false prophet.
Who are those appealing to peace and safety? Sounds like a Roman imperial slogan, Pax Romana and all that, right?
Again, we should not be too hasty to make that connection. Who are the rivals in 1 Thessalonians, if not the Jews, who killed the Lord in Jerusalem, and the Jews who stirred up trouble for Paul when he visited there? See 1 Thes 2:14-16 and Acts 17:5f and you know the answer.
Those who say peace and safety are those who are to suffer sudden destruction, as labour pains on a pregnant woman. How is this not a reference to the Jewish target from the Olivet Discourse (Mat 24:8)?
The reference to coming like a thief is the same source and same meaning, no?
And how about Peace and Safety as an allusion to the Jewish false prophets, who were saying ‘peace, peace’ when there was no peace? In the Olivet Discourse didn’t Jesus predict false prophets would arise? Jer 6:1-14 sets out the destruction of Jerusalem, when the false Jewish prophets said exactly that. Just like the false prophets in Ez 13 cried peace when destruction was bearing down upon them. Does not Jesus’ prophecy and the Old Testament precedent carry any weight?
I suggest that a closer examination of the actual teaching of the New Testament shows that the main political and ideological contest was not between the Christians and the Roman authorities, but between the Christian and the non-Christian Jews. The historical background is significantly earlier in time and more Jewish than your approach seems to appreciate. The Roman persecution of Christians under Nero post-dates most of the New Testament’s events and writings. By the time Nero started persecuting Christians, the end of the age was pretty much a done deal, the events came thick and fast until the temple lay in ruins 6 years later.
Rivalry between Rome and Jerusalem and messianic teaching and expectation was a given. The New Testament is significantly about the identity and form of the rival kingdom. Why did Jesus spend so much time teaching ‘the kingdom of heaven is like …’ instead of ‘the kingdom of God will be rival to Rome’? The latter was never in doubt, the former was the burning question. In your writing it is a rather distant and dim one.