Thursday, April 2, 2009

Breaking the Cycle

(This is part 5 of a discussion that began with "Freedom and Forgiveness." If you haven't read the previous parts you will want to scroll down to catch up.)

When Jesus came announcing, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” he was invoking at once all of the expectations that a 1st century Jew had for the end of the Exile. His hearers would have understood that he was announcing that Yahweh had forgiven Israel of her sins—notice the collective sense of this--that messiah was coming and with him Yahweh was returning to rule, the nations who had oppressed Israel would be judged, and Israel would be restored.
But there was a twist. If this new kingdom was truly to be an eternal kingdom, then God had to do something about this addiction to sin that was afflicting his people—indeed, all peoples. Something needed to be done to break the power that sin had over the people, otherwise this kingdom would end like all the others, with Israel once again becoming unfaithful. Then God would have to judge or at least threaten of judgment, then the people would repent and he would forgive, and the cycle would continue.

So Jesus, the messiah, went up against the forces of sin, but he refused to play by their rules. He refused to establish his kingdom the way that the empires of this world establish their kingdoms—through violence, fear, oppression, and subjugation. As he told Pilate, “If my kingdom were from this world (this age, this aeon) my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.” (John 18:36) They were ready to fight, but he wouldn’t let them. And when you go up against the principalities and powers of this world and aren’t willing to pick up a sword, they are going to kill you.

And they did. They crucified him as a rebel leader, between two other rebels. To the followers of Jesus, to those who believed that he was the messiah, that the Exile really was ending and the Kingdom of God really was coming, this was the end. Nothing had changed. God hadn’t forgiven Israel. The messiah hadn’t arrived. Rome (and its gods) was still in charge.

And then the resurrection. The resurrection was the vindication of Jesus and of his way of being Israel. He really was the messiah and his way really could be trusted. And his way was the way of the cross. Only through the cross could humanity’s addiction to sin and violence be broken.
The resurrection vindicated the cross. In the cross all of Israel’s hopes found their fulfillment—their hopes for forgiveness and restoration, specifically, but with an added bonus: the cross ended their slavery to sin.

That’s why Jesus could speak of forgiveness in the past tense or in the present tense as a continuous state of being: because Yahweh had forgiven Israel and was setting in motion events leading to the Kingdom of God.

© 2009 by Larry L. Eubanks


  1. You wrote, "His hearers would have understood that he was announcing that Yahweh had forgiven Israel of her sins". That is true in the collective sense. But Jesus came to an Israel of individuals, believers and unbelievers. So he illustrated his point with a parable, Luke 7: 36-39 where the sinner woman proved her belief and the Pharisee proved his unbelief, the collective sense not being foremost in his mind.

  2. I don't think so. First of all, this isn't a parable, it's an incident in Jesus' life. But "sinner" was a category of person in Israelite society, like "untouchable" in India. Jesus declared that she was forgiven because all such people had been forgiven i.e. God was no longer holding their sin against them and was accepting them into the kingdom, as illustrated by Jesus accepting them into table fellowship--and by allowing this woman to touch him. It was accepting the group, in a collective sense. The Pharisee thought that the problem was that Jesus didn't recognize that she was a sinner and so shouldn't be touching him, whereas the real problem was that the Pharisee didn't recognize that God had forgiven her (and all sinners) and accepted them into his kingdom.