Thursday, June 13, 2013

Unfinished mystery

Aνάληψις – Análipsis – Ascent [to the Father]

“Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way you have seen Him go there.”
Acts 1:11 Jerusalem Bible

The people of Yisrael, believing the words of their nevi’im, the prophets, held to the view that Moshiach, the messiah, existed and would be manifested as two distinct individuals, named by them Moshiach ben Yossef, and Moshiach ben David. It did not occur to them that these two types of messiah might be the same person. They didn’t think so then, they don’t think so now.

According to a modern rabbi, “Jewish tradition speaks of two redeemers, each one called Moshiach. Both are involved in ushering in the Messianic era. They are Moshiach ben David and Moshiach ben Yossef. The term Moshiach unqualified always refers to Moshiach ben David of the tribe of Judah. He is the actual (final) redeemer who shall rule in the Messianic age. Moshiach ben Yossef of the tribe of Ephraim will come first, before the final redeemer, and later will serve as his viceroy. The essential task of Moshiach ben Yossef is to act as precursor to Moshiach ben David: He will prepare the world for the coming of the final redeemer.”

That is modern Jewish thinking about the messiah, Him whom we know as Christ, who is Jesus son of Joseph, of Nazareth. At the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea, these views about Moshiach were not yet fully formed. As for myself, I am no sage, not one learned in Torah and the traditions of Yisrael, and I do not presume to teach, but only to report what I have heard, and that is, that the taking up of Jesus in power to sit at the right hand of His Father is an unfinished mystery. Even a child knows this, “what goes up must come down.”

If we believe that He is risen from the dead, that He lives forever, that He has been taken up and is interceding for us to the Father, then we also must believe that He “will come back in the same way” that He was taken up.

At the time the Holy One appeared, the Jews believed in two messiahs.

Messiah son of Joseph was the suffering servant as holy prophet Isaiah foresaw. He would be born of woman, of the tribe of Ephraim, born in a known place. They would know where He came from. He would come to teach, to suffer and to die for the sins of many. He would not come to inaugurate the subjugation of the whole world to Israel.

Messiah son of David was the mighty conqueror, as holy prophet David the king foresaw and sang about in his psalms. He would not be born of woman, but was nevertheless called the son of David. They would not know where He came from, because He would come with the armies of heaven, with the host of Yahweh. He would not come to teach or to suffer, and He would not die. He would come to initiate the supremacy of Israel and of Jerusalem. He would be the King of the world, forever and ever.

Two messiahs, and which one would the people have?
Being in subjection to their Roman overlords, could they be expected to want Moshiach ben Yossef to appear?

As one of them answered “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” when he was told, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One about whom the prophets wrote: He is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” so was the expectation of most of the Jews of that time.

They wanted not the suffering servant; they had suffered enough! Maybe, some of them thought, they were themselves collectively Moshiach ben Yossef. They didn’t want someone ordinary, born of woman like everyone else, and like everyone else, born to suffer and to die. No, they wanted the conqueror, born of no woman, therefore undying, the hero of whom David wrote,

“He has told me, ‘B’ni atta… You are my Son, today I have become your Father. Ask, and I will give you the nations for your heritage, the end of the earth for your domain.’”

But no, things did not happen as the Jews desired. Not Messiah son of David, the unborn, from heaven, ever-living, ever-reigning, came or could come, not before Messiah son of Joseph. No one is stronger than God. No one can alter His plans. No one can know them, unless He reveal them.

What of today? Does anyone, Jew or gentile, want the Messiah son of David to appear? A handful of religious fanatics, maybe, some Jewish, some Christian, and maybe some wild-eyed Muslims who have transferred the attributes of Messiah son of David to a mythical being whom they call the Mahdi or the Tenth Imam.

No, the world doesn’t want someone like Moshiach ben David to appear.

Why? Well, to put it bluntly, His coming would spoil all their plans, would just trash all the good things they have in store for mankind, as their unofficial anthem declares… “Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace...”

No, what the world wants now, if it must have a messiah of some sort, is someone like Moshiach ben Yossef, someone born of woman like everyone else, someone whom they know where he comes from, who will be longsuffering, patient and (especially) tolerant.

No, he needn’t die for anyone, of course. That would be barbaric.
But we could let him be the figurehead, the symbol of all that we have accomplished, the lord of our tower that reaches up to heaven…

Yet here we have this unfinished mystery, the mystírion of the análipsis of the Christ, which many mouth as true, yet live their lives as if He did not really die for them, did not really rise from the dead, and did not really ascend to the Father.

How should we live if we really believed all these mysteries?
If we really believed in the unfinished mystery of our redemption?
If we really believed that “He shall come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, Whose Kingdom shall have no end?”

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