Jesus: best social distancer ever

Jesus is coming back. He’s coming back soon! The Covid-19 pandemic is a sign of the end times and it won’t be long now till Jesus returns to rapture all his buddies!

I know this because a whole load of cranks pastors are telling the world that, once again, the end is nigh. 56% of U.S. pastors polled believe it’ll be real soon with 97% convinced that if not now, then in the near future.

In reality, Jesus is never coming back. He might appear to predict his return in the gospels but he said it would be soon relative to those who were listening to him. True, he didn’t appear to know exactly when it would be because his Father hadn’t deigned to tell him (weren’t he and the Father one?) but he did know it was soon:

Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28).

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matthew 24:34).

I don’t believe Jesus said this at all. His mission while he was alive was to kick-start God’s kingdom on Earth and to right the wrongs done to his own people, the Jews. He didn’t expect to die when he did (he didn’t predict his death either) but right up the last minute thought God would intervene, rescue him and set him up as King of the world (Matthew 19.28). All of this is preserved in the synoptic gospels.

Once everything had gone disastrously wrong, his followers had to make sense of his premature death. So followed the stories of a resurrection, based on grief-induced visions and fuzzy feelings. Once these faded, his early followers became convinced this wasn’t – couldn’t be – the end of the story. Jesus had to come back to complete his mission. The newly converted Paul thought so too: Jesus’ death wasn’t the end; his resurrection wasn’t the end – it was the beginning; when Jesus came back down from Heaven he would resurrect his followers and the Kingdom of God would arrive. Paul believed this would happen in his own lifetime (1 Thess 4:15-17)

When the gospels came to be written decades later, Jesus himself was made to say much the same thing. Like a 1st century Arnold Schwarzenegger, he promised he’d be back. But Jesus wouldn’t have said this. He had no intention of going away until his mission – to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth – had been completed. Subsequent believers, including the gospel writers, knew with the benefit of hindsight that this mission hadn’t gone to plan. Consequently, they rewrote the plan. Jesus, having risen from the dead (or so they believed) would be returning to complete his mission. They then retrospectively supplied him with foreknowledge not only of his supposed return but of his execution and resurrection too. The predictions of a second coming were put into Jesus’ mouth by later believers; the gospel writers specifically.

They were wrong. Jesus did not return when they hoped, which is hardly surprising for any number of reasons: the dead don’t come back to life; Jesus himself didn’t promise he’d return (neither the first time nor the second); beliefs, however resolutely held, do not create reality.

The Jesus story would now be over and done with if it were not for Paul re-interpreting into something it wasn’t; substitutionary atonement designed for Gentiles as well as Jews. Jesus failed to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth (no surprise there); he didn’t rise from the grave; he’s not coming back. Believing won’t make it so.

Happy Easter y’all.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Jesus: best social distancer ever

  1. “The Jesus story would now be over and done with if it were not for Paul re-interpreting into something it wasn’t; substitutionary atonement designed for Gentiles as well as Jews.”

    But why did Paul go back to Peter and the disciples 14 years after originally receiving the gospel message to ensure that he was preaching wasn’t in vain? And why was his reinterpretation affirmed by the disciples if it was wrong? And if it was a reinterpretation, why wouldn’t the disciples say that it’s all Paul’s misunderstanding as they were martyred for “Paul’s teaching”? Isn’t this reinterpretation the same thing Stephen preached when he was stoned to death with Saul’s (Paul’s) approval?

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    • You’re relying on Acts’ account of things, written decades after the events it purports to describe. In Acts, Paul goes to see Peter and they iron out their differences, resulting in Peter sanctioning Paul’s reinterpetation of the ‘good news’. However, according to Paul himself, the meeting with Peter did not go well; he is scathing about what he sarcastically calls ‘the esteemed pillars of the church’ (Galatians 2:9) and says he had cause to ‘rebuke’ Peter (2:11-13). He even goes so far as to wish those with ‘a different gospel’ from his would castrate themselves (5:12)! Nice man.
      See my post here: https://rejectingjesus.com/2016/02/06/hermeneutics-sameoldtrics/

      As for the original disciples being martyred for Paul’s version of Christianity, you simply do not know this was the case. We do not even know that, with two exceptions, the disciples were martyred. There is no evidence they died for their beliefs, but even if they did we do not know why – could it not have been because like their leader (Jesus) they preached that he would be returning soon to re-set everything? That’s essentially Jesus’ ‘good news’ in the synoptic gospels. We have no evidence the disciples changed their minds about that. (The NT letters supposedly from Peter have long been recognised as forgeries.) See this post: https://rejectingjesus.com/2017/03/22/the-disciples-would-not-have-died-for-a-lie-part-one/

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      • I wasn’t relying on Acts, but Galatians (1:18 and 2:1). It’s my understanding that Bart Ehman puts 1:18 to around 6 years after the cross and that Paul received the 1 Corinthians 15 Creed at that time. Paul went to Jerusalem at these times. In 2:11-13, Peter came to Antioch (so, a different time than the previous two). And as far as 5:12, more power to him. He received a message of grace by faith from Peter and then Peter started adding legalistic works after the fact? That is a different gospel than what Peter was teaching received because that’s closer to Pharisee Judaism – what Paul left – and not actually the gospel. You are right – adding works to the gospel is a different gospel. What else could Paul do except rebuke Peter and say that if anyone is going to add to the gospel they should castrate themselves? A gospel of works is no gospel at all. (I politely disagree with the ‘pillars’ comment. I don’t get sarcasm from the context.)

        I agree that we can’t say more than 2 disciples were martyred. My point was what about Stephen, who came before Paul (and Paul approved of his death). And what of James? Would Paul have been able to convince him? And what would have caused Paul to go to his death? Only one of those 3 followed Jesus during his lifetime.

        And your claim about Peter’s epistles is nothing new. Although to say they’re forgeries is a stretch. Martin Luther classified them as second rate epistles. But what does Peter add that isn’t elsewhere? Most doctrine comes from Paul. But it’s my understanding that most of Paul’s letters are undisputed.

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      • You’re wrong that Ehrman says the creed Paul references in 1 Corinthians 15 dates to about 6 years after the crucifixion. He has repeatedly refuted the suggestion, most recently on his blog: ‘I have no idea how someone can possibly come up with the view that this (creed) was circulating six years after Jesus’ death. What are the grounds for that???’

        The letters from Peter were written by somebody who wasn’t Peter, who lived a significant amount of time after him and who had an ‘advanced’ theology that the real Peter would not have subscribed to. Yet this individual passes himself off as Peter. In what way do his letters not qualify as forgeries? This is the term Ehrman uses of them in Forged.

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    • But he did know, TUF. He said it would be while those who stood in front of him were alive, before that particular generation had passed away. He may not have known the precise time but he was convinced it would be soon and said so. I liken it to expecting a delivery of a package. The company has told me it will be sometime today but are unable to give me an exact time. Nonetheless, today it will be. Jesus’ prediction of the end was exactly like that – and also completely wrong.

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      • I’ve come across a lecture series on this particular saying of Jesus by R.C. Spoul (completely by accident – I didn’t even know you replied to be until just now), and apparently there is a lot of debate amongst theologians about his meaning. I, for one, am not someone who spirtualizes something they don’t understand (I think that results in horrible theology), but what Sproul is saying does make sense in light of the evidence. And what he says is contrary to about 99% of the theologians out there. I don’t have any intention of trying to convince you, I think your mind has been settled, but mine hasn’t and I’ve found it interesting. Am I convinced that he’s right? Not yet (I’m only 3 or 4 lectures into 12 lectures). But we’ll see.

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  2. The problem is TUF, that there isn’t only this particular saying to contend with. The gospels record several such: Mark 5.3-12; 25.31-46; Matt 16. 27-28; 24.27-34; ; Luke 9.27. One might be explained away, but several?
    The idea that the Kingdom was imminent is threaded throughout Jesus’ teaching – the sermon on the mount is about the changes that would be happening soon. Why would JC tell those around him that they would be first as opposed to last and so on, if his message was actually for people living 2000 years later? That makes no sense, though I’m aware of those, like Sproul, who try to make it fit with what they want to believe. Surely you don’t too?

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    • I don’t know what to think about this particular topic, to be honest. Obviously a literal interpretation fails. But I don’t like spiritualizing things because it fits a particular worldviews, either. I find it a tough pill to swallow to take the position that it was meant as a vague prophecy meant for people 2000 years later. (That sounds too much like Nostradamus to me. It makes us see things that aren’t really there because we *want* to see them) I think that’s terrible theology. Things should be taken literally when they’re meant to be taken literally, and figuratively when they’re meant to be taken figuratively. This is why I like what Sproul is saying (at least, so far). He doesn’t take either of these positions. Nor is he getting “spiritual” about it. But, we’ll see.

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  3. I must have misspoken. I meant to mean that it’s my understanding that Bart says that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in 1:18 was 6 years after the cross (maybe a few year more). I’ve never read Ehrman (although I would like to), so that’s why I said that it’s my understanding that it’s what he believes. And in the Creed in 1 Cor. 15, Paul says he passes on what he received of most importance. Many argue – what would be more important than the gospel (and possibly the Creed)?

    Obviously Ehman wouldn’t say anything otherwise about Peter, would he? Neither would the Jesus Seminar, or Jesus-mythers. (Why are we talking about 1 Peter anyway?) But to get a better perspective, it might be a good idea to read both sides of the argument and make your judgement on that (that’s not specifically to you, but in general). That’s why I would like to read Bart myself. Some people argue that Peter could have used a scribe or that he learned to write in later years. My point is that if it’s in dispute, it doesn’t prove its a forgery because one side says so. And as I said, most Christian doctrine that I know of comes from the so-called “undisputed” Pauline epistles.

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  4. Yes, Paul did go to Jerusalem early in his ‘ministry’. However, according to his own account in Galatians, he didn’t meet Peter on that occasion (see my earlier post which I provided a link for). He waited 8 years or so before going back and meeting Peter for the first time. As I previously mentioned, the encounter did not go well.

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