restful fridays with Ridderbos

This is not so much a quote from Ridderbos as it is a wrestling with one of his key themes.  As such, this post will be more of me thinking out loud.  Spending any amount of time with his work on Paul will reveal that Ridderbos is deeply interested in the eschatological shape of Paul’s message (or, gospel) and its implications for the present world.  (By ‘present’, I mean Paul’s time primarily, but also our time by extension).

Much of what Paul teaches about God’s dealing with the world, the sending of a messianic figure to inaugurate God’s kingdom, the liberating of those in exile, the bringing about of justification for the unrighteous and the establishment of a restored cosmos (and a few other bits) are entirely congruent with his Jewish heritage and beliefs.  If Paul spoke in rather broad terms, very few Jews in his day would disagree with his the general substance of his proclamation.  To put it differently: Paul’s basic eschatological views would have been viewed as safe (or, non-threatening).

However, because he did not speak in broad terms but advocated specific ideas about God’s present interactions, a definite Messiah, the in-breaking of the kingdom, freedom from exile, first-fruits of justification and the beginnings of new creation, Paul would have been perceived as not only incongruent with the Judaism of his day but also an apostate to it.*  To say it bluntly: Paul’s specific eschatological views would have been viewed as disruptive.  As far as I can tell, and what I’m seeing implicitly argued in Ribberbos: one of the fundamental reasons for this deals with the issue of timing.

In terms of Jewish eschatology, and I’m using a rather large brush at this point, the general themes mentioned above (twice) were understood to be reserved for ‘the end’–i.e. somewhere out in the unknown/distant future.  Moreover, when the events described in those themes are actualized in the distant future, there is nothing else; it’s victory for the good guys and game over for the baddies.  Admittedly, in at least one Qumran tradition on what could be labelled, ‘eschatological messianism’ (or, ‘messianic eschatology’–take your pick), there is the belief that the messianic age will last for 400 years before God’s kingdom is firmly established and God’s enemies are overthrown.  However, even if we follow that tradition the central eschatological motifs are still presented as future events that brings all things to a close.

Where Paul’s eschatological teaching becomes disruptive is in the fact that he proclaims Jesus to be God’s Messiah, sent into the world to bring about freedom, to justify the unrighteous and to inaugurate God’s kingdom (i.e. new creation).  Paul emphatically announces that this has happened in his own time; it is not something waiting to be revealed in the unknown future.  For Paul, what was expected to be reserved for a later epoch in human history has been brought backward and (partially) actualized in the unexpected person of Jesus.  (I say ‘partially’ because the fulness of the eschatological hope will not be known until Christ’s return).  It seems as though this timing of Paul’s eschatological teaching is that which causes the most difficulty, because he now has to account for a dying Messiah, the persistence of evil in the world (whether it be spiritual forces or political tyranny), why the fulness of God’s kingdom has not been established, how it is that justification is present reality, etc.

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* David Kinghoffer’s book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (2005) essentially states that Paul’s teaching about Jesus is the leading cause for Jewish rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah.

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