Thursday, December 25, 2014

How will Jesus return?

This is a follow-up to an earlier post:

The physical, visible return of Christ is a pillar of the Christian faith. But can we be more specific? What will the return of Christ look like?

i) In the Gospels, Christ's appearance takes two forms. There's his ordinary human appearance. That's how he usually appears. A normal human body. 

But we also have the Transfiguration (Mt 17), where he becomes physically luminous. Blindingly bright. And this is before the Resurrection. So he always (as of the Incarnation) had that capacity. Interestingly, this incident is accompanied by the Shekinah or glory-cloud. 

ii) We have his appearance to St. Paul (Acts 9). This could be a subjective vision. However, it may be an objective vision. Once again, there's intense luminosity. That's reminiscent of the Transfiguration. So this may well be a case where Jesus puts in a physical appearance.

iii) Then you have the Christophany in Rev 1. This could be a subjective vision. But maybe not.

The sword-like tongue suggests figurative imagery. That might imply a subjective vision. 

On the other hand, that might be a figurative description which has a literal analogue. Given the associated imagery, it's reminiscent of the fiery cherubic sword in Gen 3:24. 

The white hair might be a symbol of purity and holiness. But in context it could just as well or better reflect his luminosity. Indeed, you already have the connection between whiteness and brightness in the Transfiguration. 

iv) As commentators note, the imagery in Rev 1 has its counterparts in the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel. Among other things, their visions and/or theophanies combine elements of the Shekinah or glory-cloud and a mobile throne. 

This is sometimes how God appears to prophets on earth. God comes to them in the Shekinah, seated on a throne, surrounded by cherubim. It's a miniature throne-room. A microcosm of heaven descending (as it were) to earth. 

The Translation of Elijah (2 Kgs 2:10) is similar, but in the opposite direction. 

v) This, in turn, helps to flesh out Acts 1:9-11. The return of Christ will reverse the Ascension. As I read it, the Ascension involves Christ levitating above the disciples, at which point the glory-cloud envelopes him. The the glory-cloud passes out of sight. That doesn't necessarily mean it flies away. It may simply vanish. 

vi) For modern readers who've been conditioned by science fiction movies and TV dramas, these Biblical descriptions are apt to trigger associations with wormholes and flying saucers. Of course, that's anachronistic. 

You even have UFO religions, where people think theophanies and angelophanies were really about aliens and spacecraft. On this theory, ancient observers didn't know what they were seeing, so they described what they saw in culturally available categories.

Without taking time to discuss all that's wrong with that, I'd simply point out that the logic is easily reversible. Modern readers are reinterpreting apparitions in the cultural categories available to them. When they read accounts of apparitions, whether in Scripture, church history, or elsewhere, they translate or recast these descriptions in the ufological conventions of science fiction films. Flying saucers. Wormholes connecting parallel dimensions. That's an overlay imposed on the phenomenon rather than derived from the phenomenon.  

BTW, here's a witty critique of urological interpretations of Ezekiel:

No comments:

Post a Comment