When I retired I wanted to continue to do good. Some retired clergy that I knew worked as volunteers with charitable organizations–Habitat for Humanity, for example. This kind of work did not appeal to me at all because they put retired clergy on boards and committees that require going to meetings and getting involved in the internal politics of these organizations. So I said that I would volunteer for anything as long as I didn’t have to go to meetings. That got me out of a lot of stuff. Almost everything involves going to meetings.
One thing I have volunteered for is to provide transportation for people who need someone to drive them to medical appointments. When I do that on a morning, it wipes out blogging for that day. But sitting in a medical waiting room often allows me to get ahead on my reading.
So yesterday I was able to read most of the remainder of G. K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission in a urologist’s waiting room.
Although I have major misgivings about some of Beale’s interpretations, when I look at his overall argument I find myself largely sympathetic.
The vision of the future temple in Ezekiel is not just an ideal of the perfect temple. It is a prophecy of the ultimate universal community and Revelation 21-22 expresses the fulfillment of that prophecy.
There is a lot to commend this view. First, of all Ezekiel’s situation was that the destruction of Solomon’s temple created a void in the religious lives of the Babylonian exiles. Ezekiel’s understanding was that the people, themselves, could become the temple of God. The temple still existed in this sense. And God would ultimately perfect it.
Second, Revelation faced a similar situation with the destruction of the second temple. Even if I can’t go along with Beale’s overall interpretation of Revelation, I think he gets this part right. Even after God’s judgment has fallen on Israel and on the Roman Empire, the community of God will go on and find fulfillment as the great temple in the day of resurrection.
He takes on the literalism of much eschatological thinking with a telling analogy. Suppose that in about 1900 a father had promised his young son that when he grew up and got married he would receive a fine buggy as a wedding present. In the meantime, the buggy became obsolete as the automobile age arrived. So the father’s actual wedding present was not a fine buggy, but a fine car.
Has this father broken his promise? He did not fulfill it literally. And yet the son is unlikely to complain. He will take the gift as the fulfillment of the promise. This analogy suggests that God’s promise evolves over time and is open to surprising fulfillments. And yet the original promise remains valid.
For Beale, Jesus is the turning point in salvation history. Like the coming of the automobile age for transportation, this changes everything. Therefore, we can justify going back to the promises to Israel and interpreting them in the light of Jesus.
This may invalidate some of my criticisms of Beale. I claim that sometimes what he says the Hebrew Bible means was not the intent of the original authors. Perhaps he would just say that the original intent can’t be taken literally since the coming of Jesus has changed everything.
Okay. But history has gone on for millenia. There have been other events. I am thinking primarily of the Holocaust. The Third Reich was an attempt to reincarnate the pagan Roman Empire. So what Revelation says about Babylon is relevant. But the main salvation-historical relevance stems from the attempt to eradicate the tribe to which God originally made the promises.
Does the Holocaust not require us now to reconsider the place of Israel? The Augustinian replacement theology was certainly an enabler of the Nazis even though many Christians stood with the Jews. So post-Holocaust Christians can’t be neutral about this. Any interpretation of the Bible that reads universal intent into the promises in a way that cancels out the reality of Israel’s election goes back to a pre-Holocaust naivety–or so it seems to me.