Shalom, may your home be filled with it this Sabbath and this weekend. If you are Jewish or observant, I pray your table will be a blessing tonight. Spread the cloth, light the candles, pour the wine, and sanctify that Sabbath with your family. When you eat the challah, don’t forget to sprinkle on a little salt, the salt of the covenant.
My subject for this Sabbath Meditation may seem a little weird. So what else is new? I sometimes get rhapsodic about ideas. One of the ideas that frequently transports me to a better place is the coming reign of our Messiah.I get so frustrated by the fact that more than half of the followers of Jesus in this world don’t take that reign literally, nor do they take Israel’s place in it literally.
Oddly, many Jesus-followers share a similar opinion with Origen (c.185-254), the very brainy and very allegorical church father. Origen is widely regarded as one who mixed Christianity with Greek ideas and to the point of abandoning some crucial doctrines. Some of Origen’s views (or those of his followers at least) were condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 545.
In the recent book [which will eventually be the subject of a series of posts here] Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries, Oskar Skarsaune describes Origen’s attitude toward literal views of Messiah’s kingdom: “[Eusebius] had learned from Origen to despise simple Christians who took the biblical promises of salvation in a very concrete, earthly sense. . . . they were simpliciores, simpletons, not on a level with those who were able to interpret these blessings in a spiritual, that is Christian, way.” (p.332).
It is so obvious to us now, though it must have been harder to see in the middle of everything, that Origen was a product of Greek thought. Allegorizing stories was all the rage in his day. Why not allegorize the Bible?
When God gives a promise like the one below, this cannot be about literal Israel or literal grapes and grain:
Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed, the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel. Amos 9:13-14.
To Origen it would be unspiritual to care about grapes and a land of Israel. What matters is the spiritual, not the physical. The Greeks, remember, thought the afterlife would be spiritual only, with no bodies. Origen is sort of the anti-Jew, one leading the church away from the Biblical conception of physical resurrection.
And most of the modern church, sadly, agrees with Origen.
So far, this is not very inspiring. Why would I choose this topic for a Sabbath meditation? I saved the inspiring part for last.
Papias is a censored leader from the early church. It is likely due to Eusebius (disciple of Origen) that Papias’ writings are lost to us except for brief excerpts. Eusebius, as Skarsaune explains, needed Papias for his testimony of having met John the Apostle and having been part of the chain of eyewitnesses to the truth of Yeshua’s life and resurrection. Yet Eusebius was embarrassed by Papias’ very Jewish and very literal views of the life to come.
Listen to Eusebius describing Papias’ beliefs about the coming kingdom of our Messiah:
Among [the writings of Papias] he mentions a certain period of a thousand years after the resurrection from the dead when Christ’s kingdom will be established physically on this earth of ours. I [Eusebius] rather suspect he came up with these things through a misrepresentation of the apostolic accounts . . . For he appears to be a man of very little intelligence from his writings.
Yes, that’s right. The very earliest church leaders accepted a very Jewish vision of a literal reign of Messiah and golden age in Israel. How Jewish? Here is one of Papias’ teachings:
Thus the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, recalled having heard from him how the Lord used to teach concerning those times and say: “The days will come when the vineyards will grow ten thousand vines, and on one vine ten thousands branches, and on one branch ten thousand shoots, and on every shoot ten thousand clusters, and on every cluster ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give twenty-five measures of wine.” (p.329)
Could this be a real saying of Yeshua? Possibly. Papias got it from John who was with Yeshua.
Where did Yeshua get it from (or Papias if you think he made it up)? Skarsaune points out it is a Jewish midrash (a sort of fanciful interpretation) on Genesis 27:28-29, “May God give you . . . an abundance of grain and new wine.” The word for abundance, rov, can be read as ribbo, which means ten thousand. The same midrashic interpretation can be found in early Jewish writing in 2 Baruch 29:5.
I guess this is what excites me:
1. In the modern age, when our belief in a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:4-7 (the thousand-year kingdom of Messiah), is despised by over half of the followers of Jesus in the world, it is good to know that the earliest leaders shared our view.
2. When told that our literalist view is ignorant or beneath the intellectual level of a good interpreter, we can say we are in good company with Papias, John, and dare I say, Yeshua himself.
3. It sparks my imagination to wonder what things Yeshua might have said about his kingdom.
4. It just adds more evidence for my favorite concept: the coming reign of Messiah in Jerusalem.
When so many others have gone the way of Origen, let’s go the way of Papias. Let’s get ready for that great dance that is coming to Mt Zion. Let’s get ready for his feet to touch down on the Mount of Olives and for the kingdom to get under way. Sukkot (Tabernacles) is just around the corner. Let’s live out in the holiday the reality of what is to come, when we tabernacle with our God and our Messiah. It will be heaven on earth!