Q & R: What about weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Here's the Q:
I have been reading your works off and on for about 10 years. Recently I have been reading and re-reading “A New Kind of Christianity”, which I have found very helpful in answering some questions I have. However, there are some other questions this line of thinking brings up. Reading chapters 13 and 14, where you break down the Gospel according to John, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, I find great inspiration. But what do we do with Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew? I generally read the four Gospels in the light of the Gospel according to Jesus (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (and in my thoughts available to be experienced now as revealed in the Beatitudes) What about the references to the weeping and gnashing of teeth, being thrown into outer darkness, etc. etc. etc.?
Here's the R:
This is a huge question, and I can't do justice to it in a short post. But let me offer a wild proposal. I'm not fully convinced of all the details in the proposal below, but this approach deserves consideration. It builds on insights from mimetic theory and from the work of Walter Wink, William Herzog, Andrew Perriman, and others.
1. The overall issue is not the end of the world, but the destruction of the temple (24:1-2). Much as people today foresee the end of nuclear proliferation or global warming or a pyramid economy that is owned by the 1%, Jesus foresaw that a militarized Israel would stage a violent rebellion against Rome which would be crushed.
2. His warnings that follow aren't about the end of the world, but the end of the world as they know it … an end that occurred in AD67-70 when the Romans came in and crushed the Jewish rebellion (24:3-31). For more on the phrase "coming of the Human One" or "coming of the Son of Man," see the work of Andrew Perriman.
3. "The generation will not pass" had its obvious meaning (24:32-35).
4. The "left behind imagery of 24:36-44 means the opposite of what Dispensationalists and other fundamentalists taught. Being "taken away" means killed by invading armies. Being "left behind" means surviving the attack.
5. If that's the case, the catastrophes in the parables of the servants, bridesmaids, and stewards aren't going to hell after you die, but the consequence of trusting in violent rebellion and not being ready for the coming catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem.
6. This is a tangent … but the parables of the servants, bridesmaids, and stewards are highly problematic. It's possible Jesus didn't intend the master, bridegroom, and rich man to refer to God … but to Caesar and his regime. Maybe not - but it's worth a thought. If that's the case, the point isn't, "Be on the alert because God might come back and destroy you at any moment if you're not careful," but "Be on the alert because Caesar might come back and destroy you if you're not careful."
7. Whether or not 6 is valid, the point of 7 is … swinging back to #1 … this: what God desires is not violent rebellion against the Romans, but grass-roots kindness and humane treatment of the least, the last, and the lost. This is a time not for hostility against our occupiers but for solidarity with the most vulnerable, those suffering most under the occupying regime. Humanity will be judged not based on who is the military victor … but who is truly human and humane.
Try this interpretation on and test it as a hypothesis. It makes sense of 26:1-5 too - because Jesus basically says, "If anyone proclaims a message of nonviolent resistance - rather than violent resistance or nonviolent compliance - that messenger is doomed. I understand that. So be prepared for what's about to happen to me."
One more question needs to be asked, of course. In light of these passages, what might Jesus say to us if he were here now, seeing the huge challenges we face - the broad road leading to environmental destruction, economic collapse, and social conflict?
It's an exciting time to be reading the Bible!