Monday, February 18, 2013

DJesus Uncrossed: Will Jesus Kick Butt When He Returns?

This past weekend Saturday Night Live did a spoof on Tarantino's Django Unchained called "DJesus Uncrossed." 

Some are saying it is the most blasphemous thing SNL has ever done.

I think they have fairly depicted the way many Christians think things will go down when Jesus returns. 

I have heard many Christians say that even though Jesus came the first time meek and mild, he will return mean and wild, and will finally get his revenge. I don't think SNL was blasphemous for running this sketch. But I do think it is blasphemous to believe, as many Christians do, that when Jesus returns he will come with fury and wrath and will show his enemies what's up. This belief, though, seems to be rooted in the book of Revelation, particularly the following passage (19:11-16):
Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.
Read quickly and without attention to detail and literary context, this certainly sounds as if Jesus will be "uncrossed" and will take ruthless vengeance on his enemies. I address this passage in my new book because this image of Jesus as a ruthless warrior who returns to slay his enemies greatly distorts what the book of Revelation really has to say. The following is an excerpt from Flames of Love

Jesus Christ is referred to as “the Lamb” twenty-six times in the book of Revelation, and it is clearly the controlling metaphor for the message of this book. The image is meant to highlight the vulnerable, humble, sacrificial, and self-giving love of Christ. Even though John uses traditional apocalyptic images of divine violence, the meaning of those images is deeply trans­formed and subverted by his central metaphor of Christ as the Lamb who was slaughtered (5:6). 

Christ is declared to be the conqueror over all forces of evil, hence the graphic imagery of violence. Yet, the way he actually “conquers” is through the non-retaliatory, sacrificial love put on display on the cross. This is crucially important to keep in mind, because many people take this imagery at face value and conclude that the second coming of Jesus will be much different than the first coming. 

John Dominic Crossan, one of the most brilliant historical Jesus scholars of our time, puts the dilemma before us: “The First Coming has Jesus on a donkey making a nonviolent demonstration. The Second Coming has Jesus on a war horse leading a violent attack. We Christians still have to choose.”  (God and Empire, 218) 

Fortunately, we really don’t. 

Crossan misses the way in which the violent imagery in Revelation is transformed, not only by the central metaphor of Jesus as the Lamb, but also by the details of the supposed “violent attack” that Jesus leads. Even when Christ is pictured as a warrior on a white horse (19:11–16), it is highly significant that Christ’s robe is dipped in blood before the “battle” (which is never actually described), indicating that it is his own blood, not that of his enemies. Also, the sword that he “fights” with is coming out of his mouth, indicating that actual violence from Christ is not what is being described. 

The judgment that Christ brings is the penetrating message of sacrificial divine love that can leave the hardest of God’s enemies feeling “cut” to the heart. When read carefully, with attention to the details and to the central message of Rev­elation as the unveiling of the One on the throne as the Lamb that was slain (Rev 4–5), we are not forced to choose between competing concep­tions of Christ’s character. 

The apocalyptic Jesus is not the alter ego of the incarnational Jesus.

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