The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Figure for the 21st Century?

An article by Helen Bond, The Relevance of an Apocalyptic Jesus, has drawn some attention on the biblioblogs. In her opinion:

“The apocalyptic Jesus is no longer ‘other’ and remote, but ethically aware, in touch with the planet, and right on trend. Preaching imminent cataclysmic disaster is no longer a sign of weirdness, but a sane response to scientific research. Rather than a misguided fanatic irretrievably stuck in the first century, Jesus starts to sound rather modern. If any Jesus can save the world in the early twenty-first century, it is surely the apocalyptic Jesus.”

This doesn’t necessarily depend on conservative, millennial Christian views, according to Bond, but also the views of “ordinary rational men and women with little time for ‘organized religion’ and all its trappings”. Based on his confession in The Historical Christ, Dale Allison would probably agree:

“I argued that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet… Anyone who knows me might well wonder how this could be in any way a personal projection. I am not looking for the end of the world anytime soon… Yet I would be deceiving myself were I to imagine that my Jesus was nothing but the product of brutal historical honesty. I wrote Jesus of Nazareth during an exceedingly miserable period in my life… [and] my chief consolation was hope for a life beyond this one where things might be better, which means I was comforted by a historical Jesus who seemed ill at ease in the world as it is.” (p 17)

I too suspect that the apocalyptic Jesus is less alien than we often insist. Like Bond and Allison I remain fully convinced that Jesus was a (deluded) apocalyptic, but have become more cautious about professing indifference to apocalyptic thought. After all, I enjoy good science fiction and fantasy, including Doctor Who (mentioned by Bond), which often deal with “apocalyptic” threats to the world and cosmos. There’s evidently a side to me, however secular, that warms to certain apocalyptic themes.

In the end, of course, what matters is where the evidence leads us, more than an ability to assure ourselves that we’re not making Jesus in our self-images. And the evidence has always pointed strongly in favor of an apocalyptic Jesus. But being receptive to historical figures whose views oppose our own is often at least an indication, if not a sure bet, that we’re on the right track (and avoiding autobiography in favor of biography). Bond is probably right that the “alien” character of apocalyptic hopes isn’t as alien as assumed since Schweitzer. At the same time, I think it’s an overstatement to say that the apocalyptic Jesus is well suited for the 21st century. Few secularists will be persuaded by this just because we have problems like global warming!

(H.T.: Mark Goodacre and Jim Davila)


4 thoughts on “The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Figure for the 21st Century?

  1. Pardon me, but I think Helen Bond is talking nonsense. I don´t see how deluded apocalyptic thinking where God is ultimately supposed to rejuvenate the Universe through some grand miracle is going to save the world. From my viewpoint nobody is going to save or rejuvenate our planet except us. So Jesus worldview is just as irrelevant today as it was 2000 years ago.

  2. Antonio,

    If we confine ourselves to the literal sense of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic, then you're obviously right. But what Bond (and Allison) are pointing out is that apocalyptic themes resonate on various levels — even to secularists like myself, I have to admit — thus perhaps making an apocalyptic Jesus more attractive than we're aware of. Again, I think she's overstating her case a bit, but it's not complete nonsense.

  3. Loren,
    I think it is about as much nonsense as claiming that William Miller´s message still “resonates” today and will “save the world”.

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