Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Priestly Kingdom

[It's been a while since I've posted anything here. Largely the reason has been because I've gotten into some extensive conversations over some notes that I posted on my facebook account. That topic has little relation to this blog, and I've been stretching the parameters of this blog enough already, so I'll just leave it aside and stay with a reading of Revelation here. If anyone wants to see the other notes and responses, let me know and I'll make them available for you.]

I've been looking at the doxology of Revelation 1:5-6 and want to wrap up that portion of this lovely chapter by looking at the 'telos' (the end goal) of the doxology, which says that Christ has "made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

The idea of a 'kingdom' of 'priests' goes all the way back to the story of the 10 Commandments, when the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness for 40 years and came to Mount Sinai, where they were consecrated and then given the law. Exodus 19:5-6a says, "Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation." There is a powerful combination here of two streams of theology in the Hebrew Bible: God as the God of all the world; and God as the God of Israel. The same two streams are evident in the story of God making a covenant with Abraham, where God promises to bless Abraham's descendants, and then says, "In you will all nations be blessed."

Obviously, these two ways of thinking about God are not incompatible, but they do represent two different ways of focusing our thinking about God. In the Hebrew Bible, you can find texts that imply that the Hebrew people's fate is far more important to God than the fate of other countries (like those dreaded Hittites!). Those stories reflect- I assume- the theology of the storytellers, who would say that Israelite success or failure on the battlefield is theologically significant, but Hittite reality is more or less a background foil for the Israelite story.

There are other stories where the fate of non-Israelite peoples is important- God's covenant with Ishmael, Jonah's preaching and the repentance of Nineveh, for example. Those stories seem to reflect a larger, more universal view of God and God's providential care beyond the people of Israel.

Maybe these two camps were arguing with one another; maybe the ups and downs of Hebrew history caused biblical writers to emphasize one stream of thought over another- I don't know exactly. What I have come to think is this: For much of the Bible, the fate of Israel is inextricably tied to the fate of the world. If God breaks covenant with Israel- that would be disastrous because this is the same God who keeps the world on its axis and rains on the crops, etc. And this God has made a special, specific covenant with Israel, so the whole world really is invested in the fate of Israel. It is not that Israel's well-being is important to the exclusion of all other nations; but that Israel's well-being is important for the sake of all nations.

Perhaps that is one way of understanding what it means to say that the people at Mount Sinai will be a "priestly kingdom." Their offerings, their worship, their sacrifices, etc. are not for their sake alone, but for the sake of the world gathered outside of their tent.

As far as Revelation goes, I think it is the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem to Rome that marks the great tragedy prompting this book. And the stories that follow are couched in global, cosmic terms because truly the fate of the world rests on whether or not God will keep God's promises. But, the shift is now from the standing of the temple (which is destroyed by the time this book is written) to the resurrection of Christ. It is in Christ- whose crucifixion seemed like the failure of his messiahship, but whose ongoing life refutes that- who invites Christ followers to be the priestly kingdom, worshipping and praying on behalf of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive