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As we enter the Advent season this weekend, our reading is from the gospel of Luke,
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36)
As I wrote about our reading from Mark’s gospel two weeks ago, by the time this week’s reading was written, the Jesus movement was living in the wake of several destructive events including the Jewish-Roman war. The followers of Jesus are trying to make sense of all these events in both Luke and Mark.
In Mark we read a similar passage:
“But in those days, following that distress,
‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24-27)
I like how the early Jesus community, even in the chaos of their changing world, could perceive an opportunity to make the world a just, more compassionate place. Let me explain this idea.
The phrase “son of man” in Mark and Luke has a deeply Jewish, apocalyptic, liberation context. It’s from the late book of Daniel, and when that portion of Daniel was written, it was written in the context of deep “world change” for the Jewish community reading it. It was meant to inspire hope in the place of fear and anxiety.
Let’s look at a section of Daniel to understand this context. I’ve bolded the key words we’ll be focusing on in Daniel chapter 7:
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’ After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
“As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.
Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
As with all of the Bible’s prophetic passages, people have spent endless hours arguing over possible interpretations from the themes to the most minute details—so much so that these arguments can cause us to miss the forest for the trees.
What is the overall narrative theme here? It’s one of liberation from oppression and injustice. We’ll begin unpacking how this passage relates to our reading this week as well as the season of Advent, next.
(Read Part 2)