In the previous posts, I have looked at New Testament verses to which scholars, bishops, and writers usually turn for green theology. I am pulling ideas from them, highlighting points that we might usually not think of. So far I have suggested that we best understand the New Testament as a green book if we (1) read it through an understanding of the Jewish Christian idea of inaugurated eschatology, which means we can begin living partly, if not mostly, in Gods new age now and (2) if we then understand Gods plan for creation care as the transformation of believers and the activity of worship. Now I turn my attention to the end, that is the End of the World as we know it, the Apocalypse. Theres a lot written out there about the New Testaments vision of the end of the world. Moreover, theres a lot of confusion. Some like to read 2 Peter as if it were the main lens through which we see the rest of New Testament teaching on the apocalypse: But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. Or people start at the end of the bible (in Revelation), Then I saw the first heaven and the first earth pass away, and the sea was no more. Good readers of novels know that the end of the story gives you little help if you dont know the rest. Gods story, from Genesis 1-3 all the way through Jesus and the early Church, is not about destruction; it is about restoration. In this post, I will have one point and one point only: in order to understand the New Testament teaching on the end of this age, we have to read it as if it were the last chapter of the Jewish story, rather than the final chapter of Platos works. What I mean is that we must not read about the end of the world in the New Testament as if it were the final chapter in Platos philosophy of the destruction of the bad material word. Rather we have to read about the end of the world as if it were the fulfillment of the Jewish hope of Gods re-creation and the prophetic tradition of earthen prophecy. The apocalypse in the New Testament is the next chapter after the prophets. Regarding the previous chapter, read Ezekiel 34 for example, I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that [my people] might live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. Or take Isaiah 11.6-9, The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The New Testament knows of its previous chapter in the prophets. Thats why scholars point to the beginning of Marks gospel and see apocalyptic imagery about the end times, based in the prophets. Mark 1.9-13 is just a small bit of Marks story, but when we see how it continues the prophetic tradition, it adds to our understanding of the end time. It is a short few verses, so I paraphrased it here: This is how it turned out on that day. Jesus, the man from Nazareth of Galilee, came and was baptized in the Jordan by John. Within a heartbeat of his coming up out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opened like a curtain and the Spirit flying down upon him as a dove. A voice called out from heaven: You are my beloved son, in whom I am very delighted. And just as quickly as it happened, the spirit drove him into the wild places beyond the Jordan. Jesus stayed out there for forty days, all the while enduring trials from Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended to him. When it comes to green theology and the right understanding of apocalyptic, scholars point out the connections between Jesuss baptism, his time in the wilderness, the prophetic qualities of Mark 1, and the nature of the peaceable kingdom as the projected last chapter of the Jewish story. Jesuss baptism, all around, is filled with earthen imagery. At the Jordan, we find the seeds of the trinity: the Father speaks, the Son gets baptized, and the Spirit anoints and guides. The scene is the river flowing from mountain to desert. Jesus comes and is plunged beneath the current. He comes up and immediately the Spirit arrives as a heavenly dove. The father then verbalizes his blessing and sends his son to the trials of lonely places. This opening of heaven matches the opening of heaven we get in Revelation 4, After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! What we have in Mark 1 is the key that unlocks the door to Revelation 4. It is a door that leads to the Jewish vision of the end, not the destruction of creation envisioned in Greek Philosophy. We get another clue to this because Jesus is then sent to the wilderness. Mark says that Jesus is with the animals (Mark 1.13). This is an idea of a close friendship. He makes friends with the animals, who were presumably once enemies. The wilderness in the Jewish imagination is about struggle, but because of the Exodus chapter, wilderness is also a place of hope. It is a place of restoring broken relationships and Gods presence guiding them. In the prophets, wilderness becomes a place of possible co-existence with the earth and a challenge to society that has gone astray from Gods intentions (Isaiah 11.6-9). This is why John lives in the dessert. This is why Jesus passes through. He makes peace with wild creation amidst the harshness of creations present state. This is the beginning of the end; the prophetic and Jewish apocalypse is about restoration, The little child shall lead them.
What clues us into this restoration theme? The flood of prophetic images comes rushing through here. Wilderness, wild animals, and peace. Jesus is not on an escapist path. He doesnt want to get out of creation. He had his chance on the mountain of transfiguration, and he came back down. He had his chance on the Mount of Olives, and he came back to earth. When he survived the struggles of wilderness life among wild animals in the mountains of the Judean desert, he showed that he is interested not in the Greek vision of destruction but in the Jewish peaceable kingdom. The peaceable Kingdom is then what we should expect from the end, and (as I will show in my next post) the peaceable kingdom interprets the New Testament verses about the earth going up in flames. The peaceable kingdom is the wolf lying down with the lamb, where violence and death will exist no more. This is peace with creation and peace from creation, we will be able to sleep in the woods without threat. Some eco-theologians are uneasy with the idea of the peaceable kingdom. It looks too much like a domesticated version earth and its creatures at the hand of a human child. But can we not imagine a wild new creation full of the passionate aggression of lions and the calculated laughter of hyenas? The problem we have now is not the wildness of animals but that they and we die. The image in Isaiah is lying down together. Im sure there will be times of rest. But with bodies that cannot die, who knows what kind of unbridled play we might experience with the wild animals? The point is this: humans in all their childlike vulnerability together with the wild animals. Jesus begins the process in the Judean desert, and we can expect the peaceable kingdom to be more like restoration than destruction. So what are the implications of Jesus in the wilderness after his wet and earthy baptism? New creation, in the Jewish story, is about restoration and intense relational encounter with a wild earth. The new creation in this light is about valuing the whole creation and a lifestyle that seeks to actualize the new creation rather than trying to escape the old. The Jewish vision of the peaceable kingdom does not mean that we should open the cages of our zoos or try to live among the grizzlies today. To do so without resurrected bodies is a death wish. However, we can learn to see the animals of this world as future friends, and we can care for their little ones like Jesus did in the desert. We can protect our families and enemies from the dangers of the old age while making sure that we carry non-deadly spiders outside our house rather than flushing them. We can find ways to connect kids trapped in the urban jungle with the creatures displayed in our nature reserves. And we can bring the shade and transformation of the New Jerusalem today to the places overrun by concrete, gangs, or knee-high grass lots. This is part of wilderness spirituality. This is part of building for the peaceable kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In conclusion, as one scholar so eloquently put it, Jesus baptism in the wilderness is about, facing up to reality. John encourages his hearers to celebrate change and forgiveness with a sacramental encounter with Earth through Earth’s water. Now, we are read to read about the fires of the end. Resource Bundle: Bauckham, Richard. From Alpha to Omega. Chapter 5 in Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010. . Reading the Synoptic Gospels Ecologically. Chapter 5 in ed. David Horrell, et al. Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical Historical and Theological Perspectives. London, New York: T&T Clark, 2010. Echlin, Edward, The Cosmic Jordan. Chapter 4 in The Cosmic Circle: Jesus and Ecology. Dublin: Columba Press, 2004. Loader, William, Good Newsfor the Earth? Reflections on Mark 1.1-15. in ed. Norman Habel and Vicky Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.
Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.