Posted by: rogermitchell | June 25, 2011

thrones and judgements that reverse the contemporary world order

In the last post I promised to look into the way in which Luke describes Jesus as aligning the reversal of his contemporary world’s way of government with a seemingly contradictory promise of his disciples’ future role. Contrasting the exercise of authority in his kingdom with the Roman imperial system, which was of course the universal form at the time, he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves (Lk 22:25-27).

By now it should be clear that the kenarchic way of understanding the nature of God and his authority, pursued in this blog, regards humble servant loving as the apex, or what theologians call the apotheosis, of divine being. This means that when Jesus proceeds to talk in terms of thrones and judgements it is crucial to submit this terminology to the fulness of God’s revealed authority in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Which in turn means that these thrones are emphatically not to be understood as a return to the Roman shape of government. Instead the interpretation of the statement “just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:29-30), has to be in the light of the kind of authority revealed by Jesus. So how should this latter promise be understood? I suggest three important aspects:

i) Jesus’ kingdom is about hospitality, relationship and friendship, which is why I quite like the term kin-dom for kingdom. This points to the last supper and the humble loving footwashing manifest there that we have considered in earlier posts. So we can say for sure that the heart of the divine government is kenotic life-laying-down unconditional love for each other, preferring one another’s needs to our own, or exactly what Paul expresses in his Philippian hymn “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had” (Phil 2:3-5 TNIV).

ii) It follows that Jesus’ use of the word ‘thrones’ is an ironic but utterly serious acknowledgement that to love one another as friends in ever increasing circles from the Trinity outwards is the nature of the authority that disciples of Jesus are called to let loose in the world. It follows that right judgement is that which facilitates and maintains this way of government. This has profound implications for the way of leadership in the ecclesia and world, including nations, cities, trusts, charities, ministries, companies, wards, classrooms, boardrooms and the like.

iii) It remains to explain the significance of the reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. This too must be understood in the light of Jesus’ revelation of the nature of his character and authority. Any theology of the role of Israel, past or present, must be submitted to the revelation of God’s nature in the gospel testimony. This means that any understanding of Israel that displaces God’s revealed kenarchic authority is out of the question. God chose Israel as the stage on which to reveal his desire to bless all people groups “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). From this perspective the “twelve tribes of Israel” here stands for all the tribes of the earth misruled by the Roman system at that time.

This has further crucial implications for our understanding and assessment of the present day nation state and not least that of 21st century Israel. It has such huge implications that it will form the subject of several coming posts, and no doubt make a few waves and hopefully engender some serious positive discussion and activism over the current situation in the Middle East and the appropriate way forward!



  1. This accords with some of what I was thinking about, musing on yesterday – this servanthood that creates community. I was thinking about my generation, the over 50’s. Many are now working hard for their retirements and anticipate something like what many of their parents have had – a signfiicant time of leisure after work life ends. Some may help with grandchildren or do volunteer work but life also often involves lots of travel and other recreation. So my generation, having seen that this is the goal of later life, has been saving money in anticipation. (Note: I missed this aspect of life since I’ve pursued 2 degrees in the last 10 years, I personally am more like a poor student just starting out!) My generation is also sandwiched between their own kids and their extended life, leisured parents so there is a bit of doubt that getting there is possible.

    But it occurred to me that if the heart of the fathers is to be truly turned to the children and that my generation is going to do what it was originally called to do as young people then retirement will look a lot different. I think we are called to lay down our security, our investments, and whatever else we understand we have worked for and instead pour ourselves out for the well-being of the future generations – specifically through action regarding the environment. We need to join with younger people, as elders, and work politically and in other ways to challenge the reigning system economically and how it affects the environment.

    I was challenged by Bill McKibben’s call to the elders to step forward into their planned protests against the Canadian tar sands and a proposed pipeline this summer. He noted that it has been college kids who have led the movement but it is time for the elders to come forth. And it is. Can we lay down all that we have worked for and just give while in our later years? It was on our watch as a generation that all of the causes of climate change got ramped up and escalated. It has been my generation that since Silent Spring was published essentially ignored all of the warning signs, all of the prophetic voices. So we have a responsibility here. I wonder if we will turn our hearts to the ‘children’ and pour ourselves out? I suspect, if we do, we will find real community in the process, risky as that sounds.

    For me personally, I have been encouraged by reading Sarah Hrdy’s book on mothering. She looks at it from an evolutionary stand point. And much of human behaviour comes clear in the reading of it. She notes that in foraging societies older, non-reproductive women are critical to the survival of the next generation. These women, no longer attractive for reproduction, constantly bring in more calories than they consume, are the most efficient workers, and increase in altruism, especially toward all young as they age. Amazing eh? As one of those post-reproductive women I feel encouraged with that. Time to get up and get on. . .

    • I like this very much. And I take courage from Jesus and Paul that men too can have a mothering role. As I understand it, true eldership, male or female, is about taking this kind of role.

      • Another thought from Hrdy’s work. . . in societies that are mostly based on hunting for food provision – that is male-led hunting, older women are not valued. Instead they are often killed off. It is societies that are based more on female food provisioning through foraging that value the older females and in fact promote more alloparenting overall -ie. shared child care. Most hunter/gatherer societies exist on some sort of continuum between the two. Agriculture changed everything and due to property ownership became much more patriarchal, this changed the role of women considerably.

        But back to hunting and male pursuits and the devaluation of women. I think capitalism, especially when you get into the hyper testoserone fueled aspects of it, resembles hunting and so women, especially non-reproductive women are less valued overall in society. Perhaps we need to think what a modern type of foraging society looks like so that all elders are valued and can contribute more. I think the climate crisis will lead us that direction anyway. This is just a thought – I haven’t teased it all out as I’m deep into editing chapter 2 of my thesis. c.

      • PS: I think I have this correct – societies based on foraging tend to be less hierarchical as well, often flatter in their social constructs. Just saying it might be something to think about. c.

  2. I like the way this is going. In some ways we almost feel like we are getting our retirement in early but it is a time to refocus and we (Ian and I) are investing into younger folks who are starting businesses. We did wonder if we focus on setting up our own business and in some ways we will do that or at least give it a try but we feel it is more our role to facilitate the next generation to set up the businesses with community foci.

  3. Well, here you go, an attempt to organize the baby boomers (my generation) to reclaim their calling in their elder years. Can’t wait to see if it has results. The times are ripe for it. . .


    • Jesus’ inverse way of rulership is nothing less than a whole new way of being human, so I guess it certainly can include all the living!

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