Daily Reflection
of Creighton University's Online Ministries
November 27th, 2009

Dennis Hamm, S.J.

Theology Department
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When we read today’s gospel passage about the signs of the kingdom of God’s nearness, we do well to remember what Jesus says ten chapters earlier in Luke: “If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). For Jesus could speak of the kingdom, or reign, of God both as already present in his ministry and also as something that will come fully in the future. When scholars insist that the kingdom of God is “already and not yet,” they are not fooling around with language. That expression really is the best way to summarize the gospel presentation of the reign of God.  Jesus inaugurated that end-time activity of God the Father in his life, death, resurrection, and outpouring of the Spirit; and he told us to look forward to the revelation of the kingdom’s fullness at the end of history. Jesus also taught us to relate to that paradox of “already/not yet” in his prayer: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The dream vision of Daniel that we hear about in the first reading is surprisingly pertinent for understanding Jesus’ kingdom talk. The vision presents a scenario that portrays four empires as three strange beasts (a lion, a bear, and leopard) and then, more elaborately, Beast Number Four featuring a horn (I call him, “Little Horn Big Mouth”). In the passage that follows right after this reading, an interpreting angel identifies the four entities as four empires. Scholars further identify the four as the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and, for Beast Number Four, the Hellenistic-become-Syrian Empire currently persecuting Israel at the time of the writing of the book of Daniel (around 167 BC). Little Horn Big Mouth is the tyrant Antiochus IV. The imminent comeuppance of all four evil empires is portrayed as the judgment of the heavenly court of God (the Ancient of Days).

Their destruction is followed by the advent of a human figure, “one like a son of man,” who receives the fullness of authority. In the explanation that follows the vision, the human figure is equated with “the holy people of the Most High” (Dan 7:27). This vision of Daniel 7 provides the background for several passages in the New Testament, as when Jesus says to the Sanhedrin, “From this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). 

These readings are a good opportunity to reflect on the differences between some popular elaborations of apocalyptic imagery and what the New Testament actually says. Unlike the writers of the Left Behind series of novels, the New Testament authors are not preoccupied with trying to figure out the details and timing of the final coming of Christ. They are mainly interested in celebrating that Jesus inaugurated the end-time reign of God and now, as risen Lord, leads us in the mission to carry out the will of God “on earth as it is in heaven” with the help of the Holy Spirit. That mission is mainly loving God and loving our neighbors. That means it is more about fixing our health care system and addressing global warming than about some other way of avoiding getting “left behind.”

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