Jeremiah 29 as the beginning of New Testament Missiology

Repost from August 29, 2006

Most of us are familiar with the flow change of redemption from the Old Testament to the New. In the Old Testament the nations are drawn to the “model” of Israel living out kingdom of God on earth with the epicenter being the Temple in Jerusalem.

With Jesus the flow of redemption is reversed and now God’s power is no longer bound by a temple with walls or a city or an ethnic group but (via Acts 1:8) flows out into the world through the church. The body of Christ is the new temple, etc.

In listening to one of Tim Keller’s lectures he noted that this change of flow actually begins in the book of Jeremiah. The first group of exiles have been hauled to Babylon (Daniel’s group) along with articles from the temple, etc. There are false prophets announcing that within 2 years they will return triumphantly to Jerusalem, returning the articles and all will be well. Jeremiah says he wishes that would happen but it won’t. Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke will be one of iron (unlike the wooden one the false prophets broke) and Jeremiah urges the exiles in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city and pray to the Lord on it’s behalf. For in it’s welfare you will find your own.”

This is of course a foundational text for Keller who is very much a part of the Westminster-East urban ministry movement spearheaded a while ago by Harvie Conn and Roger Greenway. I’ve always heard their use of this text as more of a slogan than a foundational text in redemptive history. Clever missional factions use favorite texts (sometimes obscure texts) as slogans, mottos or rallying points to energize their particular perspective or niche. The more I look at this though in the light of Keller’s stuff the more I see that this is one of those foundational OT prophetic texts that Jesus and the New Testament will bring to full flower.

The exile and the destruction of the first temple will rightly be seen as an enormous calamity by the children of Israel for God’s redemptive work. NT Wright is all over this point with his emphases as reading the New Testament from the perspective of a continuing exile. Even before the exile, what did it mean that this nation which was to be the epicenter for the redemptive work of the God of all the earth to be a vassal to malicious, pagan empires. Exodus was about showing pagan world empire who was really boss. Now Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome would dominate and subjugate God’s people, occupy, employ and destroy the temple.

God’s command through Jeremiah of seeking the welfare of the city is the new missiological strategy that comes to full flower in Jesus and the New Testament church. Remember, however that the city the exiles are told to bless is a pagan, imperialistic one whose petty potentate is all about bribing and propping up spiritual forces and national deities working the standard “I’ll build you a temple and furnish it with sacrifices and pleasures if you give me power and wealth”. I think it is important to see that this isn’t new with Jesus, but Jesus is the fulfilment of it. 1 Peter is a shocking letter in how submissive Peter is commanding the people to be and how uncritical he is of the pagan Roman empire, but if read in the context of God’s word to the exiles it makes far more sense. Romans 13 falls similarly into line. Both of course must also be read together with the book of Revelation. Jeremiah 29 taken together with the book of Daniel really represent a proto-New Testament missiology where God’s kingdom now advances within the context of the successive whores of Babylon and the people of God are taught how to be grace-filled servant insurgents who by seeking the good of the (pagan) cities subvert the empire through love and service, not money and power.

This helps show why Jesus was so against the Jewish culture war in his time. The Zealots, the Pharisees, the Essenes and the other “culture warriors” who considered themselves so much in God’s favor awaiting a return to a Davidic-Solomonic Jewish empire did not heed Jeremiah’s rebuke of the false prophets. They instead aligned themselves with Hananiah and his hope. Jesus stands with Jeremiah and teaches his followers how to be grace-filled insurgents who will not conquer with blade and bomb but with love and mercy. This is asymmetrical warfare at it’s Godliest.

This is really important stuff today as Christians (rightly or wrongly) increasingly feel they are no longer living in Christendom but in Rome. How do the people of God subvert the empire? It seems totally wrong to pray for the welfare of the city when the city rulers are so obviously pagan. History is so redundant, all the same options re-emerge. Accommodation: Sadduccees, temple aristocracy, Herod. Culture war through attempting to popularize legalistic religious observance: Pharisees. Outright Violence: Zealots. Religious Escapism: Essenes.

Tim Keller would assert that the New Testament paradigm is the Jeremiah 29 paradigm and it is Jesus’ paradigm. Because of Jeremiah 29 Jesus can embrace a centurion. Because of Jeremiah 29 the book of Daniel is a strange combination of Acts and Revelation. Jeremiah 29 and the book of Daniel should have a lot to say to us together with Paul and Peter about the means by which we live in exile and the tools we use to subvert the empire.

About PaulVK

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