20 January 2012

simply Jesus 2

N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus (New York: HarperOne, 2011).

In Part Two of The Bishop's latest book about Jesus, we take a look at the public ministry of Jesus - what he was trying to accomplish - and how it leads to the central message of Christianity, namely, his death, resurrection, and ascension.  This is the longest of the three sections of the book, and (along with the rest of the investigation) provides an introduction that works out of a type of 'translation' of who Jesus is, what he said, and what he accomplished.  Case in point comes with Chapter Six: "God's in Charge Now" - this is Wright's way of translating the impact of Jesus' proclamation, in word and deed, that the kingdom of God has come.

Wright places the notion of God's kingdom come, as proclaimed in the public ministry of Jesus, within the context of a new exodus event, steeped in the heritage of Israel.  Second Temple Judaism held fast to the belief that God had created the world and was able to overcome its evils just as he brought Israel out of captivity and bondage in Egypt through the exodus event.  Thus, Wright includes seven themes of the exodus event that will significantly play out in the remainder of the book (64).

Chapter Seven then speaks about the beginning of this campaign of the kingdom of God.  It comes through celebration, healing, and forgiveness (68ff.).  Central to Jesus' mission, however, was that God was coming with his own agenda - going to the outsiders and lost.  "Their God isn't simply coming to endorse their national ambitions" (77).  Of course, this led many to question Jesus on many levels, not least of which was his very forerunner, John the Baptist (80f.).  In this context the radical nature of Jesus' message comes through as one who is subverting the present kingdom for the coming of another.

Chapter Eight then looks at the stories which Jesus told to explain this arriving kingdom.  Wright comes from the perspective that these stories contained echoes (87), that they connect to and build upon the stories which Israel held in their long corporate identity (89).  Jesus tells them as "kingdom explanations for Jesus's kingdom actions" (91).  Thus, Wright posits, "The very form of the parable thus embodies the content it is trying to communicate: heaven appearing on earth" (93, emphasis original).  Embedded in these stories, and thus the announcement of the kingdom, is a warning not to miss out and to embrace the transformation of hearts and the renewal of lives that is coming through Jesus' work.  "This is the point at which Jesus's whole agenda embraces the 'vocation' aspect of the ancient Exodus story" (101, emphasis original).

Chapter Nine then moves into a well-presented and succinct overview of the messianic-wannabe-activity which colored and shaped the world of Second Temple Judaism.  Far too many evangelicals are ignorant to the history of other messiahs who presented themselves as God's choice for bringing the final kingdom of God.  Included here are brief introductions to Judas Maccabeus (Judah the Hammer), Simon bar Kochba (Simon the Star), Herod the Great, and Simon Bar-Giora.  Jesus arrives into this context with his message and mission.

Chapter Ten then turns to what is probably the most significant factor in understanding Jesus as Messiah and Jesus as he is perceived as messianic within Second Temple Judaism.  In what has been a hallmark of my own understanding and teaching of Jesus for many years, Wright includes a chapter on "Battle and Temple" in which we may place the work of Jesus.  While common messianic expectations expected the battle to destroy God's enemies (presently Rome), and then cleansing the Temple as the true place and center of heaven-meets-earth worship, Jesus came with a different understanding altogether.  Wright presents that Jesus' greatest enemy was Satan (120-127), and that his enterprise of cleansing the Temple was accomplished through his followers (127-130).

Although I believe that the establishment of the church is the renewal of God's Temple through Jesus, placing me in full agreement with The Bishop, I might take a slight quibble with his notion that Jesus was fighting Satan as the archenemy.  This may initially seem small, but I think there is historical accuracy at stake, and am uncertain that Jesus would limit himself to battling Satan in personified terms when there is much to be said about the battle against sin and death in more abstract terms.  This heightens the battle and gives place to human responsibility for sin and failure - the blood of his life is on our hands - which further gives place to much of Jesus' kingdom message.  While there is nothing particularly wrong with the view that is presented here, I believe that it can be expanded to give a fuller sense of what Jesus is accomplishing.

No comments: