01 February 2012

simply Jesus 3

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

Chapters 11-14 complete Part Two of The Bishop's recent publication on Jesus.  Having constructed a context into which we can read the words and mission of Jesus, Wright now comes to the heart of the gospel narrative - the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

This begins with a chapter on Space, Time, and Matter, which focuses on the redemption of where God dwells and the fulfillment of time with the coming of God's kingdom.  It is rooted in the context of the Jewish Temple, "a bridgehead into the world . . . It was the place where heaven and earth met" (132, emphasis in original).  Envisioned as overlapping circles, the realm of heaven and the realm of earth were no longer coming together in the Temple but in the person of Jesus himself (133).  This renewal in Jesus was in itself a restoration of the Temple system for God's people.  Along with this was the fulfillment of time: ". . . and Jesus was announcing that the future to which the signpost had been pointing had now arrived in the present" (137, emphasis in original).  All of this was ushering in God's new creation.  And, instead of Jesus' central message being a pathway for humanity to get to heaven, Jesus' proclamation was fundamentally about how heaven is presently moving into earth.  "The gospels are not about 'how Jesus turned out to be God.'  They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven" (149, emphasis in original).

Chapter Twelve then moves to the "Heart of the Storm," the buildup of pressure from within the context of Second Temple Judaism (and Roman rule).  Looking from the perspective of Isaiah's servant (153-158), Daniel's Son of Man (158-163), and Zechariah's king (163-166), Wright examines the socio-political elements of messiahship that comes from Jewish expectation.  At the heart of this is that, "Israel's God himself must do what needs to be done, as at the time of the Exodus . . ." (157).

This leads up to the big question of Chapter Thirteen, "Why Did the Messiah Have to Die?"  Historically speaking, "Jesus fitted no ready-made categories" (168).  He now brought together the long-standing expectations of messiah, but now shaped it around the work of servant (169).  Jesus comes into a world wehre "Every other way of bringing God's kingdom had been tried and failed" (170).  Ushering in this new exodus, Jesus came walking into the storm to radically alter expectations: "Jesus was speaking and acting in such a way as to imply that he was to go ahead of his people . . ." (178).  Thus, Jesus' crucifixion was as a representation for his people, "and through them the whole world" (185).  It should be noted here that Wright introduces value to the various atonement theories, placing them each within the context of his overall perspective.  Because of the remainder of the story Wright can assert, ". . .  then the moment of Jesus's death is, like Jerusalem on those ancient maps, the central point of the world" (189).

Chapter Fourteen then turns to the resurrection.  Wright's perspective is that the empty tomb proclaims the reality of a new world breaking into the old.  "God's kingdom is now launched, and launched in power and glory, on earth as in heaven" (193).  And Jesus now becomes the first of the new creation (194).  Along with this is the necessity to acknowledge, as does The Bishop, that Jesus' ascension and enthronement are central to the coming of God's kingdom.  This would be the moment when Jesus was exalted to the throne of God's kingdom, now reigning over all creation.  From here the Christian hope is for the return of Jesus to complete the long story of redemption which has now been fulfilled in him.  In the interim, "Jesus's kingdom must come, then, by the means that correspond to the message" (199).  Thus the reality of a new day and a new life and a new kingdom has its playing out to do in the present, as God has brought his redemptive righteousness into our world.

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