He was not the king they expected. He wasn't like the monarchs of old who sat on their jeweled and ivory thrones, dispensing their justice and wisdom. Nor was he the great warrior-king some had wanted. He didn't raise an army and ride into battle at its head. He was riding on a donkey. And he was weeping, weeping for the dream that had to die, weeping for the sword that would pierce his supporters to the soul. Weeping for the kingdom that wasn't coming as well as for the kingdom that was. (1)
Wright raises the question which he seeks to answer, both historically and theologically, “What did Jesus think he was doing?”
The Three Puzzles
Before we can begin to answer that question, we must acknowledge and address what chapter two calls “The Three Puzzles”:
- Jesus' world is strange to us.
- Jesus' God is a very specific one: the God of Israel.
- Jesus spoke and acted as if he was in charge.
The Perfect Storm
In chapter three, Wright starts using the metaphor of a “perfect storm.” The first perfect storm he describes is the one in the middle of which people who write, preach, and teach about Jesus find themselves. The storms are as follows:
- Modern Skepticism – “That stuff didn't happen the way the Bible says it did.”
- Conservatism – “Oh yes it did! The Bible says so!”
- Historical Complexity – On this note, Wright says: “In any particular historical context, certain things made sense, certain ideas and actions went together in a way that felt entirely natural at the time, but that we may well have to reconstruct with considerable difficulty.” (22)
The Making of a First-Century Storm
Wright begins his attempt to reconstruct Jesus' world and the situation he strode into on the donkey in chapter four. Here he is using the “perfect storm” metaphor in a different way, but only deals with the first two (of three) elements in this chapter.
- The Roman Storm
- The Jewish Storm
Rome had a story that, they believed, had reached a royal climax. Having been a republic for most of their history, they now had a monarch (Caesar), who was thought to be the “son of god” and pontifex maximus, or “chief priest,” who was also thought to have ushered in a time of peace and prosperity. Wright sums it up this way:
…[T]he new age, for which we have waited for a millennium, is now here at last through the peaceful and joyful rule of Augustus Caesar. The message was carved in stone, on monuments and in inscriptions, around the known world: “Good news! We have an Emperor! Justic, Peace, Security, and Prosperity are ours forever! The Son of God has become King of the World!” (30)
The Jews also had a story, but whereas the Roman story looked backwards from a “golden age,” the Jewish one looked forward to God's coming kingdom:
…[T]he Jews had been living in their great story for, they believed, well over a thousand years. Their story…stretched back to Abraham, Moses, David, and other heroes of the distant past. But it was all going to come to its great climax, they believed, any moment now. It was a single story, and they were living at its leading edge. (32)
It doesn't take much imagination, given the brief descriptions of the Roman and Jewish storms, to imagine how Jesus' entrance in the middle of it all would initiate the “perfect storm.” Saying what he was saying and doing what he was doing would have gotten anybody killed in that day and age. In chapter five, Wright sketches the Jewish expectation of God's coming kingdom and of the Messiah. He also shows how God himself would one day be king, but that somehow, he would be king through his servant “David,” the “anointed one,” the Christ/Messiah. This is the chapter where the rubber begins to meet the road; if you're like me, you will have many “a-ha!” moments at this point.
I hope this brief overview of chapters 1-5 has whet your appetite to read this book for yourself. Join me! 🙂