Simply Jesus: Part Two(b)

As I said in the last post of this series, I am breaking Part Two of Simply Jesus into posts covering three chapters apiece. This post covers chapters 9-11.

The Kingdom Present and Future

In this chapter, Wright offers four examples, both before and after the time of Jesus, to show how the Jews believed that the kingdom could simultaneously be both present and future. The kingdom was “now” when announced and “still to come” in the sense that there was work to do to bring the kingdom to completion.

The four would-be messiahs or established “kings” that he surveys are, respectively, Judah the Hammer (Judas Maccabeus), Simon the Star (Simon bar-Kochba), Herod the Great, and Simon bar-Giora. All four, while having at least some of the seven themes of the exodus (pp.64-65), had at least two main parts: 1) a great battle to fight and victory to win (themes of wicked tyrant, chosen leader, and victory of God); and 2) to cleanse or rebuild the temple (presence of God). By exploring the history of these characters, it doesn't take much imagination to see why Jews started following Jesus around, wondering if he might actually be the Messiah.

(What is interesting, is that Judah the Hammer and Herod the Great were both “successful” in their endeavors. Yet, neither one had a right to David's throne by way of lineage. Plus, it was obvious to Jews that things were still not quite right.)

Battle and Temple

The battle that Jesus came to fight, was not so much against Rome or corrupt Jewish leaders, but against “the quasi-personal source of evil standing behind both human wickedness and large scale injustice” (p. 120), the satan. Wright explains that when the kingdom of God comes on earth as in heaven, “It's a clash of kingdoms: the satan has his kingdom, God has his, and sooner or later the battle between them will be joined” (p. 125). Jesus initially won the battle by being tempted in the wilderness but would fight the final battle on the cross.

Jesus is indeed fighting what he takes to be the battle against the real enemies of the people of God, but it is not the battle his followers or the wider group of onlookers was expecting him to fight. Jesus has redefined the royal task around his own vision of where the real problem lies. And he has thereby redefined his own vocation, which he takes to be the true vocation of Israel's king: to fight and win the key battle, the battle that will set his people free and establish God's sovereign and saving rule, through his own suffering and death. (p. 126-127)

Jesus' “cleansing of the Temple” would have been similar to Jeremiah's smashing of the pot (Jeremiah 19) and interpreted as God's judgment on the Temple. As we saw earlier, cleansing/restoring the Temple was a royal task for the king to perform, which makes sense of the question that the Jewish leaders asked Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?” (e.g., Mt 21:23) This action could only mean that the Temple itself had become obselete:

It looks as though everyone knew that Jesus was in some sense or other pronouncing God's judgment on the Temple itself – and by implication, on the present regime that was running it… [W]hen Jesus stopped the changing of money…and the selling of sacrificial animals, he was effectively stopping the sacrificial system itself, for a brief but symbolic moment. And if you stop the regular flow of sacrifices, you bring the Temple to a shuddering halt. It no longer has a purpose. And if you do that…it can only be because you think Israel's God is now acting in a new way. (pp. 129-130)

Space, Time, and Matter

Chapter 11 has been one of my favorite chapters so far. The sections are “Redefining Where God Dwells” (space), “Time Fulfilled” (time), “A New Creation” (matter), and “A New Kind of Revolution.” I will briefly summarize these sections:

  1. Space – Jesus redefined sacred space around himself as the new Temple, where heaven and earth overlap. “Heaven and earth were being joined up – but no longer in the Temple in Jerusalem. The joining place was visible where the healings were taking place, where the party was going on…, where forgiveness was happening… [T]he joining place…was taking place where Jesus was and in what he was doing. Jesus was…a walking Temple. A living, breathing place-where-Israel's-God-was-living.” (p. 133)
  2. Time – The time of fulfillment, the time to which all of the sabbath days, sabbath years, and years of Jubilee (if Israel ever actually practiced it) were pointing, finds its significance in Jesus' public career.
  3. Matter – The material world was meant to be filled with the glory of YHWH. Not least in Jesus' healing ministry, but also in the Transfiguration (e.g., Mt 17:1-13), it is evident that God is restoring the created order. In other words, “new creation” is breaking into the old one.
  4. Revolution – Jesus' movement had some similarities to other revolutionary movements of that period, but his was still strikingly different. Here we must debunk a few common misperceptions about what Jesus was doing: He was not a) telling people how to “go to heaven,” b) starting a military revolution, or c) simply doing things to “prove” his divinity.

From what I've posted so far, how does this view of Jesus and the message of the gospels differ from the Jesus and gospel you have learned about?

Simply Jesus: Part Two(a)

As I said in my first blog on N.T. Wright's Simply Jesus, I am processing what I'm learning by blogging through the book. Part Two consists of nine chapters, so I will blog through three chapters at a time.

God's in Charge Now

To summarize chapter six is to say that, in a sense, God's people knew that he was already in charge (before Jesus announced that God's kingdom was at hand), but at the same time knew that all the wrongs polluting God's good world must be put to rights. Up to this point, no leader, whether Jew or Gentile, had been able to do so. After spending much time under foreign rule, the Jewish people longed for God to rescue them as he did when they were slaves in Egypt. They were longing for a “new Exodus.”

Wright uses the analogy of sports fanatics celebrating when their team gets a new coach (or when a country elects a new leader) who will “sort things out” to help us understand the celebration that occurred wherever Jesus was. Israel had been on a roller-coaster ride of just-okay-kings, bad kings, and pagan kings/rulers for many years (see the outline of Jewish history on p. 62), but yet longed for the king (Messiah/Christ) of which their prophets had foretold. Jesus' healing and teaching led many to believe that he was the one they were looking for. Hence, the celebration, the good news.

Wright teases out these seven themes (pp. 64-65) of the Exodus to show what the Jews were expecting when the kingdom of God arrived:

  1. Wicked tyrant
  2. Chosen leader
  3. Victory of God
  4. Rescue by sacrifice
  5. New vocation and way of life
  6. Presence of God
  7. Promised/inherited land

This was the story in which the Jews were living and Jesus used the Passover festival (celebrating the Exodus) as the climax to his public career. It was finally time for the new Exodus.

The Campaign Starts Here

Jesus' proclamation that the kingdom was at hand, that God was becoming king on earth as in heaven, would have been understood by Jews at the time in terms of Jubliee (e.g., Leviticus 25 and Is 61:1-3) and New Exodus. Wherever Jesus was announcing the kingdom's arrival, in both word and action, there was celebration, healing, and forgiveness (pp. 68-73). A new kingdom was forming in the midst of the existing one, right under the noses of Herod Antipas, the high priest, and Rome. Wright explains:

The campaign, you see, isn't about someone running for office as happens in our modern democracies. Jesus isn't going around trying to drum up support like today's politicians. He is much more like a rebel leader within a modern tyranny, setting up an alternative government, establishing his rule, making things happen in a new way. He chooses twelve of his closest followers and seems to set them apart as special associates. For anyone with eyes to see, this says clearly that he is reconstituting God's people, Israel, around himself… This is a campaign. It's a rebel movement, a risky movement, a would-be royal movement under the nose of the present would-be “king of the Jews,” Herod Antipas himself. (pp. 85-86)

Stories That Explain and a Message That Transforms

Jesus spoke in parables about what it looks like when God becomes king on earth as in heaven. His hearers would have heard echoes from their ancient scriptures, which should have led them to recognize that God was fulfilling his promises, but most did not.

Another dimension of what it would look like when the kingdom of God broke through is that people would be restored, not just physically and not by external purity rules, but by transformed hearts:

Jesus had grasped that, if God was to become king on earth as in heaven, something deeper than outward reformation would be required. It wouldn't do simply to tighten up existing laws and regulations and enforce them more strictly… What will it look like when God becomes king? Hearts will be transformed… (pp. 98-99)

Jesus was announcing that God was taking charge, that the kingdom of God was at hand. The campaign had begun, and he spoke in parables to explain (to perceptive hearers) what was taking place.

Reading Priorities and Conducive Places

 
Reading Priorities
 
A while back I wrote a short blog about Tony Reinke's Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. In the book, Reinke talks about the importance of setting reading priorities to help you choose, from the thousand upon thousands of options available to you, what you will read (and not read). Tentatively, these are the reading priorities I have set for myself (not that I am reading one of each at the moment, but where a book is on the priority list will determine how much time I spend with it):
  1. Scripture
  2. Books about Jesus
  3. Spiritual formation
  4. Biblical historical background, biblical languages, commentaries
  5. Marriage and parenting
  6. Self-improvement, business, productivity
  7. Novels, fiction, biographies, etc… (i.e. everything else)

Conducive Places

He also wrote that he has discovered that certain settings are more conducive to certain kinds of reading. For example, I am discovering that after a long day of work and wrestling kids, when it gets close to my bedtime, I probably don't need to try to read anything that requires a lot of thought or anything that I want to absorb word for word. I need to do my heavy reading either first thing in the morning or during the day when my mind is more alert.

What are your reading priorities? What settings do you find are more conducive to certain kinds of reading? What settings are not conducive to reading? What are you reading right now and why?

 

Simply Jesus: Part One

I have attempted to read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright twice before, but didn't finish, not because it isn't good, but because life sometimes gets in the way. I am determined to get through it this time and figured blogging through the book might help. This post is about Part One of the book.
 
A Very Odd Sort of King
Chapter one, “A Very Odd Sort of King,” begins with a description of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem during Passover time (Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-11; Lk 19:28-44) and the people's celebration of the coming of God's kingdom. Wright says:
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”:

  1. Jesus' world is strange to us.
  2. Jesus' God is a very specific one: the God of Israel.
  3. 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:

  1. Modern Skepticism – “That stuff didn't happen the way the Bible says it did.”
  2. Conservatism – “Oh yes it did! The Bible says so!”
  3. 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.

  1. The Roman Storm
  2. 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)

The Hurricane

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! 🙂

 

Lit!

I think it's safe to say that once you've read a book about reading, you are officially a citizen of Nerd-ville. Well, I did (read one), so I guess I am (a citizen). So what??? 🙂

I used to never read unless I was required to, which didn't happen unless I was in school (and often, not even then). About a year-and-a-half after I became a Christian, I started my first semester at Williams Baptist College. That semester I took both Old and New Testament Survey and read nearly the entire Bible in a semester. Every semester was reading intensive, and I developed a love for reading and learning, which has continued now for nearly two years after graduation, after I'm no longer required to read.

This love for reading led me to Tony Reinke's book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. Reinke gives some excellent advice about reading, such as how to set reading priorities, how to make the most of your reading time, and tips for marking and highlighting in books. He gives advice about reading fiction and other genres and discusses the role of worldview when it comes to reading. If you want to become a better reader or if you want to start reading, give this book a shot.

 

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

For the past year or so, I have been trying to understand the “big picture” of the Bible. Thankfully, a dear brother in Christ, Don Pucik, told me about a book called God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.
This has been one of the most helpful books I have read on understanding the Bible. Roberts (rightly) sees the overarching theme of the Bible as being the kingdom of God, which he defines as “God's people, living in God's place, under God's rule, and enjoying God's blessing” (paraphrase), and then unpacks this idea throughout the whole sweep of Scripture. Visual learners will enjoy the charts, and there is also a Bible study at the end of each chapter.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this book!!! If you aren't a reader, check out these four videos:

 

 

 

When the Pages are Blank

Let's be honest: no matter how much you love the Lord, no matter how high your view of Scripture may be, sometimes Bible reading becomes dry. The next time that happens, get Frank Viola's new eBook, When the Pages are Blank: How to Bring the Bible Back to Life. In it you will find twenty exercises to help revitalize your Scripture reading. The book is only $3.99 and is short enough to read on your lunch break. If your Bible reading has become drudgery, try one of these exercises from Frank's book. If you find this eBook to be helpful, check out his blog and free podcast.