Sunday, June 26, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 11, Part 1

We now move to the final chapter of Book Two and Part III of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. In chapter 11, “GOD’S FUTURE FOR THE WORLD, FRESHLY IMAGINED,” Wright focuses on how Paul has redefined Israel’s hope, its eschatology, based on his experience of Jesus’ resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Again, this is a very brief summary of this very important book.  I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Paul AFOGIn chapter 11 Wright moves to a discussion of Paul's eschatology. He sees it as the ancient Jewish hope of God returning to His temple, the Day of the Lord. But, like election and monotheism, it has been redefined around the crucified, risen Messiah and Spirit. The story of Israel, in which God dwells with them, leaves them in exile, but promises to return, is fulfilled in Jesus in a "new exodus." However, in Jesus 1st coming and in the sending of the Spirit, the fulfillment is only inaugurated. There is a greater fulfillment coming, and the hope of the new heavens and new earth await the consummation of Jesus' return.

A world set free both from human injustice and from ‘natural’ violence; a world in which oceans and mountains themselves will rejoice at a new fulfilment; a world in which all peoples will celebrate the fact that everything has been set right at last. That is the ancient Israelite vision, variously re-expressed in Jewish texts across the second-temple period. This is not simply a hope beyond the world. It is a hope for the world. 1044

For Paul, however, there was a new framework. He addressed the new situation with a Messiah-shaped and spirit-driven exposition of the call to holiness by means of a transformation of mind, heart and will, and hence of action. 1048

The source from which all these streams flow is Paul’s belief that with the resurrection of Jesus the hope of Israel had been split into two. Jesus had been raised first, demonstrating him to be Israel’s Messiah; all his people would be raised later, at the moment Paul calls ‘the end’. The future had burst into the present, close up and personal; at the same time, the future remained future, glimpsed as in a darkened mirror. 1048

The hope of Israel after the exile, was that God would return to His people as He did when his fiery presence visibly dwelt in the tabernacle or temple. This return to the temple, ending the exile, in many texts, was to be accomplished by the Messiah. The covenant would be re-established as a "new covenant" in which God would change the hearts of his people to serve and obey him. It would extend to the nations of the world as God would judge evil and renew the Gentiles to become worshipers of God, and the Adamic mandate of subduing the world would be accomplished. Thus while the present age was an evil one, the "age to come" would be a return to Eden in which the righteous were resurrected.

What YHWH does in the tabernacle or temple is a sign and foretaste of what he intends to do in and for the whole creation...Israel’s central symbol thus spoke both of the powerful presence of the creator God, returning to live in the midst of his people, and of the promise, as in the Psalms and Isaiah, to renew the whole creation. 1052–1053

When this great liberation came about, with or without a ‘Messiah’ to lead the way and fight the key battle, this would be the moment when the covenant was renewed...The later prophets stressed, again in line with Deuteronomy, the renewal (or ‘circumcision’) of the heart which would transform Israel at last into a people who would be able to keep Torah properly. 1054

It was expected both as the long-awaited fulfilment of promises and as a new thing: one of the most regular prophetic promises is that when YHWH acts to do what he had always intended to do this will take everyone, Israel included, by surprise. 1061

Paul sees that the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the cross, and resurrection has reworked the ancient Jewish kingdom hope and answered the question about HOW God will return to temple, save his people, and set the world, and all its people, to right. The kingdom hope has been "split in two," "The Messiah’s own temporary kingdom is already inaugurated, while the final ‘kingdom of God’, when God is ‘all in all’, is still to come. It is, however, guaranteed by the victory which the Messiah has already won. (1063)

Here we encounter one of the other key implications of Easter: if Jesus had been crucified as a messianic pretender, but had been vindicated by being raised from the dead (which could only be the work of the creator God), then he was, after all, Israel’s Messiah. And that, as we have already seen, compelled a fresh evaluation of more or less everything else. Israel’s hope had been realized; Israel’s hope had been redefined. 1062

A strong case can be made for saying that whenever Paul refers to Jesus as Kyrios—from Romans 1:5 onwards!—it is this that he has in mind: the sovereign rule of the Messiah, inaugurated already, fulfilling the prophecies in which the world would at last be brought to book by the true human in charge of the ‘animals’, by the Messiah in charge of the nations...The kingship of Jesus is already, for Paul, a present reality. He is ‘at the right hand of God’, as in Psalm 110. 1066

The cross is the victory through which the powers of the old age are brought low, enabling the new age to be ushered in at last. Here, once again, we see what was foundational for Paul: that which Jewish eschatology looked for in the future, the overthrow of the enslaving evil powers and the establishment of YHWH’s reign instead, had truly been inaugurated in and through the messianic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 1068

The hope is also reworked and redefined by the Spirit in the present age. Instead of God coming as pillar of fire to his temple, he lives within His people through the Spirit, making them a living, moving Temple.

His powerful, personal presence has come to inhabit his people, turning them individually into walking temples and corporately into a single body designed for praise, holiness and sacrifice. This is the long-awaited new temple, inhabited personally by the long-awaited God of Israel. 1074

The ancient Israelite hope, and more recently the second-temple Jewish hope, is fulfilled through the coming into being of a Jew-plus-Gentile family whose hearts have been transformed through the work of the spirit. 1076–1077

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