Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Day the Revolution Began, by NT Wright #5

WrightI am continuing reading through, for my New Testament devotions and study, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion, by N. T. Wright. This post continues the discussion of part 3 of the book which looks at the meaning of the crucifixion as revealed in the New Testament. I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

In chapter 10, The Story of the Rescue, Wright discusses the question "why did Jesus die?" as answered in the four Gospels. The Gospels focus on the "kingdom of God," YHWH himself coming to earth to bring God's rule and its blessings to the world. Jesus does this by allowing the forces of evil to do their worst to Him, so that he dies in the place of Israel and humanity, and provides the way that sin is forgiven, humanity is restored and the world can be remade. We are then called to live out the kingdom as Jesus did; with self-giving, self-sacrificing love.

All four gospels tell the story of Jesus as one of Israel’s God returning at last. 200

Echoing the combination of themes that Jesus himself drew together, the evangelists in their different ways saw the great victory over the powers of evil being won by means of taking away sin. 209

Jesus represents his people, as Israel’s Messiah, and so he and he alone can appropriately be their substitute. And it is through that substitution, both national (as in the gospel as a whole) and personal (as in the exchanges in chap. 23), that the larger reality comes about. Jesus, by taking upon himself the weight of Israel’s sins and thereby of the world’s sins, dies under the accumulated force of evil, so that now at last the kingdom can come in its fullness. 216-217

In Chapter 11, Paul and the Cross (Apart from Romans), Wright looks at the meaning of the death of Christ in Paul's letters to the Galatians, Corinthians, Philippians and Colossians. In each one he sees the same basic gospel message that Jesus' death defeated the "powers" who held the world in bondage; sin, death, human empires and oppressors, evil supernatural beings. The means was God's self-giving act of love in Jesus Christ, who took the burden of the evil of these powers on to himself. This inaugurated the kingdom of God, fulfills the promises to Israel, and frees and obligates God's people to live in unity with the same kind of self-giving love for each other and for all of creation.

For Paul, the death of Jesus had emphatic past consequences, but those who realized that and who celebrated it as the ultimate revelation of divine love would by that very realization find themselves renewed and summoned to the life of holiness and unity, suffering and mission, that was at the heart of the vocation of the church in the first century as it is today. 229

Thus at every point the Messiah’s crucifixion, interpreted through the Messiah’s representative position vis-à-vis Israel and the divine purposes for Abraham’s family, means the creation and maintenance of a single covenantal family, the one sin-forgiven people of God, the people already celebrating the life of the “age to come.” That is the main argument of Galatians. 244

When the Messiah was raised, death was conquered, which meant that sin had been dealt with. That is the link. That is why, in accordance with the Bible, the message of freedom from all “powers” (the Passover message) is directly connected to the message of “forgiveness of sins” (the message of the end of exile). 1 Corinthians, 248

His point is that the cross has liberated people from sin, so that they can be God-reflecting, image-bearing, working models of divine covenant faithfulness in action. That is actually what 2 Corinthians as a whole is all about. 253

Already in the very early church it was common coin, first, that Jesus’s death established God’s kingdom; second, that this came about because of his servant-shaped identification with sinful humanity, sharing their death and so bearing their sin; and third, that this action was not something Jesus did despite the fact that he was “in God’s form” and “equal with God,” but rather something that he did because he was those things. In whatever way the New Testament tells the story of the cross, it is always the story of self-giving divine love. Philippians, 257

When Paul speaks of the “rulers and authorities,” he means both the visible rulers, the Herods, the Caesars, the governors, and the priests, and the “invisible” rulers, the dark powers that stand behind them and operate through them. By the time Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, Paul believed, these “rulers and authorities” had been stripped, shamed, and defeated. Colossians, 259

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