All posts in Historical Jesus

Jesus’ Death – Seeking An Understanding of Atonement – Part1

Beginning with this introductory post and the ones to follow, I will be seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death and in what sense it is ‘atoning’.

Jesus Death Saves Us

Followers of Jesus across the spectrum of traditions have learned to speak of Jesus’ death as God’s way of somehow solving what was broken with humanity and the world we live in.

La descente de croix Rubens

La descente de croix – Rubens

Atonement Through the Ages

When investigating the history of Atonement theories over the last 2 millennia, you will discover that there are basically about 3 main categorical theories; Christus VictorMoral InfluenceSatisfaction. To be sure, there are more subsets and sister theories to these 3. If you have not yet looked into this topic too deeply yourself you may be in for a twisting and turning roller coaster of a ride! I certainly have been.

Which Atonement View Is Right?

But when we are asking how atonement works, what the mechanics of it are, how can a person’s death (specifically Jesus’ death) actually resolve things? -The answers actually vary quite broadly.

At first I didn’t know there were ‘other’ explanations. I thought there was just the one, and that it can be boiled down quite economically to a single paragraph of elboration. At least that is how it was first presented to me; atonement boiled down to a 3′ x 5′ 2-3 page illustration & text ‘gospel’ tract. This gospel tract atonement theory was soon reinforced in quick summary most Sunday mornings at the tail end of the sermons. This particular view which I first learned falls within the Satisfaction view of the atonement but has been shaped and refined in a particular fashion by John Calvin and since then has come to be known as the “Penal Substitutionary View” of the atonement (P.S.A.).

The P.S.A. explanation does help in some ways in communicating truth & meaning about Jesus death and what that means for us, but it also created many problems for me as well. And with problems became questions, and in time, those questions forced me to consider that their might be ‘other’ atonement explanations more satisfactory. ; ) But, onced I learned there were other theories about the atonement, I thought to myself, “I need to figure out which Atonement theory is the right view”,  with my added assumption that in declaring to myself that one of them is ‘true’, by definition out rules all of the other views of being true.

Truth In Part

But, after deciding upon one view as being the “right” one, I quickly found myself wanting to double back on that decision because suddenly a different one sounds more convincing.

I couldn’t find a single atonement view which by itself appeared to express the complete meaning and significance of Jesus death. Each view left to itself, seemed to come up short in explaining the full weight of what was going on. And each of the Atonement views appeared to have at least some truth. Anyway, why must only one view be right?

I resolved to settle on the idea the we may very well need all of the perspectives to help round out the fuller picture of Jesus’ atoning work.

You might imagine one person seeing one unique thing and another person sees another thing, each explaining in their own way, informing us what they see. It is a reasonable enough idea to think that quite a few explanations, similes, and metaphors might be needed to capture a richer and fuller understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death.

Metaphor & The Real Thing

After all, most of the Atonement views employ metaphor to explain the significance and meaning of Jesus’ death. And a metaphor being a metaphor, isn’t by its very nature the real thing which we’re getting at, is it? A metaphor is a device and a tool which seeks to point to something beyond itself, merely a representation, a likening -to the real thing.

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge's Palace,Venice

Quentin Massys Ecce Homo 1520, Doge’s Palace,Venice

The real thing in this discussion, of which the various atonement metaphors are pointing to, is the real-in-person death of Jesus on a Roman cross. The real facts on the ground, so to speak. All that real stuff which led to Jesus death. The context surrounding it all. The different historical actors within the drama. Asking the questions, “Who killed Jesus”, and “Why did they want to murder him?” are necessary to make any plausible conclusions. Also, What role did God play in his death? Who is responsible for killing Jesus? Was it a just or unjust death? How did Jesus understand the meaning of his own death?

We might say the real thing of which the metaphors are merely pointing to, are detailed within the Gospel accounts themselves, in the narrative historical events and explanation of his death.

If the Gospel writers themselves were asked what their Atonement views are, they might each simply hand you their own books.

All Views Equally Valid?

A generous orthodoxy might welcome all atonement theories, every perspective, all views, and thus be saying, “they are all equally valid”. I had come to this conclusion- for a short while.

But then I began to realize that in spite of having concluded that the multiple views are all necessary in their own way because of their individual strengths in highlighting each of their particular truths, there is also a noticeable and stark incompatibility between these views and their various metaphors. That is to say, even though the various atonement views have so much that is solidly compatible between them , some of them are at times claiming things that are incompatible or contrary with the others. Sometimes, affirming that part of one atonement theory is true, then by reason, at least parts of a different atonement theory cannot also be true at the same time. One truth excludes another.

This incompatibility is the space that I am currently wanting  to continue my search for understanding: with further questions, observations, and conversation..

 

 

 

Kingdom of God Revisited

jesus artwork

For many Christians today, the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” refer to “heaven”—in other words, the place called heaven experienced after one dies. However, this is not what was originally meant when Jews (including Jesus) and early Christian Jews of Jesus’ day spoke of “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven”. This does not then mean there is not a place called “heaven” but rather that those phrases refer to something different. Their misreading goes at least as far back as the Early Middle Ages. Unfortunately, it has led to faulty interpretations of passages both in the Gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Paul’s many letters, and other New Testament writings. As with any reading of ancient literature (or for that matter, any literature, no matter the time period it came from), context is everything. Historical context must be considered because context determines the meaning of a passage in any piece of literature, including passages in the sacred text of Scripture. This will be the aim of the following article: to put the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” in their historical context.  The historical context of those phrases are set within the larger context of ancient Israel’s story and God’s purpose in calling and choosing this people. Once the context is better understood, the student of Scripture should then have greater clarity on the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth’s first announcement to his people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Consequently, this clarity will help to instill a renewed sense (and even fuller sense) of meaning, passion, and motivation in how one follows Jesus today. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

The following article is structured by three sections. 1) First, a brief definition of “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” is provided in their 1st century context. 2) Second, a short overview of ancient Israel’s Story will give the broader historical framework. 3) Third, their Story is detailed further and set within God’s overall purpose for the whole world.

Definition of “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven”: By the 1st century Palestine the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (for Hebrews, “heaven” was language referring to “God”) and its synonymous phrase “kingdom of God” referred to God’s rule, or reign over the people and land of Israel, and by extension, the world. It became part of the language the Jewish people used to refer to the much anticipated restoration of Israel as a theocratic nation under the leadership of Yahweh, no longer under occupation by a foreign power. They had already been under foreign occupation for over 700 years by the time of Jesus of Nazareth. What in fact that restoration would look like and how it would then transform our entire world and cosmos will be looked at in more detail below.  In order to get at those details, it is crucial then to investigate the context from which the phrase kingdom of God emerges, which then means getting familiar with ancient Israel and their long but forward looking story of God’s purpose–for Israel, and through Israel, the rest of the known world.

Short overview of ancient Israel’s Story: In the beginning stages of their Story, from 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE, Israel took shape as a theocracy, in which their god, Yahweh, led and guided them in all aspects of life (politically, socially, economically, and ritual purity). It later blended bits of theocracy and monarchy in a very dramatic and incredible story of salvation and covenant, victory and defeat, exile and the hope for deliverance.

Ancient Israel’s Story within God’s purpose for the whole world: At the start, Yahweh chose Abraham and his descendants (the Hebrew people) to be the agents through whom He would bless all the families and people groups of the earth. This followed humanity’s downward turn of events brought on by Adam and Eve’s disobedience and climaxed at the Tower of Babel when the known world exalted themselves above God their Creator. Yahweh’s choice of Abraham’s family was to establish His name and glory in His creation and world, namely by bringing wise order to it, through a people who might reflect Him in a way that their ancestors had failed to do and might reverse the effects of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (see Genesis 1:27-31 and 12:1-3 keeping in mind also 3:14-15). Yahweh demonstrated Himself powerfully and in various ways through Abraham, then through Abraham’s son Isaac, then his son Jacob, and then through Jacob’s son Joseph. These demonstrations of power were accomplished in the sight of many nations and people groups of the ancient Near East—notably, in front of kings and tribes of the people of Canaan as well as the Egyptians and their pharaoh. Among these displays of power was the favor Yahweh gave to Joseph with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, whereby Joseph was able to rescue—from many years of life threatening famine—not only his entire Hebrew family (Jacob’s sons and their families), but also the entire populous of Egypt and tribal groups from Canaan land.

A period of time later, another pharaoh rose to power in Egypt who did not know of Yahweh or Joseph or how he—due to Yahweh’s favor—rescued Egypt from the famine. For fear of the Hebrew’s ever increasing population and the potential threat they posed in the land of Egypt, this new pharaoh made slaves of Abraham’s descendants. After being slaves for nearly 400 years, Yahweh rescued them by performing plagues against the Egyptians and their pharaoh, and then again by His dramatic salvation at the Red Sea. At Mount Sinai in the Arabian Desert, Yahweh affirmed His prior choice of the Hebrews, and established it further, by inviting them into a covenant that would grant them covenant status as Yahweh’s special people. This involved laying out His expectations (in the form of Covenant Law) for a covenant people, and the Hebrews accepted the terms. Obedience to the Law of the Covenant became for them the means whereby they would represent and reflect Yahweh as their god both within the larger community of Israel (now named) and to the wider world in order that His name and glory would be known to all (Genesis 3:15; 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 4:1-8; see Isaiah 49:6 for His broader purpose for Israel, and bits of the Law that command for the proper treatment of the visiting foreigner—Exodus 22-23 and other passages in Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Yahweh promised that should they fail to obey His covenant, He would not forgive them (Exodus 23:21), meaning He would hold Israel accountable for their disobedience; he would do this by bringing destruction to the land (the land Yahweh had given them to steward) and then forcing them into exile at the hands of a foreign nation (Leviticus 26:27-45; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; 11:16-17 & 28; 28:15-68).

While there were seasons of obedience as a people and had their share of godly leaders, Israel, as a people, consistently failed to obey Yahweh’s Law on a grand scale. At the top of the list of offenses was Israel’s repetitive idolatry, failure to keep His Sabbath, and wide spread oppression of fellow Israelites (see i.e. Isaiah 10:1-4; ch.57-58; Ezekiel 20-22; Amos 2-8; and other passages in the Prophets). Why were three offenses particularly grievous and frustrating to Yahweh? Let’s start with idolatry: Idolatry was to serve and worship a god or gods and the idols that represented the god or gods—often made of wood, stone, or clay. In the ancient Near East, the vast array of gods (depending on the god) were believed to hold certain power over regions or places and various aspects of life, such providing strength and favor in battle, healing to overcome sickness or disease, fertility for pregnancy, wisdom, and prosperity of land and wealth. Serving a god or gods (or goddess/goddesses) meant doing what those gods demanded in hopes that they in return provide any of the above list. Worshipping a god (or goddess) was to revere and acknowledge that god’s power through various ritual acts. In entering a covenant with Him, Yahweh expected His covenant people to depend on Him for their general welfare and no longer on other gods nor their idols—which interestingly enough was not, at first, a denouncement of the existence of other gods (that would come later in their history), but of dependence on them. His command to no longer serve nor worship other gods besides Him was the substance of the first two of the Ten Commandments when Yahweh introduced to Israel His Covenant Law. Not far into Israel’s history you will discover the sins of idolatry showing up frequently and often unquestioned (see 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles), and among some Hebrew families and kings, even the practice of making the firstborn baby pass through fire to please the god Molech (or Moloch), which was an abomination to Yahweh. Idolatry, at its core, was not only a demonstration of Israel’s lack of dependence on Yahweh as their god but a way of demonstrating sometimes greater loyalty to other gods over against Yahweh, and at the very least showing a sort of synchronistic loyalty. There is also reason to believe that at times Israel had given credit to other gods for things Yahweh himself had done for Israel (see i.e. Exodus 32—the creation or recreation of the golden calf). Idolatry was a slap in the face to all that Yahweh had accomplished in, for, and through Israel—from the time of Abraham up through the time of the Kings—and after 700 years of idolatry following the Sinai Covenant, He had enough (the Sinai Covenant likely happened in the 1400’s BCE and the fall of Israel and the first stage of exile at the hand of the Assyrians in the early part of the 700’s BCE).

Why was Sabbath keeping so important to Yahweh? Although in the fourth of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath was established prior to the introduction to His Covenant Law (see Exodus 16 and 20). Sabbath meant “rest” understood as a day of rest. It was to be a day when Israel would not do work as usual, but instead rest from work. By resting from work, Israel was given time and mental space to reflect on Yahweh and His provision of the basic sustenance of life, food and water, as well as remembering what He had done in and for Israel in days past. By not working, it also meant Israel was relying on Yahweh and trusting Him that the basic sustenance of life (food and water) would be provided again the following week just as it had the week prior. Additional Sabbaths were added to the many yearly feasts (or festivals) Israel was commanded to celebrate—some centered on Yahweh’s provision of food during the season of harvest, while other feasts focused on one or more of the following: His deliverance from slavery in Egypt, dramatic salvation at the Red Sea, guidance toward the Promised Land, and atonement of collective sin in the community of Israel (see i.e. Exodus 23:14-17; 35:18-26; Leviticus 23:1-44). Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year in which the land was not harvested as before, but was provided rest from men’s labors. Every fiftieth year was to be a Year of Jubilee—a yearlong Sabbath of sorts in which all human debts were cancelled and the land was given another year of rest from men’s harvesting of its crops (see Leviticus 25). These commands make clear that Yahweh valued rest both for His covenant people and for the land He provided them, and in these days or seasons of “rest” He valued His people taking time out to reflect and give thanks to Him for what He had done for them. It was intended to be a good and beneficial thing both for His covenant people and their land. Sabbath keeping, at one level, meant choosing to trust Yahweh’s promise to provide for them. At another level, it meant keeping the covenant they promised to Him. Unfortunately, they failed on both counts. While it is not clear from the historical narratives how much or how often Israel failed to keep the Sabbath during their weekly observances, yearly festivals, Sabbath years, and the years of Jubilee, their lack of being mentioned at least implies Israel did not keep it as a normative practice. However, it is clear from the prophetic literature (i.e. The Prophets), from Yahweh’s own mouth, that Israel had grossly neglected Sabbath keeping (as stated above, see i.e. Isaiah 10:1-4; chs.57-58; Ezekiel 20-22). The cancelling of debts every fifty years can hardly be imagined as normative Israelite practice by the time of Isaiah. Whereas the practice of keeping the Sabbath could have (and would have) fostered a climate of trust in Yahweh for provision during the land’s harvest season, which consequently would have cultivated honesty in business dealings and dedicated attempts to care for the poor and less fortunate, not keeping the Sabbath fostered instead a climate of self-sufficiency and blatant disregard of Yahweh’s past provisions, which then of course cultivated dishonesty in business dealings and financial oppression of their own people, including treatment of widows, orphans, and the poor in general. Not keeping the Sabbath became in the community of Israel a widespread demonstration of their selfishness—those in positions of authority and or with great wealth leading the way—to acquire wealth at the expense of the vulnerable and poor, which perpetuated their ongoing disobedience to Yahweh, both to His Law (the written down commands and instructions given to Moses) and His voice (i.e. “the word of Yahweh” which came through the prophets).

Widespread oppression of fellow Israelites, as just noted, worked in conjunction with Israel’s neglect of the Sabbath. Oppression hit on various levels. According to the would be prophet Amos—Amos himself wrote that he is not a prophet but “a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs” in chapter 7:14-17 of his prophecy)—there were those in power that cheated fellow Israelites by changing the value of their crops for sale by selling smaller bundles for more than they were worth (or should have been worth), while raising the value of money (deflation—as with the shekel) in order to buy more from the less fortunate, the vulnerable, like widows and orphans, and the poor (Amos 5:10-13 & 8:5-6). It appears that certain wealthy Israelites owned two homes (summer and winter), even houses constructed with ivory (a sign of great wealth), while many of the poor in the land suffered with little (Amos 3:14-4:2). There was no doubt a direct connection between the financial oppression and disparity within the community of Israel and false prophecies that were rampant. People who have wealth and power to lose often, in their sinfulness, want to protect their wealth and power, and the false prophets spoke “Yahweh’s favor” toward the wicked priests and kings in order to maintain whatever power and favor they had with the kings and priests. The false prophets in turn also were protecting the wicket lifestyles of the kings and or priests, including their sexual impropriety and drunkenness; this climate of disobedience was not just a leadership issue, however, as it seems the above sins were reflective of many in Israel (see Amos 2:6-4:2 and Ezekiel 22:6-12 & 26-31 and any number of Israel and Judah’s kings whose memories are recorded in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles). The rulers in power, including the priests and kings, made aims at keeping the true prophets quiet in order to continue living however they wanted, without sincere and honest regard for the Covenant Law (Amos 2:12; 7:10-17; and Ezekiel 22:6-12). Enough was enough and was only time before Yahweh would soon hold them to account.

Though a godly king would rise up from time to time, sometimes in conjunction with a prophet of Yahweh (and many times not, because Israel’s kings were often part of the problem), to rebuke the people and their leaders of widespread disobedience, calling them to repentance, the people and their leaders would often turn back for short seasons only (again, see 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles). It was primarily because of the grand scale disobedience in the three areas just dealt with above (idolatry, Sabbath breaking, and oppression), the Prophets tell us, that compelled Yahweh to take action against His people and send them into exile. It was not merely for breaking His Law in general that they were exiled (as many in the church today assert and assume) for the sacrificial system required in the Law had taken care of ritual purity and provided the avenue for Yahweh’s forgiveness of sin(s). Having said that, Yahweh eventually did judge His people for the above mentioned sins by sending (or prompting) the Assyrians and then later the Babylonians to wreak havoc on His people and land and take them into exile in the foreigner’s lands (2 Kings 17-25; 2 Chronicles 28-36; Ezekiel 20: 33-44; Amos 9:1-4; Isaiah 10; 13:1-9; 47:1-6). The broader effect of Israel’s grand scale disobedience was that in failing to obey Yahweh’s Covenant Law they also failed to reflect Yahweh (i.e. bear His image) to the surrounding nations, and so failing to establish His name and glory to wider world. Despite their massive failure, He anticipated a day when His people would in fact, by His own doing, accomplish the mission He gave to Abraham (recalling Genesis 12:1-3).

Exile felt to Israel as if Yahweh had abandoned them. Eventually, the people of God repented and cried out to Yahweh (see the cries and prayers from exile: Psalm 137; the whole book of Lamentations; Jeremiah 31:18-19; and possibly Psalm 42-43). Yahweh answered their cry for help and began sending them back to the Land of Promise by giving them favor with the foreign powers (see the continuing story of Israel in the books Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel). Although the people were permitted to return to their land, foreign powers remained in control of them. A series of five empires remained in control of Israel at different times from 721 BCE and on into the time of the 1st century CE and beyond (the Assyrians, Babylonians, Media-Persians, Greeks, and Romans). The Jews, however, did gain semi-independence over Judea and some areas surrounding Judea for nearly 100 years through the resilient and aggressive efforts of the Maccabean revolt. While there was a degree of freedom that the people had, religiously and socially, among the latter three empires, they were still under occupation and control, which gave them a gnawing sense that the period of exile was not over, that Yahweh had not returned to their community as before exile, actively working among them, speaking to them via the prophets and leaders, and blessing them.

This very real sense that exile had not ended (at least not completely) was in conjunction with the widespread belief that the Spirit of God was no longer at work in and through Israel as He once had been during the glory days of their past, and that this would remain a reality until the much anticipated future restoration of Israel at the hands of Yahweh (see Amos 9:11-15). The prophetic books spoke of a day when God’s Spirit would return to His people, even come into them and write Yahweh’s Law on their hearts (Ezekiel 36; Jeremiah 31:33-34, Isaiah 32:15). This future restoration of Israel was often believed to be working hand in hand with Yahweh’s judgment of the foreigner powers (or Gentile nations) which had occupied Israel and taken them into exile (see i.e. Isaiah 10 and 66; Jeremiah 30; Joel 3 and other passages in the Prophets). His coming judgment of these nations was for their arrogance in exalting themselves above Him (see i.e. Isaiah 10:5-34; 47:1-15; 51:22-23). Yahweh’s judgment came to be named the day of Yahweh (often translated into English as the day of the LORD). There were differing views on whether Yahweh would judge the nations Himself or act via a human agent, a Messiah (Anointed One) whom He would chose (see i.e. Deuteronomy 18:15 and Psalm 2); although there seemed to be widespread belief in Israel that He would indeed use a human agent. There was also differing views on the timeframe and quality of the future Messianic age. Would Yahweh’s judgment be prior the Messianic age or following it? Would the Messianic age be the final and ultimate age of Yahweh’s reign? Would the age be entirely earthly, entirely heavenly, or would it be a combination of both? It is clear, however, that many in Israel did in fact hope in and anticipate an earthly reign of the Messiah who would overthrow the foreign powers and usher in the restored kingdom of Israel, or kingdom of God.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Reconstruction_of_Jerusalem_and_the_Temple_of_Herod_(Réconstitution_de_Jérusalem_et_du_temple_d'Hérode)_-_James_Tissot

During 2nd Temple Judaism (515 BCE to 70 AD) in particular, but likely beginning much earlier in Israel’s history, this future Messiah figure was widely believed to be a descendant of David, which meant he would be a king of Israel (see i.e. Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9 and 32; Jeremiah 33:17; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Chronicles 13:5; Zechariah 9:9; and Ezekiel 37). Others believed Yahweh would send a heavenly figure who would operate in His power (using Daniel 7:9-14 and apocalyptic literature), while some held that this figure and the Messiah were one and the same. Still, it seems that others may have wondered whether Isaiah’s Servant figure was the promised Messiah or simply representative of the whole nation of Israel (see i.e. Isaiah 42-43; 52-53).

The much anticipated restoration of Israel, not only included Yahweh’s coming judgment, the work of His Messiah, and the Spirit of Yahweh, but also the restoration of the land of Israel (i.e. Isaiah chapter 11; ch.35; 65:17-25; Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36:24-38), and this restoration seemed to have an effect not only in Israel but somehow making its way in all the earth (Isaiah 11:9; & 65:17). Not only this, but some prophets acknowledged that the restoration of Israel as a people and land would positively affect Gentiles coming into covenant with Yahweh (see Hosea 1:10, 23; Psalm 22:27-29). So as the day of the Lord extended from Israel to the whole world, it would affect all of humanity and all across Yahweh’s earth, harkening back to an earlier promise (Genesis 12:1-3). When these things eventually happen in the sight of Israel, the people of God would once and for all know that Yahweh their covenant god and King had returned to them and forgave them of the sins that led to exile, and extending out from Israel (the land) and through Israel (the covenant people), act as the rightful Lord of this world.

Other highly significant parts of the story are not mentioned here but are still very important, such as Yahweh’s creation, the importance and purpose of the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial system and other bits of the Covenant Law, the divided nation of Israel into the kingdom of Israel and kingdom of Judah, which myself and others have dealt with in other places (see the resources mentioned below). For now, returning to where we started, the long Story of Israel was the larger historical context in which the phrase “kingdom of God” (and “kingdom of heaven”) emerged; it emerged sometime during second temple Judaism (515 BCE to 70 AD). This is the time period that Jesus of Nazareth was born into and in which, when he began his public ministry, spoke of the kingdom of God. When Jesus said, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”, we must take into account what the common Jew in Israel in the first century understood that to mean. Sadly and frustratingly, this has all too often not been the case and all too often “the kingdom of God” has come to mean something very different.

the kingdom of God today

Since the above Story is the historical context for Jesus’ proclamation of and teaching about the kingdom of God, then it raises at least a few questions regarding how the phrase “the kingdom of God” is commonly used today in many Christian circles. So first, what has “the kingdom of God” come to mean today? How does this new meaning alter the vision and meaning the New Testament authors gave to us? What are the resulting shortcomings today in Christian thought and values as well as in lifestyle when we embrace today’s popular alternate meaning rather than the one rooted in Israel’s history (as revealed in Scripture)? How will embracing the New Testament’s vision of the kingdom of God positively affect Christian thought, values, and lifestyle today? These are some of the questions, and much more, that my upcoming articles, “The Gospel Revisited” and “The Gospel Today: How Christians often miss the point,” will attempt to answer.

Eccehomo1_500w

For further study on this topic

In addition to thoroughly reading and studying the Bible books and passages mentioned in this article, I highly recommend the following resources for additional historical background and context: the three articles “Kingdom of God/Heaven”, “Servant of Yahweh”, and “Revolutionary Movements” in the IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels; also, my upcoming article “The Grand Narrative Begins: The Story of Israel in God’s purpose for the whole world” in a larger project yet to be titled (and still in the process of completing). I also highly recommend the following four books by New Testament historian and theologian N.T. Wright which set out the historical context of 1st century Palestine in great detail: How God became King: the forgotten story of the Gospels; Simply Jesus: A new vision for who he was, what he did, and why he matters; Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s vision; and his large scholarly work, The New Testament and the people of God (Volume 1 of a 4 volume series entitled Christian Origins and the Question of God).

Simply Jesus Gathering

simply jesus gathering

“Jesus may be a bit different than we think.”

That is the ideas behind this Gathering in Denver in just 3 months time. This gathering initially caught my interest when I saw that Tom Wright was going to take part. I am anticipating his soon to be released, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God)
“. His work has encouraged my faith greatly.

Then I saw that the author of one of my favorite books from last year was going to be there also (Carl Medearis, “Speaking of Jesus” ).

You ask, “Who is the Simply Jesus Gathering for?”
Anyone…who wants to understand more about Jesus of Nazareth…for any reason.

Atheists, believers, agnostics, truth seekers, church goers, non-church goers, pastors, non-pastors, church planters, anti-church planters, contemplatives, activists…anyone who wants to take the person and precepts of Jesus seriously.

www.simplyjesusgathering.com/

Join the gathering November 7-9 in Denver for a unique gathering featuring N. T. Wright, Philip Yancey, Jay Pathak, Bart Tarman, Hugh Halter and Carl Medearis.
Encouraging a Jesus Conversation

Jesus And His Message


Jesus, the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, the Jesus who was raised by his parents Joseph and Mary, the one who grew up as all good Jewish boys did memorizing the Torah, attending the synagogue and pilgrimaging to the temple; this Jesus began his public ministry with a simple announcement, “The Kingdom of God is near!”

Vittore Carpaccio, Vocazione Di San Matteo

Vittore Carpaccio, Vocazione Di San Matteo



For Jesus of Nazareth, from that point on forward, what began as his opening announcement remained his central message in all that he said and did.  He stayed on course with his Kingdom of God motif right through to the very end of his life.

If this was Jesus’ main message then we might ask: “What is the Kingdom of God?” and “how is it near (at hand)?” Many did ask Jesus these questions and other questions just like them.

Now, Jesus had a peculiar way of communicating his message when people would ask their questions. Many times he simply answered people’s questions with another question.. He had a way of seeing behind people’s questions to something deeper and quite revealing.

He also wasn’t nearly as literal and precise as we are today. Our modern sensibilities seem to prefer describing things in more of a straight forward and direct approach.  In contrast, Jesus chose to explain his message through simile and short stories called parables. Jesus went about saying such things like:

The Kingdom of  God is like a mustard seed..

The Kingdom of God is like yeast the a woman mixes into flour..

It is like a man who scatters seed on the ground..

It is like.. when a certain man was preparing  a great feast..

If Jesus were around today we could imagine Jesus being interviewed on the TV show Larry King Live. Larry might ask Jesus if he could explain more about his main message.  Jesus would begin explaining, “The kingdom is like this.. or the Kingdom is like that ..”  Larry King might ask Jesus in the closing 15 seconds of the show to simply break down his message into a headline or soundbite, something short, concise and clear. Jesus might say, “Well Larry, the Kingdom of God is like.. a..” 

You probably get the point already.

I have been on a journey of following this Jesus. The one who was born, lived, died and resurrected a couple millennia ago. When at first I started following Jesus, it was for a variety of different reasons and motivations (I could talk to you about those reasons some time in greater detail.) The point I want to make now is that I now find myself following Jesus for a different set of reasons. Some of the orignal reasons  remain, some have evolved, and many are brand new reasons altogether.

Paula and I have been apart of a community of people (here in Cape Town) who are learning together what it means to follow Jesus. Recently we have been learning about and deeply exploring this central message of Jesus, the Kingdom of God. There are four accounts of the life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. When I first seriously started reading the story of Jesus I began in Matthew (because it was the first book in the New Testament). Matthew has Jesus going everywhere talking about the “Kingdom of Heaven“. At the time when I first started reading Matthew some people told me that Jesus came to teach people how to get to heaven when they die. Therefore, I used to read Jesus’ parables explaining “the Kingdom of Heaven” and think that he was describing what Heaven will be like for us one day after we die and escape this earthy physical dwelling. I assumed he was talking about a place somewhere else, not here.

Kingdom Of Heaven, Kingdom of God

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean 19th century

In contrast, Luke’s and Mark’s Gospel’s tells us Jesus was talking about the “Kingdom of God”. Even though these Gospels had “Kingdom of God” instead of “Kingdom of Heaven” I hadn’t really asked myself why the language was different in their account of things. I just assumed that all of these stories and parables were Jesus’ attempt at describing what Heaven was like and what we needed to do in order to get there some day.

Originally my motivations for following Jesus was more about getting to heaven, escaping this life. My hope was for a distant spiritual place far away from this physical place.

Recently, my motivations have been changing. I am waking up to the reality that actually Jesus wasn’t going around teaching people how to escape this world, rather he was planting creative stories in the minds and hearts of people which were explaining how God’s Kingdom was breaking into this one, the here and now, with renewing and transforming power.

I have been discovering that Jesus’ Kingdom of God Message is about the present, not simply the future. It is about what God is doing through us, not only what he does in and for us. Following Jesus and living for his Kingdom is not the least bit about escaping this world, rather, it is about shaping our world.

Our Lord teaches us to pray for the reality  of God’s-realm (heaven) to become meshed with our-space (earth).

“May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This has become our prayer. May the reality/life of heaven become reality in your life today. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Harrowing of Hell/ 15 c. Hermitage

Harrowing of Hell 15 centurey. Hermitage

 

Don’t Miss Tom Wright on Fox & Friends


If there is a speaker that I have listened to the most, without a doubt it is Tom Wright. I would love to attend this event taking place this summer where N.T. Wright will be speaking at a conference on Paul’s letter to the Galatians & Christian Theology at St Andrews in Scotland.

The dates are July 10-13th. I would go, but I’ll be In California and/or Oregon about that time.

If you can’t make it to that conference you might enjoy reading his interview with Christian.co.uk, where Tom discusses his latest book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
, and more. I am in the middle of How God Became King as well as Scot McKnight’s complementary book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I will be reviewing both of them very soon.. Yes, I am half way through both, and they are quite excellent so far.. Well, if that is not a good enough recommend then I will do a better review as I said, very soon..

Last of all you can watch him on FOX & FRIENDS where he will be interviewed for a special Easter show on Sunday, April 8, 2012!

The interview will focus on two of his books, his newest HOW GOD BECAME KING, as well as his seminal work considered a new Christian classic, SIMPLY JESUS
. Yes, I have read Simply Jesus as well. And yes, it is recommended. I will review it properly as well very very soon..



Quotes of N.T. Wright

In the last few years N.T. Wright has been the author who has had the single most impact on shaping my theology and praxis. I thought that it would be fun to post some of his quotes here. Click through to get the book if any of the quotes intrigue you. It will change your life. Follow Tom Wright as you follow Jesus..


N.T. Wright Quotes


“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even–heaven help us–Biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically-rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way…with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom. I believe if we face the question, “if not now, then when?” if we are grasped by this vision we may also hear the question, “if not us, then who?” And if the gospel of Jesus is not the key to this task, then what is?”

― N.T. Wright, Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is


“the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

― N.T. Wright


“When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”

― N.T. Wright


“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating thet God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.”

“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”

― N.T. Wright


“…left to ourselves we lapse into a kind of collusion with entrophy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”

― N.T. Wright


“What we have at the moment isn’t as the old liturgies used to say, ‘the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead,’ but a vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end. ”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Heaven is important, but its not the end of the world”

― N.T. Wright


“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Just as many who were brought up to think of God as a bearded old gentleman sitting on a cloud decided that when they stopped believing in such a being they had therefore stopped believing in God, so many who were taught to think of hell as a literal underground location full of worms and fire…decided that when they stopped believing in that, so they stopped believing in hell. The first group decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of God, they must be atheists. The second decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of hell, they must be universalists.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment. Unless, of course, they are about sex.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


“We cannot worship the suffering God today and ignore him tomorrow. We cannot eat and drink the body and blood of the passionate and compassionate God today, and then refuse to live passionately and compassionately tomorrow. If we say or sing, as we so often do, ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit’, we thereby commit ourselves, in love, to the work of making his love known to the world that still stands so sorely in need of it. This is not the god the world wants. This is the God the world needs.”

― N.T. Wright


“Don’t misunderstand me. The terrorist actions of Al-Qaeda were and are unmitigatedly evil. But the astonishing naivety which decreed that America as a whole was a pure, innocent victim, so that the world could be neatly divided up into evil people (particularly Arabs) and good people (particularly Americans and Israelis), and that the latter had a responsibility now to punish the former, is a large-scale example of what I’m talking about – just as it is immature and naive to suggest the mirror image of this view, namely that the western world is guilty in all respects and that all protestors and terrorists are therefore completely justified in what they do. In the same way, to suggest that all who possess guns should be locked up, or (the American mirror-image of this view) that everyone should carry guns so that good people can shoot bad ones before they can get up to their tricks, is simply a failure to think into the depths of what’s going on.”

― N.T. Wright, Evil & Justice of God


“All Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist.”

― N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

What Is The Gospel, And Why Is It The “Good News”?

What actually is the Gospel anyway? What did the Evangelists intend by using the word Gospel? N.T. Wright is seeming to assert that Matthew and the other writers announced their narratives about the life of Jesus cased in the term “Gospel” so as to contrast Jesus with the other Lord of the known world, Caesar. If this is true. How would we apply this same truth today. What do think?

Gospel of Mark, Armenian Artist, 14th Century, N.T. Wright, Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Life of Jesus -Carl Medearis

“What are the top 4 things you love about the life of Jesus?”, asks Carl Medearis in this youtube video. “Not what he said or his parables and what he taught..” This is challenging.

Carl points out that we have often skimmed right through the life of jesus in our Christian thoughts and meditations. He said that in the 30 Christian creeds he went through there is nothing about the life of Jesus within in them. They might mention briefly that he “lived”, and yes that he was sinless, but nothing about “how” he lived.

He lived a real actual life. Carl says, “Look at how Jesus actually did things, not just what he said, not just his parables, not just the end game, not that he died and rose again, not just the theology around it, but look look at how he lived, how he interacted, how he questioned the questioner, how he didn’t answer questions, ..how he dealt with the religious people as opposed to the sinners. How he dealt with his closest disciples..”

Carl talks about a couple of things that he admires in the life of Jesus. He points out how Jesus never seems to mind being interrupted as he is on his way. He walks everywhere and doesn’t ride there.. He also talks about how jesus taught as he went. He does something. Then he tells the disciples they can do the same thing. Then he does the same thing with them. Then he sends them to do it by themselves.

What are some things you love about the life of Jesus?
Has this short video helped you to think a bit differently about the life of Jesus and encourage you in following him?

The New Testament and the People of God

“The New Testament and the People of God” is the first of scholar N.T. Wright’s “Christian Origins and the Question of GodScholar N.T. Wright Historical Jesus Third Quest” series. In the NTPG Wright gives attention to detail, connecting all the dots to all your questions you’ve always wanted answered. The first 3rd of the book is necessary to give the basic philosophy and scope to his sketch of the historical Jesus. He lays out the historical background leading up to the 1st Century. He discusses the contrasting hopes and beliefs of the various Judaism’s on the scene at the time of Jesus.

He also gives insightful understanding to apocalyptic literature. He discusses the inter-testamental literature and and its influence upon the hopes and anticipations of those various Judaism’s as well. This is an excellent book, recommended to any one trying to understand the historical Jesus of Nazareth.


N.T. Wright’s: The Challenge of Jesus

This is the very first book I read of N.T. Wright’s. It is a great start for any one interested in a primer regarding the leading academic Historical Jesus research that has taken place in the last hundred years up to now. He does a great job of presenting the significant scholars who have contributed to the Quest for the Historical Jesus. He brings you up to date: the 3rd Quest and explains what is different about the 3rd Quest’s philosophy and approach to research. Wright’s writing consistently intrigues you as you continue reading through his reason and logic. He says, “We cannot assume that by saying the word Jesus, still less the word Christ, we are automatically in touch with the real Jesus who talked in first-century Palestine.” He explains how the 3rd Quest is has sought to factor back into our understanding of Jesus his 1st Century Palestinian Jewish context. I highly recommend this author as well as this book particular book of his. It is a must read for anybody seeking to take first step in discovering who the real historical person of Jesus of Nazareth was!

N.T. Wright New Testament Scholar