N. T. Wright's "The Day the Revolution Began" (7)
Ch.7: Suffering, Redemption, and Love
Only in Isa.53 do we find a conjoining of suffering as the means and not only the context of Israel’s long-expected deliverance from its sins. In Isa.53 this is a new theme in Isa. 40-55. The surrounding chapters set the stage for this organic development.
Trouble happens when we taken this “suffering as means of forgiveness” theme out of its context in Isaiah and plot it in a different story. The danger of reading this theme in a pagan narrative is very real. There is evidence of this happening in 2 and 4 Maccabees in the famous story of the seven brothers.
Isaiah is strong on the idea of divine faithful love (lacking in the Maccabean writings). Thus, the idea of atonement involving an angry deity needing to be pacified is ruled out. There is a proper sense of divine anger, of course. Wright says,
". . . the suggestion that 'sin' does not make God angry (a frequent idea in modern thought as a reaction against the caricatures of an ill-tempered deity) needs to be treated disdain. When God looks at sin, what he sees is what a violin maker would see if the player were to use his lovely creation as a tennis racquet But here is the difference. In many expressions of pagan religion, the humans have to try and pacify the angry deity. But that's not how it happens in Israel's scriptures. The biblical promises of redemption have to do with God himself acting because of his unchanging, unshakeable love for his people." (132)
Isa.41:8-10; 42:6-7; 55:1-3; 49:13-16; 51:3; 54:5-10 all make the case for God’s divine covenant love and commitment is the foundation of his reaching out to comfort his people and return them from exile.
Three themes emerge from all this that resourced New Testament writer’s efforts to explain what Jesus was up to.
- What Israel needed could be seen as “return from exile” or “forgiveness of sins.” These are the inside and outside of the same thing.
- The long-awaited deliverance could be thought of as both a New Exodus and a New Passover.
“When we put these themes together, forgiveness of sins and end of exile, on the one hand, and Passover and Exodus, on the other, we find a com- posite notion of complete redemption transcending anything that Passover had meant before, transcending also anything that could be conveyed by the Day of Atonement on its own.” (138)
- Passover carries with it the idea that the great liberation will be the personal, powerful work of God himself.
These materials raise a puzzling question: how can the shameful, disturbing death of the Servant in Isaiah be a sign of divine love for Israel? Startling and strange as it is, this servant, anointed with God’s Spirit (Isa.42:1) is declared to be the “arm of the Lord (Isa.53:1-2) can only be thought of as “embodying” the power and love of Israel’s deity.