Review of N. T. Wright's "The Day the Revolution Began" (6)
Ch.6: The Divine Presence and the Forgiveness of Sins
God seeking a “place for his Presence on earth and among his creatures is the centerpiece of the Bible’s story. It develops throughout the story in different forms and moods.
The ark of the covenant is central to this theme. A special box covered in gold built to hold the tablets of the Ten Commandments Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai, it is not difficult to see why it was considered so special.
The lid of this box, its covering, became the meeting place for God and his people. It signaled his presence and interest in being at the center of the life of his people. It served as the context for Israel’s sacrificial system which is all about God’s presence. It was housed in the Tabernacle, placed in shrine at Shiloh when the people entered the land, and David brought it to Jerusalem to inhabit the temple built by his son Solomon.
The conversation between God and David is among the most significant in the Bible. David wants to build a house for God but God tells him that will not happen. Solomon will build the temple but God will build David a “house” (1 Sam.7:11). God means a people in which he will dwell. Even when Solomon subsequently builds the temple and God comes to dwell there, it is clear that the place of God’s dwelling “it will not be in a building of bricks and mortar; it will in and as a human being, the ultimate son of David.” (110) God deigns to dwell in the temple building because of his promise to his “son” and the family he will give him.
The destruction of the temple in the 6th century b.c. was only possible because God’s “glory,” his presence, departed it because of the people’s idolatry (Ez.10). Ezekiel is also the prophet who gives a marvelous picture of God’s eschatological temple (chs.40-48). This picture in tandem with that of Isa.40-55 spells a glorious end to exile and the restoration of people to their intended vocation.
Even though the temple was rebuilt till its destruction in 70 a.d., no one ever suggested that God had returned. His glory never rested on it. Yet the divine glory did come even it rested elsewhere than the temple. This was the explosive message of the New Testament. John announces it well at the beginning of his gospel. The Word, who was with and was God in eternity “tabernacled” himself among humanity in his incarnation. The new temple has been built in his flesh and the glory is present in him. This was David’s son promised to his “house.”
Wright draws out the significance of this. Jews is this period were not living with a sense that God was angry at them and eager to punish their every misdeed. And neither were they hoping that faithful obedience would land them in “heaven” forever. They knew their God loved them and would be faithful to his promises to them. And chief among those promises is that God will dwell with his people on this earth. (113)
The name for this cluster of hopes in the Bible is “forgiveness of sins.” As Wright explains: “The ‘forgiveness of sins’ was a huge, life-changing , world-changing reality, long promised and long awaited. It was the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes for restoration, coupled with the sense that when Israel was restored, this would somehow generate a new day for the whole human race” (115).
Three further matters fill out this picture. First, is God’s return to his people as king. God as Creator was already king, Israel believed, but after human rebellion challenged that status reassertion of that kingship became a necessity. The exodus was the event in Israel’s history that catalyzed its hope for a future great act of gracious deliverance by God. The difference between the first Exodus and the hoped for New Exodus is precisely the forgiveness of sins. Captivity in Babylon did not result from the Hebrews faithlessness; the Babylonian exile was. That’s was the return and restoration effected by Jesus has both freedom from the foreign oppressor and the forgiveness of sins for the people. This twofold New Exodus constituted also the reassertion of God’s kingship Israel long for.
The second aspect to fill out this picture is the insight not only that a period of intense suffering would accompany this return and restoration but that this suffering may be the actual vehicle of that return and restoration. Dan.9 points to an extended period of exile for Israel (70 x 7 years) in which sin would be atoned for and a holy one anointed (9:24). Both this period of suffering and the return and restoration effected through this suffering dovetail in Jesus’ work on the cross.The third aspect is simply that all of this cluster of hopes was understood to be a deep expression of the love of their God. So the Old Testament taught, so Jesus believed, and so God was proven in the outworking of Jesus’ mission.