Review of N. T. Wright's "The Day the Revolution Began" (8)
Ch.8: New Goal, New Humanity
The redemption Jesus accomplished (though unexpected and unfathomable to his fellow Jews) on the cross and at the resurrection was not “from” the world (as in an escape to elsewhere) but “for” the world back to God’s original design for it. Humanity is reclaimed and restore to play their creational role as royal priest in God’s creation temple.
What is humanity’s roll in God’s new creation and how did God rescue us so we can take up that role again. Traditionally we have held a view that rests on a threefold mistake:
-We want to go to heaven
-But we sinned and need to be rescued
-Jesus offers the obedience we failed at and at the cross God punishes Jesus to pacify his wrath
This way of thinking is infected with Platonism (valuing the spiritual over the material), Moralism (defining humanity in terms of its moral performance), and Paganism (the God who needs blood to be pacified).
In the biblical picture heaven and earth are returned to the complete overlap they had at the creation. The spiritual (heaven) is co-existent with the material (earth) forever. Jesus came as God’s “true image” (Col.1:15) to restore humanity to original dignity and vocation as God’s image-bearers. He then dies as the representative and substitute as an expression of God’s love.
Jesus came to regather and reconstitute Abrahamic Israel. He dies as the one faithful Israelite who won “forgiveness of sins” to fulfill God’s promises of blessing to Israel and as the way Gentiles will find their way into the people of God.
That this “forgiveness of sins” was “in accordance with the Bible” (1 Cor.15:3) meant
“that the scriptural narrative of the restoration of Israel and then the wel- come of the non-Jews into this restored people . . . had been launched through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that the single-phrase summary of all this, operating at both the large national scale and the small, personal level, was the ‘forgiveness of sin.” (153)
This forgiveness was the entre for people to “become fully-functioning, fully image-bearing human beings within God’s world, already now, completely in the age to come.” (155). It meant new creation, something new had happened, everything had changed. God’s longed for and long awaited new age was here, a “fact about the way the world was” (157). Personal experience and a new moral orientation were a part of this new condition of the world, but not the main part or the most important part.
The human vocation according to Acts is twofold: worship and witness. The former is priestly, the latter royal. That this is all about the ancient hope of Israel is indicated by the disciples’ question to Jesus about the kingdom of Israel of which they become witnesses (Acts 1:6-8).
Acts answers the three questions any Jew of the time would ask about how the kingdom was to be restored to Israel.
1. Freedom from pagan overlords
2. God/Messiah would rule the world with peace and justice
3. God’s presence would return and dwell with his people
“Acts insists that the long-awaited liberation had happened through Jesus and the Spirit, that the powers had been overthrown by the power of the cross and the word of God, and that the powerful Presence of the living God had been unveiled not in the Jerusalem temple, but in the community of believers.” (161).
The return of God’s presence is reflected in Acts by the ascension of Jesus. His going to “heaven” represents the reconnection of heaven (God’s space) with earth (God’s temple) and the wind and tongues of fire allude to the filling of the Tabernacle with cloud and fire in Exodus. This makes Jesus’ followers the new Temple of God and his dwelling with his people. And that people stand at the intersection of heaven and earth and serve as priests of God to the world and the world to Go.
God’s rule over the whole world is evident in Acts in the sense that God is asserting his lordship through Christ over the whole world (from Jerusalem to Rome, Acts 1:8). Further, in Acts the “word of God” is sovereign over all other powers in the world and advances God’s kingdom against all of them.
Israel’s freedom from pagan rule is declared in Jesus’ resurrection from dead. Death is every tyrant’s ultimate weapon and they have now been disarmed. The various escapes and rescues in Acts demonstrate the truth of this. “We should be in no doubt that Luke, like most other early Christian writers, saw the messianic community focused in Jesus as the liberated, redeemed people, those in and for whom the long-awaited promise of rescue from pagan overlords has been fulfilled” (165).
Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is the basis of all this talk of new creation and a new humanity.