Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Twenty Eight

The discussion which begins on p. 690ff. about Jesus as risen and enthroned Messiah begins by stating one of Tom’s key theses for this whole project, namely that there were several reasons why Jesus’ first followers cane to think of him as the embodiment of the returning Yahweh, the first having to do with messiahship, the second with their sense of his presence through the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. The question of course to be asked about the first of these is— did the earliest Christians really see Jesus ‘at his first coming’ as the return of YHWH to his people (not at his second coming, note, but at his first coming)? There are some flaws in this argument, some flies in this ointment for example— while John the Baptizer seems to have assumed that YHWH was coming after him to judge God’s people, he expressed doubts about whether Jesus could be such a person, especially in view of the character of his ministry. Jesus did not in fact come bringing judgment on God’s people, he came healing and preaching good news, telling parables and aphorisms. Those things do not match up with the OT Yom Yahweh traditions about the coming judge. Furthermore, at the level of Gospel presentation, Mark does not seem to think that God’s presence has left ‘the building’, the Temple, prior to the death of Jesus, never mind returned to the building. The prophetic sign act performed by Jesus is a preview of coming judgment on that temple, but it does not inaugurate it, in Mark’s presentation or in other Gospels presentation.

On the other hand, Tom is right that traditions like Rom. 1.3-4 indicate that early Christians saw the resurrection as the vindication by God of Jesus’ messianic claims. Over against Hurtado, Wright is correct to emphasize that resurrection, not merely exaltation (nor merely visions of the risen Jesus) is crucial to explaining the rise of early high Christology. Fruitfully, Tom suggests that 2 Sam. 7.12 LXX might well have been the backdrop to what we find in texts like Rom. 1.3-4— ‘and I will resurrect your seed after you’ a promise to King David.

Tom stresses not merely that the resurrection demonstrated the truthfulness of Jesus’ pre-Easter messianic claims, but that this joined up with the return of YHWH theme, and the spiritual presence of Jesus amongst his followers post Ascension are the threefold cord that cannot be broken, the three things that produced the high Christology. He thinks that no one of these themes, or even two of them would be sufficient to produce such an outcome, but all three are required. It is hard to see why one needs the return of YHWH theme, again associated with the first coming of Jesus rather than the second, to produce such a product. If Jesus is present by the Holy Spirit post Easter and ascension, whenever and wherever the disciples gathered together, and if the Scriptures were being read messianically as a result of the resurrection and the encounters with the risen Jesus, this surely was enough to produce a divine Christology in itself— only God can be in two places at one time! One doesn’t need to tack on the return of YHWH the judge to get there. And for what it’s worth, Jesus himself in Mk. 14.62 associates the Son of Man coming to judge people with the second coming, not the first.

Tom goes on, based in part on his exegesis of Rom. 8 and Gal.4 to continue to associate Jesus as messiah with Jesus as Israel (messiah summing up God’s people in himself (see p. 696). The sending of the Son in these two passages may suggest that the Messiah comes from God, thus pre-exists, thus is in some sense divine. Tom, to my mind rightly wants to combine this whole line of thought with the texts which speak of God sending divine Wisdom into the world as well. He stresses the point (p. 697) that it makes no sense to say that the Son came and died on the cross as an expression of God’s own love, unless of course the Son is seen as the manifestation or expression of God in the flesh. As Tom points out, Abraham’s offering of his only son Issac is by no means a sufficient parallel since Abraham is asked to give up his love for himself and his offspring, his son, as an expression of his love for God. The Aqedah (binding as that passage is called) does not really surface in Paul’s thoughts about Jesus’ death except possibly at Rom. 8.31-32, says Tom.

Tom, I think is right, to reject the notion that there were pre-Christian Jewish traditions about a divine messiah, and that Paul came to think of Jesus that way because of them (see p. 698). No, says Tom, instead it is because of Jesus himself (his death and resurrection in particular), that Paul came to think of messiah as divine.

p. 699 reveals an interesting translational fact. Tom translates Rom. 1.4 as ‘marked out by the resurrection’ the very same English word he uses to translate pro-oridzo, usually translated pre-destined in Rom. 8. The normal translation is ‘designated to be messiah by the resurrection..’ In any case, Tom is right (p. 700) that what happens at the resurrection is not that res. creates or confers a new status or identity on Jesus, rather, it unveils what was there before. This is exactly right. Resurrection is seen as public validation, vindication, clarification of who Jesus already was. Tom says if there is any new element here it is simply that he is now Son of God with power by means of the resurrection. He was already Son of God at his birth and at his death, as Paul indicates in Gal. 4 and elsewhere.