Simply Jesus 2

Simply Jesus 2 November 14, 2011

Deep in the heart of Judaism in the centuries leading up to Jesus was a dual conviction: that God had elected Israel as creation-restoring agents and, right next to this, the manifold brokenness of creation and Israel and the Land and the priests and the Temple. What sustained their hope? One Story: the Exodus. They told its story, sang its songs and continued to celebrate God’s victory. Why? Someday that same God would do it all over again. So argues Tom Wright in his new book, Simply Jesus.

The Exodus Hope included seven elements: a wicked tyrant, chosen leader, victory of God, rescue by sacrifice, new vocation/new way of life, presence of God, and a promised/inherited land.

When you think of the Master Story of the Bible, the one that shaped the Bible and that shaped how Jews thought of themselves, what were the most important two or three stories? Which one do you think was most important? Which story most “controls” how your church thinks? [This is a big one folks, and it gets right to the heart of the meaning of the word “gospel” in the New Testament.]

Then along comes Jesus announcing God was becoming King. Jesus’ preaching then is the start of a campaign. Three actions pull this into focus: celebrations at meal time, healing of one person after another, and forgiveness. This is what it looks like — Jesus was saying — when God takes charge, when God becomes king.

Luke 4:16-30. Jubilee, etc, and all those themes of liberation. And, yet, not quite what everyone was thinking would occur. Jesus could not assure the people they would be affirmed; he revealed a new order. Gentiles would be included and it would not be the vindication of the status quo. Jesus would not endorse “national ambitions” (77). Jesus would include the little people when the big God did big kingdom things.

At the heart of Jesus’ method of announcing that God was king was to tell stories of a new world order, stories that trade in some ways on the visions of Daniel. And his story was that “hearts would be transformed” (Matt 15:1-20; 19:1-12). When God becomes king there will be a cure for uncleanness of heart.

Let’s take stock of Jesus’ vision: he was claiming one true God, the God of Israel, and he was making himself central to what God was doing. How does this stack up with would-be kings in Jesus’ Jewish world? Tom Wright helpfully explores four such royal claims: Judah Maccabee, Simon bar-Kosiba, Herod the Great, and Simon bar-Giora. Each of these kings reshaped the Exodus Hope (above) and involved two major events: a battle (over the Gentiles or enemies) and a temple restoration.

Furthermore, and this gets to the heart of what some Jesus scholars have ruined, their royal claims involved both a present kingdom claim (the announcement had been made, the king was beginning to assume his rule) and a future kingdom claim (when the decisive battle was over). There is no need to choose the present kingdom (as some today want to do — as if it’s only about life in the here and now) and the future kingdom (as if we have to focus on the final event or life after death). For them and for Jesus it was the same: the kingdom was both present and future.

This sets the stage for Wright’s next chp: The Battle and the Temple, where we see Jesus’ own version of the Exodus hope.

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  • davey

    “And, yet, not quite what everyone was thinking would occur”

    Exactly. If ethnic Israel thought they were elect, they were wrong. Ethnic Israel never was elect, only the elect of ethnic Israel were elect. Tom Wright does not engage adequately with this.

    “the kingdom was both present and future”

    But differently than Wright expounds. The present kingdom has no reliable, sustained, progressive blessing for people in it, but it is an ‘evil age’ (Gal 1.4). One would not gather that from Wright.

  • Davey, Interesting. Kingdom as Scot seems to understand it in terms of Israel and Jesus’ coming involves a community, indeed subjects under a king. So there indeed ought to be now the beginnings of what will be in the future, when the completion of what has begun in Jesus is fulfilled.

    Looks like a great book, and complementary to your book on the King Jesus gospel, Scot. I look forward to reading it.

  • Paul W

    The Book of Ruth and its story-line has been one that has captured my imagination regarding the story of Israel. There is an exile and return, a visitation by God, the incorporation of a Gentile into the people of God, a miraculous birth of a son, the lineage of an anoited king, the reversal of fortunes, a redeemer charaterized by hesed/covenant faithfulness etc.

  • Steve

    #1 davey, I’m curious if you’ve read through Simply Jesus yet?

  • “When you think of the Master Story of the Bible, the one that shaped the Bible and that shaped how Jews thought of themselves, what were the most important two or three stories?”

    I’m no scholar, but it seems like Exodus and the story of David are critical stories that shaped Jewish thought at the time of Jesus.

    “Which one do you think was most important?”

    I’ve really become interested in the Exodus story. There are so many correlations between Moses and Jesus. To view Jesus as the new Moses, sin/death and powers of this world as the new Egypt, and us as God’s people being called out into the desert… well I think it brings a new clarity to me about Jesus’ message.

    “Which story most “controls” how your church thinks?”

    In my church, I would have to say 1.) the letters of Paul, 2.) Christ’s atoning death, 3.) Adam/Eve and the Fall.

    Peace, Brian

  • John W Frye

    I think two biblical stories strongly shape our U.S. evangelical churches–the Fall (Genesis 3) and the Book Revelation. Christianity is about ‘sin’ and ‘heaven when we die’ and Jesus and his cross simply serve as the pivot point when one “accepts” him. The Story of the Exodus is not needed or heeded at all in soterian Christianity.

  • David

    Definitely like this post. The Exodus story, with all its types and shadows, is key. But the story begins in Genesis and culminates in the person of Jesus Christ. With all the Christian books being published on peripheral and tangential topics, thank God for books that have Jesus Christ as their focus! 🙂

  • Joe Canner

    John #6: Actually, the Passover story is appropriated quite frequently by soterian Christianity, there being many parallels between the Passover lamb and Jesus. Is there a way of interpreting this story that fits better within a “King Jesus Gospel” framework?

    Reading “rescue by sacrifice” in the second paragraph of this post got me thinking about the parallels between the Exodus and our salvation. In Exodus, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Egyptian royalty, but punishment was going to come to all (Egyptian and Jew, royal and common, alike) except for those who used the blood appropriately. Is there a parallel between this and our salvation, or is that pushing the analogy too far?

  • Steve Sherwood


    Doesn’t your last paragraph sound a good bit like Christus Victor approaches to the atonement? That was my first thought at reading it.

  • Jerry Sather

    I agree that the stories of Exodus, Kingdom and Exile/Return are key to the biblical narrative and the gospel.

    I’m about half way through Simply Jesus and so far there’s nary a word about “atonement.” Not that it isn’t part of the story but it is only a part of the transformation God was and is bringing to the world.

  • Dana Ames

    That’s because what God was up to was so much bigger than our idea of “atonement” – though A. is certainly contained therein.


  • davey

    Steve #4: I may be mistaken, but you seem to be casting aspersions. Why not, instead, address issues of substance!

  • Re stories that shaped Bible and Jewish identity;

    – Abraham story!!

    – Exodus as fulfillment of promise to Abraham

    – David story as completion of Exodus story (?)

    – Prophets future story of the Day

    I grew up hearing a lot of the “typology”/Christology stories – Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, fall of Adam, Joseph story, David and Goliath, etc.