Simply Jesus 3

Simply Jesus 3 November 21, 2011

It is Tom Wright’s contention, in his new book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, that Jewish kingdom movements had two integral features: a battle and the temple. Tom examines those two themes in the Gospel records about Jesus.

First, the battle: “it was a different sort of thing, because it had a different sort of enemy,” and here Tom examines “the satan” in the Bible. There is so much battle with “the satan” in the records about Jesus that it has to be taken not only as an element but significant (Mark 1:13, 27, 34; 3:11-12, 22-27; 5:1-20; Luke 10:18; 13:16; 22:31; John 13:2, 27).  To be sure, we may struggle with this stuff but that doesn’t mean they (or Jesus) did. That battle seems to have two stages: an earlier stage (the Temptation) and a final victory. The satan’s victory is the cross, but the victory was not to last.

How central are the battle and the temple to most of our understandings of Jesus? How central are space, time and matter? Do you think these ideas are supersessionistic or continuous with Judaism?

Second, the temple. Here Tom focuses on the “cleansing of the temple,” which is really a royal declaration of God’s judgment on the temple and its authorities.

This leads Tom into one of the more creative portions of this book: Jesus reshapes space, time and matter. Tom’s big idea is that God is becoming king in and through Jesus as his earthly representative. The temple was the place where heaven and earth met, where God’s presence overlapped. But Jesus redefined space by contending God’s presence was wherever Jesus was. “Jesus was, as it were, a walking Temple” (133). That Temple was a signpost but now that God was present in Jesus, the Temple was coming to an end. It became redundant, it was criticized as a place of economic oppressions, and it was a place of violent ambition.

As for time. Sabbath was the place where God’s time and our time met with God’s temporal presence, and Jesus saw himself as superior to the Sabbath. He is the walking, celebrating, and victorious Sabbath.

And as for matter. Big one here: new creation renews matter. The key element of this is Jesus’ miracles. The material world is being transformed. Matter becomes a more visible glorious presence of God. Another important indicator of this theme: the transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-8.


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  • Paul W

    I’ve seen quite a bit of critique of Wright particularly by a certain stripe of Reformed thinkers. Many of those critics tend to be Sabbatarian, however, I’ve rarely seen Wright criticized on that front by them. On the other hand, I don’t believe I’ve seen anti-sabbatarian (sp?)folks utilize Wrights approach. I wonder why?

    Personally, I’ve found Wright’s handling of Jesus and Sabbath as particularly rich and interesting even if too suggestive and brief.

  • Paul W

    Also, I’ve understood Wright’s ideas as more on the continuity side of the sliding scale than the supersessionistic end.

  • I don’t know how central the battle and the temple are to the understanding of the average Christian, but I think they were central to Jesus and the disciples. Too many to list, in this short space, are the references to them in the Gospel books and the epistles. So they ought to be central to our understanding of Jesus.

    Likewise our understanding of these things in terms of space, time and matter.

    None of this leads me in a supersessionistic direction; I seem this as a continuation of the OT story, from Adam to Abraham to Israel, and on through to fulfillment. But, ironically, because I am postmillennial in my eschatology, I sometimes get accused of holding “replacement theology.”

  • T

    I’m wondering how Wright connected the exorcisms with any or all of this. Obviously, it is part and parcel with the healings, and therefore the “space” element, which also seems profoundly connected to the “temple” idea. Not only do we have an explicit NT teaching that the people of God are his temple, but also some of Jesus’ teachings on exorcisms connect his exorcisms to the idea of “cleaning a house” or even plundering the house of the enemy. It appears that people are that house, that ‘temple’ that God is (re)making for himself.

  • PaulE

    I’m not sure about “battle” – I haven’t thought much about that as a theme in the NT – but the temple is, I think, meant to be important to our understanding of Jesus. I’m not sure what is meant by the term “supersessionistic”, but my guess is that I see this as more continuous.

    In 1 Chronicles 17, God promises to David a son who will build a house for God. It seems to me that this son cannot be Solomon for God promises that his throne will be established forever, yet Solomon’s throne was cut off because of the curse on Jeconiah. Also, it could not be Zerubbabel because of that same curse. The promised son of David, then, must be Jesus who builds a new house for God that is his body.

    Moreover, Ezekiel already demonstrates that God’s presence is not tied to the temple in Jerusalem. The people living in Jerusalem during Ezekiel’s day seemed to think they were safe in that city because who could lay siege to the city where God’s glory dwelt? Yet at the end of Chapter 11 the glory of God moves from the temple to the throne-chariot of God and moves east of the city – east into exile, to be with the people whom the residents of Jerusalem said were far away from the LORD.

    This certainly suggests that space is an important theme. I’ll have to think more about time and matter.

  • Jon G

    I’ve not thought much about “battle”, but have really benefitted from considering “temple” in my reading of scripture.

    Starting from Genesis 1 and the temple that is Creation, Eden as temple, the Promised Land, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, King Saul, King David, the 1st Temple…these were all things that the Spirit of God descended upon and indwelt. It stood for the place wher Heaven and Earth came together. And where God lived, sin could not – hence Adam and Eve being forced to leave the Garden, the cleansing of Israel, Aiken being killed for touching the Ark, the downfall of Saul and David, etc.

    And finally we get to Luke 3 when Jesus becomes the temple that God indwells. And on the cross, sin enters his body and God’s spirit once again leaves. Then the church becomes the temple, and when sin shows up in the form of Annanias and Saphira, they represent sin in the temple and must be destroyed just as before.

    Over and over we see this backdrop of Man meeting God via a temple because we could not do so directly due to our sin problem. That is until Revelation 21:22 when we read “And I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb”.

    Without properly considering the framework of temple in reading the Bible, I missed so much in my earlier readings. I’m thankful to those who pointed it out to me.

  • DRT

    Jon G#6 says “And on the cross, sin enters his body and God’s spirit once again leaves.”

    Really? pls elaborate

  • Jon G

    DRT – I’d look at a text like Matthew 27:46 where Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you foresaken me?” followed closely by the curtain from the temple being torn in two. Mark 15:34 says the same. Basically we’re seening an inability for God to remain around Sin. I’ve mentioned this to friends before and they’ve brought up the idea that Jesus was constantly around Sin…I won’t go into that here because I think it’s a much bigger story. Let me just summarize that I think Jesus, the man, was allowing sin INTO the temple.

    Anyways, I believe this to be the same pattern that happens in the other texts I mentioned above. God creates a holy temple with which to bridge the gap between Himself and Man. Man brings the ‘unclean’ into that temple, and either God leaves, or Man leaves/gets destroyed. On the cross, we see the ultimate example of this. God Himself makes a temple to live in, then swallows up our uncleanliness in it, suffers the full consequences of that burden, and then permanently restores the temple to a point where sin and death no longer hold sway over it. Then, by us being “In Christ” we become a part of that temple, until the day where a temple is no longer needed to mediate between us and God.

  • Jon G

    sorry, that should have read “Jesus was NOT allowing sin into the temple”.

  • Brian Van Geest

    I have always seen ‘battle’ as a major theme in the New Testament (Jesus the Christ overcoming sin and death and the Satan – with all of this culminating in the ‘Revelation of Jesus Christ’ as witnessed by St. John), but have – until recently – all but neglected the theme of ‘temple.’ I am ashamed to say this, because I am coming to believe that, in concert with ‘battle,’ it may just be *the* most central motif of the whole biblical narrative (‘temple’ understood broadly as ‘God making a dwelling place of/with his people’).

  • Also seems the reflections of the Apostles in their letters is helpful here. Paul’s “personification” of Sin and Death to stand alongside the person of the Devil as the enemies arrayed against us seems to be in the same battle tradition as the Satan in the Gospels. The “principalities and powers” as well are in this line of thinking. Some have made the case that we misunderstand classic texts like Romans 5 unless we understand that in Paul’s thought world “sin” and “death” were not just forensic ideas or physical realities, but are active enemies of God and his human creation. Personified as active, willful agents, Sin, Death and the Devil.