Election and Eschatology

I’m continuing to study the writings of N.T. Wright. Three books in particular…

The New Testament and the People of God

Jesus and the Victory of God

The Resurrection of the Son of God

(About 2,500 pages of serious theology.)

This morning my brain exploded and I wrote down some thoughts (in my eligible scrawl).

Peri offered to type them up for me (if I dictated them to her). Here they are…

Election and Eschatology

In defending the deity of Christ, some have erred in the opposite direction, imagining a sort of superhuman Jesus who was not really human at all. The superhuman Jesus strides through the world wearing a halo and being God all over the place. This Jesus is not concerned about shaping the world, but escaping the world. The message of the superhuman Jesus is about how to escape this dreadful world and go off to live forever with the angels in a different place altogether.

This is not the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Jesus of the Gospels is fully God and fully human. The unvarnished Jesus of Scripture eats and drinks, gets weary and hungry, toils and sleeps, weeps and becomes angry and experiences the full range of human emotion. This is the Jesus who is one of us. This Jesus is intensely and primarily interested in transforming this world through the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.

But the superhuman, otherworldly Jesus, whose message is all about escaping to a spiritual world, is actually a reworking of Gnosticism — the first century heresy of secret knowledge and a non-human Jesus. Gnosticism has made a surprising comeback in popular culture evidenced in things like the New Age Movement, The Da Vinci Code, and the so-called Gospel of Judas; but neo-Gnosticism is also manifested in otherwise orthodox Christianity when we make Jesus and His Kingdom almost entirely otherworldly.

I’m not interested in the fairy tale Jesus of neo-Gnosticism, who only seems to be human and whose only real interest is getting people out of this world and into heaven. I am interested in the real unvarnished Jesus of the New Testament who is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed King and rightful ruler of the world and whose agenda is to establish the Kingdom of God and thereby make right a world gone wrong.

What did Jesus mean when he announced the arrival of the kingdom of heaven?

To understand this we first we need to understand that the kingdom of heaven is not, as our culture has taught us, a Kingdom in heaven where Christians go when they die, but rather the rule of heaven on earth. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”The sphere of the rule of the Kingdom of heaven is the earth.

To understand what Jesus meant in announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God we must understand two things which Jesus believed about Israel.

1. Israel’s Election: Jesus believed that Creator God had chosen Israel to deal with the problems within His created world.

2. Israel’s Eschatology: Jesus believed that salvation and justice would come to the nations through Israel’s history reaching a prophetic zenith.

(Jesus believed that the purposes of Israel’s election and eschatology were accomplished in Himself.)

But the expectation of the Jewish people of the first century was very different from what Jesus intended. In Jesus’ day, Israel had endured centuries of pagan domination — first in exile, then by occupation. Their hope for the Kingdom of God (which they would have identified as the nation of Israel) was not a spiritual hope but a political nationalistic hope. The universal belief of the first century Jews was that the Kingdom of God would come through the restoration of the national glory of Israel.

Devout first century Jews, including John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples, believed that the Kingdom of God would come through the political (and presumably militant) overthrow of their pagan oppressors (the Romans). This was their conception of the mission of Messiah, the King of the Jews.

As the Jews waited for the Kingdom to come, they belonged basically to four persuasions.

1. The Moralists — the Pharisees and their “take back Israel for God” movement.

2. The Zealots — who wanted to take up the sword and violently overthrow the Romans.

3. The Compromisers — The Sadducees and Herodians who collaborated with and adopted the values of the Gentiles.

4. The Separatists — Like the Essenes who escaped into the wilderness in order to create the Kingdom of God separate from the wider world.

But when Jesus came on the scene, He defied all of these Messianic expectations.

* Jesus was not a moralist. He ate and drank with sinners.

* Jesus was not a zealot. He taught His disciples to turn the other cheek.

* Jesus was not a compromiser. He called people to repent of their sins.

* Jesus was not a separatist. He was fully engaged with the surrounding culture.

An interesting and important aside…

Throughout history the church has been tempted to model the Kingdom of God after one or more of these four misguided models.

* To become moralizing judgmental Pharisees.

* To become militant crusaders advancing Christianity by the sword.

* To become compromisers, giving only lip service to the Kingdom of God.

* To become dualists, who separate the Kingdom from the world.

When Jesus came, though He claimed to be bringing the Kingdom of God as the fulfillment of all the oracles of the Jewish prophets and the hopes of the Jewish people, He embraced none of these models and endorsed none of these movements. Jesus was not a moralist, a zealot, a compromiser or a separatist. What Jesus did was something entirely new and different. Through prayer and searching the Scriptures, He discovered a different and true Kingdom model. Jesus believed that the Kingdom of heaven through which God would bring salvation and justice to the world was being unveiled and established through His own presence and work. Jesus believed He was the King, and that the Kingdom would come through Him. This is why the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it is good news and not merely good advice. Jesus was announcing news — the new thing that was happening.

Jesus wasn’t primarily a teacher as we think of it — Jesus was primarily a doer. He was healing, casting out demons, and welcoming sinners. Jesus used the parables to explain what He was doing; e.g., in the parable of the prodigal son Jesus was explaining what He was doing in receiving and forgiving sinners.

The election and eschatology of Israel find their prophetic fulfillment in Jesus — the King of the Jews.

Tuesday and Wednesday I will be preaching at Church in the Word in Elgin, Illinois (Chicagoland). Church in the Word has a cool Irish Pastor — Patrick Hoban. Here’s Pastor Hoban’s blog.

This Friday night I will be preaching on casting out demons.

I will also be interviewing our good friend Taysir abu Sada who is ministering in Gaza. Read about Tass’s Hope for Ishmael ministry here.

Don’t miss Friday night at Word of Life!

The tune going into my head as a close this blog: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. Good song.

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love
Can the child within my heart rise above
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?