Wednesday, April 22, 2009
As I read John 11 this morning; I was reminded of Jesus words to Martha in verses 25 & 26; 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.' Although these words may bring the greatest comfort in this situation; it is Jesus words in the earlier verses of this chapter, and several toward the end, that I wish to direct your attention this morning.
In verses 14 & 15, Jesus told His disciples, 'Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.' At the end of his statement in verse 26; Jesus asked Martha, 'Do you believe this?' Before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth; He made this prayer: 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.' It's easy and natural to think that our friend was taken 'before her time', or even to thing that it's just a meaningless tragedy, but as Christians, believers in Jesus Christ, we know better than that! Our friends 'passing' was not 'accidental' or meaningless ( though a 'tragedy' to those of us who loved her- she will be missed ). God shows us above that the 'passing' of His people ( from this life ) has a purpose; His purpose. We cannot say for sure His exact purpose for removing our friend from the trials and temptations of this life ( she was so young, Lord! ); but we can take comfort in Jesus words above. He told His disciples that the purpose behind Lazarus' 'passing' was not 'because it was his time', but that it was for the glory of God, so others might believe on Him!
We have heard of situations where people have had a 'salvation experience' after ( or even during ) their attendance of the funeral of a Christian. I believe that this happens, not so much through the words that the pastor might speak, convicting them of sin, but through the example of that person's loved ones, who mourn, not as others would, having no hope, and 'without God in the world.' ( Ephesians 2:12 ); but as rejoicing rather in our loved one's life, knowing that our loved one did not die in vain ( I Corinthians 15:58 ), in fact, that they are not truly dead but are still with us, having the Life of Christ ( Mark 12:26 & 27 )
By writing these words; I do not mean to 'trivialize' the 'passing' of our dear friend and loved one: rather, I wish to bring comfort to the hearts of those who will miss her physical presence! Her 'death' was not in vain, and although there is much cause for mourning, we also have much cause for rejoicing!
In closing; I wish to bring to mind the words of the apostle John, in I John 3:14, 'We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.' We, along with every believer in Christ, have passed from death to life, but the one to whom I dedicate this article no longer is faced with the trials and temptations of this physical existence. We however can still 'ply our trade', loving and building His people, His Kingdom!
In His service, and alive in Him,
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I have been consciously trying to stay away from politics, especially as of late, but I fear that the time has come when we can no longer ignore the political 'mess' that we now face in this country, in this 'world': God help us all!
That rumbling sound you hear is America convulsing in the iron jaws of behemoth government, unleashed by this nation’s tyrants in the imperial ruling class. The beast is no respecter of persons - the working man, the elderly, the unborn - it roars about seeking whom it may devour, filling our waking hours with the terrors of the night and establishing itself in the congregations of the wicked and the foolish. Assisted by its venal keepers in congress, it stalks the outspoken and the strong. The sinister friend of the cowardly and the corrupt, it lays a snare for hard working men and women and their families, offering fabulous promises it will never keep, subverting and demoralizing young and old alike, and ripping away the legitimate fruit of honest work. This government makes no distinction between the left or the right, the free market entrepreneur or the civil servant. It is a destroyer of dreams and initiative. Commerce flees before it. Individual liberties are crushed by it. The common wealth is its meat and our children are left to its sadistic pleasure. It guzzles the life blood of patriots and is always among us, a sometimes repository of the public trust gone suddenly chimpanzee mad, ripping the face off a terrified electorate. The nation reels and who will answer?
Will you imagine your deepest fears are just words? Will you cover your eyes and refuse to read the signs of our times? Cover your ears and pray to grow deaf to the sounds in the streets? Stifle your misgivings and join the jackals who prey on the carcasses of the mighty? You will not starve.
Or will you make your stand? The words I write are plucked out of the very air we breathe. It is the same air of the patriots, of our founders, of our fathers. It is the air of bravery and not of cowardice. It is the air of integrity and promise. It is not the suffocating stench of repression. You and I carry the vocabulary of freedom with us wherever we go and we have generously offered the lexicon of liberty to people everywhere who recognize its possibilities and power. Will we demonstrate anew that we are the righteous heirs of the spirit of freedom, and that we understand the distinction between “just words” meaning “mere words” and “just” words meaning “right and fair?”
Make no mistake about it. There is no one coming to help us. There is no battalion of Constitutional attorneys, no national organization of citizens’ rights, no military power, no external entity to save us. There is only you and me and the person standing next to you and the one next to him and her. What will you do? How shall we then live?
I say nurture the flame of defiance in your breast and refuse to be cowed by those who claim title to you and your children, to your labor and your opinions. We are all free men and women here. We are equal before the law. We do not sort ourselves out as more or less equal or more or less precious in the sight of God. We have not voted to place ourselves and our children in obscene economic bondage under staggering debt. We will not accept the chains of economic slavery forged by the ubermensch who have turned the sacred chambers of our Republic into a den of thieves.
It has not escaped us that there are some who would rob us of our life and liberty, who would hobble our labor with their obstructions, abridge our freedoms and oppress us. For years, we have asked only to be left alone to live and work in peace. We have been polite and respectful and we have received the back of the hand from our arrogant ruling class. They tax and legislate us into paralysis, smirk at our injury, continue to do exactly as they please at our collective expense, and endlessly transfer or ignore our calls, lose our petitions, and puke doubletalk in our general direction as a substitute for respect. We must get up off our knees and remember that it is they who have unleashed the beast and that all their promises are just words. But what I say is truth, just and fair, words of encouragement and persuasion offered openly to you, plucked out of the air around you for your strengthening and deliverance.
We wait for no one to grant us permission to be who we already are by birthright. We are the free men and women of America and we will make our decisions as such. Let the freedom which rests in your hearts proceed from your mouths in tongues of fire that all might be infected with this passion for liberty, self determination and equality before the rule of law. God bless America and restore the blessings of liberty to her just people.
April 4th, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
I have recently had the privilege to pick up, and read, a book by N. T. Wright, entitled 'Surprised by Hope': I guess that you could say this article is a bit of a review of his book; but even more than that, I think, it is a review, in the wider sense, of the main thesis behind his thinking, of the future hope of the resurrection of the body.
'Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church' is the sub-title of Wright's book, and he does, I believe, present a much needed review of these subjects to the modern church, which is 'ripe' for a 'shot in the arm': a major rethinking of the subjects of their hope of heaven, of the resurrection ( of the body ), and of their mission. Although, in context, this is a fairly representative statement of Wright's obvious 'futurist' bent; I believe that he has captured the gist of the matter, when he says,
'But the story of the church is the story of the ways in which, despite folly, failure, and downright sin, God's future has already burst in upon what, for our forbears, was the present time.'
I agree with his statement, especially insofar as he reminds us that despite the 'mistakes' of the church, God's Kingdom had been inaugurated in the first century, although, I think, in a slightly different manner than they expected, or that Wright has in mind: as I've quoted before; Jesus said to the Pharisees (and I think, all of His first-century disciples ), 'The kingdom of God does not come with observation..........for indeed,the kingdom of God is within you': Wright, incorrectly, I believe, sees this Kingdom as an 'already, not yet' scenario.
In one of many places where, I think, Wright closely 'brushes' with the truth; he says,
'Paradise is, rather, the blissful garden where God's people rest prior to the resurrection'.
While I agree that Paradise ( which should first of all, take us back to the original 'Paradise' in Genesis 2 ) is a 'blissful garden'; rather than being merely 'a resting place........prior to the resurrection': I believe that Jesus is telling the first-century believers ( and non-believers), in His words to the thief on the cross ( Luke 23:43 ), and in His words to Martha, in John 11:25, ' I am the resurrection and the life...' that, not only does the resurrection from the dead ( Romans 8:10,11 ) find it's fulfillment through Christ; but that He embodies the resurrection, and thus, by extension, the Kingdom, as He told the Pharisees, in not so many words. The garden of Eden, I think most will agree, prefigured, and served as a model, picture, or type, of the Promised Land ( of rest in Christ-Hebrews 3:1-4:10 ), which, in turn typified our 'final destination': to dwell, once again, with God, in His 'Garden' ( revealed, through His New Covenant, to be His entire 'good' creation ), and, through the 'Second Adam', thus taking, once again, the 'dominion' that the 'first Adam' so miserably failed at!
Let me make this disclaimer, before I get too far here: I am not trying to discredit Dr. Wright by writing this quasi-review, critical of his book. Rather: I am simply trying to show that, like so many others; he has seemingly allowed 'the traditions of men' to override the plain ( and maybe not-so plain ) teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the apostles. As I've implied before, and now say plainly: I do not believe that these are matters to divide the Body of Christ, the Church (not necessarily the institutional church, but those whom God has chosen to be 'in Christ' ), and although I've come nigh unto being called a 'heretic'; that I am no better in God's eyes because of what I believe ( preterism ), than someone like Dr. Wright, with his futurism. I think however, that the implications of belief in the Resurrection that has been fulfilled 'in Christ' will have a more profound effect on the way we live on this earth, knowing that God now dwells with us, as He did in the original Garden, and that our 'dead' ( useless? ) mortal bodies, have been resurrected to new life in Christ ( a made-new creation ) to be more useful for His Kingdom and Glory!
In one of Wright's statements which I almost wholeheartedly agree with, he writes :
''God's Kingdom' in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God's sovereign rule coming 'on earth as it is in heaven'.
Jesus prayed the Father that He would not 'take them out of this world'. While I agree with Wright that we should not hope to 'escape this 'world'', into another one: I think that he misses the historical context, not only of when Christ said this, but to whom He said it. The historical and grammatical context of Jesus words tell us that He was praying, not that His ( first-century ) disciples should be, in other words, 'raptured' out of the situation that they were in ( persecution at the hands of the Judaizers and Romans ), but that they should be 'delivered from the evil one' in order that they might be sent 'into the world', so that His Kingdom might 'come...........on earth, as it is in heaven'.
Another statement that Wright makes, where I believe that he barely misses the point, is when he states that,
'Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life-God's dimension, if you like.'
All in all; I appreciated this book, although I disagreed with his main premise-his focus on the physical nature of God's promises, both in the Old and New Testaments.
Wright splits his book into three main sections; the first entitled 'Setting the Scene'. In this section Wright discusses the uncertainty of hope that we see in the secular world: several examples that he gives being the death, in autumn of 1997, of Britain's Princess Diana, and the Oklahoma City bombing, several years prior. Another most recent example is the horrendous toll that Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, took, most notably, on the city of New Orleans: hard to forget; and it will thus probably remembered ( 'a day that will live in infamy' ) long in our nation's history, is the hijacking of those planes, on September 11, 2001, two of which were flown kami-kaze-style into the World Trade Center, killing almost 3,000 inhabitants of the Towers, plus the passengers aboard the planes.
Chapter two of this first section relates the 'dismembered' hope which much of the modern evangelical church seems to hold to today, that of 'going to Heaven' and escaping 'this present evil world', and all of it's miseries and heartbreaks. One problem that I see, and all of us should, as I mentioned earlier; is that Jesus, in John 17:15, prayed that God would not remove His followers from this world ( or that-as the case may be ), but that He should save them from 'the evil one'. We were created, in Adam, for one main earthly purpose; to have dominion ( see Genesis 2:26-29, 9:1-3 ), and when the first Adam and his natural descendants failed in that task: we were finally, once for all, recreated in the image of God, in order that we might fulfill that task ( in Christ-Philippians 4:13 ) being partakers in His resurrection, since, as Wright so succinctly puts it,
'He has enlisted us to act as His stewards in the project of creation.'
In the third chapter of this section; Wright reiterates the historic stance, on these matters, of the early church. One incident that he relates for us is the ordination of William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury, which ordination was delayed because Temple had not affirmed yet whether or not he believed in the bodily resurrection of Christ ( I affirm this ). Next; Wright discusses the main difference between ancient pagan religions and Judaism, especially when it came to the after-life. He points out that, in the 'world' of which we speak, resurrection spoke of a new body, rather than simply a life after physical death: a position which all pagans and some Jews denied, according to Wright, and which most Jews affirmed. He further points out that, in John 5:28 & 29: Jesus epitomizes the first-century Jewish belief in the resurrection, when He quotes from the book of Daniel, saying,
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
Wright also points out, in this third chapter, that the early Christian hope of the resurrection did not have a goal of 'going to Heaven when you die'; but rather, a hope based on the future resurrection of the body. Here is where our main disagreement is founded, I believe: when God promised the future resurrection of the body, in places like Isaiah 26:19, John 5:28 & 29 ( which I have quoted above ), and I Corinthians 15, we must ask ourselves this question; 'Why the 'new' body?' For the answer to this question; we must go back to the beginning, to the original creation of man. Why did God make man with a physical body in the first place?
God made man to have dominion over His creation! I quoted the author above, as saying,
'He has enlisted us to act as His stewards in the project of creation'.
I believe this to be a very true statement; for as I explained in my first study, on Genesis 1,
Here, I think; God reveals His reason for making, or creating man in His image. God's special people were created in His image that they might 'rule' over the rest of His creation. I think, in times past, the tradition has been to put the emphasis on the phrase, 'God created', or, in the next chapter; 'God formed', and rightly so, because we need to be clear that we are created beings, and thus we are subservient to our Creator; but I think that, concerning the Gospel message, and our being re-formed, or recreated, in His image: I think that we would do well here to place the emphasis on the phrase, 'in His image'!
An interesting thought that I just had, concerning the physical body: I think that most of us will agree that the main reason that Jesus had to be born as a human being was, according to passages like I John 2:2 and Hebrews 8:3, so that, put simply, He could take our place on the cross of Calvary, taking our sins upon Himself, and imputing His righteousness to us. The Christ came in the flesh so that He, as a human being, could do what God, as the Almighty and Holy Spirit could not: learn obedience and pay the penalty for our sins, by dying on a physical wooden cross!
Man has to be resurrected ( made alive-Romans 8: 8-10 ), and become a new creation ( II Corinthians 5:17 ) in order that he might rightly ( and willingly ) serve His Creator, fulfilling ( in Christ ) the original purpose for which he was first created.
In the fourth chapter; the author focuses on the peculiar events which happened almost 2,000 years ago; the death, and more importantly, the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son God Himself, Who became a Man, so that He could sacrifice His own Body on the cross of Calvary, to satisfy His own justice.
Strangely enough; Wright begins this fourth chapter by reminding us of the apparent incongruity of the four Gospel accounts; but then points out several areas ( particularly in the account of the resurrection ) which would seem to indicate their harmony; the lack of ( Old Testament ) Scriptural reference, the marked presence ( as witnesses ) of Jesus' female disciples, the picture of Jesus Himself that we see in the resurrection accounts, and the fact that none of the Gospel writers mention the future Christian hope ( of resurrection ). He ends here, by refuting the idea that Luke's and John's Gospels were obviously not written to 'combat' Docetism, but were undoubtedly pre-Pauline.
( reference I Corinthians 15 )
Wright goes on to explain the varying skepticisms ( then & now ) employed to rationalize this miraculous event. After refuting these 'arguments' one by one; he uses the example of Thomas, as one who, though skeptical at first, had 'proven' to himself that His Lord had indeed risen!
Wright ends this chapter ( and section ) by affirming that, despite the rise of secular skepticism ( 'we know that dead bodies don't rise!' ), of which the Enlightenment was a prime example; Christian faith triumphed, adding that,
'This is the point where believing in the resurrection of Jesus ceases to be a matter of inquiring about an odd event in the first century and becomes a matter of re-discovering hope in the twenty-first century.'
Concerning this; he recalls a scene from Oscar Wilde's Salome, when King Herod heard the reports of Jesus raising people from the dead, as to what might have given rise to the rationalization concerning the resurrection of Jesus.
'I do not wish Him to do that', said Herod; 'I forbid Him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This Man must be found and told that I forbid Him to raise the dead'.
It was not, the author writes, simply the intellectual philosophizers ( of the day ) who would not want the dead to be raised: just think about it; what would a king do if those that he wanted 'out of the way' suddenly started being brought back to life?
In the second section of Wright's book; we enter upon our greatest area of disagreement, if not in theory, then semantically: God's Future Plan.
Let me explain my statement above. I agree with the author here, that God's plans for the salvation of His people will yet be worked out in the future; one, because I believe that God is revealing Himself, in a special way, to His people everyday, salvifically speaking; and two, that people are being born everyday, who will one day heed His call; but I think that the author here has in mind a plan that God, in the future, will reveal His Son from Heaven, in purging fire, taking vengeance on His enemies, thus cleansing and renewing the physical earth. More on this subject later.
Wright introduces his fifth chapter by reiterating that although the modern secular order and the modern church both have a quite mixed-up, sometimes almost unrecognizable hope; the early church had a very distinct, very certain faith, concerning the resurrection. They understood precisely, according to Wright, and more specifically the promises of resurrection and a future life that God, in Jesus, had given them. I think that Wright ( along with all 'futurists' and even some so-called preterists ) interprets these promises in a more physically literal way than I, as you can tell, from reading my other articles like, Was a Physical Resurrection Ever Promised?' I wrote that article a few years ago, and have slowly progressed in my understanding since then. I now have come to understand it in a more physical sense, though still differently than Wright, as you can probably tell from more recent articles , like A Better 'Focus on the Physical'. I believe that God's promises to us ( them ) were primarily spiritual in nature; but that they have a natural physical outworking; as the apostle James said, in chapter 2 of his letter,
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?[f]
He goes on to explain that we can say we have faith; but if we don't prove our faith, or act on it, it is useless, and not a true faith at all, but a dead one.
Getting back to the subject at hand; Wright discusses several options that have been offered by the modern secular ( and even Christian ) 'world. The first is that of an 'evolutionary optimism', or progress, the idea that the world will 'get better' on it's own, that the natural progression will eventually usher in an 'Age of Aquarius', a utopian dream. He cites social and economic advancement, along with the 'progress' of technology etc., as reasons for this 'muddled' hope, the myth of progress. Wright sees the problem of this myth as being that it 'cannot deal with evil'. We see this in the failure, and fall, of Marxist communism, and other such failed 'endeavors'. The 'problem' that I have always seen with communism, and other such ideals, is that, humanly speaking; God is left out of the 'equation'!
The next option that Wright discusses here is the Platonistic idea of 'souls in transit'. Put simply, he says 'Plato's picture was based on a rejection of the phenomena of matter and transience'. Wright hints strongly, in the following passages, that the man-centered 'escapism' practiced by much of the modern evangelical church is based on Plato's, and later, the Gnostic, idea that the the body is a 'prison-house for the soul' and that the physical, material world is something to be shunned. Rather; I believe that we are made a new creation, in Christ, in order that we might be His instruments here on the good earth that He has given!
He quotes Joni Mitchell's 'Woodstock', and the strangely familiar 'we are stardust, we are golden; and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.' To me; this sounds almost akin to the fundamentalist idea of an achievable purity, a more perfect 'worthiness' before God.
Wright concludes that, if you move away from materialistic optimism without embracing Judaism or Christianity, you are quite likely to end up with some kind of Gnosticism, 'as the playwright Stuart Holroyd, Blake, Goethe, Melville, Yeats, and Jung, among others have done'. Wright points out that, the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls in upper Egypt have 'fueled a desire for the re-interpretation of Christianity itself in terms of a supposedly original Gnostic spirituality that contrasts sharply with the concrete kingdom-of-God-on-Earth announced by the Jesus of the canonical Gospels'. He also points out that many of our Christian hymns, such as 'This World is not My Home', and 'I'm Going Home' have subtle, and not-so subtle references to this Platonistic idea; for instance, when William Hunter & William Miller wrote, 'when from this earthly prison free, that heav'nly mansion mine shall be'.
Wright ends this chapter by saying, 'Over and against both these popular and mistaken views, the central Christian affirmation is that what the creator God has done in Jesus Christ, and supremely in His resurrection, is what He intends to do for the whole world-meaning, by world, the entire cosmos, with all it's history'. I couldn't agree more; except that, again, I would most likely have a semantical disagreement with Wright, as to what this 'world' entails!
Wright introduces the 6th chapter, entitled 'What the Whole World's Waiting For', with these startling words:
'The early Christians did not believe in progress!'
What he means to say here is that they did not believe in a natural progression ( apart from God ). They were not waiting ( as so often seems the case now ) for 'things to get better'; nor were they looking for an escape from this worsening, evil world ( remember Jesus' prayer? ). The main 'facets' of the early Christians faith were founded, of course, on the teachings of the apostles, most notably Paul, and John, in his Revelation, according to the author; but I think that John, in his Gospel gives much, if not more, hope for the Christian in places like John 8, but more importantly, in John 5:25 & 26; not a future, so much as a present, hope!
In this, the true Christian hope, then; Wright notes three main themes; that of the 'goodness of the creation, the nature of evil, and the plan of redemption'. Concerning the good creation; he writes, 'At its height, which according to Genesis 1 is the creation of humans, it was designed to reflect God, both to reflect God back to God in worship and to reflect God into the rest of creation in stewardship'. That this 'image' of God does not include His divinity is a distinction that Wright wants to make clear here, saying that 'collapsing this distinction means taking a large step toward a pantheism within which there is no way of understanding, let alone, addressing, the problem of evil'. We would be back in the 'days of the judges', with 'every man doing what was right in his own eyes': if divine; we could decide for ourselves our absolutes of right & wrong, good & evil!
Secondly; Wright tackles the nature of evil. He points out that it does not stem from the creation ( God is not the Author of evil ), nor from being transient, from being subject to decay. Decay is natural, he points out; as natural as leaves falling from the trees in Autumn, as natural as the sun going down, giving way to dusk, and eventually, darkness. These things were made to work this way!
Concerning this transience; he writes, 'Transience acts as a God-given signpost pointing not from a material world to a non-material world but from the world as it is to the world as it is meant one day to be-pointing, in other words, from the present to the future that God has in store'.
I liked this statement enough to highlight it in my copy of the book; but I still have one main problem with his main thesis here. I have often quoted Paul's words in I Corinthians 15:46,
'However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.
Because I often quote this verse ( seemingly, out of context ), applying it as a matter of principle, to other subjects; some accuse me of being a Platonist, others a Gnostic, but I believe that this verse speaks volumes about the nature of, among other things, the resurrection! I discuss this in greater detail in my article, 'A Spiritual Body'.
Another quote which I liked well enough to highlight was concerning the 'problem of evil';
'Evil that consists not in being created but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honor elements of the natural world rather than the God who made them'.
As I like to say; 'Evil doesn't exist, it happens!'
As we come to his third theme, that of redemption; I'd like to quote Wright again, a quote that I can totally agree with.
'Redemption doesn't mean scrapping what's there and starting again from a clean slate but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.'
Citing Colossians 1: 15-20; Wright says that; 'this is the real cosmic Christology of the New Testament; not a kind of pantheism, running under it's own steam and cut off from the real Jesus, but a retelling of the Jewish story of wisdom in terms of Jesus Himself focusing on the cross as the act whereby the good creation is brought back into harmony with the wise Creator' ( emphasis mine ).
He points out, in reference to this good creation, that 'redemption is not simply making creation a bit better' ( although, as the writer to the Hebrews explains; it came through a better covenant! ): but rather it is a renewing, or re-forming of that creation ( my words )!We have been brought back into harmony with our Creator through the blood of Jesus Christ, having been re-created in His image, that we might bear fruit for the healing of the nations!
Concerning 'our' redemption; Wright, seemingly in contradiction to passages like II Corinthians 5:17, says that 'it will be an act of new creation parallel to and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.' Contrary to what Paul said, and implied in many other passages ( Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24 ), Wright speaks of our redemption, which, he says, is akin to Christ's own resurrection, as a yet future event! I agree that our resurrection is 'directly parallel to and derived from' Christ's own resurrection; it's the 'will be' that I have a problem with!
On the cross: Christ cried 'It is finished!'
Paul said, 'If any man be in Christ; he is a new creation!'
What more could be said? There is much more there; and admittedly, there are many passages that say, and in fact, all the apostles continually stress this point; that man has a responsibility to be renewed, in fact to renew himself, to learn to do right instead of wrong, to 'work out' his own salvation. ( Ephesians 4: 17-24, II Timothy 2:15, James 1:12, James 5: 13-18, I Peter 1:13-21, I Peter 2:11, I Peter 3:9, II Peter 1:5-10, II Peter 3:14-18, I John 2:15-17, I John 3:4-9, I John 4:20 & 21, II John 1:4-6, Jude 3 & 4, Revelation 2-3 )
Still writing of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 15; Wright points out that 'Paul is clearly articulating a theology of new creation'! In particular, and these are my words, Paul's words in verses 50-54 concerning the 'change' that came about at our Lord's return in judgment and glory, reveal the 'nature' of that new creation. Although it is a 'new' creation; it is really 'new' more in the sense that it is made new, renewed, re-formed, if you will, just as the 'New Covenant' is not really new at all, but is rather a progression, a betterment, an improvement of the Old ( covenant of Law ), and the finality of the Eternal, Everlasting Covenant!. Paul reminds his people, though, in Galatians 3:17, that that Old Covenant, ratified in the Mosaic Law, could not annul that Covenant that God had ratified by Himself, 'before the foundation of the world'!
Wright argues again, that 'if after His death He had gone into some kind of non-bodily existence; death would not be defeated'.
I think that I can agree with this statement, 'on the surface'; but is it necessary for Him to remain ''in the flesh' since His purpose was accomplished? I do not argue with the fact that He was raised bodily, for, in essence, it was necessary, at least in this sense, to show that death had been defeated, that the 'grave' could no longer keep Him, or hold those who through grace, are in Him.
'Death, as we know it; is the last enemy, not a good part of God's good creation'.
Here is where I again would question Wright's consistency ( though mine could be questioned also ); What 'death' does he speak of here? Physical or spiritual? We, as Christians, are quite familiar with physical death, and always will be, I believe; but, as Wright admitted earlier,'Decay is natural': is not this 'decay' of which he speaks natural, or physical death? Paul says, back in I Corinthians 15:36, 'Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies'. He further gives this analogy, that the seed which we place in the ground does not bring forth new life, until the seed itself dies, which, in itself is a picture of the Christian's life: we cannot truly and completely serve God until we have died to self and become as Christ was, the Selfless Servant!
Wright next borrows from Paul's imagery in his letter to the Philippians, reminding us that our citizenry being heavenly does not mean simply that we'll go to heaven when we die, but that 'our Savior, the Lord, Jesus the King-all these, of course, were imperial titles-will come from heaven to earth, to change the present situation and state of His people' ( emphasis mine ). Again; Wright seems to be somewhat inconsistent here because, first of all, he states that 'He will come'. I must remind my readers here, again, that Paul states that we are a new creation, we have been 'changed', we are 'forever with the Lord'! It is an accomplished fact; our situation has been 'changed': we are now in the 'heavenlies' ( Ephesians 1:1-3,2:6, Hebrews 12:25, I Peter 1:3-5 )! Secondly, as I've mentioned before; Wright seems to be 'caught up' in the seeming physicality of God's promises ( I will agree that there is a physicality to God's promises, but they were meant primarily to be understood spiritually ); he believes, as so many other futurists, that Christ must return physically in order to change our present situation and state! This really leads into the first, because Christ has already changed our present situation and state; He has re-made us in His image, in order that we might be His Body on earth to physically work in His Kingdom and for His glory, changing, through pro-creation, the physical situation around us; as Wright has said, to be His instruments in His work of the physical 'new creation'!
Wright cites verse 28 of I Corinthians 15 next; reminding his readers of the goal of history, 'that God may be all in all', or everything. He, consistently here, declares that 'until the final victory over evil, and particularly over death, this moment has not arrived'. 'To suggest that it has', Wright meaningfully says, 'is to collude with evil and with death itself'! Wow: that's pretty harsh! Is Wright saying that if we posit that Christ has defeated death, 'the last enemy', and that God has become 'all in all'; we have become 'enemies of the faith', and 'have counted the blood of Christ..........a common thing'?
Describing the 'new birth' now; Wright turns back to Romans 8, where, he says, Paul uses imagery from the Exodus, 'not in relation to Jesus, nor even to ourselves, but to creation as a whole.' Although God does say, in Jeremiah 33,
20 “Thus says the LORD: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, 21 then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers. 22 As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’” 23 Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 24 “Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. 25 “Thus says the LORD: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26 then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.’
( Genesis 8:20-22, ( 9:13 ), Romans 8:22 )
I think that it should be abundantly clear from these passages, and others like them
( Genesis 1, Psalm 104:1-9 ), that in context; God was speaking, as in the rest of Scripture, of His eternal covenant with His people Israel! I know that it is traditional to view passages like Romans 8:22 and Jeremiah 33: 20-26 as speaking of the ( non-human ) physical creation, even the earth itself, and the sun and moon ( I have myself fallen into the 'trap' of physicality, referring to Psalm 104 as 'The Creation Psalm' even citing verses 5-9, as 'proof' that the 'Great Flood ( of Noah's day ) could not have been universal ); but I believe that, in the context of such Scriptures such as Job 20:27, Psalm 18:7, 46:6, 50:1, 60:2, 65:5 & ;9, 66:1, 68:8, 76:8, 82:5, 96:1, 97:1, 98:4, 104, 114:7, 147:15, Isaiah 1:2, 2:21, 13:13, 14:26, 24, 44:23, 49:8, 65:17, Jeremiah 4:23 & 28, 6:19, 10:10, 17:13, 22:29, 46:8, 51:7, Ezekiel 43:2, Joel 3:16, Amos 8:9, 9:5, Micah 1:2-4, 6:2, Nahum 1:5, Habakkuk 2:20, 3:6, Zephaniah 3:8, Haggai 2:6, Zechariah 1:11, Malachi 4:6, etc., we should be able, easily, to ascertain that when the Scriptures speak of the heavens and earth; they are most often speaking, not of the physical 'terra firma' upon which we live out our earthly existence, but of the covenant people of God, for good or evil!
Wright says, in the context of the freedom from slavery that Paul talks about, that 'God's design was to rule creation in life-giving wisdom through His image-bearing human creature. But this was always a promise for the future; a promise that one day the true human being, the image of God Himself, God's incarnate Son, would come to lead the human race into their true identity.( emphasis mine ).' I wholeheartedly agree with the first part of my brother's statement but have a few problems, hermeneutically speaking, with the second: it would seem that Paul agrees, in places like II Corinthians 3:18 ( I Corinthians 15:49, Colossians 3:10 ) where he says,
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Granted; Paul uses the future tense here, but it is quite apparent from the writings of the other apostles ( Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2, James 5:7-9 ), indeed our Lord's very promise, that he expected His return within his own generation, 'very soon'!
As we come to the end of chapter 6; Wright enters upon a discussion of 'the marriage of heaven and earth'. If you have read my article, 'Building ( up ) in the New Heavens and New Earth', you probably can guess right away, that I have some disagreement with Wright, on this subject; but I do agree with his main premise here; that heaven ( or 'Heaven' ) & earth were intended to become one. Our disagreement comes, for the most part, when he says 'will be'. As I explained in my article; I believe that 'we', as Christians, are the new heavens and new earth that Peter and John spoke of. Wright, as in most of his book, puts too much 'physicality' into the biblical premise that he outlines here.A representative statement is: 'And it is the final accomplishment of God's great design, to defeat and abolish death forever-which can only mean the rescue of creation from it's present plight of decay, ( emphasis mine )'! What?! I thought that it was natural, that creation was made transiently! I do like his next statement; although I'm sure we would have to disagree on it's meaning: 'Heaven and earth, it seems, are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated forever when all the children of heaven have been rescued from this wicked earth.'
Although Wright still pursues an unwarranted 'physicality' in this passage; he does stress that, while he believes that the present, transient heavens and earth will be replaced by a perfect, in-transient new heavens and new earth: that 'this doesn't mean that God will wipe the slate clean and start again'. ( II Corinthians 5:4 , I Corinthians 15:42-49 )
Pertaining to this; he writes,
'The Temple in Jerusalem was always designed, it seems, as a pointer to, and an advance symbol for the presence of God himself. When the reality is there, the signpost is no longer necessary.' ( emphasis mine ) I agree: the physical signs and symbols of the Old ( Mosaic ) Covenant were always and only meant ( for us anyway ) to typify and symbolize the greater spiritual realities of the New Covenant in Christ! ( What would happen, do you think, if Wright applied the above logic to current 'signs' and symbols such as baptism and the Lords supper? )
Wright concludes this chapter by pointing out that,
'It is of course only through imagery, through metaphor and symbol, that we can imagine the new world that God intends to make'.
As I pointed out in the article that I've written on this subject; I believe that Jeremiah 31:31-34, in which the Lord relays, through Jeremiah, His promise of a new ( and better ) covenant; is parallel to and synonymous with His promise of a new heavens and new earth, in Isaiah 65. Again; I think that the author insinuates a 'physicality' that Scripture does not warrant! Much more might need to be written here on this subject ( it has already been written by better minds than I ); but I think that it is fairly clear that our Lord's promises, especially in the context of how His own Son treated them, were meant to convey a meaning, or understanding, not of 'physicality', but rather of transformation, a making new: 'Behold, I make all things new'!
In chapter seven; Wright broaches a subject upon which we can readily agree; in factuality, if not in theory. Although I would beg to differ with some of Wright's conclusions concerning the implications of Christ's resurrection and subsequent ascension; I think we can agree that Christ did ascend, and must needs have ascended, according to some, to present His own blood before the throne of Almighty God!
One of his points of contention with certain factions is the statement below:
'You can't get away with suggesting that 'Jesus is raised from the dead' and 'Jesus is ascended into Heaven' are two ways of saying the same thing...........(though, of course, closely related )..... ( emphasis mine )
Although Jesus, being raised from the dead, had offered thusly the necessary sacrifice for the sins of His people; He had not yet presented this blood-sacrifice before the throne of God in Heaven, or the Holiest. While admitting that John 20:17 is still fairly puzzling in many respects; he posits that this enigmatic passage is a clue to how the Gospel writers and the early church distinguished between Christ's resurrection and ascension. According to Wright; 'Paul, our earliest writer, clearly distinguishes between the two', citing Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, 2:6. There are other passages, some even in the Hebrew Scriptures, which make a distinction between the resurrection ( of Christ ) from the dead, and His needful ascension into Heaven. Although I can agree for the most part with Wright when he says that the two are ( very ) 'closely related', flowing naturally from one to the other; these are not so much to be seen, in my mind, as two separate events; but as one contiguous and inter-related event, culminating in our final redemption.
I may touch on this later; but I believe that part of the 'problem' with much of modern-day futurist theology stems from this very kind of thinking, especially concerning the so-called ( Second ) Coming of Christ! When Christ came as a baby, in His ( first ) Advent; He later told His disciples, in John 14; 18 'I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.' This promise, a repeat of many such typical promises ( Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, I Chronicles 28:20 ) in the Hebrew Scriptures, came in the context of the promise of the sending of His Holy Spirit. Notice that, although in other places ( John 7:7-39, 14:26, 15:26, John 20:22 ), Jesus seemed to speak of a different personage, in the 'form' of the Holy Spirit; in verse 28, above, He says that He will be the one coming, in His true 'form', that of the 'life-giving Spirit', even the Father Himself ( Isaiah 9:6 )!
Asserting once more the necessity of, not only Christ's bodily resurrection and ascension, but also His continued bodily presence in Heaven, Wright comments,
'Many people insist-and I dare say that this is the theology many of my readers have been taught-that the language of Jesus' 'disappearance' is just ( another ) way of saying that after His death, He became, as it were, spiritually present everywhere, especially with His own followers. This is then often then correlated with a non-literal reading of the resurrection, that is, a denial of its bodily nature: Jesus simply 'went to heaven when He died' in a rather special sense that makes Him now close to each of us wherever we are. According to this view, Jesus has, as it were, disappeared without remainder. His 'spiritual presence' with us is His only identity. In that case, of course, to speak of His 'second coming' is then only a metaphor for His presence, in the same sense, eventually permeating all things.'( emphasis mine )
Paul told the Colossians in chapter 1 of his letter:
24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.
As I have said many times, and I think that Scripture makes fairly clear; we, as Christians, are the Body of Christ! I quoted Psalm 40: 6-8, but when the writer to the Hebrews, in chapter 10, quotes this passage; he quotes it, I believe, from the Septuagint.
5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “ Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— In the volume of the book it is written of Me— To do Your will, O God.’”[a]
I believe that the the Body that He speaks of here, indeed the very physical Body of Christ Himself is indicative and significant of the spiritual Body of Christ, His Church!
One of the reasons that I have been accused of Platonism is my belief that 'Heaven' is not a physical place, but rather a spiritual state, that of the believer ( in Christ ); in other words, qualitative rather than quantitative. Arguing against this position; Wright has this to say,
'The idea of the human Jesus now being in Heaven, in His thoroughly embodied risen state, comes as a shock to many people, including many Christians...................................................................................More often, it's because our culture is so used to the Platonic idea that Heaven is, by definition, a place of 'spiritual' non-material reality, so that the idea of a solid body being not only present but thoroughly at home there, seems like a category mistake. The ascension invites us to rethink all this: and, after all, why did we suppose that we knew what Heaven was? ( emphasis mine )
The orthodox position, as I understand it, is that Jesus still embodies His flesh, and that Heaven, after all, is a physical reality, somewhere out there in space. I do not deny the possibility, however improbable, that 'Heaven' does indeed exist as a physical place, and even the possibility that Jesus, as God, could inhabit a spiritual place with a physical body, however ridiculous that may sound, or even regardless of how many speculative questions that would raise. Jesus, in passages like Luke 17:20 & 21 tells us that the Kingdom of God ( or Heaven- Matthew 19:16-23 ) is not some 'place' out there, but rather is within us. ( Let me remind my readers that, in most, if not all cases, the word 'heaven', as used in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, simply means 'sky' ) In Romans 10:5, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 30:11-13, prophesying of the Christ;
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
Making a distinction, seemingly; between the 'physicality' of earthly generation, and the 'spirituality' of heavenly generation ( John 3:1-21 ); Paul writes, in I Corinthians 15,
47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord[e] from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear[f] the image of the heavenly Man.
Jesus had told His disciples, in Mark 9 ( Matthew 16:28 );
“Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”
( Some, I understand, would differentiate between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven; but I believe that an honest, careful study will reveal to any sincere student of Scripture that, in most if not all cases, they are interchangeable: more later.)
Wright says that 'the ascension invites us to rethink this'; my question would be; 'why?'
Just as Elijah ascended into 'heaven' in a whirlwind, recorded in II Kings 2:10; so Jesus is recorded in Acts 1 as being taken to 'heaven' in much the same way. However; Luke records ( and we can suppose that he was himself an eye-witness, or at least got the information first-hand ) that Jesus was taken 'out of their sight' just as Elijah 'went up by a whirlwind, into heaven ( the sky )'. Is there really any reason, beyond speculation, given here, in either passage, to think that Elijah or Jesus retained their physical bodies when they 'disappeared' into the clouds? ( see 'Chariots of Fire' )
Wright next makes his point that Christ is not the Church, and the Church is not Christ. True enough, you might well reckon; but the New Testament writers, and maybe Paul in particular, tell us that, in a sense; we are! ( I must point out that I am not claiming divinity for myself, or for the elect and chosen people of God; just that we are one with Him. ) In Ephesians 5; Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus regarding the sanctity of marriage, quotes Genesis 2:24, when he says,
30 For we are members of His body,[d] of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”[e] 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Another point of contention that I have with many other Reformed theologians who would posit that the visible church is equal to, or is to be counted as, the Church, or the Body of Christ, God's chosen and elect people, is that we cannot confuse the former with the latter because only God Himself ( and His own elect ) know for certain if one truly is a member of Christ's Body, the Church, and sometimes, probably not even the individual, for only God knows the depths of the human heart!
Wright now 'winds down' this seventh chapter with a very interesting statement from a previous book which he had written in 1992, 'The New Testament and the People of God';
'I argued that though the early Christians did indeed expect Jesus's return , they were not bothered by its not happening within a generation and indeed that the Jewish expectation that they had inherited was not about the end of the world but about a dramatic change within the present world order. ( emphasis mine )
He admits, along with most accepted 'orthodoxy', that the early ( 1st century ) church expected the promise of His return, and of the 'change' that Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 15:52 and I Thessalonians 4:17 would come within their own generation; but fails to note that this 'dramatic change' did come, as promised, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70, the end of the Old Covenant economy, and the full implementation of the New Covenant in Christ!
As we enter into a short discussion of chapter 8, to which Wright has given the title 'When He Appears'; we will see yet another area in which we must 'agree to disagree' with our brother; the so-called 'Second Coming'.
He begins by making another interesting statement which I do not wholly agree with; mainly because it 'assumes facts not in evidence'! 'God will redeem the whole universe: Jesus resurrection is the beginning of that new life, the fresh grass growing through the concrete of corruption and decay in the old world.' ( emphasis mine )
Peter wrote, in II Peter 3, of the destruction of that 'old world';
5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.
It should be fairly clear, and Wright seems inconsistently to agree, along with some other Reformed theologians, that this 'world that then existed'; ( unless you are one of those who believe that two different creations are relayed in Genesis 1) was simply speaking of the 'world' of Noah, or his contemporaries, and not of the physical earth ( although they do believe, for the most part, that the physical earth did undergo a 'dramatic change' ). From what I've heard; Don Preston has done some excellent exegetical work on the subject of II Peter 3, and if may say so: Tim Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn have done some rather interesting work in that area ( Flood Eschatology ) in their book, 'Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation'.
Paul talks, in I Corinthians 15, again of the 'change' of this 'corruptible' putting on 'incorruption'; then more clearly portrays the nature of this 'change' in II Corinthians 5;
4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.
This life that Paul speaks of is the 'new life' that has been granted us in Christ Jesus. He wrote to the Corinthians earlier in chapter 3,
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit;[a] for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
To the church at Rome, in Romans 6; Paul wrote:
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
While a physical 'change' should become obvious in our 'new life'; Paul is obviously, along with all the Gospel writers, speaking of the 'spiritual change' that comes with the 'new birth', by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit: as I said, this spiritual 'new life' in Christ should have it's out-workings in our physical lives ( Malachi 2:5, Matthew 10:39, ( 16:25 ), 19:29, Luke 14:26 , John 4:36, Romans 2:7, II Corinthians 2:16, Galatians 2:20, I Timothy 4:8, II Timothy 3:10, James 1:12, I Peter 3:10, I John 3:14-16, 5:16, Jude 20 & 21 ), but primarily the 'change, that we read about in Scripture is a spiritual 'change', that which *must* come before any physical 'change', or out-working will manifest itself in our lives!
In discussing the popular phrase 'the second coming'; Wright makes this interesting comment;
'When that phrase is identified, as it has often been in the United States ( Wright is English ) with a particular view of that coming as a literal downward descent, meeting halfway with the redeemed, who are making a simultaneous upward journey, all sorts of problems arise which are avoided if we take the New Testament's multiple witness as a whole.' ( emphasis mine )
He further writes;
'The first thing to get clear is that, despite wide-spread opinion to the contrary, during His earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about His return.'
That's quite an outstanding statement, and at first glance, could deliver quite a jolt; but this statement, I believe, is based on the same false assumption that Wright has 'labored' under all along: the belief that Christ's promises were primarily physical in nature. I've always thought, concerning the 5th commandment, in Exodus 20:12, that it's promise of 'long life' was more spiritual in nature. ( I'm sure though; given the fact that parents were allowed to execute their disobedient children in those days, that it held a very physical meaning for those children! ) Jesus statements in Matthew 10:23, 16:27 & 28; 24:27, 30, 31, 37-39 & 42-44, and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, are speaking of the same 'coming' that John speaks of ( John 14, for example ) and that Paul mentions in places like I Thessalonians 4:13-17.
To be fair here; Wright does not then, mean that Jesus said nothing about His return 'on the clouds', as it were, but His supposed bodily return, the so-called 'second coming' ( he actually might rather have said something like 'Jesus said nothing about His 'second coming'; that would have been a bit clearer, and maybe more consistent too! ). He correctly applies a more up-ward sense to Jesus' coming in Daniel 7 ( to which Matthew 26:64 could be related ); but incorrectly uses the same sense for Jesus promises of His Return, although he admits that the early church saw these promises as of an imminent return ( to earth )!
Wright next addresses the 'rapture theories' of so many evangelical Christians today. This 'halfway' meeting ( in the air ), of course, as Wright acknowledges later on; is based on Paul's words of hope to the Thessalonian Christians in I Thessalonians 4: 15-17.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. ( emphasis mine )
As Wright makes his point; he naturally graduates to a discussion of the Greek parousia;
'People often assume that the early church used parousia simply to mean 'the second coming of Jesus', and that by this event they all envisaged, in a quite literal fashion, the scenario of I Thessalonians 4:16-17 ( Jesus coming down on a cloud, and people flying upward to meet Him ).'
He points out that, though this Greek word is usually translated 'coming'; it actually has more a connotation of 'presence' ( Paul uses this noun in I Corinthians 16:17 to describe the arrival of his brethren, Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and in II Corinthians 7:6 & 7 to desribe the much anticipated arrival of Titus ). Again; I believe that Wright inconsistently does this, because it seems to me that when Paul ( even Jesus Himself- Matthew 24:27, 37 & 39 ), speaks of Jesus 'presence', he is not 'merely' speaking of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as some would suppose; but of the presence, as the Godhead, in the lives of His people, the true Israel, the Church!
He also points out that, at the time, the word parousia had two different meanings to the non-Christian 'world' the first being the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly when the power of this god was revealed in healing.
'Josephus sometimes uses this word when he is talking about YHWH coming to the rescue of Israel. God's powerful, saving presence is revealed in action, for instance when Israel under King Hezekiah was miraculously defended against the Assyrians.'
It is true then, that usage of the word parousia does necessarily always refer to the presence of Christ Himself; but God was not physically present in thse battle, was He? Can a spiritual being be said to be physically present? No! Paul said, in I Corinthians 15:45,
And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.[d] The last Adam became a life-giving spirit".
Wright seems to inconsistently, again, make the case for the so-called 'second coming' of Christ as referring to His spiritual presence. He seems to base his eschatology, again, on the false assumption that Christ retained His physical body when He ascended to the right hand of the Father.
We find a second meaning in the visit of a high official or head of state to a subject colony or province. He points out that in neither of these situations is there any hint of people being 'raptured' or flying through the air.
'Nor is there any hint of the imminent collapse of the space-time universe.' ( emphasis mine )
Wright brings up a whole list of suppositions next, in which he asks his reader to ponder such things as 'suppose that they ( the early church ) wanted to say that the Jesus they worshiped was near in spirit but absent in body but that one day he would be present in body and that then the whole world, themselves included, would know the sudden transforming power of that presence' and that 'a natural word to use for this would be parousia'. Not a bad assumption to make, except that he again presumes to assume that Jesus' so-called 'second coming' would be that of a 'fleshly' Christ: we have already shown ( I hope ) that this is not a biblical scenario. He brings up another supposition concerning the second possible meaning above, saying 'suppose they wanted to say that the Jesus who had been raised from the dead and exalted to God's right hand was the rightful Lord of the world, the true Emperor before whom all other emperors would shake in their shoes and bow their knees in fear and wonder'; 'Again', he says,''the natural word to use for this would be parousia'. 'Correct again Dr. Wright'; but again he seems to assume 'facts not in evidence'. We have seen, and he has admitted, that the early church had a very real expectation of Christ's Parousia in their own time. First; we must remember who the primary addressee's of the Bible were, and whom it concerned, in essence, we must remember to use a grammatical and historical hermeneutic! Yes; we might easily apply it to today, or to some time in the distant, or not so distant future, and postulate that these 'emperors' and such, are referring to presidents, governors, and even sheiks; but this would assume that the book of Revelation is indeed written ( from chapter 4 on, anyway ) of our future, and that there will indeed be a physical 'second coming' where Christ will physically rule and reign on this earth ( more on this later ). Second, and this relates to the first; it assumes that this did not happen, when and where it was promised! Jesus told the high priest, before His crucifixion, in Matthew 26:64, that *he* would see His coming ( admittedly, the Greek word here for coming was not parousia, but erchomai, a verb, rather than a noun ), and Paul recorded in Acts 24:25 that the Roman governor of the province trembled merely at hearing of the presence of the Word.
After telling us that these were no mere suppositions; Wright makes a rather interesting, and historically probable statement:
'Parousia is itself, in fact, one of those terms in which Paul is able to say that Jesus is the reality of which Caesar was the parody.' ( emphasis mine )
In his second and third letters, John indicated, at the end of these letters, that he wished to say more, but that, for whatever reason, he did not wish to write it with 'pen and ink'. One only has to think of the historical context in which John wrote, to be reminded of the political fervor of that age. Think of what might have happened if Paul, John, or the other apostles had written more plainly of the lordship of the Christ, and especially of Jesus as the Christ, and these letters had been intercepted, falling into the wrong hands. Look at the trouble that John got into, 'for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ', being 'imprisoned' on the isle of Patmos! Why do you think John encrypted the name of the 'beast' of the Revelation in a series of numbers, rather than outright saying who he was referring to? I think that the author correctly applies the historical and grammatical context here; but as in many cases, seems to fail to see the true impact of what he suggests!
Wright points out that Paul's first-century Jewish ( and Gentile ) readers would have had no trouble figuring out what the apostles, Paul in particular, were saying with their usage of parousia. In reference to passages such as I Thessalonians 4:16 & 17, he writes that:
'The point to notice above all about these tricky verses is that they are not to be taken as a literal description of what Paul thinks will happen. They are simply a different way of saying what he is saying in I Corinthians 15:23-27 and 51-54, and in Philippians 3:20-21.' ( emphasis mine )
I find it interesting, to say the least, that Wright should seemingly ( unless I misunderstand him ) admit that all these passages are speaking of the same event; I believe that the main thing to remember in Paul's words in I Thessalonians 4:17 above, are,
'And thus we shall always be with the Lord'.
Wright seems to agree that Paul is saying here, and in the other passages where he mentions the parousia of Christ, that the 'change' that we undergo, with this mortal putting on immortality, and being 'transformed' back into His image, have made us into a suitable dwelling-place ( I Peter 2:5 ), and fit us to dwell with Him forever!
Interesting too, is Wright's next highlighted statement; where he compares the Parousia of Christ with it's typical forerunner, the parousia of Moses;
'The three stories that Paul is here bringing together start with the story of Moses coming down the mountain.The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait, Moses appears and descends from the mountain to see what's been going on in his absence.' ( emphasis mine- see Revelation 11:15 )
Interesting, I say, because the accepted definition of a type, among most Christians, is that they are a ( prior, usually ) physical sign of a spiritual reality. ( I'll let my readers take from that what they will! )
'The point', he writes of I Thessalonians 4:15-17, 'is that, having gone out to meet their returning ( triumphant ) Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from.' ( emphasis mine )
This statement leads right into the third section of Wright's book; which I will presently treat; but again I must point out that Wright views this as a future event, and thus, I believe, inconsistently.
Quoting Colossians 3:1-4 and I John 2:28 and 3:2, as being in the same 'ballpark' as these other passages that we've been studying; Wright points out next that,
'Of course, when he 'appears' he will be 'present'. But the point of stressing 'appearing' here is that, though in one sense it will seem to us that he is 'coming', he will in fact be 'appearing' right where he presently is-not a long way away within our own space-time world but in his own world, God's world, the world we call heaven'. ( emphasis mine )
I agree with what Wright says here, in that we, especially as 20th & 21st century Americans, even as far back as the 16th & 17th centuries have looked at the English translation of parousia as speaking of a 'coming' in the sense that we're used to hearing, seeing, or using it; when the more correct understanding of the word is 'presence'. In a very physical sense; God, in Christ, did make His presence ( in judgment-we'll touch on this presently too ) known when the Roman armies ( and their mercenaries ) 'came' from their respective countries, and laid waste to the nation of Israel, destroying forever the Old Covenant economy, by leaving 'not one stone... upon another' of the Temple in Jerusalem. The author seems to imply that, despite what some other Christians believe; 'Heaven' is not some place-physically speaking-within our own world, or even universe, but is rather God's own spiritual realm, the realm that Scripture says is 'in our midst' ( Luke 17:20 & 21 ), or within us, in our 'hearts'!
We end this section by looking at a 'telling' statement that Wright makes, as kind of an introduction to, and which carries us into chapter 9:
'When he comes, according to the same biblically grounded tradition, he will have a specific role to play: that of judge.' ( emphasis mine )
In Deuteronomy 32:36, God said, in the first half of the verse:
“For the LORD will judge His people And have compassion on His servants......"
It is clear, at least in the sense I referred to earlier, concerning the resurrection, that there is a time when Jesus 'comes' to His people as judge; but it should also be clear that we, as Christians, have been judged, and found righteous. As Wright points out in the beginning of this 9th chapter; many people, evangelical Christians for the most part, have 'latched on' to the idea that 'judgment' must necessarily have negative connotations; but I think that, from the Scriptures below, not to mention, the one above, we can see that God's judgment of His people is a good thing!
In the last part of Hebrews 9:28, God made this promise, which, in context, is referring to the 'salvation' of His people from the 'cataclysmic' destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD; but could also, I believe, be applied to the individual 'salvation' of the believer today.
'To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.'
In Ezekiel 34:20-22, God promised that He would judge His people, in context, the Old Covenat, physical seed of Abraham.
20 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD to them: “Behold, I Myself will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. 21 Because you have pushed with side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns, and scattered them abroad, 22 therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep'. ( see also Matthew 25:31 )
Referring yet again, to the 'judgment' of His Old Covenant people, in Daniel 12, God promised;
1 “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever". ( see also Matthew 16:27 )
God promises, in Micah 4:3, to bless His people with His judgment.
3 He shall judge between many peoples, And rebuke strong nations afar off; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.[a]'
Finally, in Acts 17, Paul reports that God will judge His people in Righteousness;
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” ( see also John 7:24, 8:15 & 16 )
There is no doubt that Jesus' 'coming', then, would include judgment; judgment on an individual level; but our disagreement with Wright, as with all futurists, comes when he says 'will have', or 'When He comes' ( using the future tense ). We have already seen that Jesus' Parousia was expected, by the first-century church, to occur within their own generation, before some of His contemporaries 'tasted' death ( Matthew 16:28 ): we should be able to see also, from other such passages, and from Josephus' writings, particularly, his 'Wars of the Jews' , that this promised judgment occurred when, where, and to whom it was promised!
The author notes Daniel 7, which he describes as 'a court setting', as 'the most famous scenario expressing this' ( aspect of judgment ) saying, 'The son of man is then given authority and dominion over all the nations, in a deliberate echo of Adam being given authority over the animals, in Genesis 1 and 2.' ( emphasis mine )
We will enter into more of a discussion of the ramifications of this sort of statement in the third section of Wright's book; but we'll suffice for now by saying that it is interesting how the author seems not to see the inconsistency of ascribing a 'yet future' timing of this event ( judgment ), when he freely admits that the first-century church fully expected to see ( and wrote, at the instruction of the Holy Spirit of God ) ALL these things transpire within their own generation!
Commenting on Paul's speech, in Acts 17:22-31, to the Areopagites; the author notes that 'by the time of Paul this belief is well established'; further noting that 'although people often suppose that because Paul taught justification by faith, not works, there can be no room for a future judgment 'according to works', this only goes to show how much some have radically misunderstood him'. ( emphasis mine )
I believe that our brother refers to the 'situation' that necessitated Paul's words in Romans 6; but we must also remember his words at the beginning of chapter 8:
'There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,;[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.'
He points out, too, that Paul wrote, in Romans 14:9-10, II Corinthians 5:10, and elsewhere, of this 'coming/judgment'; although, as I have said before: we must remember both the historical and grammatical context of both of these texts. We must remember too, what Paul wrote in the previous chapter, Romans 13, concerning this 'judgment':
11 'And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.'
If Paul expected this 'salvation' to be 'nearer' then when they first believed, and told them so; would this not be giving them false hope? If one wants to speculate that Paul was speaking of a personal salvation experience, or of a physical deliverance from persecution; I might ask why Paul speaks of their 'near' salvation, if they had already been converted; or why would Jesus not have 'come' down off the cross with all of His physical prowess, if His purpose was to deliver His people from physical persecution? For that matter: why would He wait 2,000 years or so to deliver His people from physical persecution, when He had promised the first-century church that He would 'return' in His Parousia, to that generation? I believe that Paul was expecting that Christ would soon 'return' to judge apostate Israel and deliver His people from the spiritual, and often physical, persecution that they were experiencing under Old Covenant Judaism!
One more 'case in point' here before we move on: Wright states, inconsistently, that 'It ( justification by faith ) is God's advance declaration that when someone believes the gospel, that person is already a member of his family no matter who their parents were, that their sins are forgiven because of Jesus' death, and that on that future day, as Paul says, 'there is now no condemnation' ( Romans 8:1 ).' ( emphasis mine, most emphatically! )
( This, by the way, is just one 'facet' of the doctrine, based on I John 1:9, that says that we must continually confess and repent in order to 'retain' our salvation )
Moving on, then; Wright makes yet another, most interesting statement, which comes 'on the tail' of his declaration that 'the main point to notice..........is that all the future judgement is highlighted as good news, not bad'. He further points out two reasons for this; 'first', he says, 'because the one through whom God's justice will finally sweep the world is not a .........vengeful tyrant but rather the Man of Sorrows..acquainted with grief' and secondly, because 'he is uniquely placed ( as God Himself ) to to judge the systems and rulers who have carved up this world between them, and the New Testament points this out here and there.' ( emphasis mine )
'In particular................Jesus comes as judge much as Moses descended the mountain into the camp where idolatry and revelry were in full swing.'
Interesting that Wright would note the typology from the Old Testament and yet not realize the full implications of that typology, that prior picture that God gave His children. As Moses physically descended from the mountain of God to wreak His vengeance upon those idolaters, so Jesus would descend spiritually from the true, spiritual mount of God ('Heaven' ) to wreak His just vengeance upon wicked, idolatrous, and apostate Old Covenant Israel.
The author now 'wraps up' his discussion of this 'second coming/judgment' of Christ by pointing out that it is necessary for three main reasons: 'First', he says, 'the appearing or coming of Jesus, then, when properly understood..........is no afterthought to the basic Christian message'. ( emphasis mine ) 'Death will be overcome, and God will be all in all'. ( compare I Corinthians 15:55, Romans 6:9, and John 11:26 ) 'Second, that a proper shape and balance are given to the Christian worldview. Like the Jewish worldview', Wright says, 'but radically opposed to the Stoic, the Platonic, the Hindu, and the Buddhist worldviews, the Christian worldview is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.' ( emphasis mine ) Daniel 2:29-45 seems to disagree with this statement.
'And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.'
Does this sound like a 'beginning, a middle, and an end'? I know that most Reformed theologians , though most are futurists themselves, differ with many other futurists, mainly Dispensational ones, on the nature of the Kingdom; and consistently say that it is a spiritual one, while Dispensational Christians will tell ( inconsistently ) you that it is a physical Kingdom which Christ will set up in the future. Both groups are either consistent in their inconsistency or they're inconsistently consistent! Some will agree that the 'world' that Jesus, Paul, and the apostles had in mind was not the entire physical globe; but rather was speaking of the Roman Empire, in particular, the Jewish ( Old Covenant economy ), while still insisting that the physical globe will suffer a 'cataclysmic' return in judgement by a physical Christ: on the other hand, some will try to prove that Christ and the apostles were indeed speaking of the physical globe; and that when He returns, He will 'purge the earth with fire' and set up a physical throne in a physical New Jerusalem.
'Because we live between ascension and appearing', Wright says, 'joined to Jesus Christ by the Spirit but still awaiting His final coming and presence, we can be both properly humble and properly confident."We proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants through Jesus".'
I think that most Reformed theologians will consistently argue that we only experience Christ's Presence in 'the bread and the wine' ( although I'm sure they would agree that we have His Spirit ); but they also, because of this, have to acknowledge that, if this is the case, that Christ has not yet returned to His people, then we are not yet fully redeemed/saved! Sadly; some posit this.
'Third, following directly from this, the task of the church.................is set free from both the self-driven energy that imagines it has to build God's Kingdom all by itself and from the despair that supposes it can't do anything until Jesus comes again. We do not build the Kingdom all by ourselves, but we do build for the Kingdom'. ( emphasis mine )
Paul said in Philippians 4:13, that.
'I can do all things through Christ;[b] who strengthens me.'
We'll touch more on this in the third, and final section; but I believe that, not only are we, as Christians, His physical earthly Kingdom, but we build ( up ) His Kingdom ( by His strength alone ), as I have discussed previously, and in more detail, in 'Building ( up ) in the New Heavens and New Earth'.
The author ends this ninth chapter by positing that,
'In particular, of course, the hope of Jesus' coming as judge to put right all that is wrong in the world and to give new life to the dead is the context to one of our central themes, to which we can now at last turn. If all this is so, what can we say about the future that awaits every one of us, every baptize believer in Jesus Christ? What precisely do we mean, for ourselves, when we speak of the future resurrection?'
In the 'introduction' to the ninth chapter, entitled 'The Redemption of our Bodies'; Wright makes the comment ( concerning Romans 8:23, et al ) that,
'There is no room for doubt as to what he means; God's people are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life.' ( emphasis mine )
I have already treated this subject to some extent in 'A Spiritual Body'; but I will make a few necessary comments: first of all, 'what does he mean by, 'a new type of bodily existence'?' Do we not have this today? I'm glad to remind my readers of this, always! What did Paul say earlier in this very chapter, and elsewhere?
'10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.'
According to what Paul said, in the verses above, and in passages like Romans 6:4-14 & I Corinthians 6:11-20 ), we have been given a 'new type of bodily existence', that of new life in Christ! We no longer must simply 'exist' in this body that was 'dead because of sin': we can now truly live our lives, in Him, and dedicate our bodies to His service!
Another friend of mine, who is rather 'entrenched' in the teaching of Reformed doctrine, in some rather lengthy ( and heated ) email discussions some years ago, tried to bring up the 'fact' that 'the resurrection of the body' means just that, a literal, physical raising from the physically dead like Lazarus, for instance; because Paul uses the Greek nekros to describe our dead bodies. I reminded him then, that Paul also used nekros in Romans 8:10, to describe our bodies before Christ gave us new life ( see Romans 6:11-13, Ephesians 2:5, 5:14, Colossians 2:13 ) and that Christ never used the word nekros to describe the physical condition of His friend Lazarus, in John 11: John used it thrice then, referring to Lazarus, in the first, ninth, and seventeenth verses of the next chapter.
Speaking against the prevalent idea today, that the resurrection means 'going to Heaven or Hell when you die'; Wright argues that 'It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story we tell about God's ultimate purposes'. What; we might ask, is the ultimate purpose of God? If you've read any of my other articles, in particular, my studies of the first two chapters of Genesis, you'll see that I've argued that the purpose for which God created and the re-created man in His image, was that man might take dominion over the rest of God's creation, and that he might serve his creator, giving Him all the glory and honor. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is 'What is the chief end of man?' The answer, of course is 'Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' I grew up on this catechism, in a Reformed Baptist church, and later was fed with the Heidelberg. I agree that the chief end ( God's purpose ) of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever; but, as I've written 'I think that, concerning the Gospel message, and our being re-formed, or recreated, in His image: I think that we would do well here to place the emphasis on the phrase, 'in His image'!' Even more than being created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, I believe that we were created to serve!
Wright describes resurrection as 'life after life after death'. Not to be redundant, but Jesus told Martha, in John 11:26, concerning the resurrection, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' As far as I know, Scripture never gives us any hint of a life after life after death! I think that what our brother means here is that there is a physical existence after our physical body expires, and after our spirit, or soul meets the returning Christ. On this; our brother comments that,
'This new life, which the Christian possesses secretly, invisible to the world, will burst forth into full bodily reality and visibility.' ( emphasis mine )
Admitting that the Christian already possesses this new life ( I Corinthians 5:17, II Corinthians 4:11, Galatians 2:20 ); he still seems to be 'hung up' on the idea that there is yet another resurrection for the Christian, based upon the premise the our physical bodies will be raised from the corruption of the grave ( no doubt possible ), and contrary to the biblical premise that Paul, in I Corinthians 15:46, and Jesus Himself, in John 3:1-8, gives: Paul wrote,
'However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.'
Seemingly, as Wright, and most, if not all futurists would have it; we have a natural ( physical ) life, then a spiritual life, then back to a natural ( yet more spiritual) life, life after life after death, so to speak! To be clear now; I believe that Paul's, and the other Gospel writers, usage of the word 'natural' can be taken several different ways: in I Corinthians 2:14 and I Corinthians 15: 44& 46, Paul uses the Greek adjective psychikos to describe the natural state of man, as he is born, without a saving knowledge of God, and in Romans 1:26 & 27, the adjective physikos to describe the way that God has set things in order, according to the laws of nature. Going back to Romans 11:21 & 24, Paul uses the Greek physis, a feminine noun, strangely enough, to describe the physical Jews, or children of Abraham by physical descent. We also can discern from the context of the passage, both historical and grammatical, what the writer meant by 'natural'. I believe that when Paul gave the Corinthians ( and us ) the principle above, he was saying just what Jesus had told Nicodemus in John 3, that one must first be born according to the flesh, or naturally, before he could be born ( again ) according to the Spirit.
( Strangely enough; Wright then refers to Romans 8:9-11, as indicative of the 'fact' that God will not only give us a spiritual body, but will also give life to our mortal bodies. I believe that God has given life to our mortal bodies, and that this 'life' is the spiritual body that Paul promises! )
The author again seems to 'grasp at' the truth when he makes the comment that,
'Jesus..........announces that the hour for this had already arrived', quoting Jesus' words in John 5:24-30;
' Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.'
I commend Wright for acknowledging this accomplished fact, but, as always; he seems to want to revert to the traditional 'orthodox' doctrine of 'already, not yet', that Christ will, at some point in the future, return to rule physically on this earth with 'a rod of iron'. ( more on this later )
Commenting on the crucifixion as Luke records it in Luke 23:39-43, where Jesus told the thief next to Him, 'Today you will be with me in Paradise': Wright says, 'Luke must have understood Him to be referring to a state of being-in-Paradise which would be true, for Him and and for the man dying beside Him, at once, that very day-in other words, prior to the resurrection.' ( emphasis Wright's )
Without going into much discussion on the nature of the resurrection ( I have already done this ); let me just re-emphasize, as strongly as I can, Jesus' words to Martha, in John 11:
“I am the resurrection and the life."
In His next few words; Jesus simply reiterates this: 'He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.'
It's so plain, to me anyway, that Jesus was reminding Martha, and all His hearers, that He *was* the resurrection; if one had Him, or rather, was had ( held-John 10:27-29 ) *by* Him, then he *was* resurrected ( Romans 6:13 Colossians 3:4 ).
Speaking of heaven ( as the abode of God ); the author here states that 'heaven' is actually just a reverent way of speaking about God so that 'riches in heaven' simply means 'riches in God's presence' ( as we see when, elsewhere, Jesus talks about someone being or not being 'rich toward God' )', but then, he says, 'by derivation from this primary meaning, heaven is the place where God's purposes for the future are stored up.' ( emphasis mine ) He continues: 'It isn't where they are meant to stay so that one would need to go to heaven to enjoy them; it is where they are kept safe against the day when they will become a reality on earth.' ( emphasis mine )
Let me ask you a question ( of my readers, and Dr. Wright, if he should feel so inclined ); 'what *are* these riches ( before God )?' Do you think that these riches before God are physical rewards? Are they substantial ( as our riches on earth ), or are they of a more spiritual nature? Remember that Paul told the church at Ephesus, in Ephesians 1:3, 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.' How much more do we need, to see that we *have* everything we need?! To work out these blessings on earth, I believe, is *our* job, the reason for which God has made us 'a new creation' and the 'healing leaves' of the Tree of Life, of Revelation 22:2! Another question that one might ask; 'what *are* God's purposes for the ( our ) future?' Scripture hints at God's future for His people; but as Scripture is brought to focus more with God's covenant people up to and including the first century, it doesn't really give us a very clear picture of His future plans for us ( His twenty-first-century covenant people ) except that we are meant to be the 'healing leaves' that I mentioned above, and as Wright said, 'to act as stewards in His project of ( new ) creation'!
Wright next 'tackles' the resurrection as taught by Paul in his letters to the church ( es ) in Corinth, beginning with the second letter, back into the first. In almost a seeming contradiction to the statement that he previously made, he writes;
'The passage about resurrection in II Corinthians 4 & 5 within Paul's long and passionate description of his own apostle-ship. He speaks of "having this treasure in jars of clay" to show that what matters is God's power", and not his own.' ( emphasis mine )
Would 'this treasure' be the same as those 'spiritual blessings' that he told the Ephesian church about? If so; why do we look for Jesus to return ( from Heaven ) with them, in order to make them 'a reality on earth'; isn't that our job? If not; then what *is* this 'treasure.......in jars of clay', and why do we hold them? This sounds somewhat akin to the 'parable of the talents' that Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30.
24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Returning now, to the subject of the resurrection; Wright affirms, against those that would see somewhat of Platonism in Paul's final words in chapter 4, that this is 'Certainly not!' the case:
'In chapter 5 Paul speaks of the new tent or tabernacle that is waiting for us. There is a new house, a new dwelling, a new body, waiting within God's sphere ( again 'heaven' ), ready for us to put it on over the present one so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.' ( emphasis mine )
While it is true that Paul told the Ephesians, in Ephesians 4:24; 'put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.'; he also told the people of God, in Colossians 3: 9 & 10: 'Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.' Paul plainly said that we have already put on the 'new man', he says also in this second letter ( to the Corinthians ) that we *are* a 'new creation': does Scripture ( Paul in particular ) ever hint of a newer creation? We have already been renewed in the image of God! What more could we want; what more could we ask for; what more could we need?! We have, as it were, already been 'swallowed up by life'! Remember what Jesus told Martha? 'I *am* the Life...............whoever............believes in Me will *never* die!' That tells me, whether it seems that way or not, that we 'sit together ( with Christ & each other ) in the heavenly ( places )', and, as Paul also said, in Ephesians 2:22, we are 'built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.'
After a lengthy discourse on the assumptions that many people have made concerning the nature of a 'spiritual body', Wright argues, yet again, that 'the contrast is between the present body, corruptible, decaying, and doomed to die, and the future body, incorruptible, undecaying, and never to die again.' ( emphasis mine )
I would remind my readers that David-a type of Christ-prophesied ( concerning the Christ ) in Psalm 16:10: 'For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.'
We must remember that, although David prophesied of the Christ; he primarily wrote this of himself ( though his physical body * did* see corruption ), and of God's Holy ones, those who are one with, or 'in' Christ! Also; Jesus' words in John 11 would seem to indicate to the contrary.
Wright now enters into a discussion of the usage of the Greek psychikos, which we have already discussed, and which Paul uses prominently in his writings. Wright points out that some versions, the Revised Standard Version in particular, translates the Greek psychikos as 'physical' rather than 'natural' which he says is misleading. He writes that,
'Paul is talking about the present body, which is animated by the normal human psyche ( the life-force which we all possess here and now, which gets us through the present life but is ultimately powerless against illness, injury, decay, and death ), and the future body, which is animated by God's pneuma, God's breath of new life, the energizing power of God's new creation.' ( emphasis mine )
Again, we might argue: 'are we not now 'energized' by the Holy Spirit within us?' Are we not, as Paul says, 'a new creation'? I hate to say this about a brother ( or brothers-futurists ) in Christ , but the implication of this statement can really cause problems! At the very least; it tells us that, unless you would 'wrest' Scripture and make it say something other than what it plainly says, that the apostles were mistaken when they said things like 'the coming of the Lord is at hand', or 'the end of all things is at hand', and to the greatest extent, that Christ was not true God, for if He has not come, nor fully redeemed us, as He promised, He was greatly mistaken when He said 'you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.' and 'there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.' We must remember the context of not only where and when these words, both Christ's and His apostles, were given, but to whom-the first-century church.
Answering the question of 'why will we be given new bodies ( in the Resurrection )?', Wright makes the comment that,
'According to the early Christians, the purpose of this new body will be to rule wisely over God's new world. Forget those images of lounging around playing harps. There will be work to do and we shall relish doing it.' ( emphasis mine )
My main problem with this statement, of course, is the 'will-be's', the 'shall'; so without going into this too much ( I've already covered this, and will treat this subject more in the final section ), let me just say that our purpose, as Christians, the 'Israel of God', is to rule over ( take dominion ) over His creation, and that there already is work to do, that we should not only 'relish': we should be doing it............NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!
One also might ask the question, 'what work will need doing?': Wright answers this in his next statement,
'In terms of the vision of original creation in Genesis 1 and 2, the garden will need to be tended once more and the animals renamed.' ( emphasis mine )
I do not mean to ridicule a fellow-Christian; but how much more do you need to see, to understand that this has happened, and that it's been happening all along! First, Abram was 'changed' to Abraham, then Jacob was re-named Israel, all pointing to, and leading up to the renaming of God's people, including Jews *and* Gentiles: the name of Christ, or Christian! What is the garden of God, but His natural, good creation? God has re-formed us in His image in order that we might take dominion over, or 'tend' it!
There is much more here, in this 10th chapter, that needs treating; but, as I would be repeating myself, and also for the sake of space and time, I will let my readers see for themselves, if they so desire, and decide whether or not Wright is 'on the right track' here. Suffice it to say that, in the next section, the final few chapters of Wright's book; we will find our greatest agreement, as far as the subject matter that he covers.
As I said before; I want it to be abundantly clear: even though I disagree with much of Wright's doctrine, particularly his eschatological doctrine, along with that of all futurists ( even some preterists ): I can, with a clear conscience, call him 'brother', and I do not believe that, because I believe that I hold to a more correct doctrine, I am in any sense 'closer to God' or in any way, better than him!
We enter now, into a discussion, in this 11th and final chapter of this section, of where the dead are now. Wright asks the question, 'How should we think of them?', in the final words of chapter 10. Explaining the increasing lack of emphasis on the ( final ) resurrection after the 16th century and throughout the medieval period; Wright comments, concerning Dante's portrayal, along with many of the 'mystery plays' of the era,
'There was such a place as heaven; some souls had already made it there, and they were therefore to be thought of as saints: they were in the presence of God; what more could they want?' ( emphasis mine )
This actually sounds almost strangely familiar! Paul, in Ephesians 2:22, from which I've quoted already, says, 'you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit' ! Peter, in his first epistle, and verse 5, says, 'you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house', and turning again, to Jesus' own words in John 14:23: 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' We *are* in the presence of God; here and now!
The author points out that 'Purgatory is basically a Roman Catholic doctrine.' I mention this subject because I have noted several different views on this subject, which Wright has has discussed at more length in this chapter. A friend of mine and I used to speculate much on this subject, kind of 'off the cuff', and could almost find a Scriptural basis for some sort of doctrine concerning an 'in-between place'. I believe that 'Paradise' ( as in Luke 23:43 ) and 'Abraham's Bosom' ( as in Luke 16:19-31 ) are what we think of most often, as that 'in between place', between heaven and hell, where the dead rest ( ed ) until the final resurrection, their entrance into heaven. I have since come to a much different conclusion, that there is no 'in-between place', that Christ is is our paradise, that we 'lean upon His bosom, and that in Him we rest!
One quote that Wright made here comes from the new Pope, formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger:
'Building on I Corinthians 3, he ( Ratzinger ) argued that the Lord Himself is the fire of judgment, which transforms us as He conforms us to His glorious, resurrected body.' ( emphasis mine )
A pretty interesting statement, coming from a Roman Catholic! I have encountered this kind of thinking before, and although I would likely disagree with much of Ratzinger's doctrine, including, I'm sure, his eschatology; his statement rings true, in that God is often linked with fire in the prophetic Scriptures. Think of Hebrews 12:29 ( Deuteronomy 4:24 ), I Corinthians 3:13-5, Luke 12:49, Zechariah 2:5, Amos 5:6, Ezekiel 28:18, 19:14, Lamentations 1:13, Jeremiah 23:29, 4:4, Isaiah 33:14 ( see also Psalm 5:4-6 ), 31:9, 10:17, Psalm 104:4, 68:2, II Kings 2:11, etc.
Some have postulated that the 'Lake of Fire' from Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 14 & 15 and 21:8 was/is nothing else but God Himself! The writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 12:29, does say, quoting from Deuteronomy 4:24, 'For our God is a consuming fire.' In a very physical sense; I believe that the conflagration of AD70, with the burning of the Temple was a physical representation of the 'Lake of Fire'; so it would make sense to say that God Himself was this 'Lake of Fire' into which 'death and Hell ( Hades ) were cast'.
Wright further states, speaking of the tendency of many twentieth-century theologians to 'soft-pedal' the 'sure and certain hope' of the Reformers,
'If we know our own hearts, and those of the people to whom we minister, we know that we are not ready for final bliss.' ( emphasis mine )
No real argument there Mr. Wright; but 'what is 'final bliss'?' Paul said that we already have 'every spiritual blessing', that we 'sit together in the heavenly ( 'places' ) in Christ Jesus'; what more could we want, or ask? He indeed, lo0ked forward to the day when he would be 'absent from the body' and 'present with the Lord'; but also spoke of the Day when they would 'always be with the Lord.' In a purely human, even carnal sense; I would agree with the author: we are not ready ( in the sense of worthiness? ) for these innumerable blessings! I think that we must remember though, that God, in Christ, has deemed us worthy, even saying that we are 'perfected forever'; as I like to say: 'it's not what we do, it's what He has done!' Must we do the works? A better question would be, 'will we do the works?' The answer is, 'yes; we *will* do the works, if we have been made 'a new creation'!
Because he disavows belief in any sort of Purgatory, but rather a 'just like that' transformation from a 'still-sinful person' to a 'no-longer-sinful person' ; the accusation has been made that he must think that God is some kind of magician, to which Wright remarks,
'Death itself gets rid of all that is still sinful; this isn't magic but good theology.' ( the Reformers taught this, he says ) 'There is nothing left then to purge.' ( emphasis mine )
I have been accused, as I said before, of being a Platonist for making similar statements! Is it truly in the physical, fleshly body where the sin nature, inherited in Adam, lies? At the very worst; this kind of thinking could lead to a denial of the humanity of the Christ, and at least, to placing undue emphasis on doctrines such as 'the virgin birth'.( I do not deny the 'virgin birth'! ) I have always wondered why the Reformers ( especially modern-day ) put so much stock in 'the ( future ) resurrection of the body': they borrowed the notion that the physical shell which we now wear is where the evil dwells, and that by shedding that physical shell, we shall have gotten rid of sin, once for all! Sound familiar? Those words were used to describe what Jesus *has* done for us! The apostle John, in I John 3:9, said that 'Whoever has been born of God does not sin......' I had written a paper, some years ago, asking the question, 'Can a Christian Sin?'; but since I have written that paper, several years have passed, and I have gained maybe a little better understanding of what John meant when he wrote the words above. I think that John was saying, not that Christians never transgress the Law of God ( love ), but that if one has truly been born of God, he no longer practices sin ( as a lifestyle )! Some may look at passages like Romans 6:7, where Paul said 'he who has died has been freed from sin.', and say that Paul is speaking there of physical death, but in context; Paul is clearly speaking of the death that we have died with Christ, the death unto sin! Verse 2 reveals the context: Paul wrote here, 'How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?'
Finally then; Wright points out that 'anyone with a faint understanding of Paul' ( referring to the ending verses of Romans 8, in particular ) would find this teaching ( of Purgatory ) 'abhorrent'. He writes; 'In fact; Paul makes it clear here and elsewhere that it's the present life that is meant to function as a purgatory.' I can agree somewhat with the author here; beside the fact that he bases this statement on the assumption that we have already but not yet, 'passed from death to life', and that he seems, contrary to what he has asserted previously, to believe in some sort of 'purgatory', even though he stresses that 'There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus'. This life, our physical existence, I believe, is our opportunity to serve God! In a sense, it is a purging time; but I must again remind my readers that 'He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. ' Even though we are 'being sanctified'; He *has* 'perfected' us! It is an accomplished fact; not because it is physically evident in our lives, not because we are sinless, but because He has made us that way! Again; I am *not* saying that we have no responsibility to do right, to 'purge' ourselves from known transgressions, or failures, in our physical existence, because we do, and we should strive ( against our 'fleshly nature' ) to do right!
Launching into a discussion of yet another view of an 'in-between state', that of 'Paradise', as in Jesus' words to the thief on the cross, or 'Abraham's Bosom', as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; Wright makes this interesting and almost contradictory statement:
'It is a state in which the dead are held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ while they await that day. There is no reason why this state should not be called heaven, though we must note once more how interesting it is that the New Testament routinely doesn't call it that and uses the word heaven in other ways.' ( emphasis mine )
Without going into a lengthy explanation of the 'day of the Lord', which I assume is what he is speaking of here, I want to point out the fact that Wright has admitted that the first-century church, to whom Christ and the apostles gave these promises, expected this 'day of the Lord' within their own lifetime!
Following naturally then, from what he said above, 'Since both the departed saints and we ourselves are in Christ, we share with them in the 'communion of saints'. He follows this though, by asserting that it is through the Eucharist, or 'Lord's Supper' that we commune with them, as with Christ Himself! I explained, in my article 'Discerning the Body', that we are the fulfillment of the 'Lord's Supper', that *we* are the Body that we are partaking in; as Paul said, we are 'His body the church'!
In further discussing this idea of a 'communion with the saints', and of the advocacy of those 'souls under the altar' continually praying for the justice of God upon their adversaries, and to 'complete the work of justice and salvation in the world'; Wright says that 'there is no reason, in principle, why they should not urge the Father similarly on our behalf': he continues, 'in the same vein',
'Or if, from another point of view, they are indeed 'with Christ' and if part of the work of the ascended Christ is indeed to be ruling the earth as the agent of His Father, we might indeed suppose that the dead are somehow involved in that, not merely as spectators of that ongoing work. ( emphasis mine )
Again; Wright seemingly bases his whole theology here upon the assumption that the 'souls under the altar' referred to any but those first-century Christians who had been beheaded or otherwise suffered, as Christians, either at the hands of the Jews or Romans, both of which were adversaries of God's people. We can agree that Christ is to be ruling the earth ( see Psalm 2 ), and that the 'dead' have a greater part in that rule ( Revelation 20:4-6 ); but there is where we must agree to disagree; Christ told His servants, 'Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.' This after His promise that, 'this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.' There is a tendency in the church of the 'ages' to look at Christ's words and apply them directly to us, which can lead to grave assumption, and even error. We should apply the promises of the Gospel to our lives; but we should always keep in mind, especially when a specific ' day' or 'hour' is mentioned, that those promises were , if not primarily, then directly given to the first-century church, the Body of believers in Christ!
'The important thing is that we grasp the central hope of the ultimate resurrection, ( Interestingly enough, this is our greatest point of agreement, and also our greatest point, ultimately, of contention! ) 'set within the new creation itself ( aren't *we* the new creation? ) and that we reorder all our thinking and speaking about every other after-death question in that light.'
Having discussed the 'after-death' doctrines of Purgatory and Paradise; Wright now turns to a discussion of the doctrine of Hell, as it is most often viewed. Speaking of Gehenna, as the garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the valley of Hinnom, to which Jesus referred in that famous passage in Mark 9, as a place where 'Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched'; Wright explains,
'But, as with His language of heaven, so with His talk of Gehenna; once Christian readers had been sufficiently distanced from the original meaning of the words, alternative images would come to mind, generated not by Jesus or the New Testament but by the stock of images, some of them extremely lurid, supplied by ancient and medieval folklore and imagination.' ' The point is', he says, 'that when Jesus was warning His hearers about Gehenna, He was not, as a general rule, telling them that unless they repented in this life they would burn in the next one'. He further points out, 'As with God's Kingdom, so with it's opposite; it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else.' ( emphasis mine )
If you have ever read much Greek mythology, you might have noticed that much of it seems to borrow, to one degree or another, from the traditional, even orthodox interpretation of certain biblical 'doctrines. I wonder, sometimes, if the exact opposite is not true. Take the doctrine of the ( inherent ) immortality of the soul: One must assume a few things that are not plainly said in Scripture, in order to come up with the idea that man possesses an ( inherently ) immortal soul; so where does this 'doctrine' come from? I won't say that the idea of an 'immortal soul' originated with the Greeks, for there are civilizations as old or older than that ; but most notably, probably; this idea was propagated by Plato! As implied earlier; I like and agree with much of what Wright has written here, but, as much of his doctrinal stance is based on this false doctrine of the immortality of the soul: so many of his doctrines are suspect, because he bases them, to whatever extent, on this or other false doctrine!
Truly then, there is no such thing as 'life after life after death'! I can easily understand what Wright is saying here, and probably most orthodox Christians would agree; but as Jesus told Martha, in John 11:26, 'whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.' I know that the author would have to agree that Jesus was speaking of, first, physical life, and lastly of spiritual; but there's where the difference in our theologies comes: because of his belief in the immortality of the soul, Wright seemingly makes a difference between our physical life now, and our supposed future spiritual life! There is no difference, for the Christian, between his physical and spiritual lives. After the Christian sheds this 'husk'; will he lead a different sort of existence? Most likely, but we can really only speculate about it!
Along the same 'lines' then; he writes, speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70,
'Rome would turn Jerusalem into a hideous, stinking extension of it's own smoldering rubbish heap. When Jesus said 'Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish' ( Luke 13:3 & 5 ), that is the primary meaning that He had in mind.' 'It is therefore only by extension, and with difficulty, that we can extrapolate from the many Gospel sayings that articulate this urgent, immediate warning to the deeper question of a warning about what may happen after death itself.' ( emphasis mine ) He continues ( and I must quote at length here ), 'The two parables that appear to address this question directly are, we should remember, *parables*, not actual descriptions of the after-life. They use stock imagery from ancient Judaism, such as 'Abraham's bosom', not to teach about what happens after death but to insist on justice and mercy within the present life. This is not to say that Jesus would have dissented from their picture of post-mortem realities ( Wright must tread carefully here ). It is, rather, to point out that to take the scene of Abraham, the Rich Man, and Lazarus literally is about as sensible as trying to find out the name of the Prodigal Son. Jesus simply didn't say very much about the future life; He was, after all, primarily concerned to announce that God's kingdom was coming 'on earth, as in heaven'. He gave ( as we have seen ) no fresh teaching on the question of the resurrection apart from dark hints that it was going to happen, and happen soon ( in fact, was already happening-John 5: 25 ) to one person ahead of everyone else; for the rest, He was content to reinforce the normal Jewish picture. In the same way, He was not concerned to give any fresh instruction on postmortem judgment apart from the strange hints that it was going to be dramatically and horribly anticipated in one particular way, in space-time history, within a generation.' ( emphasis mine )
I believe that the author correctly represents Jesus here, when he affirms that the warnings He gave were primarily meant for the ears of the first-century church; but because of his futurist eschatology, he dares not take these statements to their 'logical conclusions' and see that the resurrection * was* happening, *has* happened, and that it is *still* happening ( everyday-in Christ )! Remember what Jesus told Martha? 'I AM the resurrection............'! When one believes on Christ, he has been raised from the dead, and now has the ( eternal ) life of Christ ( Romans 6:11, I Corinthians 15:22 )!
Wright now addresses one of the 'problems' that he sees in the church today ( we should all note this ); that of the mentality of 'I'm okay, you're okay', of 'inclusivity' rather than 'exclusivity', and the lack of the teaching of judgment, because it's not 'politically correct'.
'Judgment-the sovereign declaration that 'this' is good and to be upheld and vindicated, and 'that' is evil and to be condemned- is the only alternative to chaos.'
I must admit, here, that I myself have declared that 'Inclusivity, not exclusivity, is the key'! In context; I was speaking of yet another 'problem' in the modern church: the mentality that 'we have arrived!', that 'our doctrine, and no other, is correct and orthodox', that one certain denomination has an 'edge' over the rest, because they believe that what they teach is more pure than other, lesser denominations. Now, having said all that; I believe that there *is* one true, correct, and orthodox doctrine, and that it is, as Jesus and the apostles all taught 'Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.' ( Deuteronomy 6:4&5 ) Jesus later confirmed this doctrine to the scribes and Pharisees, in Matthew 22:37-40; 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Peter and John taught that 'there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.' ( Acts 4:12 ) James said 'Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.' *This* is the doctrine that is exclusive, not the 'doctrines of men' which say 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle' ( Colossians 2:21 ). As long as human beings people the church of God, we will have differences of 'opinion' on certain matters, but the doctrine that Jesus Christ, as the only begotten Son of God, came to this earth as a human being and fully paid ( once for all ) the penalty for our sin, is the only doctrine which, I believe, can be said to be exclusive. Did Christ die only for those who believe this? Most assuredly! Is this number inclusive of those who may believe ( and teach, even ) that he may not eat all things, ie., that have not yet fully realized the liberties that we have in Christ Jesus, nor maybe even, our state through grace? I believe that these are every bit as much covered by the exclusivity of that grace as we who believe that we may eat all things. Look at Romans chapter 14!
Although I may have disagreement with Wright, because of his eschatological beliefs, on the timing and nature of the judgment that he speaks of; I believe in the judgment of God, that He has called 'this' good, and declared 'that' evil which is contrary to His Word!
After making further discussion of the subject, the author concludes, along with Miroslav Volf; 'there must be 'exclusion' before there can be 'embrace'; evil must be identified, named and dealt with before there can be reconciliation.' Naming Desmond Tutu's 'mind-blowing' work in South Africa; he states,
'I find it quite impossible, reading the New Testament on one hand and the newspaper on the other, to suppose that there will be no ultimate condemnation, no final loss, no human beings to whom, as C.S. Lewis put it, God will eventually say '*Thy* will be done'. I wish it were otherwise, but one cannot forever whistle 'There's a wideness in God's mercy' in the darkness of Hiroshima, of Auschwitz, of the murder of children and the careless greed that enslaves millions with debts not their own.' ( emphasis mine )
Will there be a 'final judgment' where God will finally rid the world of evil, and turn it into 'heaven on earth'? Personally: I don't think so! The 'final judgment' that Jesus, Paul, and all the apostles spoke of as 'imminent' was fulfilled in the first century, when, how, and where they said it would be! We can only speculate, and wrongly, I believe, that there will be a 'final judgment' of the nature of which Wright speaks. I believe, as I've written before, that, as there is now *no* condemnation for those in Christ, and Jesus said 'He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.' ( John 3:17 ), that judgment ( for the non-believer ) is an ongoing thing. I believe in 'natural consequences', both for the believer and for the non-believer. The believer however, will never face condemnation ( before God ) and the non-believer is condemned in this bodily existence, and speculatively, will face a sort of 'final judgment' when he passes from this bodily existence.
Wright then discusses the several different main views on what happens to a person after the physical body dies, or perishes, that of the traditional view of 'eternal conscious torment', the universal view of salvation, which shudders at the thought of a good God who would cast one of His creatures into that 'eternal conscious punishment', and a 'middle way' offered by the conditionalists, who believe that the immortality of the 'soul' is conditional on being in Christ, and that those who do not confess faith in Christ will simply cease to exist: Wright offers another option, 'combining', he says, 'the strong points of the first and third.'
'The greatest objection to the traditional view in recent times-and the last two hundred years have seen a massive swing toward universalism in the Western churches, at least the so-called mainstream ones-has come from the deep revulsion many feel at the idea of the torture chamber of the middle of the castle of delights, the concentration camp in the middle of the beautiful countryside, the idea that among the delights of the blessed we should include the contemplation of the torments of the wicked.'
Concerning the 'conditional' view; Wright comments: 'The conditionalist avoids this at the apparent cost of belittling those scriptural passages that appear to speak unambiguously of a *continuing* state for those who reject the worship of the true God and the way of humanness which follows from it.' ( emphasis mine )
Although I do believe 'conditional immortality'; because I have no problem 'breaking' with tradition, I have no problem seeing the hyperbolic sense in which the passages that Wright mentioned are meant. Particularly; the Old Testament prophet's usage of 'forever' is often used in that context. We have covered this before, in previous articles; but when Isaiah wrote, in Isaiah 34:10, of the destruction of the enemies of God's people, Edom in particular, he said: 'It shall not be quenched night or day; Its smoke shall ascend forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; No one shall pass through it forever and ever.' Does this sound familiar? John uses nearly the same language in Revelation 20:10: 'The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where;[b] the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.'
In reference to Wright's previous statement, about the objections to the traditional view; John, in Revelation 22:15, said, 'outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.' It is fairly clear from Scripture that the blessedness of the righteous and the damnation of the wicked occur on the same plane. Several chapters earlier, in Revelation 14:10&11, John says 'he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.' Jesus seems to indicate this as well, in Luke 16:19-31, when He said, ' And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.'
Following this line of thought; Wright now introduces an interesting, if un-orthodox subject, with this statement:
'When human beings give their heart-felt allegiance to and worship that which is not God; they progressively cease to reflect the image of God.'
This would seem a plain enough truth at first glance, because we do not reflect that image when we give our service to other than God; but we must remember too, that, having been re-made in that image, through the new birth, we do reflect that image through our good works, our service to God, and each other, in the love of Christ. Non-believers, of course, do not do this, and therefore, as Wright said, do not 'reflect the image of God'. The author goes on to suggest that 'it is possible for human beings so to continue down this road, so to refuse all whisperings of good news, all glimmers of the true light, all promptings to turn and go the other way, all signposts to the love of God, that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.', and further, that 'those creatures that still exist in an ex-human state, no longer reflecting their maker in any meaningful sense, can no longer excite in themselves or others the natural sympathy some feel even for the hardened criminal.'
Wright admits, after making these statements, that he has wandered into 'territory that no one can claim to have mapped' ( although I have toyed with the idea for some years, even making the notation in my Bible; 'Unbelievers do not have the image of God!' ) I'm not sure if I can claim to totally understand what Wright is 'driving at' here, or even what I have quoted him as saying; but insofar as I believe that those who are 'dead' ( 'in trespasses and sin' ), even though they may still have a bodily existence on this earth, being 'condemned already', do not bear the image of God, much less reflect that image, which image is Christ!
Before Wright reaches his final conclusions in this second part of his book; he finally states that, 'I should be glad to be proved wrong but not at the cost of the foundational claims that this world is the good creation of the one true God and that He will at the end bring about that judgment at which the whole creation will rejoice.' As scripture says, 'let God be true but every man a liar.' As I said before; 'Will there be a 'final' judgment?' I don't believe so; but God alone knows! I can say one thing for sure; the 'final judgment', the 'end' that Scripture speaks of was fulfilled in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD63-70, which interestingly enough, was about 3 1/2 years , or 1290 days ( Daniel 12:11 )!
As the author 'wraps up' his conclusions so far, and leading into the third and final section; he reiterates that 'heaven and hell are not, so to speak, what the whole game is about.' 'This', he declares, 'is one of the central surprises of the Christian hope.' Later on, he writes, 'The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God's purpose of rescue and re-creation of the whole world, the entire cosmos.' This will come up more in the next section of Wright's book; but he points out here, that Jesus told John, in Revelation 22:2, in describing this 'new heavens and new earth'; 'The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.' As he stated earlier in his book, 'we have been enlisted to act as stewards in His project of ( new ) creation.'
Wright then asks a very leading question, one which we've already answered, and to which the answer should be fairly obvious by now.
'How will we Christians contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in His new world.'
This question, like many of the questions that he asks and the statements that he makes, is based on the assumption that God's plans include destruction of the physical world and a rebuilding of the same. In II Peter 3, we read 'For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.' Along with so many other futurists: Wright assumes that the flood of Noah's day was universal, covering every square inch of planet earth. Some friends of mine have covered this subject better, and in more depth, than I will here, but when Peter wrote that 'the world which the existed........perished'; it's pretty obvious ( or should be ) that he was not speaking of the physical earth ( I don't think that anyone would argue that! ), but rather the humans that inhabited that part of the physical earth, the 'world' that Noah lived in. When we read therefore, that 'the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.', we should understand Peter to be speaking of the same sort of 'world', not the actual, physical planet ( or area ), but the human inhabitants of that 'heavens and earth'.
Understanding where Wright is coming from; I can agree with what he says here, insofar as Jesus said, in Revelation 22:2, that we, His people, 'are for the healing of the nations', and it is through us, through the changes in our own lives, that God will change, or better, the lives of His people, in essence, we are the tools that He uses to bring His own to Himself, through the work of His Holy Spirit!
As we 'move to the final part' of Wright's book; he concludes the present section by presenting us ( the church, really ) with yet another question.
'How is God going to rescue the world *through* Israel and thereby rescue Israel itself as part of the process but not as the point of it all? Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: not to focus on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how He is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew His creation *through human beings*and how He is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all.' ( emphasis mine )
Again; we have seen that, for instance, when Paul wrote that 'the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.', in Romans 8:22, he was not speaking, as Peter ( above ) speaking of the physical creation, the planet we call earth, but of His human creation, and in particular, His covenant people Israel! Another problem that we should note with Wright's statement is his usage of the phrase 'going to': I realize that, unless one has seen that these promises were mainly spiritual in nature, and that they have been, and are being fulfilled 'in' Christ ( I mean that those who have believed on Jesus have been rescued from the 'wages of sin', because they 'will never die' ), they will continue o 'see' the events as 'yet future'!
Also interesting is the next remark that the author makes here, ending this chapter and section 'on this note': 'If we could read Romans and Revelation-and the rest of the New Testament, of course-in the light of the reframing of the question ( of the reason for our redemption ), I think we would find much food for thought' ( we might better say, 'action'-emphasis mine-thanks, Andre' ) !
I couldn't agree more, Dr. Wright!
Wright introduces the final section of his book, which he has titled 'Rethinking Salvation: Heaven, Earth, and the Kingdom of God'; by posing yet another question: 'Is it simply a matter of getting our preaching and teaching right and of ordering our funerals and other liturgies so that they reflect biblical teaching about death and what lies beyond instead of nonbiblical and even antibiblical ideas that have crept into the church here and there?' This a good question; one that church leaders and lay-persons alike should not only think about when making church polity, but act upon in their mission to the 'world', both those within and those without the church! I think that what Wright is 'driving at' here, is the answer to the ultimate question: 'Why did God redeem us from the bondage of sin, and recreate us in His image?'
Were we delivered so that we could 'go to Heaven ( instead of Hell ) when we die'? I think that we shall see, as we enter this last section, that the authors purpose here is to disprove this concept that the modern church, in particular, the fundamental evangelical, has seemingly latched onto, and to show that we have been 'saved to serve', in other words that we should be 'for the healing of the nations', to bring God's Kingdom on earth.
In the course of addressing this issue, and others related, he points out that 'a good many Easter hymns start by assuming that the point of Easter ( Christ's resurrection ) is that it proves the existence of life after death and encourages us to hope for it', and then that this is combined with 'a view of that life after death in which the specific element of resurrection has been quietly removed.' 'May we go where He has gone', we sing at the end of one well-known hymn, 'rest and reign with Him in heaven' ( from the 18th century hymn, 'Jesus Lives!') 'But that', Wright says, 'is is precisely *not* the point that the New Testament draws from the resurrection.' The author than says what he believes that point to be ( I agree, in theory, with him here ); 'Earth-the renewed earth-is where the reign will take place, which is why the New Testament regularly speaks not of our going to be where Jesus is but of His coming to where we are, as we saw in the previous part of the book.' Again, take the futuristic phrase 'will take place' out of Wright's statement above, and enter something like 'is taking place', and I would agree completely! He also seems to have accepted wholly the traditional idea that the physical creation ( earth, stars, planets, etc. ) was ruined by the Fall, which, I think, we have seen to be a rather preposterous idea! Granted; Jesus *does * say, in John 14:2, 'I go to prepare a place for you.'; but I believe that Jesus here is speaking metaphorically, qualitatively rather than quantitatively, of a higher, better, 'plane', or state of existence. As I have quoted before, from Ephesians 2:22, Paul wrote that 'you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.' Peter wrote that, 'you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.'( I Peter 2:5 ) God has dwelt among His people ( in a type ) in the Old Testament Scriptures; in the Captivity, He removed, as it were, His Presence ( in a type ) from them, or rather, removed them from His Presence; but in the New Covenant in Christ, He once again dwells among ( and in ) His people!
We will see, as we move through this final section of Wright's book, that the point of Christ's resurrection, is that, through Jesus' resurrection, we are brought from the bondage of servitude to sin ( death ), to the freedom of service to Christ ( life )! Now, because of the Resurrection, we no longer must service our own wants and desires, but are able, through the life and strength we have in Christ, to serve Him and each other as the aforementioned 'leaves of the Tree'!. As Wright says, 'Precisely because the resurrection has happened as an event within our own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and now.'( emphasis mine )
As we have seen earlier, in other words, it is because of Christ's resurrection, and hence our 'new life', that we are able to do 'good works, that they may praise our Father in heaven'. As we live out ( prove ) our own salvation before the 'world' ( of unbelievers ) we not only build each other ( Christians ) up, but we become 'the aroma of life leading to life.' Lest I be accused, as many modern evangelicals are, of putting the emphasis on personal salvation as 'going to heaven when you die', or merely 'getting saved'; I want to make clear what I believe God's purpose was in bringing us from 'dead works to serve the living God'. As I said earlier, to use an old cliche, we have been 'saved to serve'; in other words, we have been given new life in order that we, through the second Adam ( Christ ), may fulfill, or carry out, the original mandate given to the first Adam: dominion! We are to rule, with Christ, the things that we have been given the stewardship over!
In other words, Wright says much the same thing when he asserts that 'the point of this final section of the book is that a proper grasp of the *future* hope held out to us in Jesus Christ leads directly and, to many people, equally surprisingly, to a vision of the *present* hope that is the basis of all Christian mission.' Though I must disagree with the future aspect of Wright's assertion, because I believe that it is based on a misunderstanding of certain biblical truths; I agree with him that, with a proper view of what Christ has done for ( and in ) us, we can better focus on the 'here and now', the job that God has given us to do; as I said in my last article in the series 'A Focus on the Physical'; 'I realize that in the past, I've spoken disparagingly of, and even degraded a focus on the physical, but I will strive now, to show how taking our focus off of the physical ( not necessarily a bad thing ), and focusing instead, on the greater spiritual aspects of Life, will allow us to have a better focus, or outlook, on the physical aspects of this life, in Christ.'
Speaking of the fact that Jesus was persecuted by the Pharisees, not so much for what He said, but for what He *did*; Wright says 'what He was promising for that future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is ( was would fit better here, since Jesus was dealing with that apostate generation ) so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God's ultimate purpose-and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger project. ( emphasis mine ) Paul said, in I Corinthians 3:9, ' For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.' John told his children, in III John 8; 'We therefore ought to receive[c] such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.' Jesus also to His disciples, in Matthew 9:38, 'Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.' It is abundantly clear, from Scripture, that we, as Christians, are to work together with God, to bring to light ( in actuality ) His Kingdom on earth. James tells us that 'faith without works is dead.' We can pray 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' ( from 'the Lords Prayer' in Matthew 6:9-13 ) as much as we want, and believe that it will, but as James says later on, that faith, that belief is useless unless we act upon it! Will God's Kingdom come ( on earth ) if we don't work for it? Undoubtedly so; but we will have become unfruitful, and liable to be 'cut down and thrown into the fire.' ( Matthew 3:10 ) ( I should clarify here, and I admit, that I do take this out of context a bit; but I think the same principle applies, that if we do not prove our salvation by our works, we never had the salvation that Christ has provided! )
Citing Paul's words in I Corinthians 15:58, Wright comments ( and I agree wholeheartedly ),
'The point of the resurrection, as Paul has been arguing throughout the letter, is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. God will raise it to new life.' ( Wright's emphasis )
Again, I must stress the fact that we have this 'new life' ( in Christ-Romans 6:4-6 ); this is what enables us to 'do for His good pleasure' ( Philippians 2:13 ). I readily admit that the new life ( in Christ ) that I speak of is probably not exactly what Wright has in mind when he asserts that 'God will give us new life': keeping in mind that he holds to a future physical and bodily resurrection ( like Christ's ), so I think it would be fairly safe to assume that he means a new ( bodily ) existence after physical death. In fact; this is just what Wright means when he says he believes in 'life after life after death'!
Along these lines Wright further clarifies himself;
'What you do in the present-by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself-will last into God's future......................................they are part of what we may call building for God's Kingdom.' ( Wright's emphasis )
I agree heartily with Wright's assertion here; we *are* building for God's Kingdom ( I get so frustrated with some Christians that seem to think that you're not serving the Lord full-time if you're not a missionary or an evangelist ) by doing whatever ( no matter how small or insignificant it may seem ) God has given us to do! As I write these lines; I must keep reminding myself that these injunctions are needful to me as well!
In addressing, first of all, the need for a rethinking of 'The Meaning of Salvation'; Wright indicates that, 'if God's good creation-of the world, of life as we know it, of our glorious and remarkable bodies, brains, and bloodstreams-really *is* good, and if God wants to reaffirm that goodness in a wonderful act of new creation at the last, then to see the death of the body and the escape of the soul as salvation is not simply slightly off-course, in need of a few subtle alterations or modifications. It is totally and utterly wrong. It is colluding with death.' ( emphasis mine )
We have already seen that God's new creation ( II Corinthians 5:17 ) is a present reality, but I believe that what Wright, by saying 'at the last', has in mind is that passage in II Peter 3, which, 'at the last' talks about 'new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells', the righteousness, of course, being that of Christ, in all reality, Christ Himself!( I Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:9, II Peter 1:1 ) Through the Body of Christ ( Ephesians 5:30 ), as the most blessed Holy Spirit ( Ephesians 2:22 ), God again dwells among ( in ) His people! We are His kingdom, his ( made ) new creation ( II Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5 )! Wright indicates here that it is *this* life, our earthly existence, that matters, contributing to, and partaking in the building of God's Kingdom on earth: since God has made all of this good, wouldn't it make better sense to see this 'new creation' as a re-forming of the creation that was marred, making new that part of His human creation that; accepting His Son, place their trust in Him!
I most heartily agree with the author, though, when he writes that 'the death of the body and escape of the soul as salvation.........is totally and utterly wrong'! This Platonistic idea of the physical body as 'a prison-house for the soul' ( I must admit that I have entertained this idea in the past-CHS ) has found a footing, in one form or another in much of the evangelical church today, particularly the fundamental branch. From a very basic and cursory reading of Scripture ( reading out of context doesn't help either ), it *is* fairly easy to see where one might get the idea that he longed to depart from this life, along with the 'fleshly' body, I have explained in other places why I believe that Paul was not so much a release from his physical body, but from his fleshly nature and desires. In context too, especially the historical, I think that a decent case could be made that Paul was longing for the 'change of the guard' ( I Corinthians 15:52 ), the consummation of the New Covenant age, which had been inaugurated during the ministry of Jesus Christ, and for the subsequent deliverance from the Old Covenant economy of Judaism ( Romans 7:24, II Corinthians 3:7, James 1:15, I Peter 3:18 ) !
Concerning this misunderstanding among many people today, Wright's next representative statement really 'hits home' for me! He writes;
'As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future.'
The phrase 'saving souls', and the more popular term 'soul-winning'; are terms that I am quite familiar with. As some of my readers may know, or have guessed; I attend a very hyper-fundamental, almost hyper-futurist church, where these terms are mentioned at least half a dozen times every Sunday, most during the morning worship service! I say this, not to make a spectacle of my congregation, or it's pastor, but to let my readers know that I have had some experience with this kind of behavior. I am somewhat familiar with the 'phenomena' that Wright speaks of. To a point also, I think that we can see a bit of Plato's influence in the more Reformed congregations as well as even some so-called preterists who hold that one does not truly pass from 'death to life' ( I John 3:14 ) until he physically expires ( II Corinthians 5:6-8, I Corinthians 15:50 ) ! 'At this point', the author says, then, 'the well known ( in England? ) slogan of Christian Aid, "We Believe in Life Before Death", comes into it's own. Life *before* death is what is threatened, called into question, by the idea that salvation is merely life *after* death.'
Among the many 'very interesting' statements that Dr. Wright makes, is this one:
'Salvation, then, is not "going to heaven" but "being raised to life in Gods new heaven and new earth".' ( emphasis mine )
My readers may have noticed some more-or-less obvious inconsistencies in this and other similar statements by the author. First of all; from the Scriptures: I have mentioned ( and quoted ) before, Romans 6: 4-6, as indicative of our resurrection; let me now quote it in whole:
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
Paul indicates here, that just as Christ was physically, bodily raised from the grave, we also, who were baptized by His Holy Spirit, dying to the fleshly nature, can ( should ) now walk in newness of life. Notice the parallels; Christ physically ( and spiritually, some could argue ) expired, died, on the cross, and was physically raised from death to life: we have been baptized into that death ( spiritually ), thus passing from 'death to life', in order that we might live unto Him!
My readers, and his, might recall that Wright, as all futurists, has asserted that these 'new heavens and new earth' are in our future. If then, we have not entered these 'new heavens and new earth', according to Wright's representatively inconsistent ( yet somehow consistent ) statement above, we have not been full redeemed, and have not received the full benefits of the promised salvation. Again; I do not bring this out to poke fun at Wright, or any other futurist, but that I might encourage God's people to think, and to see, as Wright quoted above, that it's all about 'Life Before Death', the new life in Christ that we have been given to serve Him and His Body, in 'healing the nations', and building ( up ) His Kingdom on earth!
The author now sums up his argument so far, in this section:
'The work of salvation , in it's fullest sense, is ( 1 ) about human beings, not merely souls; ( 2 ) about the present, not simply the future; and ( 3 ) about what God does *through* us, not merely what God does *in and for* us.'
As Wright indicated at the beginning of his book, the church as a whole, and maybe in particular the evangelical 'branch', is in need of a major rethinking of their doctrines, not least, and maybe most of all, of salvation. I have agreed with him on this point, although he and I may have reached different conclusions as to the manner and extent of that salvation.
At the beginning of his next section in this chapter, which he has entitled 'The Kingdom of God'; Wright asserts that, 'God's kingdom' and 'kingdom of heaven' mean the same thing: the sovereign rule of God ( that is, the rule of heaven, the one who lives in heaven ), which according to Jesus was and is breaking in to the present world, to earth.'
Speaking of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he further writes, 'They are designed, not to take us away from this earth but rather to make us agents of the transformation of this earth, anticipating the day when, as we are promised, ' the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea'.' ( emphasis mine )
Paul, as we've seen in I Corinthians 15:52, said that, 'the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.' This 'change', as I have explained in other articles, was and is, the putting on of the righteousness of Christ, and the putting off of the old nature, 'the sins of the flesh'. Remember too, how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane: 'I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.' ( John 17:15 ) The point that Wright is making, but still, I believe, missing the 'big picture', is that Christ's resurrection and ascension have enabled us to reflect God's image ( once more ) on earth, to, as the author wrote, 'make us agents of the transformation of this earth'. A question that I have asked before, in other words, is 'What creation of God was marred by the Fall ( of Adam & Eve ); was it the natural creation ( the physical earth, or land ), or was it His human creation?' There could be, and have been, arguments presented, both in written and oral form, that God's natural creation is included in the promised salvation: in a sense; I agree, but in the sense that Wright has written above, and which I have elsewhere asserted, that we are 'for the healing of the nations' ( Revelation 22:2 ). It is through our agency, as stewards, that God is transforming this His human creation, and through our 'love of the brethren', bringing His natural creation back under our dominion, to be used, once again, for His glory!
Quoting at length here, as we near the end of chapter 12, Wright returns to his discussion of 'the problem of evil': 'The problem of evil, which looms up as the backdrop to the gospels, is not going to be dealt with even by Jesus's healing, feastings, and teachings. It certainly won't be dealt with by His then providing His followers with a fast-track route to a distant and disembodied heaven. It can only be dealt with -the kingdom can only come on earth as in heaven-through Jesus's own death and resurrection.' Further, 'It is the story of God's Kingdom being launched on earth as it is in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively been launched, and Jesus's followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice.' ( emphasis mine )
Ending chapter 12 on this note; Wright repeats the notion ( command, really ) that we must 'put into practice' 'Heaven's rule, God's rule...........resulting in salvation in both the present and the future............both for humans and through saved humans.......this is the solid emphasis for the mission of the church.' ( Wright's emphasis )
I agree with Wright here, in that God has given us, as 'saved humans', or Christians, a job to do; as I've mentioned before, that *job* is the one given to our first father Adam, the command to 'have dominion' ( Genesis 1:28 ), in fact, the very name which we have been given, 'Israel' ( Galatians 6:16 ) has a primary ( Hebrew ) meaning of ' God prevails', but an implied ( Greek ) meaning of 'he shall be a prince of God'. The author asserts correctly above that 'evil has been decisively defeated'. He is not saying that evil no longer happens, or no longer, in the sense of an 'evil' person, exists; but that, as Paul said, in Romans 16:20, 'the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.' Again; we must 'see' ( realize ) that this promise was made to the first-century church, and so was fulfilled in the first century ( else 'shortly' doesn't mean what we think it means ). As Wright says; *all* of the above ( 'new creation', 'new world' ) has been inaugurated; but he, as so many futurists, has seemingly failed to 'see' that Jesus has not only inaugurated these things; He has accomplished them: they are a present *reality*! Paul said, in words 'plain and true', 'behold, all things have become new.' Jesus Himself repeats these words in Revelation 21:5, 'Behold, I make all things new.'
As we enter into a discussion of the 13th chapter, which Wright has entitled 'Building For the Kingdom'; I must inform my readers that I have already quoted from the beginning of this chapter, where Wright said that 'He has enlisted us to act as His stewards in the project of creation.' I want again to quote at length here, a statement that Wright has made, reasserting a previous statement; I believe that this is very important, as does Wright, to a more correct understanding of the mission of the church.
'You are-strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself-accomplishing something that in due course will become part of God's new world. Every act of love, gratitude, kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the Gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world-all of this will find it's way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.' ( emphasis mine )
I'm not sure if I can claim copyright for this; but I think that I have coined a new phrase to describe the difference between what God has done, and what we must do, what it is our responsibility to do. I call it the 'Reality/Actuality' quotient, or equation. In that previous statement, in which Wright affirmed that 'evil has been decisively defeated..............etc.'; although he acknowledges that it is 'a done deal'; I believe that his position would have to be, as so many others, an 'already/not yet' scenario. My 'reality/actuality' theorem, you might think, sounds almost the same, salvation, etc. already being a 'reality' ( God's reality ), but 'not yet', in 'actuality' being 'worked out' in our lives; but more than that is the fact that, while I believe that we inhabit God's eternity ( being one with Him-John 17:21, 11:25 & 26 ) and these things ( Ephesians 2:22 ) *are* a present reality, the reality is still true, though it may not have become an actuality at present: we do 'inhabit' the heavenlies, though we may, in the present, live in a garbage dump! I guess that what I'm trying to say is that we, though living in the present, in Time, are simultaneously living in God's Eternity, in a sense, outside of Time. Jesus said above, in John 11:26, that we will 'never die'. It follows then, I believe, that we are in Eternity *now*!
I want my readers to take note also, that in Wright's last statement, above, that he only mentions actions toward God's creatures, both His human and nonhuman creation, not His natural, or material creation, the earth, moon, sun, and stars which a plain and simple reading of Scripture would tell us ( and as most futurists believe ), in II Peter 3, for example, will be destroyed and rebuilt ( ? ). ( see also Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:25 & 26, Mark 13:24 & 25 ) To be 'environmentally', or politically correct, we should also recognize that we have also been made stewards of God's material creation ( Genesis 1:26, 2:15, 9:7 ); we have a duty as well to treat 'the land' as if we are only stewards of it, as a gift, along with everything else created, that God has given us! God called it His 'good' creation, and we should see it as such!
In further explaining and clarifying this 'mission'; Wrights remember Martin Luther's Statement where he said that the proper reaction to knowing the kingdom was coming the next day would be to go out and plant a tree: he says, 'The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God's renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.' I don't mean to bring any discredit to the good doctor's name, but this sounds somewhat dispensational! How many ages are there? I think that most theologians, precluding of course, dispensationalists would have to admit that there are two ( ages ) in sight; that of the Old Covenant, and that of the New. Jesus spoke, in Luke 20:34-36, of two ages; 'this age', and 'that age', the first being the Old Covenant age, or economy, and the second referring to the New Covenant, of which He was the minister, and in reality, as I've explained elsewhere, the embodiment of it! Another way of putting this would be to say that His 'age', the Old Covenant age, was the Time before Eternity-in the form of Jesus Christ-had fully entered into our 'world'. ( see II Kings 2:1-10, Genesis 5:21-24 ( Judges 13:19 & 20 )
Lest one get the thought in his ( or her ) head that we are telling Christians that 'it's all up to us now'; Wright further discusses the notion that, although our work on earth is important to the work of building, of bringing God's Kingdom 'on earth as it is in heaven', it is yet ( as he believes ) just a picture of what will be in the future, reminding us ( as he wishes to ) that 'God's eventual kingdom will.............be a fresh gift of transformation and renewal from the Architect Himself.' Again; one might ask the question, 'Why?' There is no doubt in my mind as to the truth of Wright's statements like 'He has enlisted us as stewards in His project of creation'; but, if this is true, and we are helping to bring His kingdom 'on earth as it is in heaven', through the power of Christ, of course: why would God need to come in later with 'a fresh gift of transformation'? I know of many Christians ( even non-Christians ) who are doing their part to 'transform' this world, speaking of the material earth. There are missionaries, all over the world, and in this country, trying to do their part to 'transform' God's human creation ( even th0ugh it is all His work of transformation ). If God's creation, both human and material, is being transformed at the present time; why would God need to do it again at some future point of time?
As the author prepares to 'launch' into the subject of God's 'justice'; he makes yet another one of his 'interesting' statements:
'This is the context within which a proper vision of biblical eschatology can and should generate a fresh, and no doubt controversial, vision of the church's mission.' ( emphasis mine )
According to the author's statement here; a 'proper vision of biblical eschatology', which, as we have seen, seems to ignore Jesus' and the apostle's audience relevant time statements like 'you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes' ( Matthew 10:23 ) , 'there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.' ( Matthew 16:28 ), 'all these things will come upon this generation'. ( Matthew 23:36 ), 'this generation will by no means pass away till all of these things take place.' ( Matthew 24:34 ), 'Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.' ( I Corinthians 10:11 ), ' 'You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. The Judge is standing at the door.' ( James 5:8 & 9 ), 'The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants-things which must shortly take place.' ( Revelation 1:1 ), 'Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.' ( Revelation 1:3 ), 'Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.' ( Revelation 3:11 ), 'And behold, I am coming quickly, to and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.' ( Revelation 22:12 ( Matthew 16:27 ), and 'He who testifies to these things says, "Surely, I am coming quickly".' ( Revelation 22:20 ), is the futurist paradigm, which hangs on a very ambiguous statement of Peter's, in II Peter 3:8: 'But beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.' Another reason that so many futurists teach a future coming of Christ, is the 'fact' that 'church history' has always taught it.
Back to Wright's 'controversial' statement; we could as easily apply it to modern-day 'full-preterism! In some of my previous articles, I have outlined in some detail, the difference that realization of the fulfilled gospel message ( in Christ ) can make in the lives of God's people; I believe that, his futurism aside, Wright has done a far better, even spectacular job of showing what the gift of salvation really means for us!
Beginning a quite lengthy discussion of the 'justice' or intention, of God; Wright remarks, 'I use this word as a shorthand for the intention of God, expressed from Genesis to Revelation, to set the whole world right-a plan gloriously fulfilled in Jesus Christ, supremely in His resurrection ( following His victory over the powers of evil and death on the cross ), and now to be implemented in the world.' ( emphasis mine )
The author correctly views God's plan ( and the unfolding implementation of that plan ) as being 'expressed from Genesis to Revelation' and, more importantly, being 'fulfilled in Jesus Christ'. This is yet another area where I would say that the reality ( eternal ) is that Jesus Christ has accomplished this; but in our actuality ( time ) it must still be implemented, by us. He further comments that the 'ongoing campaign', by Christians, 'for debt remission and ecological responsibility' are just several of the indicators that 'Gods new world has broken in to the present'. Speaking later of the Sadducees, and their real reason for opposing Jesus' and the apostle's teaching of the Old Testament doctrine of the resurrection; Wright asserts that 'they knew that the resurrection doctrine was a threat to their own position. They knew it meant that God was turning the world upside down.' ( Acts 17:6 ) 'And people who believe that God will turn the world upside down-people like Mary with her Magnificat, pulling down the mighty from their thrones and exalting the humble and the meek-are not going to be backward in getting on with some world-changing activities in the present.' He clarifies this, saying that 'it is not that, like suicide bombers, people who believe in the resurrection are more cheerful about dying because they are happy to leave this present world and escape into a glorious future.' 'It is, rather, that people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present. ( emphasis mine )
Again; we must remind ourselves, going back to that passage in II Peter 3, that the 'world' of Noah's day, which was destroyed by water, was not the physical planet, though some have argued that the planet itself bears the marks of the Great Flood: it was the people! God said, in Genesis 6:7, 'I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.' While it is true, later on, that God told Noah, 'The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.', I think it is fairly clear that God did not destroy the planet we call earth, but rather the people that were on that earth, or a portion of that earth, as the case may be. Some would argue, along with Wright, I believe, that the earth itself was 'changed' by the Noachian Flood, but Scripture makes it fairly clear that it was His physical human creation, and not the planet earth, that angered God, and was thus destroyed.
Wright now naturally discusses the 'beauty' of God's good, natural, or material creation;
'I believe that taking creation and new creation seriously is the way to understand and revitalize aesthetic awareness and perhaps even creativity among Christians today.'
Further, he reminds us that, 'the beauty of the present world, I suggested earlier in the book, has something about it of the beauty of a chalice, beautiful in itself but more hauntingly beautiful in what we know it's meant to be filled with; or that of the violin, beautiful in itself particularly because we know the music it's capable of.' ( emphasis mine )
Paul wrote, in II Corinthians 5:4, 'For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.' I think that the author correctly views the new creation as being 'further clothed' rather than being done away with, or destroyed and made anew. As Paul explains in the verse that I've quoted above, and said in Romans 8:22, 'For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.' , the 'creatures', or people of God, up to and including those of the first century, were looking forward to their completed redemption, that they might eternally 'be with the Lord.' ( I Thessalonians 4:17 ) I realize that the church, over the ages, has most often viewed Paul's words above, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, as speaking of God natural creation, of the earth itself, but I believe that, in the context of, not only Romans 8, indeed the whole book of Romans, but all of Paul's writings; it is very clear that he does not concern himself here, with the natural physical planet, but with God's human creation which He placed on that earth, in order that he might take dominion over it and subdue it under Him!
Wright now embarks on a discussion of the subject of 'evangelism': he writes, 'If we are engaging in the work of new creation, in seeking to bring advance signs of God's eventual new world into being in the present, in justice and beauty and a million other ways ( there is no space for more in this book, and justice and beauty themselves cry out, of course, for fuller treatment ), then at the center of the picture stands the personal call of the Gospel of Jesus to every child, woman and man.'
As the author says; we must keep our 'eyes' focused on the Gospel ( good news ) of Jesus Christ, and His righteousness ( Matthew 6:33 ), if we would be His fellow-workers, advancing His Kingdom on earth, and bringing our stewardship under subjection to the King of all kings!
Commenting then, on much of modern-day evangelism's focus on the 'heaven or hell' expectation; Wright asserts that he is not saying ( as I am not ) that those who present such a 'picture' of the Gospel are being ( purposely ) deceptive or mistaken ( though rather lopsided ); he says,
'No, God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news.'
In Philippians 1:15-18; Paul wrote, 'Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former[b] preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.' The important thing, according to Paul, was ( and is ) that the Gospel is preached! It is true that we have a responsibility not to preach the Word out of 'envy or strife', or from 'selfish ambition', and of course; we should not do this wrongly as that; but even though one may do so, whether out of willful disobedience or ignorance, at least the good news of what God has done for those who will accept His gracious Gift is propagated! Those who do present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a 'weakened' or otherwise deceptive state bear their own guilt in this 'world', especially if they do so out of an unfeigned, unwillful ignorance, for they, like we, have been judged righteous in Jesus Christ, and 'there is therefore, now no condemnation'!
Again, for Wright has much good to say on this subject, and which I can agree with, I must quote at length here; he writes, 'The power of the Gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire ( certainly not in the threat of being 'left behind' ), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises his hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God's new world has begun.', and later, 'But how can the church announce that God is God, Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil, corruption, and death itself have been defeated, and that God's new world has begun? Doesn't this seem laughable? Well, it would be if it wasn't happening. But if a church is working on the issues we've already looked at-if it's actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it's cheerfully celebrating God's good creation and it's rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addition, it's own internal life gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community-then suddenly, the announcement makes a lot of sense.' ( emphasis mine )
Although I must admit, and I'm sure that Wright would agree; acceptance of the good news in the person of Jesus Christ does include 'a new spirituality' and a 'religious experience', entrance into the 'heavenlies', and eternal life; the important thing to consider is why we have been saved through the Power of the Gospel. We have been 'saved to serve'! I've mentioned this before, but I believe that it bears repeating: God's original mandate to the first Adam, along with 'be fruitful and multiply', was to 'have dominion': this is still *our* mandate, to those who have been re-created, re-formed in the image of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
Wright has much else good to say here, and most of which I would agree with, and some that I would obviously disagree with: little 'gems' like 'to think in terms of a new creation avoids the problem of supposing for a moment that one could forget earth and concentrate on heaven.' Another is, in concluding this chapter, 'when people cease to be surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope.' This last is quite a statement, when you think about it, because, although it is possible, and happens quite often, for one to lose hope ( in good-whether it be Christ's good, or the 'world's' ) even while existing in the most beautiful of surroundings, it is quite another thing when surrounded by the beauty, joy, and love of God's human creation, His people!
In the final two chapters of his book; Wright discusses 'Reshaping the Church for Mission'; first exploring the 'biblical roots' for this re-structuring in the Gospel, and in the writings of Paul and the apostles , and in the last, 'Living the Future' exhorting the church to the works outlined several chapters back. The author has also included two 'Easter' sermons as appendices to his book.
I must acknowledge that I have really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it to church-leaders and lay-people alike: it has given me, as my brother-in-law would say, much 'food for action'! As I have written before; just because I believe that I have a more correct view ( though un-orthodox ) of eschatology, I can find much agreement with Bishop Wright, as with many other futurists, and do not think that I am hence somehow in a better favor even in some areas, have a better understanding. My hope is that this quasi-review will bring to God the glory He deserves for what He has done, but most of all, for Who He is! I also pray, as always, that my readers will be Bereans, and 'search the Scriptures daily, to see if these things are so'!
in the love and service of Christ,
and for His kingdom, Charles Shank