Wednesday, February 20, 2008

saved? (ii)

The Hope of Israel and the World

We begin the critique by taking a look at the work of Church of England Bishop of Durham Dr. N.T. Wright, particularly his series of books under the sub-title ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’. In volume one: ‘The New Testament and the People of God’, Wright goes to great lengths to argue that the question of salvation must be seen within the wider view of the hope of the nation of Israel. He states that in this context, the hope of Israel’s salvation is to do with their liberation from their ‘national enemies’ and for the ‘restoration of the Temple, and the free enjoyment of their own Land’ (Wright, 1992:300). Wright stresses that in 1st Century Jewish thought the idea of an individual’s salvation would come from their being a part of the ‘membership within Israel’. This ‘covenant membership in the present was the guarantee (more or less) of salvation in the future’ (Ibid. 334)

In volume two of the series: ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’, Wright sharpens up this argument by focusing on how Israel’s hope of salvation is brought to a climax with the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The hope of salvation according to Wright comes under Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God is now here. When Israel’s ‘god becomes king, the whole world… would at last be put to rights’ (Ibid, 203). Wright makes it very clear that Jesus believed himself to be the means in which God would become King over Israel and thus would bring redemption and liberation to the nation. The climax of this vocation, of course, is found within the crucifixion of Jesus and the strange consequences it entails (Ibid, 594). We must not miss the crucial point that as well as declaring that the time for God to restore Israel had come, Jesus was also declaring Judgment upon Israel. Wright believes this to be because of Israel’s failure to live faithfully as the ‘covenant membership’ in relation to God, ‘for their failure to be the light of the world’ (Ibid, 608). Paradoxically Jesus’ vocation meant that he would take the fate that was lying in store for Israel upon himself. In doing so he would be bringing about the victory over what, Wright calls, the ‘real enemy’, the satan. Through the death of Jesus, God would go beyond simply defeating the pagan oppressor of the time (Rome) but would in fact defeat evil in its entirety, including the quasi-personal powers that opposed God and therefore bringing liberation not just to Israel but to the whole world (Ibid, 608-609).

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