N. T. Wright on the John’s link between kingdom, cross, and the love of God:
…[I]n the broader Johannine perspective, we discover that the only word to do justice to this kingdom and cross combination is agape, “love.” The death of Jesus is the expression of God’s love, as the famous verse of John 3:16 makes clear. For John, it is also the expression of Jesus’s own love: “He had always loved his own people in the world; now he love them right through to the end” (13:1). And, with that, John introduces the powerful and tender scene in which Jesus washes his disciples feet. In between these two, we find a “good shepherd” discourse, where the mutual love between Jesus and the father leads directly to Jesus his vocation to “lay down his life for the sheep” (10:15).
Throughout, Jesus remains God’s anointed king, crowned as such by the pagans, however ironic the crown of thorns is (John 19:1-3). As such, he is the truly human being. When Pilate says “Here’s the man! (19:5), We are surely to hear echoes of that primal Johannine moment, the Word becoming flesh as the climax of the new Genesis (1:14). But this Genesis call this new creation, is aimed at redemption; and the suffering Messiah, wearing the ironic royal robes, which acquire a second level of irony in John’s treatment, does for his people and the world what he had said all along he would do, as the shepherd giving his life for the sheep, as the seed sown in the ground to bear much fruit. The cross stands at the heart of John’s kingdom theology, the vision of the love of God revealed in the saving action in the death of his Son, the Lamb, the Messiah.
For more, see
Here’s a great summary of the redemptive story of Scripture put together by The Gospel Project.
Anything like this that encourages Christians to grasp the entire Bible as one, complex, but nevertheless united, story is much needed. Pass it on!
For some of my own recommendations on books that tie together both Testaments, see here.
With his usual polemical edge, N. T. Wright, in How God Became King, both corrects common Christian misunderstandings of the term” Messiah” and instructs us to view the significance of Jesus’s humanity and deity in a vocational, redemptive-historical light:
As we contemplate the scene at Caesarea Philippi [in Mark 8:27-30], it is vital that we do not short-circuit the messianic meeting in our quest for creedal affirmations about Jesus’s “divinity.” Yes, the four Gospels do indeed a firm, often in subtle and profound ways (not so often in the rather clunky in obvious ways that some would clearly prefer), that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel’s God, come back at last to rescue his people. But the meaning of Peter’s confession of Jesus’s the messiahship is not, “you are the second person of the Trinity,” but “you are Israel’s Messiah.” The phrase son of God in this connection is of course once more an echo of the messianic passages as Psalm 2, 2 Samuel 7, and elsewhere. And in those contexts it’s primary meaning is ” Israel’s messiah, adopted and anointed by God as his own son.”
The much fuller meanings that the phrase “son of God” came to carry quite early in the Christian movement (as early as Paul; see, e.g., Romans 8:3-4, Galatians 4:4-7) are fresh depths that the early church discovered within this Jewish meaning. They did not indicate that the meaning of “Messiah” had been abandoned and something else (“divinity”?) put in its place. We approach that full or meaning – and, ultimately, trinitarian theology itself – through the messianic, kingdom-bearing gateway. That is, in fact, the gateway to the meeting both of Jesus is “divinity” and of his “humanity.” But how much better to replace those dry, abstract categories with their biblical originals. As Messiah – as the about-to-be- crucified Messiah! – Jesus embodies the vocation of Israel, and within it the vocation of the human race itself. But he also embodies the returning, rescuing, promise-keeping God of Israel himself.
I’m presently working through Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and it’s Interpretation, the latest volume by my former seminary professor Dr. Scott Swain. It’s fairly small in size, but packs a strong punch. I plan on pulling some quotes to post over the next few days, just to give you a taste of the gems found therein.
Here’s a sample where Swain discusses the link between God’s self-disclosure in both Old Covenant and the New:
The progressive nature of revelation does not suggest evolution from more “primitive” to more “sophisticated” stages in humanity’s knowledge of God, of redemption, and of itself. Nor do earlier stages of revelation require correction or augmentation by later stages of revelation. Contrary to every form of Marcionism that has plagued the history of Christianity, it is the same God who makes himself known to Israel and to the church. Moreover, Jesus, God supreme self – revelation and final word (cf. Heb. 1.1-4), did not come to abolish earlier revelation but the fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19). Even those institutions that are abrogated in the new covenant (e.g., the Levitical priesthood, the Temple cult, etc.) serve as tokens, promissory notes of the final institutions that Christ came to establish, and therefore function as paradigms – indispensable models – understanding those institutions. As such, they are never truly left behind but are rather incorporated into the brilliant mosaic of New Covenant revelation. Each stage of God’s revelation thus represents God’s wholly reliable redemptive truth, tempered to that stage of redemption by the Divine Rhetor, and therefore profitable in its own rights for imparting the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to a life that is pleasing to God (2 Tim. 3.15-17).
Two weeks ago I posted some questions from Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW hereafter) about Jesus Christ. I claimed that these questions betray a gross misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity in general, and the role of Christ in redemption specifically. One thing the reader will quickly pick up is JWs really believe that Christians are modalists. Modalism is the ancient heresy which denied the existence of 3 external, distinct, and equal divine persons in the godhead. A modalist claims there is only 1 person in the godhead, but this 1 person appears, manifests, or acts out difference roles. A modalist will usually frame this by the slogan, “Father in creation, Son redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration.”
This is not what the Christian church, nor the Bible, teaches. Nevertheless, JWs insist this is what we believe. In personal conversations with the Witnesses I have had to politely correct them time and time again. So, if this theme pops up in my answers, you’ve been warned.
So, on to our first question:
1. Why is he called the “firstborn” of all creation? Col. 1:15, Rev.3:14
In Colossians 1, Paul refers to Christ as the Creator of all things yet also refers to Him as “firstborn” (Col. 1:15). Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the term firstborn to mean Christ was the first created being. But, to belabor the point, Paul specifically says Christ is firstborn, not first created. First, let’s take a look at the larger context of Colossians 1, and then we’ll zero in on a word study of the specific term firstborn.
If Paul wanted to say Jesus was the first created being of God there was a perfectly acceptable Greek term he could have used, but he didn’t.
According to The Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon of the New Testament the Greek term for “firstborn” (prototokos) means simply the first-born child or sheep, etc. Yet during the period of the NT writings, “it is uncertain whether the force of the element –tokos [“born”] is still felt at all.” During the New Testament period the force of “born” in firstborn was dropped and the emphasis centered on the primacy and preeminence of the person referred to, i.e. first, head, leader, etc.
And this clarifies what Paul (and I would include John in Rev. 3:14) is saying. To call Jesus the “firstborn of all creation” refers to his preeminence over all things. ‘All things’ and ‘all creation’ are parallel terms. He (Christ) is over all things “created, in heaven and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities” (v.16). Christ is “before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (v. 17). Paul bears out this interpretation when He states in verse 18 “that in everything [Christ] might be pre-eminent.” Psalm 89:27 refers to David as God’s firstborn. But clearly David is not the first king. Firstborn here is interpreted by the very next half of the verse, ” the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”
If we allow Paul to define his own terms, and not force our own meaning unto them, we see that Paul doesn’t in any way think of Christ Jesus as a mere creature, a junior partner in creation with the Father.
So the underlying presupposition of this question is fatally flawed, at the linguistic, contextual, and theological level.
One great New Testament theme is that of the Second Exodus. Christ is the new and greater Moses, delivering his people from a greater captor than Pharoah, to a greater Promised Land than Canaan. The Second Exodus theme can be found all over the pages of the New Testament. In light of this, here is N.T. Wright’s exciting reading of Romans 6-8 in his work Paul In Fresh Perspective:
…Paul believes that the new Exodus has been launched through the work of Jesus. When he speaks in 1 Corinthians 10 of ‘our ancestors’ being ‘baptized into Moses’ and so forth, clearly indicating the parallel between being baptized into the Messiah, he seems to be envisaging Jesus’s death as the moment of new Exodus, an impression confirmed, if somewhat kaleidoscopically in terms of theme, by his almost casual reference to the Messiah as the Paschal lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). This is then filled out by his large-scale exposition, in Romans 6-8, of the entire Exodus theme as applied to the people of God in Christ. To recapitulate the point: in Romans 6 God’s people come through the waters which mean that they are delivered from slavery into freedom; in Romans 7:1-8:11 they come to Sinai only to discover that, though the Torah cannot give the life it promised, God has done it; with the promise of resurrection before them, they are then launched onto the journey of present Christian life, being led by the Spirit through the wilderness and home to the promised land which is the renewal of all creation (8:12-30). This is Paul’s version of the retold Exodus story… (Paul In Fresh Perspective, 138)
Wright is drawing from the approach of Richard Hays in his seminal Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.
Easter is about power. But it’s not about the kind of power this world is used to. It’s power demonstrated in weakness, vulnerability, and brokenness. Jesus revealed that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). That’s an important, but mostly misunderstood passage. Jesus wasn’t claiming that the kingdom of God is spiritual as opposed to earthly. The very goal of the kingdom of God in Christ is to transform creation so God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus was saying that the governing principles and the ultimate source of his kingdom are at odds with those of this present fallen world. Jesus didn’t simply fight the great battle against sin, suffering, and Satan for us, he lost the battle for us too.
The Problem. By and large, the Jewish people were ready for a king, a mighty, righteous king, who would overthrow the Romans, deliver the people of Israel, renew God’s covenant with his people, and usher in a period of blessing and prosperity. This is, after all, what Moses spoke of as happening after the time of exile.
The problem is that Jesus didn’t look very much like a king. He didn’t crush the Romans; they crushed him. He didn’t take up arms. In fact, he instructed his disciples to “turn the other cheek” for the sake of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 5:39). When the people seemed so in love with Jesus’ message (as they understood it) that they were going to make him King by force (Jn. 6:15), he avoided the crowd and slipped away to the mountain side.
This isn’t the way a king acts. And in time people were starting to get suspicious of whether Jesus was really the right horse to back against the Empire of Rome.
Finally, when Jesus was crucified and buried, that made it about as obvious as possible that he was not the Lord’s annointed, the Messiah.
One interest of mine in Biblical studies is the theme of covenant. In fact, viewing the entire Bible through the lens of ‘covenant’ is an extremely helpful way of thinking about the unity of the Old and New Testaments.
Here are some of the most helpful books (or articles) on covenant I’ve read. As always, one doesn’t have to agree with everything in any one of these works in order to greatly benefit from them.
If you’re not aware already, you should know about Biblicaltraining.org. They have scores of free seminary level courses in Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, Church history, Apologetics, Pastoral theology, and much more. You need to register in order to listen to the lectures, but there’s no charge whatsoever.
Here’s are my favorites by Christian philosopher and apologist Ronald Nash: