5 min read

1. The Challenge of Studying Jesus

Why wrestle with the historical Jesus?

  1. We are made for God
  2. We are loyal to Scripture
  3. We have a Christian imperative to seek truth
  4. We have a commitment to Christian mission

The questions he seeks to answer:

  1. Where does Jesus belong within the Jewish world of his day?<p>
  2. What, in particular, was his preaching of the kingdom all about? What was he aiming to do?<p>
  3. Why did Jesus die? In particular, what was his oen intention in going to Jerusalem that last fateful time?<p>
  4. Why did the early church begin, and why did it take the shape it did? Specifically, of course, what happened at Easter?<p>
  5. How does all this relate to the Christian task and vision today?<p> (33)

2. The Challenge of the Kingdom

What was mean vs. what was understood

Two foundational points for Wright’s project (p. 35)

  1. Election - “Jesus believed that the creator God had purposed from the beginning to address and deal with the problems within his creation through Israel.”
  2. Eschatology - “Jesus believed, as did many though not all of his contemporaries, that this vocation would be accomplished through Israel’s history reaching a great moment of climax, in which Israel herself would be saved from her enemies and through which the creator God, the covenant God, would at last bring his love and justice, his mercy and truth, to bear upon the whole world, bringing renewal and healing to all creation.”

Summary conclusion -

His aim was to be the means of God’s reconstitution of Israel. He would challenge and deal with the evil that had infected Israel herself. He would be the means of Israel’s God returing to Zion. He was, in short, announcing the kingdom of God - not the simple revolutionary message of hard-liners but the doubly revolutionary message of a kingdome that would overturn all other agendas, including the revolutionary one. (53)

3. The Challenge of the Symbols

The key symbols of Judaism:

  • Sabbath - Jesus acted with sovereign freedom toward the sabbath and defended it as a day for healing
  • Food - Jesus taught (cryptically in Public) that the end of the food laws (which helped mark out Jew from Gentile) was near
  • Nation and land - Jesus downplayed family identity, called upon people to abandon possessions, and challenged them to hold loosely prized national identity. He presented himself as the reconstitution of Israel, a new family of God.
  • Temple - Jesus proclaimed judgement on a corrupt Temple, and presented himself as the fulfillment of what the Temple is meant to be Summary conclusion -
  • Jesus was regularly accused of leaning the people astray
  • Jesus viewed the kingdom as both present and future
  • Jesus was a prophet warning of judgement and restoration, and declared through two key actions how it would happen - his action in the Temple (Messiahship) and the Last Supper (crucifixion)

4. The Crucified Messiah

When discussing the question of why early Christians persisted in calling Jesus the Messiah, he makes this remark:

The answer cannot simply be: Because of the resurrection. Within the world of second-Temple Judaism, not even resurrection would have generated the belief that the newly alive person was the Messiah unless people had already suspected that he was that prior to his death. (76-77)

This seems patently obvious in one sense, although the clear NT teaching is that the resurrection was the confirmatory declaration that this Jesus was indeed Messiah (c.f. Acts 2:36, Romans 1:1-4). Wright’s main point, of course, is that there had to have been some claim made by Jesus during his life that led people to conclude he was the Messiah prior to resurrection. And to be fair, he does conclude later that “without the resrrection all of this is just so much whistling in the dark. It is Easter that validates Jesus’ interpretation of his own death.” (93)

Summay conclusion -

  • His claims only matter if he rose from the dead
  • The cross offers itself as the great turning point of history, the decisive act against evil
  • The cross is Jesus’ final great act of love
  • The cross brings us close to the heart of God, and to our own vocation to be cross-bearing people.

5. Jesus & God

Summary conclusion -

  • Quoting Jesus and the Victory of God:

    I have argued that Jesus’ underlying aim was based on his faith-awareness of vocation. He believed humself called, by Israel’s God, to evoke the traditions which promised YHWH’s return to Zion, and the .. traditions which spoke of a human figure sharing the divine throne; to enact those traditions in his own journey to Jerusalem, his messianic act in the Temple, and his death at the hands of the pagans (in the hope of subsequent vindication); and thereby to embody YHWH’s return. (121)

  • We see in Jesus “the biblical portait of YHWH come to life”
  • What he is not saying - He does not think that Jesus “knew he was God” in a mathematical, observational sense, but more of an intuitive understanding, “grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action (122)”
  • Western theology has tended to produce a docetic Jesus
  • We should reframe our view of “God” around who we see in Jesus
  • “Once we see who Jesus is, we are not only summoned to follow him in worship, love and adoration, but to shape our world by reflecting his glory in it” (124)

6. The Challenge of Easter

Summary conclusion -

  1. The gospel accounts of resurrection are nothing like heavenly visions, or apocalyptic revelations
  2. Jesus’ body seems to be physical, although transformed
  3. These appearances did not keep happening throughout the beginnings of the early church
  4. We must explain the absence of any veneration of Jesus’ tomb, and the immediate primacy of the first day of the week among early christians.
  5. The halluciantion theory just doesn’t hold historical water.

    I believe, therefore, that the only way forward for us as historians is to grasp the nettle, realizing of course that we are at the borders of language, philosophy, of history, and of theology. We had better learn to take seriously the witness of the entire early church, that Jesus of Nazareth was raised bodily to a new sort of life, three days afrer his execution.

7. Walking to Emmaus in a Postmodern World

8. The Light of the World