Some time ago, when I was writing my book on resurrection [The Resurrection of the Son of God], a friend came to see me unexpectedly and asked what it was about, and I told him “resurrection.” Straightaway, he said, “Oh, of course I have always taken the view that the idea of resurrection was in the air at the time, and the disciples were so bothered by Jesus’ cataclysmic defeat and death that they more or less reached for that category as a way of coping with their grief.”
That is totally implausible as a historical account of something that happened in the first century.
We know, as I said before, of several other movements where the leader was killed, the one upon whom everyone had pinned their hope; but at no point do we find such movements then suffering from the blessed twentieth-century disease called cognitive dissonance, where they make up stories about something glorious that has happened in order to try to come to terms with their grief. That just doesn’t work as history.
Evans, C.A. & Wright, N.T. (2009). Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened [ebook]. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Location 1072
Stunned by what he has witnessed, the centurion declares, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39). Impressed by the manner of Jesus’ death and the signs that attend it, the Roman centurion confesses of Jesus what he should only confess of the Roman emperor: Caesar is not the “son of God”; Jesus the crucified Messiah is. The mockery is now over.
In calling Jesus the Son of God, the centurion has switched his allegiance from Caesar, “son of God,” to Jesus, the real Son of God. The centurion now ascribes to Jesus what he had earlier ascribed to Caesar: Caesar is not divi filius (“son of God,” alluding to the Latin title of the great emperor Augustus). Jesus is.
Evans, C.A. & Wright, N.T. (2009). Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened [ebook]. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Location 394
All this is drawn to its head as Jesus dies on the cross, with the single Greek word tetelestai, ‘It is finished’. For us, ‘finished’ can mean, simply, ‘stopped’, ‘it’s over’; ‘that’s enough of that’. But tetelestai means, much more, ‘It is completed’; the work is done. And, tellingly, it echoes the word spoken at the end of the sixth day in Genesis 1: God finished all his work which he had made. Not, God stopped, as though he was bored; rather, God completed the full task.
Now, on the sixth day, God completes his work.
Again, [Martin] Luther’s German gets it exactly right: Es ist vollbracht, from the verbvollbringen: it is ‘brought to the full’. And the result, for the moment at least, is the same as in Genesis: on the seventh day God rested from all his work. Thus Bach’s setting [from his St. John Passion composition] closes with the great chorus Ruht Wohl, ‘Rest Well’.
This is not the final end; as the short closing chorale will tell us, this ‘rest’ is but the prelude to the first day of the new week, the day of resurrection. But, for now, we watch the Lord of Glory laid to rest in the tomb with his work complete.
The first reason that Jesus aroused opposition was because of the manner of his entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the final week of his ministry. He entered the holy city mounted on a donkey, amid shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” (Mark 11:1-10; here vv. 9-10, NRSV, modified).
Entering the city in this way deliberately mimicked Solomon, David’s son, who one thousand years earlier rode the royal mule as part of his declaration of kingship (1 Kings 1:32-40). Such an entry also answered the ancient prophecy of the anticipated humble king (Zechariah 9:9).
Not only did Jesus’ act recall hopes of a coming son of David, but the crowd’s response reflected the same popular interpretation of it. Their Hosannas, as an allusion to Psalm 118, were a pronouncement that this one who comes to the temple “in the name of the Lord” is none other than David, the one destined to be Israel’s king and ruler (see Psalm 118:19-27, according to the Aramaic paraphrase).
Such an event suggested in unmistakable terms that Israel’s king was Jesus, not Caesar. Thus, from the very moment of entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was set on a collision course with Roman authority.
Evans, C & Wright, N.T. (2008). Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened [ebook], Westminster John Knox, Location 87-95
Question: Does the Pauline phrase, “works of the law” refer exclusively to the so-called ceremonial portions of Torah (circumcision, sabbath, dietary laws) or to all that Torah required?
[Tom Wright]: Oh dear, this again. I wouldn’t call those portions ‘ceremonial’; that’s a label the C16 stuck on them, with its own baggage.
My two cents
Wow, I didn’t know that the theological term of ceremonial law was invented in the 16th century. It’s as though other theologians/pastors with a vested theological interest never bothered to tell me this. (Does this mean that those theologians/pastors have theological baggage of their own?)
This puts a different slant on what parts of God’s law should be held by the Christian and how one should be “rightly dividing the word of truth”. While I might not be doing a wave offering tomorrow, I might think twice about slicing everything in the Torah into civil, moral, or ceremonial law. I wonder if some of God’s laws can overlap two or more of those categories anyway.
I think this topic is important, because 1 John 3:4 says defines sin as transgression of the law. Putting that verse into the writer’s context, I assume that it’s referring to God’s law, rather than the Roman/pagan law existing in the first century AD.
Women are NOT the “weaker sex”!! Man [sic] are weak and have no moral back bone (All the men abandoned Jesus during the crucifixion!!!)
(quoting N.T. Wright)
It’s interesting that at the crucifixion the women were able to come and go and see what was happening without fear from the authorities. They were not regarded as a threat, and did not expect to be so regarded. [Ken] Bailey points out that this pattern is repeated to this day in the Middle East; at the height of the troubles in Lebanon, when men on all sides in the factional fighting were either hiding or going about with great caution, the women were free to come and go, to do the shopping, to take children out, and so on.
My two cents
It’s true that men abandoned Jesus on the cross, and women did not.
But, when this truth is used by women who look down on men, it’s a half truth.
I’m tired of women who play this line that the women at the cross were superior in faith to the men apostles who fled. This misandrist argument misses the point, that if the apostles remained, they likely would have been captured by the Roman authorities (as accomplices of a non-Roman troublemaker). One such man—John the Baptist—was imprisoned, and ultimately put to death. No wonder that the apostles fled.
It’s important to remember that the followers of Jesus didn’t live in a civil vacuum. Rebecca Brandon to the contrary, the women were indeed the weaker sex (in that context); that’s precisely why they weren’t seen as a political threat by the Romans.
According to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society:
Christians living decades after the death of Paul kept firmly in place the same division between their obligations to God and to the State. Beyond Good Intentions states about those believers: “Though they believed they were obligated to honor the governing authorities, the early Christians did not believe in participating in political affairs.”
Today, many religions that claim to follow Christ continue to encourage their members to participate in politics. Those religions, however, are not imitating Christ, nor are they following the example of the first-century Christians.
But according to N.T. Wright:
Our particular modern and western way of formulating these matters, implying that one must either be a revolutionary or a compromised conservative, has made it harder, not easier, for us to arrive at a historical grasp of how the early Christians saw the matter. The command to respect authorities does not cut the nerve of the gospel’s political challenge. It does not mean that the ‘Lordship’ of Jesus is reduced to a purely ‘spiritual’ matter. Had that been so, the great persecutions of the first three centuries could largely have been avoided. That, as we saw in the previous chapter, was the road taken by gnosticism.
My two cents
The first quote has an element of truth—when its elements are read out of historical context. Taken as a whole, the line of argument is misleading. It sets up a false dichotomy between political powers and political activities.
People have to be careful with a first-century-Christians-never-did-it-so-then-it-must-be-unchristian line of reasoning. The first-century Christians did not have a New Testament canon—but that didn’t mean their descendants should have kept it that way.
Tom Wright was right: lordship crosses into both political and religious spheres, not just the latter. That’s a big reason why Christians were persecuted to begin with—Christianity was not respectful towards Roman political powers, but subversive and later victorious.
Pushing that further, God and the state are not two strands of a double helix that only intertwine occasionally. Instead, they are concentric circles; God envelops the state, which must answer to him. For Christians to be neutral in politics is to give a loaded gun to the non-Christian ruler. That’s acting like a Gnostic, not a Christian.