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Surprised by Hope – IX

Week 9 Reading: N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, Chapter 14

Wrigh comments on John 21 in the course of showing that the thrust of the resurrection narratives in the four gospels is not that believers may therefore one day too have eternal life.

The disciples go fishing but catch nothing. Jesus then helps them to an enormous catch but proceeds to commission Peter to be a shepherd rather than a fisherman. There are many things going on simultaneously here, but at the center is the challenge to a new way of life, a new forgiveness, a new fruitfulness, a new following of Jesus, which will be wider and more dangerous than what has gone before. This is a million miles from the hymns that speak of Jesus’s resurrection in terms of our own assurance of a safe and happy rest in heaven. Quite the contrary. Jesus’s resurrection summons us to dangerous and difficult tasks on earth (241).

Rather, all four accounts, in varying ways, present “Jesus’s resurrection as the start of a new world, a new creation, in which Jesus is already ruling and reigning as Lord” (246). And the same is true of the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles, though Paul draws out more directly the implications for believers’ own hope of resurrection.

In this chapter, Wright draws together New Testament passages he has referred to throughout the book and sets them forth in a more systematic way as the “Biblical roots” for the church’s “hope-shaped mission.” It is a model exercise in the fresh reading of Scripture and application of what is found there to contemporary life that is incumbent on believers in every generation, and particularly on a movement driven by the progressive unfolding of “present truth.” I can only hope that the following, fragmentary “previews” might draw someone to view the “full feature” – in Surprised by Hope and the biblical passages it expounds:

On Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:

Just as Jesus taught his followers to pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven, so now he claims that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given him, and on that basis he commands the disciples to go and make it happen – to work, in other words, as agents of that authority. What remains implicit in Mark, at least as we have, is made explicit in Matthew: resurrection doesn’t mean escaping from the world; it means mission to the world based on Jesus’s lordship over the world (235).

On resurrection in Paul’s epistles, particularly 1 Cor. 15:12-28 and Romans 6:

The revolutionary new world, which began in the resurrection of Jesus – the world where Jesus reigns as Lord, having won the victory over sin and death – has its frontline outposts in those who in baptism have shared his death and resurrection (249).

Very inspiring, but the reply Wright received when he protested the deliberate and careful exclusion of the theme of the kingdom of God from the BBC television series Son of God pointedly expresses an obvious and unavoidable objection: “As there is clearly no trace of a new kingdom after 2,000 years, perhaps it is kinder to Jesus to leave it out.”

In response, Wright refers to the impact on entrenched societal evil made by William Wilberforce (above) and Desmond Tutu (above right). The witness of these and others who have formed powerful outposts for the kingdom of God is indeed impressive. Yet Wright also points out that the very nature of that kingdom means that the evidence will be noncoercive and open to alternative explanations:

[Jesus’s] lordship is, after all, always exercised through, and visible to, faith. Even the striking occassional miracles that the early apostles performed didn’t convince everybody at the time. This isn’t just a cop-out. The difference between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God lies exactly in this, that the kingdom of God comes through the death and resurrection of his Son, not through naked displays of bruet force or wealth” (244-245).

Ellen White wrote similarly in Review and Herald article, published August 18, 1896, entitled “The Kingdom of Christ”:

We can cooperate with Christ in the upbuilding of his kingdom only by being sanctified by his Spirit. We must use no force, take up no weapons to compel obedience; for to do this would be to exhibit the same spirit revealed by the enemies of Christ.

…And though Satan works through human instrumentalities to hinder the purpose of Christ, there are triumphs yet to be accomplished through the blood shed for the world, that will bring glory to God and to the Lamb. His kingdom will extend, and embrace the whole world.

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