SURPRISED BY HOPE I
I am reading a great book (at least so far) by N. T. Wright. It is called SURPRISED BY HOPE: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and The Mission of the Church (Harper, 2008). So far he makes some very good points about ‘heaven’ and the resurrection. In chapter 3 of the book (Early Christian Hope in Its Historical Setting) he shows very convincingly that Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection was very much in line with that of most Jews of the day (who believed in an eventual bodily resurrection). In other words, Jesus was “exactly on the map of first-century Jewish belief…on the question of resurrection he seems to have little or nothing new to say. Except that he then began to tell his followers that He himself is going to be killed and then raised three days later…”
This was of course imcomprehensible for Jesus’ disciples who believed in an end of days resurrection of all, and not a two-step resurrection: Jesus first, and the rest later. It is clear from the passage in Luke 24 (“We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel…” but they crucified him so he can’t have been.)
Wright explains very well Christ’s death here: “It meant: we Romans run this place, and if you get in our way we” obliterate you – and do it pretty nastily too. CRUCIFIXION meant that the kingdom of God hadn’t come, not that it had. Crucifixion of a would-be Messiah meant that he wasn’t the Messiah, not that he was. When Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant: we backed the wrong horse. The game is over. Whatever their expectations…as far as they were concerned HOPE had crumbled into ashes. They knew they were lucky to escape with their own lives. That is the new world within which early Christianity burst upon the scene as a new thing, and yet not knew.
Wright argues in this context that the “early Christian belief in hope beyond death belongs demonstrably on the JEWISH, not the pagan, map but that in seven significant ways this Jewish hope underwent remarkable modifications.”
In the next days – I will try to post some info about these seven ways. For it is clear that for “the early Christians future hope centered firmly on resurrection.” But what kind of resurrection is this and how does it differ from the one found in Jewish hope? Wright argues that the early Christians held firmly to “a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new BODILY existence in a newly remade world. There is nothing remotely like this in paganism.”
WHY did the early Christians articulate a belief that was in seven ways quiet new (since what people believe about life and death tends to be very conservative)? It is a question that a good historian should ask. Wright attempts to answer this question in this illuminating chapter. (To be continued)
The book can be found here.
Keeping up the HOPE,