Summary by Bevere:
1. Introduction: In chapter seven, “Reimagining God’s Future,” Wright comes to the final theme in the trilogy of Paul’s reworking of traditional Jewish theology– eschatology. He sets forth the argument in the following way: 1) A brief sketch of Jewish eschatology leads to 2) crucial exegetical examples demonstrating Paul’s “redefined eschatology around the Messah and the Spirit” (p. 131). 3) And, along with this Wright notes how this reworking is rooted in Paul’s particular re-reading of the Jewish Scriptures, rivaling the claims made by other Jewish groups concerning the world of paganism.
2. Jewish Eschatology in the First Century
Jewish eschatological thinking set itself against paganism. Daniel and Second Isaiah are two clear examples. Israel’s God will defeat paganism and its idols; and while Israel itself is not spared God’s judgment, it was “with the wickedness of the pagan world, and the dark forces that stood behind it, that he was principally concerned” (p. 131). The coming judgment and the vindication of Israel, the Day of Yahweh, the establishment of God’s kingdom, the defeat of paganism, the coming of the Messiah are all highlighted and developed in various ways in second-Temple Judaism.
In Paul’s day the notion of exile in the metaphorical sense was the perception of many Jews who, while living in their homeland, were still oppressed by the pagans. Ezra and Nehemiah are two examples of this “we are still slaves even though we are in our homeland” (p. 133) motif.
The end of exile, the end of slavery is conceived of as a new Exodus. The future, the coming end does not come suddenly and unexpectedly, but as the climax of a story that has been playing out “both in the mind of God and on the ground in the Middle East” (p. 134). Such eschatology is inextricably connected to monotheism and election. There is only one God (Yahweh), and that God has chosen Israel. Therefore, Israel’s God must and will deliver Israel from her pagan nations.
3. Eschatology Reimagined Around the Messiah
Paul’s eschatology remains deeply Jewish. With his reshaping of montheism and election, he now reworks his eschatology putting Jesus at the center. In Jesus “God’s own future has burst into the present” (p. 135) In Jesus’ crucifixion, the powers of evil have been decisively defeated. The great and intericate event for which Israel longed had already taken place in Jesus of Nazareth. Paul’s eschatology is inaugurated.
It is not only the cross that is the focal point, but the resurrection as well. It would have been quite difficult for Paul to speak of Jesus as Lord apart from his bodily resurrection. God’s kingdom has arrived; Paul takes this for granted. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 15, the great passage of Jesus’ resurrection, reimagines the “great eschatological battle and the defeat of the pagan powers” (p. 137). In the work of Jesus the Messiah, God has at last made good on his promise to deliver Israel from Exile. For Paul, exile begins not with the Babylonians, but with the arrival of the Torah on Mount Sinai (cf. 4 Ezra). The Messiah’s “curse on the tree” makes the blessing of Abraham available to the Gentiles, and makes possible the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Wright finishes this section with a self-defense against those who charge that he has denied the doctrine of the second coming: “Nothing could be further from the truth” (p. 141). In addition, he puts forth a strong critique of those who have latched onto the popular “left behind” eschatology.
4. Eschatology Reimagined Around the Spirit
The covenant renewal made effective by the Spirit brought the Gentiles from outside the covenant to the inside, and renewed Jews from within as both Jews and Gentiles become the eschatological people of God. “The Spirit is a gift from God’s future, the gift which guarantees the future” (p. 146). One is already part of the new age if one walks by the Spirit. Christians are no longer under Torah, which does not mean that Judaism is a religion of law while Christianity is religion of grace; but rather in Jesus, God has acted to bring in the new age, the new covenant, “to plant seeds of new creation” (p. 147). Thus Christian ethics is not simply keeping a new law, it is living in a new age.
It is the Spirit that makes it possible to endure the reality of suffering without falling into despair; for the ongoing battle with evil, waged through the Spirit, is fought in light of the victory of the cross. It is the Spirit that enables Christians to live “in the overlap of the ages” (p. 150).
5. Eschatology in Context
In “slicing through” Paul’s reshaping of central Jewish doctrines we see that 1) Paul is involved in implicit dialogue with the Old Testament and contemporary writings from his own day; 2) Paul’s reimagined eschatology preserves the crucial Jewish emphasis on God’s conflict with paganism; and 3) His reimagined eschatology was worked out daily in proclaiming the gospel and in the life and order of the churches he wrote to giving them God’s wisdom. It is only in Paul’s reimagined eschatology that any sense can be made of his work and the life of these individual communites of faith.
Given what Wright has argued up to this point, three questions are now at center: 1) What is the relationship of Paul to Jesus? 2) How did Paul’s life and work reflect his theology? and 3) How does Paul’s theology relate to the mission of the church at the start of the twenty-first century?
The final chapter will have at these questions.
Response by McKnight
Wright’s overall view of Jewish eschatology leaves little room to disagree or respond: he provides a responsible, wide-ranging survey of the major themes. But, there are some issues to discuss:
First, Wright’s brief comments that 1 Thess 4’s “day of the Lord” refers to an imminent event that may unfold many more times is spot-on. We need more thinking like this, and we need some evangelical theologians with enough courage to speak out about this. It is not about multiple fulfillment but about images having potent force over and over.
Second, Tom has been questioned continuously, since Jesus and the Victory of God, about whether or not he believes in the Second Coming. He thinks that nothing could be further from the truth, but I have my doubts that the two paragraphs on pp. 142-143 will clear up the questions — and I’m not suggesting he has to or that his intention here is to clear up questions. But, still, he’s been queried and now he sets out how Paul re-imagines eschatology around Jesus through the parousia of Jesus.
He argues, as he (and others) have done, that parousia means appearing, presence, and not necessarily return to earth. Jesus takes the place of YHWH and the theme of the return of YHWH to Zion christologizes Paul’s eschatology.
Then he argues that the parousia is not a return from a long journey but the opening of a curtain. It is the coming together of heaven and earth. Heaven is not a place to which we go but a place from which Jesus will come to transform earth. All in all, this seems to be what many think Second Coming means — but he could have been cleaner and clearer. Just what does this mean? Is this an earthly millennial like event/time period? Is it a spiritual transformation? Will Jesus really/literally reign on earth? Or is parousia code language for perfect transformation? (I think this latter one is what Wright is saying. Maybe you know more than I about this.)
Third, Wright says he’s with “inaugurated” eschatology, and this clearly implies a both/and about matters eschatological. But, I see in him a welcome breath of fresh air that derives from CH Dodd’s view of inauguration: it is mostly inaugurated and only big items left. The weight is thrown on the already here side and not the lots to occur side (which is typical for American theologians who speak of eschatology). Thus, Wright (am I right here?) has a Doddian mutation of inaugurated eschatology and not one just like GE Ladd.
Fourth, again, Wright is spot-on about the Holy Spirit as eschatological gift and that Christian spirituality is about living in the Spirit. To live in the Spirit is to live in the era that Jewish eschatology was looking forward to. It is life in the Messiah and life in the Church.