Wright is a blessing to us all. He has a knack for probing and exposing those priceless truths that are a liberating tonic for the soul. I always seem to come away from an encounter with him having been lovingly challenged and motivated to finish the work that God has given me to do. What more could one ask from a brother in this journey of faith.
In this book, he brings the kingdom of God into our living rooms. Learning to function in this kingdom is the secret to life. Learn this profound truth and begin to live.
Wright says there are some simple questions with not so simple answers. "Who is Jesus?" is one of them. In chapters 1-5 Wright covers what the questions are and why they are hard to answer. In chapters 6-14 we learn what Jesus' public career was all about, what he was trying to accomplish, and how he went about it. In the last chapter, Wright asks, "So What?"
Jesus puzzles us because his world (customs, culture, etc.) is strange to us. Wright notes the "sheer historical complexity of speaking about Jesus." (20) He invites us to get our minds and imaginations into Jesus' own day. He reminds us of the deeply rooted idea of God himself coming to rule and reign as Israel's king. Yet Jesus did not do what the people expected a victorious king to do.
It is important, Wright says, to take off our Western spectacles and put on first-century Jewish ones. That is essential if we are to understand Jesus and his actions. "If we don't get this straight, we simply squash Jesus into the little boxes of our own imaginations rather than seeing him as he was." (64)
Wright reviews the parables, saying they are not abstract. "The parables, in fact, are told as kingdom explanations for Jesus' kingdom actions. They are saying: 'Don't be surprised, but this is what it looks like when God's in charge.'" (91)
To help us understand the "King of the Jews" concept, Wright looks at the lives of Judah the Hammer, Simon the Star, Herod the Great, and Simon Bar-Giora.
When Wright comes to the crucifixion, he says of his interpretation, "This way of looking at the climax of Jesus' story is not, to be sure, the standard, traditional, 'orthodox,' 'conservative,' reading... Mt contention is that it enables us to understand the original historical reality for which _ dogmas are later, often dehistoricized, abstract summaries." (176)
What does it mean that Jesus is king now? Wright reminds us that, "God intended to rule the world through human beings." (212) Jesus works through his followers (rather than doing it all himself). Wright urges a fresh reading of Acts, recognizing "that through Jesus' followers God is establishing his kingdom and the rule of Jesus himself on earth as it is in heaven." (215) A proper reading of the Beatitudes is to see them as the agenda for kingdom people. "They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world." (218)
Throughout the book Wright speaks of "the perfect storm;" pressure from the Roman Empire, the thousand-year hope of Israel, and the purposes of God...all converging.
Wright always seems to say something in his book that I find disturbing. Wright looks at the books of Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah as "three main scriptural passages that seem to have contributed to Jesus' sense of vocation as he undertook [this] final journey." (165) Wright then adds the Psalms, saying Jesus not only knew them, "but made them the very stuff of his vocation. He found himself in them and determined to act accordingly." (165-166)
I don't like the idea that Jesus took his directions from the Psalms. I imagine a scene where Jesus remembers a scene from the Psalms, then gets busy making it happen. I would rather have in my mind John 5:19. Jesus said there that he did nothing of his own initiative, "but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise." (NET Bible) That, I think, was the motivation for his actions while on earth.
Wright is always thought provoking. I was challenged by his urging me to understand Jesus within the context of the world at the time he was on earth.
I recently read somewhere something along the lines that, "Christians are different than Jews with regards to reading Scripture, as the Jewish tradition understands it to be terribly difficult while Christians perceive it as a quite easygoing and self-evident enterprise." This statement is equally applicable in regards to the person of whom Scripture points, Jesus. After all, we, both inside and outside the church, assume we know Jesus; what other questions need to be asked?â€”he came to die for our personal sins, he claimed in no uncertain terms that he was "God", and he rose from the dead so that we could enjoy posthumous life in heaven. But what if:
Jesusâ€”the Jesus we might discover if we really looked!â€”is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than weâ€” the church!â€”had ever imagined_ It is we the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. (pg. 5)
A stinging indictment indeed. Especially, since we are usually the ones hurling the reductionist charge at our so-called "skeptic" rivals. Thus, Wright sets out to re-ask the seemingly simple questions, "Who exactly was he?... What did he think he was up to? What did he do and say, why he was killed, and did he rise from the dead? _[and] what might â€˜following' him entail?" Questions that are on the surface simple enough, but upon closer examination aren't so simple to answer due to the complexity of the strange world Jesus occupied, which also happens to be the very launch pad for Wright's fresh examination of Jesus' kingdom vocation. But, before we continue, Wright politely asks that both skeptics who immediately become suspicious of meta-narratives derived from ancient texts and their antagonist, the conservatives who immediately become uncomfortable with historical inquiry lest it lead to a resurgence of rational skepticism, to take a seat and go along for the ride, a ride that is going to drive us into the heart of the "perfect storm" where the cold front of the Roman Empire combined with "low -pressure system" of Israel's national yearning for liberation are met head-on with the "hurricane" of Israel's God in Christ.
It is only when we are at the center of this turbulent storm that our narrow vision of Jesus becomes startlingly clear: that Jesus' own understanding of his mission was to combine in himself the end-time rule of God, though by a paradoxical route patterned as it were after the royal Psalms and Suffering Servant Songs of Isaiah, both in the face Rome's already presumed "retrospective eschatology," namely that beginning with Augustus and his successive rulers a new era of justice and peace had dawned, and Israel's "prospective eschatology," namely that through a great military overthrow yet to come, Israel would finally reach her ultimate destiny. It is precisely at this fragile moment in history that Jesus:
Took upon himself the role of a prophet, in other words, of a man sent to God to reaffirm God's intention of overthrowing the might of pagan empire, but also to warn Israel that its present way of going about things was dangerously ill-conceived and leading to disaster. And with that, the sea is lashed into a frenzy; the wind makes the waves dance like wild things; and Jesus himself strides out into the middle of it all, into the very eye of the storm, announcing that the time is fulfilled, that God's kingdom is at hand. (pg. 56)
Once this historical torrent is in place, Wright masterfully illustrates how Jesus determined to pattern his risky-yet-innovative kingdom mission which combined the inauguration of God's reign through a now suffering-Davidic ruler within the framework of the Exodus narrative. I must say, I became absolutely engrossed in the picture of Jesus of Nazareth combing through Scripture, putting together all the elements within Israel's traditions in a never before hatched plan to embody in himself God's final rule vis-Ã -vis the Roman Empire, Israel's fervent nationalism, the power of death, and yes, human sin. It is at this point we can began to answer, albeit in fresh way, the questions concerning Jesus we always assumed were a given, of course, you'll have to read it for yourself to get all the details.
In conclusion, as a pastor dedicated to informing my own congregants concerning the important role of history, not only in understanding what it is we actually have contained in our Gospel[s], but in fully grasping our mission together as the post-Pentecost body of Christ, this book is a welcome addition. Cruel Empire, Israel's checkered story, and a thirty-something year old Jew with the wildest vision ever conceivedâ€”it's all wonderfully discovered here in this deeply profound book paradoxically entitled Simply Jesus, which manages to explain, as only Wright can do, how infamous characters of the past like Herod the Great and Simon Bar Giora fit in with how we are both to understand and enact God's wise, just, and loving rule under the world's true King Jesus.