Jul 29, 2007

This post will summarize one of two Pauline "themes" that were the focus of our third class: that of Messiah and Apocalypse. A post on the second theme (that of "Gospel and Empire") will hopefully follow in a few days.

In Paul's world, there was a belief that a Messiah would come and accomplish the task of restoring Israel and God's world. Among other things, it was believed that Messiah would serve as Israel's representative to the world, that he would defeat the pagan kings which occupied Judea, and that he would re-build the temple.

NT Wright argues that Paul saw Jesus as this Messiah, though it was necessary to "reinterpret" some of the things that the Messiah was supposed to do in light of the events of Jesus' life. For example, Wright says, Paul believed that the temple was re-established within the church, such that God's spirit is now present within and among God's people, whose bodies are now the temple.

Where our translations will generally refer to "Jesus Christ," Wright prefers to use the phrase "Jesus, the Messiah" in its place. This reduces the temptation to think of "Christ" as Jesus' last name, and puts the emphasis on the meaning of the title "Christ."

While the concept of Jesus as Messiah is not that controversial to us, by refining our understanding of what was expected of the Messiah, we can better come to understand some of the things that Paul is saying. When Paul goes out of his way to point out how Jesus' death and resurrection was a defeat of the "powers and authorities," for example, he is telling us something about how Jesus did, in fact, do the things that were expected of the Messiah.

Paul also lived in an age when "apocalyptic" literature was popular. Apocalyptic literature developed during an age where God seemed largely silent. There was no explanation as to why he was not fulfilling his promises to restore Israel. This literature assumed that there must be an "unveiling" or "revelation" of the purposes of heaven, which are mysterious to man. Often these "apocalypses" involved grand stories of great catastrophes and images of angelic warriors coming into the earth to restore God's authority.

When we think of the apocalyptic, we tend to focus on a grand, Armageddon-like ending to the world. However, Wright tells us that Paul believed the great "apocalypse" had already occurred in the events concerning Jesus. Thus, when he speaks of God's mysteries, previously unknown, being revealed in Christ, he is saying that God's "apocalypse" or "unveiling" has happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In a sense, the "unveiling" is yet to come to complete fulfilment, but God's plan and purposes can now be readily seen.



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