N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Part 13 (“Forgiveness of sins,” Part 1)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes our salvation.

At this point in our study, I’m shifting away from background and more toward the actual book itself.

“Forgiveness of sins”

The end of Exile is connected with the forgiveness of sins. Wright argues that Second Temple Jews often referred to the end of the Exile in terms of “forgiveness of sins.” (He uses quotation marks to distinguish forgiveness of sins in the special end-of-exile sense from the ordinary sense of the phrase.)

Modern Christians need to be reminded regularly that Jews in this period did not perceive themselves to be living within a story of an angry moralistic God who threatened people that he would send them to hell if they displeased him. Nor were they hoping that, if somehow they could make things all right, they would go to a place called “heaven” and be with God forever. Some ancient pagans thought like that; most ancient Jews did not.

They were hoping, longing, and praying for what the prophets had sketched, what the Psalms had sung, what the ancient promises to the patriarchs had held out in prospect: not rescue from the present world, but rescue and renewal within the present world.

Israel’s fortunes would plunge to a low ebb, and then lower, down to the very depths; but there would come a time when God would return in person to do a new thing. Through this new thing not only would Israel itself be rescued from the “death” of exile, the inevitable result of idolatry and sin, but the nations of the world would somehow be brought into the new creation the creator God was planning. And one of the central, vital ways of expressing this entire hope — rescue from exile, the rebuilding of the Temple, the return of YHWH himself — was to speak of the “forgiveness of sins.”

Exile was the result of sin. As many biblical writers insisted (one thinks, for a start, of Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and the Psalms), if exile was to be undone, sin would have to be forgiven.

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 1879-1890). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. Paragraphing modified to ease reading on the Internet throughout this series.

As I understand it, sometimes the scriptures speak of forgiveness of sin in individual terms, which we are all familiar and comfortable with. But when the topic is the end of Exile, “forgiveness of sins” was often a shorthand for the national forgiveness anticipated by Deu 30, Jer 31, and so many other prophecies. Thus, “forgiveness of sins” became synecdoche for not only forgiveness of the nation, but the establishment of the Kingdom, the coming of the Messiah, and the other markers of the end of Exile.

We see the idea of a national forgiveness in Deu 30 and Jer 31. When he inaugurated the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke of the “new covenant” (referring to Jer 31), and so “forgiveness of sins” on Jesus’ lips in the same context is likely a reference to the fulfillment of Deu     30 —

(Matt. 26:26-28 ESV)  26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Hence, by “forgiveness of sins,” Jesus means the forgiveness necessary for God to restore the fortunes of the Jews under Deu 30:1-3 and to demonstrate the realization of the promises of Jer 31.

The point isn’t that there is no individualized forgiveness of sin, of course. Rather, Wright is demonstrating that Jesus was speaking and acting in terms that would have been understood by Second Temple period Jews as declaring the end of the Exile, as promised by the Torah.

Now, if you think about it, the Exile ended only for those Jews who believed in Jesus. The rest did not submit to the Messiah, remained in Exile, did not receive the Spirit, and did not enter the Kingdom. Therefore, they remained subject to the curses of Deu 28-29. In one sense, they’d already suffered those curses centuries earlier at the hands of the Babylonians, but with the coming of the Messiah and the refusal of most Jews to submit to him, a final reckoning came due — as the Torah promised —

(Deut. 30:17-18 ESV) 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,  18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.  

(Deut. 32:18-24 ESV)  18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.  19 “The LORD saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.  20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness.  21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.  22 For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.  23 “‘And I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend my arrows on them;  24 they shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured by plague and poisonous pestilence; I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with the venom of things that crawl in the dust.

This final curse was realized with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans one generation later, as prophesied by Jesus in Matt 24.

 

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Part 13 (“Forgiveness of sins,” Part 1)

  1. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    How many individuals in scriptures belonged to two nations? When the Israelite’s were in Egypt they were never identified as Egyptians. I ask that question because of the communication above speaking of Christians as a nation. I can only find one verse in NT which remotely suggests that Christians or God’s people are a nation. There are many times that writers of the NT still referred to themselves as members of the Israelite Nation even though they wee then Christians.
    Peter refers to his brethren as a holy nation, but then quickly speaks of them as God’s people.
    1Pe 2:9-12 ESV But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (10) Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (11) Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (12) Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
    I just present that as a prelude to another side of the (coin), if Christians were to be a nation as other nations, then all would either be in one nation or out of the nation, but if that be true how would this be said of all Christians in this assembly?
    Rev 5:9-10 ESV And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, (10) and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
    Rev 7:9 ESV After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
    In this last passage the term nation was not applied as one Christian Nation, it seems that these were members of many nations etc: assembled into an assembly, but the source was individuals, no one or groups of ones were identified as the whole of a Christian Nation. Yes, we as Christians are members the Kingdom of God, but evidently that does not remove our identity and membership to the physical nation to which we belong now. Are we members of Two nations?

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Larry writes,

    I can only find one verse in NT which remotely suggests that Christians or God’s people are a nation.

    Well, the OT, Jesus, Paul, and others refer to the church as the “kingdom.” “Kingdom” is another word for nation.

    (Eph. 2:19-20 NET) 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built34 on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,35 with Christ Jesus himself as36 the cornerstone.

    “Fellow citizens” is clear language implying a nation.

    (Phil. 3:20-4:1 NET) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours30 into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.

    “Our citizenship is in heaven” to subjects of the Roman Empire is downright seditious in a totalitarian empire. Again, “citizenship” means we are to think of the church as a nation.

    (1 Pet. 2:9-12 NET) 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues27 of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You28 once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy,29 but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct30 among the non-Christians,31 so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.

    Not only is the church a “holy nation,” but we are to think of ourselves as strangers and exiles among non-Christians.

    Remember, at the time the NT was written, the nation of Israel was a conquered nation, occupied by Rome, and the Jews very much thought of themselves as a nation. They rebelled against Rome in 70 and again around 125 to establish themselves as an independent nation and failed. And yet they were scattered among dozens of nations. Some would have been Jews living in Greece and yet having Roman citizenship — but they thought of themselves as Jews of the nation of Israel, a nation unwillingly occupied by Rome.

    So they were both from many nations and yet only one nation. Of course, the fact that Christians comprise a single nation hardly means that the nations of the world don’t exist. And in today’s world, you have to live in an earthly nation. All the land has been claimed by a nation-state. But that hardly means that the nation-state has a claim on you equal or superior to Jesus’ claim.

    Now, it is possible to have dual citizenship and to serve two masters — in the law. But in the eyes of Jesus, we must choose. “No man may serve two masters.” And the language is clear that we are to consider our heavenly citizenship as primary and to consider ourselves as strangers and sojourners (non-citizens) of earthly kingdoms — although Rom 13 and other passages are clear that we are to be obedient citizens to the extent we can do so without violating Christian principles.

    We would love to be hyphenated Christians. You know, American-Christians and so have allegiance to our earthly nation-state co-equal with our allegiance to Jesus — but this is just not allowed in the Scriptures. It’s not “God and America.” That’s idolatry. Jesus is our Messiah = King. We serve him, and if that means also serving our local community or nation-state, then out of faithfulness to Jesus, that’s what we do. But we don’t serve America because we’re Americans. We serve because we’re subjects of King Jesus.

    Resident Aliens is a very readable, excellent book wrestling with these concepts.

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    “Well, the OT, Jesus, Paul, and others refer to the church as the “kingdom.” “Kingdom” is another word for nation.”
    Are we then to believe that those two words are synonymous? Where one is used the other could be substituted and would not convey a different conclusion? Haven’t we discussed here many times how important it is that we identify what a message meant to those who were being addressed in order to gain a proper understanding for our time, rather than just applying our terminology to an understanding?
    Jesus while on earth never used the word “nation” while referencing his reign or the church. In fact, these are the only records I can find where Jesus even spoke the word “nation” or “nations”.

    (Mat 24:7 ESV) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
    (Mar 13:8 ESV) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
    (Luk 21:10 ESV) Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

    (Mat 24:9 ESV) “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
    (Mat 24:14 ESV) And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
    (Mat 25:32 ESV) Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
    (Mat 28:19 ESV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    (Mar 11:17 ESV) And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
    (Mar 13:10 ESV) And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.
    (Luk 12:30 ESV) For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
    (Luk 21:24 ESV) They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
    (Luk 21:25 ESV) “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,
    (Luk 24:47 ESV) and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

    I see that none of these are used to identify anyone who is following God or Christ. I do see that Israel was sometimes identified in both OT and NT as a nation. Sometimes Israel was identified as a kingdom.
    (Exo 19:6 ESV) and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
    Yet, not everyone in Israel was a priest.

    But, Jesus only used the term “kingdom” for his body of believers. At least 108 times Jesus used the term kingdom while teaching about his and his Fathers reign. John the Baptist also used “kingdom”.

    Try this little exercise.
    (Mat 3:2 ESV) “Repent, for the NATION of heaven is at hand.”
    (Mat 4:8 ESV) Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the NATIONs of the world and their glory.
    (Mat 4:17 ESV) From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the NATION of heaven is at hand.”
    (Mat 4:23 ESV) And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the NATION and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
    (Mat 5:3 ESV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 5:10 ESV) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 5:19 ESV) Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the NATION of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 5:20 ESV) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 6:10 ESV) Your NATION come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
    (Mat 6:33 ESV) But seek first the NATION of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
    (Mat 7:21 ESV) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the NATION of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    (Mat 8:11 ESV) I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the NATION of heaven,
    (Mat 8:12 ESV) while the sons of the NATION will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    (Mat 9:35 ESV) And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the NATION and healing every disease and every affliction.
    (Mat 10:7 ESV) And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The NATION of heaven is at hand.’
    (Mat 11:11 ESV) Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the NATION of heaven is greater than he.
    (Mat 11:12 ESV) From the days of John the Baptist until now the NATION of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
    (Mat 12:25 ESV) Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every NATION divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.
    (Mat 12:26 ESV) And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his NATION stand?
    (Mat 12:28 ESV) But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the NATION of God has come upon you.
    (Mat 13:11 ESV) And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the NATION of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
    (Mat 13:19 ESV) When anyone hears the word of the NATION and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
    (Mat 13:24 ESV) He put another parable before them, saying, “The NATION of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
    (Mat 13:31 ESV) He put another parable before them, saying, “The NATION of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.
    (Mat 13:33 ESV) He told them another parable. “The NATION of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
    Mat 13:38 ESV) The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the NATION. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
    (Mat 13:41 ESV) The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his NATION all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
    (Mat 13:43 ESV) Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the NATION of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
    (Mat 13:44 ESV) “The NATION of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
    (Mat 13:45 ESV) “Again, the NATION of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
    (Mat 13:47 ESV) “Again, the NATION of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.
    (Mat 13:52 ESV) And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the NATION of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
    (Mat 16:19 ESV) I will give you the keys of the NATION of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
    (Mat 16:28 ESV) Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his NATION.”
    (Mat 18:1 ESV) At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the NATION of heaven?”
    (Mat 18:3 ESV) and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 18:4 ESV) Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 18:23 ESV) “Therefore the NATION of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
    (Mat 19:12 ESV) For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the NATION of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
    (Mat 19:14 ESV) but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the NATION of heaven.”
    (Mat 19:23 ESV) And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the NATION of heaven.
    (Mat 19:24 ESV) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the NATION of God.”
    (Mat 20:1 ESV) “For the NATION of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
    (Mat 20:21 ESV) And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your NATION.”
    (Mat 21:31 ESV) Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the NATION of God before you.
    (Mat 21:43 ESV) Therefore I tell you, the NATION of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
    (Mat 22:2 ESV) “The NATION of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,
    (Mat 23:13 ESV) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the NATION of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
    (Mat 24:7 ESV) For nation will rise against nation, and NATION against NATION, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
    (Mat 24:14 ESV) And this gospel of the NATION will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
    (Mat 25:1 ESV) “Then the NATION of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
    (Mat 25:34 ESV) Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the NATION prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
    (Mat 26:29 ESV) I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s NATION.”
    Or how about this one.
    (Joh 18:36 ESV) Jesus answered, “My NATION is not of this world. If my NATION were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my NATION is not from the world.”

    Do these passages still portray the same concepts that they did before replacing (kingdom with nation)?
    To me the use of nation in the NT usually denotes a physical body of people on earth and the use that Jesus applies to Kingdom is denoting the spiritual kingdom or not earthly. Therefore, to substitute destroys the meaning in many cases. But, to anyone who does not believe in the spirit life of believers in Christ or does not believe that our life as Christians here on earth is already an immortal spirit that does not die, beginning at our born again life, I guess it would not make a difference. Because, the only future or after life they can imagine is a physical one which would be dependent upon all the same elements that we have to have now. Like water, land or earth.

    You gave an example.
    “(Eph. 2:19-20 NET) 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built34 on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,35 with Christ Jesus himself as36 the cornerstone.
    “Fellow citizens” is clear language implying a nation.
    (Phil. 3:20-4:1 NET) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours30 into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.
    “Our citizenship is in heaven” to subjects of the Roman Empire is downright seditious in a totalitarian empire. Again, “citizenship” means we are to think of the church as a nation.”

    Are you trying to imply that “citizenship” cannot apply to a “kingdom”? Well I bring your attention to the fact that we are citizens of heaven, right now, not in the future. So I guess then you would rewrite these verses to also say “heaven is a nation”. We talk and read about the Kingdom of Heaven, should we be just as comfortable using the phrase nation of heaven?

    That transpires to we are spiritual citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and also physical citizens of the Nation of America or any other earthly nation, kingdom, country or whatever governing body which is in control wherever we live.

  4. Dwight says:

    I’m not sure I agree that Kingdom and body/church and nation are synonymous simply because The Kingdom has a King, the body/church has a head and we as priest have a High Priest. When we read about the statue that was destroyed, the kingdoms were destroyed by the Kingdom that can’t be destroyed symbolized by stone.
    Nation: def, a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory:
    I’m not sure that would apply to the saints in any way, except the commonality being Christ, but the territory cuts across all lands. Christians are almost more like the Jews in exile than anything as they live on the earth.

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