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.
Kings and Queens [JFG/NTW]
There is this odd passage in Ephesians —
(Eph 2:4-7 ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
V. 6 says that God “raised us up with [Jesus] and seated us with him in the heavenly places.” “Raised … up” translates a word used for raising the dead. In baptism, we died to Christ and were raised to sit in heaven on Jesus’ throne with him.
“Seated” is about sitting on Jesus’ throne. We know this from Eph 1:20, which says God seated Jesus at God’s right hand, putting all thing under his feet, that is, all things other than the church. V. 22 says God did this “for” the church, not “to” the church. The church, rather, is pictured as Christ’s body (1:22) sitting on the throne, with Jesus as head of the body. That is, both Jesus and his church sit on the throne, constituting a singular being.
This is strange language to our ears. But it recalls Gen 1:26-28. This time the reference is to God giving man, male and female, “dominion” or “rule” over the creation.
This passage is paralleled in Psalm 8 —
(Psa 8:3-8 ESV) 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
And the same concept pops up in the Revelation —
(Rev 20:4a ESV) Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.
(Rev 22:4-5 ESV) 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
So we see that, in the next age, the saints will reign with God — somehow or other. I do not pretend to fully understand this. But Gen 1:26-28 says that, before the Fall of Man and curse of Creation, mankind had already been given rule over the Creation.
Psalm 8 says that this continues even today — but, of course, it’s now a broken, fallen rule. We humans have the power to destroy or rescue this planet. The power is very much in our hands, but we are broken creatures.
Fortunately, God is in the process of fixing things — including us. Christians receive the Spirit and are being reshaped into the image of God and Jesus. And part of this image is the image of a king who rules in righteousness and justice over the Creation.
When we were saved, we received not only the Spirit of dominion over the Creation, we were lifted up to sit with Jesus on his throne. Rather than sitting on the broken, fallen throne of Adam, we sit on the throne with Jesus, charged with concern and care for the Creation.
Yep, this is Christian environmentalism — which doesn’t have much to do with political or secular environmentalism. We don’t worship Mother Gaia, but we do take seriously God’s charge to Adam —
(Gen 2:15 ESV) The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
“Work” and “keep” are both words associated with the priesthood. We are God’s priests in God’s garden. And our job is to “keep” — that is, to protect and preserve — the garden, while we also “work” — make productive for human use — the garden. We are charged with balancing preserving the Creation against using the Creation to support humanity’s needs.
Notice that our kingship is connected to our being restored to the image of God. And the image of God is connected to the cross. We are given dominion so that we may be kings like Jesus — kings who give themselves up for the sake of their enemies and the undeserving.
We aren’t to be like the rulers of this world.
(Mat 20:25-28 NIV) 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The nature of our kingship
But our kingship (and priesthood) is not like the kingship of earthly kings. It’s like the kingship of Jesus — which he illustrated shortly before his crucifixion.
(John 13:3-4a ESV) 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper.
This is one of the most amazing passages in all of the Bible. Why did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? Well, the text says it’s because “the Father had given all things into his hands.” That’s right. Because he is King of the universe, he washes feet — because this is the nature of a godly king. There is no “despite” or “even though.” There is no contrast between being God and washing feet.
It’s not just that he wants to set a good example. It’s the nature of God. He was being true to his essential self, revealing what it means to be God.
(Luk 22:25-27 ESV) 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
Jesus was not just teaching a lesson on how apostles should behave. This was for all of us. We should all be foot washers — willing to do the work of a slave for our brothers in Christ, utterly without glory or praise from anyone other than the Father.
(John 13:4b ESV) He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
Leon Morris, in the New International Commentary series, concludes that Jesus stripped down to a loin cloth — just as a slave would. Imagine this: The Savior of the world, co-creator of the universe, strips down to his underwear, wraps a towel around his waste, and begin to clean the filthy feet of this apostles — including Judas Iscariot.
(John 13:5 ESV) 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Slaves do their work expecting no reward at all from those they serve.
The obvious parallel is —
(Phi 2:5-8 NET) 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross!
Notice how Paul associates the work of a slave with the cross. Some commentators make the same connection, concluding that the footwashing was a demonstration of the meaning of the cross that was to come.
Slavery in Roman times was different from American pre-Civil War slavery. It was not racist. A Greek slave might work for Greek master. It was usually possible for a slave to gain his freedom through payment of a redemption price. And slavery was often voluntarily undertaken, typically to pay off debts.
Wayne Grudem explains it this way —
[I]t was an institution far different from the horrible abuses of slavery in the 18th and 19th century in North America, in the Caribbean, and in Latin America. A “bondservant” in the first century could normally earn his freedom by age 30, was protected by an extensive set of Roman laws, and owned private property. These “bondservants” often had significant responsibility as teachers, lawyers, physicians, managers, shopkeepers, and so forth.
Nonetheless, slaves were sometimes beaten and treated with great cruelty. They weren’t considered subhuman, but they had very little in the way of rights. They had to do what they were told or the master could legally kill them — even have them crucified.
When Jesus makes himself into a slave, he asks us to imagine that he has surrendered everything, relying on the good graces of his master — not law or rights — for his protection. He doesn’t do what he does for a negotiated price. He can’t bargain. He just obeys.
For a First Century Hebrew or Greek to sell himself into slavery would have been an act of great trust and faith in his master. He had to count on the master to treat him well, but if the master did not, the slave was utterly without recourse.