N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 9 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 3)


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.

Rom 2:25-29, Part 3 [JFG]

(Rom. 2:25-29 ESV)  25 For circumcision [the mark of a Jews] indeed is of value if you obey the law [Torah], but if you break the law [Torah], your circumcision becomes uncircumcision [of the heart under Deu 10:16 and 30:6].  

26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law [Torah], will not his [physical] uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision [or the heart]?  27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code [Torah] and circumcision but break the law [Torah].

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter [merely knowing Torah rather than obeying Torah]. His praise is not from man but from God.

The Glory of God in Ezekiel [JFG]

We rarely study the major prophets in Bible class. The books are just too long to cover in a 13-week quarter. And no one feels qualified to teach them. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling gap in our knowledge. No one knows this stuff, and so no one teaches it, and so no one knows it.

The best book on Ezekiel is The Message of Ezekiel by Christopher J. H. Wright (no kin to NT). But before you attempt to cover the whole thing, get some software or website that lets you easily do word searches in a single book, and just search “Spirit” or “glory” or “temple” to get a feel for the message and language of the book. Other words and themes will come to mind as you do your word studies. And while you’ll only see bits and pieces of a much larger, masterful work, it’ll help you understand what’s going on.

Ezekiel wrote from Babylon. He prophesied to the first group of Jews taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and relocated to Mesopotamia. He warns against further rebellion but he also looks ahead to the end of Exile.

One of the most poignant elements of Ezekiel is the recurring theme of God’s presence — his Glory — leaving the Temple.

The story begins with a Theophany — the appearance of God himself to Ezekiel —

(Ezek. 1:2-6 ESV)  2 On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin),  3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.  

4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.  5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness,  6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 

In chapter 1, Ezekiel describes the Glory of God in detail — in astonishing language. You really should read it all. In fact, read it out loud or have someone read it to you.

(Ezek. 1:28 ESV)  28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Ezekiel is taken in a vision to Jerusalem to see God’s Glory in the Temple —

(Ezek. 8:3-6 ESV) 3 He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy.  4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.  5 Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy.  6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

God said he was being driven from the Holy of Holies (the sanctuary) by the sins of the people. The ceremonies of the Temple ritual were practiced part to preserve the purity of the Sanctuary against the stain of the sins of the people. But now Israel’s sins were too much. The Temple was too polluted by the people’s sins for God to continue to dwell there!

Ezekiel then sees God’s Glory leave the mercy seat — where God’s presence dwelt, immediately above the Ark of the Covenant — and go into the Temple courts.

(Ezek. 10:3-4 ESV)  3 Now the cherubim [atop the Ark of the Covenant and encircling the Mercy Seat] were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court.  4 And the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD.

This is a reversal of the entry of God’s Glory into the Holy of Holies when the Temple was dedicated by Solomon.

(Ezek. 10:18-19 ESV)  18 Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.  19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.

God’s Glory then leaves by way of the east gate. And it seems likely that Jesus was led from the east gate of Jerusalem to be crucified many centuries later.

(Ezek. 11:23-24 ESV)  23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.  24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me. 

The Glory then leaves by way of the mountain to the east of Jerusalem — the Mount of Olives.

Now, when God returned to the Temple in the form of Jesus, Jesus entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, reversing the path of the departure of God’s Glory in Ezekiel — fulfilling the prophecies of Eze 39-44.

(Ezek. 43:2-5 ESV)  2 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.  3 And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face.  4 As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east,  5 the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 

Jesus  himself returned to the physical Temple. The Spirit was outpoured almost certainly at the Temple at Pentecost — because there was no other place large enough for such a crowd in Jerusalem at the festival.

But the glory of the LORD did not fill the Temple until the Spirit was poured out on the temple of the Holy Spirit — God’s church.

(Eph. 2:21-3:1 NET)  21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,  22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  

(1 Pet. 2:4-5 NET)  4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight,  5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 

And so you can see why the NT writers associate the Spirit with the Glory (or very presence) of God —

(1 Pet. 4:13-14 NET)  13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.  14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you

(2 Cor. 3:17-18 NET)  17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom.  18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 

Now, we don’t have to fathom every mystery contained in these passages to reach some conclusions. For example, the OT plainly tells us that when the Spirit is outpoured, it will not be a one-generation thing. The Spirit will continue to be on God’s people to the end of the age — until Jesus returns.

Just so, we see that the Second Temple period Jews, who had read Ezekiel, considered God’s presence to have left Solomon’s Temple and that God has promised a return as magnificent and powerful and sudden as God’s entry into the Temple when Solomon dedicated it.

(1 Ki. 8:10-11 NET)  10 Once the priests left the holy place, a cloud filled the LORD’s temple.  11 The priests could not carry out their duties because of the cloud; the LORD’s glory filled his temple. 

This happened at Pentecost — and is the initial outpouring of the Spirit by God on his people — making his people into his temple.

But there’s more … You see, the Spirit inspired the Prophets to tell us quite a bit about the Spirit, and in so doing, they tell us quite a bit about the new covenant made by Jesus.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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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8 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 9 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 3)

  1. Dwight says:

    Many in the coC have a love-hate relationship with the OT, we love it when we need it on things like creation, beginning of sin, but we don’t think we need it when it comes to righteousness, after all the Gospel isn’t the OT as it begins at Jesus. What we don’t understand is that the OT begins at God and Jesus and then flows forwards. To understand Jesus entry into the Holy city in the NT is made complete by understanding God’s entry and then exit from it in the OT. What I often hear is that the gentiles were taught just what Jesus and the apostles said and were not subjected to the OT as it wasn’t needful, but then again how does one explain the book of Romans which is to the saints, probably more gentiles than Jews in Rome, which is dripping with Jewish references on sacrifice, priesthood, the Temple, etc.? What we often attempt is to build a structure while erasing the underlying base it is built on.

  2. Alabama John says:

    Many understand and look on Romans as being written by a devout Jew who studied under OT expert Gamaliel as the Bible states. That being so, OT terms and words are no surprise to be included by that OT educated Jew, Paul, in his describing things of God.
    WE must keep in mind that even the NT was written by mainly Jews who were brought up from birth studying the OT and in the end, that nationality back then and up until today refuse to accept Jesus.
    Their study and knowledge from personally knowing so many of the writers of the OT and their history sure didn’t accomplish bringing them to Jesus.
    WE must be careful since we know the end and believe in the NT and Jesus that we don’t go back to the OT and pick and choose scriptures to fit. That is why so many of us concentrate on the NT as it was for us the grafted in ones but the OT wasn’t.

  3. Dwight says:

    AJ, I would say this is not a true/not true statement. “and in the end, that nationality back then and up until today refuse to accept Jesus. Their study and knowledge from personally knowing so many of the writers of the OT and their history sure didn’t accomplish bringing them to Jesus.”
    Many Jews, even the Samaritans, understood the prophecies regarding Jesus, but just couldn’t accept Jesus, the man. These were usually the Jewish leaders who should have known better.
    But many Jews did accept Jesus, in fact all those in Acts 2 were Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. 3,000 of them were Jews who were converted.

    Peter argued from the point of the OT as well as Phillip to the eunuch. It wasn’t the OT fault that man didn’t utilize it properly, after all Gal.3 “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
    The OT and law was made to look forward and point to Christ, the same as the NT.

    In fact Romans sounds as though it was written to mainly a Jewish audience, “Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God….For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.” But then again they were in Rome, so many of them were probably Hellenized or Roman citizens. Paul’s argument was an attempt to bring the Jews and gentiles together in Christ, not to make the gentiles into a Jews or even the Jew into a gentile. This was a stone that would crush all other Kingdoms and reign forever.

    This is an odd statement “That is why so many of us concentrate on the NT as it was for us the grafted in ones but the OT wasn’t.” as most if not all of the scriptures access the OT and were largely written to Jews. Your argument almost should lead us to Morminism, which was the “story of Jesus for the Americas”. I’m kidding of course. But in a sense the OT wasn’t even written for the Jews if they became Christians. Or was it written for all after all the promise of Abraham was a promise to bring all nations together.
    The point of the OT was to create a base on which to build the NT. A new nation was formed, not Jewish, not gentile. At the time of Acts the scriptures were the OT and then you had the apostles who were Jews building off of that. Our failure to understand the base of the OT often leads to our failure to understand the context of the NT.
    Often I hear from people the OT wasn’t written for us and then later they are running to the OT to debate creation over evolution, using of course strictly…the OT.

  4. Alabama John says:

    I wouldn’t attend a class of Gamaliel if it was being held nearby.
    Once you believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, all that history to bring us to that belief is a waste of time.
    It is interesting, but all those kings, names we can’t pronounce, and stories serve no purpose to bring us to a conclusion if we are already there.
    Lets instead concentrate on obtaining the next step forward doing good things and being together in heaven.
    Let the Jews float their own boat!

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    It really would seem odd if the the writers of the NT would have attempted to describe God and His relationship to mankind through knowledge of the Gentile world. Would their heritage have provided us with an example of a schoolmaster, a guardian, a tutor, a child conductor, a teacher or a trainer? It appears to me that the reason that there is so much within these writings that can appear to be a parallel to OT writings is to supply enough information from the OT to the NT reader, so a reader of the NT will not need to have a working knowledge of the OT to fully understand the concept being conveyed to the Gentile, (non Jew) who had not been schooled in the (Torah) or does not have a knowledge of the history of the previous generations described in the OT. By saying that I would also be committing to the fact that I believe a study of the OT should never disclose that there is something in the NT which would require knowledge from the OT to complete our salvation. Everything which would create a faith and belief in God, His Son and The Spirit can be found in the NT. All of the important events which would be regarded as vital to an understanding of a relationship that God expects is fully portrayed.

  6. Dwight says:

    Larry and AJ, I am not trying to argue that the NT is not sufficient, but rather that the OT does have value and is not “a waste of time”.
    I believe I Tim.3 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” to be true and this would have included the OT not as a thing to follow, but rather a thing to learn about God from.
    The OT provides insight and context. The apostles reference the OT in just about every letter to the saints. The book of Revelations was written using OT imagery, mostly out of Daniel.

    In the coC we largely speak that if it doesn’t save, then what use is it?
    Those that put the Bible together undoubtedly saw its use as they literally bound the OT to the NT.

    Unfortunately we divide the OT and the NT, but in the early days they would have just seen a progression from one to the other as they had the law and the prophets in writings, but they were just being told orally about Jesus by Jesus and the apostles. We make a division that was never there, much like the chapters and verses that we use to divide within the books.
    We must remember that the Torah was the first five books of the Law and included creation, sin, etc. We base our understanding on creation and sin on these as well.
    When we read Eph.5:19 and Col.3:16 about “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,…” the psalms would have come from no other place than the OT.

    Can we be saved without the OT? Sure.

    But the OT provides insight and understanding about God and if we ever actually wanted to sing a real psalm today to fulfill Eph.4 and Col.3 we would have to go to the OT.

    Ideally all we really need to know is what is written in Acts 2 in order to come to God, right?
    I mean do we technically really, really, really need the four gospels, if we can just be told about Christ through the apostles writings? Acts 2 should be enough.
    Do we need to know Jesus fed thousands with fish and healed many if we can just be told he is our Lord and savior in Acts 2?
    Do we really need the Passover to Lord’s Supper set up in the gospels if we can just go by I Cor.11?
    Sadly many actually do separate the gospel out to be supplemental.

    We in the coC have a tendency to be editors, meaning we want to say this is enough, despite being given more by God.
    It is almost as if we want to present people with the highlights and not present the whole movie, because it is the highlights that contains the real truth of the movie.
    And Jesus is the highlight. Yes, He is.

    But we seem to forget that Jesus own point wasn’t Himself, but rather God the Father. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

    It is almost like we want to argue for Jesus and then cut the Father out. Well the OT was the expression of the Father as Jesus Himself was. The story is man’s relationship to God and God wanting to bring man to Him through His plan that has been in motion and still is. Jesus was the crucial part of the plan, but the plan was from God to man for man to God. Jesus told the woman by the well, “That salvation is of the Jews.” What we edit out of this is that “Jesus is salvation” and yet Jesus made it clear that the plan “is of the Jews” or by way of the Jews. In vs. 22 Jesus makes it clear that salvation is of the Jews, because the Jews worship the true God.

    If we want to present Jesus and salvation, it is true we just need a very small portion of the scriptures, even out of the NT itself, but if we want to present God and who Jesus calls His Father we need it all. The story of creation is in itself a grand opening of God’s power and might.

  7. Alabama John says:

    The OT is interesting to read today by we Gentiles but its for and about the Jews.
    We were grafted in by God in the NT. Interesting to read of other god or idol worshiping Abraham and such, but it would be even more interesting to read about our gentile ancestors from Adam forward. They just may of been worshiping God in their manner better than the Jews.
    In the end, it was not the bible that brought so many of us to the one and only head, father, God, but our families and even sisters like Sister Jacks, or sister Pearl Simpson from an old coal mining town of Lewisburg, Alabama who told us about Jesus when we were in their classes as young children so we would have faith in Him.
    After all it all really based on faith not scriptures that we will be judged by. Faith has been from the beginning, the written word especially in print is relatively a new thing. By far most throughout the ages have never seen a bible. Faith alone was enough.
    For those that think it will be like a written exam at the judgment they are sure missing a lot.

  8. Dwight says:

    AJ, So you are Gentile and not a Christian? Hmmmmm.
    Just for fun let’s replace Gentile and Jews, with Children of God as we are one nation.
    And then let’s replace the term Jews before the day of Pentecost with the same terminology as they were known…children of God.
    The reason this is both true is that Jesus came through the children of God, the Jews, to create not another family, but the same family where the gentiles could be grafted in. So the children of God could not be claimed by the Jews only and neither by the gentiles only once they were under Christ.

    But also during this time, before the writings of the apostles which came many years later, they use primarily the OT as their source for reading about God and even Jesus. Acts 2 was based out of the OT and the eunuch was reading Isaiah, so the OT was hardly about the Jews or written to the Jews, but it was written to those who sought God, because it was about God and was meant to lead them to God…even Jesus.
    Now your argument would be that we should only read or listen to those things about God that were written after Jesus lived, so even the four gospels are out of the picture, because they were written by Jews about a Jew.
    My point is that the only people that divide the scriptures are us.
    That is up until the point when we need the OT scriptures to argue for certain things like the beginning of sin and creation, etc.
    So just where did Sister Jacks, or sister Pearl Simpson get their information from and how could it be consistent and the word of God if they derived themselves?
    “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God”.
    It is strange that you say ” even more interesting to read about our gentile ancestors from Adam forward”, but you deny the OT. Those gentiles like Adam and Eve and Enoch and Noah were all from the first book of the Torah, which the Jews regarded as their ancestors…Godly ancestors.

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