N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 35 (Jesus, our Passover lamb)

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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 accomplish our salvation.

Rom 5:6-10, Part 2

(Rom. 5:6-10 ESV)  6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 

Wright makes a very different but very helpful point from this passage —

The “coming anger” (or “wrath”) of God was mentioned by Paul as the primary threat hanging over the human race in 1:18. This was reaffirmed in 2:5 (“You are building up a store of anger for yourself on the day of anger, the day when God’s just judgment will be unveiled”). Most people, reading 3:24–26, have assumed and then tried to demonstrate that Paul is saying that this “wrath” falls on Jesus instead of on his people, that God put Jesus forth as a “propitiation,” a means of turning away wrath. That is the position I have myself taken in commentaries and books. But there is a problem with this reading. Here, in Romans 5:9, Paul refers back to “being justified by his blood,” which is a clear summary of 3:21–26, and then says that as a result of this “justification” believers will be saved by Jesus from the wrath or anger that is still to come. This doesn’t seem to fit. If the wrath had been dealt with in 3:24–26 — in other words, through Jesus’s death, appropriated in present “justification”— then why would Paul speak of it in chapter 5 as still future? The answer, I think, is given in 8:1–4, to which we shall shortly come.

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 4395-4403). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The future tense of Rom 5:9 implies that God’s wrath is in the future, that is, at the Second Coming.

This conclusion is borne out by two additional considerations. First, we have already noted, on the basis of Romans 5:9, that Paul does not intend this passage as a statement of how the punishment deserved by sinners— the “wrath” of 1: 18– 2: 16— was meted out on Jesus instead. In 5:9, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9, the “wrath” is still in the future, and those in the Messiah will indeed be rescued from it; but what is going on in 3:21–26 is “in the present time” (note “but now” in v. 21 and “in the present time” in v. 26).

When Paul speaks in 5:9 of being “declared to be in the right by his blood,” he is indicating the prerequisite for “being saved from wrath,” not the idea that such a rescue has already taken place. When he looks ahead to the future day in 8:3–4, he speaks of God’s condemning sin in the Messiah’s flesh, so that there is “no condemnation.” That is speaking of the final day of judgment. This penal substitution, framed carefully as we saw by Paul by the long story of Israel and the strange work of the law, is the truth toward which, I believe, the “propitiation” readings of 3:24–26 are straining. But reading it back into the present passage distorts both the passage and the doctrine.

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 5288-5297). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

In other words, if we adopt the PSA (penal substitutionary atonement) theory that Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us on the cross, how can it be that Rom 5:9 says we’ll be rescued in the future — when Jesus returns?

The “condemnation” of Rom 8:1-2 is the condemnation that happens to the damned at the Second Coming. That wrath has not yet been fully vented. It’s yet to come, and therefore Jesus hasn’t already suffered it for us. And therefore PSA is — at the least — an incomplete theory.

The fact is that membership in the covenant community — marked out by faith in/trust in/faithfulness to Jesus — rescues us from the coming wrath much as the blood of the Passover lamb rescued Israel from the death angel. The blood of Christ, our Passover lamb, marks us as people of faith, members of the faith community, and thus saved from wrath.

It just occurred to me as I typed the preceding paragraph that Jesus as Passover lamb — a very common metaphor in the NT — never quite made sense to me because I saw God’s wrath as coming at the cross. But if I see it coming when the damned are purged by fire at the Second Coming, then it makes perfect sense that the blood of Christ serves to mark God’s people as saved/rescued from God’s wrath in just the same way that the blood of the Passover lamb did many thousands of years ago.

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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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11 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 35 (Jesus, our Passover lamb)

  1. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    There is some relevance in the position stated here, about those who accept and believe Jesus as being marked to not receive the “wrath to come” the judgement for those who are unrighteous. But, there is also relevance in the suffering that Jesus endured as more than just the torturous death on the cross. Many men including those two who died beside him suffered human torturous death, but his sacrifice was far grater than a friend willingly suffering a torturous death for his loved one.

    The message being delivered in this post shows the danger of using individual portions of scripture to portray the whole concept. As a very famous news reporter would say, “and now page two”.

    All the above concept which has been presented, must be synchronized with all the following, which speaks of the suffering and the bearing of our sins on the cross. Just the suffering of death alone, no there was a much greater burden upon Jesus than the physical death. As we do that it would be impossible to separate the suffering for our sins from his sacrifice. Peter identifies the burden of our sins as being a portion of his suffering.

    1Co 15:3 ESV For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

    Heb 2:17-18 ESV Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

    Heb 5:7-8 ESV In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (8) Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

    Heb 9:28 ESV so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

    Heb 10:12 ESV But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

    Heb 13:12 ESV So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

    1Pe 2:19-24 ESV For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (20) For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (21) For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (22) He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (23) When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (24) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

    1Pe 3:18 ESV For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

    If this disclosure does not show that your previous thoughts prior to reading from Mr Wright were correct, could you expound to us how this all is synchronized?

  2. Dwight says:

    I guess did the Jews understand that when they sacrificed the lamb that the lamb was suffering so as to appease God?
    Or did they understand that through the death of one came life to another, namely them?

    One of the misunderstood Jewish concept is the concept of now=then, meaning that when God told the Israelites they were given the Promised Land, they had not actually gotten to it or entered it. Often times the scriptures point to the harvesting of the grape and say’s “wine”, because they understood the relation and the outcome. The outcome of Jesus death is that there is the promise that God’s wrath, which has not come, is answered by Christ death.

    In Hebrews 9:16-22 we are told “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness).”

    The new covenant released us from the law and thus the sin of the law, putting for grace.
    The blood allowed forgiveness to take place.
    This is assuredly why we partake of the Lord’s Supper…to reconnect to the blood of Jesus.
    Did Jesus bear our sins? Yes,
    Heb.9:20 “bear the sins of many” is where bear means to carry or bring up, to lead up.
    So Jesus just didn’t carry the weight of man’s sin, but also carried them up…to where?
    Heb. 7:27 “who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”
    Jesus bore the sins so as to sacrifice them before God for the people’s sake.

  3. Dwight says:

    Or rather perhaps he offered up a sacrifice (Himself), where the carried the sins of man, and thus covered them with His blood.
    This seems to be the point of Heb.10:12 “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,”

  4. Dwight says:

    Last thought. Here is a case where seeing is understanding, meaning that the Jews who lived the sacrifices probably understood the context of what was written to them better than we do who have never experienced one. We can read it, but seeing it is different. We can kind of understand the horrors of war, but until movies like Saving Private Ryan came out we didn’t get to see it and even then we still aren’t in it first hand.
    Most of us who have never gone hunting or been in medical or been cop have never witnessed actual full-on blood shed. It usually causes death, but blood strangely it isn’t a symbol of death, but of life. We remember Christ death, but partake of His life giving blood. Losing it causes death, but gaining it causes life. This is a Holy transfusion or sorts.

  5. Alabama John says:

    Jesus blood cleansed us from all sin. Since we are studying Paul here are a few verses, some already used by Jay, but my emphasis is a little different. We know Paul was a lawyer so we must note that every word was written carefully with much thought and is to be taken literally.
    Now, saying that, here are a few written by Paul from our study of Romans and also a few from his other letters.

    1Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” ALL”, emphasis is on all, not SOME.

    Colossians 1:22: “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” “ALL”

    Romans 5:18: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” NKJ version is from Latin, but NIV is exactly like the Greek

    Romans 11:32: “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”
    “ALL”

    Romans 10:9: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

    Philippians 2:11: “and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” “EVERY”

    If you substitute the word “some” everywhere if says “all” and “every”, does it make sense? NO

    Also, as Paul points out in the following verses (quoting Isaiah, Jeremiah & Job), God sees things differently from the way we humans do in our beliefs and *traditions*.

    Romans 11:32-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out? For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or, who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
    “ALL”

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Larry,

    There’s a common sermon (at least there used to be) that posited that Jesus felt the pain of all the world’s sin while on the cross. I wouldn’t deny it, but I don’t see that idea in the verses you quote. I do see plain references to Isa 53 and the fact that Jesus suffered for the sake of many others.

    I must confess to being a bit reluctant to delve into the idea that bearing our sins enhanced Jesus’ physical pain because, frankly, I was forced to endure countless “revival” sermons and really bad dramatic presentations where there was a lot of shouting and screaming to make the point that Jesus really, really suffered, to make the audience feel the pain and so come forward and respond. It was very emotionally manipulative and drove away more than it attracted. It was just too much, too often.

    On the other hand, there is a good argument based on Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is from Psalm 22, which the Jews routinely recited when they were about to die. On the other hand, the words of the Psalm are particularly apt for the crucifixion.

    So if God forsook Jesus, which sure seems to be the point Mark and Matthew make (these are the only words they quote from Jesus on the cross) — then Jesus suffered the pains of gehenna on the cross because of God’s departure from him. I’ve argued elsewhere that Paul teaches that part of the suffering of the damned will be separation from God. See http://oneinjesus.info/2015/10/salvation-2-0-part-21-separation-from-god/. Some believe that this is itself the pains of hell. And maybe so.

    But if Jesus suffering separation from God, well, Jesus is YHWH, so it’s rather hard to imagine. He could have suffered separation from God the Father and God the Spirit — but not from himself. A Triune Being may have found himself truly alone for the first time in eternity.

    Contrast this with —

    (Rom. 8:38-39 NET) 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Salvation is to be with God forever in the NHNE. Damnation is to be separated from God. If God forsook Jesus on the cross, then Jesus may well have felt the pains of hell for the sake of the saved — far beyond the physical suffering imposed by the Romans using the cross and the lash. It makes sense and fits the idea of Jesus suffering the punishment that we deserve — although Jesus suffered separation from God only for three days, not all eternity. It was horrible pain, but finite even though he suffered for us all.

    (Isa. 53:3-8 NET) 3 He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. 4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. 6 All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him. 7 He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth. 8 He was led away after an unjust trial– but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.

    It is better to face the words honestly and to accept the fact that this was part of the putting away of sin. There must always be mystery here. We who are finite and sinners do not understand, and cannot even begin to understand, how evil appears to a holy God. The prophet Habakkuk could say in his prayer, “Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing” (Hab. 1:13). And the apostle Paul adds, “him who knew no sin, he [i.e., the Father] made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21); and again, Christ became “a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). When we put such passages of Scripture together, it seems that in the working out of salvation for sinners the hitherto unbroken communion between the Father and the Son was mysteriously broken. It is surely better to accept this, knowing that we do not understand it fully, than to attempt some rationalization of the saying so that it becomes more palatable to the prejudices of modern Westerners.

    Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 721-722.

  7. Monty says:

    Jesus truly died “alone” as we sing. Imagine the closest relationship you’ve ever experienced and to have that relationship- the one(s) you love so dearly turn away from you in your darkest moment. “My God , my God why has thou forsaken me?” Surely others(perhaps many Jews) uttered those words in their darkest hour, but I do believe what Jesus felt was somehow deeper and more devastating. None of us have ever known God in the magnitude that Jesus knew the Father from all eternity. It truly is a mystery.

  8. Dwight says:

    Monty, this was probably the point that Jesus was most human or felt like a human. After his friends had rejected him to be rejected, although temporarily, by his father was devastating. To ask the question, “Why has thou abandoned me”, when you know the answer is pure emotional stress.

    Now did God reject his son because His son was now “sinful” or did God reject His son, because He had to die and interceding would have stopped this is a question? I’m not 100% convinced that Jesus literally took on the sins of the world, but rather may have carried them with Him to be sacrificed when He was and this is how he “bore” them.

  9. Alabama John says:

    When Jesus came to this world, he understood why. it was no surprise that he had to suffer for our sins as he is God too and knew it all before he left heaven to come here. That understanding by us makes His coming even the more special.

    How many of us have had things happen and have uttered that same wording of: “God why have you forsaken me” or even worse “why have you forsaken her or him”?

    Go to a childrens Hospital and you’ll hear words like that spoken often about suffering and many times death of the innocent, sinless, like a child or Jesus..

    Its comforting to have faith enough to know “we’ll all understand it by and by”.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    Wright explains,

    When Jesus cried out, in the opening words of Psalm 22, asking why God had abandoned him, Matthew does not intend us to think, in a comforting sort of way, ‘Oh, that was all right; you see, it only felt like that. Actually, God was carrying him through.’ Part of the whole point of the cross is that there the weight of the world’s evil really did converge upon Jesus, blotting out the sunlight of God’s love as surely as the light of day was blotted out for three hours. (Matthew probably intends us to see here the start of the fulfilment of Jesus’ words in 24:29; these events are ushering in God’s ‘last days’, which will reach their climax when the son of man is exalted and vindicated, and the Temple is destroyed.) Jesus is ‘giving his life as a ransom for many’ (20:28), and the sin of the ‘many’, which he is bearing, has for the first and only time in his experience caused a cloud to come between him and the father he loved and obeyed, the one who had been delighted in him.

    Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 190.

    I think Jesus truly was forsaken in the sense of separation from God the Father and God the Spirit. It makes sense that to truly bear the sins of the world and for the sins to be condemned in the flesh of Jesus that he would have to suffer separation from God — or else the sins aren’t truly put away from God — just as the sin offering was carried outside the camp to separate the sin carried in the flesh of the offering from the people of God.

    As you suggest, Ray Vander Laan teaches that Orthodox Jews pray Psa 22 when they believe they are about to die. I can’t confirm this conclusion and so can’t be sure what it means to the Jews — since it seems to be obviously about Jesus on the cross. But the Jews recite the entire Psalm, which goes from forsakenness to confidence in God’s protection and salvation. So perhaps that’s the point for the Jews who pray the Psalm. BUt Jesus did not pray the entire psalm. Just the first verse dealing with being forsaken. God, of course, did resurrect and so rescue Jesus. The entire psalm came true as an uncanny prophecy, but the moment of Jesus’ death was a moment when he was truly forsaken, I think. After all, in Matthew and Mark, these are the only words of Jesus recorded from the cross. They are essentially the climax of the narratives — the turning point in the story. Jesus the Messiah (King) dies accursed, even suffering separation from the Father, for the sake of his followers. The nature and extent of God’s love, as revealed in Jesus, is finally demonstrated (not that the crucifixion is mere demonstration). We see what it means to be in the image of God. We see what sort of reign his followers will participate in when they are glorified to reign over the Creation with Jesus. It’s not just death but the surrender of everything in trust that even if God has to forsake us for a time, he’ll keep his promises to redeem and resurrect us.

    I recall that Mother Teresa felt called by God to serve the poor in Calcutta, and then for years felt abandoned by God. She had felt very close to God when she decided to go to India, but after she accepted the call, she distinctly felt that God was no longer with her — but she kept her promises to God and served faithfully until years later she felt a restoration of that relationship. Now, this is quite the opposite of what we’d expect, but God’s dealings with his disciples don’t always make for easy, Pollyanna stories. Rather, as the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews demonstrates, faith can be a difficult road.

    One of the beauties of the Psalms is that the psalmists do not sugar coat what it means to follow God. There are prayers of despair, desperation, and even abandonment. Some have happy endings. Some have merely hopeful endings. And some end in despair.

    So it seems to me that forsakenness is a real possibility even for faithful followers of Jesus. I mean, if Jesus can suffer being forsaken, what makes me too good to suffer the same? On the other hand, there is also the resurrection. Despite having been forsaken and likely feeling the pains of gehenna for his people, God ultimately proves faithful to his promises — which is at the core of the NT teachings on suffering.

    In short, if we stare Psalm 22 straight in the eyes and don’t blink, we get a better, truer understanding of what Christianity is all about. It’s not all sunshine and daisies and unicorns and glitter glue.

  11. Monty says:

    I haven’t seen it but have read some reviews that the new movie “Silence” deals with this issue of self sacrifice and being forsaken or feeling that way from God. Roman Catholic missionaries to Japan in the 1800’s( I believe) when the Japanese leader was trying to put an end to Christianity.

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