It is fundamental to the Christian worldview in its truest form that what happened in Jesus of Nazareth was the very climax of the long story of Israel. Telling the story the way a first-century Jew might have seen it not only avoids the massive historical questions that still rage around the early period, but prepares us for understanding why Jesus of Nazareth said and did what he did and why this had the impact it had. This is why I am a fan of Wright. He tells the story of Jesus within the story of Israel. It is hard to properly understand who Jesus is apart from history of Israel.
The Call of Abraham
After the Tower of Babel episode, we have the call of Abraham in Genesis 12.1-3. Verse three is the vital one. The families of the earth have become divided and confused, and are ruining their own lives and that of the world at large. Abraham and his descendants are somehow to be the means of God putting things to rights, the spearhead of God’s rescue operation.
The point is that God’s covenant with Abraham is seen as a rock solid commitment on the part of the world’s creator that he will be the God of Abraham and his family. Through Abraham and his family, God will bless the whole world. What happens, though, when the people through whom God wants to mount his rescue operation, the people through whom he intends to set the world to rights, themselves need rescuing, themselves need putting to rights. What happens when Israel becomes part of the problem, not just the bearer of the solution?
What does God do, he acts from within the creation itself, with all the ambiguities and paradoxes which that involves, in order to deal with the multiple problems that have resulted from human rebellion, and so to restore creation itself. All this explains why the story of Israel carries at its heart a single theme. It is the story of going away and coming back home again: of slavery and exodus, of exile and restoration. It is the story which Jesus of Nazareth consciously told in his words, in his actions, and supremely in his death and resurrection.
Exile and Homecoming
There is a pattern of this that repeats itself. This is exemplified in God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. That is one of the great moments in Jewish and Christian memory, drawing together God’s faithfulness to the promises to Abraham, God’s compassion for his people when they are suffering, God’s promise of rescue, freedom and hope, and above all the unveiling of God’s name and its significance (Exodus 3.14-17).
The Hope of Israel
There are four themes that swirl around the story of Israel – four themes that give body and shape to the story as it has been outlined by Wright. I will mention three but give more focus to the fourth: The king – see Psalm 89. See also Psalm 72.1-4. The Temple and the Torah are the next two. I want to give a little more attention to his fourth one:
New Creation – See Isaiah 49.6; 2.2-4, reaching back to the global promises God had made to Abraham. See also Isaiah 11.1-9 – the rule of the Messiah, then, will bring peace, justice, and a completely new harmony to the whole creation.
Isaiah 65.17-18, 25 – The theme of a new Eden (the thorns and briers of Gen. 3 replaced with beautiful shrubs) picks up one of the main subtexts of the whole biblical story. Israel’s multiple exiles and restorations are ways of reenacting that primal expulsion and symbolically expressing the hope for homecoming, for humankind to be restored, for God’s people to be rescued, for creation itself to be renewed. Isaiah never forgot that the reason God called Abraham in the first place was in order to put the entire creation back to rights, to fill heaven and earth with his glory.
Servant of YHWH
But new creation will come about only through one final and shocking exile and restoration. The king turns into a servant, YHWH’s Servant; and the Servant must act out the fate of Israel, must be Israel on behalf of the Israel that can no longer be obedient to its vocation.
The God of Israel is the creator and redeemer of Israel and the world. In faithfulness to his ancient promises, he will act within Israel and the world to bring to its climax the great story of exile and restoration, of the divine rescue operation, of the kind who brings justice, of the Temple that joins heaven and earth, of the Torah that binds God’s people together, and of creation healed and restored. It is not only heaven and earth that are to come together. It is God’s future and God’s present.
Why should we imagine that this is true?