Top critical review
N.T. Wright got some right.....
Reviewed in the United States on February 9, 2019
When people say N.T. Wright is the foremost theologian in the west and so many other accolades, it’s quite off putting. I recently saw an interview, and there were no self deprecating remarks when he was exalted this way by the interviewer. It made me somewhat angry because he is the product of a Christianity that left the tracks in many ways, somewhere in the first 3 centuries A.D. He's trying to get back but he's like a person who's way out to sea and trying to swim back--it's a long way. You need to be swept back into the first century, to begin to understand what is important and what Jesus and his followers understood. To make the point, I’ll take a plain statement of Paul that Mr. Wright tries to make muddy. I'm not mentioning rapture, because the bible doesn't and because I think that is causing Mr. Wright to overreact.
So here's Paul's statement (Moffatt translation, but any would do):
1Th 4:13 We would like you, brothers, to understand about those who are asleep in death. You must not grieve for them, like the rest of men who have no hope.
1Th 4:14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then it follows that by means of Jesus God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
1Th 4:15 For we tell you, as the Lord has told us, that we the living, who survive till the Lord comes, are by no means to take precedence over those who have fallen asleep.
1Th 4:16 The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a loud summons, when the archangel calls and the trumpet of God sounds; the dead in Christ will rise first;
1Th 4:17 then we the living, who survive, will be caught up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall be with the Lord for ever.
Now Mr. Wright takes simple straight statements and tries to tie them to what "he" sees as Pauls influences and reason for writing what he does. Paul only is answering what happens at the moment of Christ's return, but Mr. Wright assumes that the last part about meeting the Lord in the air means we are whisked away from the earth to the heaven where God lives. But that is NOT what Paul said, and the disciples would have known better. What did the disciples expect, and how would they have very naturally understood these scriptures?
After Jesus had been resurrected he was meeting with his disciples. They asked him a question.
Act 1:6 Now when they met, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time you are going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?"
Act 1:7 But he told them, "It is not for you to know the course and periods of time that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
Notice what they knew and expected: Jesus was born messiah-- to be a king and to rule from Jerusalem over the restored Kingdom of Israel. Jesus didn't correct them or contradict them in any way. He just said the Father had reserved that moment, and not let it be known. The point is that when Jesus returns, he will come back to Jerusalem, his feet touching on the Mount of Olives. This is clear from what happened 2 verses later:
Act 1:9 When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.
Act 1:10 While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing,
Act 1:11 who also said, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky, will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.” (Other translations use "clouds".)
So Pauls statement in Thessalonians meshes perfectly. He leaves in the clouds and returns in the clouds. But he is not alone when he returns.
Jude 1:14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones,
When He comes those who have served him (hopefully you and I) will be with him. So Paul is answering the question, what about the saints who have died? He tells them straight and plain that the dead saints will be resurrected first of all, to meet the Lord in the air. And then those believers who are alive will be changed: Paul writes: 1Co 15:51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
“1Co 15:52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1Co 15:53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. “
--and all the saints will rise to meet him. And where do they meet him? In the clouds! Not heaven, as in God's heaven, but the physical atmosphere above the earth. So Paul is explaining the moment in the process of Jesus return where the saints do go meet him in the air.
And N.T. Wright is correct here in part: they will accompany him back. Back to what? Back to rule. Where is that rule? In Jerusalem! Where do they go after meeting the Lord in the air? Back to Jerusalem and down to the Mount of Olives as the angels told the disciples after he ascended!
Then the reign of Christ and his Church will begin. And by the way, they are the Kingdom of Israel, believing gentiles grafted into the tree of Jacob and Jews who believed and were never broken off, or were re-grafted after unbelief. God’s plan for the earth will be completed with Israel led by her Messiah, King and God.
So the first question the disciples asked will happen at last, because at that time Jesus will restore the Kingdom to Israel and all of the prophecies about Messiahs reign in all the Prophets will at last be fulfilled. Mr Wright is "right" when he says we are to deal with the earth. Paul says the saints will judge or manage angels! Remember the parable of the talents where those who bear fruit are given rule over cities? You as a Christian have a huge future in the fully restored Kingdom of God on earth.
Our lives are in preparation for that; what wonderful news, and, as Mr. Wright says eventually, the Holy City will descend with a new heavens and new earth.
So Mr. Wright gets some right, some wrong and a lot of speculative stuff in the middle. Overall, I believe first century Christians would have found his calls to political action to be strange. Rome had huge injustice everywhere, but neither Jesus nor his disciples were involved on a political level with resisting it. Christians in China now are trying to live peaceably with a government that is clearly evil, just like in Rome. If they go and try to get active politically, they will lose their freedom to meet (what little they have), and be unable to live peaceably and serve God.
Satan would like nothing better than to have Christianity in China seen as a political subversive group there. It has grown tremendously and they are threatened in the government. The government needs to know that Christians are commanded to be good citizens. They are too busy fighting their own natures and Satan be subversive. They fight on their knees. Paul said to submit to authorities, good and bad. Christianity is not of this world; Jesus Kingdom is not of this world. But the fullness of it is coming TO this world. That is our hope as we live Godly lives in the light of day.