A Summary of Chapter 7 of Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright

1.  Introduction

Chapter 7 is entitled “Reimagining God’s Future”.  Monotheism and election lead to eschatology.  Due to the present state of the world and Israel, the God of Israel (election), the one and only God (monotheism), must act in the future to make things right (eschatology).

2. Jewish Eschatology in the First Century

The defeat of paganism is emphasized in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55) and Daniel.  A new creation will reverse the events of Genesis 3.  On the other hand, prophets such as Amos also foresee judgment being brought upon Israel for its wrongs.  The eschatological themes of second-Temple Judaism included:  “coming judgment, vindication of Israel, the Day of YHWH, the establishment of God’s kingdom, the overthrow of paganism, the arrival of the Messiah, and so on” (p. 132).

Although some Jews had returned from the Babylonian exile, there was still a sense among many Jews that they were in exile, at least metaphorically.  They viewed Deuteronomy 30 as a narrative.  If Israel lived according the Torah all would be well but if they transgressed the laws they would ultimately be exiled from the promised land, which happened in 587 BC.  However, the narrative also says that if Israel returned to God wholeheartedly their fortunes would be restored.  Many Jews thought this last stage of narrative still needed to be completed for they were still under pagan domination.  Daniel 9 speaks of exile lasting for seventy weeks of years and was drawn on by many Jews between 200 BC and 200 AD and thought to point to an imminent return of Israel’s fortunes.

The main point N.T. Wright is making is that this eschatological vision was the climax of Israel’s narrative, a narrative that had been unfolding for centuries.

3. Eschatology Reimagined around the Messiah

Paul believed that the climax of Israel’s narrative had happened in the person of Jesus the Messiah.  Of course he still believed future eschatological events.  There is a tension between what has happened in the Messiah and what will happen at the ultimate end.

Jesus’ resurrection vindicates Jesus’ Messianic claims.  This required Paul to redefine Jewish eschatology and say God has acted through the Messiah in the middle of time.  In some sense the kingdom of God was already here (Romans 14:17) but it was also still to come (1 Corinthians 6:9).  It is both present and future (1 Corinthians 15:25-29).  At the ultimate end death would be defeated and God would rule over all.

We see in Romans 6-8 and 1 Corinthians 10 that Paul was adding on to Israel’s narrative.  Romans 10:5-13 and Galatians 3:10-14 declare that Christ has freed people from the curse of the law, from exile.

4. Eschatology Reimagined around the Spirit

Paul believed a fresh outpouring of the Spirit had occurred and had inaugurated an eschatological state in which Gentiles were brought into the people of God and Jews were renewed as the people of God (Romans 10:13; Galatians 4:6-7).  The Spirit transforms the heart allowing the Christian to live according to God’s will (Galatians 5).

Returning to Romans 8 and Paul’s retelling of Israel’s history, we see that the Spirit takes the place of the Shekinah in the new-exodus story.  The new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah and Ezekiel has happened in Christ and by the Spirit.  “The Spirit is then the one who conforms the Messiah’s people to his suffering and glory, so that the Jewish expectation of the coming Messiah is fulfilled not just in the Messiah himself, but, extraordinarily, in his people as well” (p. 149).  Thus, according to Wright, the Spirit acts as a down payment, giving strength to the promise of a new creation.

5. Eschatology in Context

How do Paul’s eschatological views intersect with the Judaism of his day?  First, he is in implicit dialogue with the Old Testament and other first-century readings of it.  Old Testament promises have been fulfilled in Christ.  Second, Paul’s eschatology retains the confrontation with paganism.  Christ is the true sovereign of the world, not Caesar.  Third, Paul’s eschatological views were worked out in his day-to-day work.  His apostolic task was to build up the eschatological people of God.

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