We are approaching the Easter Season. I thought it would be a good time to repost my review of N.T. Wright’s excellent book, “Surprised By Hope”. It provides a great summary of the Christian hope which is taught in the biblical record.
Putting Flesh And Bones On The Christian Hope
In his book, Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright demonstrates again why he is one of today’s most readable New Testament scholars. He combines a great intellectual acumen and rigor with a wonderful pastor’s heart, which is always burdened to foster the faithfulness of God’s people.
In this particular book, Wright begins by demonstrating that both Christians and non-Christians are often confused about what the ultimate Christian hope is. Wright contends that most people have a very vague, sentimental and non-biblical view of life-after-death. This is understandable for non-Christians but it is more troubling and surprising that this is the case for Christians.
The most common cultural view regarding life-after-death is that somehow things will all work out in the end. We’ll either turn into angels or become liberated souls carried on clouds or floating in some ocean of endless peace. Wright shows how these owe more to Platonic or pagan beliefs than to biblical teaching.
Wright does a great job of expounding what the actual biblical teaching is on life-after-death. He shows that the Jews and early Christians always believed that what happened to the faithful right at death was a temporary or intermediate stage. The deceased believers are somehow held in the powerful and loving embrace of God. They are conscious but do not possess their new and glorified bodies until that Final Day.
Wright writes that in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, God has shown us ahead of time what will happen to all of His people. The Jews always believed in the resurrection but it was a great surprise to Jewish expectation that their Messiah would arise from the dead to a new life right in the middle of this present age. It was also a great surprise to them that their Messiah died on the cross in the first place.
From solely a human perspective, the crucifixion of Jesus meant that he was not the Messiah or the Christ. In fact, in Deuteronomy 21:23, it says “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a cross”. But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals to us that He’s full of surprises. In Galatians 3:10-14, the Apostle Paul teaches us that Jesus became a curse on the cross not for his own sins, but for our sins. He became a curse for us, so that through our faith in him, we might receive the blessings of forgiveness and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Living As People Of Hope
Wright not only expounds that the Christian hope is specific, solid and sure but then he does an outstanding job of explaining the difference that biblical hope should have in our day-to-day lives. Wright demonstrates how the bodily resurrection of Jesus was a vindication by God the Father regarding the claims of Christ. In the bodily resurrection of the Messiah, God was showing that Jesus was the true Lord of the world and that the Roman Caesars were only pretenders to the world thrones.
It was this kind of message or gospel that was troublesome to worldly rulers, and not the message of the Gnostics, who only believed in a spiritual or inward resurrection. The early Christians were faithful to the biblical teaching and understood that Jesus’ actual bodily resurrection had implications for the whole cosmos.
Their hope in the resurrected Christ not only motivated them to grow in a personal relationship with Christ but also to work for a transformed world because one day, God would remake all of creation. Bible study and corporate worship on Sunday morning are important but also work and play during the rest of the week is important. Our ultimate hope is to live in a resurrected body in a new heaven and new earth that will be more solid and beautiful than anything we have experienced so far in the old earth.
This is the surprising hope that God has gifted us with in the resurrected Jesus. Thank you, Lord, and thank you, N.T. for opening our eyes and hearts anew to this very Good News.