Summer Book Review: “Knowing Jesus” [Ch. 4]

knowing Jesus PhotoA book I really enjoyed this past year was Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, so I’ve been sharing a chapter-by-chapter summary/review over the summer. I encourage you to read along and share comments on here as well!

Chapter Four: Jesus and His Old Testament Mission

Summarizing Jesus’ understanding of his mission as “sent” was a beautiful way to juxtapose this dependent mindset against one that is often portrayed—Jesus as one who was independently taking on the world and rescuing mankind, as if he were a “self-appointed savior or popularly elected leader.”[1] This is not to say Jesus didn’t rescue us, or that he didn’t take on the world’s sinful system, conquering it through sacrificial love and servant leadership. But this was not something he did on his own. He did this in conjunction with the Father, the One who sent him. Undoubtedly, as the sent one, it was Jesus’ work “to do the will of the one who sent him” (John 6:38).

This is precisely what Wright explains and proves in chapter four, laying out in clear terms the mission of Jesus as first and foremost undergirded by the Old Testament.

Wright primarily addresses two components to the mission of Jesus: 1) the restoration of Israel and 2) the ingathering of the nations. It is these two facets that he tackles, showing how each one connects to the Sending One, the Sent One, and how each facet relates to one another.

It is important to note that these components were rooted in Jewish expectations, and Wright sets the stage well by bringing this to our attention early. And just where were Jewish expectations most notably seen? In the Old Testament for sure! Passages in the Psalms, Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Zechariah show clearly that Israel’s restoration and the nations ingathering were all part of God’s fundamental plan. But how? Isn’t one judged and the other saved? One doomed and the other redeemed? Wright comments wisely and insightfully regarding this when he wrote, “The dividing line between judgment and salvation is not a line that simply runs between the nations and Israel, but through both of them…And the Old Testament sees both of them together as the eschatological future people of God.”[2]

In the first four sections of chapter four, Wright uses various people and elements to give deeper insight into these Jewish expectations. Specifically, these are 1) John the Baptist, 2) the Messiah, 3) The Son of Man, and 4) the Servant of the Lord.

Of these four categories, I was most appreciative of the striking observation that, to quote Wright, Jesus “soft-pedaled the Messiah idea.”[3] Frankly, that’s one of the titles I use frequently in proclaiming Christ, especially during holiday-themed series and messages. Yet, at least in his day, Jesus used this title the least to refer to himself; indeed, “he never used it about himself in his own teaching.”[4]

Wright’s explanation is keen, and though I’m aware of the facts of his position, connecting those to Jesus’ reticence to use the title “Messiah” eluded me. No longer! I was enriched by the paragraphs detailing Wright’s reasoning, concluding with the clear statement that the reason Jesus muted his Messiahship lay not in the fact “that Israel would be restored, but how it would happen and what it would mean.”[5]

With the Jewish expectation adequately explained, Wright concludes with three more sections, outlining this “expected” mission of God’s servant from the Old Testament, New Testament, and then through us. It is within this final section—our mission in light of Christ’s—that he gives four applications, which, incidentally, seem to be the first real applicational aspects of the book. They end with a focus on unity and continuity about the mission that the Old Testament sets forth, that Jesus accepted, and with which his followers are now entrusted. We, now, are sent, just as Jesus was sent (John 20:21), for the restoration of Israel and ingathering of the nations.

[1] Ibid, 142.

[2] Ibid, 146.

[3] Ibid, 150.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 151.

2 Comments on “Summer Book Review: “Knowing Jesus” [Ch. 4]”

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