I have been wanting to read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright for a while but just never got around to it. Thankfully I had the opportunity to read it for one of my classes. I have a high appreciation for Wright because not only is he a theologian, but he is also a historian. I was a history major before I switched my major to biblical studies. Simply Jesus is written in a way that helps one understand the cultural conflicts and expectations when Jesus arrived on the scene. It also reveals that these cultural conflicts and expectations are still relevant today, and Jesus is still showing us that he surpasses our expectations of who he is what that means for the world.
In the first part of the book, Wright focuses on “The Perfect Storm” that was taking place when Jesus was born and eventually began his public ministry. At the time, the Jewish people were under the rule of the Roman empire. The Jewish people being taken captive by another nation was unfortunately a common position for them. Reading through the Old Testament, one can see that it is a common theme that God’s people were frequently taken captive, and then God would save them. Wright explains how this is central to the Jewish understanding of their story. This goes back to their most memorable and celebrated story of God setting them free: the exodus from Egypt. They believed that God would free them again from the Romans. They hoped and prayed for a Messiah that would eventually free them once and for all and set them up to be the world’s leading power.
From the Roman perspective, they were the world’s leading power because it was their divine destiny. Julius Caesar allowed for people to think that he was divine. His adopted son, Octavian, rose to power and declared that Julius was divine. Octavian was renamed Augustus and was now known as the “son of god” or “son of the divine Julius.” This pattern carried on with his successor Tiberius who took on the title of “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus.” One can see how this could cause some tension when a Jewish man arrives on the scene claiming to be the son of God and announcing that God was now in charge, that the kingdom of God had arrived.
Wright devotes the second part of the book to what it means when he says God is charge and why Jesus had to die and rise again. Reading through this section, we understand that God has always been in charge, so this is more of an announcement that Jesus is making. This announcement has to do with the long awaited messiah that would defeat an enemy and rescue his people, although this would not be the enemy that everyone thought and they would not be rescued in the way that they thought. His battle would be against Satan and he would rescue them from their sins.
Wright wrote on how western culture seems to be divided on the idea of a Satan or dark forces of any kind working behind the scenes. He writes that “The modern world divides into those who are obsessed with demonic powers and those who mock them as outdated rubbish (p. 121).” There are some that do not believe that there are dark forces at work at all. Then there are those that would demonize everything and everyone that is contrary to their beliefs. Reading from scripture will show us what is truly evil and what is truly from God. Jesus himself was even accused of working for Satan (or the accuser) in Matthew 12:22-32. Jesus makes it clear that he and Satan are fighting for opposite kingdoms and this battle would conclude with the death of Jesus on the cross. His death was not a defeat though, it was a victory where Jesus freed his people from Satan, sin, and death.
In the third part of the book, Wright does a great job of writing on how Jesus is the ruler of the world and what that means for the church. He asks the question, what does it mean for God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven? To help explain this, he created four fictional characters that all had different points of view. These views range from Christianity being a personal spiritual experience to Jesus not being the ruler of this world yet, but that he will come back one day and set everything right. Another view is that God is working through the world outside of the church and the church should take notice and help where they can. And then there is the view that we need a fresh revelation from God and that is why the world can still be a mess at times.
These views fall short of what it means that Christ is the ruler of the world. God can and does work through mysterious ways. We saw this throughout the old and new testament. He revealed himself through a burning bush, angels, dreams, etc. However, God has also chosen to work through people. Humans are wonderful beings. We have our flaws and cause plenty of damage, but we are made in the image of God and can do good. God has chosen to redeem people through Jesus and give them a purpose to further his kingdom. Wright worded it like this: “God works through Jesus; Jesus works through his followers (p. 213).” These redeemed followers of Jesus are what is known as the church. God calls the church to be a light and to make disciples of all nations. Now, there are good works outside of the church. There is no doubt that these are glimpses of people still bearing the image of God whether they have been redeemed or not. However, the main tool that God uses is his church.
Wright pointed out earlier in the book that Jesus’ mission was based off the exodus which consisted of these 7 themes: wicked tyrant, chosen leader, victory of God, Rescue by sacrifice, new vocation and way of life, presence of God, and promised/inherited land. When we look back on Jesus’ mission, we see that he fulfilled some of these and will eventually fulfill the rest. The kingdom of God has come but it is still coming. Wright describes this as the already but not yet kingdom of God. There is still more to come, where our God will dwell with us when all things are restored (Rev. 21).
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it to anyone. You can purchase the book on amazon here.