3. N. T. Wright and the Ongoing Exile
N. T. Wright has argued that Jesus’ preaching must be set against the backdrop of these “restoration” hopes. While the residents of the southern Kingdom of Judah (Judeans, “Jews”) did return in about 538 B.C., Wright argues that exile experience did not end. He believes that Jews equated Roman occupation with exile—as long as they were still under foreign oppression they were, so to speak, “in exile.” [Wright, New Testament and the People, 268-9]
Wright argues that Jesus' teaching needs to be understood against this backdrop. He points out that the phrase “Kingdom of God” was specifically connected with this hope in first-century Jewish thought. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom should be seen as reflecting restoration eschatology (i.e., the hope that God would vindicate Israel from exile, deliver them from the oppression of their enemies, cleanse the land, and rule over the whole world as King through them).
According to Wright, Jesus interpreted the hope of restoration “theologically.” Through his ministry, Jesus believed the Lord was present, defeating the powers of evil—understood not primarily as political powers, but, rather, as spiritual forces. Through his exorcisms and healings, Jesus brought about true liberation. Since, as we saw earlier, restoration was linked to repentance, Jesus believed that through his call to repentance, Israel was being cleansed and restored to God. Jesus was thus making a radical move, rejecting a national-political vision. For Wright, it was this non-political interpretation of the Israel's hope that led to his rejection and death.
Moreover, Wright shows how “restoration” was often linked with resurrection in Old Testament and Jewish thought. He mentions a number of passages.
Daniel 12:2-3: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”
Isaiah 26:19: “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”
Hosea 6:1: “Come, let us return to YHWH: for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
Also, see the above prophecy from Ezekiel 37 [cf. Part 1 of this Essay]. Jesus' resurrection was thus understood in terms of the restoration of Israel. Wright does not mention it, but it is interesting to note that the actual word “diaspora” was used most commonly in reference to the decomposition of a body after death [See James Scott, “Exile and the Self-Understanding of Diaspora Jews,” in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Conceptions (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 178-179.].
Continue to Part 4...