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how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

Questions about the death of Jesus

This post is a response to some questions put to me by a young Christian who is exploring his faith, as he puts it. He writes: “I’ve been absorbed in your blog for the past couple of hours as I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s very different, and I’m sure you can sympathize with any feelings of disorientation I have!” I’m quite pleased with that. Disorientation in not much more than two hours!

He’s certainly grasped the basic argument about Jesus’ saving death in that short time, and he wants to push back in a couple of places.

First, I will summarise my proposal regarding how Jesus’ death as an act of atonement fits into the narrative-historical reading of the New Testament.

The biblical story is not about humans in general, separated from God and in need of salvation. It is about Israel as a historical people in a difficult relationship with its God, over a long period of time—rather like a troubled marriage.

The premise of the New Testament is that Israel has consistently failed in its vocation to serve its God, as a righteous priestly-prophetic people, in the midst of the pagan nations of the ancient world. Israel, therefore, stands condemned by its own Law and faces destruction, historical obsolescence. The marriage is on the rocks, heading for a nasty divorce.

Jesus’ death is presented as an atonement for this history of disobedience and rebellion—a history which would culminate in the final rebellion and faithlessness of the war against Rome in AD 66-70. Because Jesus was obedient and faithful, even to the point of death on a Roman cross, God was prepared to forgive and not finally destroy his people, if they repented of their defiance and believed that he had made his Son judge and ruler of both Israel and the nations.

In the end, only some Jews repented and believed, not the nation as a whole, despite the best efforts of the apostles. These Jews remained heirs to the promises made to the patriarchs, and indeed to the whole priestly-prophetic vocation. But they did so on the basis of a new covenant, centred on the indwelling Spirit, and under the transcendent rule of Jesus as David’s greater Lord.

For YHWH to forgive and restore his people was one thing; for him to annex for himself the nations of the Greek-Roman world was a massive step-up in eschatological ambition.

But this death for the sins of Israel fundamentally changed the conditions of membership in the community of eschatological renewal. The Spirit of prophetic witness and of the new covenant was given not to those who kept the Law, were circumcised, maintained ritual segregation, observed certain religious days, etc., but to those who believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead, had seated him at his right hand, and had made him heir-apparent to a new future over the nations.

So Jesus’ death for the sins of Israel had the secondary effect of removing the Law as a condition of membership of the covenant people (cf. Eph. 2:11-22). On the strength of the apostolic witness, a growing number of Gentiles were becoming convinced that sooner or later the risen Jesus would be confessed as Lord by the nations of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē, and they were enthusiastically expressing that pistis—that faith, belief—through the power of the Spirit of God.

Jesus’ death saved the descendants of Abraham from destruction, but it also raised the political stakes dramatically. For YHWH to forgive and restore his people was one thing; for him to annex for himself the nations of the Greek-Roman world was a massive step-up in eschatological ambition.

So that’s my argument about the death of Jesus in a nutshell. Now for the questions.

First, why do we have to limit Jesus’ death to the historical salvation of Israel? Why can’t it have a “double meaning”? Isn’t it the case that the Old Testament prophets understood historical events as foreshadowings of a final “day of the Lord” at the end of history? “Why does that history not point towards higher meaning accessible to everyone? How can you be sure Christ did not have salvation in mind for us too?”

This is a matter partly of exegesis, partly of hermeneutics.

On the one hand, the Synoptic Gospels, which were written in the second half of the first century, show no interest in attributing universal saving significance—or even regional saving significance—to Jesus’ death. The saying about giving his life “as a ransom for many” belongs to an argument about rule over Israel (Mk. 10:37; cf. Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30), which must be very different to Gentile rule (Mk. 10:35-45). If it also echoes Isaiah 53:10-12, then Jesus speaks of his death as an atonement for the sins of a wicked generation of Jews.

It may well be that Mark thought that the “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1) was a direct challenge to the supremacy of the emperor as the Son of God, for example. But this is a gospel of Christ’s lordship, not of his atoning death. His death had atoning significance for Israel, his resurrection had “kingdom” significance for the nations.

On the other hand, it is not the New Testament which asserts the presence of higher or further levels of meaning, beyond the historical. Rather the church subsequently developed a hermeneutic that validated the discovery of surplus meaning for theological and pedagogic reasons.

I would also argue, though the point can hardly be demonstrated here, that the Old Testament prophets did not consciously present historical events as foreshadowings of a final day of the Lord. What they sometimes do is use cosmological or “new creation” language to bring out the theological significance of the historical event. I doubt, personally, that there is any reference to an end of history in the Old Testament.

But the main point to make here is that the New Testament provides its own way of extending the benefits of Jesus’ saving death to Gentiles. How? By highlighting the response of some Gentiles to what YHWH was doing in and for Israel. This crucial narrative distinction is sustained throughout the New Testament, at least until we get to the Johannine literature.

The pattern is established in Isaiah. Good news is proclaimed to Zion about the coming sovereign intervention of YHWH to redeem Jerusalem and restore his people. He will make the desolation of Jerusalem “like Eden”—a new creation. The nations will see this historical act of divine mercy towards Israel and in response they will abandon their idols and turn to the living God (cf. Is. 45:22-25; 51:1-3; 52:7-12).

I think we find the same logic in the New Testament. God acts through the obedience, faithfulness, death and resurrection of Jesus to save and restore his people. When Gentiles hear about this and see the effects, they are amazed by the goodness and power of Israel’s God, and they abandon their ineffectual idols and turn to serve the living God of Israel (cf. Acts 14:15-17; 1 Thess. 1:9).

I place a lot of weight here on Paul’s argument in Romans 15:8-13:

  1. Jesus became a servant to the Jews to demonstrate YHWH’s commitment to the promises made to the patriarchs;
  2. therefore, the Gentiles rejoice over what YHWH has done for his people;
  3. and begin to put their hope in Jesus as the future ruler of the nations.

So the sensus plenior approach is unnecessary. Worse, it demonstrates a lack of trust in the God of history, the God who engages with his people in history.

Perhaps we see the beginnings of a theological rationalisation of Jesus’ death in John’s “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29; cf. 1 Jn. 2:2), but I would argue that mainstream New Testament testimony preserves the narrative structure: Jesus dies for the sins of Israel; Gentiles are forgiven because they believe in the implications of what God did in Israel; and they are incorporated into the saved people of God because Jesus’ death had the corollary of removing the Law as an entry requirement.

Does this mean that I am “sacrificing a more dynamic and living truth by restraining everything to a historical, eschatological narrative”? No. I think that what I am doing is exchanging one dynamic truth for another.

Under the regime of modern evangelicalism the personal narrative has taken centre stage, and the personal narrative pivots around the death of Jesus for my sins.

I think this makes poor sense of the New Testament. In the New Testament it is the political narrative that takes centre stage, and the political narrative pivots around the death of Jesus for the sins of Israel and, more importantly, the installation of Jesus at the right hand of God as judge and ruler of the nations.

I think that the task of the church today, both exegetically and missionally, is to recover the power of the historical dynamic. The inclusion of alienated people in a community that was radically transformed two thousand years by the death of Jesus remains a powerful, challenging and exhilarating personal option. But when the church in the West is facing its own historical crisis, it is the historical dynamic that should drive mission.

Comments

Hey Andrew! Thanks for the response.

I read your post and started to type up a response, and then realized that nothing of what I was saying dealt with the “atoning death” of Jesus. Kind of funny as of now I’ve probably been writing and reading for two hours. I’m beginning to realize my lag in understanding is due to how jam-packed these concepts are. There’s a lot going on so it takes some time to digest and reread.

I cannot speak to the atoning death of Jesus yet, I haven’t studied enough of Paul to engage with you on that, but there is one thing I would like to see and how it fits into the “particular political” view of the NT you present.

As far as I am aware Luke-Acts is one work. You seem to favor the synoptic gospels in your work, and I’m wondering if you think John is non-canonical? I want to discuss Acts below as I think you would consider it valid to work with, and its where we begin to see the gospel presented to the gentiles. So I’m operating under the premise that we can use Acts together to see what the apostles were on about when they spoke of Jesus.

It is clear that the apostles present to the gentiles that faith in Jesus as risen Lord leads to the forgiveness of sins and salvation, I think we would agree on that? If not here is why I think it

Peter before the Sanhedrin (not gentiles):
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

The word there mankind emphasizes my point. Salvation for mankind in the name of Jesus. A universal picture.

Peter at Cornelius’s house, a gentile:
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:42-43

So Peter is preaching to Gentiles, says that Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead and that by believing in him we receive forgiveness of sins through his name. The terms “living and the dead” is quite general as well as “everyone”, and so forgiveness for sins is being offered to all.

Peter before the council in Jerusalem, speaking of gentiles:

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:11

So Jew and gentile are saved by the grace of Jesus alike.

Jesus sending out Paul:

“I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Acts 26:17-18

Jesus is the one who “has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.” Acts 10:42

“There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” Acts 24:15

So the common themes here are forgiveness of sins, salvation in Jesus, and judgment at the resurrection. I quote all this to build this paradigm: Jesus will judge all peoples at the final resurrection. Those who have faith in Jesus are saved from judgment by the forgiveness of their sins.

It seems clear that the judgment the apostles are speaking of is the final resurrection of orthodox Christianity. The apostles are getting gentiles “saved” and Jesus is forgiving their personal sins because of their faith in him. The apostles are not presenting salvation from the near judgement on Jerusalem, nor are they saying Jesus is coming to establish a kingdom in a few years and will kill off the sinners. The judgement they speak of, it appears to me, is the final judgment at the resurrection of all people. This seems to be a paradigm that existed before Jesus and Christianity, the resurrection of the dead and judgment, among the Pharisees. That seems to be an important piece of history, as you seem to constrain these terms, judgment, and salvation, to SOLELY political events, and I would argue it is both. Judgment is coming in the here and now, and judgement will come in finality at the resurrection.

And so it is correct to say that by faith we receive the forgiveness of our sins and thus salvation, in a personal way. I do believe this was accomplished by the death of Jesus, though I’m not ready to engage on that.

One thing to note is that I don’t think the view I presented above is contradictory to the narrative you’ve portrayed in Romans 8 and Isaiah 53 at all. I think both go together hand in hand quite nicely, and perhaps the lens you use of the historical-narrative hermeneutic is one among several to access the truth of scripture. I suppose im saying it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation of “particular political” vs “universal personal”, but both. Let me know your thoughts!

I was surprised to notice that the 4th Gospel, that is customarily regarded to be later, more theological, more “universal” and to have a higher Christology than the Synoptics, presents what looks like a very “historical/political” contextual interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ death in Jn 11:47-52. The writer seems to endorse the analysis of the chief priests and Pharisees, that Israel is under threat of destruction by Roman arms, and that destruction will be hastened if large numbers of people embrace Jesus as Israel’s YHWH-appointed king (which is evidently what “believe in” means in the 4th Gospel; cf 20:31). In the view of the author, Jesus’ death “saves” the people of Israel in the land and in the diaspora communities from this fate.

Thanks for following up.

John is certainly canonical. “Canonical” simply means that the church fathers saw fit to include it in the canon. Samuel Conner is right to stress the historical dimension to the Gospel, but it is still the case, I think, that John tells the story of Jesus from a non-standard perspective.

I don’t think that Peter is talking about the salvation of humanity in Acts 4:12. He is saying to the rulers of Israel that there is no other person (no priest, king, demagogue, rebel leader, not even anyone among the Gentiles—no Cyrus equivalent) who can save Israel other than Jesus. “We” must mean in context “we Jews”—the “crooked generation” about which he spoke ion Acts 2:40.

I think probably still in Acts 10:42-43 Jesus is spoken of as the judge of Israel, not of all humanity. Peter is simply telling Cornelius the story of God’s dealings with his own people.

Once Cornelius and his household believe and receive the Spirit, however, it becomes apparent that forgiveness of sins is being offered also to Gentiles. Luke ties this not to the atoning death of Jesus but to the exaltation of Jesus to a position of authority.

I quote all this to build this paradigm: Jesus will judge all peoples at the final resurrection.

I disagree with this. Jesus will judge the nations at the parousia, when he is revealed to the whole Greek-Roman world, when the old gods are banished, and the nations confess him as Lord. In the only account of the final judgment that we have in scripture, all the dead are judged not by Jesus but before the throne of God (Rev. 20:11-15).

Several paradigms existed before or apart from the New Testament. I would argue that the New Testament is aligned with a stream of apocalyptic expectation that envisaged the deliverance of God’s people from Roman oppression, the overthrow of Rome, the establishment of YHWH’s rule over the nations in the place of Rome in history, and somewhat vaguely the final renewal of heaven and earth.

So I argue for three eschatological horizons: 1) the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; 2) the victory of Christ over pagan empire; and 3) the final defeat of evil and the renewal of heaven and earth.

So yes, there is both a historical and a final aspect to New Testament eschatology. The question is where we draw the lines.

Yes, the question is where to draw the lines!

I would still like to know your thoughts surrounding beliefs at the time of the final resurrection and the judgment. Jesus’s discourse with the Sadduccees seems to position him in line with the Pharisees. You are arguing that your position does justice to history, so cultural context and not just OT context is certainly important! The beliefs of the Jews certainly evolved and expanded over time, as we can see the Pharisees and Sadducees clearly arguing over the resurrection, which didn’t appear very much in OT.

Also wanted to ask a few questions about the first horizon:

I wonder how Jesus’s references of judgement could possibly be limited to the destruction of Jerusalem 70 AD? You are right to point out that Gehenna is derived from the valley Ben-Hinnom, yet it seems odd to say that he is literally referring to that very valley, as it seems you are saying elsewhere in posts. He preached that message all around Galilee and Judea, the Decapolis etc… warning of Gehenna to those living far away from Ben-Hinnom. If they heard the warning of Gehenna in 32 AD, the destruction was 38 years later. Many of these people lived nowhere near Gehenna and many would not live to see the destruction. Did Jesus think that everyone he told this to would travel to Jerusalem for the war, and live to fight in it?

He also warns of destruction of the body and soul in Gehenna, Matthew 10:28. Should he be concerned about the upcoming war I don’t see how their souls are involved, should they be tossed into the valley after death. Moreover, he tells them not to fear those who kill the body (i.e Rome) but to fear God who will kill the soul.

In Luke 12:5 Jesus says “Fear the One who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.” If all we are speaking of when we say hell (Gehenna) is the valley of Ben Hinnom, why would Jesus warn these people that their dead bodies may rest there? Is this purely to avoid cultural disgrace, i.e doesn’t look good for their bodies to be there? Or is he referring to judgement after death? The latter seems more likely.

I have not consulted primary sources, but I have read that it was common at the time to associate the final destination of the wicked in the afterlife with Gehenna. It seems that’s what he is doing.

Also, his talk of salvation seems strange, if he is only referring to the salvation from the temple destruction. In Luke 19:9 he says “Today salvation has come to this house” of Zaccheus. Today? Are you not arguing salvation is in reference to surviving the judgement on the pagan nations and Jerusalem? Perhaps you are saying Jesus is saying “You’re in for the clear when the Romans come, don’t worry”? Would Zaccheus really live that long to see the destruction and pose a threat to the Romans?

Jesus certainly prophesied judgement on Jerusalem, and I plan to explore more your arguments about eschatological expectations of the early church (overthrow of pagan Rome etc) because it seems plausible, and yet it doesn’t seem likely to me that the only talk of end-time judgement is that small section in Revelation. Although if you can respond to those remarks on hell and salvation and show how it supports your thesis I’m open to that.

And in addition, the Jewish wars continued well after the destruction of the temple. As you mention here: http://tinyurl.com/y359lv8o Christ is quite clear, the Jews must repent or they WILL perish. And yet many unrepenting Jews lived on the fight Rome later. There were multiple uprisings and regroupings occurring, was that judgment Jesus spoke of continuing through the centuries? The Holocaust? Certainly not, but then why draw the arbitrary line at 70 AD? The church and new covenant people kicked off well before that, as well as the kingdom, which Christ says explicitly is not accompanied by signs “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observe, nor will they say, “Look, here it is! or, “There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21 Jesus’s prophecies of the temple being destroyed by 70 AD did need to be fulfilled, yet once we constrain his dialogues in the Synoptics concerning judgment and salvation to this single event, some problems ensue. At least as it appears to me, though if you can address all that please do.

History is messy, of course. But the task is to interpret Jesus’ forward-looking perspective. The precedent of the Babylonian invasion is important. The focus is on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as the climax to invasion and war. Jesus knows that this will entail massive loos of life, but the central point is judgment on the temple as the seat of a corrupt leadership—a “den of robbers”. The loss of life could almost be counted as collateral damage.

The events of Jesus’ ministry and the of the mission of the disciples are to be understood, I suggest, as symptomatic of the larger work of God in renewing his people, as an anticipation of what God will do in the future. The details are to be understood in relation to the whole.

re: ” He preached that message all around Galilee and Judea, “

One does not need to live near Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ prophetic warnings as a precondition for later sufferring wrath in the form of having one’s dead body tossed into Hinnon Valley, there to decompose unburied and become food for animals.

All one needs to do is join the future rebellion when it comes, and find oneself in Jerusalem when it is besieged, which did happen to large numbers of “in the land people” in AD70 (I believe that relatively few diaspora Jews took part in the rebellion – there was a much larger diaspora contingent in the Bar Kochba war – but some must have been trapped when Titus allowed pilgrims into Jerusalem but then did not left them leave).

Jesus warning people all over Galilee and Judea to avoid this fate IMO makes perfect sense.

This is a fair perspective, though I do think we are rather labouring under a very modern concern to make this all directly relevant to every individual.

re: ” rather labouring under a very modern concern to make this all directly relevant to every individual. “

I do tend to fall into that mindset, though it seems to me that some of Jesus’ “saved from wrath” sayings do appear to be targeted at groups smaller than “Israel as a whole”, for example the famous remark about the difficulty by which the rich enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Part of the difficulty in any interaction on this subject is the likelihood of non-agreement about important but unarticulated issues. In reading your interactions with JD, I wonder whether there is agreement about the meaning of “saved”. “Saved from what?” I wonder, and “does ‘saved’ mean the same thing with respect to Gentiles, in-the-land Jews and diaspora Jews”?

Another area of probable “talking past each other” relates to the question of “what should one understand Jesus to have been attempting to accomplish?” If I understand your proposals, Jesus was attempting to become Israel’s visibly enthroned king (had he been successful, on this view, he would presumably have attemped to negotiate a durable peace with Rome and thereby saved Israel from perishing in the threatened war. Whether the ‘war party’ in Israel would have put up with this is another question, IMO).

I have my doubts about this, and suspect that from an early point in the public ministry (perhaps Ceasarea/Mt 16 is the turning point), Jesus assessed that Israel would not pursue a peaceful path under his leadership, and that he formulated an alternative “peace plan” that involved dying at the hands of the Romans, after being acclaimed king, as a way of delaying the war by discouraging the war party in Israel. That’s a highly idiosyncrative proposal, I concede.

Sorry to be so fragmented – the “early choice of path of suffering” suggested in my prior comment might have preceded Ceasarea/Mt 16. In this, I am following NT Wright’s interpretation of the temptation narratives, that sees Jesus making an early choice to follow a path of suffering rather than of visible glory.

This is all highly speculative, I concede. But “aims and intentions” are a proper subject of historical analysis, and in the case of Jesus, one’s assessment of “aims and intentions” can have significant consequences for what one reckons these narratives to mean and what their present implications might be.

Aren’t the rich whom Jesus castigates just a subset of the leadership which he holds accountable for the failure of Israel to produce the fruit of righteousness?

If I understand your proposals, Jesus was attempting to become Israel’s visibly enthroned king (had he been successful, on this view, he would presumably have attempted to negotiate a durable peace with Rome and thereby saved Israel from perishing in the threatened war.

No, this, I think, is your curious but intriguing take on the story. I don’t see any reason to think that Jesus expected to be enthroned alive as king—at least, not as the story is told in the Gospels. For example, it seems to me that the explanation given for speaking in parables rather early in his ministry points back to Isaiah’s scepticism regarding the likelihood that Israel would turn and repent (Mk. 4:11-12; cf. Is. 6:8-13).

I think I would say that he started out as a prophet—or as the Son sent to perform the task of a prophet—who had little confidence that Israel would escape destruction, and became the Son of Man who would attain the kingdom by way of suffering. Is there any evidence that he expected to lead Israel before the incident at Caesarea Philippi?

You mention the testing in the wilderness in your next comment. That is relevant, but it anticipates exactly the confrontation with Peter following his confession of Jesus as the Christ (“get behind me, Satan”) and the decision that he has to make in the wilderness. The only prospect of kingdom for this Son of God must come by the way of suffering and death.

re: “Aren’t the rich whom Jesus castigates just a subset of the leadership which he holds accountable for the failure of Israel to produce the fruit of righteousness?”

Agreed.

I guess that I have been strongly influenced by NTW’s read on Jesus’ public ministry. There are puzzling details, such as Jesus’ ambiguity about the question of his identify as Messiah, that IIRC Wright suggests indicate that Jesus was pursuing kingly ends without committing too publicly to them, for reasonable contemporary reasons (to avoid provoking a violent reaction by any of the multiple interested groups that would be threatened by an explicit declaration; perhaps one could add to these – as I am inclined to do – the public at large, who may have wanted a king for their own purposes).

By the end of the public ministry, there does seem to be a significant perception (at least among some followers – Lk:24:19-21) that Jesus was a Davidic figure who would restore the Kingdom – presumably as the king. The apostles are still asking about this at their last conversation with him, Acts 1.

Perhaps it’s too intricate an hypothesis.

Thanks for putting up with me :)

But what bearing does this have on the question of whether Jesus initially thought he might exercise an earthly rule in Jerusalem? I’m inclined to think that the anointed Son of the early period, from the baptism onwards, is more like the chosen “servant” of Isaiah 42:1, who is given the Spirit, than the king of Psalm 2:6-7. The demons recognise him to be the Son of God (Mk. 3:11-12), but is this the Son sent to the vineyard or the Son who will be seated at the right hand of God? Obviously, the reference is to the same person, but in the development of the story, there is perhaps an important difference.

As usual, my arguments are bit muddled. Agreed that the late expectations of others don’t bear on Jesus’ own earlier thinking (except possibly to the extent that Jesus may have been shaping public perceptions of himself for purposes related to his sense of mission).

That Jesus could have had visible kingship in view (I personally think not – I think he was set on the path of suffering from the outset of the public ministry) at an earlier stage might be argued from his (surely intentional) ambiguity about his identity. John forthrightly denied that he regarded himself to be “the messiah” – which I take to mean “YHWH’s anointed king”. Jesus never seems to have made a definitive statement of this kind, either yes or no, until finally, when he was the jaws of the lion, he gave an answer that satisfied his accusers that he should be executed.

This is probably still muddled, but I’m tempted to suspect that this ambiguity about his intentions could have been intended to have the effect that it seems to have had, of inspiring in some hopes that a visible redemption of Israel was near. But that’s back to my idiosyncratic hypothesis that Jesus wanted the ‘war party’ to get its hopes up, so that he could crush, for a time, militant messianism by dying in the right way at the right time and place.

I would still like to know your thoughts surrounding beliefs at the time of the final resurrection and the judgment.

You want me to provide you with an account of the spectrum of Jewish beliefs on a final resurrection in the first century?

I wonder how Jesus’s references of judgement could possibly be limited to the destruction of Jerusalem 70 AD?

I think that for Jesus Gehenna is a symbol for the destruction of Jerusalem on the basis of Jeremiah’s warning that the dead would be thrown into the valley of the Son of Hinnom (Jer. 7:32-33; 19:6-7). Jeremiah is not interested in which individuals actually end up killed during the siege, nor is he bothered about how long it will take for these events to transpire. It is a general prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem as the centre piece of YHWH’s judgment on an unrighteous nation.

On the destruction of body and soul in Gehenna see this post.

If all we are speaking of when we say hell (Gehenna) is the valley of Ben Hinnom, why would Jesus warn these people that their dead bodies may rest there? Is this purely to avoid cultural disgrace, i.e doesn’t look good for their bodies to be there? Or is he referring to judgement after death? The latter seems more likely.

It’s not so much cultural disgrace. It’s a sign to others of God’s judgment on his rebellious and sinful people. It means the same for Jesus as it did for Jeremiah and Isaiah:

I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. (Jer. 19:7–8)

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Is. 66:24; cf. Mk. 9:48)

The prophetic language is enhanced, it’s not quite literal description, but the point is clear: these are corpses outside the city, left unburied for all to see; they are not souls in torment.

I have not consulted primary sources, but I have read that it was common at the time to associate the final destination of the wicked in the afterlife with Gehenna.

There’s truth in that, but Jesus doesn’t develop the imagery in this manner; I think he stays true to the prophetic tradition. We can look at the texts some time.

Also, his talk of salvation seems strange, if he is only referring to the salvation from the temple destruction.

The salvation of Zacchaeus means that he has been affirmed as a “son of Abraham” (Lk. 19:9). He has shown himself to be part of repentant Israel, aligned with a movement in Israel which as a movement will be vindicated when God judges his people and will form a renewed people of God in the age to come. I think you’re operating with a very narrow and mechanistic understanding of the relation between individuals and the people as a whole.

As ever, there’s more than one way of looking at this. There are plenty of suggestions in the synoptic gospels that what was happening through Jesus was including the non-Jewish world, was not and would not be solely for Israel. The same trajectory continues in Acts, with non-Jewish groups receiving the Spirit, not, as it were, second hand, on the basis of hearing about a message directed to Israel.

The primary problem with the N.H. view as you present it, and which I think is fatal to its presentation, is that the death of Jesus was for Israel’s sins alone. The Gentiles only benefit, as you have said in this post, through the resurrection. You sidestep the issue by saying that the gospel was political, and not about personal sins. Paul uses very personal languagel in Galatians 2:20. The gospel becomes political because it has first dealt with personal sins, and has introduced a new creation order - 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, over which Jesus, as Lord, displaces Caesar, and is the ultimate authority to which all others become accountable - Philippians 2:6-11.

This at any rate is my understanding of where the N.H. version of events diverges the gospel which was preached in advance to Abraham - Galatians 3:8, and more fully developed in Romans, as well as 2 Corinthians and Philippians. It is both personal and political, not one or the other.

The Gentiles only benefit, as you have said in this post, through the resurrection. You sidestep the issue by saying that the gospel was political, and not about personal sins.

The Gentiles are saved because they believed that God was redeeming his people and had made his Son judge and ruler of the nations. Therefore, their pagan sins are forgiven. But because Jesus’ death had removed the dividing wall of the Law, they could become part of the covenant people without being circumcised, etc.

In Galatians 2:15-21 Paul speaks as a Jew by nature, not as a Gentile sinner (2:15). He is certainly speaking very personally—and I have always said that individuals are saved personally into what God is doing at the political level (the restoration of Israel, the transformation of the pagan empire). But his point here is that he identifies exceptionally, and quite literally, as an apostle with the suffering and death of Jesus, in the hope of being raised as Jesus was raised (cf. Phil. 3:10-11). Paul took that very personally. So did many in the coming centuries who were martyred for their faith.

The more obvious reading of Galatians 2:15-21 is that Paul finds while “seeking to be justified in Christ” - 2:17, that he is just as much a sinner as “Gentile sinners”, since by seeking this justification “it becomes evident that we are sinners”. In other words, Jesus’s death shows that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and his death availed directly and personally for the sins of both. Galatians 2:20 applies to Paul personally, but also to Gentiles who believe in Jesus. This makes sense of how the argument continues: Gentiles receive the Spirit by believing what they heard, which was that before their very eyes, Jesus was portrayed as crucified - for their sins as well as for Jewish sins. They are saved personally from sins, not “into what God is doing at the political level” - of which there is no mention here.

The cross “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14) by “abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations”. In other words, the cross created a level playing field - its purpose was to show that the law, and temple worship, were of no benefit to Jews in dealing with the universal problem of sin, which the death of Jesus dealt with for all. Gentiles “who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ”. His blood was for them just as much as for Jews.

Well I’m doing some more reading surrounding Jewish eschatology, and my paradigms are being broken, so I will have to do some more research before I can say anything with confidence. I still have reservations though, and I would like to know what you think of Luke 17:20-21