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Jesus as Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end

Towards the end of the book of Revelation John hears somebody say: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:12–13). This is presumably Jesus speaking (cf. 22:16); and since God says nearly the same thing about himself in Revelation 21:6, it is inferred that John means to establish some sort of identity between Jesus and God. Richard Bauckham, for example, has said: “As a way of stating unambiguously that Jesus Christ belongs to the fullness of the eternal God, this surpasses anything in the NT” (R. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 1993, 56-57).

What happens on the “day of Christ”? Less than you might think

The New Testament narrative at every point is directed towards future events, from John the Baptist’s announcement that the bad trees of Israel would be cut down and burned in the fire to John the Seer’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. I say “events”—plural—because I don’t think the standard modern eschatological assumption that we are still waiting for a single “end” makes sense historically. I argue instead for a three horizons model that fits the evident historical contours of the New Testament without sacrificing the conviction that God will have the final word.

More on the new Jerusalem in the midst of the nations

In Revelation 21:22-26 John describes a situation in which the new Jerusalem is surrounded by the nations, which walk by its light, and the kings of these nations bring their “glory and honour” into the city. Despite the fact that the gates of the city will always be open, nothing unclean, nor any detestable or false person, will enter into the city.

What was the most important lesson that the early church learned from Jesus?

Professor James Dunn gave a class yesterday at the London School of Theology for a mixed group of undergraduates, research students, and the teaching body. The topic was “Jesus according to Jesus”, which was taken from his forthcoming book Jesus According to the New Testament. He took us on a leisurely stroll in search of a familiar “historical” Jesus, by way of three main sections: what early Christianity learned from Jesus; the distinctive features of Jesus’ ministry that cannot easily be attributed to the Evangelists; and Jesus’ self-understanding.

In the discussion that followed he asked the class what we thought was the most important lesson that the early church learned from Jesus. As I recall, the priority of love and the presence of God with his people were suggested, along with a few other incidental features of his ministry. But on the evidence of the Synoptic Gospels the answer surely has to be that Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God within a generation as an event that would profoundly impact and transform Israel. I’m glad that one young woman got it right.

How come there are bad people in the new heaven and new earth?

I started out with the intention of explaining what appears to be the persistence of bad things and bad people in the new heaven and new earth described in Revelation 21-22. John tells us that the gates of the new Jerusalem that is seen descending from God will never be shut, but “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Rev. 21:27). That seems to imply that these things will still exist in this brave new world, they just won’t be permitted entry into the holy city. Wasn’t all evil destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14; 21:8)? Something of a conundrum, you’ll agree.

unPodcast: Does the narrative-historical method help us to answer the question “Why be a Christian?”

This is the script for the recent podcast of the same name for those who prefer the sound of the voice in their head.

Here’s the question that I want to address. It was sent to me by someone who gets the narrative-historical approach to reading the Bible and is wondering whether it has anything to say about the more fundamental matter of the credibility of the Christian view of God.

Why did Jesus say he will crush some to pieces?

If you’re looking for a good example of how conservative evangelicalism gets the Jesus story wrong (albeit with the best of intentions), look no further than this piece on The Gospel Coalition site, in which Steve Mathewson asks, “Why Did Jesus Say He Will Crush Some to Pieces?”

It has to do with the parable of the vineyard, which I take to be perhaps the clearest and most precise summary of the story about Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Because the tenants violently reject not only the servants sent to the vineyard but also the son, the owner will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Not only that, but the stone rejected by the builders will become the cornerstone of a new temple, and “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Lk. 20:18).

Podcast: Does the narrative-historical method help us to answer the question “Why be a Christian?”

On my blog and in a few books I argue against the theological interpretation of scripture and for a consistently narrative-historical interpretation of scripture. Why? Because the method makes much better sense of the texts. But can it do more than that? Can it give us better answers to the big questions about God and the universe?

The script for the podcast can be found here.

Podcast: The good news is the narration of history

Most people probably still think of the “gospel” as the offer of eternal life to individuals on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death. That is quite wide of the mark as far as the New Testament is concerned. I argue here that the good news was an unfolding story about how the God of Israel was transforming the status and place of his people in the ancient world.

This podcast is not new. It’s a reworking of an older post on the meaning of “gospel” in the New Testament.

The Bible Project New Testament Overview: story and history

Alex asked what I thought of The Bible Project’s telling of the biblical story in this video. The video is called a “New Testament Overview”, but really it’s a lively, line-drawn, animated presentation of the “epic complicated story of God’s covenant partnership with Israel and all humanity”. The point is pressed that both parts of the Bible tell “one unified story that leads to Jesus”. The Old Testament offers “core themes” and “plot conflict” arranged in “design patterns”—everything you need to make sense of the story to follow. The drama is worked out in three acts, a pattern which is repeated in the literary structure of the New Testament. You can watch it here or a larger version on YouTube.

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