Book review – After You Believe by NT Wright – ch. 3

Wright continues to impress me, although I admittedly am finding difficulty putting my feeling aside when I see someone saying the very things that I believe and hold dear. Perhaps it is because Wright says it so much better, much more eloquently, and with more finesse.

Chapter three in After You Believe is all about how Christians are given the vocation to be priests and kings, not only in the age to come, but to be preparing for it even now. Wright starts making his case by looking at what ‘Human’ (Heb. adam) was originally purposed to do in the garden of Eden, which was to rule over God’s creation (Gen. 1:27-31). Wright also points out that Israel was given the task of being a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:4-6. The entire nation, it seems, was “entrusted with the dual role of royalty and priesthood.”

I have taken passages like Rev. 5:10, where believers are said to be kings and priests who will one day reign over the earth, and have used them to teach that since we will one day be ruling over God’s renewed world, we should be living now in preparation to be kings. What I always left out was the fact that we are also called ‘priests.’ Therefore, our lives are to be sanctified and set apart for God’s service in the present as we anticipate God’s future. A priest typically in the Bible was a figure which stood at the interface between God and his creation:

bringing God’s wise and generous order to the world and giving articulate voice to creation’s glad and grateful praise to its maker.

Wright also points out that the Temple was a microcosm of what God would eventually do, which was  to one day fill the whole world with his glory. Note Hab. 2:14 –

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (NASB)

The temple was to be an advanced sign of what God intended to do with and for his creation. Filling the temple with his glory and presence only foreshadowed the reality that would one day be present in all of the renewed creation. This gives the passages in the New Testament which speak of Christian believers as the new Temple of God (1 Cor. 3; 6; 1 Peter 2; various hints within the Gospels, etc.). I never really gave much significance or thought to this temple-motif until Wright made the connection for me. I need to ponder and meditate on this more.

This is how I see the story of ‘Human’ within the narrative of the Scriptures. Adam and Eve were created to rule the world on behalf of God. They sinned and thereby failed at their God-given vocation. Israel was called to be the true people through whom God was to work through his creation (just like Adam was). Yet they also failed in their vocation because they were, as Paul argues, ‘in Adam.’ Jesus comes along, embodying the roles of both Adam and Israel, and succeeds at his vocation. Because of his death and resurrection, believers of all races and social classes can now join in with what ‘Human’ was destined to do. Through water baptism, we can embody the role of priest and king in this world now as we await the day when we will exercise this role in the kingdom of God. Wright puts it so well:

[Jesus] summoned people to follow him and share that story, that community, and that vocation.

Very few Christians at all seem to understand what the Bible sets out as their vocation. The lack of understanding of the kingdom of God and how it integrates into our roles as being ‘Human’ in the way God originally intended only adds to this confusion. It is high time that Christians take seriously their roles as the world’s future rulers and priest and get to living out this vocation in the power of the Spirit.

Chapter four is entitled ‘The Kingdom Coming and the People Prepared.’ Sounds like a good one!

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