Simply Jesus: Living in Act 5

The last chapter in Simply Jesus examines the question – what does it mean to say that Jesus is King – and examines how Christians should seek to live in the 5th Act of human history.

The views presented here are a summary of what Wright presents in his book. Wright

Jesus is King over Heaven & Earth

In dealing with the question what does it mean to say that Jesus is King, Wright explains that Jesus is currently King over heaven and earth. Daniel 7 has been fulfilled at the Ascension and we are not to wait for Jesus to become King, though we are to anticipate His return. I would add that Matthew 28 would add support to this idea.

Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.(Matt 28:18 NET)

But for Wright that does not mean that Jesus rules over two separate worlds or realms. Heaven and earth are two overlapping and interlocking worlds. And Jesus has launched God’s kingdom on earth.

When we look at the world we might wonder how that could possibly be true. After all the world is such a mess. But, according to Wright, we are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle when we talk about the reign of Jesus and His kingdom:

God intended to rule the world through human beings. … humans are he vital ingredient in God’s kingdom project.

Whenever we wrestle with how Jesus is exercising authority over the earth, we must remember that Jesus does so through us. People were intended to govern the earth when it was first created in act 1, and we are meant to govern the earth in act 5.

Kingdom Living in our Witness

Wright looks to the book of Acts to explore how we are to live in act 5 and he summarizes the big idea, as many do, as go be witnesses. But for Wright this does not mean what we think it means.

For Wright, it definitely does not mean telling people how to “get to heaven”. That is because Wright does not see heaven as a separate place. We are to establish the kingdom on earth by:

tell[ing] someone else that Jesus is the world’s true Lord

Kingdom Living in our Worship

A kingdom is made up of citizens and in the same way we are to be part of a community (the church) that is living under the authority of our King and carrying out His plan.

Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and that therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is.

… it doesn’t just declare it as something to be believed …

It commits the worshiper to allegiance, to following this Jesus, to being shaped and directed by him.

For Wright, being a Christian is not just about knowing the right things, it is about knowing the right things and then acting on them.

Kingdom Living in our Walk

If we want to know more about how the followers of Jesus are to live than Wright tells us to look to the Sermon on the Mount.

The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people. … They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.

As kingdom people we are to imitate Jesus:

the church has been in danger of forgetting that these are its primary tasks. Jesus went about feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and rescuing the lost sheep; his Body is supposed to being doing the same.

Jesus is not going to come and do the work for us. He wants people to do the work. To provide order to the world, to wisely plan things, to care for the weak and needy, and to  impact the world as salt and light.

What is the church supposed to be doing? Wright’s answer in a nutshell is excellent, although I would not have used the word “repay”.

[The church is] a society of forgiven sinners repaying their unpayable debt of love by working for Jesus’s kingdom in every way they can, knowing themselves to be unworthy of the task.

The chapter has a strong emphasis on what the disciples of Jesus are to do, but Wright is careful to explain two important points:

  • We are not building God’s kingdom – the victory is all the work of God through Jesus.
  • We work for God’s kingdom – proclaiming His victory, despite any opposition.

It all works out in the end

Wright seems to have mixed parts of each eschatological system into his own view of Amillenniallism. In Wright’s hermeneutic, human history is divided into 5 acts as a Premillenial dispensationalist might understand it. But there is no Millennial Kingdom in the future. Instead the Kingdom is already being launched and will be fully established when Jesus returns, which is the key tenet of Amillenniallism. But Wright’s view also has a Postmillennial feel as he explores the establishment of the kingdom through the work of Jesus’ followers, though I don’t think he goes so far as to see a golden age prior to Jesus’ return.

Summing it up

The book starts off asking – who is Jesus and how has the church gotten Him wrong? Wright then challenges us to make sure the Jesus we follow is the Jesus of history and not some made-up version. To do that we need to make sure Jesus’ world and actions are interpreted within a first century context where Rome and Israel are each looking for a “Son of God” and a kingdom of peace that is established through military means.

Jesus comes to remind Israel that their Messiah/Son of God and His kingdom of peace will come through very different means than those they expect. It will be through the cross, resurrection, and healing. It will not be through the sword, power, and violence.

Jesus came to restore what is broken, not to rule over a broken world.

Jesus’s kingdom project is nothing if not the rescue and renewal of God’s creation project.

Jesus also came to implement His kingdom through His followers who are actively engaged in living out the kingdom principles in the world. The victory has been achieved by Jesus’ death and resurrection but we are not to sit back and wait for the ultimate restoration to occur. We are to be out in the world being witnesses and worshipers.

As I blogged through this book, I tried to capture the big picture of what Wright was saying without getting lost in some of the details. I hope I captured what he meant and encouraged you to go read the book for yourself. Though I don’t agree with all that Wright says (I tried to point some of these things out along the way), I do agree with the basics of his large framework (5 acts). It provides a good way to understand how all the Scriptures work together to provide a full story of what God is doing (restoring creation) while keeping the focus on Jesus as the central hero in the story. This approach also reminds us of our place in the story. We are to be active in our faith while looking forward to Jesus’ return.

If you are interested in digging further into N.T. Wright’s views on living in Act 5, the Jesus Creed blog, hosted by Scot McKnight, is looking at his newest book – Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues.

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