How God Became King

Donkeys_memory katsuyuki wada

Have you ever though much about the relationship between the Creeds and the Canon? Here are a few comments I recorded for further contemplating while reading “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels” by N. T. Wright:

[The gospels] are telling a story, a story that is almost entirely missing in the great creeds of the early church.

At precisely the point where Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John think something very important needs to be said, the creeds say nothing at all.

In fact, the ascension, for many people, [unfortunately] implies Jesus’s absence, not his universal presence and sovereign rule.

No heretics arose saying that Jesus didn’t teach in parables, or didn’t do miracles, or the like. [Thus the Creeds, being focussed on combatting heresy, tended not to emphasize these things]

What I see, in other words, is a great gulf opening up between the canon and the creeds. The canonical gospels give us a Jesus whose public career radically mattered as part of his overall accomplishment, which had to do with the kingdom of God. The creeds give us a Jesus whose miraculous birth and saving death, resurrection, and ascension are all we need to know. 

The gospels were all about God becoming king, but the creeds are focused on Jesus being God.

But the whole point of the gospels is to tell the story of how God became king, on earth as in heaven.

Theocracy—but theocracy of a radically different kind from anything anyone had imagined for a very long time—was the name of the game.

What I miss, right across the Western tradition, at least the way it has come through to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, is the devastating and challenging message I find in the four gospels: God really has become king—in and through Jesus!

He has written this book to show that it is in Jesus, and his death and resurrection, that Israel’s God has done what he promised he would do in and through Israel’s anointed king and has in this way revealed fully and finally who he himself actually is.

Only when the story the gospels are telling is fully integrated with the dogmas the creeds are teaching can we be sure we are on track. 

The evangelists, each in his own way, tell the story of Jesus as the proper climax to Israel’s story. 

Here, to be sure, is a paradox we meet throughout the New Testament: God acts completely unexpectedly—as he always said he would. 

Central to John, as to almost every New Testament writer, is the clash between two conflicting visions of how the ancient scriptural story is to be told and how, in particular, it is to reach its goal. 

John claims that Jesus was in line with the ancient prophecies, which always included prophecies about Israel’s failure to see, hear, and understand (12:37–41). 

It means that they are later, de-Judaized, dehistoricized distortions, offering salvation not for the world, but from the world. 

They are deconstructing Genesis itself. 

Unless we are constantly aware, in reading the gospels, that they are telling the Jesus story in such a way as to bring out the Israel story, we will never hear their proper harmony. 

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob find that God appears to them now here, now there, always unexpectedly, in different ways and guises. 

Mark’s Jesus goes about doing and saying things that declare that Israel’s God is now becoming king—Israel’s dream come true. But Jesus is talking about God becoming king in order to explain the things he himself is doing. He isn’t pointing away from himself to God. He is pointing to God in order to explain his own actions. 

For Mark, all the signs are that he was thinking, as many other early Christians were in his day, of the term “God’s son” as having at least four meanings. 

  • Israel itself 
  • Israel’s anointed king, 
  • Roman emperors 
  • God 

In that story, as we saw, the God who made the world as a temple for his own possession and dwelling had deigned, as an act of unmerited fresh mercy, to pitch his tent in the midst of the Israelites, first in the wilderness tabernacle and then in the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple was the sign and focus and means of God’s presence with his people, a presence at once dangerously holy and wonderfully encouraging.

2 thoughts on “How God Became King

  1. Jesus became a king, but not like the rest of the kings (cf the Lord’s reply to Samuel when Israel asked for a king).
    He rode into Jerusalem on an ass, not a war horse. This was the equivalent, back then, of the President of Uruguay driving a beat-up Volkswagen beetle.
    Kings are anointed, usually by some kind of shaman, in an impressive ceremony. Jesus was anointed, not on his head, but on his feet, and not by the High Priest in the temple but by a sinful woman at a dinner party.
    Kings usually surround themselves with yes-men and sycophants. James and John wanted to make sure that they were in line for those positions when the time came, and Jesus said that those positions were already reserved — for two thieves (as they discovered later, when they ran away and were not to be found).


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