One of the central things ReKnew wants to accomplish is to challenge followers of Jesus to accept that the self-sacrificial love Jesus revealed on the cross is the definitive, and even the exhaustive, revelation of God’s character. Everything about God, we believe, should be understood through the lens of the cross.
For most Christians, Jesus is part of their mental image of God, but not all of it. They rather have an amalgamated mental portrait of God in which the revelation of God in Christ is fused with a variety of violent and/or nationalistic portraits in the Old Testament. As I noted in my previous post on this topic, the reason for this is that Christians are typically taught that if the whole Bible is the inspired Word of God (which I agree with), then everything in it, including its various portraits of God, must be equally authoritative (which I disagree with).
The assumption that everything in Scripture is equally authoritative inclines Christians, especially Christians from more conservative churches, to read it along the lines of a cookbook. Like a recipe, the meaning and authority of a passage isn’t much affected by where it’s located within the overall book. The truth, however, is that the Bible is not at all like a cookbook. It’s a story, along the lines of a novel. And it’s a story with a very surprising twist in it.
Have you seen “The Sixth Sense,” staring Bruce Willis, or “The Book of Eli,” starring Denzel Washington? Spoiler Alert! I won’t give away the ending, but I’ll just say that the last minutes of both shows completely reframe the movie. You have to rethink every single thing that took place in light of last few moments of the movie. This is quite a bit like the kind of story the Bible tells.
The whole Old Testament leads up to, and is fulfilled in, Jesus the Messiah. But the particular way Jesus fulfills it reframes everything. Hardly anyone saw this coming! In fact, the way Jesus completes the story of God’s dealings with Israel was so unexpected, most who were looking for the Messiah couldn’t accept him once he came.
For example, most Jews were looking for a Messiah who would reinforce Israel’s status as God’s favored nation by leading a revolt against its oppressors (the Romans) and reinstating it as a sovereign nation. Jesus instead turned Jewish religious nationalism on its head by proclaiming a kingdom in which many “outsiders” (Gentiles and sinners) would become “insiders” while many who assumed they were “insiders” would find themselves on the outside. And far from leading a revolt, Jesus commanded people to love their enemies (e.g. the Romans) and to therefore refrain from all violence, choosing instead to do good to their enemies, bless their enemies, serve their enemies, and to turn the other cheek when struck.
In fact, not only does Jesus not lead people in a military conquest over their enemies, he allows himself to be executed on a cross to reveal God’s profound love for enemies! And in this scandalous and unexpected action, his followers discerned the ultimate revelation of God’s true nature. With his life, ministry, teaching, and especially his sacrificial death, Jesus provided a picture of God and his kingdom that forces us to reframe everything that led up to him.
Over the next several posts I will argue that this means that we shouldn’t place the revelation of God in Jesus alongside of the portraits of God in the Old Testament. Rather, we’ll only begin to see how Jesus reframes the storyline of God’s dealings with Israel if we place his revelation over all previous revelations and if we then interpret all previous revelations through the lens of this one. In fact, we’re going to see that this is precisely what Jesus and the authors of the New Testament instruct us to do. As much as they affirm the inspiration of the Old Testament, they are even more emphatic in proclaiming that the revelation of God in Christ completes, and in this sense trumps, everything that preceded him.