This post is part of a series on Jesus: The Living God. View other posts here.
Recently I wrote a guest post for a fellow Christian blogger (an excellent site, check it out), Chris Reese, on N.T. Wright’s Climax of the Covenant. I wanted to re-blog it for my site and add a bit to it.
A subject that is often ignored within discussions of who Christ is involves Covenant theology, specifically, the theology of the Torah. How exactly does Christ relate to the Covenant that God made with the people of Israel? N.T. Wright discusses this very issue in his book, The Climax of the Covenant.
First, what is the Torah? The Torah, in Wright’s usage, is not just the Mosaic books of the Bible or the Law, but the promise of God to His people, Israel. He states that “…the law… was regarded not merely as a general code of ethics, but as the charter of Israel’s national life” (24). The problem was, of course, that God demanded perfect obedience to the Torah, to the Law. As His covenant people, Israel was to keep the Torah and to cherish it. But Israel constantly strayed. Thus, the power of the Torah became death, the consequence of sin (209).
So how could Israel fulfill the Torah? The short answer is that Israel simply could not. It demanded perfection, and the people of Israel could not be perfect. God had to intervene directly in history in order to accomplish His covenant with His people, and to open this covenant up to all people.
And how did this happen? First, note the relationship between Christ, Adam, and humanity. Wright notes that “Adam has [for the rabbis of Israel] become embodied already in Israel, the people of the Torah, and in her future hope” (25). This, in turn, must be viewed in light that “Israel, the family of Abraham, is God’s true humanity. Her land is God’s land. Her enemies are God’s enemies” (23). This reflects back on the Torah, as discussed above. It is the “charter of Israel’s national life” (24). So there is a relationship between Adam and Israel–Adam, Wright argues, is to be understood as Israel. Jesus Christ, then, became a New Adam for a New Israel. By acting as the New Adam and redeeming Israel, He fulfilled the Torah and seal the charter of Israel. Not only that, but He opened this charter, this Covenant, to all people.
“Jesus, as last Adam, had revealed what God’s saving plan for the world had really been… by enacting it, becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross” (40). The resurrection confirmed Jesus as Christ–Messiah.
Finally, how could God keep this promise in light of the failure of Israel (and mankind at large) to keep the Torah? Christ, argues Wright, is the “Climax” of the covenant. “The Messiah is the fulfillment of the long purposes of Israel’s God” (241). How does this happen? Wright argues that the “…answer must be that sin, by causing death, stood in the way of the divine intention of giving life; when, on the cross, God condemns sin… then sin is powerless to prevent the gift of life” (209). God’s plan of salvation “always involved a dramatic break, a cross and a resurrection written into the very fabric of history” (241, emphasis his). Thus, Torah and Covenant Theology can be summed up by saying that “Christ on the cross is thus the goal of the Torah” (243, emphasis his). It is in Christ that we become the people of God.
Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant. Fortress Press. 1991.
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