At the end of his chapter on Jesus’ death in Simply Jesus, Wright has a brilliant summary of God’s triumph over evil–and the evil one–in the death of Jesus.
Somehow, Jesus’s death was seen by Jesus himself, and then by those who told and ultimately wrote his story, as the ultimate means by which God’s kingdom was established (p. 185).
How is this so?
There is of course much more that could be said on this subject. But trying to boil it down and keep it simple, I think we can and must say at least this. In Jesus’s own understanding of the battle he was fighting, Rome was not the real enemy. Rome provided the great gale, and the distorted ambitions of Israel the high-pressure system, but the real enemy, to be met head-on by the power and love of God, was the anti-creation power, the power of death and destruction, the force of accusation, the Accuser who lays a charge against the whole human race and the world itself that all are corrupt and decaying, that all humans have contributed to this by their own idolatry and sin. The terrible thing is that this charge is true. All humans have indeed worshipped what is not divine and so have failed to reflect God’s image into the world. They, and creation, are therefore subject to corruption and death. At this level the Accuser is absolutely right.
But the Accuser is wrong to imagine that this is the creator’s last word. What we see throughout Jesus’s public career is that he himself is being accused—accused of being a blasphemer by the self-appointed thought police, accused of being out of his mind by his own family, even accused by his followers of taking his vocation in the wrong direction. All the strands of evil throughout human history, throughout the ancient biblical story, come rushing together as the gospels tell the story of Jesus, from the demons shrieking at him in the synagogue to the sneering misunderstanding of the power brokers to the frailty and folly of his own friends and followers. Finally, of course, and this is the point in the story to which the evangelists are drawing our attention—he is accused in front of the chief priests and the council and in the end by the high priest himself. He is accused of plotting against the Temple; he is accused of forbidding the giving of tribute to Caesar (a standard ploy of revolutionaries); he is accused of claiming to be king of the Jews, a rebel leader; he is accused of blasphemy, of claiming to be God’s son. Accusations come rushing together from all sides, as the leaders accuse Jesus before Pilate; and Pilate finally does what all the accusations throughout the gospel have been demanding and has him crucified. Jesus, in other words, has taken the accusations that were outstanding against the world and against the whole human race and has borne them in himself. That is the point of the story the way the evangelists tell it (p. 186).
This is “the extraordinary story of Israel’s Messiah taking upon himself the Accuser’s sharpest arrow and, dying under its force, robbing the Accuser of any further real power” (p. 188).