Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Solomon in Kings: Good History and a Great Story

My previous blog dealt with the historicity of the biblical account of the meeting between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. We saw that there are credible reasons for looking at 1-2 Kings in the OT as reliable history. In this blog, I'd like to look at another feature of the stories of Solomon in 1 Kings. They are not only reliable history but also highly creative and artistic literature. Robert Chisholm (Interpreting the Historical Books) has observed that rather than "a dry record of bare facts about what happened in the past," the OT historical books contain "exciting and fascinating stories" of a highly literary nature that "read more like a historical novel complete with plot structure and character development" (p. 21). These stories "are historically accthat co urate," but also we should also recognize that they possess "an aesthetic, literary dimension that contributes to their theological development and purpose" (p. 26). The Bible is about real people and real events, but the artistry of biblical narrative rivals the best forms of historical fiction.

The story of Solomon in 1 Kings 1-11 reflects the creativity of biblical narrative. The writer extols the great accomplishments of Solomon but at the same time undermines praise of Solomon with subtle indicators that Solomon's accomplishments weren't so great after all. We could say that the narrator his damning Solomon with lavish praise. An excellent study by J. Daniel Hays ("Has the Narrator Come to Praise Solomon or Bury Him? Narrative Subtlety in 1 Kings 1-11") brings out these aspects of the story. The story of Solomon highlights his successes in chapters 1-10 and relegates the story of his failure and apostasy to chapter 11, but there are numerous ways that the narrator suggests that even Solomon's successes foreshadow his failures. In a sense, the time of Solomon's reign was the best of times for Israel, the time when Israel was closest to being a true empire, but those best of times were also the worst of times. Solomon was truly a "great" king, but mostly he was "great" at not following the Lord.

It is certainly significant that Solomon's greatest accomplishments involve the accumulation of wealth (1 Kgs 10:14), horses and chariots (1 Kgs 10:26), and women (1 Kgs 11:1), the three things specifically forbidden of the Israelite king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. In his prayer at the dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8, Solomon makes 59 specific references to the book of Deuteronomy. He obviously knew its teachings very well, but he ignored the central thing that Deuteronomy had to say to him as Israel's ruler. Solomon was a wise man who collected proverbs and songs, but he was also a foolish man who collected wives and concubines.

There is something troubling about Solomon's rule from the very beginning. Unlike with Saul and David, there is no indication that the Lord specifically chose Solomon to be the ruler over Israel. David, Nathan, Zadok, Bathsheba, Benaiah, Adonijah, Joab, Abiathar, Abishag are all involved in the intrigues and politics of violence and sex that ultimately place Solomon on the throne, but the missing character in all of this is Yahweh himself. The prophet Nathan speaks but not on behalf of Yahweh. The Lord is obviously involved in the process that leads to Solomon's accession to the throne, but it is never explicitly stated that Yahweh chose him for the job.

Nothing could be more positive that Solomon recognition of his need for God's help at the beginning of his reign (1 Kings 3:1-15), and it is certainly praiseworthy that he chooses the attribute of wisdom over riches and wealth. In requesting wisdom from God, Solomon literally requests that God give him a "hearing heart" (Heb. leb + shema`) so that he might know the difference between "good" (Heb. tob) and "evil" (Heb. ra`) (1 Kgs 3:9). This request is exactly what the king should ask for, but the larger story of Solomon seems to stress that Solomon's commitment to this quality was rather half-hearted. The story begins with Solomon "loving" Yahweh (1 Kgs 3:1), but it ends with him "loving" foreign women (1 Kgs 11:1). The word "heart" appears three times in 1 Kings 11:4 to speak of Solomon's defection away from the Lord, and Solomon fails by doing what is "evil" (ra`) in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kgs 11:6). Solomon's prayer at first blush appears to be an act of great piety, but in fact, Yahweh's answer to this prayer highlights more the culpability of Solomon's failure and apostasy. God gave Solomon everything he needed to be a great ruler, but Solomon was ultimately more interested in other things, the trappings of wealth and power that he appears to eschew at the beginning of his reign. Solomon's apostasy was more a gradual decline than the moral equivalent of falling off a cliff.

Solomon's resolution of the dispute between the two women over who was the mother of the living child in 1 Kings 3:16-28 is a prime example of Solomon's wisdom and his concern for justice. However, there is something wrong about the fact that both of these women are prostitutes. Prostitution was an "abomination" in God's eyes (cf. Deut 23:18), and yet these women brazenly enter the king's presence without fear of retribution. It suggests something of the moral decay that becomes evident in Solomon's own life. The metaphorical use of prostitution (Hebrew zanah) elsewhere in the OT also suggests that this scene foreshadows the religious apostasy that Solomon himself will later create because of his worship of foreign gods.

1 Kings 4-5 narrates Solomon's administrative and organizational accomplishments in which he establishes a powerful royal bureaucracy, but the irony is that Solomon has become precisely the type of king that Samuel had warned the people about when they had first asked for a king in 1 Samuel 8. Solomon establishes an empire, but conscripts large numbers of the people into his army and work forces. The royal bureaucracy demands exorbitant provisions of food that must come from the land and labor of the people (1 Kgs 4:7, 23). Even though the people enjoy food, drink, and security (1 Kgs 4:20, 25), it comes at the cost of heavy taxation (1 Kgs 4:22-23; 1 Kgs 4:27-28).

Solomon's great accomplishment was building the temple, but even that accomplishment is tainted. There is no mention that Solomon ever pays the workers who labored to construct the Temple, in contrast to Josiah's later action when he commissions repairs on the temple (see 2 Kgs 22:3-7). The reference to the exodus in 1 Kings 6:1 in the context of forced labor makes Solomon appear like the Pharaoh in oppressing the Israelites to build this great house of worship for the Lord. The Temple is an impressive structure, and Solomon seems to exult in the fact that he is the one who has built the temple (cf. 1 Kgs 8:13, 20, 27, 43-44, 48). Solomon takes seven years to build the Temple, but 13 years to build his own house (1 Kgs 6:38-7:1). Throughout the rest of Kings, Solomon's great Temple is going to be systematically dismantled because of the apostasy of king and people (see 1 Kgs 14:26; 2 Kgs 16:17; 2 Kgs 18:16; 2 Kgs 25:9, 13-17).

The visit of the Queen of Sheba to recognize and honor Solomon perhaps represents the pinnacle of Solomon's international acclaim. This scene represents in some sense what God designed for Israel when he chose them to be a "holy nation" and "kingdom of priests." Israel was to mediate God's blessing to all other nations, and God designed that the nations would come to inquire of Israel concerning their God when they saw the great blessing that God bestowed on Israel for obedience to his covenant commands. However, when the Queen of Sheba sees the splendor of Solomon's palace, she comments only about the happiness that his reign brings upon those who live in the palace with him (1 Kgs 10:8). Her ironic comment about "justice and righteousness" in 1 Kings 10:9 perhaps implies that those qualities have disappeared from Israel during Solomon's reign.

Helping people to see the artistry of biblical narratives is one of the ways that we can help the Old Testament to come alive for modern audience. Biblical illiteracy is one of the serious problems in our churches today, and even people who know these stories may have never deeply reflected on their meaning and significance for their lives. The artistry of biblical stories ultimately point us to their theological message and their relevance for Christian living today. Even before Solomon's great apostasy in chapter 11, there are evidences of moral failure and spiritual neglect. And Solomon's life continues to remind us of the great differences that often exist between human achievement and success in the eyes of God.

If you would like to see further development of these features of the story of Solomon, please see J. Daniel Hays, "Has the Narrator Come to Praise Solomon or Bury Him? Narrative Subtlety in 1 Kings 1-11" Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 28 (2003): 149-174.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Queen of Sheba and the Historicity of the Books of Kings

I read an interesting discussion of the story of the Queen of Sheba (see 1 Kings 10) this week in Jens Braun Kofoed's 2005 work Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. Kofoed notes some of the rather fanciful legends that exist about the Queen of Sheba in Arabia, Persia, Ethiopia, and Israel. Arabian folklore and the Qur'an relate stories about the queen (named Bilquis or Balkis) that involve magic carpets, talking birds, and the magical transfer of the queen's throne from Sheba to Solomon's palace. In one legend, a hoopoe bird tells Solomon about Balkis and then delivers a message to the queen that Solomon will destroy her people if she does not come to visit him. In another, the queen has a foot shaped like an ass's foot that is transformed into a human foot the moment she stepped on Solomon's glass floor. Solomon invents a depilatory that removes goat hair from the queen's legs in another tale. A Jewish legend recounts that the queen sent Solomon six thousand boys and girls all born the same hour, the same day, the same month and same year, all of equal size and dressed in identical purple garments. Islamic legends portray the queen as marrying Solomon, abandoning her gods, and converting to faith in the God of Israel. In the Ethiopic national epic, Kebra Negast, the queen's name is Makeda. She became queen at the age of 15 and later travels to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. While she is there, Solomon dazzles her with his wisdom and also tricks her into having sexual relations. The queen conceives and gives birth to a son named Menelik. When he is old enough, Menelik travels to Jerusalem to meet his father. Solomon commanded that the firstborn sons of the priests and elders of Israel accompany Menelik on his journey back home. However, Menelik and Azariah, the son of the high priest, stole the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple and took it with them on the trip, making Aksum the New Jerusalem and Ethiopia the New Israel. You can read more about these legends and tales about the Queen of Sheba at http://www.windweaver.com/sheba/Shebahome.htm

It was common for scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries to also dismiss the biblical account of the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon as legendary propaganda designed to praise the greatness of Solomon's wisdom and piety. However, extra-biblical evidence has actually served to enhance at the very least the historical plausibility of this story. Though many of the legends connect this queen to ancient Ethiopia, she more likely resided in the country of Saba, in southwest Arabia (present-day Yemen). Studies by Kenneth Kitchen have demonstrated that the kingdom of Saba was well-established by the tenth-century B.C. and engaged in a lucrative caravan trade. The "incense route" extended from Saba to the Levant and across to Mesopotamia. The inscriptions of Ashurbanipal II and Tikulti-Ninurta II from the 9th century BC refer to these Assyrian kings collected tribute at Hindanu, a main outlet along this caravan road, and an 8th century record documents how a caravan with at least two hundred camels coming from Saba was plundered at this site. Kofoed concludes: "It is highly likely, therefore, that by 1000 B.C.E. camel caravans occasionally traveled the 1,400 miles up the 'Incense Road' and along the Red Sea to Israel, bringing with them the highly prized goods of Saba." All of this adds credibility to the biblical account that a queen from Saba could and would have visited Solomon for diplomatic purposes in this time period.

Even more significantly, the final form of Kings was not written until at least the middle of the exile in the 6th century (note the last event recorded in 2 Kings 25:27-30), and Kofoed notes that many scholars believe that the author of Kings wrote in the Hellenistic or Persian times. If so, it is all the more remarkable that the writer(s) of the material in Kings got it right when they placed trade relations between Saba and Israel in the 10th century. It was either "just a lucky stab" or more likely that the biblical writers had access to reliable historical sources and traditions from the time of Solomon's reign. Kofoed notes other places where the writer of Kings got it right in regard to specific details about historical events that are confirmed by outside sources like the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions and the Babylonian Chronicle. This evidence that the writer of Kings used reliable sources in compiling his history means that "a basic trust in his historical information, therefore, is heuristically defensible and commendable—not only when we can check the information elsewhere, but generally." The minimalists have tended to view the biblical portrayal of the Davidic-Solomonic empire as a literary fiction, but here is another example of how solid and credible evidence does not require or support that conclusion.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary

The 5 volumes of the recently-released Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary for the Old Testament is a wonderful reference tool that I would highly recommend to anyone involved in studying and teaching the Old Testament. Understanding the historical background and cultural context of a biblical passage is an important aspect of good exegesis. I often hear people defend their understanding of a passage as "the most natural reading of a text," but often without realizing that the meanings that we assign to text from our setting and context may not be the same as that of the biblical writer and his original audience. I have included some examples of the types of information found in this commentary from the two volumes dealing with the Old Testament prophets. I hope these examples will demonstrate how the careful and informed use of background information can help us to arrive at a better understanding of the difficult imagery and speech forms found in the Old Testament prophets.

Yahweh's Promise to "Swallow" Death in Isaiah 25:7-8

This image of Yahweh swallowing death serves as polemic against the conception of "Death" as a deity in other ancient Near Eastern religions. David Baker comments:

Death (mwt) was a god, and there is evidence of its personification in the ancient Near East as well (Ps 49:14). In Akkadian literature, death (mutu) eats people, since one person says, "He took me out of the mouth of death." The Canaanite god Mot devours others voraciously, including his fellow god, Baal, the god of fertility. Of him it says, "Baal will enter his innards (lit. 'liver'); he will enter his mouth like a shriveled olive." This devouring is a cyclical event, happening in the fall, which leads to the "death" of winter. In the spring Baal is released from the netherworld. For Isaiah the tables will be turned; death rather than devouring, will be devoured by Israel's god."

This background information helps the Isaiah passage come to life. The prophet is promising both the destruction of death (see the connection of these two ideas in Isaiah 26:12-19). The pagan worldview was essentially a hopeless one where death wins and swallows up everything in its path. One Canaanite text pictures Mot the god of death with one lip to the earth and one to the heavens. The Old Testament counters this dark reality with the promise that Yahweh will ultimately overcome death's power—the great swallower will be swallowed up. Paul references this passage from Isaiah when he taunts death at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 in celebration of the Christian hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:54-56).

Ezekiel 38: The Identity of Gog of the land of Magog

Ezekiel 38 portrays the future defeat of a powerful army led by Gog from the land of Magog that will invade and attack the land of Israel. The identity of this army has been a subject of speculation throughout church history. The army and/or its leader has been variously identified as the Goths (4th cent), Arabs (7th cent), the Mongol hordes (13th cent), the Pope or the Turks (17th cent), Russia (20th cent), and an Islamic-coalition of nations. Several features of the passage when seen from its ancient Near Eastern background would argue against trying to identify the army with specific peoples or nations. The name Gog for the leader of this coalition seems to derive from Gyges, the name of the king of Lydia in Asia Minor (668-631 B.C.). This king is mentioned in several Assyrian inscriptions and had a legendary reputation of brutality. Thus, this king from the time of Ezekiel becomes representative of the future leader of the coalition that will invade Israel. I would see Daniel using a similar convention when he compares the future Antichrist to Antiochus Epiphanes IV in Daniel 11 and John when he draws a parallel between Nero and Antichrist in John 13. There is no indication that Gyges ever actually attacked the land of Israel. The seven nations that are part of Gog's coalition are real nations mentioned as trading partners of Tyre (Ezekiel 26) or recorded in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 (cf. Gen 10:2). These seven nations represent peoples that surround Israel from all points of the compass. Meschech, Tubal, Gomer, and Beth-Togarmah represent the northern extreme of the world known to Israel, while Persia, Cush, and Put represent the eastern and southern extreme. The correct interpretation of the passage is to recognize these seven nations as representative of peoples from all the nations what will join in the future attack on Isarel and not to identify these seven ancient peoples with the specific geopolitical entities that occupy the same territories today. This international coalition will be led by a Gog-like figure, but not necessarily a leader who originates from the same geographical location as Gyges of Lydia.

Daniel Bodi's commentary in the ZIBBC notes a parallel between Ezekiel 38 and the Old Babylonian Cuthean Legend that was popular in the Neo-Assyrian period. In this text, an invading horde from the north (and specifically Anatolia) is set apart by the gods. The army goes out on a long march of plunder and devastation and is led by several prices under the supreme command of one of them. The leader of the army is identified by a historical royal name but without any specific connection to actual historical events associated with that ruler. Thus, Ezekiel is using a literary convention to portray an actual prophetic event—the eschatological assault on Israel by the nations (for other descriptions of an eschatological battle, see Mic 5:5-9; Zeph 3:8-9; Zech 12:1-9; Zech 14:1-5; Zech 14:1-5, 12-15; Rev 16; Rev 19 ) but is not giving a detailed list of the actual nations in the attack—they are merely representative of the unidentified army of the future.

Bodi points to one other feature that would seem to indicate the representative nature of the enemy portrayed in Ezekiel 38. The name Magog for the land of Gog is perhaps an atbash, a type of ancient code, for the nation of Babylon. In this atbash, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is replaced by the preceding one and thus, the letters m-g-g if read backward thus render b-b-l (or Babel, Babylon). It would have been dangerous for Ezekiel when prophesying in Babylon to have directly mentioned Babylon by name, but this code is perhaps a way of portraying the future invasion of the nations against Israel as a reversal of the Babylonian exile. We see similar atbash code names for Babylon in Jeremiah 25:11 and 51:1. Babylon will once again at some time in the distant future lead a powerful army against Israel, but God will use this invasion to destroy Babylon and those that oppress and oppose his people. We see Babylon as the leader of the forces against God and his people in Revelation 13-18 as well, and again, the intent is not to identify Babylon as the geographical location of the nation that opposes God but to use Babylon as representative of the peoples from all nations who stand against God and his purposes.

The purpose of prophetic revelation is not to give us specific and minute details about the future in order to satisfy our curiosity but rather to give us the big picture of God's plans for the future in a way that ultimately assures us of the triumph of God and his people over all opposition. Understanding the ancient context of Ezekiel's vision helps us to better understand the original intent and design of this passage.

The "sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood" in Joel 2:28-32

In this passage, the Lord promises to pour out his Spirit in the last days and also promises that the "sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood" (2:31). This astral phenomena is connected to blood, fire, and smoke on the earth in 2:30. We have another example of how ancient Near Eastern background helps us to understand this imagery and to avoid reading in a literalistic manner that violates the likely intended meaning of the original author. Mark Chavalas explains:

This passage is no doubt describing an eclipse, which was usually considered an evil omen in Mesopotamian society, often bringing disaster, specifically to the nation or the king. In fact, Mesopotamian kings sometimes "abdicated" their throne and had another "sit on the throne" until the eclipse (and bad omen) was over. In effect, it was hoped that the substitute king, not the true king, would thus endure the hardships associated with the eclipse.

Celestial observations were especially important to the kings of the Neo-Assyrian empires, and solar eclipses were particularly viewed as a good omen for the king and a bad one for his enemies. Even the time and color of the eclipse were important to the meaning and significance of the omen. One text specifies that the eclipse indicated a coming locust plague if it was red on the west side and rode the south wind. If the eclipse occurred on the 28th day of Iyyar, the king would have a long and prosperous reign.

Thus, the meaning of the Joel prophecy seems clear. The prophet promises that the last days will be a time of great blessing as Yahweh pours out his spirit so that all of his people will dream dreams and see visions. However, this eschatological blessing will be accompanied by a time of catastrophic time of judgment on Yahweh's enemies in which celestial signs reflect the doom that is to come upon the earth. We see this idea in the New Testament fulfillment of this passage. Peter views the pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of the promise in Joel 2 (cf. Acts 2:17-21), but this blessing is also accompanied by catastrophic judgment. The cataclysmic language of Joel 2 also appears to refer to the even greater and more intense eschatological judgment that will befall the earth in connection with the second coming of Christ (see Matt 24:29; Rev 6:12-14; 8:14).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Isaiah’s New Creation and the Gospel

We were privileged to have Dr. Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament and Professor for Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Seminary, as a visiting lecturer at Liberty University this past week. In his lecture to the seminary students and faculty, Bock discussed the issues surrounding the New Perspectives on Paul and particularly the debate over justification between N.T. Wright and John Piper. In agreement with Wright, Bock argued that justification is primarily a legal and forensic term where the believer is declared to be "righteous" in God's law court, in contrast to Piper's view that justification involves the moral imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer. Bock believes that the moral imputation of righteousness has more to do with sanctification and the Spirit's work in the life of the believer than the act of justification itself. Bock also stated that he believed the weakness of Wright's position in the debate is that he has not properly developed the role of the Spirit in the working out of salvation. More important than the critique of Wright and Piper was Bock's discussion of the nature of the Gospel itself. Bock stressed that we have diminished the gospel message by reducing salvation to a transaction that delivers us from the death penalty of sin and the punishment of hell. In Bock's words, "what jazzed Paul about the Gospel" is the promise that God has accepted us by his grace and that graces changes us into a new creation, indwelled and empowered by the Spirit to reflect Christ in the way that we live our lives (cf. Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 5:16-20). More than simply saving us from hell, the Gospel is that we have new life in Christ.

Paul's use of new creation imagery from the Old Testament reflects the radical nature of this new life given to us in Christ. The Old Testament prophets often present the kingdom era as a time of restoration for Israel. God would restore Israel to their land so that they would enjoy the covenant promises under the rule of a righteous Davidic king (Messiah). At other times, the prophets' view of the future transcends the present order and envisions nothing less than the creation of new heavens and new earth. We find one such vision in Isaiah 65:17-25:

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity,for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain," says the LORD.

We see echoes of this new creation imagery throughout the book of Isaiah (cf. Isa 32:14-18; Isa 41:18-19; Isa 55:12-13; Isa 66:22-23). Nothing could more stress the transformative power of the Gospel than Paul's use of the imagery of New Creation to describe for us what God has done for us in Christ. In his New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Thomas Schreiner reflects in several places on the fact that the new creation promised in Isaiah has dawned in Christ.

Those who are in Christ Jesus are now a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). …. The new creation is tied to the promise of "the new self" (Eph 4:24), and this new person represents what believers are in Christ instead of what they are in Adam (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Believers are a new creation in Christ Jesus and created by God to do good works (Eph 2:10). The 'new creation' language fits with the theme that believers have been regenerated, which is the work of the eschatological Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5) [cf. Isa 44:3; Ezek 11:18-19; Ezek 36:26-27; Joel 2:28] (p. 31).

Because believers are in Christ, they are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17; cf. Eph 2:10) and "sons of God" (Gal 3:26), and they enjoy the blessings of Abraham (Gal 3:14). In other words, being in Christ is an eschatological reality, signifying that God's covenantal promises are theirs. Because of believers' union with Christ, there is "no condemnation" (Rom 8:1), and they are sanctified (1 Cor 1:2). By virtue of union with Christ believers enjoy the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Phil 3:9). They have been freed from the power of sin and death because they are united with Christ (1 Cor 1:4), so that they are complete in Christ (Col 2:10) (pp. 316-17).

The new creation is not merely personal and individual but also corporate because God has created a new humanity where the distinction between Jew and Gentile is done away in the body of Christ (cf. Gal 6:15; Eph 2:11-15). In reading the New Testament, we see that Isaiah's promise of a new creation is in fact a "pattern prophecy" fulfilled in successive stages. The new age has arrived (Gal 1:4), but overlaps with the present evil age and is awaiting a final consummation. Schreiner again explains: "Christians live in, so to speak, the 'twilight zone' for they have experienced the saving power of the age to come, and yet they still reside in the present evil age. Even now, Jesus reigns, but the consummation of his rule and the destruction of every enemy has not yet occurred (Eph 1:21; 1 Cor 15:26-28)." (pp. 98-99). The new creation has arrived, but believers await their full redemption from sin and death. The creation itself groans in anticipation of its own redemption (Rom 8:19-22) that will come at the climax of redemptive history when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven (Rev 21:1-4).

I appreciated Dr. Bock's reminder of the real message of the Gospel and our tendency to make it something far less than it really is. Salvation is more than a transaction, and the Gospel is an invitation to live the new life that God has made possible through our becoming a new creation in Christ. It is impossible to truly believe this message about Jesus and not be changed. Even more importantly, the theme of new creation reminds us of the cosmic significance of the Gospel and that the message of Christ crucified, buried, and risen again is the only real hope for our fallen world.