Friday, December 19, 2014

Encountering the Exalted Christ

Well, FF Bruce, you have continued to enlighten me and to challenge me to develop a deeper understanding of the Apostle Paul. Chapters six to twelve take us from the point of Jesus’ incarnation, and its significance according to Jesus, up to Paul’s understanding of the exalted Christ and how that impacted his life. Bruce continues to provide the relevant historical context that makes the events of Paul’s life, and of the early church, come alive.

What were the Jews expecting the Messiah to be like? Bruce tells us that the Jews had expectations of deliverance from the Romans by a King in the line of David. However, he makes it clear that Jesus did not see this as the most significant aspect of himself. He rather emphasised the arrival of the Kingdom of God. See page 57 for yet more FF Bruce gold as he lists the various rulers and those in power - Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, Annas the Sadducee, and the "tradition of the elders" – and states that “The message of Jesus was so radical that it challenged all those authorities at once.” Bruce is building up a strong picture of the reasons behind Paul’s zealous persecution of the early church.

How did the Pharisees and Sadducees react to the early Christian movement? And why did Paul become such a zealous persecutor of the Church? In chapters seven and eight we see that some were alarmed, others were tolerant and still others were happy to join in. But the "blasphemy" of Stephen, and his trial and execution signal the beginning of a campaign of persecution that Paul embraces with "uncompromising rigour". Paul simply could not accept that a crucified man could be the Messiah. Bruce explains the fascinating historical background to Paul’s journey to Damascus with the intention of apprehending fugitive Christians.

And then Paul becomes a Christian. How did Paul come to be accepted by those he once persecuted? And what did Peter tell him? In the next chapters there’s lots of discussion about what Paul knew by revelation and what he must have been told by Peter and James. What did Paul know of the "Historical Jesus", the man who lived and walked upon the earth as opposed to the risen Christ who appeared to Paul? Now I’m not saying that chapter ten and parts of chapter eleven and chapter twelve were boring. I was very tired and I am sure that it would be very interesting to those looking into the question of Paul’s "direct and profound personal acquaintance with the exalted Christ". But I did not find it as easy to engage with these chapters. It often felt a bit dry and rested a great deal on the examination of phrases and titles. No disrespect, FF Bruce. There were bits I liked, but I found myself skipping over a few bits. But don’t worry. I am still an enthusiastic member of the FF Bruce fan club and I am keen to continue unearthing his gems. The way he brings together history and the Bible makes for a rewarding read and a deeper understanding of this intelligent, flawed, determined and God-reliant man.

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