N.T. Wright’s Perversion of Biblical Hope

In a previous article, I touched on N.T. Wright’s perspective concerning the return of Jesus. To make my point, I compared Wright’s perspective concerning many of the most prominent passages that speak of the return of Jesus to the Islamic perspective concerning the return of Jesus. In the case of Islamic apocalyptic narrative, Jesus returns to abolish Christianity and kill Jews. In Wright’s interpretation concerning “the coming of the son of man,” Jesus “comes” to destroy Jerusalem and essentially dissolve national Israel. Not surprisingly, this stirred up a small hornet’s nest of young N.T. Wright fan boys who took great umbrage with my comments.

I’d like to expand upon why Wright’s perspective concerning the various passages that speak of the return of Jesus are so fundamentally misapplied, quite wrongly to 70 A.D. rather than to the future, where they belong, and why this is such a gross perversion of biblical hope (Acts 26:6,7; Titus 2:13).

In the following statement found in his book, Surprised by Hope, Wright states the following, “The first thing to get clear is that, despite widespread opinion to the contrary, during his earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about his return.”

Wright then continues:

I have argued this position at length and in detail in my various books about Jesus and don’t have space to substantiate it here. Let me just say two things, quite baldly. First, when Jesus speaks of “the son of man coming on the clouds,” he is talking not about the second coming but, in line with the Daniel 7 text he is quoting, about his vindication after suffering. The “coming” is an upward, not a downward, movement.

So Wright begins with the initial passage that speaks of “the son of man coming on the clouds” in Daniel 7 and claims that this has nothing to do with His return, but is rather concerned with His vindication first in His resurrection and ascension, and then in the destruction of Jerusalem and judgment upon national Israel. Thus later, when Jesus says in His Olivet Discourse, “and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30), Wright claims that He was not literally speaking of His second coming, but was speaking spiritually concering the destruction of Jerusalem. Wright states, “[T]he texts that speak of ‘the son of man coming on the clouds’ refer to a.d. 70”

What is the problem with Wright’s view here? First, we must acknowledge here that Wright, for all of his brilliance, is an infamously horrible exegete. Anyone who has read his “commentaries” will know that when a verse or passage does not align with his particular perspective, he simply skips over it as if it doesn’t exist. One absolutely cannot agree with Wright’s view here unless they are willing t do just that. For if we simply read the fuller context of Jesus’ sermon, as well as (just a few) of the various Old Testament references that Jesus is harkening to, we will see that He was absolutely clear in identifying the very specific timing of the “coming of the son of man on the clouds.” In just the verse prior to the one that Wright cites, Jesus says:

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Matthew 24:29)


Let us take note of the phrase, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.” The son of man comes on the clouds, immediately after the tribulation. What tribulation? The tribulation that Jesus just mentioned of course only a few verses prior:

“For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” (Matthew 24:21)

Here we see that Jesus was clearly citing Daniel 12:1, where an angel says the following:

Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:1-2)

Did you catch that? The angel quite clearly ties in this time of unparalleled tribulation with the physical resurrection of the dead. Throughout the passage is the phrase, “at that time,” “at that time.” The entire passage is speaking of the same general time period. According to Wright’s schema however, the tribulation spoken of here would be 70 A.D, whereas the resurrection of the dead would be at least 2000 years later. Yet the text allows for no such gap in time. It is all within the same general timeframe. This of course is carried on in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse.

Continuing on, what is so fascinating is that even as Jesus plays off the words of the angel, so also does the angel play off of the prophecy of Isaiah 26. In that passage, the people of Israel are lamenting the fact that despite their great tribulation and suffering, they could not bring about world redemption. Instead of accomplishing deliverance for the earth, they gave birth to wind. Some commentators suggest that the meaning is that after the great suffering of labor pains, Israel basically breaks wind. The prophets are frequently far more “earthy” than we might feel comfortable with in their prophetic poetry. The passage follows:

As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth, she writhes and cries out in her labor pains, thus were we before You, O LORD. We were pregnant, we writhed in labor, we gave birth, as it seems, only to wind. We could not accomplish deliverance for the earth, nor were inhabitants of the world born. (Isaiah 26:17-18)

No sooner however does Israel finish its lament, that the Lord responds with this wonderful reassurance:

Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. (Isaiah 26:19)

Compare the words of Isaiah with the words of the angel in Daniel:

You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy.

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake these to everlasting life.

So what does this all have to do with Jesus’ sermon and the timing of the coming of the son of man? Once one recognizes the interplay among the prophets and their awareness of one another, a beautiful and a clear vision of our “Blessed Hope” emerges. When “the son of man comes on the clouds,” it takes place immediately after the great tribulation experienced by Israel, (specifically in Judah), but it also specifically coincides with the resurrection of the dead! Not only that, but it also coincides with “deliverance for the earth.” Needless to say, the resurrection of the dead did not happen in 70 A.D.

What other wonderful events coincide with the coming of the son of man? How many are aware that the coming of the son of man passages are fundamentally connected to the corporate repentance of all the tribes of Israel?

Many are familiar with the prophecy of Zechariah who spoke of, “the spirit of grace,” being poured out on “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” resulting in their weeping specifically concerning the one “they (and we all) have pierced”:

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. (Zech. 12:10)

No doubt, this is precisely one of the passages that Paul the Apostle had in mind when he spoke of “all Israel being saved” when Christ returns (Romans 11:26).

And so it is that in the Book of Revelation, John the Apostle clearly connects the coming of the son of man with Zechariah 12 and the salvation of all the tribes of Israel:

BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. (Rev. 1:7)

The point is that when the son of man comes on the clouds, instead of it being the end of the Jewish world as Wright claims, the spirit of repentance (and thus) grace is poured out on the Jewish people! The inhabitants of Jerusalem are both saved and delivered from their enemies! Beyond this, those who lie in the dust are awakened unto the resurrection! And as we have said, on top of it all, the earth experiences deliverance! This is the day that all of creation has longed for, that we all long for.

It is no wonder that Paul breaks out into jubilant rejoicing as he speaks of this day:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33)

In conclusion then, N.T. Wright claims in several of his books that all of the various passages which speak of the coming of the son of man are in fact speaking of the destruction (without repentance) of national corporate Israel. The reason I so adamantly call this view a disgusting perversion is because it is so deeply contrary to the vision of hope, not only for ethnic national Israel, but for the whole world that is portrayed by the Biblical prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Himself. For this reason, and so much more, N.T. Wright, ironically the author of “Surprised by Hope” fundamentally perverts genuine biblical hope, taking passages that speak of the ultimate deliverance of Israel and the destruction of her enemies, and applies them one of Israel’s greatest catastrophes in history, as well as one of the greatest victories of the pagan Romans. He has completely turned these passages on their heads. To put this in context, Wright’s position is not at all unlike looking to the Holocaust as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies of deliverance and hope for the Jewish people. Thoughtful students of the Scriptures should shun such subversive, twisted and truly hurtful perspectives.

Further Reading

25 Responses to N.T. Wright’s Perversion of Biblical Hope

  1. Dan says:

    Agreed.

  2. Daniel S. says:

    Very well said Joel. Quite the slam dunk actually. Keep up the good work.

  3. Greg says:

    One of the things that make it nearly impossible to have intelligent discussions with these folks is their rejection of the Divine inspiration of Scripture.

    Recently I attempted to participate in a Facebook discussion in which Hartke asked, “Who is the shepherd in Zechariah 13:7?

    “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.”

    I replied with Matthew 16:31, which quotes Jesus identifying Himself as the shepherd. Hartke responded:

    “What interpretive bearing does Matthew have on Zechariah? To say that Zechariah 13:7 must be about Jesus because Matthew 26 says so is like saying Shakespeare was influenced by T. S. Eliot.”

    In other words, he rejects the interpretation of Scripture itself, using Jesus’ own words no less! How can one contend for truth when there is no baseline for measuring it? This is more than liberal theology; it is heresy.

  4. Joel says:

    Greg,

    Humility is such a key to revelation.

    On another note, Wright actually refers to the inerrancy of Scripture as “that stupid American doctrine.” Not sure if it means that the doctrine is both stupid and distinctly American, or only embraced specifically by stupid Americans.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/history-new-perspective-on/id378879786?i=84252370&mt=2

    Good times.

  5. linda keyes says:

    I love the words of Paul:

    ‘ For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.’ 2 cor1v12

    As a non academic, I thank God for simplicity, I googled some of N T Wrights articles as i had not heard of him, some of his reasoning sounds to me like ‘Yea hath God said?.’

    I think the fear of God or the lack of it, is reflected in the way we deal with other saints, we fool ourselves if we think we can disrespect each other and not be accountable.
    Thank you for your efforts Joel.

  6. Nick says:

    What a disturbing quote from N. T. Wright. Joel, thanks for sharing the links to those audio lectures. I will be interested to listen to Carson on this. It’s quite trendy to espouse this “new perspective on Paul” stuff but to do so one must pretend quite a bit.

  7. Joel says:

    Nick,

    D.A. Carson went to Cambridge when Wright was at Oxford. Carson and he go way back. He tells the story around the 20 minute mark of how Wright didn’t want to participate in a collaborative book that dealt with authority and Scripture because he didn’t want to sully his chances of teaching at Oxbridge (Cambridge or Oxford). Carson says that the doctrine of inerrancy is the one thing that really makes Wright “really angry.” Its funny that Carson says that Wright denies having ever changed his position on inerrancy, which he says that those who know him know that he is lying when he says this. In an interview published just last month, Wright denies having ever rejected inerrancy. (Apparently Carson is a liar?)

    http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/06/02/n-t-wright-bible-isnt-inerrantist/

    Wright simply refuses to be held accountable for his actual views. This is precisely why I refer to his approach as “dissimulation.” He’s truly the king of it.

    The best overview of the New Perspective is here:

    http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086_CHID560462_CIID1660662,00.html

  8. Vernon says:

    Great read as always Joel.

    Please allow me to switch gears:

    http://www.jihadwatch.org/2014/07/islamic-state-fires-mortars-at-shiite-shrine-middle-east-experts-fear-it-could-lead-to-sectarian-conflict

    When I saw that I thought immediately about your brief blog on the possible military showdown between Iran and Turkey. Mark Davidson talked about it at length in his book, ‘Daniel Revisited’. It looks amazingly on point!

  9. Joel says:

    Vernon,

    I think the chance of a regional war is genuine. The opportunities for crisis ministry among the various refugees throughout the region is beyond immense.

  10. Doug Hanley says:

    Regarding NT Wright, Why bother believing at all? Inerrancy of Scripture, Divinity of Christ, Atonement, Resurrection and Return, these are just a few of the Non-Negotiable Doctrines of us Stupid American Bible Believers…
    Exegesis, to lift the meaning from the text.
    Eisegesis (/ˌaɪsəˈdʒiːsəs/; from the Greek preposition εἰς “into” and the ending from the English word exegesis, which in turn is derived from ἐξηγεῖσθαι “to lead out”)[1] is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text.
    There is whole lot of presupposing going on.

  11. Nelson says:

    Greg,

    Arguing with someone who denies that scripture is inerrant is impossible. How can one “test the spirits” without scripture? They are left to their own opinions. Error magnifies error.

    Reading about your and Joel’s experiences with these men reminded me:

    “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Tim. 3:5 NASB)

    “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Pet. 3:3-4 NASB)

    I have discussed how to handle men such as these with a number of brothers. The consensus is to do exactly as Joel did, confront them with the truth. If they don’t repent, shake off the dust and move on.

    We have a whole world to awaken. IMO it is time to take prophecy “mainstream” and as for the liberal, academic, anti-prophecy clique, take 2 Timothy’s advice: “avoid such men.”

  12. Hey Joel, thanks for this. My Messianic Jewish friend was quite disturbed by your previous post, complaining that you attacked Wright without backing up your argument. I haven’t read Wright myself so I couldn’t comment directly. So this post helped fill in the blanks of your case. I also appreciated the link to Larry Hurtado’s blog. Scholarly credentials are important to my friend and Larry has a PhD so she might listen to him (sad, I know). So anyway, this most recent post helped quite a bit.

  13. Joel says:

    Peter,

    How did I not back up my argument? I cited him six times. Its weird that simply quoting Wright draws cries of foul from some of his groupies. Ultimately, if your friend feels as though I have not backed up any of my claims, then it is her job to show where my quotes of Wright are in error or have been taken out of context.

    Bless you!

  14. Dan says:

    Part of the reason I jumped into the NT Wright discussion is because my wife is a Messianic Jew. Many tend to look up to him due to his support for a Jewish understanding of bodily resurrection. They also tend to be wooed by his scholarly tone and the fact that he states that we cannot understand Jesus without understanding the Jewish culture he lived in. They may not understand all the information that Joel and others have brought to the discussion. I bring this up because many that I know have an emotional connection to him based upon these sorts of arguments.

  15. Joel says:

    Dan,

    Righto. We are in a time where there is a tremendous revival of both interest in and a an understanding of, the thoroughly Jewish context of the entire biblical narrative. The difficulty is that many out there claim to teach the Jewish context and understanding of the biblical story, but in actuality do not. Or in Wright’s case, partially do on some very important points, but not at all on the most important, and in fact the most glaring, aspects of the story.

    The positive thing that I draw from the influence of Wright and other teachers / authors such as Sam Storms who are making an impact on the body, is that they are “earthly amillennialists” They promote a very physical, tangible, resurrection and future hope. This is spectacular in that before the influence of Hoekema and Ladd, throughout Church history, virtually all amillennialists held to a Platonic construct of the age to come, a heavenly destiny. So the fact that folks like Wright and Storms and many others have finally, after 1800 years, come around to agree with the earthly emphasis of classic premillennialism is wonderful! We are glad that they are on board with us. We’re half way there. In this regard, Wright’s influence has been great.

    But Wright is still missing the most important part. I am speaking of the profoundly Jewish nature of the coming kingdom. Not only is it earthly, tangible, it is also Jewish. How does Wright miss this? As one friend said, Wright is a big picture guy, but he is a lousy commentator. He does not have the patience to truly deal exegetically with the texts. He is always looking to go outside of the text to enforce his worldview onto the texts. This is why he is so vague on so many crucial matters. The reason I specifically targeted his perversion of the return of Jesus passages is because by claiming that all of these passages are in fact speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, he is in fact continuing to reinforce the profoundly racist and deadly logic of supercessionism. Of course, not surprisingly, Wright denies being a supercessionist, but there is no question that he espouses, as R. Kendall Soulen defines it, “Economic Supercessionism.” No one who actually understands Wright and is honest will deny this. So while this is no doubt preferable to other forms, in the end, all forms of supercessionism ultimately disenfranchise the corporate, national people Israel. They may open up, or expand the kingdom to all individuals, which is good, but if one denies the ongoing election of corporate Israel, based upon the very specific manner in which the promises were made, then quite simply, they have cast God as a promise breaker. For Wright, this is not a problem, because he rarely is limited by the actual meaning of words. But this is exactly Paul’s while argument in Romans 11. God is not a promise breaker. He keeps His word. It really is that simple.

    While the Bible portrays a thoroughly Jewish Kingdom in the age to come, supercessionists such as Wright continue to portray, demand even, a thoroughly ethnically homogenized kingdom utterly void of a single distinctly Jewish characteristic. The simple fact of the matter is that the Scriptures thoroughly testify to a coming restored Jewish / Davidic Kingdom. To deny this is to disregard the entire biblical story. The Church has simply been so overwhelmed by a supercessionist Christian-centric vision, that they fail to see the obvious.

    So I am in full agreement with you that Wright’s influence has been great in some regards, but tragic in the ones that I think matter the most. This is especially true when we consider the fact that something far worse than anything we have seen yet is still to come. If Christians do not get this issue right, then Paul’s warning concerning being cut off is going to ring in their ears I fear, for eternity.

    Bless you Dan!

  16. Howard Bass says:

    This is a very interesting disussion for me, being a Jewish believer in Israel, who was saved by truth that Jesus is coming back to make the world right! Praise God!

    I would like to put in a thought here: the coming Kingdom will not be “Jewish” in the way we think of Jewish now. “All Israel” will be saved, not only Judah; and rabbinic/Talmudic/Pharasaic Judaism will not be the ‘religion’ of the Kingdom. Yeshua will return to restore the Kingdom of God to Israel, not merely the Davidic kingdom. From the time that Israel asked for a king like the Gentiles have, practically speaking, Israel and the Jewish people have rejected YHVH from being her/their King. When Yeshua came, He told the parable in which the leaders and people again said, ‘we will not have this man rule over us!’. Yeshua IS the King of Israel and of the Jews, and, He is YHVH!

    Israel is God’s first-born son as a nation, indicating that there will be other ‘children’. Egypt will be “My people”, for example. The Israel of God during the Millennium, and the Kingdom centered in Jerusalem, will live in a manner wholly different than what we think of as ‘Jew-ish’. The whole house of Jacob/Israel will finally recognize God’s love for non-Jews and the non-chosen. She will be cleansed of all her ungodliness; and righteousness will reign. Even the animals will be at peace with each other and with humans.

    There is much more than this, but I think one of the sticking points for those objecting to the central place of Israel is thinking in terms of ‘Jewish’ as they perceive and understand that today. Today, the Jewish religion does not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and they (and I was there in my thinking, too, before I was saved and came to the knowledge of the truth) want to see the faith of Christians in Jesus undone in order to vindicate our own unbelief, and ‘proving’ our righteousness by our success as a people and nation. We have been miraculously ‘successful’, but do not give the credit and the glory to the true God and Savior. Therefore, we are still in our sin, needing repentance and salvation.

  17. Joel says:

    Howard,

    Right. Of course by saying “Jewish” the point is not to say that we are looking for a Talmudic community in the age to come. : ) “Davidic” however, it most certainly will be, as this theme is consistent throughout the whole of the biblical narrative.

    “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” —John 12:13

    Bless you!

  18. Howard says:

    Agreed that it will be ‘Davidic’, in that the covenant to David will be fulfilled.

    Also, David had Gentiles among his mighty men, so in the rebuilt tent/tabernacle of David, Gentiles who live in the land and have children will have equal inheritance with the other Israelis/Jews. It will look different than what we have today, because the true King of Righteousness will be reigning over the House of Jacob, and over the nations.

    The homeland for the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, will be then fully in accord with God’s redemption of His people.

  19. Joel says:

    Howard. Yes and Amen.

  20. Greg says:

    N.T. Wright is absolutely correct in stating that our Lord’s coming in the clouds in Matthew 24 was His destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.
    70. The decisive text for this is in Matt.24:34 when He says that the generation alive during His lifetime would not pass away until all these things be fulfilled ( including His cloud coming). Jesus is quoting Daniel 7:13-14 in the context of His establishing His kingdom
    which came with the removal of the temple and the Old covenant worship
    in A.D.70 to establish the New covenant and the spiritual temple, Jesus and the church! His second coming is in Matt.24:35 when heaven and earth pass away when no one knows the day or hour! N.T. Wright
    is most certainly correct!

  21. Joel says:

    Greg,

    Using exclamation points doesn’t make it so. I will however, simply take your failure to interact with the texts, particularly Daniel 12:1-2 as an indicator of your inability to do so.

  22. Greg says:

    Joel,
    The higher critics have used Matt.24:34,”This generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled”, to trash the integrity
    of sacred scripture and claim Jesus was a false prophet because His coming in the clouds did not take place within the time frame that He
    had given it(i.e. this generation meaning that group of people alive during the lifetime of Jesus. So His cloud coming had to be a figurative statement regarding His coming judgement on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Evangelicals response to the higher critics has been less than satisfying regarding this “time frame text” of Jesus. A great resource that addresses this question is R.C. Sproul’s book, “The Last Days According to Jesus”. It is a great help in answering the time-frame text Jesus uses to refute the higher critics. Blessings!

  23. Greg Maxwell says:

    Apparently there are at least two “Gregs” posting here. I do want to make clear that the second “Greg” is not me, nor do his posts in any way represent my views.

  24. Joel says:

    I think there are three actually.

  25. Simonline says:

    As an Englishman living in Lancashire (in the northwest of England), fellowshipping within the Church of England, and knowing how much the Church of England reveres N.T. Wright (major bookshops all over the country are full of his works in their ‘religious’ sections), I, for one believe that Joel is a lot closer to the truth than N.T. Wright. Let’s not forget Truth is still true even if no-one believes it and falsehood is still false even if everyone believes it.

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