Read Acts and watch them do it. And this, I am convinced, is what Jesus himself had in mind all along. He really did think he was kick-starting God’s kingdom on earth, but just as he radically redefined the way in which the decisive battle would be won (the cross), so he radically redefined the way in which that victory would be implemented (the servant vocation). That is what Mark 10:35-45 is all about. The church has regularly read all this wrong, looking only for “atonement” (“the son of man came to give his life as a ransom for many”) and failing to see the redefinition of power within which that vital statement is contained (“the rulers of this age do things one way, . . . but we’re going to do it the other way”). I now see this even more clearly than I did fifteen years ago. Maybe a taste of the corridors of power in British society has alerted me to the gospel-shaped redefinition of power more than I realized at the time.
Maybe that explains the way I now see the new century in which we live. Nobody imagined, in January 1999, what would happen less than three years later, as planes smashed into buildings and the world changed forever. The Western world, and the Western church, was embarrassingly unprepared, not just for the terrible and wicked deeds of September 11, 2001, but for the worldview challenges that it offered. For far too long Western Christianity had believed, at least implicitly, that religion and politics were two such separate things—that one didn’t really need to think too hard about how they might engage one another. The reaction to the atrocity was then predictable: meet fire with fire. The result of that, in turn, has also been predictable: there is far more unrest in the Middle East than there was fifteen years ago.
In this strange, dark new world, we urgently need new light. Jesus of Nazareth brought that light a long time ago. The world, and the church, has found it too dazzling, and we have done our best to cover it up, talking busily about a private spirituality in the present and a “heavenly” salvation in the future. But when Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will would be done, on earth as in heaven, he actually meant it. When he said that all authority had been given him on earth as in heaven, he meant that too. We have scarcely begun to figure out how this ought to work out in practice. But I hope and pray that this little book will be, for some at least, an introduction to what Jesus himself meant by it at the time, and hence an invitation to ponder what he might mean by it today and tomorrow, as he summons us still to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Taken from The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright. Copyright (c) 1999 by N. T. Wright. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com