YHWH’s ‘Return to Zion’?

Hurtado (contra Wright):

Wright’s claim [is] that the earthly ministry of Jesus was seen from the first as YHWH’s “return to Zion,” and that this conviction was the “key” to all of the rest of how Jesus came to feature so centrally in earliest devotional practice and beliefs in the young Jesus-movement.

I judge his claims faulty, unsupported by the evidence.  What I see is that the earliest use of the OT theme of YHWH’s return to Zion/Israel, in Paul’s letters (our earliest texts), posits that it is in Jesus’ “second coming” (παρουσια) that this is fulfilled.  See, e.g., the use of such imagery in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, where Jesus will come (again) “with all his holy ones” (μετά πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ), which seems to draw this phrasing from Zechariah 14:5 (one of the “YHWH’s return” passages). . .

The biblical theme of YHWH’s return [to Zion] is evidenced in second-temple Jewish expressions of hopes for eschatological judgment and redemption. In the second-temple tradition that served as the matrix of the earliest circles of Jesus-believers, references to YHWH’s personal and direct return/manifestation were readily linked with references to this taking place through a chief-agent figure. The emphasis on YHWH’s direct action and the involvement of a chief agent were not in tension with each other, but served as complementary expressions of the eschatological hope.

This is reflected also in the NT texts that illustrate the remarkable christological appropriation of the theme of YHWH’s return. Despite Wright’s urgings, however, it is not clear that the theme of YHWH’s return was appropriated initially to interpret Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. Instead, the identifiable NT instances of the appropriation of the theme present Jesus’ parousia as effectively being YHWH’s eschatological return/manifestation. Jesus’ return in glory (“the parousia of the Lord,” 1 Thess. 4:15) will comprise the “day of the Lord” (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:1-11). Yet the same NT texts also clearly posit Jesus as the unique agent of God: e.g., “through Jesus God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thess. 4:14); “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). The two christological emphases, Jesus acting in the role of YHWH and as the unique agent of YHWH, are not in tension in the NT, and should not be played off against the other.

Moreover, notwithstanding Wright’s contention, this appropriation of the theme of YHWH’s return was not the initial christological claim or the conceptual move that prompted or accounts for all other early christological developments. Instead, the conviction that God raised from death and exalted him to unparalleled heavenly glory was the likely ignition for the explosively rapid and remarkably early development of the intense Jesus-devotion that we see already presumed in our earliest NT writings (as reflected, e.g., in Philip. 2:9-11). In its earliest form, this crucial conviction was that in raising Jesus from death, God confirmed Jesus as the true Messiah (e.g., Acts 2:35), declared Jesus as God’s unique Son (Rom 1:3-4), and exalted him as the Lord (Mar/Kyrios) who now shares the divine throne, glory and “the name above every name” (e.g., Philip. 2:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:27; Heb 1:3-4). This conviction likely erupted in the earliest days/weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion, and was generated and confirmed by the interaction of experiences that included encounters with the risen/glorified Jesus, visions of him in heavenly exaltation, prophetic oracles (and perhaps Spirit-inspired odes) declaring his status and expressing God’s will that Jesus be reverenced, and new “charismatic” readings of scriptural texts that confirmed and helped believers to understand better how to accommodate Jesus in relation to God.

At some very early point in this process, believers came to see (or perhaps came to see more fully) Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection/exaltation as prefigured in various biblical texts (prominently among these texts, Psalm 110:1), and even felt free (obliged?) to apply what Capes termed “Yahweh texts” to the risen/exalted Jesus (e.g., Psalm 24; Joel 2:32). As reflected in Paul’s letters, early christological developments also included ascribing to Jesus “pre-existence” in a divine mode (Philip. 2:6) and the role of unique agent in creation as well as redemption (1 Cor. 8:6).

Still more remarkably, early believers felt obliged to incorporate the risen/exalted Jesus programmatically in their devotional/cultic practices, according to Jesus the sort of place that they otherwise reserved for God alone. For example, in both Aramaic-speaking and Greek-speaking circles, they invoked (“called upon”) and “confessed” the risen Jesus in their worship-gatherings (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:22; Rom. 10:9-13).  Their initiation rite was a baptism in Jesus’ name.  The corporate meal of fellowship was also identified with reference to Jesus (e.g., “the table of the Lord,” 1 Cor. 10:21; “the Lord’s supper,” 1 Cor. 11:20).  In my view, this programmatic place of Jesus, producing a “dyadic” devotional pattern in which God and Jesus are linked as recipients, likely arose under the conviction that God required Jesus to be so reverenced.

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