Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 1)

As a veritable compendium of Pauline thought, it is to be expected that his letter to the Christians in Rome would also contain important passages related to his eschatology, and that it would reflect a similar level of theological development. This indeed is the case, even if there are no eschatological sections in Romans comparable to 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 or 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed in the prior articles). The first part of this article on the eschatology in Romans will survey many of the key references, looking at each passage or verse either briefly or in moderate detail, leaving more extensive discussions on chapters 8-11 for Parts 2 and 3.

Survey of Eschatological References in Romans

Romans 1:18ff

“For (the) anger of God is being uncovered from heaven upon all lack of reverence and lack of justice (among) men, the (one)s holding down the truth in a lack of justice [i.e. injustice/lawlessness]…”

This bold statement opens the main body (probatio) of the letter, following directly after the central proposition (propositio) in verses 16-17. Just as the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God is uncovered (a)pokalu/ptetai) in the proclamation of the Gospel, and those who respond by trusting in it, so the anger (o)rgh/) of God is uncovered (a)pokalu/ptetai) for those who reject it and act/behave in an unjust manner. The expression “anger of God” is a technical phrase that refers to the end-time Judgment, in which God will finally act to punish decisively the wickedness of humankind. In Old Testament Prophetic tradition, this expression of divine anger is associated with the “Day of YHWH” motif (cf. 2:5), a time when God judges a nation or people. The phrase gradually took on eschatological significance, and, indeed, it is the end-time Judgment which Paul has in mind here. The present tense of the verb suggests that this is something already happening or about to happen, the latter being more accurate and fully in accord with the imminent eschatology of early Christians.

Paul vividly, and perceptively, analyzes the wickedness of the nations, with their polytheistic beliefs and idolatrous tendencies, tracing how this may have developed—a kind of early Christian psychology of religion. Paul turns and does much the same for Jews in chapter 2, but in 1:18-32 the focus is on Gentiles. A central tenet of Romans being the equality of Jews and Gentiles, both in terms of their bondage to sin and subsequent unity as believers, it is necessary for Paul to treat them together—separately and in common. The theme of the coming Judgment continues in 2:1-11, with the traditional motif of the separation of the righteous and wicked at the time of Judgment. This is expressed clearly in verses 6-10:

“…in the day of anger and the uncovering of the right Judgment of God, who will give back to each (person) according to his works: (on the one hand) to the (one)s seeking the esteem and honor (of God) and (that which is) without decay, according to (their) remaining under (with) good work, (the) life of the Ages; but (on the other hand), to the (one)s (who), out of (self-centered) labor, and being unpersuaded by the truth, (are instead) being persuaded by injustice, (the) anger (of God) and impulse (to punish). (There will be) distress and a tight space for every soul of man th(at) is working at (what is) bad, of (the) Yehudean {Jew} first and (also the) Greek; but esteem and honor and peace for every (one) working (what is) good, (the) Yehudean first and (also the) Greek”

The end-time Judgment, expressed in terms of the anger of God, in the traditional sense of His desire to punish wickedness, is also mentioned at several other points in the letter (e.g., 3:6; 12:19).

Romans 2:16

“…in the day when God judges the hidden (thing)s of men, according to my good message, through (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

This expresses a distinctly Christian aspect of the traditional Judgment—that it will take place through Jesus, i.e. that he will oversee the Judgment, acting in the role of Judge, as God the Father’s appointed representative. This relates to the Heavenly-deliverer or “Son of Man” Messianic figure-type, drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14ff, and developed subsequently in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Jesus, as God’s Anointed, fulfills this Messianic role at the end-time, upon his return to earth. This idea of Jesus’ role in the Judgment is also found (using similar language) in the Areopagus speech of Paul in the book of Acts:

“…He [i.e. God] has set a day in which He is about to judge the inhabited world, in justice, in [i.e. through] a man whom He marked out, holding along a trust for all (people by) making him stand up out of the dead” (17:31)

For the expression “day of Jesus” or “day of the Lord” (from “day of YHWH”) with a similar meaning, see Parts 1 and 3 of the article on 1-2 Corinthians.

Romans 5:2

“So, having been made right out of trust, we hold peace toward God through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, through whom also we have held [by trust] the (way) leading toward (Him), into this favor in which we (now) have stood, and we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/splendor of God.” (vv. 1-2)

These verses introduce a new section within the main body of the letter; the focus is primarily soteriological, as Paul discusses the bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and how believers are freed from it through trust in the redeeming work of Jesus. Indeed, Paul gave special emphasis to this aspect of salvation, while continuing to affirm the traditional idea of salvation in terms of being saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. The two go hand in hand—sin and judgment, and Pauline soteriology is effective summarized here in verses 1-11. The eschatological aspect may not be immediately apparent for readers today, but it is embedded in much of the wording, especially here in the opening verses. Let us consider briefly each phrase:

    • “having been made right out of trust” (dikaiwqe/nte$ e)k pi/stew$)—this is the foundational Pauline doctrine of “justification by faith”; things have been “made right” (vb dikaio/w) for believers in relationship to God as a result of trust (faith) in the saving work of Jesus Christ.
    • “we hold…toward God” —there are two connected phrases which express this restored relationship between human beings (believers) and God; each phrase uses the verb e&xw (“hold”) and the preposition pro/$ (“toward”), and is qualified by the expression “through [dia/] (Yeshua…)”:
      • “we hold peace toward God” (ei)rh/nhn e&xomen pro\$ to\ qe/on)—the word “peace” (ei)rh/nh) refers primarily to the idea of reconciliation, of an end to hostility and the things that separate two parties; however, it also reflects the presence of God Himself in and among believers (who are His people), through the Spirit, which serves as the uniting bond of peace (8:6; 14:17; cf. also Gal 5:22; Eph 4:3)
      • “we have held the way leading toward (Him)” (th\n prosagwgh\n e)sxh/kamen)—the verb prosa/gw literally means “lead toward”, and so the derived noun prosagwgh/ a “way leading toward”, sometimes in the context of being led into the chamber, etc, of ruling authorities (Acts 16:20). In this sense, believers are led into the presence of God (1 Pet 3:18). Both verb and noun are rare in the New Testament; Paul never uses the verb, but all three occurrences of the noun are in the Pauline letters (Eph 2:18; 3:12). The idea expressed in Eph 2:18, and its wording, is very similar to the phrase here:
        “through him [i.e. Jesus] we both [i.e. Jews and Gentiles], in one Spirit, hold (the way) toward the Father”
    • “into this favor in which we have stood” (ei)$ th\n xa/rin tau/thn e)n h!| e(sth/kamen)—the way leads into (ei)$) the favor (xa/ri$) of God; believers currently experience this favor (and favored status), and so “stand” in it. The perfect tense typically signifies an action or condition which took place (or began) in the past and continues in the present. This same favor allows believers to stand before God in His chamber, being saved from the Judgment.
    • “we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/splendor of God” (kauxw/meqa e)p’ e)lpi/di th=$ do/ch$ tou= qeou=)—this hope (e)lpi/$) is fundamentally eschatological: the favor experienced by believers (in the present) will result in an exalted status in the future (parallel to Jesus’ own exaltation). Primarily this is understood in terms of the end-time resurrection, the power of which resides in the Spirit of God (and Christ) now abiding in and among believers (cf. below). The word do/ca has a wide semantic range that makes consistent rendering in English difficult. When applied to God, it can refer to the honor and esteem with which He is to be regarded, but also to that which makes Him worthy of honor, i.e. His own nature, character, and attributes. Often this latter is visualized with light-imagery, in which case “splendor” is a more proper translation, similar to the more conventional rendering “glory”. In any case, the future hope for believers involves a share in God’s own do/ca, the ultimate goal of the path leading toward Him.
Romans 5:9

“…but God makes his own love unto us stand together with (us), (in) that, (while) our yet being sinful (one)s, the Anointed (One) died away over us. Much more, then, now (hav)ing been made right in his blood, will we be saved through him from the (coming) anger (of God).” (vv. 8-9)

The love (a)ga/ph) and anger (o)rgh/) of God are contrasted here. The distinction between the verbs dikaio/w (“make right”) and sw/zw (“save”) is important for an understanding of the early Christian “order of salvation”, as expressed by Paul in his letters. This may be seen as representing two stages in a process: (1) things are “made right” between God and believers, (2) believers are “saved” from the coming Judgment. While it may also be said that we are saved from the power of sin, for early Christians the eschatological aspect of salvation was primary. Paul’s argument here is: if God showed his love for us by making things right for us, through the sacrificial death (“blood”) of Jesus (i.e. the first stage of the process), he certainly will follow through and show the same love by saving us from the end-time Judgment (his anger) in the second stage. On the term “anger” as a traditional designation for the Judgment, cf. on 1:18ff above.

A broader sense of salvation (using the verb r(u/omai, “rescue”) is indicated in 7:24:

“I (am) a man (forc)ed to endure suffering! Who will rescue me out of this body of death?”

In chapter 7, Paul is essentially describing the condition of a human being (who would be a believer) prior to the sacrificial work of Jesus—or, we may say, of a believer prior to coming to faith. Such a person genuinely is inclined to live according to the expressed will of God, and wishes to do so, but is hindered by the fact that our “flesh” (or “body”, sw=ma) is in bondage under the power of sin. This bondage to sin leads to death, thus the expression “body of death”.

Romans 6:5; 8:11

“For if we have come to be planted in the likeness of his death, (what) other (than that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection]?” (6:5)
“And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of the dead will also make your dying bodies alive through His Spirit housing in you.” (8:11)

These two declarations reflect Paul’s most original (theological) contribution to early Christian eschatology—his teaching and emphasis on believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (i.e. “dying and rising with Jesus”). By uniting with his death, through faith, and symbolized in the rite of baptism, we will also be united with his resurrection, sharing in its power. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so we also will be raised; it is the indwelling Spirit of God which brings this about, which is also the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. For more detail on this aspect of the (end-time) resurrection, cf. the earlier article on 1 Corinthians 15. Clearly, “dying bodies” relates to the expression “body of death” in 7:24 (cf. above).

Romans 13:11-12

“And this: having seen the moment, (know) that (it is) already (the) hour for you to rise out of sleep—for our salvation is nearer than when we (first) trusted. The night cut (its way) forward and the day has come near. So we should put away from (us) the works of darkness, [and] sink in(to) [i.e. put on] the weapons of light!”

This is clearly an expression of Paul’s imminent eschatological expectation, shared by nearly all believers of the time. If the end was near when they first came to faith in Jesus, it is all the closer now as Paul writes to them. He uses very similar language in 1 Thess 5:4-10, a passage that is unquestionably eschatological (cf. the earlier article in this series).

Romans 14:9-12

“For (it is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] (that) the Anointed (One) died away and lived (again): (so) that he should be Lord (both) of (the) dead and (the) living. But you—(for) what [i.e. why] do you judge your brother? or (for) what even do you make your brother out (to be) nothing? For we all shall stand alongside (before) the stepped (platform) of God, for it has been written: ‘(As) I live, says (the) Lord, (it is) that every knee shall bend and every tongue shall give out an account as one to God’. [So] then, each of us will give an account about himself [to God].”

These verses conclude the practical instruction for believers in vv. 1-8, emphasizing the Judgment which all human beings must face. Even though believers are saved from the anger (punishment) that comes upon the wicked in the Judgment, it is still necessary to stand before God to give an account. The judicial context is indicated by reference to a bh=ma, or platformed area which one reaches by ascending steps (Matt 27:19; Acts 12:21; 18:12ff; 25:6ff). Here it is a heavenly tribunal, a Christian reflection of the traditional afterlife (or end-time) Judgment scene. Also uniquely Christian is the role the exalted Jesus, as “Lord of the dead and living”, plays in overseeing the Judgment (cf. on 2:16 above).

Romans 16:20

“And the God of peace will crush the Satan (all) together under your feet, in (all) speed [e)n ta/xei].”

This is another statement clearly evincing an imminent eschatology, especially with its use of the expression e)n ta/xei (“in all speed”); cf. the earlier article on this subject. The crushing of the Satan is an allusion to Gen 3:15, following the traditional interpretation of identifying the “Serpent” of the Creation narrative with Satan (Rev 12:9). It has been set in an eschatological context, indicating the final defeat of the forces of evil (cf. 1 Cor 15:24-28, etc). For Christians facing some measure of suffering and distress (even persecution), this was a welcome message, one which the book of Revelation spins out through its powerful cycles of visions.

Romans 16:25-26

The concluding words of v. 20 are followed by final greetings and the doxology of the letter. Verses 25-26 place the entire Christian message (the Gospel of Jesus) within an eschatological context:

“And to the (One) powered to set you firm, according to my good message and proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to (the) uncovering of (the) secret having been kept hidden for (the) times of the Ages, but now (hav)ing been made to shine forth, through the writings of the Foretellers, according to the arrangement of the God of the Ages (set) upon (all things), (and hav)ing been made known, unto (the) hearing under [i.e. obedience] of trust, unto all the nations…”

There is some textual uncertainty regarding verses 25-27, and even some doubt as to whether they are genuinely from Paul; if not, they still reflect Pauline thought, especially the idea that the Gospel message (of what God has done through Jesus) is something that has been hidden throughout the Ages, only to be revealed now, at the end-time. I have discussed this point as part of an earlier series of notes, studies on the word musth/rion (“secret”). The main Pauline references are 1 Cor 2:6-7ff; Col 1:26-27; Eph 1:9; 3:3-4ff. The truth about Jesus was made known in the Prophetic Scriptures, but still in a hidden manner, only to be revealed fully (and expounded) by early Christian missionaries and preachers (such as Paul). This language itself suggests that the end of the Age(s) has come with the revelation of Jesus, though the current Age will finally close only with the return of the exalted Jesus to earth, something Paul expected would happen quite soon.

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