“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27)

John 5:27

The next “son of man” reference in the Gospel of John is at 5:27, within the lengthy Discourse of chapter 5. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are all carefully structured and arranged. For example, the first four Discourses are arranged in two pairs. The Discourses in the first pair (3:1-21; 4:1-42) are based upon encounters between Jesus and a particular individual—Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, respectively—characters who are vividly portrayed in the narrative. The Discourses of the second pair (chaps. 5 and 6) are each rooted in a different kind of historical tradition—namely, a miracle episode, similar to those we find narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, the miraculous feeding episode in chap. 6 (vv. 1-14f) so closely resembles the Synoptic episode(s) (Mk 6:30-44 par; 8:1-10 par), that most commentators would consider both versions to be derived from a single (common) historical tradition.

As for the miracle episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-16), it bears a certain resemblance to Mark 3:1-6 par, with the healing framed as a Sabbath controversy episode. Actually, in the Johannine narrative, the healing (vv. 1-9) and Sabbath-controversy (vv. 10-16) portions appear to reflect separate traditions, which the Gospel writer (or the underlying Johannine Tradition) has combined into a single narrative. In this regard, we might a comparison with the healing miracle (of a paralyzed man) in Mk 2:1-12 par, in its contextual position preceding the Sabbath controversy episodes of 2:23-3:6. As it happens, in both the episodes of 2:1-12 and 23-28, the expression “the son of man” plays a prominent role (vv. 10, 28).

The Johannine combination of traditional elements—healing miracle and Sabbath controversy—provides the narrative background for the main saying of Jesus (v. 17) that initiates the Discourse proper: “My Father works (even) until now, and I (also) work.” In the sections of the Discourse that follow, Jesus expounds the meaning of this saying.

In all of the Johannine Discourses, there is a reaction to the initial saying of Jesus by his hearers, and this reaction leads to an expository response by Jesus. The hostile reaction, by at least some of the populace (“the Yehudeans”) who heard him, is presented indirectly, in summary fashion by the Gospel writer, in verse 18. The people objected both to his healing act which (in their view) violated the Sabbath law, and to his statement, by which they recognized that “he was making himself equal to God”.

Typically, the audience reactions to Jesus’ statements in the Discourses involve a misunderstanding of (the true meaning of) his words. Here, the emphasis is not so much on misunderstanding, as it is on opposition to Jesus. Given the Synoptic parallels (see above), and also the certain parallels with the healing episode in chapter 9, it would seem likely that “the Yehudeans [i.e., Jews]” of verses 10-18 should be identified with the kinds of Jewish religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’) who typically feature as Jesus’ adversaries/opponents in the Gospel Tradition (cf. 9:13-16ff).

Jesus’ exposition that follows may be divided into two main portions—vv. 19-30 and vv. 31-47. The “son of man” reference occurs toward the end of first division. The principal theme of the Discourse is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God the Father, and (2) the fact that, as the Son, he does the work of his Father.

Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example in his working—a principle that almost certainly reflects the practical situation of a son apprenticing in the same work/trade as his father. As Jesus states at the opening of his exposition:

“The Son is not able to do anything from himself, if not [i.e. but only] what he should see the Father doing; for the (thing)s which that (One) would do, the Son also does.” (v. 19)

The Father, like a human father instructing his son, shows the Son what to do and how to work (v. 20).

To illustrate the nature of the Father’s work, Jesus cites two examples, both of which have an eschatological orientation: (i) giving life to the dead (v. 21), and (ii) acting as Judge over humankind (v. 22). The first theme is loosely related to the healing miracle of vv. 1-16, though it would, of course, be more appropriate to the Lazarus episode of chap. 11. The ability to heal illness reflects the life-giving power of God. However, the exposition focuses specifically on giving life to the dead (i.e., resurrection), with the end-time resurrection primarily in view. This resurrection, according to traditional eschatological expectation, is connected with the end-time Judgment.

These twin themes are woven through verses 19-30, being developed in various ways, and (most importantly) given a Johannine Christological interpretation. Structurally, the exposition here is given in two parallel sections—vv. 21-24 and vv. 25-29. Three key points are made in each section:

    • The authority/ability both to give life and to judge is given by the Father to the Son (vv. 21-22f, 26-27)
    • Giving life: the one who hears the voice of the Son will receive life and be raised from the dead (v. 24a, 25ff)
    • Judging: those who hear the Son’s voice will face the Judgment (v. 24b, 28-29)

The emphasis in the second section (vv. 25-29) is on what we may call the traditional future eschatology, held by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D. In the first section (vv. 21-24), however, the focus is on the realized eschatology that is so distinctive of the Johannine Gospel. The two eschatological strands are joined together here by the phrase in v. 25a: “(the) hour comes, and is now (here)”.

From the standpoint of the Johannine ‘realized’ eschatology—that is, where traditional future events (i.e., resurrection, the Judgment) are realized for human beings already in the present—the eschatological events of the resurrection and the Judgment are understood in terms of trust in Jesus. This is stated quite clearly in verse 24:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me holds (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over [metabe/bhken], out of death and into life.”

The use of the perfect tense of the verb metabai/nw, in particular, makes clear that the person trusting in Jesus (as the Son sent by the Father) has already (in the present) received the resurrection-life, and has passed through the Judgment into eternal life. Much the same idea was expressed earlier in 3:16-21, and can be found at other points in the Gospel as well.

Yet this ‘realized’ eschatology does not exclude the traditional (future) understanding of the end-time resurrection and Judgment. This is clear from the second section (vv. 25-29), though some commentators would view the future eschatology in these verses as the product of a later (redacted/edited) edition of the Gospel, and not the work of the original author. As noted above, verse 25a serves to join together the two different eschatological viewpoints. More than this, there is a certain inclusio to the section which could be interpreted as presenting the theme of Jesus’ life-giving (resurrection) power according to both eschatological aspects:

    • Realized eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes and is now (here)
      when the dead
      shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
      and the (one)s hearing shall live” (v. 25)
    • Future eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes
      in which all the (one)s in the memorials [i.e. tombs]
      shall hear his voice,
      and they shall travel out…(some) unto life…and (others) unto judgment” (vv. 28-29)

In both instances, human beings hear the voice of the Son (Jesus). This “hearing” has a double meaning, but the second (deeper) meaning applies only to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine theology. For this reason, the verb a)kou/w (“hear”) is used twice in verse 25:

    • “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God”
      viz., at the resurrection, when humankind is raised from the dead
    • “and the (one)s (hav)ing heard shall live”
      viz., believers, those trusting in Jesus, shall enter into eternal life

At the same time, the entire verse echoes the realized eschatology of vv. 21-24, and anticipates the Lazarus episode, in which “the dead hearing the voice of the Son” is applied to the present, not simply to the future.

With this analysis in place, we can now turn to the “son of man” reference in verse 27. It is important, first, to examine the reference within the unit of vv. 26-27. As noted above, in this unit, we find the theme of the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. In the first section, this theme was expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

It is similarly expressed, though with quite different wording/phrasing, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is thus made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind. With regard to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” here, there are three interpretive issues that need to be addressed:

    1. The relation between the (parallel) terminology “the Son” (v. 22) and “(the) son of man” (v. 27)
    2. In what ways (if any) does the power to give life and to judge differ, particularly as expressed in vv. 26-27, and (how) does this effect the use of the expression “son of man”?
    3. How is the judgment to be understood, comparing the matter in light of both sections (vv. 21-24, 25-29), and in the broader context of the Johannine theology? And how does the expression “(the) son of man” relate to this understanding of the judgment?

In addition, some consideration must be given to the distinctive anarthrous form of the expression (i.e., without the definite article[s]) here in verse 27.

These points will be discussed in the continuation of this study.


January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

October 27: John 15:6

John 15:6

“If any (one) should not remain in me, he is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch) (is), and it is dried up, and (when) they gather them together, is also cast into the fire and is burned.”

In this portion of the exposition of the vine illustration, Jesus explains what happens to the ‘branch’ (klh=ma) that does not “remain” in the vine: “it/he is cast out of (the place)” (e)blh/qh e&cw). The land-worker who does this work is God the Father (v. 1), and the Father must be seen as the implied actor of the passive verb here—an example of the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum). The act of casting/throwing (vb ba/llw) away is parallel (and essentially equivalent) to the “taking away” (vb ai&rw) of the branch that does not bear fruit (v. 2). As is clear from vv. 4-5, the branch that does not remain in the vine, does not (and cannot) bear fruit.

The taking/casting away of such branches is part of the overall cutting/pruning of the vine that is indicated within the illustration. The noun klh=ma, typically translated “branch”, properly denotes something that is “broken (off)”; here in verse 6, the verbal aspect of the branch being broken off, is particularly prominent. The branches/tendrils that do bear fruit are also cut away and pruned, but this yields a fundamentally different result: the branch is not simply “taken away”; rather, it is “cleaned” (vb kaqai/rw) by the pruning process, so as to be able to produce more/better fruit.

The branch that is cut/broken off and “cast out” (the adverb e&cw indicating removal from a place) simply dries up (vb chrai/nw, “be[come] dry”), since, being separated from the vine (that is itself rooted in the ground), it no longer has access to the vine’s vital essence and life-giving nutrients. All the passive verbs in v. 6 should be read as “divine passives”, with God the Father effectively performing the action. However, at least in the case of the verb chrai/nw, the passive can also indicate the condition of the branch that is now on its own, apart from the vine (cf. the previous note on v. 5).

At this point, the grammatical number in the verse suddenly shifts from the singular to the plural (before shifting back again to the singular): “and they gather them together” (kai\ suna/gousin au)ta/). While some manuscripts read the singular here (“they gather it together”), that reading most likely represents a scribal ‘correction’ to match the singulars elsewhere in the verse. By the sudden shift to the plural, the individual ‘branch’ is recognized as part of a group—i.e., all of the branches that do not bear fruit (because they do not “remain” in the vine), and are thus removed and “thrown out”.

It is these branches that are “gathered together” and thrown into the fire, utilizing imagery that reinforces the eschatological emphasis of other comparable harvest-illustrations (see esp. Matt 3:12 par; 13:30 / 41), alluding to the end-time Judgment by God. The plural subject of the verb suna/gw, could refer to the end-time role of the angels (Matt 13:41; Mark 13:27 par), acting as God’s representatives in the onset of the Judgment. The implication thus is, that if a disciple (believer) does not remain in Jesus, he/she will perish in the Judgment (“and is burned [up]”, vb kai/w). In the upcoming notes, we will examine, in some detail, precisely what it means to “remain” (vb me/nw) in Jesus.

In the exposition/application of the vine illustration, Jesus focuses on the identification of the disciples with the cut/pruned branches. Here in verse 6, he is clearly speaking of the disciples, mentioning at the same time, again, their place in the illustration (as the ‘branches’)— “he [i.e. the disciple] is cast out of (the place), as the broken (branch is)”. The shift in verbal tense, from aorist to present, is best explained in terms of Jesus’ application of the illustration: the aorist verbs refer to the fate of the individual branch at a specific point in time; while the present verbs describe the regular activity of the workers who deal, each season, with the branches that are cut off. We may outline this as follows:

    • Aorist—the branch is “cast out” and “dried up”
      and so is dealt with as regularly happens for all such branches:
    • Present—the workers “gather together” all such branches, and the individual branch, being among them, “is cast” into the fire and “is burned (up)”.

It is also possible that the present tense could refer to an eschatological orientation—whether to the imminent (future) eschatology of early Christians, or to the realized eschatology that is emphasized in the Gospel of John:

    • Imminent—the ‘branches’ are about to be gathered together and thrown into the fire (of the end-time Judgment)
    • Realized—the cut-off ‘branches’ are even now, in the present, because of their failure to “remain” in Jesus, under God’s Judgment

An interesting aspect of the vine-illustration, that is not particularly emphasized in the exposition, is that the fruit-bearing branches are also cut away (as part of the pruning process). Presumably, these branches (or the cut-off portions of them) also also burned up in the fire. Yet, in terms of the Johaninne theology, the true believer has (already) passed safely through the Judgment (see esp. 5:24), and thus will not face its “fire”. It is possible to extend the imagery to refer to the “fire” as part of the cleansing process for the believer—the sinful portions (i.e., sins) are removed from the believer and ‘burned away’ in the fire. The Spirit is sometimes associated with the image of fire in this regard—cf. Isa 4:4-5; Mal 3:2-3; Matt 3:11 [par Lk 3:16]; 1QS 4:20-21.



May 3: Romans 8:21-23

Romans 8:21-23

Towards the end of chapter 8 (cf. the previous note on Rom 8:10-11), Paul brings in a strong eschatological emphasis. Many Christians today do not fully appreciate the importance of eschatology in early Christian thought. I have discussed the subject at length in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (cf. the Part 2 of the article on Romans). For first-century Christians, their eschatology was imminent, expecting  that the end would come very soon, probably within the lifetime of most believers. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of being saved from the coming Judgment.

Following the Judgment, a New Age would be inaugurated for humankind; the eschatological expectation of many Jews and Christians of the time included the idea of a complete transformation of all creation—drawing upon the prophetic tradition of a “new heavens and new earth” (Isa 65:17ff; 66:22; cf. Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:13). Paul is expressing a similar idea here in Rom 8:18-23, working from the premise, shared by most Christians at the time, that the New Age had already been ushered in, but was only realized (in the present) for believers. This way of thinking is typically referred to as “realized eschatology” —the promise of salvation, eternal life, the resurrection of the body, and so forth—all of this is experienced by believers in Christ, in a preliminary way, through the presence of the Spirit.

Thus, as Paul expounds the matter in vv. 18-23, believers represent the ‘first-fruits’, a)parxh/, literally the beginning (of the ingathering) from (the harvest)—the harvest being a natural motif for the end of the Age. The good grain/fruit is brought in, while the bad/useless chaff is discarded (and burnt up)—cf. Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 38ff; Rev 14:15-20; also Matt 9:37-38 par; John 4:35; cp. Jer 51:33; Joel 3:13, etc). From an eschatological standpoint, this signifies a temporal priority—i.e., the initial transformation of believers, through our possession of the Spirit, marks the beginning of the New Age.

For believers in Christ, the end time, in spite of the suffering (like that of a woman in labor) that takes place, ultimately provides a reason for great hope. Indeed, Paul declares that the present (eschatological) suffering cannot compare to the honor/splendor (do/ca) which we are about to experience (v. 18). In his words, the sufferings of “the time (right) now” are not comparable to the do/ca “being about to be uncovered [i.e. revealed] unto us” (note the imminence of this expectation). The prepositional expression ei)$ h(ma=$ could also be translated “in us”.

This hope for believers also gives hope to the rest of creation (as a whole). Paul refers to this in verse 19 as the “a)pokaradoki/a of the foundation”. The compound noun a)pokaradoki/a is almost impossible to translate; it essentially refers to the act of stretching out one’s head (and neck) with the hopes of seeing/perceiving something. The noun kti/si$, which I translate as “foundation,” properly refers to something that is founded or formed (vb kti/zw), cf. Rom 1:25. It is best understood here in a comprehensive/collective sense, referring to all of creation (cp. the use in Rom 1:20). Creation is looking out, hoping to receive (i.e. experience) the end-time manifestation of “the sons of God” (i.e. believers). Currently, this identity of believers is hidden, realized only internally, through the presence of the Spirit; eventually, the honor/splendor (do/ca) of this status will shine forth for all to see.

In verses 20-22, Paul strikingly attributes to all of creation, the same bondage (doulei/a, lit. slavery) which human beings suffered, prior to the coming of Christ. Just as all of humankind was in bondage to the power of sin and death, so all of creation is similarly enslaved. The primary manifestation of this is the fact that all of creation is subject to death and decay (fqora/). Creation has been put in (submissive) order under the authority of sin/death; this idea is expressed by the verb u(pota/ssw. However, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta in v. 20, referring to the person who put creation under this bondage, is not entirely clear. The best explanation is that Paul identifies God as the ultimate cause—He subjected creation to this bondage, allowing it to be so enslaved, with the final hope in mind: that eventually all of creation would be set free from this bondage.

Currently, this freedom is only experienced by believers in Christ, and only through the internal presence of the Spirit. But the time will (soon) come when the same freedom will be realized by all of creation:

“…even the foundation [i.e. creation] itself will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the offspring of God.” (v. 21)

All of creation collectively suffers (v. 22), groaning and being in pain (like a woman in labor), but this suffering will lead to a new birth—the manifestation of the sons/children of God. Here in chap. 8, Paul utilizes both the noun ui(o/$ (ui(oi/, “sons”), and the more generic te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”, with no real difference in meaning. By contrast, in the Johannine writings, believers are always referred to as “offspring [te/kna] of God”, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) reserved for Jesus. Paul’s use of ui(oi/ in vv. 14, 19 is perhaps influenced by the adoption motif in chapter 8 (esp. verses 14-17). The noun ui(oqesi/a literally means “placement as a son” (cf. also Gal 4:5 in context). Paul does, however, share with the Johannine writings the belief that Divine sonship is realized exclusively through our relationship to Jesus, the unique Son (vv. 29ff).

The climax of this exposition comes in verse 23, where Paul (finally) makes reference again to the Spirit. He makes clear that the transformation of creation will occur just as it does for believers—through the life-giving power of the Spirit:

“And not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also groan in ourselves, (look)ing out to receive placement as son(s), the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies.”

The occurrence of the noun ui(oqesi/a again here in v. 23 (indicated in light gray text) is problematic, and some commentators would omit it. Indeed, it is not present in a number of manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). Its inclusion would imply that believers do not already have “placement as (God’s) sons,” quite contrary to what Paul indicated earlier in vv. 14-17. By contrast, what we are currently still awaiting is the full realization of this identity—which will take place at the end-time resurrection, when our bodies will at last be set free from bondage to death. In this regard, we have the same groaning expectation as the rest of creation, even though we have already been set free from bondage within, through the presence of the Spirit.

Though Paul does not state this here, the transforming power of the Spirit, communicating the live-giving power of God (over death), is specifically related to our participation in the death of Jesus. This is to be inferred based on what was said earlier in vv. 10-11 (as also in 6:1-11)—on which, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

Notes on Prayer: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2:16-17

In the previous study, we looked at Paul’s references to prayer in 1 Thessalonians, and saw how they were focused on two primary themes: (1) Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonian believers, and (2) Paul’s (apostolic) ministry as a missionary and preacher of the Gospel. The Thessalonians were asked to pray for Paul (and his fellow missionaries) in their ministry work, while Paul prays for the Thessalonians, in relation to his work of preaching the Gospel—that is, he gives thanks to God and makes request for the Thessalonians, that they will continue to demonstrate the positive results of their acceptance of the Gospel.

We see much the same in 2 Thessalonians, both in the introduction (exordium, 1:3-12) and the concluding exhortation (3:1-15). These sections bracket the central section of the letter (probatio) that deals with the specific issue addressed by Paul. Thus, the references to prayer in 2 Thessalonians are more integral to the deliberative rhetoric of the letter. The main issue of the letter, on which Paul wishes to persuade the Thessalonians, involves a point of eschatology—the nuance of which is difficult to recapture at this far remove. The eschatological emphasis is clearly expressed in the introduction. The thanksgiving (1:3-4) mentions the suffering and persecution faced by believers (part of the end-time period of distress); the exordium proper (1:5ff) makes abundantly clear that the end-time judgment by God is at hand, and that the return of the Lord (the exalted Jesus) will soon occur. It is in this light that Paul speaks of praying for the Thessalonians:

“(It is) unto this [i.e. for this reason] that we speak out toward (God) always over you, that you might hold up (as worthy) of th(is) calling, and (that) our God would fulfill every good consideration of goodness and work of trust in power, so (that) the name of our Lord Yeshua would be honored in you, and you in him, according to the favor of our God and (our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (vv. 11-12)

The main focus of his prayer, according to this statement, is summarized by the phrase “that you might hold up (as worthy) [a)ciw/sh|] of th(is) calling”. The verb a)cio/w derives from the context of something being measured (in value) on the balance-scales, bringing up the balance to match a specific weight/value. What believers are measured against is the calling (klh=si$)—that is, the call of God to salvation. For early Christians, salvation was understood primarily in an eschatological sense—i.e., being saved from the coming Judgment—and that is very much the sense here, as the context of vv. 3-12 makes quite clear. Specifically, we read in the preceding verse (v. 10):

“…when he should come—to be honored among his holy (one)s, and to be regarded with wonder among the (one)s (hav)ing trusted, (in) that they trusted our witness to you—on that day.”

Note the clear eschatological context: “when he should come (i.e. return of the exalted Jesus from heaven)…on that day”. His appearance means judgment and punishment for the world, but salvation for those who have trusted in the Gospel—the preaching of the Gospel here specifically defined in terms of the ministry work of Paul and his colleagues (“our witness to you,” cf. above). The focus of Paul’s exhortation for the Thessalonians is that they will remain faithful to the end, showing themselves worthy of the salvation that is to come. Through this faithfulness, the exalted Jesus (together with God the Father) will be given honor when he appears.

The specific eschatological issue addressed by Paul in chapter 2 continues to be debated by commentators. It involves the expression “the day of the Lord” (h( h(me/ra tou= qeou=), and, in my view, Paul’s concern is to draw a clear distinction between the end-time suffering believers are enduring and the “day of the Lord”. Both are end-time events, but they should be treated as distinct stages in the eschatological sequence. The suffering of believers is part of the end-time ‘period of distress [qli/yi$]’ which precedes the “day of the Lord” proper. The latter denotes the moment when God appears (through His Messianic/heavenly representative [Christ]) to usher in the great Judgment on humankind; at this time, the wicked/faithless ones will be punished, while the righteous (believers) will be rescued and saved. Paul introduces this eschatological discussion in vv. 1-2 (the partitio, where he makes his point), before demonstrating and arguing the proof (probatio) of it in vv. 3-15.

The latter portion of the probatio (vv. 13-15) is framed as a declaration of thanksgiving (to God) and an exhortation (for believers) to remain faithful until the moment of Christ’s return. This exhortation is followed by a wish-prayer (peroratio) for the very purpose (and goal) he had expressed:

“Now he—our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—and God our Father, the (One hav)ing loved us and (hav)ing given us a calling along of the Ages, and a good hope in (His) favor, may He call along your hearts and make (you) firm in every work and good account.” (vv. 16-17)

The “calling along” (para/klhsi$, vb parakale/w) is related to the “calling” (klh=si$) in 1:11 (cf. above), and this calling is to be understood as the call to salvation—i.e., the hope (e)lpi/$) of deliverance from the coming Judgment. Through the favor (xa/ri$) of God, we, as believers, were called to salvation (eternal life); and Paul’s prayer is that God (along with the exalted Jesus) would continue to “call along” our hearts all the way to the end, strengthening us (vb sthri/zw) in every important way. Such strengthening and help is necessary due to the suffering believers face—and will continue to face—during the end-time period of distress.

The closing exhortation and conclusion to the letter (chap. 3) follows this same thematic emphasis, but adds the aspect of the Thessalonian believers also praying for Paul (cf. above). The persecution faced by Paul and his fellow missionaries is part of the same end-time suffering faced by the Thessalonians themselves. The two sides of the prayer-relationship—between Paul and the Thessalonians—are captured in verses 1-2:

“For the remainder [i.e. in conclusion], may you speak out toward (God), brothers, over us, (so) that the account of the Lord might run (unhindered), and might be honored, even as (it gives honor) to you, and that we might be rescued from the improper and evil men—for (there is) not trust (present) among all (people).”

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Daniel 12:1ff

Daniel 12:1ff

The final article in this series focuses on Daniel 12:1-4. The book of Daniel was immensely influential on early Christian eschatology; this can be seen especially in the book of Revelation, and I have documented it throughout my earlier series of critical-exegetical notes on Revelation. But the influence is already evident earlier in the Gospel Tradition, most notably in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par).

The second half of the book of Daniel (chaps. 7-12) is fundamentally eschatological, and can be characterized, in many respects, as an example of early apocalyptic literature—a point that remains valid regardless of how one dates these chapters. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to take the historical setting of the visions at face value, treating them as authentic prophecies by Daniel (in the 6th century B.C.). Most critical commentators, on the other hand, regard chaps. 7-12 as pseudepigraphic, written during the period of 167-163 B.C. In point of fact, most Jewish apocalyptic writings are pseudepigraphic, presenting events leading up to the current moment (i.e., when the writing was composed) as a revelation by a famous figure of the past.

In any case, from the standpoint of the visions in chaps. 7-12, the years of 167-164 B.C. represent the climactic point of history. This can be seen most clearly in chapter 11, which contains a fairly detailed (and accurate) outline of history in the Hellenistic period—events involving the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties following the breakup of the Alexandrian empire. The reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes marks the onset of a great time of evil and suffering for God’s people in Judea. Verses 21-45 summarize the events of Antiochus IV’s reign (175-164 B.C.), especially his invasion of Israel and the notorious ‘reform’ policies enacted in Jerusalem (168-167, vv. 29-35).

That these are considered to be end-time events is clear from the wording in verse 40: “in (the) time of (the) end” (Jq@ tu@B=). The context is unquestionably eschatological, with the final years of Antiochus’ reign (167-164) marking the watershed moment. What follows in chapter 12 must be understood in this light.

Daniel 12:1

“And, in that time, Who-is-like-(the)-Mighty-One? {Mika’el} will stand (up), the great Prince, the (one) standing over (the) sons of your people, and there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be, from (the) coming to be of (the) nation until that time; and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account.”

The initial expression “in that time” (ayh!h^ tu@b*) relates to the earlier expression “in (the) time of (the) end” (in 11:40, cf. above). What is described in chapter 12 is expected to take place in the period of 167-164 B.C., and in the years immediately following. Indeed, the chapter represents the conclusion of the eschatological vision-sequence of chaps. 10-12 (and of chaps. 7-12 as a whole). On the same temporal expression used in an eschatological sense, cf. also Joel 3:1 [4:1]; Jer 3:17; 4:11; 31:1.

There are two main eschatological themes established in this verse: (1) the appearance/rise of the heavenly being Michael as protector and deliverer of God’s people; and (2) a time of great “distress” for God’s people, making necessary the protective action by Michael. It is worth examining each of these themes.

1. The role of Michael

The Hebrew name la@k*ym! (mî½¹°¢l) is a traditional El-name, a sentence or phrase name in the form of a question— “Who-(is)-like-(the)-Mighty-(One)?” (i.e., Who is like God?). In the book of Daniel, it is the name of a heavenly being who functions as the (heavenly) protector and “prince” (rc^) for Israel (10:13, 21). He will fight on behalf of Israel, against the nations (who have their own heavenly “princes” on their side).

With the development of angelology in the post-exilic period, Michael came to feature prominently in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic writings. He is consistently regarded as one of the chief Angels, with central cosmological and eschatological roles; the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) provides a useful compendium of references (9:1; 10:11; 20:5; 24:6; 40:9; 54:6; 60:4-5; 67:12; 68:2-4; 69:14-15; 71:3ff). Michael’s role as the protector of God’s people, who fights (along with other Angels) on behalf of God’s people, is an important component of the eschatological (and Messianic) world view of the Qumran community, best expressed in the War Scroll [1QM] (cf. 9:15-16; 17:6-7, etc). Many commentators on the Qumran texts believe that Michael is also to be identified with the “Prince of Light” and the figure of Melchizedek (cf. 11QMelchizedek).

Michael and the holy Angels fight against the “Prince of Darkness” and the evil Angels; this heavenly aspect of the great eschatological battle is parallel to the end-time conflict between the people of God and the wicked nations. This is very much the same role played by Michael in the vision of Revelation 12:7-9ff. Otherwise, however, Michael is not very prominent in early Christian eschatology (the only other NT reference being Jude 9). This can be explained by the fact that, for early Christians, Michael’s traditional role as heavenly deliverer was taken over by the exalted Jesus.

This heavenly deliverer figure, which I regard as a distinct Messianic figure-type (cf. the discussion in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), is referenced in the Gospel Tradition—in the eschatological sayings of Jesus—by the expression “Son of Man”. Some commentators maintain that, in the original context of these sayings, Jesus is referring to a distinct heavenly being (such as Michael) separate from himself. While this is possible, it is rather unlikely, in my view, based on the consistent use of the expression “son of man” by Jesus as a self-reference. Moreover, the authenticity of this usage by the historical Jesus can be all but proven (on objective grounds)—a point that I have discussed elsewhere.

Even so, this eschatological role of the “Son of Man” figure almost certainly derives from Daniel 7:13-14; indeed, there can be no question of an allusion to that passage in Mk 13:26; 14:62 pars. While Dan 7:13-14 may be interpreted in several different ways (cf. my earlier study and article in this series), the angelic interpretation of the “one like a son of man” would seem to be the most likely explanation of the scene (in its original context). Indeed, some commentators would identify this heavenly figure specifically as Michael. The end-time appearance of Michael in Dan 12:1 certainly would seem to match the appearance of the “Son of Man” (= the exalted Jesus) in Mk 13:26 par.

2. The Time of “Distress”

“there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be”

The Hebrew expression is hr*x* Ju@ (“time of distress”), translated in the LXX as h(me/ra qli/yew$ (“day of distress”). The noun hr*x* fundamentally means “tightness”, i.e., something narrow and confining that constricts or binds a person’s movement, etc. Figuratively, it refers to circumstances which create such tightness and pressure, and the English word “distress” is most appropriate for this connotation. The Greek word qli/yi$ has much the same meaning, though with perhaps the harsher sense of being pressed together, squeezed to the point of being crushed. On this eschatological idiom, cf. also Jeremiah 30:7, and note the wording in Exod 9:24.

Dan 12:1 makes clear that, with the events of 167-164 B.C., a time of great distress will come upon God’s people. The implication is that the persecution brought about by Antiochus IV is only the beginning of this period. It is by no means clear how long this period will last, but the outlook of the passage (and chaps. 7-12 as a whole) suggests that it will be relatively short (albeit intense). The expression “time, times, and a half” (= 3½ years, half a week, as a symbolic number) would seem to define this period (v. 7), even as it also corresponds to the time of persecution and evil under Antiochus IV (167-164).

The book of Daniel exercised a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, but if we limit our study to 12:1ff, and its influence on the Gospel Tradition, then we must turn to the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The wording in Mark 13:19 par unquestionably alludes to Dan 12:1 (LXX), being almost a loose quotation or paraphrase:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], such as has not come to be like this from (the) beginning of (the) formation (of the world), which God formed, until th(is time) now, and shall not (ever) come to be.”

The end-time described in Daniel 7-12 has been transferred, from the time of Antiochus IV (167-164 B.C.) to the time of the Roman Empire in the mid-first century A.D. This is quite understandable, since the eschatological deliverance, described in Daniel 12, apparently did not take place in the years immediately following 164 B.C.; in any case, the prophecy was not fulfilled completely, and it was envisioned that this would occur during the lifetime of early believers (in the mid-late 1st century A.D.). The belief in Jesus as the Messiah means that his appearance on earth marks the end-time. And, for early Christians, the death of Jesus effectively marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress.

A central event of this time of distress is the destruction of the Temple; Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction forms the setting for the Discourse (Mk 13:1-2ff par), and is alluded to again in vv. 14ff (cf. especially the Lukan version, predicting the siege/destruction of Jerusalem, 21:20ff). All of this was largely fulfilled with the war of 66-70 A.D. The time of distress is tied primarily to this devastation of Jerusalem, but there are actually three parts, or aspects, to this period as outlined in the Discourse (using the Markan version, Mk 13):

    • Vv. 5-8: The distress for people in all the nations
    • Vv. 9-13: The distress for Jesus’ disciples (believers)
    • Vv. 14-19ff: The distress for the people of Judea and Jerusalem
The Deliverance of God’s People

“…and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”

In the midst of the time of distress, the heavenly deliverer will appear, bringing deliverance to God’s people and ushering in the Judgment on the wicked (i.e., the nations). In the Eschatological Discourse, this is expressed in terms of the appearance of the “Son of Man” from heaven (Mk 13:24-27 par). For early Christians, this was understood as the return of the exalted Jesus from heaven. The Messianic identity of Jesus was complicated by the fact that he did not fulfill the expected eschatological role of the Messiah during his time on earth. The expectation thus had to adjust to the idea that this Messianic role would only be fulfilled upon Jesus’ return to earth (from his exalted position in heaven), after at least a short period of time (= the time of distress).

The end-time return of Jesus (the “Son of Man”) fits the pattern of the appearance of the heavenly deliverer (Michael) in Dan 12:1ff. Michael “stands over” (lu dmu) God’s people; this indicates a protective presence, but also may allude to Michael’s role in the Judgment. In any case, his presence means rescue from the time of distress. The Niphal (passive) form of the verb fl^m* literally means something like “be given a means of escape”. It is only the righteous ones among God’s people who will be rescued by Michael. This is clear from the qualifying phrase “every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”.

The rp#s@ is literally an “account(ing)”, which should here be understood as a list of names, such as of citizens belonging to a particular place. The people whose names are listed in this account (or ‘book’) are those who truly belong as the people of God—that is, they are the faithful and righteous ones. This also means that they are destined for the blessed afterlife in heaven with God; on this traditional motif of the ‘Book of Life’, cf. Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; on the Judgment-context of this ‘book’, cf. 7:10; 10:21; 1 Enoch 47:3; Rev 20:12-15.

In the Eschatological Discourse, while the Judgment setting is clear enough, the emphasis is on the salvation of the righteous from this Judgment (Mk 13:27 par, cf. also verse 13). It is the elect (lit. the ones “gathered out”) who are rescued by the heavenly deliverer (the exalted Jesus) at the climactic moment. This is an important distinction, limiting the concept of God’s people to the righteous ones, and it follows a definite line of prophetic tradition, the same which we see here in Dan 12:1-4.

Verses 2-4 and Conclusion

Other elements of the eschatology in Daniel 12:1ff were also influential on early Christian thought. Verse 2, for example, expresses a clear belief in the resurrection, which will occur at the end-time. This is arguably the only unambiguous Old Testament reference to resurrection. Moreover, it is striking that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised from the dead: the righteous will awake to life (yj^), while the wicked will awake to disgrace and an abhorrent fate. These contrasting fates are described as <l*ou—that is, lasting into the distant future. On the idea of the eschatological resurrection in the Gospel Tradition, cf. especially the key references in the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (Jn 5:19-29; 6:39-40ff; 11:23-27).

The blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, following the Judgment and Resurrection, is further described in verse 3. The righteous are characterized by the verb lk^c*, by a descriptive participle in the Hiphil stem, meaning those who act in a wise and insightful manner. It is not only that they act wisely, but they lead others to behave in a similar way; specifically, they cause “many” (<yB!r^) to act rightly (vb qd^x* in the Hiphil causative stem). Because they are righteous themselves, they are able to turn others to the path of righteousness. The reward for this righteousness is a heavenly existence, compared with the celestial brightness (rh^z)) of the stars in heaven. This is an ancient and traditional idiom for the blessed afterlife, which is scarcely limited to Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Jesus may be alluding to v. 3 in Matt 13:43 (cf. also 22:30).

The final verse in this section (v. 4) emphasizes three key motifs that were influential on Jewish and early Christian eschatology:

    • The sealing of the prophetic account (in chapters 10-12, and presumably also chaps. 7-12 as a whole); this imagery obviously was developed in the book of Revelation (chaps. 5-6; 8:1; 10:4; 22:10). The motif also has the practical value of allowing for the fulfillment of the Danielic visions (with their setting c. 167-163 B.C.) at a later time (viz., in the NT setting of the mid-late 1st century A.D.)
    • The (end-time) chaos implied by the image of “many” people rushing/pushing about (vb. fWv); there is a certain futility indicated by this, especially if this is an allusion to Amos 8:12—i.e., people are going about seeking the word of YHWH, and do not find it.
    • The idea that wickedness will increase, that evil will become more abundant (vb hb*r*). The MT reads tu^D^ (“knowledge”)—that is, “knowledge will increase”; however, there is some reason to think that the text originally read hu*r* (“evil”), which appears to be the reading underlying the LXX (a)diki/a, “injustice,” i.e. wickedness), though admittedly Theodotion agrees with the MT (gnw=si$, “knowledge”). Confusion between the consonants d and r was relatively common, and led to a number of copying mistakes. The Dead Sea Scrolls might have decided the textual question, but, unfortunately, chapter 12 was not preserved among the surviving Qumran manuscripts. In my view, the increase in wickedness during the time when the prophecy is sealed (that is, during the time of distress) better fits the context of the passage; it also occurs as a persistent theme in Jewish and early Christian eschatology (see esp. the wording in Matt 24:12).


The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Zechariah 9-14

Zechariah 9-14

There can be no doubt that Zechariah 9-14 exerted a considerable influence on the Gospel Tradition—the Passion narratives in particular. This influence cannot be limited to a single passage; rather, there are more than half a dozen references from within these chapters which we can see reflected in the Gospel narrative.

Chapters 9-14 are sometimes referred to as “Deutero-Zechariah”, in a manner similar to the designation of Isa 40-66 [or 40-55] as “Deutero-Isaiah”. The prevailing critical view is that chaps. 9-14 are later, and come from a different hand (or hands), than chaps. 1-8. The reference to Greece/Greeks (/w`y`) in 9:13 has led some commentators to date chaps. 9-14 to the Hellenistic period (late 4th or 3rd century B.C.), or even later in the Maccabean period. However, critical scholars today tend to view these chapters as the product of the 5th century B.C., probably some time before the work of Nehemiah (445 and after). This would make Zech 9-14 more or less contemporary with the so-called Trito-Isaian poems (chaps. 56-66), according to the common critical view; both works seem to share a similar eschatological vision.

Indeed, Zech 9-14 has a strong eschatological orientation, envisioning the coming of a New Age for God’s people (Israel/Judah). This restoration of the Kingdom is related to the Judgment of YHWH against the surrounding nations, after which they will submit to the rule of YHWH and His Kingdom (centered at Jerusalem). This prophetic eschatology is very much in keeping with that of the other Prophets from the exilic and post-exilic periods (i.e., Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zech 1-8; cf. also the ‘Isaian Apocalypse’, chaps. 24-27). Its message reflects the same basic line of prophetic eschatological tradition, sometimes characterized as “early apocalyptic” or “proto-apocalyptic”.

The primary literary structure of Zech 9-14 is marked by the formula in 9:1 and 12:1:

hw`hy+ rb^d= aCm^
“A lifting up, (the) word of YHWH”

The specific term aC*m^ (lit. “lifting [up]”), used frequently in the Prophets to introduce a prophetic oracle or vision, is to be understood in the sense of something “taken up” by the prophet, an inspired message (from YHWH) that has been placed (like a weight) upon him. When a message of judgment is involved, it can truly seem like a “burden” to the messenger.

The same phrase occurs at Malachi 1:1, a book which, like Zech 9-11 and 12-14, contains three chapters. Indeed, those three sections are roughly equal in length; that, along with the identical opening words, have led some scholars recently to posit an original work, comprised of Zech 9-Mal 3, which was later re-edited within the context of the ‘Book of the Twelve’. It is a reasonably compelling argument, for certainly the opening expression in Zech 9:1, 12:1, and Mal 1:1 represents a common redacting device. It is distinctive of these chapters, and unique to them, occurring nowhere else in the Old Testament.

It is equally certain, however, that chapters 9-14 are related, thematically and by the use of keywords, etc, to the earlier (c. 520) oracles and visions of chaps. 1-8. Depending on how early in the 5th century chap. 9-14 were composed, Zechariah the prophet could still have been alive, or, at the very least, his colleagues and successors could have been continuing his work. In any case, these later chapters are clearly inspired, in various ways, by visionary messages of chaps. 1-8.

One of the key themes that runs throughout chapters 9-14 is the contrast between the rule of YHWH, as Shepherd of His people, and the failed (and/or corrupt) leadership of the ‘false shepherds’. It is an important theme, both in terms of the Messianic interpretation of these chapters, and in the way that the New Testament, in particular, applied this to the person and work of Jesus.

The best approach to analyzing this material, in terms of its influence on the Gospel Tradition (and Passion Narrative), is to look at the key references, examining (1) their background, and (2) their application within the Gospel.

Zechariah 9:9

“Spin (with) great (joy), daughter of ‚iyyôn!
Make a (great) noise, daughter of Yerushalaim!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and bearing salvation (is) he,
bent low and riding upon a donkey,
even upon an ass, son of a she-donkey.”

These lines, so famous from their use in the Triumphal Entry scene (cf. below), need to be understood in the context of Zechariah 9. The chapter is comprised of three different oracular sections:

    • Vv. 1-8: A judgment-oracle against the nations at the borders of Israel’s traditional territory; YHWH moves from Aram-Damascus in the north all the way to Jerusalem (His “house”), where He ‘sets up camp’.
    • Vv. 9-10: Announcement of a new king entering Jerusalem to begin his rule.
    • Vv. 11-17: YHWH establishes a new era of peace and security for His people, with a Kingdom centered in Judah and Jerusalem.

The principal actor is YHWH—it is He who subdues the nations, removing their capacity to make war, and restoring to Israel/Judah the extent of their Promised Land. It is not entirely clear what role the king, mentioned in vv. 9-10, plays in this scenario. The wording in verse 10 certainly emphasizes his connection with the New Age of peace; and yet it is God who acts:

“And I will cut off (the chariot-)ride from Ephraim
and (the war-)horse from Yerushalaim,
and it will be cut off, the bow of battle”

It is only after YHWH has pacified the land that the king fulfills his role—not through military action, but through speech:

“and he shall speak wholeness to the nations,
and his rule (shall be) from sea unto sea,
and from (the) River to (the) ends of (the) earth.”

The word <olv* I have translated in its fundamental sense as “wholeness” (or “fullness, completion”). The conventional translation “peace” indicates just one aspect of meaning; the significance of the noun is rooted in the ancient covenant idea—of a binding agreement that is completed between two parties, providing protection and security (and peace), etc. The speech-aspect emphasized here suggests a two-fold significance: (1) the king establishes a period of law and order, and (2) he specifically promulgates, by word and example, the Law (Torah) of YHWH.

This is important for a correct understanding of the description of the king in verse 9. Let us briefly consider each detail:

    • “righteous” (qyD!x^)—the adjective qyD!x^ fundamentally means “right, straight, just”, often in an ethical or religious sense (i.e., righteous); it can also connote someone who is faithful and loyal, and also someone who has been proven right (i.e. vindicated).
    • “bearing salvation” (uv*on)—this Niphal (passive-reflexive) participle (of the verb uv^y`) literally means “being saved”, but the precise idea here is difficult to bring across in English; the king is protected and given victory (i.e. is saved) through the power and faithfulness of YHWH, and yet he also carries and conveys this salvation to the people as a whole.
    • “bent low” (yn]u*)—this adjective often means “oppressed, afflicted,” but here the more basic meaning of “bent low” is preferable; it is used in a figurative sense, i.e., for the lowliness of the king; he does not present an impressive figure, and can scarcely be regarded as a mighty warrior; what victory, etc, he achieves comes through YHWH’s might.
    • “riding upon a donkey” (romj& lu^ bk@r))—while less majestic than the horse, a donkey can still be a fitting animal for royalty to ride (cf. Gen 49:10-11; 2 Sam 16:2); the main significance here is that the militaristic aspects (of the horse, etc) often associated with kingship have been removed.

The Gospel Tradition makes clear that early Christians saw Zech 9:9f as a prophecy/prefiguring of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem. This is well-established in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 11:1-10 par), even if the Scripture is cited directly only in Matthew (21:5). Jesus’ own detailed instructions to his disciples, as recorded in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 11:2-3ff par), if accepted as authentic, may indicate that he himself had this passage in mind. In any case, the fact that Zech 9:9 is also cited in the Johannine version of the Entry (12:12-19, v. 15) demonstrates how readily early Christians made the connection.

From the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, the Entry scene establishes Jesus as the royal Messiah from the line of David. The use of Zech 9:9-10, coupled with the exclamation by the crowds—citing Psalm 118:26, adapted according to a distinct Messianic interpretation (cf. the discussion in the previous article)—makes this abundantly clear.

And yet, from the Passion narrative that follows, the Gospels express the realization that Jesus’ Messianic identity would be very different from had been expected by the crowds. In this regard, the abandonment of traditional militaristic imagery, such as normally would have been associated with ancient kingship, is significant. For Jesus would not function as a great warrior, achieving victory over his enemies and establishing a kingdom in Jerusalem through military means. Instead, his attributes are those very characteristics given to the coming king in Zech 9:9-10: (i) “righteous”, (ii) “bearing (God’s) salvation”, (iii) “lowly”. Given the suffering and death he would endure in Jerusalem, it would perhaps be better to understand the adjective yn]u* in the more negative sense of “oppressed, afflicted”. However, in Matthew’s citation, this is translated as prau+/$ (“meek, gentle”), following the LXX; it is the only one of the three attributes (above) that Matthew retains in his citation.

Zechariah 9:11

“And also you, by (the) blood of your binding (agreement),
I have sent (out) your bound (captive)s from (the) pit in which there is no water.”

These words open final oracle-section of chapter 9 (vv. 11-17), and immediately follow the announcement of the coming king (vv. 9-10). The expression “blood of your binding (agreement) [tyr!B=]” refers to the ancient covenant, between YHWH and Israel, that was established (and ratified) at Sinai (Exodus 24, vv. 6-8). The reference here follows in the tradition of the exilic and post-exilic Prophets, by which the restoration of Israel in the New Age is defined in terms of a new covenant between YHWH and His people (Jer 31:31-34, et al). Ultimately, however, this ‘new’ covenant represents the true fulfillment of the original covenant at Sinai, one that is re-established (never again to be broken) in the New Age.

Given the influence of Zech 9-14 on the Gospel Tradition, and the close connection with 9:9-10, it seems possible that the reference to the covenant in v. 11 informs the wording of the Last Supper tradition: “this is my blood of the covenant” (Mk 14:24 par). However, it must be said, that the original tradition in Exod 24:8 is unquestionably the primary point of reference (“See, [the] blood of the binding [agreement] which YHWH has cut with you”). The subject will be discussed further in the next article in this series.

Zechariah 9:16, etc

At the close of the oracle in 9:11-17, the sheep/shepherd theme is introduced (v. 16), one which will be of tremendous importance throughout the whole of Zech 9-14, and which dominates the remainder of chapters 10-11.

“And YHWH their Mighty (One) [i.e. God] will save them in that day, as (the) flock of His people,
for (like) stones of a sacred (crown), they are sparkling upon His land.” (9:16)

The wording of the second line seems to echo the announcement of the coming king (vv. 9-10, cf. above) and suggests that, at least in part, the royal figure in those verses may be understood in a collective sense—that is, as representing the kingship of the people as a whole.

In any case, it is clear that YHWH is the shepherd, and this is most important for understanding the shepherd-theme as it is developed in chapters 10-11 (and again in 13:7-9). The true shepherd (YHWH) is contrasted with a variety of false shepherds (human leaders of various types). Unfortunately, the complexity of this theme in chaps. 10-11 (esp. the ‘Shepherd narrative’ in 11:4-16) requires a more extensive treatment than the space here allows. But I will touch on the matter a bit further when discussing 13:7-9 (below), and in a separate note on 11:12-13 (cf. below).

The true/false Shepherd imagery is most prominent in the ‘Good Shepherd’ discourse of Jesus in John 10:1-18, 25-30. Though this is not part of the Passion narrative as such, the idea of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to the discourse (see vv. 11, 15, 17-18).

Zechariah 11:12-13

These verses are famously applied to the Passion narrative (the betrayal by Judas) in the Gospel of Matthew (27:3-10). They are part of the true/false shepherd theme of chaps. 10-11. However, since they are contained in one of the difficult sections of the entire book (some would say of the entire Old Testament)—the ‘Shepherd narrative’ of 11:4-16—and are only marginally related to the Gospel Tradition, I have decided to discuss them in a separate note.

Zechariah 12:10

This (12:10) is another difficult reference which is deserving of a separate note (upcoming). That it was applied by early Christians to the crucifixion of Jesus is confirmed by independent quotations in John 19:37 and Rev 1:7.

Zechariah 13:7

“Rouse (yourself), sword, upon my (shep)herd and upon (the) strong (one) my companion
—utterance of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies.
Strike the (one) herding [i.e. shepherd] and the flock will be broken apart,
and I will turn my hand upon the little (one)s.”

Verse 7b is cited by Jesus as a Passion prediction (Mk 14:17). Vv. 7-9 echo the problematic ‘Shepherd narrative’ of 11:4-16, and need to be discussed in that context. The action that YHWH commands against the shepherd is part of a wider judgment against the people. This judgment will result in widespread destruction, with only a third of the people surviving; but this surviving remnant will be purified and made holy.

The remnant-motif follows in a well-established line of prophetic tradition, but is here given a new meaning in the eschatological context of Zech 9-14. The judgment-context is realized through a great war between Israel and the nations (12:1-9; 14:1-14), in which the nations are defeated entirely through the power and greatness of YHWH.

These chapters exercised a tremendous influence on the visions in the book of Revelation, but it is important to remember that the death and resurrection of Jesus also was understood, fundamentally, in an eschatological sense by early Christians. Jesus’ Passion marked the beginning of period of darkness and distress for the world; there are allusions to this throughout the Passion narrative (e.g., Mk 14:38; 15:33 pars; Lk 22:53), and note the clear relationship between Jesus’ Passion (Mk 14:62 par, etc) and the events in the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 13 par).

Thus, we may see how the striking of Jesus (the Good Shepherd) fits into the pattern of God’s end-time Judgment. It marks the beginning of a time of great distress for the people of Israel, but also of persecution for the disciples of Jesus (believers). The flock of God’s people will indeed be “broken apart” (scattered), at least for a time. But this dispersion will also serve a greater purpose, in terms of the wider mission of believers, proclaiming the Gospel into the surrounding nations (cf. Acts 8:1ff).

Zechariah 13:1; 14:8

Following the eschatological war with the nations, there will truly, and at last, be realized a New Age of peace and blessing for God’s people. One of the motifs for expressing this is a fountain of “living water” that springs up, bringing cleansing and life to the people. The primary association is with the cleansing power of water:

“In that day there will be a fountain (dug), being opened up for (the) house of David and for (the one)s dwelling (in) Yerushalaim, for (cleansing of) sin and filth.” (13:1)

The fountain will turn into a great river that flows, not only in Jerusalem, but outward into the surrounding nations (‘from sea to sea’):

“And it shall be (that), in that day, living waters will go forth from Yerushalaim, half to the preceding [i.e. eastern] sea, and half to the following [i.e. western] sea” (14:8)

This imagery seems to have been influential on early Christians, in a number of ways. Apart from explicit references or allusions in the book of Revelation (e.g., 22:1-2), there is the obvious connection with baptism, and with the traditional association between water and the Spirit.

One likely passage that alludes to Zech 13:1 and 14:8 is the discourse of Jesus in John 7-8 (esp. 7:37-39). The Sukkot/Tabernacles setting pervades these chapters, and the same festival plays a small but significant role in Zech 9-14 as well (14:16-19, and cf. also the request for rain in 10:1).

Zechariah 14:20-21

Finally, mention should be made of Zech 14:20-21, as these verses would seem to provide the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (see esp. Mark 12:15-18)—the episode that immediately follows his Triumphal Entry in the Synoptic narrative, and which helps to set the stage for his impending Passion. The associated Temple-saying in Jn 2:19 is understood explicitly in terms of Jesus’ death (and resurrection, vv. 21-22), and it seems to have played a role in the interrogation of Jesus before the Jerusalem Council (Mk 14:58 par).

The original context of Zech 14:20-21, coming at the close of oracles of chaps. 9-14, suggests that the role and place of the Temple will be transformed in the New Age, imbued with a greater sense of holiness and purpose in the worship of YHWH. Early Christians drew upon similar eschatological ideas as their own religious identity, in relation to the Torah and the Temple ritual, developed. The Temple (and its sacrifices) came to take on an entirely new meaning, the ritual aspects replaced by a spiritual dimension. There is strong evidence that these spiritualizing tendencies have their roots in authentic Gospel tradition and the teachings of Jesus himself. For more on this subject, see my earlier article in the series “Jesus and the Law”.

March 4: Zechariah 4:6 (also 12:10)

Zechariah 4:6

“Not by strength, and not by power, but by my Spirit, says YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!”

This powerful statement contrasts earthly power and strength with the power of God’s own Spirit. This emphasis on the Spirit of God becomes especially prominent in the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophetic writings. It is tied to the important themes of the restoration of Israel and the coming of a New Age, which also entails God’s Judgment against the Nations. These themes were foundational for the subsequent Jewish eschatology and the development of Messianic thought. Early Christians adopted (and adapted) these same themes, and we can see them expressed in many parts of the New Testament. Of course, the focus on the Spirit has special significance for early Christians (and all of us who are believers in Christ), since it is through the abiding presence of the Spirit that we are united with Jesus Christ (the Son of God), and with God the Father. The presence and power of the Spirit is central to our identity as believers, and we must always try to remember that the power of God’s Spirit far surpasses the power of the world (1 Jn 4:4, etc), no matter how great the world’s strength (rooted in its pride and wickedness) may seem at the time.

The oracle-vision in chapter 4 represents one of the earliest Messianic passages in the Old Testament—that is to say, it identifies present/future persons, according to a certain set of Prophetic traditions (regarding a coming king from the line of David, etc), as Anointed figures, in a manner that begins to approach the Jewish Messianism of the first centuries B.C./A.D. This foundational line of Messianic tradition (drawn from numerous passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, etc) was applied specifically to the ruler Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua. The Davidic lineage of Zerubbabel (whose name means something like “seed of Babylon”) is far from clear, a royal genealogy being indicated only in one late source (1 Chron 3:16-19). He is referred to as a hj*P# (i.e., governor of a city or small territory) in Haggai 1:1; 2:21, but his exact status in relation to the Persian Empire is not entirely clear. Certainly, however, he was a leader (along with the priest Joshua) of the Judean/Jerusalem Community in the early post-exilic period, being among a group of men who return to Judah, with permission from the Persian government, in order to rebuild the Temple (cf. Ezra 2:2; 3:2, 8; 4:2-3; 5:2). He is specifically paired with the priest Joshua in a dual-leadership role, in Haggai 1:12, a detail well-established enough to be preserved in later Jewish tradition (cf. Sirach 49:11-12).

In Zech 4, an oracle regarding Zerubbabel (vv. 6-10) is presented within a visionary framework—the vision of a golden lampstand flanked by two olive trees. The lampstand represents the presence of YHWH, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, while the two olive trees signify two anointed figures (v. 14)—that is, the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and priest Joshua. Not surprisingly, the message of the oracle relates to the rebuilding of the Temple, providing assurance that, the work having been begun (by Zerubbabel), it will be brought to completion (vv. 8-9). This is part a wider declaration regarding the divine presence that enables (and protects) Zerubbabel’s work, stated memorably in verse 6:

“This is the word of YHWH to Seed-of-Babel {Zerubbabel}, saying: ‘Not by strength, and not by power, but by my spirit [j^Wr], says YHWH of (the heavenly) armies’!”

It is by God’s spirit that this (the rebuilding of the Temple) will be accomplished, in spite of any difficulties or opposition that may be faced. Here we have a different side to the same basic restoration-message found in Ezra-Nehemiah. There it was the spirit-inspired Torah that was being emphasized, here it is the association of the spirit of God with the Temple—both represent fundamental aspects of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity that is being renewed and restored in the post-exilic period.

Since the Temple represents the presence of God as he dwells with His people, the association with His spirit is clear and natural enough. This aspect is brought out even more fully in Haggai 2:1-9, in which a similar message of exhortation is given to Zerubbabel (along with Joshua, and all the people) from YHWH, promising divine providence and supervision over the rebuilding:

“‘You must be strong…and do (the work), for I (am) with you’ —utterance of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies— ‘(by) the word (of the agreement) that I cut with you in your going forth from Egypt, and my spirit [j^Wr] is standing with you, (so) you must not fear!'” (vv. 4-5)

As a side note, the idea of the “(heavenly) armies” reflects an ancient image, the origins of which had long been lost by the time the book of Zechariah was composed. It essentially refers to El-Yahweh’s control over the powers of the sky/heaven, to the point that they will fight (as an organized army) on His behalf, and at His command. We see vestiges of it in the theophany-image of God (YHWH) residing in a chariot (cf. the chariot throne vision of Ezekiel 1). The vision in Zech 6:1-8 likewise preserves this symbolism, together with the specific idea that these heavenly chariots transport the spirit (j^Wr) of God (v. 8).

Zechariah 12:10

The oracles in Zechariah 12-14 continue the restoration-message of the exilic Prophets, but in a more developed form, drawing upon early apocalyptic and eschatological traditions, similar to those found in the books of Joel, Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah. In other words, the restoration of Israel is presented as part of a larger set of future/end-time events which encompass the judgment of the nations, the establishment of a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, and so forth. The second half of Zechariah (chaps. 9-14) also shows signs of the development of an incipient Messianism—i.e., the expectation for the coming of a future Davidic ruler who will oversee the judgment/defeat of the nations and a New Age for Israel.

The multi-part oracle in chapters 12-13 refers to “that day” (vv. 3ff)—i.e., the “day of YHWH” from the nation-oracle tradition of the Prophets, but now expanded to become the moment when all the nations are judged together (cf. Joel 3). The nations will gather to attack Jerusalem (cp. 14:1ff; Ezek 38-39), but YHWH will bring salvation for Judah, as He Himself protects His people and will destroy their enemies (vv. 8-9). The eschatological nature, and cosmic dimensions, of this conflict are indicated by the allusions to the Creation account in verse 1. The end is a reflection of the beginning, and the New Age will entail a kind of New Creation (cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 21:1). Even as God, by his own Spirit/Breath, gave the spirit/breath (j^Wr) of life to humankind (cf. my earlier note on Gen 2:7; Job 33:4), so in the New Age will He “pour out” His Spirit on His people (v. 10).

This is a well-established prophetic image, as we have seen in the prior studies on Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29, etc, and the oracle alludes to it here, by the expression “a spirit of favor” (/j@ j^Wr)—that is, of God’s favor toward His people. The water-imagery associated with pouring is made explicit: God will provide a fountain (roqm*) of water, flowing from the ground, for the people (and rulers) of Jerusalem (13:1). The primary purpose of this water is to cleanse God’s people from sin and impurity; as a result, the “spirit of uncleanness” (ha*m=F%h^ j^Wr) will be taken away from the land (v. 2). The association of the Spirit with water and cleansing is part of a longstanding tradition, and would become an important aspect of the imagery surrounding the idea of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

These references only confirm the increasing tendency, throughout the writings of the exilic and post-exilic periods, to connect religious reform with the presence and activity of God’s spirit. One final passage in this regard, from the book of Malachi, may be cited in closing. As part of an exhortation for a return to covenant faithfulness and loyalty, the prophet introduces the traditional metaphor of fidelity in marriage (2:14). The covenant is compared to a marriage-union, where two people become united in spirit; and, as the bond here is between humankind and God, the union entails a joining with the spirit of God (v. 15, cp. 1 Cor 6:17). Since a breaking of the covenant-bond involves a failure by human beings, not by God, the restoration must occur with the human spirit. Therefore the exhortation in verse 16 calls on the people to “be on guard with your spirit” (i.e. guard your spirit). The word j^Wr is used in both instances in vv. 15-16, for the spirit of God and His people alike.

November 19: Colossians 1:20c

Colossians 1:20c

[di’ au)tou=] ei&te ta\ e)pi\ th=$ gh=$ ei&te ta\ e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
“(all this is) [through him], whether the (thing)s upon the earth or the (thing)s in the heavens”

This line concludes the second stanza, and also forms the conclusion to the hymn as a whole.

The first point to address is text-critical. The initial words di’ au)tou= (“through him”) are absent from a relatively wide range of textual witnesses (B D* G 81 1739 and among the Latin, Coptic [Sahidic], Armenian, and Ethiopic versions). However, they are present in an equally wide range of witnesses (Ë46 a A C Dc 614, and portions of the Syriac and Coptic versions, etc). The external (manuscript) evidence is rather evenly divided. Internal considerations are also far from decisive. Since the same expression occurred earlier in the verse (cf. the prior note on v. 20a), it could easily have been deleted here as superfluous, or by accident (haplography); or, on the other hand, it may have been repeated as a mistake in copying (dittography). The inclusion of the words would seem to represent the more difficult or unusual reading, and so perhaps should be retained on the principle of lectio difficilior probabilior (“the more difficult reading is probable”, i.e., is more likely to be original). The Nestle-Aland critical text retains the words, but in square brackets to indicate their uncertain or disputed status; this is probably the wisest approach, and I have adopted it above.

If the words di’ au)tou= are original, their repetition from 20a must be considered emphatic (but note their place in the outline below). They give special emphasis to the fact that the transformation, even of all things in creation, is brought about by God through Jesus the Son. This cosmic aspect of the hymn is expressed in a number of ways, most notably by the repeated use of the comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“all”)—8 times in the hymn, including five instances of the objective plural ta\ pa/nta (“all [thing]s”). The pre-existent Son of God played a central role in the original creation of “all things” (the subject of the first stanza), and now the exalted Jesus plays a similar role in the new creation (second stanza).

As the second stanza makes clear, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings about the transformation of the cosmos. But how should this be so? The removal of the effects of sin and impurity on humankind can reasonably be derived from the significance of the sacrificial ritual in the ancient covenant setting. But how would this apply to the cosmos as a whole, without the context of a personal relationship (covenant-bond)? Here the unique theology developed by Paul provides an explanation. Three passages can be mentioned: chapters 5 and 8 of Romans, and the discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

In Romans 5 the parallel is clearly drawn between human sin and the corruption of the created order. The effect of sin is undone (or reversed) by Jesus in his role as a ‘second’ Adam. This focus is soteriological, but it expands to include an eschatological dimension in chapter 8. All of creation, personified as a human being, groans under the bondage (of sin, evil, and death) in the current Age, awaiting its liberation. And, just as believers in Christ have been freed from bondage to the power of sin, so all of the cosmos will one day be liberated. The sequence is clear: first, Jesus is raised from the dead; second, those who trust in him participate in the same life-giving power (of God’s Spirit); third, at the end of the current Age, this resurrection will be realized when believers are raised from the dead, after the pattern of Jesus; and, finally, all of creation will be ‘reborn’, in the pattern of the resurrection of Jesus the Son (and believers as the sons/children of God). The New Age will involve a “new heaven and a new earth”, just as human beings (believers) are changed in to a “new creation”. The transformation of the cosmos in terms of resurrection is an important theme of 1 Cor 15 as well (vv. 20-28, 42-56).

There is a similar corollary between humankind and the cosmos here in the Christ hymn, and could be used as a reasonably strong argument in favor of Pauline authorship of the hymn. In my view, the line of thought and imagery resembles that expressed by Paul in the passages noted above—especially Romans 5. There, in the first half of that passage (in vv. 8-11), Paul describes the effect of sin in creating hostility between humankind and God; but the death of Jesus has restored the relationship. Similarly, in the more famous second half, it is narrated how sin has corrupted the world, so that, in the current Age, sin now rules as king (v. 14). The power of sin and death is itself undone by Jesus’ death (and resurrection), transformed into a reign of righteousness and life (vv. 18-21). However, this transformation will not be realized until the end of the current Age; for the moment, it is experienced only by believers, through the presence of the Spirit.

The New Age for believers, in union with Christ, was expressed in the hymn through the head-body (‘body of Christ’) idiom of v. 18a. Then, in the second stanza proper, this central theme is expounded within the same matrix of cosmology-soteriology-eschatology we find in the Pauline passages cited above. Let us see how this may be expressed in terms of the syntax and thematic structure of the stanza:

  • “who is” —Jesus (the Son) is the one who is
    • “the beginning” —that is, of the new creation, defined as
    • “the first (one) brought forth out of the dead” —resurrection
      • “so that” —the purpose of the resurrection/creation is
        • “he should be (the one who is) first in all (thing)s” —the exaltation of Jesus
      • “(for it was) that” —what brings about his resurrection/exaltation is that
        • “in him” —in the person of Jesus the Son
          • “(God) considered it good (for) all the fullness to put down house” —the incarnation, Jesus filled with the Presence/Spirit of God
        • “through him” —through the work of Jesus
          • “(for God) to make all things different (again)” —the power to restore/transform creation
            • “unto him” —according to the pattern and goal of Jesus the Son
          • “making peace” —undoing the effect of sin, restoring the bond with God
        • “through the blood of his cross” —through his death
      • “[through him]” —all of this takes place through the person of and work of Jesus, so that
    • “the things upon and earth and the things in the heavens” —the complete transformation of the new creation

The strands of thought running through the stanza are complex and powerful. In some ways the cosmological aspect is primary—that is, both stanzas deal primarily with creation. The first stanza focuses on the first (original) creation, the second on the new creation. The resurrection of Jesus ‘restores’ him to his exalted place alongside God the Father in heaven (cp. the descent/ascent paradigm in the Philippians hymn), but it also transforms him into the life-giving Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 15:45). Through the exalted Jesus, God gives life to the new creation, even as He did in the original creation. From his exalted position, Jesus is first, ruling over all things in creation.

While these themes are not unique to Paul in early Christianity, it is his writings which gave to them their finest and definitive expression, and the splendid, ever-provocative hymn of Colossians 1:15-20—whether composed by Paul himself, or simply adapted by him—may fairly be said to represent the high point of this expression.

October 28: Philippians 2:10b-11

Philippians 2:10b-11

“…every knee shall bend
of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground
and every tongue shall give account as one,
that Yeshua (the) Anointed (is the) Lord,
unto (the) honor of God (the) Father.”

These lines complete the clause begun in v. 10a (cf. the previous note), “(so) that, in the name of Yeshua…”. The force of the preposition e)n (“in”) was discussion in the previous note. While the traditional usage of the phrase “in the name of Jesus” is certainly in view, it carries a special meaning and nuance here. While the idea of prayer and baptism “in Jesus’ name” was common among early Christians, worshiping God “in the name of Jesus” is more unusual. We are not dealing with the same sense of Jesus as an intermediary; rather, it would seem that the worship and homage (bending the knee) is being directed to Jesus. For this reason, it is perhaps better to gloss the translation as “in (honor of) the name of Jesus” (cf. O’Brien, pp. 239-40). The sense of “at the name of Jesus” is also possible, meaning that the presence of the divine Jesus (in his glory/splendor, cf. the earlier note on the expression “form of God”, v. 6a) causes all creatures to bow in recognition of his exalted position, as they would to God Himself.

The principal statement in vv. 10b-11a is a citation (or allusion) to Isaiah 45:23b. The hymn reads:

pa=n go/nu ka/myh|

kai\ pa=sa glw=ssa e)comologh/shtai
“every knee shall bend
and every tongue shall give account as one”

The text of the LXX is nearly identical, except that it has future indicative verb forms rather than the aorist subjunctive forms of the hymn. Both the LXX and NT are relatively accurate translations of the Hebrew, which I render literally as follows:

“For to me every knee will bend,
and every tongue will bind (itself) sevenfold”

Like most English translators, the LXX translator did not render literally the Hebrew idiom contained in the verb ub^v* (in the passive-reflexive Niphal stem), something like “bind (oneself) seven(fold)”, instead capturing the basic idea of a solemn oath or confession (the Greek verb e)comologe/w is an intensive form of o(mologe/w, “give account as one”, i.e., acknowledge, confess [together]).

A more important point, is that, in the original prophecy, God is speaking, and declares that every knee will bend to Him (“to me”, yl!). Thus, by applying these lines to Jesus in the hymn, it is clear that the exalted Jesus takes the place of God Himself, receiving the worship and acknowledgment that belongs to YHWH. This would seem to provide added confirmation to the view that the “name” given to Jesus (vv. 9b-10a) is God’s own name, represented by the divine title “Lord” (/oda*/ku/rio$); for more on this, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

The context of Isa 45:22-25 is significant for an understanding of its use here in the hymn. The basic orientation of the passage is eschatological, drawing upon the “day of YHWH” motif in the Prophetic tradition. In particular, we find the developed idea of the Day of YHWH as the time of (collective) Judgment for all the nations (v. 20). The primary basis of the Judgment is the recognition of YHWH as the Creator, the one true God (vv. 21b-22). The call goes out to Israel (and all the nations), to turn to YHWH, trusting in Him, before the moment of Judgment comes. Such trust will result in salvation (from the Judgment), with the promise that the people of God (Israel) will be deemed righteous by God, and thus be saved. All of these Prophetic (and eschatological) themes were picked up by early Christians, substituting trust in Jesus for the older idea of trust in YHWH. And this, indeed, is what we find here in the hymn as well; recognition of the divine status of the exalted Jesus (as Lord) is parallel to the traditional motif of “calling on the name of the Lord” (with Jesus as Lord), which leads to salvation (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13f, citing Joel 2:32).

Another way that the Prophetic traditions in Isa 45:22-25 were adapted in the hymn has to do with the eschatological Judgment-scene depicted in vv. 10-11. The motif of the Judgment of the Nations has been enhanced and expanded to give it truly a universal scope. This is indicated first by the pronominal adjective pa=$ (“all”) denoting totality, wholeness, and completion. Here it is used to signify every being in the universe “every name” applied to the religious context of worshiping and acknowledging a deity. This religious aspect is two-fold: (a) gestures of homage (bending of “every knee”), and (b) acknowledgment in speech (“every tongue”). The universalistic focus is enhanced by the qualifying statement inserted between the lines of Isa 45:23: “…of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground”.

The three adjectives in this statemente)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”), e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”), and kataxqw/nio$ (“beneath the ground”)reflect the basic tri-partate (three-part) cosmology widespread throughout the ancient world. The three parts are: (i) the hemispheric space above the earth, (ii) the flat disc/cylinder of the earth itself, and (iii) the space under the earth. The adjectives here are substantive plurals, referring to beings which inhabit each of these regions. The genitive form indicates that the knees and tongues, used to give worship, belong to these beingsimplying that they are personal beings possessing intelligence and will. It is common to define these three groups of beings as: heavenly beings (Angels, etc), living human beings, and the spirits of the dead (and/or evil spirit-beings bound under the earth). While this is doubtless correct, in a general sense, one be cautious in attempting to define the terms more precisely.

The main point in vv. 10-11 is that all of these created beings will give homage and worship to the exalted Jesus, bending the knee to him and acknowledging him as Lord (ku/rio$) with a spoken declaration. The verb e)comologe/w literally means “give out an account as one”, referring to something that people say together, in unison, and/or with common consent. It is possible that the scene here is of all beings making the declaration (“Yeshua the Anointed [is the] Lord”) together, in unison; more likely, however, it simply means that every being effectively says the same thing. The text allows for the possibility of a final universalism here, in a soteriological sense; that is to say, all beings ultimately come to trust in Jesus, recognizing him as Lord, and thus find salvation (cf. the context of Isa 45:22ff). A more probable scenario is that the wicked beings are forced to submit to the ruling authority of the exalted Jesus, rather contrary to their will (we may assume), as part of the Judgment that is brought against them.

The importance of the Judgment-scene, often missed by readers and commentators, in vv. 9-11 will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note, along with a specific discussion of the final phrase of the hymn: “…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”.

References marked “O’Brien” above, and throughout this set of notes, are to Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991).