Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 3)

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 3)

    1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist
    2. References to the coming of the Kingdom, with a clear eschatological emphasis
    3. References to the coming Day of Judgment
    4. Specific references to the coming of the “Son of Man” (Judgment context)
    5. References indicating a(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers
    6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

The first two areas of study were addressed in the previous article (Part 2); here we will be examining the next two areas (#3-4, in italics above).

3. The Coming Day of Judgment

The idea of a final Judgment by God upon the world is probably the most common eschatological motif in early Christian thought, and it informs nearly every aspect of the eschatology of the New Testament. While the basic idea is common to many cultures, the early Christian understanding derives from Old Testament and Jewish tradition—especially as related to the expression “Day of YHWH” in the Prophetic nation-oracles, etc. The main passages using this expression are: Isa 13:6ff; Jer 46:10; Ezek 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1ff; 3:14; Amos 5:18ff; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7-8ff; 2:2-3; Zech 14:1-3ff; Mal 4:5; many others allude to it. The original background presumably stems from ancient “holy war” tradition, in which God does battle for his people against their enemies. Gradually, especially in the context of the Exile and post-Exilic period, the idea came to reflect the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of Israel. Support for this certainly could be found in the Prophets—the “Day of YHWH” was a time when God would appear to judge (and punish) the wicked, and to deliver the faithful among his people.

When the similar expression “Day of the Lord” comes to be used in the New Testament, it still refers to the end-time Judgment of God upon humankind, but it is now thoroughly connected with a belief in the return of Jesus, who will appear as God’s chosen representative to judge the earth (cf. 1 Cor 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Thess 2:2; 2 Pet 3:10, etc). This role of Jesus, as one who brings about (and oversees) the final Judgment, is central to early Christian preaching, as we shall see when we examine the eschatology in the book of Acts. However, the idea also goes back to the sayings of Jesus himself, especially those which refer to the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man”. These references will be examined in the next area of study (section #4) below. Here, I wish to survey the sayings which refer more generally to the coming Judgment. I divide these as follows:

    • Sayings which specifically mention the (day of) Judgment
    • Those which deal with reward/punishment, in the context of an end-time Judgment
    • Specific sayings which mention entering/inheriting/receiving the Kingdom
a. Sayings which mention the (day of) Judgment

Somewhat surprisingly, there are almost no sayings in the core Synoptic tradition (as represented by the Gospel of Mark) which use either the verb kri/nw (“judge”) or the related nouns kri/si$, kri/ma (“judgment”); indeed, there is only one—Mark 12:40 par. It is much more common in Matthew and Luke, both the material they share in common (“Q”), and other sayings unique to each Gospel. These are:

All of these sayings draw upon traditional religious and ethical language (and instruction), warning people that ultimately they will face judgment by God for the things they have said and done. In Jesus’ sayings, this viewpoint has been adapted slightly, so that it now also refers to people being judged for the way in which they responded to Jesus in their lifetime (cf. below on the Son of Man sayings).

b. Sayings dealing with reward and punishment

There are a number of such sayings by Jesus, and all (or nearly all) of them have a strong eschatological orientation—i.e., they refer to the (heavenly) reward or punishment which a person receives following the Judgment.

The idea of the reward which one will receive from God, for faithfulness in following Jesus (his teachings and example, etc), is especially prominent in the Sermon on the Mount (and the parallel Lukan “Sermon on the Plain”), beginning with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12 par, esp. verse 12); on the eschatological background of the beatitude form, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes. The contrast between the present (earthly) situation and the ultimate heavenly situation is most striking in the Lukan version (6:20-23), with its woes (vv. 24-26), reflecting a reversal-of-fortune theme common in Jesus’ teaching. Other references dealing with reward and punishment are:

Especially noteworthy is the prophetic illustration in Matt 7:21-23 (par Lk 6:46; 13:25-27), in which Jesus apparently casts himself in the role of judge, distinguishing his true followers (those who do “the will of my Father in heaven”), from those who only claim to be so.

When we examine the wider Synoptic tradition, several passages stand out:

    • Mark 10:29-31 par—those who have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus, enduring deprivation and hardship in this life, will receive heavenly reward (eternal life) in the “Age to Come”. Note the variations between the Gospels (Matt 19:28-30; Lk 18:29-30) on the precise nature of the reward, with apparent fluctuation between heavenly and earthly(?) emphasis.
    • Mark 9:41 (par Matt 10:41-42)
    • Luke 10:20, with a possible eschatological nuance to vv 18f
c. Entering/inheriting/receiving the Kingdom

A number of the sayings express the idea of heavenly reward in terms of “entering” (or inheriting, receiving) the Kingdom, and, conversely, of punishment as failing to do so.

4. The Son of Man Sayings

These are the sayings of Jesus which refer to the “Son of Man” figure in a clear eschatological context. Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is distinctive, and, it would seem, unique to his discourse. That it reflects an authentic characteristic of the historical Jesus, his mode of expression, is confirmed by the fact that hardly occurs at all elsewhere in the New Testament or in other early Christian writings. It is not a title regularly used of Jesus by early believers; the occurrences in Heb 2:6 and Rev 1:13; 14:14 are quotations from the Old Testament. It is virtually limited to the Gospels, and, even there, is essentially never found except in the words of Jesus. Originally, as I have discussed elsewhere on a number of occasions, the expression “son of man” (Heb <d*a* /B#, Aram. vn`a$ rB^) was simply a (poetic) parallel for “man”—that is, a human being or member of the human race. It came to be used as a personal reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I” (i.e., this particular human being), though it is hard to find clear examples of this usage prior to Jesus. There can be no question, however, that Jesus did use the expression in just this way—as a self-designation or reference to himself. We may isolate three specific contexts for the expression “son of man” in Jesus’ sayings and teachings, as recorded in the Gospels:

    1. Where he identifies himself with the human condition—especially in terms of human suffering and mortality (death)
    2. Specific references to his impending death (and resurrection)
    3. Eschatological references to “the Son of Man”

The last category is the subject of this study. A critical analysis of these eschatological references is complicated by several factors, most notably the historical context. If Jesus is referring to his own future coming (i.e., after his death and resurrection), this would have been largely unintelligible to people at the time. Even his own closest disciples would have had little or no awareness of this sequence of events (death, resurrection, ascension, future return). This has led critical commentators to give serious consideration to two different possibilities:

    • The sayings, insofar as they identify the coming of the Son of Man with Jesus’ return, are largely the product of the early Church
    • In these sayings, Jesus is not referring to himself, but to a separate/distinct figure indicated by the title “Son of Man”

As I have discussed in an earlier study, there would seem to be very little evidence in the Gospels themselves for the first possibility. The second is much more plausible, but, in my view, cannot be embraced without serious qualification. I would offer the following explanation:

Jesus was drawing upon a tradition, derived primarily (if not exclusively) from Daniel 7:13-14, which envisioned a divine/heavenly being who would appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment. For the background of this eschatological (and Messianic) figure, which would have been understood by at least some Israelites and Jews in Jesus’ time, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (also the separate note on Dan 7:13f). Jesus identifies himself with this figure, but not in a way which would have been readily understood by people at the time (note the confusion indicated in John 12:34). The identification would have been implicit, based on his distinctive use of the expression “son of man”, and not made absolutely clear until the scene before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62ff par, cp. Acts 7:55-56). This view, I think, allows for a proper interpretation of the eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus could have made these references, without his disciples (at the time) necessarily connecting them with his own post-resurrection return.

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are three such Son of Man sayings:

    • Mark 8:38: “For whoever would feel shame over me and my words in this adulterous and sinful (time of) coming to be [i.e. age/generation], (so) also the Son of Man will shame over him, when He should come in the splendor of His Father with the holy Messengers.”
      The Lukan parallel in 9:26 is largely identical, the main difference being the reading “in His splendor and the (splendor) of His Father…”. Matthew’s version (16:27, cf. below) is quite different.
    • Mark 13:26: “…and then they will look with (their) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man coming on/in (the) clouds with much power and splendor”
      Again, Luke (21:27) is nearly identical, while Matthew differs considerably (note the additional words in italics):
      Matt 24:30: “and then the sign of the Son of Man will be made to shine forth in heaven; and then all the offshoots [i.e. peoples/races] of the earth will beat (themselves) and they will look with (their) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor”
    • Mark 14:62: “…and you will look with (your) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man, sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!”
      Matthew (26:64) and Luke (22:69) both record the saying prefaced with a temporal indicator (“from now [on]…”); otherwise, Matthew is identical to Mark, while Luke’s version is in a simpler form which also removes the visual/visionary aspect:
      “…the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power of God!”

The first saying (Mk 8:38 par) follows the traditional end-time Judgment scene indicated in the sayings noted above (section #3). The Son of Man plays a leading role in overseeing (or otherwise participating in) the heavenly Judgment; the ethical dimension has been reinterpreted to cover the disciple’s faithfulness in accepting and following Jesus (cf. below). The sayings in Mk 13:26 and 14:62 pars more properly refer to the end-time appearance, or coming, of the Son of Man, and both draw clearly upon Daniel 7:13. The emphasis in Daniel is somewhat different, in that the heavenly figure (“one like a son of man”, i.e. resembling a human being) comes on the clouds toward God, i.e. approaching Him, rather than becoming visible to people on earth. However, the motif of the end-time Judgment (and deliverance of God’s people) was already present in the original vision (v. 14ff). The saying before the Sanhedrin is distinctive for several reasons:

    • Here Jesus makes a much more explicit identification of himself with the Son of Man figure
    • In the context, it is related to the death and eventual resurrection of Jesus
    • Dan 7:13f is blended together with the idea of Jesus being present at the “right hand” of God. This motif comes primarily from Psalm 110:1, and was central to the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus—his resurrection resulted in his exaltation to heaven and a position at God’s right hand.
    • All of this is further connected with Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and “Son of God”, cf. the question in Mk 14:61 par.

Luke’s version of the saying in Mk 14:62 (22:69) eliminates the eschatological aspect, possibly with the tradition in Acts 7:55-56 in mind. However, in 21:27 the eschatological dimension is retained. This saying (Mk 13:26 par) will be discussed as part of the upcoming study on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The connection in Matt 24:30 between Dan 7:13-14 and Zech 12:10 is also attested in the book of Revelation (1:7).

There are additional Son of Man sayings in the so-called “Q” material—i.e., the traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. In theme and concept these follow the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38 and 13:26 par, relating to: (a) the Judgment to be ushered in (and overseen) by the Son of Man, and (b) the coming/appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time. Several other sayings, unique to Matthew and/or Luke, will also be included under these headings.

(a) The Judgment Scene.

    • Matthew 10:32-33 / Luke 12:8-9. This double-saying is generally parallel to that of Mark 8:38 (cf. above). Note that only in Luke’s version is the expression/title “Son of Man” used; in Matthew’s version, Jesus uses the pronoun “I”, indicating that it is self-designation (on this, cf. above).
    • Matthew 13:41 (cf. also verse 37)—this reference will be discussed as part of the study of the eschatological elements in Jesus’ parables.
    • Matthew 16:27—in place of Mk 8:38 par, Matthew includes a similar saying where the Judgment scene is connected more clearly with the coming/appearance of the Son of Man:
      “For the Son of Man is about to come in the splendor of his Father, with his Messengers, and then he will give from (himself) [i.e. reward/repay] to each (person) according to his deeds”
      This saying (along with that of v. 28) will be discussed further in an upcoming note on the eschatological imminence indicated in certain of Jesus’ sayings.
    • Matthew 25:31—the Judgment scene is vividly depicted in this parable, which will be discussed further at the proper point in this series.
    • Luke 21:36—part of the Lukan “Eschatological Discourse”, to be discussed.

(b) The Coming/Appearance of the Son of Man. These references largely preserve the Judgment context; however, it is the sudden/impending appearance of the Son of Man which is particularly emphasized.

    • Matthew 24:27 / Luke 17:24
    • Matthew 24:37, 39 / Luke 17:26, 30
    • Matthew 24:44 / Luke 12:40
      All these sayings are included in Matthew’s version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (Luke has them in different locations), and will be discussed further as part of our study on the Discourse.
    • Matthew 16:28—Matthew’s version of the Synoptic saying in Mk 9:1 par will be discussed in the upcoming note on “imminent eschatology” in Jesus’ sayings.
    • Luke 17:22—This saying, along with the peculiar phrase “one of the days of the Son of Man”, will be discussed in the study on the Eschatological Discourse.
    • Luke 18:8—A rather famous saying, often cited entirely out of context:
      “…the Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he find trust upon the earth?”
      It, too, will be touched on briefly in discussing imminent eschatology in Jesus’ sayings.

Finally, notice should be given to the statement by Jesus in Matthew 19:28:

“Amen, I relate to you, that you, the (one)s following (the path with) me, in the (time of) coming to be (alive) again [i.e. resurrection], when the Son of Man should sit upon his ruling-seat of splendor, you also will sit upon twelve ruling-seats judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea of judgment is certainly present, but the emphasis is on the heavenly throne/court setting, rather than on the Judgment scene itself. It is roughly parallel to the opening of the parable in 25:31. Luke records a saying very similar to Matt 19:28 (22:28-30), which is often regarded as coming from the “Q” line of tradition (despite the different settings). Luke’s version does not use the title “Son of Man”. The saying in Matt 19:28 will be discussed further in the next part of this study (section #5).