July 6: Romans 8:23, etc

These recent daily notes have dealt with the Old Testament traditions regarding the Spirit of God, and how they were developed by early Christians (as expressed within the New Testament). This study is a continuation of the series on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, and has proceeded through the (Synoptic) Gospels, the book of Acts, and the letters of Paul (through Romans, c. 58 A.D.). These letters—1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans—provide the best evidence for Paul’s view of the Spirit, and his distinctive development of the early Christian tradition. The references to the Spirit in the remainder of the Pauline corpus generally follow along the same lines, and, for the most part, it is not necessary to examine them all in detail. Before proceeding with a survey, however, it is worth considering a particular aspect of his view of the Spirit, which is expressed primarily in Romans 8:18-23. I have discussed this passage in detail as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and here focus on the concluding verses (22-23).

Romans 8:23

“For we have seen that all th(at has been) formed groans together and is in pain together, until th(is moment) now; and not only (this), but also (our)selves, holding the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our) [placement as sons], (and) the loosing of our body from (bondage).” (vv. 22-23)

Two different images are employed here, both of which were traditionally used in an eschatological context: (1) the pain of giving birth, and (2) harvest imagery. Both images refer to the climax of a period (of growth and labor, etc), thus serving as suitable figure-types for the end of the current Age. The birth-pain imagery was used especially in reference to the end-time period of distress (cf. Mark 13:9, 17 par; Luke 23:28-29ff, etc), while the harvest tended to prefigure the end-time Judgment (Matt 3:12 par; 13:39-43; Mark 4:29; Rev 14:15ff; cf. also Luke 10:2; Jn 4:35). This judgment-motif involved the separation of the righteous from the wicked (i.e. the grain from the chaff), which was understood in terms of the gathering of believers to Jesus at the moment of his end-time return (Mk 13:26-27 par; Rev 14:15-16). Paul, at least, specifically included the resurrection of dead believers in this gathering (1 Thess 4:14-17), and clearly made use of harvest-imagery in his discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 20-23, 36ff). Jesus himself was the “beginning (fruit) from (the harvest)” (a)parxh/), and believers share this same status, through the Spirit, possessing the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Paul means when he says that as believers we hold “the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit“; elsewhere the Spirit is described as a kind of deposit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), guaranteeing for us the promise of resurrection:

“And the (One) making us firm with you in (the) Anointed, (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God, the (One) also (hav)ing sealed us and (hav)ing given (us) the a)rrabw/n of the Spirit in our hearts.” (2 Cor 1:21-22)

The word a)rrabw/n is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew (loanword) /obr*u@, and refers to a pledge or deposit as a guarantee of future payment. Paul’s use of it is eschatological—it is a promise of resurrection for believers, entailing transformation of the human person (body-soul-spirit) to share in the heavenly, eternal life of God. Our resurrection (as believers) is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our union with him, realized through the Spirit. As we participate in his death, so also we participate in his resurrection. The motif of the seal (sfra/gi$, vb sfragi/zw) has two aspects of meaning: (1) marking the identity of the one making the promise (God), and (2) preserving the promise and keeping it intact for a period of time (until the end). The second aspect is particularly emphasized by Paul; on the first aspect, cf. 2 Tim 2:19 (and cp. Rev 7:1-8). The same imagery occurs in Ephesians:

“…in whom [i.e. Christ] also, (hav)ing trusted, you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] with the holy Spirit of the e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise], which is the a)rrabw/n of our share (in) the lot (of God), unto (the) loosing from (bondage)…” (Eph 1:13-14)

“And you must not bring sorrow (to) the holy Spirit of God, in which you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] unto (the) day of loosing from (bondage).” (Eph 4:30)

The “loosing from [bondage]” (a)polu/trwsi$) refers to human existence in the current Age, this present order of creation. Paul’s entire discussion in Romans 8:18-23ff relates to this idea that all of creation will be transformed in the Age to Come, and that believers in Christ are the “first fruits” of this transformation (cf. above). On the Holy Spirit as e)paggeli/a—that is, God’s announcement (or message, a)ggeli/a) regarding salvation and eternal life in Christ—cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, 39; 13:23, 32, etc; it is identified specifically as such by Paul in Gal 3:14ff.

Because believers continue to live in the world, in the current created order, as human beings, we groan suffering along with all of creation, since our bodies (our “flesh”) remain, to some extent, under the old bondage to sin and death. We must still confront the impulse to sin in our flesh, and we all face the reality of physical death. Our deliverance from this bondage will not be complete until the transformation of our bodies, as stated here by Paul— “the loosing of our body from (bondage)”, using the noun a)polu/trwsi$. His temporal expression a&xri tou= nu=n is a shorthand for the tou= nu=n kairou= (“of the moment now”) in verse 18, another indication of the imminence of Paul’s eschatology—that is, it was about to happen now.

There is some textual uncertainty regarding the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as son[s]”) in verse 23, as it is omitted in a number of key manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). If secondary, then the text originally would have read: “…looking out to receive the loosing of our body from (bondage)” —i.e., the reference would be entirely to the resurrection, without any mention of the ‘adoption’ motif. However, as the sonship-theme was central to vv. 12-17, as also the expression “sons of God” in v. 19, the use of ui(oqesi/a would be entirely fitting here in v. 23. The resurrection serves to complete the realization of believers as the sons (children) of God. On the role of the Spirit in terms of our identity as “sons of God”, cf. the prior note on Gal 4:1-7 and Rom 8:12-17.

Saturday Series: Isaiah 24-27

Isaiah 24-27

In these studies focusing on the book of Isaiah, we have had occasion to examine the division of the book spanning chapters 13-27. These chapters represent a unified and coherent work, characterized by the nation-oracle form and genre. A careful critical examination indicates that a core of authentic Isaian material—that is, nation-oracles from the time of the prophet (the Assyrian period, late 8th century B.C.)—has been set in the later context of the Babylonian conquests of the 6th century. In the previous study, as part of an exegetical analysis of the poem in 14:4b-21, I discussed the theory that the oracle refers to the Assyrian ruler Sargon II who held the title “king of Babylon” (cf. the Assyrian context of vv. 24-27). On the basis of this theory, one may posit that an anti-Assyrian oracle, prophesying the (eventual) fall of the Assyrian empire, was subsequently applied (and reinterpreted) as a message of judgment against Babylon in the 6th century (some time before its fall to Persia in 539). Chapter 13 is an anti-Babylonian oracle prophesying the fall of the Babylonian empire (cf. also 14:22-23; 21:1-10).

The 6th century Babylonian setting also seems to be in view in chapters 24-27, serving as an inclusio (with chapter 13) for the entire work, enclosing all of the other (Isaian, etc) material in chaps. 14-23. Certain similarities in tone and style raise the possibility that chapters 13 and 24-27, on the whole, may have been composed by the same author (see Roberts, p. 194, 306). It is not only the judgment against Babylon that is emphasized in these chapters, but the nation-oracle genre has been expanded and developed into message of judgment with cosmic scope—that is, the poems in these chapters represent an oracle against all the nations worldwide (Babylon being only the most prominent). While this wider outlook is found in chapter 13 (vv. 4, 9-11ff), it is even more prominent in chaps. 24-27, the poems of which evince an eschatological and apocalyptic orientation. Indeed, commentators often refer to chaps. 24-27 as the Isaian “Apocalypse”.

The dating of these chapters remains in dispute, and, while most critical commentators would date them well after the time of Isaiah himself, there is a range of scholarly opinion on just how much later they were composed. The eschatological elements present in these poems, along with other aspects of language and style, make it unlikely that they were composed prior to the 6th century and the beginnings of the Persian period. J. J. Roberts, in his fine critical commentary (First Isaiah, Heremeneia [Fortress Press: 2015]) would date the section to the late 7th or early 6th century, which would be among the earliest estimates. A setting of the mid-6th century seems probable, but we shall see how well the exegetical and critical evidence bears this out.

By all accounts, Isa 24-27, as a unit, represents the earliest surviving example of Jewish eschatological and apocalyptic writing. It draws upon both the nation-oracle genre and the well-established prophetic tradition of the “day of YHWH” —an expression which refers to the time of God’s judgment against a particular nation or people. For the most part, the “day” is related to a specific nation; however, by the 6th century, and into the exilic and post-exilic periods, this concept began to be developed into a “day” when God would judge all the nations together. Perhaps the earliest example of this development is to be found in the oracle of Joel 3, which may have been written at time roughly comparable to Isa 13, 24-27 (i.e. in the early-mid 6th century). In the book of Joel, it is likely that the Babylonian conquests are in view, and that the future restoration of Israel (return from exile, etc) is tied to God’s judgment, not only on Babylon, but on all the nations of earth.

It is sometimes difficult to know, in apocalyptic writing, whether the worldwide dimension is meant to be taken in a realistic, concrete sense, or whether a local/regional situation is being described in cosmic terms. It should also be noted that, in such an early example of Jewish eschatology, the eschatological aspect is not nearly so clearly defined as in subsequent writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. While a “New Age” is certainly envisioned for Israel and Judah, it is harder to be sure of how precise the author understood its connection with the end of the current Age (on a cosmic scale). However, the numerous allusions to the primeval history (including the Creation)—i.e. the beginning of the current Age—strongly suggests that the end of that Age is also in view.

The historical and literary factors outlined above provide the parameters within which we may embark on a critical study of the poems of chapters 24-27. It will not be possible to examine every verse in detail; however, a close study of key selected passages should prove most valuable, both for our understanding of the book of Isaiah, and as an example of Biblical (Old Testament) criticism in action. Let us begin with the opening lines of 24:1-13.

Isaiah 24:1-13

Verses 1-3

“See! YHWH is emptying out the earth and laying it waste,
and He twists its face and scatters (the one)s dwelling (on) it!” (v. 1)
….
“Emptied, the earth will be emptied out,
and plundered, it will be plundered—
for YHWH has spoken this spoken (word).” (v. 3)

The opening verses 1-3 emphasize that YHWH is about to make the earth empty and desolate (using the alliterative verb pair b¹qaq and b¹laq); the violence of this act is indicated by the additional verbs ±¹wâ (“twist”) and b¹zaz (“plunder”). The action is taken on the earth (i.e. the inhabited land) itself, in verses 1 and 3; however, in the intervening verse 2 the effect on the human inhabitants is described. The Hebrew noun °ereƒ can be translated “earth” or “land”; the former suggests a cosmic (worldwide) event, while the latter could be understood more plausibly as a local event. The Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa) reads °¦¼¹mâ (“ground”) instead of °ereƒ (“earth, land”) in verse 1.

Commentators have noted many instances where these poems in Isa 24-27 seem to borrow from existing works, including the unquestionable oracles of Isaiah, but also from the other prophetic writings, along with the Torah, etc. The author/editor appears to be drawing from written works—that is, it is a literary phenomenon, often referred to in Biblical and textual studies as intertextuality. Even in these opening three verses we may note the following:

    • Similarities in vv. 1, 3 with the vocabulary and thematic emphasis of (earlier) prophetic passages such as Nahum 2:2, 9-10.
    • The comparison with different groups/categories of people in society appears to be an expanded version of Hosea 4:9 (cp. Isa 3:4ff)
    • The use of the verb pûƒ in the Hiphil (“break apart, scatter”) in v. 1 likely alludes to the dispersion of humankind in the Babel narrative of Genesis (cf. 10:18; 11:4, 8-9).

These intertextual references suggest two main themes at work:

    • A development of the prophetic Day of YHWH motif, from the nation/judgment-oracles in Nahum, Hosea, et al.
    • The use of imagery from the Primeval History (and the Creation narrative) in Genesis, to indicate the manner in which the end of the Age will resemble its beginning.
Verses 4-6

“It dries up, the (entire) earth withers,
it languishes, the inhabited (world) withers,
(the) highest place languishes with the earth;
and the earth is corrupted under (the one)s dwelling on her,
for they have crossed over (the) instructions (of YHWH),
they replaced (His decree) inscribed (for all time),
broke (the) agreement binding (into the) distant (future)!
Upon this [i.e. for this reason], a curse has devoured the earth,
and (the one)s dwelling on her face guilt;
upon this, dwellers of the earth are diminished,
and (the) human (being)s left over (are just) a few.”

A range of literary references and (poetic) devices are packed into these lines, emphasizing repeatedly the great judgment that is coming upon all humankind. That it will affect every human being, regardless of social position or status, was already made clear in verse 2. The author intends the situation to parallel that of the great Flood in most ancient times, in the days of Noah, when the vast majority of humankind perished, and only a few survived. The reference to the “agreement binding (into the) distant (future)” (b®rî¾ ±ôl¹m, i.e. ‘eternal covenant’) is almost certainly an allusion to Genesis 9:16, and the covenant God established with humankind after the Flood. This is perhaps the first example of an eschatological application of the great Flood—that is, as a type-pattern of the Judgment that will come upon the world at the end of the current Age (Matt 24:37-38 par; 1 Pet 3:20ff; 2 Pet 2:5ff). Human beings, in their sinfulness, have violated this binding agreement (b®rî¾) with God, and so face the curse (°¹lâ) that is built into the ancient covenant format, as a punishment for failing to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

Verses 7-9

“(The) fresh (wine) dries up, (the) vine languishes,
(and) all (the one)s joyful of heart groan;
(the) delightful (sound) of tambourine has ceased,
(the) noise of (the one)s rejoicing has left off,
(the) delightful (sound) of (the) harp has ceased!
With a song they no longer drink wine,
(and the) beer is bitter for (the one)s drinking it.”

These verses provide a good example of how clever poetic form and style can serve to enhance the message of prophecy. A pair of couplets dealing with the drinking of alcohol (wine/beer) bracket a central tricolon on the joyful social activity and communal celebration that accompanies such drinking. The curse on the earth causes the wine to dry up, which ends up affecting human society. More than this, however, it illustrates how the joy of living is destroyed by the judgment, in ways that might not immediately be apparent.

The alliterative pairing of the the verbs °¹»al (“dry up”) and °¹mal (“grow weak, languish”) echoes that of verse 4 (see above). A separate(?) root °¹»al has the fundamental meaning “mourn, lament”, and it is likely that there is a bit of wordplay intended here—i.e., as the wine “dries up”, the people’s joy comes to an end and they being to “mourn”. The disappearance of joy is depicted in terms of musical celebration; the tricolon of verse 8 is a chiasm:

    • delightful sound of tambourine ceases
      • noise of the ones rejoicing leaves off (i.e. fades away)
    • delightful sound of the harp ceases
Verses 10-12

“(The) city of confusion is broken down,
every house is shut up from coming (in) [i.e. so no one can enter];
an outcry over (the) wine (is) in the (street)s outside,
all joy has gone down (with the sun),
(the) delight of the earth is removed.
Ruin is left (behind) in the city,
and crashing to ruins (the) gate is struck (down)!”

These three verses have a similar poetic structure to those of vv. 7-9: a pair of thematically parallel couplets (emphasizing destruction) surround a central tricolon dealing with the loss of joy in society. Again this loss of joy is tied to the image of the drying up of the wine (i.e. the withering of the vine on earth). Now, however, the sense of loss has shifted to the reality of a city facing destruction and ruin. This figurative city, using the synonymous nouns qiryâ and ±îr, is called “city of confusion” (qirya¾ tœhû), using the same word (tœhû, “confusion”) from Genesis 1:2, which describes the unformed chaos of the primeval universe before God established the created order. Given the context of chapters 13-27 (see above), it is possible that Babylon is foremost in mind, however, if so, it must still be maintained that this great city represents all cities of the nations. The book of Revelation famously makes considerable use of this same Babylon / Great-City symbolism. When the City falls in the Judgment, the order of the world—the natural and social order both—disintegrates, and the world falls into chaos and emptiness, just as in the primeval condition at the beginning of creation.

Verse 13

“For thus it shall be in (the) inner-part of the earth,
in (the) midst of the peoples,
as (the) shaking of an olive (tree),
as (the) gleanings when (the) harvest-cutting is finished.”

This rhythmically balanced quatrain closes the first part of the poem, and forms a thematic parallel with the opening verse (see above). The same themes of the destruction/shaking of the earth and the scattering of its inhabitants are found here, only set within the image of the harvest. The harvest, marking the end of the growing season and life-cycle, serves as a natural metaphor for the end of the current Age. Joel 3, possibly composed at around the same time as this poem, makes use of the same imagery in an eschatological context (v. 13). The book of Revelation, influenced by both passages, follows the same line of imagery, involving the vine harvest (14:14-20). The oracle against Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51, with its use of the harvest motif (50:16; 51:33) is also relevant in this context.

We will continue this discussion in next week’s study, as we consider how the poem in 24:1-13 fits into the overall scope and thematic structure of chaps. 24-27.

May 14: Joel 2:28-29 (continued)

Joel 2:28-29 [Heb 3:1-2]

(continued from the previous day’s note)

The book of Joel has been rather difficult to date, with estimates ranging from the 8th century to the post-exilic period. This is largely due to the brevity of the book, and the general lack of clear historical indicators within the oracles. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

These oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together. The “day of YHWH” now represents the moment when the nations, collectively, would be judged, in one great “valley of Judgment”. The great oracle of Ezekiel 38-39, and those in Zechariah 12 and 14, are the other key examples of this (eschatological) theme in the Old Testament.

When we turn to the oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5], it can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

We saw the same sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (cf. the earlier note):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [j^Wr] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail:

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [j^Wr] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as ayb!n`,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

Note the following points emphasizing a total, comprehensive inclusivity:

    • that it comes on every person is specified (“all flesh”)
    • male and female (“your sons and your daughters”)
    • old and young (“your elders…your choice ones [i.e. children]”)
    • even the male and female servants

As previously noted, this seems to fulfill the wish expressed by Moses in Numbers 11:29, as well as the ancient ideal regarding the identity of Israel as a holy nation, made up entirely of priests, prophets, and kings (Exod 19:6, etc). While this had not been realized in Israel’s history up to that point—during the periods of the migration (exodus), settlement, Judges, and the monarchy—the oracle here indicates that it will be fulfilled in the ‘golden age’ to come. Admittedly, it is not specified exactly when this will occur. The oracle utilizes a general expression “following this” (/k@-yr@j&a^), comparable to the oracular expression “in the days following, in the days after [this]” (<ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^B=, Gen 49:1 etc), which came to be used in a distinct eschatological sense (cf. also “in those days”, here in Joel 3:1 [4:1]; also Jer 31:29, 33; 33:15-16; Zech 8:23, etc). As a message of hope to the people of the time, we may assume an imminent expectation, even if the specific details of the future ideal expressed in the oracle were not always meant to be understood in a concrete, literalistic sense.

This is all the more so for the supernatural cosmic phenomena mentioned in vv. 30-31 [3:3-4]. The true significance of this imagery is that of theophany—i.e. a manifestation of God’s presence, according to the ancient manner of expression (cp. the scene in Exodus 19-20, as well as many examples of the storm-theophany applied to El-Yahweh [e.g., Psalm 18 A]). This theophany-language and imagery came to be used by the Prophets as part of the “day of YHWH” theme, in the nation- and judgment-oracles; it became more clearly defined and pronounced in the later Prophets, and from there passed on into Jewish tradition to form a staple of apocalyptic and eschatology in Judaism (and early Christianity) during the first centuries B.C./A.D.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this framework? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives (and cf. the earlier note in this series on the Psalms references). Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (<ya!yb!n+), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. As I discussed in the previous note, this is part of a tendency, seen especially in the later Prophets (of the 6th/5th centuries), toward what we might call a “democratization” of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a ayb!n`.

In the next daily note, we will consider this tendency as it is expressed in the book of Ezekiel, along with a brief comparison with several key passages in the book of Jeremiah.

April 3: John 16:16-33

John 16:16-33

In the previous note, we examined the concluding words of Jesus in the Last Discourse (16:33); today, I wish to look more closely at the final discourse-unit (vv. 16-33) as a whole. The unit itself follows the Johannine discourse format:

    • Initial saying of Jesus (v. 16)
    • Response/misunderstanding by his audience (vv. 17-18)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true/deeper meaning of the saying (vv. 19-29)

Here is the central saying/statement by Jesus:

“A little (while), and you (will) no longer look on me; and again a little (while), and you will (look) at me (with open) eyes.”

This repeats an important theme of the Last Discourse: the departure of Jesus from his disciples (and from the world). The theme is stated several different ways, most notably at the beginning of the Discourse (13:33, par 7:33-34), and again in the discourse-unit 14:1-4ff, where a saying by Jesus regarding his going away leads into the dialogue with his disciples. In all of these passages, the difficulty for interpretation is that Jesus’ departure can be understood on a least two different levels:

    • His death and burial, which would be the most immediate point of reference based on the narrative context (i.e. the Passion setting of the Discourse).
    • His (final) departure back to the Father, which appears to be the better sense for the Discourse as a whole.

Along with this, the disciples’ seeing Jesus, and his coming (back) to them, can be interpreted on three different levels:

    • His appearing to them after the resurrection
    • His end-time appearance from heaven, and
    • His presence in the interim, through the Spirit

All of this is further complicated by the fact that, apparently, Jesus ascends/returns to the Father shortly after the resurrection (implied in 20:17ff), while his ultimate ascension/return is not narrated in the Gospel at all.

From the standpoint of the Passion Narrative, the tendency would be to read 16:16 in terms of Jesus’ impending death and burial (a fitting subject for Holy Saturday), yet confusion remains regarding the true point of reference. Within the narrative (the discourse), the disciples were also confused by this (vv. 17-18): “What is this that he says to us?…”. The key, of course, lies in the exposition by Jesus (vv. 19ff), though often in the Johannine Discourses Jesus does not provide the sort of conventional, straightforward explanation that his audience is expecting.

Let us briefly examine the first part of this exposition, beginning with verse 20:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that you will weep and mourn, and (by contrast) the world will delight; but (yet) your sorrow will come to be delight.”

The reference to weeping (vb klai/w, loud crying/wailing) and mourning (vb qrhne/w) connotes funerary practices in the ancient world. Indeed, qrh=no$ can be a technical term for a funeral dirge or lament. As such, this would certainly be appropriate for the death and burial of Jesus. The “delight” (xara/) that the world (ko/smo$) might feel regarding his death simply reflects the fundamental idea that the “world” (i.e., the order of the things in the current Age of wickedness) is opposed to God, hostile to Him and to His Son, Jesus. This is all part of the Johannine theological vocabulary.

The message of encouragement for the disciples is that the “sorrow” (lu/ph) they experience from his death/departure will be changed into (“will come to be”, genh/setai) their own true delight. The use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be”), which can connote coming to be born, along with this juxtaposition of sorrow-joy, leads into the illustration of childbirth in verse 21:

“When a woman should produce (a child), she holds sorrow, (in) that her hour (has) come; but when the child comes to be (born) [gennh/sh|], she no longer remembers the distress [qli/yi$], through the delight (she feels) that a man [i.e. child] (has) come to be (born) into the world.”

Almost imperceptibly, this illustration blends together aspects of Jesus’ suffering/death with the eschatological suffering that believers will experience following his death and departure. As previously discussed, the use of the word “hour” (w%ra) likewise encompasses (and combines) both of these aspects. Moreover, the motif of the woman in labor was commonly used as an eschatological image, though it could just as well serve as a general symbol of the suffering that is characteristic of the human condition.

In the Old Testament, childbirth was frequently used as a metaphor for human suffering, either in the negative sense of pain (and possible death) or the positive sense of the joy which replaces the pain when the child is delivered (such as in Jesus’ illustration here). Of the many relevant passages in Scripture, cf. Gen 3:16-17; Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17-19; 42:14; 66:7-8; Jer 4:31; 22:23; 48:41; 49:22ff; Gal 4:19. In the Genesis Creation narrative, the pains associated with childbirth are part of the “curse” —the suffering and ‘evil’ —that marks the current Age. In a similar sense, the pains of women also serve to symbolize the suffering that comes in relation to God’s JudgmentPsalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; 42:14; Jer 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 30:6; 48:41; 49:22, 24; 50:43.

The illustration used by Jesus suggests the idea of deliverance from pain/suffering—Mic 4:10; 5:3; Isa 65:23ff; 66:7-9—which also can have an eschatological significance. Perhaps the closest Old Testament parallel is in Isa 26:17-18, though 66:7-8 expresses a similar idea. In several other New Testament passages, the motif of childbirth, and the pains associated with it, are unquestionably used in an eschatological sense or context. Most notably, we have Jesus’ prophecy (in the Eschatological Discourse [Mk 13 par]) of the coming events/phenomena that mark the end-time period of distress; he describes all of these signs in vv. 5-8 with the declaration that “these (are the) beginning of (the birth) pains” (a)rxh\ w)di/nwn tau=ta). Other eschatological references of note are:

    • The suffering of Judea/Jerusalem predicted by Jesus in Luke 23:28-31.
    • Paul’s statement in Romans 8:22: “we see that all creation groans together and is in pain together until now”.
    • The vision of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12.

In fact, the eschatological motif is traditional; the time of suffering, marking the end of the current Age, came to be referred to as “the birth pains of the Messiah”.

The other clear eschatological allusion in Jn 16:21 involves the use of the word qli/yi$ (“distress”), which came to be a technical term in early Christianity for the end-time ‘period of distress’ that will come upon humankind, and which will entail, specifically, the persecution and oppression of believers. Such use of the word derives primarily from the Greek version (LXX) of Daniel 12:1 (cf. also LXX Zeph 1:14-15; Hab 3:16). Jesus uses it in this sense in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:19, 24 par), and it occurs repeatedly in the book of Revelation (1:9; 2:22; 7:14 etc). Other references, by Paul, and elsewhere in the New Testament, are almost certainly eschatological as well, though less explicitly so—e.g. 1 Thess 3:3, 7; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rom 2:9, etc.

The illustration of the woman in labor is applied to the situation of the disciples in verse 22:

“And so you, (on the one hand) now you hold sorrow, but (on the other hand) again I will (look) at you with (open) eyes, and your heart will have delight, and your delight no one takes (away) from you.”

In verse 16, the vantage point was the disciples seeing Jesus; here the same relationship is established from the opposition direction—Jesus will see the disciples again; in both instances the future sense of seeing is expressed by the verb o)pta/nomai (“[look] with [open] eyes”), i.e. Jesus and the disciples will gaze at one another. Does this refer to an initial post-resurrection appearance (20:19-23) by Jesus, or does it reflect the eschatological dimension of v. 21, or both? The idea that “no one takes” away the disciples’ delight suggests something more permanent than the initial joy of seeing the resurrected Jesus again—is it an allusion to the presence of the Spirit (20:22)?

The expression “in that day” (vv. 23, 26), also occurring earlier in 14:20, might perhaps clarify the context of Jesus’ statement further; however, the same ambiguity attends its use in the Discourse. The immediate Passion setting of the narrative suggests that it refers to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but its use elsewhere in the New Testament rather indicates that it has an eschatological connotation—cf. Mark 13:11, 32 par; Matt 7:22; Luke 6:23; 17:31; 2 Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 1:18; 4:8. Since here in vv. 23-27, the focus is on what God the Father will do for believers in Jesus’ name—i.e. when they pray and make request to him—the context would have to be the time after Jesus’ (final) departure/return to the Father, while he remains present with his disciples (believers) through the Spirit. Thus the eschatological sense of the expressions “that day”, and “(the) hour” (that is coming), is best understood in terms of the New Age that believers in Christ experience now, in the present, following the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Johannine Gospel—believers experience the end-time events of the resurrection, passing through the Judgment, and inheriting eternal life, in the present, through the Spirit.

According to the early Christian eschatology, the period during which believers experience the New Age, through the Spirit, would be relatively brief; Jesus’ was expected to return very soon, to deliver his people (believers) and to usher in the Judgment. The imminence of this eschatology is not nearly so prominent in the Gospel of John, and is offset by the emphasis on the present (“realized”) aspect. Even so, the early Christian outlook, involving (1) the death and resurrection of Jesus, (2) the New Age realized for believers as they live in the world during the period of distress, and (3) the return of Jesus—all understood as end-time events—was much tighter and closely-knit than it would be for believers living centuries later (or today, after 1900+ years).

Let us consider the thematic outline of Jesus’ exposition, in light of our study so far:

    • The sadness and mourning that will be experienced initially as a result of Jesus’ death and burial (v. 20)
    • Illustration of the woman in labor (v. 21)—the sadness they experience is part of the pain/suffering they will have during the end-time period of distress
    • At the same time, with the resurrection, they will have joy, and it will continue all through the time of distress (v. 22); they will see Jesus again, both immediately after the resurrection, and through the abiding presence of the Spirit
    • While Jesus is with the Father, he will remain present, united with believers through the Spirit, giving them access to the divine/eternal life and power of God; this is explained in terms of:
      • Prayer, making request/petition to the Father in Jesus’ name (vv. 23-24)
      • Instruction/understanding regarding the Father (vv. 25-27)

This exposition comes between the initial statement in v. 16 and restatement of it, in terms of Jesus’ return back to the Father, in verse 28. It bridges the gap between the moment of his death, and his  exaltation/return to the Father. Jesus returns to the moment of his death in the conclusion to the discourse (verse 32), as he establishes again the idea that his Passion begins the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$) for believers. Yet, even at the darkest point of this suffering, we can be assured that, as believers, we also share in the joy and victory that Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished.

April 1: John 13:1; 17:1, etc

John 13:1; 17:1, etc

“Before the festival of the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], Yeshua, having seen that his hour (had) come…” (13:1)
“Yeshua spoke these (thing)s, and, (hav)ing lifted up his eyes unto the heaven, said: ‘Father, the hour has come—may you bring honor to [your] Son, (so) that the Son would bring honor to you…'” (17:1)

These verses more or less reprise what Jesus had stated in 12:23 (cf. also v. 27), discussed in the recent daily notes:

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor.”

Today I wish to look specifically at the use of the term w%ra (“hour”) in these sayings of Jesus. The noun w%ra is a common enough word, occurring 26 times in the Gospel of John; however, as part of the Johannine theological vocabulary, it has a special significance, and one that the Johannine writings inherited from the wider Gospel Tradition. There are two main uses of the word w%ra that should be noted:

    1. A specific reference to the Passion—the suffering and death—of Jesus, and
    2. As a distinct eschatological term.

The two are closely related and interconnected, as we shall see. Interestingly, in the eschatological references the word is anarthrous (without the definite article), while the word with the article is reserved for references to Jesus’ Passion.

1. The hour of Jesus’ Passion

The Gospel frequently refers to the coming of “the hour” (or “my/his hour”), in which the suffering and death of Jesus is clearly in view. The authenticity of this idiom is confirmed by the independent usage in the Synoptic Tradition (Mark 14:41 par; Lk 22:14, 53). In addition to the Johannine statements cited above (12:23 [also twice in v. 27]; 13:1; 17:1), there are several other passages in the first half of the Gospel (the “Book of Signs”, chaps. 2-12, during the time of Jesus’ ministry), where it is pointed out that the hour “had not yet come”:

    • 2:4: (Jesus) “…my hour (has) not yet [ou&pw] arrived [vb h%kw]”
    • 7:30: (narration) “So they sought to seize him, and (yet) no one cast the(ir) hand upon him, (in) that [i.e. because] his hour had not yet come [ou&pw e)lhlu/qei].”
    • 8:20: (narration) “…and no one seized him, (in) that [i.e. because] his hour had not yet come [ou&pw e)lhlu/qei].”

To this should be added Jesus’ words in 7:6, 8, where he uses kairo/$ (“moment”, point in time) instead of w%ra (“hour”), with virtually the same meaning—kairo/$/w%ra could easily reflect different Greek renderings of an Aramaic original.

2. An Eschatological hour

The other main use of the word w%ra, as noted above, is eschatological, and these references, while also referring to an hour that is coming, do not use the definite article. The eschatological aspect is clearest in the repeated occurrences in 4:21, 23 and 5:25, 28-29, respectively, where the context is (a) allusion to the New Age as an ideal time of righteousness and worship of God, and (b) the resurrection at the end of the current Age. Note:

    1. “…an hour comes when not on this mountain [i.e. Gerizim of the Samaritans] and not in Yerushalaim (either) will you kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father” (4:21)
      “But an hour comes, and now is, when the true kissers toward (God) [i.e. worshipers] will kiss toward [i.e. worship] the Father in (the) Spirit and in Truth…” (4:23)
    2. “Amen, Amen, I relate to you that an hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and the (one)s hearing shall live.” (5:25)
      “You must not wonder (at) this, that an hour comes in which all the (one)s in the memorial(-tomb)s will hear his voice…” (5:28f)

The qualifying statements in 4:23 and 5:25 use the same phrasing— “an hour comes and now is [nu=n e)stin]” —an example of the pronounced emphasis on “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (discussed in a recent article). The end-time event of the resurrection, as well as the manifestation of the Spirit in the New Age, are already experienced (realized) by believers now, in the present.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, this coming “hour”, with its indefiniteness, emphasizes the suddenness and unexpectedness (and imminence) of the coming of the end—the return of Jesus, the great Judgment, etc. The principal sayings of Jesus and other passages in this regard are: Mark 13:32 par; Matt 24:44, 50; 25:13; Luke 12:39-40, 46; Rom 13:11; 1 John 2:18; Rev 3:3, 10; 14:7, 15 (on the hour of Judgment, cf. also Rev 9:15; 18:10, 17, 19).

3. How these two aspects fit together

While often overlooked by Christians today, the very identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) is eschatological (I discuss this in more detail in a recent article). All of the Messianic figure-types were understood as figures who would appear at the end-time, at the end of the current Age, to bring about the Judgment and the deliverance of God’s people. What is unique about the Christian view of Jesus as the Messiah is that he did not fulfill all that was expected of the Messianic figures during his time on earth. This must wait until his second appearance (return), and yet it does not change the fact that what took place during his first appearance was understood by early Christians as marking the end-time—the time right before the end of the current Age.

Indeed, it was the death of Jesus that marked the onset of the period of distress (qli/yi$) that would precede the end. As such, the Passion references to “the hour” (cf. above, Mk 14:41; Lk 22:53 etc) have genuine eschatological significance—a fact often not fully recognized by commentators today. Following Jesus’ death (and ultimate departure), his disciples (believers) would face a time of increasing persecution and oppression (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc), and this is much of what Jesus has in mind when he speaks of them entering into “(the time of) testing” (peirasmo/$, Matt 6:13; Mk 14:38), when even the faith of his close disciples will be put to the test (Mk 14:27ff par; 13:13b par).

This eschatological dimension of Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death) is expressed in the Gospel of John by several more sayings using the term w%ra (“hour”); the emphasis is on the suffering that his disciples (believers) will face in the world, in a time of increasing darkness and evil (before the end):

    • “…but an hour comes that every one (hav)ing killed you off would consider (himself) to bring [i.e. do] a service toward God” (16:2)
    • “See, an hour comes, and (indeed it) has come, that you should be scattered, each (one) into his own (thing)s…” (16:32, cp. Mk 14:27 par)

The addition of the perfect tense (“and it has come”) in 16:32 reflects the Passion context of the sayings in 12:23 and 17:1 (cf. above), where the same perfect form e)lh/luqen (“[it] has come”) is used. In other words, now that the moment of Jesus’ Passion has arrived, the disciples will also experience this “hour” of suffering and distress, in their own way. The paradox is that, while believers must endure the end-time darkness and evil in the world, they/we also experience the reality of the coming New Age now, in the present, through the Spirit. This is expressed by the eschatological w%ra-sayings noted above (4:21-23; 5:25, 28f), but also by Jesus’ words throughout the Last Discourse, which include the w%ra-saying in 16:25:

“I have spoken these (thing)s to you in (word)s along the way [i.e. illustrations, figures of speech, etc], (but) an hour comes when I will no longer speak to you in (word)s along the way, but with outspokenness I will give forth (the) message about the Father”

There are two levels of meaning to this statement, in the context of the Last Discourse: (1) Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his resurrection, and (2) his abiding presence with believers through the Spirit. Both aspects are important in marking the death and resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the New Age for believers (compare the famous words of Peter’s Pentecost speech, 2:16-17ff, citing Joel 2:28-32). Following Jesus’ resurrection (and exaltation to the Father), with the coming of the Spirit, the old Age comes to an end (even before the current Age actually ends), and the New Age begins. This is fundamentally eschatological, in every sense, and must be recognized as a powerful component of the Passion narrative in the Gospels.

 

 

Saturday Series: Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah 2:1-5

“The word which Yesha’yahu son of Amos saw (as a vision), upon [i.e. regarding] Yehudah and Yerushalaim” (v. 1)

This superscription mirrors that of 1:1, and should be taken as the opening of the book proper, that is, of chapters 2-39. Another similar superscription follows at 13:1, which indicates that chapters 2-12 form a distinct division, though whether or not they reflect a specific source document or stage of composition for chaps. 2-39, is difficult to say. In any case, it is important to view a passage (such as Isa 2:1-5) within its wider Scriptural context–which here involves the division comprised of chapters 2-12. Thematically, chaps. 2-4 form a smaller unit, with a parallel section (11:1-12:6) at the end of this division. They share the (eschatological) theme of the restoration of Israel, alternating with oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. The eschatological aspect of these chapters, with its theme of restoration, is more typical of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-66), which critical commentators believe was composed later on, reflecting an exilic or post-exilic setting. This would be contrasted with the core section 6:1-9:6, which clearly is set in Isaiah’s own time, dealing with the 8th century Assyrian crises. The surrounding judgment poems and oracles of chapters 5 and 10 also appear more closely related to the late-8th century Assyrian setting.

Before looking at the individual verses and lines of 2:2-5, it may be worth considering the passage briefly in terms of the various areas of Biblical Criticism (see the introductory study).

Textual Criticism

This passage is, of course, contained in the great Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa), as well as (partially) in manuscripts 4QIsab,e,f. There are several interesting variants between 1QIsaa (the Isaiah Scroll) and the Masoretic Text (MT); most notably, the text of 1QIsaa is shorter in verse 3 (absent the portion in italics):

“(Let us) go, and we shall go up to (the) mountain of YHWH,
to (the) house of the Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob”

The other main difference is the reading of the plural verb form “and they will instruct us” (w®yœrûnû) instead of the MT singular “and He will instruct us” (w®yœr¢nû). There are a few smaller, minor variants, as well as some orthographic differences; but, otherwise the Masoretic Text is relatively secure, and we can work from it without undue complications.

Source Criticism

A textual point of note is that the text of Isa 2:2-5 has a parallel version (with some key differences, noted below) in Micah 4:1-5. This raises a number of source- and composition-critical questions. The relationship between the two versions has been explained in various ways:

    • The book of Isaiah derives it from Micah
    • The book of Micah derives it from Isaiah
    • Both versions are derived from a common earlier source

I am inclined to the latter view, which would tend to support the idea that the opening and closing portions of this division—i.e. chapters 2-4 and 11-12—date from a later period than the material in the central chapters 5-10, but that they still contain old prophetic material (even from Isaiah himself), united by certain key thematic and literary points. Our passage 2:2-5, in particular, seems to have much in common with the Deutero-Isaian oracles in the second half of the book.

Historical Criticism

The eschatological aspect of 2:2-5, with its theme of the restoration of Israel, centered around the Jerusalem Temple, and the outreach to the surrounding (Gentile) nations, is certainly typical of many of the Deutero-Isaian oracles in chaps. 40-66—see, for example, 40:9; 42:6-7; 45:14-23; 49:6; 51:4; 56:7; 57:13; 60:1-18; 65:11, 26; 66:20, etc. Most critical commentators would ascribe the Deutero-Isaian material, generally, to the exile or post-exilic period. A thematic comparison with texts from this period (e.g. Zech 2:14-16 [EV 12-14]; 8:20-23; Hag 2:7-9) would tend to point in this direction (cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 191). I have already noted (above) the idea that the framing sections in chapters 2-4, 11-12, while likely containing earlier/older material, may well have been composed somewhat later. If this is correct, it would tell us something significant about how the book of Isaiah was composed, with the message of the historical Prophet being applied to the situation of Judah/Jerusalem in a later time. In this case, according to this theory, the promise of deliverance (for Jerusalem and a faithful remnant) from the Assyrian invasion would have been applied to the Babylonian exile and the promise of a future restoration/return.

Literary Criticism

Isa 2:2-5 is short oracle, written in a highly poetic prose style; it may be called a poem, though with a loose metrical and verse structure. It would be characterized as a salvation- or restoration-oracle, rather typical, as I have noted, of the oracles in chapters 40-66 (so-called Deutero-Isaiah). The thematic structure of the poem can be outlined as follows:

    • Opening stanza on the Jerusalem Temple (v. 2, lines 1-4)
    • Visionary scene regarding the Nations (v. 2, line 5; v. 3)
    • Closing stanza on the New Age for humankind (v. 4)
    • Concluding exhortation (v. 5)

Thematically, the central scene has a chiastic structure:

    • The Nations come to the Temple to hear God’s word
      • Declaration of the Nations
    • God’s word goes out from the Temple to the Nations

Now, let us briefly examine each of these portions.

Exegesis

Verse 2a-d

“And it shall be, in the days (coming) after (this),
(the) mountain of the house of YHWH shall be set (up),
on the head [i.e. top] of (all) the mountains,
and lifted up from [i.e. over] (the) high (hill)s.”

This opening stanza, as such, establishes the central theme of the Jerusalem Temple, referred to traditionally as the “house” (bê¾) of YHWH, but also as a mountain (har). The mountain motif relates to the ancient fortified hill-top location of the Temple, the Canaanite site taken over by Israel to form the core of the future Jerusalem (the “city of David”, also known as Mount Zion). However, the mountain has an even more archetypal (mythic-religious) association with the Temple. The mountain was a figure-type for the meeting place between heaven and earth, i.e. the place where human beings could come into contact with the divine. A temple building served much the same symbolic purpose, and temples frequently were constructed on mountain or hilltop locations. Ancient Mesopotamian tradition, beginning with the Sumerians, constructed their great city-state temples to resemble a mountain (i.e. the ziggurat form).

The expression b®°aµ¦rî¾ hayy¹mîm, translated “in the days (coming) after (this)”, gradually came to have a specific eschatological connotation—i.e. in the “last days”, or “latter days”, the days to come in the future, at the end of the current Age. Though not as precise here, perhaps, it certainly still carries an eschatological significance. Thus, it is a prophecy of the role the Temple will play in the end-time—marking the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the New Age to come.

Verse 2e-3a

“And all the nations will stream to it,
and many peoples will go and say:”
Micah:
“And peoples shall stream upon it,
and many nations will go and say:”

This couplet opens the central visionary scene of the oracle and introduces the declaration of the Nations in verse 3. The verb n¹har creates the image of people “streaming” to the Temple like rivers, all flowing into a central location, a great reservoir or sea.

Verse 3b-e

“(Let us) walk, and we shall go up to (the) mountain of YHWH,
to (the) house of the Mighty (One) [°E_lœhîm] of Ya’aqob;
and He will instruct us from His ways,
and we will walk in His (well-)traveled (path)s.”

This statement, introduced in 3a, is essentially a declaration of faithfulness by the nations, collectively. The idiom of “walking” (verb h¹lak) is used here specifically for the idea of obeying and worshiping God. Even as the nations walk (travel) to the Temple in Jerusalem, they are demonstrating their loyalty and obedience to YHWH, the God of Israel, walking in His “ways” and “paths”. Again, traveling a path is figurative for following instruction, in a religious or ethical/moral sense. The verb y¹râ is related to the Hebrew noun transliterated as Torah (tôrâ); it literally signifies aiming or pointing in a particular direction (as when one shoots an arrow, etc), thus blending effectively the motifs of travel and instruction.

The idea that the surrounding nations, the non-Israelite peoples, might be converted, coming to worship YHWH—and even joining with Israel as the people of God—is a notable theme in Deutero-Isaiah (as indicated above), but is less prominent in chapters 2-39. It came to be part of the Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation, and, as such, was inherited by early Christians who gave to it a unique interpretation. Naturally, it was applied to the early mission to the Gentiles, and was a key theme in the book of Acts (being foreshadowed also in the Lukan Gospel), as also by Paul in his letters.

On the mountain-motif, see the discussion above. The idea of the Temple as the “house” of God is traditional; here, the expression is “house of the Mighty One [i.e. God] of Jacob [i.e. Israel]”, referring to YHWH specifically as the God of Israel. The Temple is the place where Israel interacts with God, thus it is, in a sense, also Israel’s house (cf. verse 5 below). The expression is typical of the Deutero-Isaian oracles (e.g. 46:3; 48:1; 58:1), but also occurs a number of times in the Psalms.

Verse 3f-g

“For from ‚iyyôn (the) instruction goes forth,
and the word of YHWH from Yerushalaim.”

The couplet is parallel to that of 2e-3a (see above). Just as the nations come to the Temple to hear the God’s instruction (torah), so also God’s word goes out from the Temple, radiating outward to reach the nations. The narrative in the early chapters of Acts plays on both these ideas, both ‘directions’ —people from the surrounding nations come to Jerusalem to hear the Gospel proclamation (chap. 2), and then those who believe go out from Jerusalem to proclaim the same message into the nations (from chap. 8 onward, see 1:8, etc).

Verse 4

“And He shall judge between the nations,
and bring decision for many (people)s;
and they will beat their swords (in)to digging (tool)s,
and their thrusting (weapon)s (in)to trimming (kniv)es.
A nation will not lift a sword to a(nother) nation,
and they shall not learn again to make war.”

Micah 4:3-4:
“And He shall judge between many peoples,
and bring decision for mighty nations,
(even) unto (those) far away;
and they will beat their swords (in)to digging (tool)s,
and their thrusting (weapon)s (in)to trimming (kniv)es.
A nation will not lift a sword to a(nother) nation,
and they shall not learn again to make war.
And they shall sit (together)—
a man under his vine, and under his fig-tree,
and no one will bring fear (to them)—
for (the) mouth of YHWH of the (heavenly) armies utters it.

This three-couplet stanza is parallel to the opening stanza of verse 2; in both, the eschatological context is primary. Here it is defined qualitatively, describing the New Age to come—a ‘Golden Age’ of peace and righteousness. Because the nations now follow YHWH, obeying His instruction, their wicked and violent impulses, i.e. to attack one another, have been curbed and transformed. This ideal hope and promise of peace remains one of the most beloved of all Old Testament passages.

The Mican version is notably different, with additional lines in bold (above), and another minor difference in word order in italics.

Verse 5

“House of Ya’aqob, walk—we shall walk (together) in the light of YHWH!”

Micah 4:5:
“For all the peoples will walk—
a man in (the) name of his Mighty (One) [°E_lœhîm]—
but we will walk in (the) name of YHWH our Mighty (One),
(in)to the distant (future) and unto (the end).”

This final exhortation also summarizes the eschatological promise of the oracle—that the nations will join with Israel (“the house of Jacob”) as the people of God. The version in Micah again differs noticeably, patterned after the prior verse 4; it also establishes a contrast between Israel and the nations—i.e. “our God” (YHWH) vs. the deit(ies) of the surrounding peoples. The emphasis in Isaiah 2 appears to be more inclusive.

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 19 (2000).

 

 

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Conclusion

It is now time to bring this extensive (and rather lengthy) series to a close. In drawing together the strands of our study, we may begin with the three components of the early Christian eschatological chronology—the major events/divisions which mark the end-time:

    • The period of distress (qli/yi$) for humankind, a time of intense suffering and increasing wickedness, which includes the targeted persecution of believers in Christ. At the climax of this period, an especially wicked foreign ruler will arise (this detail is attested in the New Testament only in a limited way).
    • The appearance of the Messiah (Jesus) who will deliver God’s people (i.e. the righteous, believers) and bring about the great Judgment; this relates to the royal (Davidic) Messiah, as well as the heavenly-deliverer figure-type (“Son of Man”, in the sayings of Jesus).
    • The onset of the great, final Judgment, which marks the end of the current Age.

Early Christians inherited this basic chronology from the Jewish eschatology of the period, clearly expressed in a number of apocalyptic writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D. (cf. Part 2 of the study “The Antichrist Tradition”). Among the early Christian writings and traditions, the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus, as presented in the Synoptic Gospels, is perhaps the earliest attempt at a systematic framework for this eschatology—a point that is all the more likely if the Synoptic Discourse represents an editorial and literary assemblage of eschatological statements by Jesus, originally uttered on different occasions. Cf. my four-part study on the Discourse, earlier in this series, for a detailed analysis. Using the Markan version, here is the basic outline as it relates to the chronology noted above:

    • The end-time period of distress (qli/yi$, v. 19), which is described according to three specific aspects or points of emphasis:
      • Its affect on humankind generally (vv. 5-8)
      • Its affect on Jesus’ disciples (believers, vv. 9-13)
      • Its affect on the people of Judea and Jerusalem, including believers (vv. 14-23)
    • The coming of the Son of Man (i.e. the Messiah, the return of Jesus, vv. 24-27)
    • [The final Judgment is alluded to in vv. 24-25, and also the warnings in vv. 32-37; cp. the parable additions in Matthew 25, esp. vv. 31-46]

Several important points should be reiterated regarding the early Christian eschatology:

    • It is tied specifically to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, which encompasses several distinct Messianic figure-types; both his first coming and his second (return) were understood as eschatological—i.e. end-time events. For more on eschatology and Messianism, cf. the earlier article in this series.
    • The New Age began, for believers, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and is marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit; thus believers are experiencing the Age to Come, at least in part (through the Spirit), in the present, prior to the actual end of the current Age. This is what is commonly referred to as “realized” eschatology, and represents an important aspect of the overall eschatology.
    • The early Christian understanding of salvation was also primarily eschatological—that is, in terms of being saved/rescued from the coming end-time Judgment.
    • The coming of the end was imminent—believers were already living in the “last days / last hour”, and experiencing the period of distress, and that the return of Jesus (and the great Judgment) would come very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers (Mark 13:30 par, etc). For more on this, cf. below.
    • In spite of this sense of imminence, it was understood that there was at least a brief period during which Jesus’ disciples (believers) would engage in missionary work throughout the Roman Empire (the known world), bringing the Gospel and message of salvation to the nations.

Of all the Old Testament prophetic passages, it was the visions in the book of Daniel which exerted the most influence on early Christian eschatology, as indeed it did on much of Jewish eschatology in this period. The idea of the period of distress, phrased as it was often by the Greek word qli/yi$, seems to have been inspired directly by Daniel 12:1 LXX; indeed, chapter 12 was quite influential on the shaping of the eschatological worldview. We also have the important development of the “wicked tyrant” motif (cf. Part 1 of “The Antichrist Tradition”), realized in the figure of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who would serve as a type-pattern for the wicked ruler of the end-time. This pattern would be fulfilled, in the first-century B.C./A.D., by a number of Roman rulers—Pompey, Gaius (Caligula), Nero—which further shaped the early Christian expectation. It was especially the historical tradition of the desecration of the Temple sanctuary, etc, in 9:27 (also 11:31; 12:11) which influenced the Christian portrait of the end-time wicked ruler, and played an enormous role in the subsequent development of the Antichrist Tradition (cf. Part 3 of the aforementioned study). Dan 9:27 is alluded to clearly in the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:14 par), and Paul seems to be drawing upon the same line of tradition in 2 Thess 2:3-12 (cf. the study on that passage). The book of Revelation regularly draws upon the visions of Daniel—especially on the chapter 7 vision, of the ‘beast’ that comes up out of the Sea, in Rev 13ff. The opposition to God and His people, and the attack on true religion, by the wicked ruler, was interpreted almost entirely in terms of the persecution of believers in Christ; during the end-time period of distress, and its climax under the wicked (‘antichrist’) ruler, this persecution would be at its most intense and widespread.

Final Note on the Imminent Eschatology of early Christians

I have repeatedly noted—and documented extensively—in this series the imminent eschatology of early Christians which is expressed throughout the New Testament. On this, cf. especially the two-part study devoted to the subject, with the accompanying note on some of the key (and most controversial) Gospel passages. While this aspect of New Testament eschatology is clear enough, it creates considerable difficulty for believers today, especially those with a strong belief in the unique and divine inspiration of the Scriptures. Could the inspired authors have been mistaken about how soon the end would come? So acute is this problem, that many commentators are unwilling or reluctant to admit the rather obvious language of imminence in the eschatological passages, or attempt to soften and generalize its significance in various ways (cf. below).

To be sure, this is one of the most difficult aspects of interpretation today, at least for those who are willing to admit and face it head on. There is no easy solution to the problem. I have touched on the matter, both in the introduction to this series, and in Part 2 on the aforementioned study, presenting a number of possible avenues for approaching the problem. Here are four approaches which I have outlined previously:

    • The New Testament authors, like many today, truly believed that the end of the Age was close at hand, presumably to occur during their lifetime. God made use of that belief (common among many Jews and others at the time) for a greater purpose. While the inspired authors could, technically, be seen as having been mistaken on this point, it does not affect the truth of the message which they are communicating to us. [Approach #1]
    • In interpreting these passages, our emphasis should not be on individual statements (regarding the end being near, etc), but, rather, upon the overall worldview of which they are a part. This relates, in particular, to the unique way in which early Christians adapted traditional eschatological language. Conceivably, early Christians could also speak of the end being “near”, even though they realized it might not become manifest on earth in the way that traditional eschatology imagined. [Approach #2]
    • In speaking of the end as being “near”, this language is really expressing the idea that it could take place at any moment, since no one (not even Jesus [the Son], cf. Mark 13:32 par) knows exactly when the end will occur. [Approach #3]
    • The use of this language of imminence is primary rhetorical, rather than literal. It is meant to exhort believers to live and act a certain way, as well as offering hope in difficult times. This view, in part, draws upon a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language—i.e., how things are (or will be) vs. how things ought to be. [Approach #4]

Approach #3 is probably the most popular approach to the problem adopted by Christians today. It basically holds that the language of imminence means, not that the end will come soon, but that it may come soon. It is certainly a convenient solution, in that it very handily allows for an intervening 1,900+ years of history. Indeed, some commentators and theologians simply define imminence (in eschatology) this way, thereby effectively circumventing the entire chronological problem. You can read my critique of this approach (along with comments on all four), in Part 2 of the study on Imminent Eschatology.

I am much more inclined toward Approaches #1 and 2 above, and especially toward the first of these (#1). As previously noted, this approach essentially involves the principle of accommodation. In terms of the doctrine of inspiration (of Scripture), accommodation theory posits that the inspired authors/speakers may have accepted or adopted views commonly held by people of the time, but which, technically speaking, from our vantage point today, could be deemed erroneous, inaccurate, or incomplete. Put another way, believers at the time may have been mistaken with regard to how soon the end would come, but that this does not fundamentally affect the inspired message communicated through them. In my view, a correct interpretation of early Christian eschatology virtually requires some measure of accommodation. Even if we accept this, the solution to the problem is by no means as simple as it may seem. It is not merely a question of understanding (and accepting) the imminence of early Christian eschatology, but also of how the matter relates to the specific end-time events that make up the eschatology—how and when they will occur.

Concluding Note

I outlined above the basic eschatological framework of early Christians. According to the imminence of their eschatology (cf. above), it was believed (and expected) that these end-time events would occur soon, within the very lifetime of those believers. Fair enough; but how, indeed, does this relate to the 1900+ years that have passed? and how should we understand them from our vantage point as Christians today? As I have discussed, much of what Jesus predicts in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse was fulfilled, more or less accurately, during the first century A.D.—centered around the Jewish War and destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.)—quite within the time-frame indicated in Mk 13:30 par. The glaring exception is, of course, that the event(s) described in vv. 24-27 par did not occur—and, it would seem, have not yet occurred, even after nearly 2000 years. Much the same may be said, for example, of the visions in the book of Revelation. The end-time period of distress, especially for believers, could be understood as having been fulfilled, in varying degrees, during the first and early-second centuries—i.e., the persecutions of believers, the influence of the Roman imperial cult, etc. However, again, the return of Jesus and the great end-time Judgment, depicted so graphically in the vision-cycles, have not yet taken place.

For Christians today, the difficulty involves the best and most correct way to bridge this divide, establishing a way of interpreting the inspired text that both duly recognizes the meaning it had for believers in the first-century, and allows for a true and complete fulfillment, according to God’s purpose. Here are several ways the divide may be bridged—I will discuss each of them briefly before offering my own (tentative) conclusion:

    • The “last days / last hour” as a period of indeterminate length
    • Dispensational “gap” theory—an intervening period of 1900+ years
    • Dual-fulfillment approach—present (first-century) and future (today?)
    • “Realized” eschatology, and a deeper meaning that is centered around the Spirit

1. The first option was expressed at least as early as Augustine, commenting on 1 John 2:18 in his homilies on the letter (Homily 3.3), when he states of the “last hour” that “this same last hour is long, yet it is the last (hour)”. Many commentators have followed this basic approach; it is virtually required, if one is to maintain that Christians in the late-first century A.D. were living in the “last hour”, and that we also are today, some 1900+ years later. A theological basis for this approach may be found in the famous dictum stated in 2 Peter 3:8, clearly indicating that God, in His eternity, measures time quite differently than human beings do, and that a period of long duration could still be referred to as a single “day” or “hour”.

2. The second option is similar to the first, but emphasizes a concentration and punctuation of end-time events—once in the 1st century A.D., and then again at some point in the more distant future (i.e. our time today, or thereafter). The basis for this “gap” lies in the central idea of the mission to the surrounding nations, whereby the Gospel is proclaimed to people around the world prior to the events finally coming to pass (cf. Mark 13:10 par). The extent and duration of this missionary activity depends on one’s understanding of the geographical extent of the inhabited world. For nearly all first-century Christians, their geographical understanding of the known world would have been more or less limited to the extent of the Roman Empire; by contrast, for later generations of believers, the extent of the world is far more vast, including many more peoples and nations. The New Testament clearly envisions at least a brief period of time when this missionary activity would occur; however, occasionally, we find the idea of a more extensive mission, which might take longer to complete. The developed forms of the Eschatological Discourse, for example, in Matthew and Luke seem to allow for a somewhat more extensive mission (cf. Matt 24:14; Luke 21:24-26). Even so, I am quite certain that the idea of a period of hundreds of years—even two thousand or more—would not even have remotely occurred to the New Testament authors. For dispensationalist commentators, this “gap” in time, this period of missionary activity, might be referred to specifically as the “Church Age”.

3. A somewhat different solution reflects a common interpretive approach adopted (or applied) by Christians with regard to Old Testament prophecy. This is based upon a recognition that the common early Christian (and New Testament) understanding of many prophecies, viewing them as relating specifically to the person of Jesus (his birth, life, and death, etc), represents a secondary application of those prophecies (and not their original or primary meaning), it is possible to speak of them as being fulfilled on two different levels:

    • The original historical context, in the history of Israel, and
    • The inspired (but secondary) application to Jesus and his followers (believers)

On this basis, the prophecies can still be fulfilled for later believers (centered around Jesus as the Messiah, etc), without losing their original meaning and significance for people (Israelites/Jews) at the time. The same sort of phenomenon would then occur for the prophecy and eschatology in the New Testament—there is an original fulfillment (with meaning and significance) for first-century Christians, as well as a secondary (future/final) application that would relate to believers today. I discuss this approach a bit further in my conclusion to the notes on the book of Revelation.

4. The final approach outlined above recognizes more clearly the cultural (and scientific, etc) limitations of people in the first-century A.D. Their worldview, along with various inherited religious and cultural traditions—including eschatological and Messianic traditions—greatly shaped the manner in which the New Testament message is expressed. These traditions include the use of apocalyptic symbolism and a related mode of expression, which, if taken in an overly literal or concrete manner, could give a misleading impression of the underlying message. For example, even among early Christians, there was a profound “realized” eschatology—fulfilled in the present, through the Spirit—alongside the more traditional imminent/future eschatology of Jewish apocalyptic. An argument can be made that this “realized” aspect becomes more dominant in the later writings of the New Testament (c. 70-100 A.D.), including those with a more developed theology (and Christology)—the later (and/or deutero-) Pauline writings, the letter to the Hebrews, and, especially, the Gospel and letters of John. This may reflect a measure of “progressive revelation”—a gradual, but deeper understanding of the true nature and character of the inspired message, centered primarily on the presence and work of the Spirit. While this does not eliminate the imminent future eschatology of early Christians—far from it!—it may change how we look at the way it is expressed in many passages, in light of the overall Gospel message. The end-time events—distress for believers, Judgment on the world, the coming of Jesus to us—are realized spiritually, in the present, as much they will be manifest, in more traditional terms, in the future.

There is merit in each of the four approaches discussed above; indeed, I am inclined to adopt and include elements or aspects of each. I would do this here, in closing, by way of a theological summation, making the following points:

    • Ultimately the “end time” is not as much a matter of a specific moment (kairo/$) or durative period (xro/no$) of time, as it is of the character of what we, as believers, experience in time.
    • Primarily, this is to be understood by the character of Jesus as the Messiah—that is to say, his very person, presence, and work is eschatological, and marks the end of the current Age.
    • As believers, united with him through the Spirit, we experience this New Age now, in the present. This extends to all of the traditional end-time and afterlife events—resurrection, passing through the Judgment, eternal life, the vision of God, etc. There is no better guide to this “realized” aspect of eschatology, for believers, than the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John.
    • A central point of eschatology is the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth—the essential New Testament message in this regard is that God’s Kingdom is realized in a two-fold manner: (1) through the presence of the Spirit (cf. the previous point), and (2) by the proclamation of the Gospel.
    • This centrality of the proclamation of the Gospel means that it may properly be understood as the central end-time event. While early Christians had a much more limited and smaller-scale knowledge of the extent of the inhabited world, the reality of this (known to us today) may rightly require a longer period of time (unknown to believers then).
    • The visible return of Jesus (from heaven) to earth was (and remains) a fundamental tenet of Christian belief. While it is possible to interpret (or re-interpret) this in various ways, it must remain central to any proper eschatological understanding. There is a metaphysical aspect to our union with Christ—hence the importance of resurrection, in addition to our union through the Spirit, in the New Testament. The return of Jesus to us is part of this same idea (see esp. 1 Thess 4:13-18 and Col 3:1-4).
    • The final Judgment, however it may best be understood—and there are many different ways of depicting/describing it—is at the heart of the Gospel message of salvation, and cannot be avoided. Here, it is helpful to consult the “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (and its references to the Judgment), to avoid relying too heavily on traditional (and colorful) apocalyptic depictions of the Judgment.

With regard to the imminent eschatology in the New Testament—while early Christians (and the New Testament authors) may have been mistaken (in some sense) in their expectation of how soon the end would come, the message of imminence was quite correct in at least several respects:

    • Believers were (and are), indeed, living at the moment of the end of the current Age (of sin and wickedness), and in the beginning of the New Age (in Christ)
    • Believers then (and now) do experience many of the events and characteristics of the end-time, as described in the eschatological passages—most notably, the conflict with the surrounding world of darkness and evil, that is characteristic of the period of distress.
    • The sense that the end—certainly of a person’s life, but also in a wider sense—can and will come soon, and suddenly, in a moment, is important to keep in mind. The brevity and transitory nature of human life, while part of more general wisdom tradition, is often expressed in the New Testament in eschatological terms. This transitory mortal existence is in direct contrast to the eternal life we experience—in the New Testament, the very idiom is eschatological: “life of the Age(s), life of the Age (to Come)”.
    • Finally, the language of imminence serves to enhance the promise to us—that Jesus will come to us, that we will be united with him (body and soul), that we will experience a transforming vision of God, that the forces of evil will be defeated and eradicated, etc. This promise is surely more significant that the language (of imminence) used to express it.

 

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Letters of John

The Johannine Writings, Part 2:
The Letters of John

The three Johannine Letters (1-3 John), like the Gospel (discussed in Part 1), have been traditionally ascribed to John the Apostle. However, there is no evidence for this whatsoever in the Letters themselves. The author, while probably known to his immediate readers, remains unknown to us, identifying himself (in 2 and 3 John) simply as “the Elder” (o( presbu/tero$). Commentators disagree somewhat on whether the same person also wrote 1 John, but this is probably the best (and simplest) explanation. All three letters certainly stem from the same Community, referred to by the traditional label “Johannine” —a group of regional congregations, sharing a common tradition and heritage, which also produced the Gospel of John. This region has traditionally been identified as Asia Minor, especially the area around Ephesus, which is also the provenance of the book of Revelation—and this may well be correct. The Letters almost certainly were written sometime after the Gospel (or at least a version of it) had been produced, and are typically thought to date from the end of the 1st century (c. 90-100 A.D.).

The Johannine Gospel and Letters share the same basic religious and theological outlook, including a common style, vocabulary, and mode of expression, etc. Indeed, portions of 1 John could have been lifted straight out of the Gospel Discourses (and vice versa), so close are they in terms of their language and style. As a result, we may fairly well assume that the Gospel and Letters also reflect a common eschatology—that of the Johannine Community—and a comparative study of the writings (esp. of the Gospel and 1 John) generally bears this out. Eschatology is not particularly emphasized in 1 John, due primarily to the prominence of the specific conflict within the Community that is being addressed. I have discussed this historical-critical aspect at length in recent Saturday Series studies on 1 John. The situation is somewhat analogous to that of Galatians, in which the theological-religious question of the place of the Torah among believers, and the opposition of those who claim that is still binding for believers, dominates the letter.

There are, however, a number of eschatological references throughout 1 John, which generally reflect the idea that believers are living in the end-time (i.e. the end of the current Age), while the New Age has already been realized for believers, in the present, through the Spirit. For more on this “realized” eschatology, and its relation to Johannine theology, cf. the discussion in Part 1. Several of the passing references and allusions in 1 John illustrate this:

    • 1 John 2:8b:
      “…(in) that [i.e. because] the darkness leads (the way) [i.e. passes] along, and the true light already shines”
      —that is, the New Age (of eternal Light and Life) is already being realized for believers in Christ.
    • 1 John 2:13-14:
      “…you have been victorious over the Evil (One)” (stated twice)
      —the final victory over evil has already been achieved (perfect tense of the vb. nika/w) through the work of Jesus Christ (Jn 16:33) and our trust in him.
    • 1 John 2:17:
      “And the world leads (the way) [i.e. passes] along, and (with it) its impulse for (evil), but the (one) doing the will of God remains [me/nei] into the Age.”
      —this is a general statement of the transitory nature of the world (with its impulse for what is corrupt and evil), but also specifically of the idea that the current Age is coming to an end.
    • 1 John 3:14a:
      “We have seen [i.e. known] that we have stepped across, out of death (and) into Life”
      —i.e., the Judgment has already occurred for believers; cf. the discussion on John 5:24 in Part 1.
    • 1 John 4:17:
      “In this love has been made complete with us, (so) that we might hold outspokenness (before God) in the day of Judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] even as that (one) [i.e. Christ] is, (so) also are we in this world.”
      —our identity as believers in Christ (present aspect) gives us assurance that we (will) pass through the Judgment (future aspect).

Other verses could be cited, to the effect that believers already possess the eternal life which otherwise was thought to be experienced (by the righteous) only after the final Judgment (cf. 2:25; 5:11-13, etc). Even so, when considering the eschatology of the Johannine Letters, two passages especially stand out, which need to be considered in more detail—(1) 2:18-27 (along with 4:1-6), and (2) 2:28-3:10. I have already discussed these at length in earlier studies, but without much attention being paid to the eschatological emphasis; this will be the focus here.

1 John 2:18-27 (with 4:1-6)

The eschatological statement in verse 18 is clear and direct, and informs everything that follows in the passage:

“Little children, it is (the) last hour, and, even as you heard that against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$] comes, even now many (who are) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristoi] have come to be—from which you (can) know that it is (the) last hour.”

The author clearly believes that he and his readers are living in the end time, the “last hour” (e)sxa/th w%ra) of the current Age. While this belief may be problematic for Christians today (living 1900+ years after the fact), there can be no real doubt of the imminent eschatology that characterized early Christian thought, especially in the 1st century A.D. It may be amply demonstrated from nearly every writing of the New Testament, as the articles in this series attest (see esp. the earlier study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament). The noun w%ra (“hour”) often has eschatological significance—cf. Dan 8:17f; Sirach 18:19; Mark 13:11, 31-32; Matt 24:44; 25:13; John 5:25, 28; Rev 3:3, 10; 14:7, 15; and note also the eschatological dimension of the use of the word in the Passion narrative (Mk 14:35, 41; 15:33 par; Lk 22:53; Jn 13:1). However, the expression “the last hour” is rare, occurring only here in the New Testament, “the last days” or “last day” being more common (Acts 2:17; James 5:3; 2 Tim 3:1; 2 Pet 3:3; Heb 1:2; Jn 6:39-40ff; 11:24; 12:48). It would seem to indicate a specific moment rather than a period of time, perhaps emphasizing here all the more that the end was imminent.

The presence of those who are “against the Anointed” is particularly noted as a clear indicator that it is the “last hour” and that the end is near. The Greek adjective is a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos), usually transliterated in English as “antichrist”, but literally meaning “against the Anointed (One)” —that is, against the Messiah. The prefix a)nti/ fundamentally means “against”, i.e. someone or something that is opposed to the Messiah; however, it could also denote something that stands “in place of” (or in exchange for) the Messiah, i.e. a false Messiah or Messianic imitation. I discuss the term further in the first part of my article on the Antichrist Tradition. It appears to have been coined by Christians, with specific reference to Jesus as the Anointed One (i.e. Jesus the Christ). Thus, it here it means “opposed to Jesus as the Christ”.

The author gives us some indication of what he has in mind when he calls certain people “antichrists” (a)nti/xristoi). A careful study of this section (2:18-27, note the adjective again in v. 22), along with 4:1-6, where the term is also used (v. 3), as well as several other references in the letter (and 2 John, vv. 7-9), allows us to reconstruct the historical situation to some degree. There were certain individuals who, according to the author, had separated from the main Johannine Community (“they went out of [i.e. from] us”, 2:19), and who espoused a view of Jesus (as the Christ) considered to be false or in error. As a result, these persons demonstrated that they were false believers (and false prophets), who effectively denied Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God (vv. 22-23). Thus, from the author’s standpoint, they could rightly be characterized as “against the Anointed”. The specific Christological point at issue is difficult to determine precisely; it appears to have involved an unwillingness to recognize the reality (and saving power) of Jesus’ humanity—especially the reality of his death. I discuss the matter in some detail in the aforementioned Saturday Series studies; here, the main thing to note is that these people, with their false view of Jesus Christ, are identified as an eschatological manifestation of “antichrist”.

From an eschatological standpoint, the main difficulty for interpretation lies in the first part of the statement in verse 18:

“…you (have) heard that ‘against the Anointed’ comes”
h)kou/sate o%ti a)nti/xristo$ e&rxetai

The present form of the verb e&rxetai (“comes”) is perhaps better rendered in English syntax as “is to come” or “is coming”, implying an (eschatological) expectation that something (or someone) referred to as “antichrist” will appear at the end time. The author is clearly referencing an existing tradition of some sort, but the precise nature and significance of this tradition is uncertain, and continues to be debated. I would outline three possibilities:

    • The expectation of a wicked (world) ruler, as in 2 Thess 2:1-12, in which case it could be considered an early form of the later Antichrist Tradition, following especially after the “wicked tyrant” motif from the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic writings.
    • A personal (or personified) manifestation of evil—a Satanic spirit-being (or Satan himself)—in which case, it would resemble the end-time appearance of Belial/Beliar, described in other writings of the period.
    • A more abstract manifestation of the forces of evil, though with the possibility of being further manifested/localized in (personal) spirit-beings. This would be closer to the symbolism of the Dragon and Sea-creature, etc, in the book of Revelation.

Many commentators assume the first view—that it is a reference to an early form of the later Antichrist tradition. If so, it would seem that the author is contradicting this tradition. Essentially he would be saying: “you have heard that this Antichrist figure is coming, but he has already come, and in the form of these false believers (antichrists)”. I do not think that this is correct. It seems more in keeping with the thought of the letter—and of the wider Johannine tradition and theology—that the author is referring to a tradition that he accepts, that of an Antichrist-spirit (or spirit-being) who appears, and is dominant on earth, at the end-time. The false believers who espouse this false view of Jesus are a specific manifestation of this end-time spirit, themselves being inspired (perhaps unwittingly) by evil and deceptive spirits (4:1-3ff). This is fully in accord with the Johannine view of the world in the current Age, dominated by the power of evil (and the Evil One)—cf. Jn 3:19; 7:7; 17:15; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 3:12; 5:18-19; also Jn 1:10, 29; 8:23; 12:31; 14:17, 30; 15:18-19; 16:8ff; 1 Jn 2:15ff; 3:1, 13. The situation in the world only becomes more intense and acute as the moment of the end comes closer, with evil becoming ever more prevalent and pervasive throughout humankind.

For further discussion on the matter, consult Part 3 of my study on the Antichrist Tradition.

1 John 2:28-3:10

In early Christian writings of this period, it was common for authors to couch their ethical and religious instruction in eschatological terms. Indeed, the imminence of their eschatology gave a special sense of urgency to the instruction; to paraphrase—since the end is near, and Jesus will soon appear, how much more ought we to remain faithful and vigilant, etc.

1 John 2:28-3:10 opens with an eschatological statement, similar to that in the previous section (2:18-27, above). Even more to the point, the end-time appearance of “anti-Christ” (v. 18) is parallel to the end-time appearance of Christ himself, and immediately precedes it. That the return of Jesus is in view in vv. 28ff is confirmed by the use of the noun parousi/a (parousia, “[com]ing to be alongside”), a common technical term in early Christianity for the end-time coming of Christ, even though this is the only occurrence of the word in the Johannine Writings. In 2 Thess 2:8-9, Paul uses parousi/a for the appearance of Christ and the anti-Christ (i.e. “the lawless one”) both, heightening the parallel between the two.

“And now, (my dear) offspring, you must remain in him, (so) that, when he should be made to shine forth [fanerwqh=|, i.e. appear], we might hold outspokenness, and not feel shame from him, in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] (us).” (v. 28)

This statement reflects the standard early Christian eschatology, though phrased somewhat in distinctive Johannine terms. In fact, the passage is a good example of the interplay between “realized” (present) eschatology and a traditional future eschatology. The present (“realized”) aspect is dominant in the Johannine Writings (especially the Gospel), and is expressed clearly here in verse 29, using a formulation that defines believers (“the ones doing justice/righteousness”) as having “come to be (born)” out of God. That is to say, true believers are already God’s offspring, in union with him—an eternal identity that normally would be reserved for the righteous in the afterlife, following the Judgment (i.e., eschatological). This is stated even more precisely in 3:1:

“You must see (then) what sort of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring of God—and (so) we are.”

The present tense form of the verb of being (e)sme/n, “we are”) is emphatic, emphasizing both an essential identity and present reality. Even so, our identity as God’s children/offspring will be made complete in the end, at the return of Jesus—i.e. the future eschatological aspect. For early Christians, this was understood primarily in terms of the end-time resurrection, when believers would be transformed into a divine, exalted state of existence. The Johannine writings tend to downplay this metaphysical aspect (but cf. the prior discussion on resurrection in the Gospel), and, indeed, here the transformation is expressed by the Johannine idiom of seeing (= knowing)—by seeing God we come to be like Him; this is the declaration in 3:2:

“Loved (one)s, we are now (the) offspring God, and yet it has not been made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh, i.e. appear] what we will be; (but) we have seen [i.e. known] that, when it should be made to shine forth [fanerwqh=|] (for us), we will be like Him, (in) that we will see [o)yo/meqa] Him even as He is.”

Throughout this section there is wordplay involving the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”, i.e. appear, be manifest), something that, sadly, is obscured or lost in most translations. In the main line of argument, it refers to the appearance or manifestation of Jesus (the Son of God) on earth—both in his earlier/first (vv. 5, 8) and future/second (2:28) appearances, both being understood by early Christians as eschatological events. Here in 3:2, however, the verb has a slightly different meaning—it refers to the manifestation of believers as the children of God (cf. the earlier article on Romans 8:18-25). And yet, this manifestation is tied to the manifestation of Jesus (i.e. his return). Something similar is expressed (by Paul) in Colossians 3:1-4 (discussed in an earlier article), with a different sense of “realized” eschatology—through our union with Christ (in the Spirit), we are already present with him in heaven, and this reality will be experienced fully at the moment of his appearance (from heaven).

The transformation of the righteous (believers) through a consummate vision of God (i.e. seeing Him) reflects an eschatological expectation that has a long history. For Jewish thought, its roots go back deep into Old Testament tradition, finding later expression, for example, in the writings of Philo (e.g., On Abraham 57-59) and subsequent Rabbinic tradition. An especially memorable declaration is found in Pesiqta Rabbati 11.7 (46b): “In this world, Israelites cleave to the Holy One…but in the time to come they will become like Him.” (cf. R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 [1982], p. 425). In the Matthean Beatitudes, Jesus pairs seeing God with being called sons (or children) of God (Matt 5:8-9), just as here in 1 John; on the eschatological/afterlife context of the Beatitude-form, cf. my earlier study. Both here and in Matt 5:8, the verb o)pt–an—omai is used for the future tense of seeing; literally, it refers to gazing with (wide) open eyes, especially appropriate for the idea of beholding God Himself. Paul describes this eschatological vision (for believers) in somewhat different terms, though just as memorably, in 1 Cor 13:12 and 2 Cor 3:18.

This eschatological (and theological) discussion concludes with the ethical-religious exhortation in verse 3:

“And (so) every (one) holding this hope upon him makes himself holy [i.e. pure], even as that (one) is pure.”

The lack of explicit subject-references, as well as ambiguous use of pronouns, in these verses creates some difficulty for interpretation (and translation). Does “he/him” in vv. 2-3 refer to God the Father or Jesus? to Christ or to the believer? In verse 2, it would seem that it is the relationship between the believer and God the Father that is primarily in view, and it is possible that this continues into verse 3. In this case, our hope is upon Him (i.e. the Father), and we are to purify ourselves because He Himself is pure—traditional instruction reflecting Lev 19:2, etc (compare Matt 5:45 par).

On the other hand, the hope (e)lpi/$) of the believer is better understood in terms of the hope that we hold in Christ (“upon him”). The noun e)lpi/$ frequently has an eschatological connotation in the New Testament—the future hope, of salvation, resurrection, eternal life, etc. This hope tends to be located in the person of Christ; moreover, the demonstrative pronoun “that (one)” (e)kei=no$) is often used as a distinctive way of referring to the person of Jesus, and so at times here in 1 John (2:6; 3:5, 16; cp. 3:7; 4:17). I take the focus in verse 3 as being on Jesus, parallel to the original exhortation in 2:28 (“remain in him”), after a shift in focus (in 2:29-3:2) on God the Father:

    • Exhortation (2:28): “remain in him” (Christ)
    • Exposition (2:29-3:2): the identity of believers as children of God (God the Father)
      • Main premise (2:29): our life and conduct should reflect our identity as children of God (even as Jesus is the Son of God)
      • Present reality (3:1)—we are God’s children now, resembling Him (“realized” eschatology)
      • Future reality (3:2)—we will be like God Himself, seeing Him clearly (future eschatology)
    • Exhortation (3:3): purify ourselves (in Christ)

The Antichrist Tradition: Part 2

In Part 1 of this study, I explored the Old Testament background of the Antichrist Tradition, focusing on the “wicked tyrant” motif in the Prophetic nation-oracles, and, especially, in the book of Daniel, where the figure of Antiochus IV Epiphanes would serve as a type-pattern for subsequent eschatological traditions.

A number of post-Scriptural Jewish writings from the period c. 250 B.C. to 100 A.D. have survived, including a wealth of texts from Qumran with manuscripts that were actually copied and preserved during this time. To some extent, these writings bridge the gap between the Old Testament Scriptures and the years when the New Testament texts were composed. I have already discussed a number of key Jewish texts in earlier notes and articles (esp. throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”); within Judaism of this time, eschatology, apocalypticism, and Messianic thought all function together, and rarely can they be separated. Much the same is true for early Christianity; I discuss the relationship between Messianism and early Christian eschatology in a previous article.

Here, in Part 2 of the current study, we will survey the most relevant texts and passages which might relate to the background of the Antichrist Tradition, illustrating eschatological themes and motifs that would have been familiar among Jews and Christians by the middle of the first-century A.D.

An important note to keep in mind, regarding these Jewish apocalyptic writings, is that they tend to be pseudepigraphic, meaning that they purport to record the prophetic visions and oracles received by famous figures of the past (e.g., Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc). Commentators, however, are virtually unanimous in the opinion that such texts are not authentic records from the time of those legendary characters, but, rather, were composed much later on and set in the mouths of Enoch, et al, as a literary device. This does not mean that the writings are purely fictional, since they almost certainly contain older traditions, to varying degrees, but that the apparent historical setting is a literary device, and not genuine. Many critical commentators would hold that the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12), as the primary apocalyptic writing in the Old Testament, is pseudepigraphic in just this way (cf. the discussion in Part 1).

This pseudepigraphic aspect of Jewish apocalyptic texts is important in the way that it frames the eschatological beliefs and expectations. End-time events, which, it was thought (or hoped), would soon take place in the lifetime of the readers, etc, are presented as prophecies of the distant future, uttered by persons who lived hundreds or thousands of years earlier. Gradually, this chronological-historical aspect would be expressed more systematically—i.e., the end-time as the final period in a long sequence of Israelite/Jewish history.

The Eschatological Pattern (c. 100 B.C.)

Our sources for the 2nd (and early 1st) century B.C. are extremely slight; some of the Qumran texts likely date from this time (cf. below), though the majority, it would seem, are from the later Hasmonean and Herodian periods. Even so, there is evidence that a literary and conceptual pattern, for expressing common eschatological expectations, had been established by c. 100 B.C. It is a rudimentary pattern, centered firmly on the traditional idea that the end of the (current) Age will be marked by widespread wickedness and corruption. While the current Age, as a whole, may be seen as wicked in this way, the evil and impiety among human beings increases dramatically as the end draws near. Most apocalyptic writings which express this sort of eschatology generally accept (and take for granted) that people are already living in this wicked end-time.

One of the earliest examples is found in the Book of Jubilees, a pseudepigraphic work with an ethical-religious, rather than eschatological, emphasis. Presented as a prophetic revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (1:4ff), the book is actually a clever reworking of the historical narratives in the Pentateuch (Genesis and Exodus), designed to impress upon Jews (in the 2nd century) the obligation to live in obedience to the Covenant and the Torah. The need for such an exhortation is especially great given the wickedness of the current period of history, which corresponds to the end-time. The worldview of Jubilees was consonant with that of the Qumran Community (cf. below), so it is not surprising that the book was quite popular, at least for a time, among the Community, and may even have been regarded as authoritative Scripture.

The eschatological dimension of the historical survey in Jubilees is stated clearly in the introductory section (1:4-29), but otherwise does not feature prominently within in the narrative. One exception is chapter 23, an interlude between the Abraham and Jacob narratives, set in the context of the death and burial of Abraham. The rise of an especially evil and wicked generation is foreseen, which, at the level of the pseudepigraphic historical narrative, may refer to the sins of Israel in the wilderness, etc, but actually is describing the end-time period of wickedness (i.e. in the distant future). This wicked generation is described in considerable detail in vv. 16-21, leading to the great Judgment by God on humankind (Israel, specifically, vv. 22-25), after which there will be a New Age, a ‘Golden Age’ of peace and prosperity for God’s people (vv. 23-31). This plays on the historical theme (in the Prophets) of Israel’s restoration, a theme that, even in the later strands of Old Testament tradition, came to be understood in a definite eschatological sense.

The eschatological framework in Jubilees 23 is even more pronounced in the great Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), a lengthy composite work, produced over several centuries, and containing a wide range of traditional and literary material. The earliest portions date from the 2nd century B.C., while the latest elements, it would seem, were composed in the early/mid 1st century A.D. (cf. below). At its core, doubtless, are various ancient traditions regarding Enoch; however, around this developed a diverse collection of apocalyptic and eschatological writings. Like Jubilees, this book (some form of it), was popular with the Qumran Community, as evidenced by the numerous copies, and related writings, that have been preserved.

One of the oldest eschatological sections of 1 Enoch is the so-called “Apocalypse of Weeks” (93:1-10 + 91:11-17), which divides history (i.e. the current Age) into a series of “weeks”, periods marked by specific events and characteristics. With each week, evil and injustice will become ever greater (93:4), culminating in the wicked generation of the seventh week (vv. 9-10). After this comes the Judgment, with violent destruction of the wicked on earth (eighth week), and eternal destruction of all evil (ninth week), followed by the heavenly New Age of the tenth week that stretches into eternity (91:12-17). This basic historical-eschatological pattern appears in other sections of the book as well; we may note the references in 91:6-7 and 100:1-4, the last of which is particularly vivid in its description of widespread lawlessness and violence in the end-time.

The eschatology of 1 Enoch also emphasizes the wickedness and arrogance of the nations (and their kings), who oppose God and refuse properly to acknowledge His authority. This aspect of the Judgment of the Nations (cf. the concluding section of Part 1) features in the historical survey at the end of the “Book of Dreams” (chaps. 83-90), the so-called “Animal Apocalypse” in chaps. 89-90—a collective assault by the Nations (vv. 16-19) precedes the final Judgment and beginning of the New Age (vv. 20-42).

The Psalms of Solomon (Ps Sol 17)

The “wicked tyrant” motif, inherited from the Prophetic nation-oracles, and emphasized in the book of Daniel (cf. the discussion in Part 1), is generally absent from the eschatological framework in Jubilees and 1 Enoch, outlined above. Perhaps the earliest example of its inclusion is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon. Most commentators would date these Psalms to the mid-1st century B.C., sometime after the year 63, based on the presumed allusions to the conquests by the Roman general Pompey (d. 48 B.C.), e.g., in the 2nd, 8th, and 17th Psalms. If this is correct, then Pompey would fill the “wicked tyrant” pattern in the 1st century much as Antiochus IV Epiphanes did in the 2nd (the Danielic prophecies in chaps. 7-12). Antiochus represented the Seleucids, partial heirs to the Hellenistic empire of Alexander, while Pompey represented the empire of Rome—the great world power of the time, in all its violence and corruption.

The wickedness of the current Age, the end-time (cf. above), serves as the context for Ps Sol 17. In particular, the Psalm describes how the faithlessness of the Israelite/Jewish people has led to the arrival of a powerful foreign ruler (i.e. Pompey), called “the lawless one” (v. 11), who lays waste to the land and inaugurates a period of intense wickedness, marked by a disruption of the social and natural order (vv. 15-20). The language of the “wicked tyrant” tradition is especially prominent in verse 13, where it is stated of this ruler that he “was a stranger, and his heart alien to our God, he acted arrogantly”. His corruption and desecration of Jerusalem, causing a disturbance of Israelite religion (vv. 14-15a), seems to echo the famous actions of Antiochus IV; as preserved in the prophecies of Daniel, it was this aspect of Antiochus that would play a significant role in the early development of the Antichrist Tradition (discussed in Part 3).

It is also noteworthy that “wicked tyrant” motif in Ps Sol 17 is more firmly rooted in Messianic thought and expectation, especially as related to the Davidic ruler figure-type (vv. 1-4, 21-25ff). It is the Davidic Messiah who will act on God’s behalf to defeat/subdue the nations and bring Judgment on the wicked. The New Age to come (vv. 30ff) is more properly a Messianic Age, according to the traditional theme of the restoration of the Israelite kingdom. The juxtaposition of Messiah (i.e. Christos) and wicked ruler provides the conceptual matrix for the very idea of anti-Christ.

Belial/Beliar

Important to Jewish eschatology in the first centuries B.C./A.D. is the figure of Belíal (Beli/al, variant spelling Belíar, Beli/ar), representing a complex line of tradition, the origins of which remain obscure. The name is a transliteration of the Hebrew lu^Y^l!B= (b®liyya±al), a (proper) noun occurring 27 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version, it is always translated, rather than transliterated, except in the A-text of Judges 20:13. Unfortunately the exact meaning and derivation of the word remain uncertain (for more detail, cf. my article on “2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls”). Ultimately, the meaning has to be determined by the context where it is used in the Old Testament. The oldest usage would seem to be preserved in several examples of early poetry, especially in Psalm 18:5[4] (= 2 Sam 22:5), where it is synonymous with “Death” (tw#m*, m¹we¾) and “Sheol” (loav= š®°ôl, see my earlier article for more on this term). The expression “deadly (poison) of Beliyya’al” (lu^Y^l!B= rb^D= d®»ar b®liyya±al) in Psalm 41:9[8] (also 101:3) likely stems from the same use of lu^Y^l!B= as a name for Death.

Much more frequent is the expression “son/s of Beliyya’al”, ben / b®nê b®liyya±al (Deut 13:14; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 2:12; 10:27; 25:17; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chron 13:7), along with the parallel (and more or less equivalent) expression “man/men of Beliyya’al”, °îš / °anšê b®liyya±al (1 Sam 25:25; 30:22; 2 Sam 16:7; 20:1; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov 16:27), °¹¼¹m b®liyya±al (Prov 6:12); also “daughter [ba¾] of Beliyya’al” in 1 Sam 1:16. In Hebrew, the word ben (/B#, “son”) is often used in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group or category, i.e. possessing a set of certain characteristics in common, and so it must be understood in these instances. It refers to a Beliyya’al-like person, someone who “belongs” to Beliyya’al, with evidence (by his/her attitudes and behavior) of similar characteristics. The context of the passages cited above makes clear that a “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social (or religious) setting, or within society at large. This relates to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder), rather than the more direct association with Death in the poetic references mentioned above.

It is hard to say whether, in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al is used in an abstract sense, or as a proper noun (i.e. personal name). Both are possible, though the parallel with Death/Sheol in Psalm 18:5, etc, suggests that an ancient (mythological) personification of death (and the grave) informs the usage. This figurative association would naturally extend to encompass the idea of chaos, confusion, and destruction—all related to the realm of death and “non-existence”, i.e. the primal condition of the universe (as a dark, formless mass [see Gen 1:2 etc]) prior to the establishment of the created order by God. At the same time, b®liyya±al is clearly synonymous with the more abstract concepts of “evil” (r¹±), “wickedness” (reša±) and “trouble” (°¹wen), especially in the Wisdom writings (Prov 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Job 34:18). Most likely, this is a secondary development, from the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, and the characteristic of a such a person as a wicked trouble-maker (see the generalized usage, where the expression is implied, in 2 Sam 23:6; Nahum 1:11; 2:1 [1:15]). A wicked/evil thought, expressed by d¹»¹r b®liyya±al (Deut 15:9; Psalm 101:3 [?]), may involve wordplay with an older poetic expression “deadly (poison) [dbr] of Beliyya’al” (Ps 41:9, cf. above).

We do not encounter the word/name Beliyya’al again until the first centuries B.C., when it appears in a number of surviving Jewish texts of the period. (e.g., Jubilees 1:20). Already in Greek texts (and translations) of the time, the variant spelling Belíar (instead of Belíal) is attested as a transliteration of the Hebrew word. Most notably, b®liyya±al occurs frequently in the Qumran texts (discussed below), where it is used to refer to an evil figure opposed to God, personifying (and governing) the darkness and wickedness of the current (evil) Age. As such, the name is more or less synonymous with “(the) Sa‰an” or “Devil”. This is a significant development from the earlier Hebrew expression “son(s) of Beliyya’al”. Now, those who ‘belong’ to Beliyya’al are defined in a pronounced dualistic sense as the “sons of darkness”, opposed to God and to the “sons of light” (i.e. the Qumran Community); and the wicked “sons of darkness” will be destroyed (along with Beliyya’al) by God’s end-time Judgment that is about to be ushered in. As Paul in 2 Cor 6:14 exhorts and warns first-century believers:

“…choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial!”

The Qumran Texts

The Community of the Qumran texts was fundamentally eschatological, its members believing firmly that they were the faithful remnant of God’s people, the holy ones of the end-time. They would be at the center of the end-time events, when God would send his Anointed One(s) to them, bringing about the great Judgment that would destroy the wicked and introduce the New Age. The figure of Belial (cf. above) was important to the world-view of the Community. He was the Evil One (akin to, but not necessarily identical with, the Satan), also known by the titles “Spirit of Deceit/Falsehood” and “Spirit/Prince of Darkness”; he was the prince, or leader, of the false/evil spirits, but he also exercises control over the world during the current, wicked Age. The world, and the inhabitants in it—i.e. the nations and the wicked/faithless of Israel—are called the “dominion of Belial” (1QS 1:18, 24; 2:19).

Members of the Community knew they had to contend with Belial on a regular basis, as the Community Rule document (1QS) states clearly (3:13-4:26; 10:21, etc). Belial has opposed God’s people all throughout the Age, from the time of Moses to the present (Damascus Document [CD/QD] 4:12-19; 5:17-19). Only at the end-time, with the Judgment, will his power finally be broken, but not before a period of intense activity, during the time of much greater wickedness that precedes the end (cf. above; CD 7:21ff; 12:2-3; 1QS 4:11ff, 18-23).

The end-time defeat of Belial is portrayed as a great eschatological battle in the War Scroll (1QM), a war between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness”. The “Sons of Light” are the faithful ones of Israel—i.e. the members of the Community in its fullness—together with the holy ones of heaven (Michael and the Angels), while the “Sons of Darkness” are similarly comprised of wicked human beings (esp. the nations) along with evil spirits. For a similar juxtaposition of the earthly and heavenly realms, cf. chapter 12 of the book of Revelation (also 19:11-21). That the wicked nations are part of the “army of Belial” is clear from 1QM 1:1-2ff, 13: 15:2-3, etc; this makes Belial a great world-leader, a portrait that certainly influenced the later Antichrist tradition, as we shall see. Belial and his forces—human and demonic—will be defeated and destroyed in the battle (4:2; 13:10-12; 14:4-15; 18:1-5, etc). The “sons of darkness” who belong to Belial are a reflection of the older idiom “sons of Belial”, “men of Belial” (cf. above); these expressions are retained, in an eschatological context, in several other Qumran texts—e.g., the Florilegium (4Q174) on 2 Sam 7:11 and Psalm 2:1-2 (both Messianic passages, col. i. 1-9, 18-ii. 5), and the Testimonia (4Q175) on Josh 6:26 and the “Psalms of Joshua” (lines 21-29).

In the eschatological conflict, the Community is led by the Angel Michael (1QM 17:6-7), but also by Anointed (Messianic) figures—a Davidic Ruler (Anointed of Israel) and a ruling Priest (Anointed of Aaron). In this regard, Belial can literally be called an Anti-Christ (Anti-Messiah), one who is opposed to the Messiah. The idea of a direct opposition is expressed more clearly in several texts which involve the figure of Melchizedek, who may be characterized as a Messiah—the heavenly-redeemer figure-type (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental article on Hebrews). He also possesses attributes of the royal (Davidic) Messiah and Anointed Priest, based on the line of tradition deriving from Psalm 110:1-3. The Melchizedek of these texts (most notably 11QMelch) closely resembles the Angel Michael as a heavenly deliverer, and so it should be no surprise that his opponent, Melchiresha, resembles Belial. The name Melchiresha is patterned after Melchizedek, emphasizing wickedness (uv^r#, reša±) instead of righteousness (qd#x#, ƒedeq). In 11QMelch 11-14, Melchizedek is the one who exercises the Judgment on Belial, delivering the righteous (sons of God) from his power. Melchiresha holds a similar power over the “sons of light” in the current wicked Age (4Q544 frag. 2, lines 3ff, frag. 3, lines 1-3) and will likewise be judged in the end-time (implied in 4Q280 frag. 1, lines 1-2ff).

A different kind of eschatological opponent is described in the commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab), reflecting more directly the immediate history of the Community. The quasi-Messianic leader known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” (cf. Part 4 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) was opposed by the “Man of Lies”, part of a pattern of opposition/persecution in the last days (2.1-9); similar labels and titles, including that of “False Prophet” are applied to these wicked persons (and their leaders), cf. 5.11; 8.16ff; 10.9. While this history is set in the end time and “last days”, it precedes the violent attacks by the nations (the Kittim, i.e. Rome); the wickedness described in 1QpHab relates to the corruption of the current Priesthood (9:4ff, etc), to which the Priestly leadership of the Community was utterly opposed.

The book of Daniel was enormously influential in the Qumran Community, to judge from the number of surviving manuscripts, as well as the so-called Pseudo-Daniel writings—texts which were inspired by the canonical book, or which resemble it in some way. Unfortunately, these texts (4Q242, 243-4, 245, 246) are all highly fragmentary, so it is impossible to get a clear picture of the overall content. Based on the apparent structure of 4Q243-4 and 4Q245, and the apocalyptic narrative pattern (cf. above), we may surmise that each of these texts would have concluded with an eschatological section—i.e. the final stage in the survey of Israel’s history (presented as prophecy). Fragments 16 & 24 of 4Q243 seem to resemble Daniel 7, and may refer to a “wicked tyrant” of the end-time, similar to that patterned after Antiochus IV (cf. the discussion in Part 1).

Also inspired by Daniel 7, it would seem, is the famous “Son of God” text (4Q246). Some commentators have suggested that the ruler called “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” (col. ii, line 1) is a wicked ruler, who takes these divine titles for himself, in opposition to God and His people. If so, then this would be the clearest example of a Jewish precursor to the Antichrist tradition. However, the majority of commentators take the opposite view—that the person called by these titles is a positive, Messianic figure. I would tend to agree; I am not aware of any instance where such titles are used for (or by) a wicked ruler. The divine pretensions of rulers in the “wicked tyrant” tradition are expressed rather differently (as discussed in Part 1); it is most unlikely that such divine titles would be associated with a wicked ruler without any further qualification. Moreover, the close parallels with the Angelic announcement in Luke 1:32-33, 35 seem to confirm the positive, Messianic significance of these titles in context.

The early 1st-century A.D.

When we turn to Jewish eschatology in the first half of the 1st century A.D., a time contemporary with the earliest strands of the New Testament, there are several apocalyptic writings that are worth noting. We may begin with the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), a portion of the book of Enoch not attested among the Qumran manuscripts, and often thought to date from the early-mid 1st century A.D. The eschatological emphasis in the Similitudes is on the coming of the end-time Judgment, when the wicked nations shall be judged (along with their kings/rulers), and their kingdoms transferred to the rule of the righteous. The elect/righteous ones are represented (and personified) by the “Elect One” and “Righteous One”, a heavenly redeemer also called by the titles Anointed (Messiah) and “Son of Man”. It is he who will bring about the Judgment on God’s behalf.

The defeat of the nations and their kings is especially prominent. The second parable (similitude), chaps. 45-57, describes this in terms of a military attack (and defeat) that occurs in a great valley (53-56). The scenario is no doubt inspired by the oracle in Joel 3 (cf. the discussion in Part 1), and is likewise found in the book of Revelation (16:12-16; 19:17-21). The Similitudes are laced throughout with references and allusions to the book of Daniel (chap. 7, etc), and there can be little doubt that the (wicked) rulers of the nations are inspired by the “wicked tyrant” motif from the Old Testament Prophets.

The Assumption of Moses is another apocalyptic pseudipgraphon, with certain similarities to the book of Jubilees (cf. above). Moses utters a prophecy of Israel’s future history (chaps. 2-6) that concludes with a prediction of the end-time (chaps. 7-10), understood to be the author’s own time (the present). The end-time begins with a period of great wickedness, including the persecution and oppression of the righteous (illustrated by the martyrdom of the Levite Taxo and his sons). This time of wickedness, described vividly in 7:3-10, reaches its climax with the coming of a foreign king (“the king of the kings of the earth”), much like the “lawless one” in Ps Sol 17 (cf. above), who will brutally attack the righteous and desecrate the true religion (8:1-5ff). He thus very much resembles the “wicked tyrant” (Antiochus IV) in the book of Daniel, following that type-pattern, only his appearance is set within a more precise eschatological sequence.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is a collection of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings, inspired by Genesis 49. The underlying material and tradition is Jewish, but there are signs of subsequent Christian editing and adaptation as well. The final (Christian) form dates from the 2nd century A.D., but the Jewish stratum must be considerably earlier. The Aramaic Levi document from Qumran, for example, is related in some way to the Testament of Levi. Of course the Christianized portions cannot be used as evidence for Jewish thought of the period; however, early Christians likely would not have adapted the material if they did not find in it a certain affinity to their own thought, with eschatology and Messianism that was amenable for application to Jesus (as the Messiah).

The name Belial (variant “Beliar”, cf. above) occurs frequently in the Testaments—nearly 30 times: Asher 1:8; 3:2; Benjamin 3:3, 5, 8; 6:1, 7; 7:1-2; Dan 1:7; 4:7; 5:1, 10-11; Issachar 6:1; 7:7; Joseph 7:4; 20:2; Judah 25:3; Levi 3:3; 18:12; 19:2; Naphtali 2:6; 3:2; Reuben 4:8, 11; 6:4; Simeon 5:3; Zebulun 9:8. The portrait is quite similar to that of the depiction of Belial in the Qumran texts (discussed above), with the overall emphasis being ethical rather than eschatological (cf. Peerbolte, Antededents, pp. 289-92). Beliar, now identified more directly with the Satan/Devil, is the leader of the evil/deceitful spirits, and will become even more prominent in the period of wickedness before the end (T. Issachar 6:1). His power will be broken in the eschatological Judgment (T. Levi 3:3; Zebulun 9:8), and this will be done by the God’s Messiah (i.e. Jesus)—T. Dan 5:10-11; Benjamin 3:8; Levi 18:12; Judah 25:3; Simeon 6:6.

Also worthy of mention are the Sibylline Oracles, a mixture of Jewish, Christian, and pagan (Greco-Roman) material, even more complex and difficult to date than the Testaments. Books 3-4 are generally considered to be Jewish, having reached their current form by the end of the 1st century A.D. In all likelihood the Jewish material and traditions in these books go back to at least the early part of the century, and perhaps as far back as the 2nd century B.C. There are a number of passages which refer to the coming (end-time) events; while not presented in a systematic format, they show the development of a number of key eschatological themes (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 327-31):

    • A period of suffering and distress for humankind, marked by disruptions (chaos) in both the social and natural order—3:635-651, 796-806
    • This will be a time of great wickedness, preceding God’s Judgment on the world—4:152-161
    • It will be marked by the rise of a powerful and wicked world-ruler, a foreign monarch—3:75-92, 611-615
    • The nations will attack the people of God, and also the Temple in Jerusalem—3:657-668

All of these components feature in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, discussed further in Part 3. The figure of Beliar also occurs in at least two passages (2:154-173; 3:63-74), but in terms of a more personal manifestation or incarnation(?) during the end-time period of wickedness. The idea of Belial incarnate as a Satanic/demonic miracle-working figure (and ruler) in the end-time almost certainly influenced the subsequent Antichrist Tradition (cf. the discussion in Part 3).

2 Baruch and 2/4 Esdras (late 1st-century)

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), and the work known as 2 Esdras (or 4 Esdras / 4 Ezra), were both written in the latter part of the 1st century A.D. They are thus contemporary with the book of Revelation, and, indeed, they each resemble Revelation, in terms of its visionary narrative and symbolism, in a number of important ways. These two texts may be said to represent the pinnacle of the development of Jewish eschatology in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Portions of the Sibylline Oracles (cf. above) likely date from this same period.

Space does not permit a detailed treatment of the eschatology of 2 Baruch; it will suffice to offer a general survey and summary. Especially noteworthy is the vision-cycle in chapters 53-77, which utilizes the apocalyptic pattern of presenting the end-time as the final stage in a sequence of periods of Israelite history. The time immediately preceding the coming of the Anointed One will be a period of great distress and suffering—wickedness, violence, chaos and upheaval, etc (chaps. 69-70)—to climax with the defeat of the nations by the Messiah (i.e. the Judgment, chaps. 70-72). Similar descriptions of the end-time period of suffering and wickedness are found in 48:26-41 and 83:9-21 (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 317-9).

In chapters 36-40 there is a vision of four natural features—forest, cedar tree, a stream, and a vine—which, much like the visions in Daniel 2 and 7, are interpreted as a series four great kingdoms that are to follow, one after the other. Each will be more powerful (and wicked) then the one prior, with the fourth being the most evil and brutal of all. The reign of this kingdom corresponds to the great end-time period of wickedness and distress, which will come to an end when it is finally defeated by the forces of the Messiah. The ruler of the fourth kingdom resembles the “little horn” of the fourth beast/kingdom in the Daniel 7 vision (cf. also in Dan 8), and very much follows the “wicked tyrant” motif as developed in Daniel (with the type-pattern of Antiochus IV, cf. Part 1).

Mention should also be made of the use of the symbolic figures of “Leviathan” and “Behemoth” in 29:3-4, as mythic/demonic creatures who represent the (primeval) forces of chaos and disorder. Just as darkness and chaos preceded the establishment of the first Creation (Gen 1:2), so also there will be a time of chaos before the coming of the New Age (the new Creation). The same basic tradition occurs in 1 Enoch 60:7-8 and 2/4 Esdras 6:49-52 (cf. below). The application of this line of symbolism in the book of Revelation (i.e. the Sea- and Earth-creatures of chapters 13ff) suggests that it is at least marginally relevant to the Antichrist Tradition.

Finally, in the apocalypse of 2/4 Esdras, we find perhaps the most developed form and presentation of these eschatological themes and motifs. It is also the Jewish writing of the period which most closely resembles the book of Revelation and early Christian eschatology c. 70-100 A.D. The earlier apocalyptic pattern (cf. above) is now presented with much greater precision, following the same basic sequence as we see in the Assumption of Moses and 2 Baruch (above): a period of suffering and wickedness, chaos and disorder, which reaches its climax with the rise of a wicked (world) ruler; after this follows the defeat of the nations (by the Messiah) and the great Judgment, bringing about the New Age of peace and righteousness.

The end-time period of distress is described vividly (and at length) in the two visions of chapters 5-6 (cf. especially 5:1-12; 6:18-24); similar eschatological signs (cp. the Eschatological Discourse, Mark 13:4-8ff, 24-25 par) are given in 8:49ff; 9:3-6; 14:16-18 (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 304-8). There is a brief allusion to a coming end-time ruler, during this time of wickedness, in 5:6-7. A clearer description is found in the vision of chapters 11-12, of the Eagle and the Lion, inspired at least in part by the visions in Daniel 7-8. The eagle, with twelve wings and three heads, like the Sea-creature of Revelation 13ff, rather clearly symbolizes the Roman Empire—the great (and wicked) world-power of the time. The last of the three heads is the final ruler of the kingdom, and the time when it is defeated by the Messiah (the Lion), 12:31-34, at the height of its arrogance and ungodliness (i.e., the “wicked tyrant” motif). Attempts have been made to identify these three heads with specific Roman emperors, much as in the case of the heads of the Sea-creature in Revelation (cf. Part 3, and the relevant daily notes).

Finally, the great vision of the “man out of the sea” in chapter 13 should be noted. In Daniel and Revelation, it is the wicked kingdom (beast/creature) that comes out of the Sea, while here in 2/4 Esdras it is God’s Messiah (also called his “Son”, vv. 32, 37) who rises from the midst of the Sea. It is at this time that the nations, assembled together for attack, are defeated and destroyed, marking the coming of the Judgment. For more on this Judgment of the Nations motif, cf. the concluding section in Part 1.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Gospel of John

The Johannine Writings, Part 1:
The Gospel of John

The final (two-part) article in this series will examine the Johannine Writings—that is, the Gospel and Letters of John. They are called “Johannine” because of their traditional ascription to John the Apostle; technically speaking, however, they are anonymous, and we cannot be entirely certain about their authorship. Scholars today do retain the label “Johannine”, but more properly in reference to the Community (i.e. the regional congregations, etc) within which these writings were produced and first distributed. The Gospel and Letters share a common religious and theological outlook, with many similarities in language, style, mode of expression, points of emphasis, etc. If they were not written by the same person, they almost certainly were the product of the same Community. The Book of Revelation is often considered to be another “Johannine” writing, but whether it stems from the same Community as the Gospel and Letters remains a point of debate among scholars. In any case, I have discussed the Book of Revelation at length in an extensive series of daily notes, and so will not be devoting a separate article to it here. Only the Gospel and Letters of John will be examined.

When considering the Gospel of John, in terms of its eschatology, one notices immediately that there is nothing in it remotely like the great “Eschatological Discourse” in the Synoptics, nor the many eschatological parables and sayings (“Son of Man” sayings, etc) preserved in those Gospels. Indeed, the eschatology in the Gospel of John is somewhat limited, based primarily on two areas:

    1. References to the Resurrection in chapters 5 and 11, and
    2. References to Jesus’ (future) coming/return in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33)

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Johannine eschatology is what is commonly referred to as “realized” eschatology. As this term will be used throughout this article, it may be worth defining and explaining what is meant by it beforehand. I would summarize it as follows:

The idea that things and events thought to occur in the future, at the end (and in the afterlife), are experienced (or “realized”) by believers in Christ now, in the present.

Commentators tend to make too much of the distinction between “realized” and future eschatology in the New Testament. In point of fact, early Christian eschatology was characterized by both aspects throughout. It was a fundamental belief that the person and work of Jesus, as the Messiah, marked the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. However, as Jesus did not fulfill this Messianic expectation entirely in his lifetime, nor did he usher in the great end-time Judgment, etc, these final eschatological events would have to wait until his future return—which early Christians believed was imminent, to occur very soon. This dichotomy, together with the experience of the presence and work of the Spirit, created a unique eschatological situation among Christians. The time prior to Jesus’ return—that is, the present period—is understood to be a short interim, during which the realization of the New Age is experienced by believers through the Spirit. And, because the Gospel of John places such emphasis on the role and presence of the Spirit (whether implicitly or directly), it tends to give more emphasis to the present, “realized” aspect of eschatology.

1. The Resurrection

There are two main passages in the Gospel of John dealing with the resurrection—that is, of the resurrection of the dead understood to take place at the end-time. In Jewish eschatology of the period, this resurrection was more or less limited to the righteous; however, by the end of the 1st-century A.D., there is more evidence for belief in a general resurrection—i.e. of all humankind, the righteous and wicked alike. The righteous would pass through the Judgment, into eternal life, while the wicked would face (eternal) punishment. This is the traditional eschatological expectation, and both Gospel passages deal with it, interpreting and applying it in a distinctive way.

John 5:19-29

This section is part of the great Discourse of Jesus in chapter 5, based upon the Gospel tradition (healing miracle & Sabbath controversy episode) narrated in verses 1-9ff. Verses 9b-16 are transitional, introducing and developing the Sabbath theme, and establishing the framework for the Discourse proper, which follows the basic form-pattern of the Johannine Discourses:

    • Statement/saying by Jesus (v. 17)
    • Reaction by his audience, expressing misunderstanding (v. 18)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true meaning of the saying (vv. 19-47)

The lengthy exposition is complex, and may be divided into two parts:

    • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs are repeated:

    • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
    • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus very much correspond to the “realized” and future aspects of early Christian eschatology. The “realized” aspect is emphasized in vv. 19-24, in which the traditional understanding of the resurrection (and the Judgment) is given a new interpretation:

“For, just as the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes alive th(ose) whom he wishes. For the Father judges no one, but all judgment he has given to the Son, (so) that all should give honor to the Son, even as they give honor to the Father. The (one) not honoring the Son does not honor the Father, the (One hav)ing sent him.” (vv. 21-23)

The power of judgment and resurrection both are concentrated in the person of Jesus, God’s Son; as a result, the entirety of the end-time (eschatological) framework of resurrection and the Judgment is defined in terms of whether one recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as God’s Son. Judgment is moved from the future, into the present, so that it occurs already (i.e. it is “realized”) based on a person’s trust (or lack of belief) in Jesus:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that the (one) hearing my word/account and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) Life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across, out of death (and) into Life.” (v. 24)

The parallel declaration in verse 25 couples this “realized” eschatology with the more traditional future view:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that (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.”

In vv. 19-24, the idea of resurrection was spiritual, understood in terms of the life that comes from trust in Jesus; now, in vv. 25-29, it is a physical resurrection that is in view, such as will take place at the end (together with the Judgment, vv. 28-29). However, there are two main differences here with the traditional understanding of the resurrection: (1) as in vv. 19-24, it is Jesus the Son of God who holds the power of the resurrection (and the Judgment), and (2) people are already experiencing this (physical) resurrection from the dead now. The latter point is, primarily, an allusion to the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11, which we shall now consider.

John 11—The Raising of Lazarus (esp. verses 23-27)

The narrative episode of the raising of Lazarus (chapter 11) illustrates the very teaching in the Discourse, discussed above (on 5:19-29). The Lazarus-narrative itself, while relatively straightforward, contains within it two small sections with Discourse-elements:

    • Verses 7-16—especially the dialogue of vv. 11-16, in which the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ words in verse 11.
    • Verses 17-27—the dialogue between Jesus and Martha

It is in the latter dialogue (which I have discussed in considerable detail in an earlier series of notes), that we find the subject of the end-time resurrection again being addressed; it very much follows the basic Johannine Discourse-pattern:

    • Statement by Jesus (v. 23)
    • Misunderstanding by Martha (v. 24)
    • Exposition by Jesus on the true meaning of his words (vv. 25-27)

Let us briefly consider each of these.

Statement by Jesus (v. 23)

“Yeshua says to her, ‘Your brother will stand up [i.e. out of the dead]'”

This is a declaration that Lazarus will be raised from the dead, using the Greek verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”). The verb can be used either in a transitive (“make [someone] stand up”) or intransitive sense. By the time of Jesus, among Greek-speaking Jews, it had come to have a technical meaning in reference to the raising of the dead—with the related noun a)na/stasi$ (“resurrection”). It was used previously (four times), in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the Bread from Heaven”, i.e. which has come down out of Heaven. This is followed by a dual (parallel) statement regarding the will of God (the Father):

  • “And this is the will of the (One) having sent me—
    • that every(thing) which he has given to me I shall not lose (anything) out of it
      • but I will make it stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 39)
  • “For this is the will of my Father—
    • that every(one) th(at is) looking (closely) at the Son and trusting in him might hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]
      • and I will make him stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 40)
Misunderstanding by Martha (v. 24)

“Martha says to him, ‘I have seen [i.e. known] that he will stand up [a)nasth/setai] in the standing-up [a)nasta/sei] in the last day’.”

Martha clearly understands Jesus as referring to the traditional idea of the end-time resurrection (“in the last day”). This is entirely reasonable; indeed, in the Bread of Life discourse (cf. above), Jesus uses the verb in precisely the same context— “and I will make him stand up in the last day” (6:39, 40). In 5:19-29, it was declared that Jesus (as God’s Son) holds the power over the end-time resurrection (and the Judgment). However, there was a deeper meaning to his words in that passage (cf. above), which expressed a special kind of “realized” eschatology—and a similar line of exposition follows here in vv. 25ff.

Exposition by Jesus (vv. 25-27)

“Yeshua said to her, ‘I am the standing-up and the life—the (one) trusting in me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) living and trusting in me shall (surely) not die away into the Age.'” (vv. 25-26)

As in 5:19-29, the power of resurrection and life is concentrated in the person of Jesus (the Son); as a result, this pulls the future aspect of the resurrection into the present, where Jesus is among his disciples. Here the exposition has been compressed into a single, almost elliptical declaration. It is not possible here to analyze this remarkable statement in detail (for an extensive exegetical study, cf. the earlier notes on vv. 25-26). What is most important to note, from an eschatological standpoint, is the way that the three different aspects of resurrection—also found in 5:19-29—are combined together:

    • Raised into eternal life at the end-time—Martha’s understanding
    • Raised into new life in the present—the miracle of raising Lazarus
    • Raised into eternal life (now) through trust in Jesus—the reality for believers

The first aspect represents the traditional framework of Jesus’ teaching (and Martha’s misunderstanding); the second is illustrated by the Gospel tradition (the miracle) at the heart of the narrative; and the third reflects the ultimate message of the Gospel, summarized by Martha’s climactic confession:

“Yeshua said to her…’Do you trust this?’ (And) she says to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world‘.” (vv. 26-27)

2. The Return/Coming of Jesus (The Last Discourse)

The great Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33), set within the narrative during the Last Supper on the eve of his Passion, is perhaps better viewed as a sequence of separate Discourses, encompassing a range of (Johannine) Gospel tradition. Many important themes, from earlier in the Gospel, are brought together and developed/expressed in a new way. Within this matrix, two key themes especially dominate the Discourse:

    • Jesus’ impending departure, back to the Father (i.e. the Son’s return to the Father), and
    • The sending/coming of the Spirit (also called para/klhto$, “one called alongside”)

These are twin themes that go hand-in-hand: Jesus’ departure leads to the coming of the Spirit, and, indeed, is the reason for it. Complicating the situation, within the fabric of the Discourse, are several references to Jesus’ coming back to his disciples. The richness of the Discourse is such that it is possible to understand these references on three different levels:

    • Jesus’ immediate return, following his death and resurrection (cf. 20:17-29)
    • His presence in the Spirit, tied to his departure to the Father, and
    • His future return at the end-time

It is not always easy to know for certain which aspect is primarily in view, especially in light of the emphasis on the Spirit and the “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (cf. above). I offer an overview of the eschatology of the Discourse in a separate note. Here, I wish to focus on two specific passages in the Discourse, which, as it happens, tend to reflect the future and present (“realized”) aspects, respectively.

Future—John 14:1-4

“Your heart must not be disturbed; you trust in God, (now) also trust in me. In the house of my Father (there) are many (place)s to stay [monai/]—and, if not, I (would have) told you, (for it is) that I travel to make ready a place for you. And if I would travel and make ready a place for you, (then know that) I come again and will take you along toward myself, (so) that (at) what(ever) place I am, you also may be (there). And (the) place where I lead myself under [i.e. go away, go back], you have seen the way (there).”

Most commentators are agreed that this statement by Jesus refers to his end-time return (from heaven). At the historical level, this may seem rather out of place. After all, his disciples had difficulty understanding (and accepting) the idea of his death and resurrection, much less that of a future return (which assumes the resurrection and ascension, etc). From a literary standpoint, however, it would have made perfect sense to early Christians and readers of the Gospel. Moreover, it follows the general pattern of the Johannine Discourses, whereby a statement by Jesus is not fully or properly understood by his audience (including his disciples). Accepting the authenticity of the saying, the disciples surely would not have understood its true significance until sometime later (cp. the asides in 2:21-22 and 7:39).

Even if we grant the reference to Jesus’ future return, when he will gather all believers to himself (cf. Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:13-18), this basic tradition takes on new meaning within the Johannine context. This can be illustrated from two important details: (1) the vocabulary of the passage, especially the idea of “remaining” (vb me/nw), and (2) the individual discourse that follows (vv. 5-11ff), based on the specific statement in verse 4 (on knowing/seeing the “way” [o%do$]).

1. The ‘dwellings’ of God’s “house” are referenced with the plural noun monai/, i.e., places to remain or stay; it is related to the verb me/nw (“remain”), which has special theological significance in the Johannine writings. It occurs 40 times in the Gospel (compared with just 12 in the three Synoptics combined), including 14 occurrences in the Last Discourse. Its significance is two-fold: (a) it refers to the believer’s trust (and continued trust) in Jesus, and (b) it denotes the believer’s union with God the Father (and Jesus the Son), through the presence of the Spirit. Thus, believers can be said to have dwelling-places (monai/) with God now, in the Spirit, just as well as when they/we are in heaven, in the future.

2. The exposition on verse 4, about believers seeing the way to God, has a similar Christological emphasis—i.e., the way is seen/known through the person of Jesus (the Son), and our union with him. The latter point is only hinted at (in verse 6 and 12-14), until the theme of the coming/sending of Spirit is introduced in vv. 15-17. These verses are transitional to the focus on the present (“realized”) eschatology that dominates in vv. 18-24ff.

Present (“Realized”)—John 14:18-24

Once again, in verse 18, Jesus announces his departure and return:

“I will not leave you bereaved (of a father)—I come toward you. A little (while) yet, and the world no longer (will) look upon me, but you do look upon me, (in) that I live, (so) you also will live.” (vv. 18-19)

The motifs of Jesus’ own resurrection, and the future resurrection of the righteous (believers), are blended together here in a unique way (cf. above). Because Jesus (the Son) is going away, his disciples will no longer have access to God the Father; so, in a real sense, they would be orphans, bereaved (o)rfano/$) of their father. This could refer to Jesus’ impending death, his ultimate departure to the Father, or both. For more on this dual-aspect, cf. the supplemental article on the thematic structure of the Discourse. However, Jesus promises that he will not leave them without a father (God the Father), and announces again that “I come”. The immediate context (vv. 15-17, 25ff) clearly indicates that, in this instance, his coming refers, not to his traditional end-time return, but to his presence with believers through the Spirit. According to the Gospel narrative (cf. 20:19-23), this coming/sending of the Spirit took place, for Jesus’ immediate disciples, very soon after his resurrection (cp. the comparable, but very different, tradition in Luke-Acts). It will effectively be repeated for every person who comes to trust in Christ through the message of the Gospel (17:20-21ff; 20:29, 31, etc).

Other Eschatological References

There are several other eschatological references that could be cited from the Gospel of John. In closing, I would offer this brief survey of four references (and categories of references), that are worth noting.

1. References to the Judgment

There are a number of passages in the Johannine Discourses where Jesus refers to the Judgment (kri/si$), which is certainly eschatological, whether viewed specifically in an end-time or afterlife setting. As in 5:19-29 (cf. above), two points of emphasis are typically made: (a) the power of Judgment belongs to the Son (Jesus), and (b) the Judgment is defined almost entirely in terms of trust in Jesus. While this does not eliminate the traditional future aspect of the Judgment (cf. 5:29; 12:48), it places the emphasis squarely on the present—i.e., those who refuse to accept Jesus have already been judged (and condemned), while those who trust (believers) have already passed through the Judgment into eternal life. This was stated clearly enough in 5:24, and similarly in 3:19-21: “And this is the Judgment: that the light has come into the world, and the men [i.e. people] loved the darkness more than the light…. But the (one) doing the truth comes toward the light…”.

Similar declarations are found in 9:39 and 12:31:

“Unto Judgment I came into the world, (so) that the (one)s not seeing would see, and the (one)s seeing would come to be blind” (9:39)
Now is (the) Judgment of this world, (and) now the chief of this world shall be thrown out” (12:31)

The Spirit testifies regarding this same Judgment (16:8-11), again defined specifically in terms of trust in Jesus, with the sin of humankind understood as a lack of trust.

2. The Destruction of the Temple

The Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par) is built upon a prediction, by Jesus, of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:2 par). The Temple’s destruction (fulfilled in 70 A.D.) is to be taken as a definite indicator that the end is near (vv. 4, 14, 24, 28-30 par), and with it the return of Jesus and beginning of the great Judgment. However problematic this chronology might be for Christians today, there can be little doubt that the destruction of the Temple was a key eschatological event for believers at the time. I discuss the matter at length in the articles on the Eschatological Discourse, and on the Temple in Jewish and early Christian Eschatology.

The Gospel of John contains nothing like the Eschatological Discourse, nor the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction that features so prominently in it; however, there is a statement regarding the destruction of the Temple (the Temple-saying), in John 2:19, part of the Johannine version of the Temple-action episode (the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple, vv. 13-22):

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (up).”

This is quite similar to the statement reported at the Sanhedrin interrogation (‘trial’) of Jesus in the Synoptics (Mark 14:57-58 / Matt 26:60-61). There the Synoptic tradition indicates that it was reported by false witnesses; yet, if we accept the authenticity of the Johannine saying (in substance), then it would seem that Jesus did, in fact, make a statement of that sort, however it may have been misrepresented by unreliable or hostile witnesses. Jesus himself does not explain the saying—it is the Gospel writer who gives the explanation, as an aside (vv. 21-22). Many critical commentators assume that Jesus’ statement, in its original context, was eschatological, very much along the lines of the prediction in Mark 13:2 par—i.e., the destruction of the Temple marks the end of the current Age, and God, through his Anointed Jesus, would introduce a new Temple in the New Age. To the extent that such a view is correct, the eschatological aspect, in the Johannine version, has been transformed into a Christological statement, the Temple being identified with the person of Jesus. Thus, any eschatological significance for the saying follows the present, “realized” emphasis that dominates throughout the Gospel of John—the death and resurrection of Jesus marks the end of the current Age, and a New Age for believers, realized through the Spirit.

3. The “Son of Man” saying in John 1:51

There are relatively few “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John, compared with the Synoptics, and those which do occur, tend to emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus (cp. Mk 9:12, 31; 10:33 par), rather than his end-time appearance—cf. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31. Only in 5:27 do we find the clear eschatological context of the Son of Man overseeing the end-time Judgment.

The “Son of Man” saying in 1:51 is perhaps the most enigmatic verse in the entire Gospel. It has been interpreted many ways, including as an eschatological reference—that is, to the end-time appearance of the Son of Man (Jesus) in glory. There are certainly elements of this saying that resemble several eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics:

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down [i.e. ascending and descending] upon the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51)

Matthew’s version (16:27-28) of a core Son of Man saying in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this Synoptic passage:

    • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
    • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
    • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

I discuss these and other aspects of the saying in Jn 1:51 at length in prior notes and articles.

4. The Tradition in John 21:20-23

Our final passage comes from that last chapter (chap. 21,the so-called appendix) of the Gospel of John, and derives from an entirely different (Johannine) line of tradition than the Synoptic material. It relates to the person in the Gospel known as “the disciple whom (Jesus) loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20ff). The disciple is unnamed (though almost certainly known to the original audience), and identified, according to Christian tradition, as John the apostle, son of Zebedee. Embedded in the brief (traditional) narrative, is a saying by Jesus regarding this disciple, which, we can assume, was a relatively well-known part of the Johannine tradition. The context is clearly eschatological, related to the end-time return of Jesus. The very point being addressed in the tradition more or less proves the imminent eschatology—i.e. that Jesus’ return would occur within the lifetime of the apostles (and first generation of believers)—that was widespread in early Christianity during the first-century. I discuss this passage as part of the earlier study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament.