June 9: Acts 1:6-8ff

Acts 1:6-8ff

This passage, with its reference to the coming of the Spirit, is part of the wider narrative of Acts 1-2 where the idea of the “restoration of Israel” is perhaps the most prominent theme. There are three such episodes with expound this theme:

    1. The question of the disciples regarding the Kingdom, with Jesus’ response (Acts 1:6-8)
    2. The reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26)
    3. The Pentecost Narrative (Acts 2:1-13)

The matter has been prepared for, and foreshadowed, in the Lukan Gospel at a number of points—most notably in the way that the Gospel tradition has been adapted to give greater emphasis on the role of the Spirit (cf. the recent notes on 4:1, 14ff; 10:21-22; 11:1-13, etc). There is, of course, the direct allusion to the coming of the Spirit at the close of the Gospel (24:49), when Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive “power out of the height(s)” from the “e)paggeli/a of the Father”. The noun e)paggeli/a literally refers to something about which God has given a message; in such contexts it is usually understood in terms of something promised, and so translated as “promise”. Here it is clearly a reference to the coming of God’s Spirit, the same wording being used at Acts 1:4-5 and elsewhere in the the early preaching of Acts (2:33, 39; 13:32), as well as by Paul in his letters (e.g., Gal 3:14ff).

Almost certainly this “promise” relates to the eschatological and Messianic expectation, among Israelites and Jews at time, that may be summarized by the label “the restoration of Israel”. It is an idea that goes back to the Exile and post-Exilic period, to the Prophetic writings of the 6th and 5th century—the promise that the people of Israel/Judah would return to their land, and that a New Age of peace, prosperity, and righteousness would be ushered in for them. God’s Spirit would play a central role in the restoration of Israel and the establishment of this New Age; the key passages on this theme in the Prophets have been discussed extensively in prior notes. The Gospel of Luke accurately reflects these expectations, especially in the Infancy narratives, where the devout ones in Israel—i.e., Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna—are depicted in their hope and belief for the deliverance and restoration of Israel (2:25, 32, 34, 38; cf. 1:54f, 68-79).

The Anointed Ones of God, who will appear at the end-time, will usher in this restoration. In particular, it was expected of the Davidic Messiah that he would subdue/defeat the surrounding nations and establish the Kingdom of God on earth—a kingdom that was expressed socio-politically through Israel as a restored (independent and dominant) nation. Since Jesus was viewed by his disciples as the Messiah—and, indeed, the Davidic ruler figure-type—it was natural for them to expect that he would bring about this restoration for Israel. Since it was not accomplished prior to his death, with his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. the popular expectation, Mk 11:7-10 par; Lk 19:11, etc), surely the moment would occur now, after his resurrection.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|   )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom common in popular religious thought (cf. above, and the earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”). Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

In other words, the establishment of the Kingdom (and the restoration of Israel), will not be realized in conventional religious and socio-political terms; rather, it will occur through: (a) the presence/power of the holy Spirit, and (b) the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world. The narratives in the book of Acts faithfully expound both of these aspects. As believers are filled and guided by the Spirit, they embark on a mission into the surrounding nations, proclaiming the Gospel. Thus we have here a uniquely Christian development of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration.

Before proceeding further, it will be worth examining this development in a bit more detail. It can scarcely be regarded as a Lukan invention, since it is rooted in the authentic Gospel and early Christian historical tradition. However, the author of Luke-Acts does give to the theme a profound creative and literary expression in the early chapters of the book of Acts. I have discussed this in prior notes and articles, including a four-part series on the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-13. I will not reproduce that entirely here, but will highlight the most important and relevant aspects for our current study. In the next daily note, I will address the idea of Israel’s restoration symbolized by the reconstitution of the Twelve apostles (Acts 1:15-26).

June 1: Mark 1:7-8 par

For the daily notes beginning in the month of June, I will be following up on the earlier (pre-Pentecost) series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. In the light of those studies, we will examine how this understanding of the presence and work of God’s Spirit—and, specifically, the idea of His “holy Spirit” —was developed in early Christian thought. It is a subject I have discussed, with regard to the Gospel Tradition, in a prior set of notes; here, however, the focus will be on how the earlier Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding God’s Spirit was developed.

We begin with a core set of the earliest Gospel traditions (esp. the Synoptic Tradition); as these have already been discussed in some detail in the aforementioned series, the treatment will be more limited here.

Mark 1:7-8 par

The first passage referring to the (Holy) Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition comes from a saying/declaration by John the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), which is certainly among the very oldest/earliest to be preserved in Christian tradition (cf. the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The age (and authenticity) of the saying is confirmed by the fact that it is recorded no fewer than six times in the Gospels and Acts, having been transmitted independently in at least two (or more) strands of tradition. Moreover, while John the Baptist has a central place in the earliest Gospel narrative, he soon disappeared from Christian tradition generally—he is never mentioned in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts, and only once in the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150 A.D.), as part of a simple Gospel/creedal formula (Ignatius, Smyrneans 1:1, cf. Rom 1:3-4). Thus the prominence of John in the primitive Gospel narrative and kerygma is virtually a guarantee of authenticity.

Admittedly, some commentators have questioned the authenticity of such a reference to the “holy Spirit” by John the Baptist, considering the historical detail in Acts 19:1-3ff to the effect that disciples of John the Baptist were apparently unaware of the existence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, however, the numerous occurrences of the expression “holy spirit” (= “spirit of holiness”) in the Qumran texts would tend to increase the likelihood that John, indeed, might make use of the same expression. In particular, there is a certain similarity between Johannine/Christian baptism and the water-ritual for entrants into the Qumran Community (cf. 1QS 3:6-9, discussed in a prior article), and the “holy spirit” of God plays a central role in both.

Mark’s short account of John the Baptist and his ministry (Mk 1:2-8), which precedes the Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), climaxes with the core saying in vv. 7-8:

“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of (the shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|].”

Matthew and Luke provide a more extensive account, including additional sayings and teachings by John; the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7-8 is in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16. Here the three versions are presented side-by-side for comparison, with the main elements in Matthew/Luke which differ from Mark indicated by italics:

Mark 1:7-8 Matthew 3:11 Luke 3:16
“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.” “I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]; but the (one) coming behind me is stronger than me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bear/carry the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.” “I dunk you in water; but the (one) stronger than me comes, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

For more on the differences between Mark and Matthew/Luke, cf. my earlier note. Of special significance is that Matthew and Luke both add “and (in) fire [kai\ puri/]”. This emphasizes the coming/future Judgment of God upon humankind (cf. Matt 3:7ff par), and leads into the added saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17. The common idea shared by the “holy Spirit” and “fire” is that of cleansing, which also happens to be the principal meaning of the baptism water-rite.

Moreover, the triad of water-spirit-fire all represent elements associated with purification and cleansing in Old Testament tradition. Cleansing by water is common enough (Num 8:7; 19:12; Ps 51:2; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Zech 13:1, etc), and the imagery is occasionally extended to the (symbolic) pouring out of the Spirit of God (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26). Fire is also used as a symbol of purification; in addition to the idea of burning up garbage and refuse, there is the metallurgic imagery, whereby base metal is refined and its impurities removed through fire—cf. Psalm 12:6; Isa 4:4-5; 48:10; Dan 11:35; 12:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3. Offerings and objects consecrated to God are also burned with fire (Ex 29:18, 34, etc; Deut 13:16; Josh 6:24). These three elements (water, fire, and the “holy spirit”) are combined in 1QS 4:20-21 from Qumran (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX [AB vol. 28], p. 474); the following details are relevant to the setting of John’s ministry:

      • It will occur at the (end) time of God’s visitation—i.e., an eschatological setting
      • God will purge the deeds of humankind by His Truth
        • refining (by fire) a portion of humankind (i.e., the righteous/chosen ones)
        • removing every evil spirit from their flesh
        • cleansing them from wickedness with (the) holy Spirit
        • sprinkling them with the Spirit (as with water)
      • The righteous ones are cleansed with the Spirit of Truth

Let us look a bit more closely at the saying in Mark 1:8, which follows the second phrase of the saying in v. 7 by establishing a contrast between John and the “one coming”; here is the version in Mark:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in [e)n] the holy Spirit”
e)gw/ e)ba/ptisa u(ma=$ u%dati, au)to\$ de\ bapti/sei u(ma=$ e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|

For the other Synoptic versions (Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16), they are very close to the Markan saying (as noted above), but share three key differences:

    • Both use a me\nde/ construction—i.e. “on the one hand…on the other…”
    • Each includes the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7 in the middle of the saying corr. to Mk 1:8—i.e. “I dunk you in water…, but the one coming… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”
    • Each adds “and (in) fire”—”he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and (in) fire

The version in Acts (1:5, par 11:16) represents a saying by Jesus, indicating something which Jesus had told his disciples about John:

“(On the one hand) John dunked in water, but (other other hand) you will be dunked in the holy Spirit” (1:5)

The version in John (Jn 1:26 & 33) shows a more substantial reworking of the tradition; the reference to the holy Spirit does not occur until John the Baptist’s reporting of the baptism of Jesus.

The Development of Tradition

How does this saying of the Baptist relate to the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God and the “holy Spirit”? Two points need to be considered:

    • The association of the holy Spirit with the water-ritual (dunking/baptism), and
    • Its significance in relation to “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$)

The first point can be illustrated by the water-ritual of the Qumran Community (cf. above). As the physical ritual (sprinkling/bathing) with water is performed, it symbolizes the underlying reality of purification by God’s Spirit (“spirit of [His] holiness”), through which the entrant’s own “spirit” is made completely holy. This idea builds upon the earlier Prophetic tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the future restoration of Israel. This is a theme we find in a number of the 6th century Prophets (Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah). In the coming New Age of Israel’s restoration, associated with the specific idea of the return of Israel/Judah to their land, the people will be given a “new heart” and a ‘new spirit’, purified and made holy (and obedient to God’s covenant) through the presence and work of God’s own spirit. The the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit upon His people is seen as a mark of the coming New Age (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29; cf. also Zech 12:10); for discussion of these passages, cf. the notes in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

By the time of the Qumran texts, this restoration-theme had come to be understood in a strongly eschatological and Messianic sense. The Qumran Community viewed itself as the “remnant” of Israel, the faithful ones of the end-time, who would be delivered and led by the Anointed One(s) of God. By all accounts, John the Baptist’s preaching had much of the same flavor, proclaiming the coming of an Anointed figure (i.e. Messiah) who would deliver the faithful and usher in God’s end-time Judgment. The cleansing of his baptism rite was in preparation for this eschatological event, much as we see at Qumran (cp. 1QS 3:6-9 with 4:20-21). There is little reason to doubt the historical accuracy of this aspect of John’s ministry, given what we know of Jewish eschatology and Messianism from the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period.

In this regard, John’s use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) provides the key to the meaning and context of the saying in Mark 1:8 par. In Mk 1:7 (also Lk 3:16; cp. Acts 13:25), the Greek wording is “(one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]…”, but in Matthew (3:11) the wording is:

“the (one) coming [e)rxo/meno$]…is stronger than me”

This use of the participle also occurs in the question posed by the Baptist in Matt 11:3 / Lk 7:19:

“Are you the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]…?”

The same expression occurs in the Baptist’s saying in Jn 1:15, 27. Most likely, it is derived from Malachi 3:1, and the last clause— “the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1, a point I discuss in a supplemental note to the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. While the “messenger” (Ea*l=m^) of the original prophecy would have referred to a heavenly being who served as God’s representative (representing YHWH Himself), by the 1st century A.D. it would have been interpreted in a more distinctly Messianic sense. The origins of this interpretation can be found in the closing verses of the book of Malachi itself (4:5-6), identifying the “messenger” with a future appearance of “Elijah”.

Thus, it seems probable that John the Baptist envisioned the coming of a Messianic Prophet, according to the figure-type of Elijah, who would serve as God’s representative and usher in the Judgment. The New Testament evidence, regarding just who fulfills this expected Messianic role, is exceedingly complex. On the one hand, nearly all of the evidence—and certainly from the Galilean ministry period in the Synoptic narrative—points to Jesus as the Anointed Prophet like Elijah. Indeed, in Jn 1:20-21ff, John explicitly denies being the Elijah-to-come, presumably reserving it for another (Jesus). Yet, at the same time, in at least one tradition, Jesus states the reverse—that John is the Elijah-to-come (Matt 11:14; cf. 17:12-13 par). Subsequent Christian tradition followed the identification of John with Elijah, but this identification is by no means so certain in earliest strands of the Gospel tradition itself. I discuss the matter at some length in prior notes and articles (e.g., Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

What is the relation of the “holy Spirit” to this end-time Anointed Prophet—the role ultimately fulfilled by Jesus? The context of the saying in Mk 1:7-8, clearly indicates a comparison—the “one coming” is greater/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John, but yet he will continue the Baptist’s work of cleansing God’s people, only in a more intense and complete way. Instead of using a water-rite that may symbolize cleansing by God’s Spirit, he will purify people with the Spirit itself, under the related image of fire.

As noted above, is likely that John himself had in mind the end-time appearance of God (coming to bring Judgment), through the work and presence of God’s own Messenger (Mal 3:1ff), who would be identified with Jesus. The main point of the contrast would seem to be that John’s ministry of washing/cleansing (by water) was preparatory for the end-time purification to be brought about by God (by Spirit/fire). That this greater “cleansing” reflects two sides, or aspects, of the Judgment seems clear from the “Q” version (and the parallel in the saying of Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17)—God’s Spirit/fire will burn up the wicked, but the righteous (i.e. the faithful ones who have repented, etc) will be purified and saved.

Interestingly, it is only in the Gospel of John that we actually read of Jesus doing anything like baptizing his followers in the Spirit; this is in Jn 20:19-23, the climactic scene of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection:

“…even as the Father has set me forth from (Him), so I (am) send(ing) you. And saying this, he blew [i.e. breathed] in/on (them) and said to them: ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” (vv. 21b-22)

This should be taken as indicating what the Gospel writer (and/or his tradition) understood by ‘dunking/baptizing in the Spirit’. Of course, in the traditions of Luke-Acts, this event is realized even more dramatically in the Pentecost scene of 2:1-4ff, though, in that narrative, the sending of the Spirit is less clearly presented as something that Jesus himself does. On the ambiguity of the Spirit being sent by God the Father, Jesus (the Son), or both—cf. especially the ‘Paraclete’ passages in the Johannine Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16). The dual-identification of the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of God, and also the Spirit of Christ, represents a uniquely Christian development, that will be discussed further in these notes.

 

Saturday Series: Isaiah 8:23-9:6; 11:1-10 (continued)

Having approached the oracles in Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7] and 11:1-10 from a general historical-critical standpoint (see last week’s study), we will here look at them from a literary-critical point of view. Working from the structure and form of the oracles, we will undertake a short exegetical survey, drawing out information, inductively, for each section and verse.

Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7]

In terms of the form and structure of this passage, it is best understood as consisting of a prosodic introduction (v. 23 [9:1]), followed by a poem (9:1-6 [2-7]), though it is also possible to treat 8:23b-9:6 as a single poetic oracle (applying 8:23a to the previous section). The poem proper may be divided into 6 stanzas corresponding to each numbered verse (vv. 1-6 [2-7 in English translations]):

    • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
    • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
    • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
    • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
    • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
    • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

It is a poetic oracle, the concluding piece of 6:1-9:6[7], a document consisting of unquestionably authentic Isaian material—oracles and historical-biographical traditions—from the period c. 740-701 B.C. (focusing especially on the Assyrian crisis of 735-732).

Isa 8:23 [9:1]

The context of the oracle is established in 8:23 [9:1], though it can be difficult to determine this with precision. Here a careful study of the text is important, but even then, scholars and commentators may be divided on the correct interpretation. Compare the translations in two leading critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]):

Roberts/Hermeneia

…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…

Blenkinsopp/AB:

There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people that walk in the dark
Have seen a great light…

These differences are based, in part, on difficulties surrounding the Hebrew. Note the following two examples:

    • Isaiah 8:23am¹±û¸ can be derived from ±ô¸ (“fly, flutter”) or ±ô¸ (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix –l¹h is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (°ereƒ [“land”], µ¦š¢kâ [“darkness”], or parallel ƒ¹râ/ƒôqâ [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.
    • Isaiah 8:23b—Does h¹ri°šôn (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun ±¢¾ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with h¹°aµ¦rôn (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs qll and kbd (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

Keeping in mind the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C., if this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces. The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]).

Isa 9:1-2 [2-3]

In the first two stanzas of the poem, God promises to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity. This is expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc. The contrast of darkness and light in verse 1 brings out symbolically this distinction between the suffering experienced by the Northern kingdom, and the imminent promise of future hope. This darkness and shadow specifically alludes to the threat of death, and evokes language associated with the realm of Death and the grave (see Job 10:21-22, etc). Light (as of the sun) is a corresponding image representing (new) life and salvation. It is naturally associated with God (as a divine attribute/characteristic), but applies just as well to the king/ruler who functions under God’s authority.

The imagery in verse 2 shifts to that of the harvest. The contrast (implied) is between the pain/toil involved in planting and the joy (´imµâ) that comes with the time of reaping. This is further compared, in the last line, with the rejoicing that comes after victory in battle. A small text-critical note: by reading haggîlâ (instead of haggôy lœ°) in the first line, the wordplay and parallelism of the stanza is properly preserved:

“You have multiplied the circling (with joy),
you have made great the (feeling of) gladness—
they are glad before your face,
like the gladness at the (time of) reaping,
like those who circle (for joy) in (the) dividing of plunder.”

Isa 9:3-4 [4-5]

The allusion to battle in the final line of v. 2 becomes the main theme of the next two stanzas. The promise of hope and salvation is defined precisely in terms of the defeat of Israel’s enemies. The image in verse 3 is that of an oppressive foreign power being overthrown, leading to freedom and independence for the people. Given the apparent historical context of the oracle (see above), it suggests the possibility that the Northern territories, turned into Assyrian provinces, would regain their independence. The “day of Midian” doubtless refers to the Gideon traditions in Judges 6-8, when the Northern tribes were similarly delivered from the control of a foreign power. Verse 4 gives a vivid and graphic depiction of a military defeat.

Isa 9:5-6 [6-7]

These verses, so familiar to many Christians, are almost always read completely out of their original historical context. Again, the historical setting of Isa 6:1-9:6 would seem to be the years leading up to 732 B.C. (and prior to 722). In this light, the standard Messianic interpretation of the child in vv. 5-6 [EV 6-7] is out of the question (in terms of the primary meaning of the passage). Can we then identify the child with a particular historical figure? The grandeur of the titles in v. 5, and reference to the “throne of David” in v. 6, would require, at the very least, a king of Judah (that is, from the Davidic line). The only person from Isaiah’s own time (c. 735-700) who seems to fit is Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The birth and/or accession of a new king could be a time of great hope and promise, but also of tremendous danger, as princes and vassals may see the moment as an opportune time for revolt (cf. Psalm 2). Following the reign of his father, Ahaz (who “did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH”), Hezekiah is a positive figure, even under the withering judgment of the book of Kings (2 Kings 8:3ff: he finally removed the “high places”, which his ancestors failed to do). He will also become a central figure in the book of Isaiah, and focal point of the key historical moment: the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

It is also possible that Hezekiah is to be associated with the title ±Immanû-°¢l (“God-with-us”) in the prophecies of 7:10-17 and 8:5-10. Certainly the name is suggestive of the words describing Hezekiah’s reign, in 2 Kings 8:7 (“and YHWH was with him…”). For a consideration of arguments against identifying Hezekiah with the child of 9:5-6, see my earlier article on the subject. In that article, you will also find a discussion of the divine titles occurring in vv. 5-6. There are four such titles: the first two have nouns in juxtaposition, the second two are effectively construct forms. They are included under the formula: “and he/they will call [or has called] his name…”.

It has been said that the weighty titles listed in Isa 9:5 are too lofty to be applied to a human king. However, similarly lofty, theologically significant names and titles were regularly applied to rulers in the ancient Near East. The most extensive evidence comes from Egypt, and the names applied to the Pharaoh during enthronement rituals (some of which are roughly parallel to those in Isa 9:5). No similar ritual is recorded as such for kings of Israel/Judah in the Old Testament, but there are a few hints in the Psalms and elsewhere; Psalm 2 is perhaps the most striking example, a setting similar to that in the Egyptian ritual, where the Deity addresses the new ruler as His “son” (Ps 2:7).

Isaiah 11:1-10

As in 8:23-9:6, a period of salvation and peace is tied to the rise of a new king from the line of David. If 11:1-10 represents an authentic Isaiah oracle (i.e. from the mid-late 8th century B.C.), then it may well refer to the same king (Hezekiah?) announced in the earlier passage. Many commentators, however, would assign the composition of chapter 11 to a later period. In the previous study, I discussed the critical theory that the document 6:1-9:6, having been included with the wider (Isaian) context of chapters 5-10, was subsequently placed in the later literary context of chapters 2-4, 11-12. Certain thematic and stylistic considerations suggest an exilic (6th century) or even post-exilic setting, though this is hardly decisive, and there are even some critical commentators (e.g., J. J. M. Roberts, cf. above) who would accept Isaian authorship, on the whole, for the oracles in chaps. 2-4, 11-12.

Isa 11:1-10 has a very precise (literary) structure, consisting of two main parts (or strophes), bracketed by references to the new Davidic king (using the idiom “root/trunk of Jesse”).

Verse 1

“And there will go forth a branch from (the) trunk of Yishay,
and a green (shoot) will bear (forth) from his roots”

The oracle opens with a simple parallel couplet, establishing the theme: the rise of a new king (over Judah) from the line of David. The similarity of language with Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15ff, suggests that a 6th-century/exilic setting is in view. On the other hand, a Davidic emphasis is present in the 8th century Isaian material (7:2, 13, and elsewhere in chaps. 2-39 [16:5; 22:22, etc]), and the Jeremiah references may have been inspired by earlier Isaian usage. An authentic Isaian oracle (from the 8th century) would only make more likely that Hezekiah is the expected king; or, in any case, that it is one who would come after (or in place of) the disappointing Ahaz.

Verses 2-5

The bulk of the poem (vv. 2-9) describes the reign of this new king as a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity for Israel (presumably a unified Kingdom), conveyed in ideal (and idyllic) terms. The first portion focuses on the theme of the justice that would be established throughout society during his reign. The wisdom and discernment with which he governs follows the ancient principle of Spirit-inspired leadership (v. 2, cf. my recent note on this point). It is marked by fairness and impartiality, reflecting the very character of God as Judge (v. 3). Of special importance is the way that he works on behalf of the poor and weak, protecting them from oppression and violence (v. 4). Righteousness and faithfulness (to YHWH) are the overarching attributes that explain and characterize the justice of his rule (v. 5).

Verses 6-9

The ‘golden age’ of the new king’s reign is described, in the second half of the poem (vv. 6-9), in more mythological terms, drawing upon the idea of a state of peace and harmony that may once have existed (and will once again) in the natural world. These are certainly among the most beautiful and memorable lines in the entire book. The emphasis of peace and security from wild animals, while drawing upon earlier lines of tradition (Hos 2:18 [20]), may be another indicator of a 6th-century/exilic date for the poem (compare Ezek 34:25-26).

The main point of this imagery is that it will be an ideal time of peace for God’s people. This was also the theme in 2:2-5 (discussed in an earlier study), one of several literary parallels between chaps. 2-4 and 11-12. Roberts, in his commentary (pp. 180-1, cf. above), cites examples from Egypt and Assyria, where the accession of a new king is announced as a time of peace and security; however, in some ways, a closer parallel is to found in Virgil’s famous Fourth Eclogue, however far removed it may be from the ancient Near Eastern milieu.

Verse 10

The closing lines reprise the motif of the rise of a new Davidic king (from v. 1), forming an inclusio for the poem:

“And there will be in that day a root of Yishay {Jesse},
which, standing, (will be) for a n¢s of (the) people;
to him (the) nations will go in search,
and his resting(-place) will be worth(y).”

An important aspect of this king’s rule will be the way that the surrounding nations come to him. In its earlier form, this idea simply reflected the sovereign-vassal relationship that existed between the kingdom of Israel and a number of nations in the region, during the reigns of David and Solomon. This Israelite ’empire’ was brief, and collapsed shortly after Solomon’s reign, but would remain an ideal, in terms of Israel’s restoration, for centuries to come. However, during the later Prophets of the exile and post-exilic periods, this motif of the ‘gathering of the nations’ came to be expressed in a new way, as part of a developing eschatological (and Messianic) understanding of Israel’s future restoration.

This same eschatological aspect was seen in 2:2-5 (cf. the earlier study), centered around the Jerusalem Temple, and the outreach to the surrounding (Gentile) nations. As I have noted, the theme is 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 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. From the standpoint of the composition of chaps. 2-12, this would mean that the (earlier) Isaian message promising deliverance (for Jerusalem and a faithful remnant) from the Assyrian invasion could well have been applied to the setting of the Babylonian exile and the promise of a future restoration/return.

The new king will stand among his people, functioning as a n¢s for them. I left this word untranslated above; it essentially refers to something that is displayed prominently, serving as a rallying point for a group of people (such as a flag or banner). It also becomes a point around which other nations will gather as well, coming to the king (and his court) in search of truth and justice, etc. The religious emphasis of 2:2-5 (i.e. the nations joining Israel in worship of YHWH) is not as definite here, but it certainly would have been implied, in light of the language used in the rest of the oracle. There is likely a bit of wordplay in the final line, which could alternately be translated something like “and honor/worth will rest (on) him”. This honor/worth (Heb. k¹»ô¼, literally “weight”), in the context of the oracle, refers to the presence of God that is around the king, and the Spirit that comes upon him, gifting him with divinely-inspired wisdom (v. 2). Thus, in coming in search of Israel’s divinely-inspired king, they nations are effecting seeking after God.

Conclusion

Both of these remarkable oracles, however and whenever they were composed, announce the coming of a king (from the line of David) who will usher in an ideal time of peace and prosperity, bringing salvation and renewal to the people. A working critical hypothesis, based on the results of these two studies, might be outlined as follows:

    • The Isaian document of 6:1-9:6[7], composed sometime after 732 B.C., concludes with the announcement of deliverance for the Northern territories that had been conquered and annexed by Assyria. This was associated, most likely, with the birth (and/or accession) of Hezekiah, who did indeed make overtures to the North for them to join with him in a political and religious revival.
    • This hope, never realized during Hezekiah’s reign, came to be applied to the later context of the Babylonian threat in the early 6th century. As Jerusalem was saved from Assyrian invasion during Hezekiah’s reign, so the southern kingdom might be delivered under another faithful king from the line of David.
    • Ultimately, this ideal, and promise of future salvation, was reinterpreted from the standpoint of the Exile—i.e., the restoration of Israel in a post-exilic period as a golden age of justice and righteousness.

Such an outline would provide a veritable snapshot of Israel’s Messianic hope, in its early stages of development (captured within the complex literary structures of the book of Isaiah). It can be no surprise that Isa 8:23-9:6 and 11:1-10 came to viewed as Messianic prophecies subsequently in Jewish tradition, and that early Christians continued this process, applying the oracles to the person of Jesus as the Messiah. That such a Messianic interpretation is a secondary development, quite apart from the original context of the prophecy, should be clear enough. However, this does not in any way diminish or devalue the Messianic (and Christian) view. The inspiration of Scripture is wide and expansive enough to encompass all of these aspects.

March 28: John 12:9-19, 34

John 12:9-19, 34

The episode of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem directly precedes the discourse in Jn 12:20-36 (discussed in the previous daily notes), and so, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, the crowd-setting of the discourse (vv. 29, 34) must be read with the earlier episode in mind. It perhaps should be understood as a rather large crowd, given the detail in vv. 9ff. The notoriety of the raising of Lazarus (chap. 11) apparently caused a significant number of people to be drawn to Jesus; in the Gospel of John, the crowd’s reaction is explained as the result, primarily, of the Lazarus miracle (verse 12, following vv. 9-11). If the narrative setting assumes that the discourse in vv. 20-36 took place not long after Jesus’ entry into the city, then it is likely that a considerable crowd was gathered around him (perhaps this explains the difficulty the Greeks had in reaching Jesus, v. 20f).

The response by the crowd to Jesus’ words, in verse 34 (discussed briefly in a prior note), involves the identity of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah), and the Triumphal Entry scene holds an important place within the Gospel Tradition in this regard. In the Synoptic Narrative, the first half of the Gospel is focused on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and, in this part of the Tradition, Jesus was identified primarily as an Anointed (Messianic) Prophet, according to the type-pattern of Elijah (and Moses), or of the Anointed herald in Isaiah 61:1ff. By contrast, during his time in Jerusalem, and all through the Passion narrative, it is the Royal Messiah, the Davidic ruler figure-type that is in view, and this association begins with the Triumphal Entry scene (Mark 11:1-10 par). All of the details in the Synoptic narrative bear this out:

    • The spreading of the garments, etc, indicating the welcome for royalty (Mk 11:8 par)
    • The citation of Psalm 118:25-26 (Mk 11:9 par), with its original context of the victorious king returning from battle
    • The references to David and the kingship/kingdom (Mk 11:10 par)
    • The allusion to Zech 9:9ff (cited in Matt 21:4-5)
    • The climactic appearance in the Temple (Mk 11:11ff), cf. again the context of the royal procession in Psalm 118:19-27

The Johannine version contains all of these same elements, with the exception of the Temple scene (the Temple “cleansing” episode occurring at a different point in the Gospel narrative, 2:12-22). However, this Gospel deals with the Messianic identity of Jesus somewhat differently, introducing the royal (Davidic) aspect as part of the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6; indeed, there is a formal parallel:

    • Historical tradition (miracle):
      —Feeding the multitude (6:1-13)
      —Raising of Lazarus (chap. 11)
    • Reaction of the People (Jesus as the Messiah)
      — “Truly this is the Prophet…”, attempt to make Jesus king (6:14-15, 22ff)
      —The Triumphal Entry (12:9-19)
    • Discourse, with Passion elements, in the context of a key Son of Man saying:
      —Allusion to the Eucharistic bread and cup (6:51-58, v. 53)
      —Reference to the “hour” of suffering/death, and of his prayer to God (12:23, 27, cp. Mk 14:35-36)

Perhaps even more than in the Synoptic tradition, the Johannine version of the Triumphal Entry scene brings out the nationalistic hope of the people for a Davidic (royal) Messiah—a king who would deliver the people from foreign (Roman) rule. The specific detail of the palm-branches, found only in John’s version (and the basis for the “Palm Sunday” label), is unmistakable in this regard:

“…they took the twigs/branches of the foi=nic [i.e. palm] (tree) and went out unto (the) u(pa/nthsi$ with him, and cried (out)…” (12:13a)

The noun u(pa/nthsi$, difficult to translate literally in English, refers to a face-to-face meeting with someone, coming opposite to them. It was used as a technical political term for the representatives of a city who would go out to meet/greet an arriving king (cf. Josephus Antiquities 11.327; Wars 7.100). The nationalistic implications of the palm-branches derives from the Maccabean uprising (and the rededication of the Temple)—cf. 1 Macc 13:51; 2 Macc 2:7—and was used again during the bar-Kokhba revolt (appearing on coins, A.D. 132-135). Cf. also the symbolism in Testament of Naphtali 5:4 (Brown, p. 461). All of this suggests that the crowds regard Jesus as a victorious king, a Messianic deliverer who will again establish an independent Israelite/Jewish kingdom, centered at Jerusalem.

How does this relate to the discourse that follows in vv. 20-36? Let us consider again the response by the crowd in verse 34:

“…We (have) heard out of the Law that ‘the Anointed (One) remains into the Age’, and (so) how (can) you say that ‘it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high’? Who is this Son of Man?”

The confusion stems from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man”, as well as the somewhat cryptic reference to his death/departure. Apparently, the crowd understood the idea that Jesus was speaking of his departure from the world, before the (Messianic) kingdom of the New Age would be established. In any case, this was the very point of difficulty for early Christians who identified Jesus as the royal/Davidic Messiah—how could the Messiah die and leave the earth without fulfilling the traditional end-time role expected of him?

This idea is clear enough in the phrase “the Anointed One remains into the Age [i.e. the New Age to Come]”, even if it is unclear exactly where this is to be found in the Law (the Torah/Pentateuch, or, more broadly, the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole). The closest passage would seem to be Psalm 89:36, in which it is stated that the seed (ur^z#, i.e. offspring/descendant) of David will continue to exist “(in)to the distant (future)”; the Greek version (LXX) reads: “his seed remains [me/nei] into the Age”, wording that is quite close to that of the crowd here in v. 34. The belief is that the Davidic Messiah will be present into the Age to Come, and will remain as ruler during the New Age.

Adding to the confusion is the peculiar way that Jesus uses the expression “the Son of Man” as a self-reference; two types of such sayings were especially difficult: (1) those referring to his impending suffering and death, and (2) the eschatological sayings, of the Son of Man’s appearance (from heaven) at the end-time. For more detail, consult my earlier series on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”. If it is not feasible for Jesus (as the Messiah) to die/depart without establishing the Kingdom, then perhaps he is referring (in vv. 23 and 32, cp. 3:14; 8:28) to someone else? This seems to be the sense of the question “Who is this Son of Man?” —is Jesus speaking of himself, or someone else?

Again, it must emphasized that for early Christians—and especially for the disciples and other early Jewish believers—the death of Jesus posed a serious problem for their identification of him as the Messiah. So acute was the problem that the Gospels and Acts repeatedly stress the importance of demonstrating from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah, and that his suffering and death was foretold in the Law and the Prophets. For more, cf. the article on the “Suffering and Death of the Messiah” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

There is a parallel in the Synoptic Tradition, centered on Peter’s famous confession (Mk 8:27-30ff). After the declaration identifying Jesus as the Messiah (v. 29), we find the first of the three Son of Man sayings by Jesus (v. 31), in which he announces/predicts his upcoming suffering and death. Clearly, this was difficult for Peter to accept (v. 32), and his reaction generally represents that of all the disciples (and believers) of the time. The reaction of the crowd in Jn 12:34 is comparable, and fully in keeping with the early Gospel tradition.

In the next few daily notes, during Holy Week, I will be exploring other key passages and references in the Passion Narrative of the Gospel of John, giving further study to the uniquely Johannine portrait of Jesus as the Messiah. The uniqueness of this portrait can be seen in the answer Jesus gives (in vv. 35-36) to the question by the crowd (discussed in the previous note). The traditional Messianic expectation gives way to a powerful Christological statement—Jesus the Son as an eternal manifestation of God the Father. This Christology is developed throughout the Johannine Passion Narrative.

 

Birth of the Messiah: Qumran and Pseudepigrapha

This series on the theme of the Birth of the Messiah concludes with a pair of articles. The first will examine (in more detail) the passages in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. referring in some way to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son. The second will deal with the early Christian evidence, outside of the Matthean/Lukan Infancy narratives, insofar as it may relate to the wider (Jewish) traditions regarding the Messiah. I begin here with the Jewish writings—passages in both the Qumran texts and several other writings of the period. Some of these have been touched upon in the previous articles, but is worth given them a more extensive treatment. The Qumran texts will serve as the starting point.

1Q28a [1QSa]

The text 1QSa [28a] is one of the key Rule documents for the Qumran Community, and should be studied in connection with the more famous Community Rule (1QS). It is referred to as the “Rule of the Congregation”, and also sometimes as the “Messianic Rule”, in light of the passage that is to be discussed here. What survives of this text is comprised of a lengthy fragment in two columns. It is clearly eschatological in orientation, with column 1 beginning “This is the rule of all the congregation of Israel in the final days…”. As such, it is certainly Messianic in significance as well, and not simply because of the wording in 2.11-12 (cf. below). The Community of the Qumran texts saw itself as the true Israel and people of God, the faithful remnant of the last days, and their Messianic expectations were centered around their own Community life and organization. The regulations in 1QSa reflect the organization of the Community, in its ideal form, in preparation for the end-time action by God, to be realized through the mediation and leadership of several different Messianic figures. I discuss these figure-types in the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”; they include an Anointed Priest in addition to the more familiar Anointed Ruler/Prince from the line of David.

The Qumran Community appear to have expected that it would be joined (and led) by these two Anointed figures (Messiahs), sometimes specified in the Rule texts as “the Anointed (Ones) of Aaron and Israel” (1QS 9:11; CD/QD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 19:11; 20:1; 1QS 9:11). This is the case in 1QSa as well, though only one figure called “Anointed” (jyvm) is named as such—the “Anointed of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler. He is mentioned in lines 11-21 of column 2, beginning as follows:

“In a s[it]ting of (the) men of the name, (the) [ones called] (to the) appointed (meeting) for (the) council of the Community, when [God] gives birth to the Anointed (One) with them, the head Priest of all the congregation of Yisra’el will come…” (lines 11-12)

The italicized words in Hebrew are generally recognized as jyvmh [t]a [la] d[yl]wy; however, the reading of the verb form dylwy (“he causes to be born, he gives birth”) has been disputed by some scholars, due to the fragmentary (and faded) condition of the manuscript. Some prefer the restoration iylwy (“he brings/leads”), while dyuwy (something like, “he makes [them] meet at the appointed [place]”) has also been suggested. Probably the majority of commentators, especially those who have (re)examined the original photographs (when the leather was in better condition), today accept the reading dylwy. But what does it mean to say that God “causes the Anointed (One) to be born”?

Certainly, the context does not suggest anything like an actual human birth, such as is described of Jesus in the Gospel Infancy narratives. Instead, the “birth” must be understood in a more symbolic sense, and the best guide for this is Psalm 2:7 (discussed in an earlier article), where the verb dl^y` is similarly used of the “Anointed One” (j^yv!m*, v. 2). In the original context of Psalm 2, this “birth” refers to the inauguration (coronation and/or enthronement) of the Israelite/Judean king. In the Messianic setting of the Qumran texts, this has to be translated in terms of the Anointed One beginning his period of rule (i.e. over the Community). Here, the Messiah (“the Anointed One of Israel“) has a subordinate position to the “head Priest” (2.13-14, 40), which suggests that this is a priestly Messiah (i.e., “the Anointed One of Aaron“). By all accounts, both Messianic figures were human beings (not supernatural/Angelic beings), who were specially appointed by God to serve in those end-time roles of leadership. Their positions reflect a two-fold division of the Community, at least in terms of their end-time assemblies—(1) the “men of the name”, led by the Priest, and (2) the “thousands of Israel”, led by the Davidic ruler, the Anointed One of Israel.

This sense of the Messiah’s “birth”, with its allusion to Psalm 2:7, provides an interesting parallel with the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his earthly ministry, just as here the “birth” of the Messiah signifies the beginning of his period of rule over the Community. The divine voice from heaven (Mark 1:11 par) at the baptism alludes to Psalm 2:7, and, indeed, in some manuscripts and versions of Luke 3:22 it is a direct quotation (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”).

4Q246

I have discussed the remarkable Aramaic text in earlier studies (including an article in the “Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight” feature). According to the scenario in the two columns of the extensive surviving fragment, a king is troubled by a vision he has experienced, and a seer approaches the throne and offers to provide an interpretation similar to that of the vision in Daniel 7 (7:15-18ff): great distress upon the earth, with nations fighting each other, etc. The climactic portion of column I reads:

7 [Then shall arise a king, and he shall be] great upon the earth.
8 [All peoples sh]all make [peace with him]; they shall all serve
9 [him. Son of the gr]eat [king] he shall be called, and by his name he shall be designated
Reconstruction & translation from Fitzmyer (1993/2000) and Zimmerman (1998) [see below]

Column II then begins:

1 Son of God he will be hailed, and Son of the Most High they will call him. …

A major point of dispute among commentators is whether the figure called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” is a positive (Messianic) figure, or a negative figure, i.e. a ruler who takes/accepts these divine titles wickedly for himself. The majority of scholarly opinion today favors the Messianic interpretation. Scholars have found very little Jewish evidence (particularly in the pre-Christian period) for titles such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” being used of enemy kings (such as Alexander Balas, Antiochus IV, Roman emperors, etc [cf. Jos. War II.184]), whereas the anointed (Davidic) king is already referred to as God’s “son” in the Old Testament (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14). It is in early Christianity, with the development of the “antichrist” concept (partly in reaction to the Roman Imperial cult), that divine names and honors are shown being appropriated or claimed falsely by evil/satanic figures (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4; Rev 13, 17; and esp. Didache 16:4). Therefore, it is most likely that a ‘Messianic’, divinely favored (or appointed) figure is meant in I.9-II.2ff. The correlation between “Son of God” and “People of God” may be drawing specifically upon the parallel in Daniel 7, where one “like a Son of Man” comes to receive an everlasting rule and kingdom (7:13-14) and the “people of the Most High” receive the sovereignty and kingdom of God (7:27). By the mid-late 1st century A.D., “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are both titles which come to be applied to heavenly Messiah-figures of the end-time who will judge/defeat the nations and restore/deliver Israel (cf. below, and Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

A Messianic interpretation would also seem to be confirmed by the extraordinary parallels with the Annunciation scene in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:32, 35):

aura lu hwhl br[ ] “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
rmaty la yd hlb “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
hnwrqy /wylu rbw “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
<lu twklm htwklm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou= “he will be called | Son of God”
kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$ “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

The application of the title “Son of God” to this Messianic figure likely reflects the same general influence of the royal theology (in Psalm 2:7) discussed above; only in this sense can we speak of the Messiah’s “birth” in this text.

4Q369

This highly fragmentary text is almost certainly another apocalyptic work, with similarities to other Jewish pseudepigrapha of the period. An ancient ancestor of Israel (Enosh has been suggested) prophecies the Israelite history, from the earliest period down to the end-time (i.e. the current time of the author/audience). Thus, like all such apocalyptic works, the emphasis is eschatological, presenting the future hopes and expectations (including Messianic expectation) of people as the sure fulfillment of ancient prophecy. The context of the work is established in column 1 of fragment 1, including a genealogy of the ancestors through Enoch. In column 2, it would seem that there is a prophecy of the establishment of the Israelite kingdom (at Jerusalem) and the Davidic line; the language used reflects Judean royal theology, and almost certainly has Messianic significance in such a context:

“…your Name. You allotted his portion to cause your Name to dwell there […] It is the glory of your earthly land. And on it dw[ell your people …] your eye is on it, and your glory will be seen there fo[rever …] to his seed for their generations an eternal possession. And al[l …] and you have made clear to him your good judgments […] in eternal light. And you made him a first-bo[rn] son to you […] like him for a prince and ruler in all your earthly land [… …the] cr[own of the] heavens and the glory of the clouds [you] have set [on him … …] and the angel of your peace among his assembly. And h[e … gave] to him righteous statutes, as a father to [his s]on [… …] his love your soul cleaves to for[ever. …] because by them [you established] your glory […]”
Translation by Craig A. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 147.

It is noteworthy how heavenly/Angelic attributes are combined with the royal/Davidic motifs and traditions, very much suggesting that a Messianic figure is in view. The idea of the Messiah as God’s “first-born son” (rwkb /b) would be a development of the tradition of the faithful (Davidic) king as God’s son in Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14. The images of “eternal light” and the “glory of the clouds” are vaguely reminiscent of the scene of Jesus’ baptism, as also of his exaltation to heaven; in both contexts Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus, identifying him as both the Anointed One (Messiah) and God’s Son. Possibly, the Messianic/ruler figure in 4Q369 1 col. 2 is similarly understood to be “born” as God’s son through a dramatic heavenly manifestation that confirms his kingship.

The remaining fragments of the text (2-4), while tantalizing, are too small for much meaningful interpretation or reconstruction of the work as a whole.

4Q534

Another fascinating (and, unfortunately, highly fragmentary) text is 4Q534, an Aramaic word sometimes called the “Elect of God” text, due to the striking description in lines 8-11 of column 1 of the surviving fragment:

“…he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be forever.” (Translation Martinez-Tigchelaar, p. 1071)

It has been suggested that, in the literary context of the work, this is a prophecy of Noah’s birth (the Flood is apparently mentioned in column 2, line 14). The language certainly indicates a special figure, with a status and place in the world that has been established by God. These are characteristics that could apply just as well to a Messianic figure, and it is possible that such an association is intended. The expression “the spirit of his breath” may allude to Isa 11:4, a popular passage that influenced the Messianic Davidic ruler figure-type in Jewish writings of the period. There is a gap in the text presumably where something would have been stated regarding the birth of this person, and conceivably could have read “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God]”, or something similar (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 145 [citing J. A. Fitzmyer]). If more of the text had survived, we might be able to determine if there is genuinely Messianic significance to this passage, or if the similarities are coincidental.

There are even fewer references to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son in other Jewish writings in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Indeed, I am only aware of two passages which can reasonably be cited, and neither refers to the Messiah’s birth per se.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18

The 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon represent the earliest depiction of the Messiah (that is, the Davidic rule figure-type) in any detail. These hymns are usually dated to the mid-1st century B.C. (sometime after 63 B.C.). There is no specific mention of the Davidic Messiah as God’s Son, but there are several references, in close proximity, which illustrate how such traditional birth/sonship motifs could come together and be applied within the same Messianic context.

In 17:21, God is called on to “raise up” this king, whose Davidic origins are clear in the reference to him as “the son of David”; he is to be revealed to the world, and to God’s people, in the time known only to God. This manifestation of the Messiah, could, in similar contexts, be referred to as his “birth” (cf. above, on 1QSa 2.11-12). Moreover, an allusion to Psalm 2 follows in verse 23, which suggests that Ps 2:7 (and the Messiah’s “birth”) may also be in mind when referring to his end-time appearance. The Messiah’s unique relationship to God’s people at the end-time is also emphasized in vv. 26ff, with the traditional identification of the faithful ones of God’s people as His “sons” or “children”; this association is made in v. 27b:

“For he [i.e. the Messiah] shall know them, that they all are (the) sons of their God.”

If the faithful ones who obey the Messiah are sons/children of God, then it certainly follows that he is God’s “son” as well. The close (filial) relationship between the Anointed king (Messiah) and God is developed in vv. 31b-34: he is righteous, will be taught by God, will be called Lord and Anointed One (Lord Messiah), and God (the Lord) Himself is the Messiah’s own king.

Psalm 2 is again in view in Ps Sol 18, where the people will be shepherded under the rod of the Messiah (v. 6). This “rod” is also expressed in terms of the discipline shown by a father (God) to his son (Israel); indeed, in v. 4, Israel is described as a “firstborn son, an only child”. Again, if the people can be called God’s (firstborn) son, then surely this applies to their king Messiah as well (cf. above on 4Q369).

2/4 Esdras 13

The writing known as 2 (or 4) Esdras, like many of the surviving Jewish pseudepigrapha, was preserved and edited by Christians, but is ultimately based on Jewish materials. Indeed, the core of this work (chapters 3-14), the portion typically referred to as “4 Ezra”, is thoroughly Jewish and dates from the latter part of the 1st century A.D.—thus making it contemporary with much of the New Testament. The work is apocalyptic, presented as a prophecy of things which are to occur at the end-time. As an eschatological Jewish writing, it thus evinces a strong Messianic orientation, especially of the Davidic ruler figure-type who will appear to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment on the nations. In chapter 13, there is a vision of a man arising out of the sea (vv. 5ff); in the explanation of this vision that follows in vv. 25-38, a divine/heavenly voice tells the seer (Ezra) about the coming deliverance. Prior to the coming of the Messiah, there will be a period of intense suffering and distress, including wars among the nations (vv. 30-31); then it is related that:

“when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea.” (v. 32)

According to the Messianic traditions studied above, based primarily on Psalm 2:7, this revealing of God’s Son, his rising up “out of the sea”, could properly be referred to as his “birth”, though that particular wording is not used here. The conflict with the nations and their Judgment certainly corresponds to the traditional Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2. In verses 33-34 it is describes how the nations ultimately gather together with the intent of conquering the Son, but the result is that

“he will stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people… And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness…and will reproach them to their face with their evil thoughts…and he will destroy them without effort by the law (which was symbolized by the fire)” (vv. 35-37, ellipses mine)

Again the revelation of God’s Son is mentioned in verse 52: “no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day”.

Translations and references above marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8.
Those marked “Qumran-Messiasm” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998). “Zimmerman” is the article by Johannes Zimmermann, “Observations on 4Q246 – The ‘Son of God’, pp. 175-190; the article by Craig A. Evans is “Are the ‘Son’ Texts at Qumran ‘Messianic’? Reflections on 4Q369 and Related Scrolls”, pp. 135-153.
“Fitzmyer” refers to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Eerdmans: 2000).
The translation of 2/4 Esdras is that of Bruce M. Metzger in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1983).

Birth of the Messiah: Micah 5:2

Micah 5:1 [2]:
The Messianic Bethlehem Tradition

The strongest passage in the New Testament regarding the birth of the Messiah is the treatment of the Bethlehem tradition in the Matthean Infancy narrative (2:1-12)—in particular, the citation of Micah 5:1 [2] within the narrative (vv. 4-6). The tradition regarding Jesus‘ birth in Bethlehem is quite strong, on objective grounds; it is one of the few elements of the Infancy narrative shared by Matthew and Luke (though presented quite differently). Only Matthew relates it to the prophecy in Micah 5:1 [2], and in such a way as to indicate that it was regarded as a Messianic prophecy prior to its application to Jesus. Here is how the Gospel writer frames the citation:

And (hav)ing brought together all the chief sacred officials and (expert)s on the writings [i.e. scribes] of the people, he [i.e. Herod] inquired (from) alongside of them where the Anointed (One) comes to be (born). And th(ey) said to him, “In Beth-Lehem of Yehudah—for so it has been written through the Foreteller: ‘And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah, not even one (bit the) least are you among the leaders of Yehudah; (for) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader who will shepherd my people Yisra’el'”.

The Matthean Infancy narrative in chapter 2 may be divided into two halves—the second having a tri-partite structure:

    1. The visit of the Magi (vv. 1-12)
    2. The Flight to Egypt—a triad with a Scripture citation in each part:
      • The Dream of Joseph, warning of Herod, and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
        “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1)
        • Herod’s killing of the infants in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
          “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jeremiah 31:15)
      • The Dream of  Joseph speaking/warning of Herod, and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
        [“He shall be called a Nazarene” (citation uncertain)]

It is also possible to separate it into two halves, each with a bi-partite structure (containing a main and secondary Scripture passage):

    • The visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem, in the threatening shadow of Herod (vv. 1-12)
      “And you O Bethlehem…” (Micah 5:2)
      • The Dream of Joseph and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
        “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1)
    • Herod, ‘tricked’ by the Magi, slaughters the children in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
      “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jer 31:15)
      • The Dream of Joseph and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
        [“He shall be called a Nazarene”]

One might also add 1:18-25 to create three-part structure for the entire Infancy Narrative, each with a central Scripture passage and dream ‘visitation’:

The Scripture citations are central to the narrative, as also to the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of Israel. Unlike the other citations (1:22-23; 2:15, 17-28, 23), here the Scripture is quoted by a character (priests and scribes together) in the narrative, rather than as an aside by the author. Critical scholars would still view this as a Matthean citation, little different from the others in the Gospel; however, if we are to accept the narrative at face value, along with the underlying historical tradition, then Micah 5:1 [2] would have been understood as having Messianic significance at the time of the events recorded (end of the 1st century B.C.), prior to being applied by early Christians to Jesus decades later. To be sure, the original context of the passage (cf. below) is much closer to having an actual ‘Messianic’ connotation than the other Scriptures cited by Matthew (Isa 7:14; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15; and those underlying Matt 2:23). Even so, there is (as yet) no direct evidence for a Messianic interpretation of Micah 5:1 [2] in the first centuries B.C./A.D., outside of the New Testament itself.

If one looks honestly at the original historical context of Isa 7:14 [see the previous note and earlier articles on this passage]; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15, etc., it must be admitted that they have little to do with a future Messiah-figure. It is conceivable that Isa 7:14 could have been understood in this way, but there is no real evidence for it in Jewish literature contemporaneous or prior to the New Testament. The case may be somewhat different for Micah 5:1 [2], based on the following factors:

    • Unlike the oracles of Isaiah 7:10-17 and 9:1-7, which are presented in a relatively precise historical context (the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis and impending invasion by Assyria, c. 740-701 [esp. 735-732] B.C.), Micah 5:1-6 [MT 4:14-5:5] has a rather more general setting of coming judgment (military attack implied) followed by restoration. The themes (as well as language and style) of the these oracles in Micah are quite similar to those of Isaiah, but without some of the accompanying historical detail.
    • Assyrian invasion is mentioned in 5:5[4], and is presumably the source of judgment to hit Judah and the Northern kingdom (there is no clear indication Samaria has yet fallen, 722-721 B.C.); however, there is nothing like the precise (imminent) timing found in the predictions of Isa 7:15-17; 8:4. The implication of Micah 5:5-6 would seem to be that the Davidic ruler of 5:2 will lead (Judah’s) troops against the Assyrian invasion, which will lead to the gathering in of the remnant of Jacob (the Northern kingdom?). There is thus a closer parallel to the oracle in Isa 9:1-7, which is also more plausibly ‘Messianic’ (in its original context) than Isa 7:10-17.
    • The reference in Micah 5:3 [2] that God will give Israel/Judah up to judgment “until the one giving birth has given birth” is far more general (and symbolic, cf. the reference in 4:10) than that of the virgin/woman of Isaiah 7:14 (or Isa 8:3); this fact, in and of itself, makes application of the passage to an archetypal or future ruler much more natural.
    • The reference to Bethlehem (in Judah), while possibly intended (originally) to refer to a specific coming ruler in Micah’s own time, also makes likely an archetypal reference to the Davidic line (cf. also references to the “house of David” and “throne of David”, Isa 7:13; 9:7, etc).
    • While one can consider the language in 5:2b as similar to the exalted honorific titles given to ancient Near Eastern rulers (see my notes on Isaiah 9:6-7 in this regard), there is a dynamic, almost ‘mythological’ quality to the phrasing, which, when removed from the immediate context, would certainly suggest divine origin. Once the specific ritual sense of king as God’s “son” (cf. Psalm 2) has ceased to be relevant in Israelite history, the way is paved for the idea of a future/Messianic ruler as “son of God”.

Matthew’s citation of Micah 5:2 differs in several respects from both the Hebrew (MT) and Septuagint (LXX) versions:

Hebrew (MT) [5:1]

And you, House-of-Lµm {Bethlehem} of Ephrath,
Small to be (counted) with the ‘thousands’ [i.e. clans] of Yehudah {Judah},
From you shall come forth for/to me
(One) to be ruling/ruler in Yisra°el {Israel},
And his coming forth is from ‘before’ [<d#q#]
—from (the) days of ‘long-ago’ [<l*ou]

LXX

And you, Beth-lehem, house of Ephrathah
Are little to be in/among the thousands of Yehudah;
(Yet) out of [i.e. from] you will come out for/to me
The (one) to be unto (a) chief [a)rxwn] in Yisra’el,
And his ways out are from (the) beginning [a)rxh]
—out of [i.e. from] (the) days of (the) Age

Matthew 2:6

And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah,
Not even one (bit the) least are you in/among the leaders of Yehudah;
(For) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader
Who will shepherd my people Yisra’el

There are three major differences (and one minor) between Matthew’s citation and that of the LXX and Hebrew MT:

      • Instead of the reference to Ephrath(ah), Matthew specifies “land of Judah”; this may be an intentional alteration to avoid mention of an unfamiliar clan name (though the place name Ramah is retained in the citation of Jer 31:15 [Matt 2:18]).
      • Instead of calling Bethlehem small/little [LXX o)ligosto$], Matthew uses the expression “not even one (bit the) least” [ou)damw$ e)laxisth, i.e. ‘not at all’, ‘by no means’]—in other words, Bethlehem is actually great. Is this a variant reading (from a lost Hebrew or Greek version), or an intentional alteration (by the Gospel writer)?
      • Instead of the ‘thousands’ [or clans] of Judah, Matthew reads “leaders [h(gemwn]” of Judah. This is a relative minor difference, and may conceivably reflect a different reading of the consonantal Hebrew text; or it may be an attempt to emphasize rule (rather than the constitution) of Judah.
      • Matthew has omitted the final bicolon (“and his coming forth…”), inserting at the end of the prior line (replacing “of Israel”): “who will shepherd my people Israel”. This appears to be a quotation from 2 Samuel 5:2 (LXX): “you will shepherd my people Israel”, joined to Mic 5:2. The inclusion of this Scripture would strengthen the citation as a reference to the Davidic ruler figure-type.

Messianic Interpretation of Micah 5:1 [2]

The historical tradition in Matt 2:4-6 evinces a belief, or expectation, by Jews of the time, that the Anointed One (that is, the Davidic Messiah) would be born in Bethlehem. There can be little doubt that this underlies the core Gospel traditions in the Infancy narratives. Both the Matthean and Lukan narratives emphasize the association with David, though this is stronger and more pervasive in Luke (cf. Matt 1:1ff, 17, 20; Lk 1:27, 32-33, 69ff; 2:4, 8ff, 11). The historical detail of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is part of this Davidic Messianic tradition. The fact that the Bethlehem tradition is presented so differently within the two narratives demonstrates that it pre-dates both of them.

Indeed, there is evidence that the Bethlehem tradition (and also Micah 5:1 [2]) had been independently applied to the Messiah, in Judea, prior to the writing of the Gospels. This can be inferred fairly from John 7:41-42:

“Others said [i.e. regarding Jesus], ‘This is the Anointed (One)’, and (yet) others said, ‘No, for the Anointed (One) does (not) come out of the Galîl {Galilee}, (does he)? (Has) not the Writing said that out of the seed of Dawid and from Beth-Lehem the Anointed (One) comes?'”

The historical context in John at this point is ambiguous enough to virtually guarantee that we are dealing with a Jewish (rather than early Christian) tradition. It could be derived simply from the historical details surrounding David’s life, but more than likely the reference in Micah 5:2 is assumed as well. The tradition of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem is established in the subsequent Rabbinic literature—most notably, Jerusalem Talmud Berakot 5a [2:4], and the Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations §51 (on Lam 1:16). However, these passages are considerably later than the first century, and evidence from the first centuries B.C./A.D. is scant indeed. Sadly, the surviving fragments of the Qumran Commentary (Pesher) on Micah (1Q14) do not cover the relevant portion of the book (4:14-5:5 [5:1-6]). A separate text, 4Q168, with two small fragments, may be a similar Micah pesher (the surviving portion deals with 4:8-12), but too little is preserved to provide much by way of interpretation.

According to Origen, in his work Against Celsus (1.51), Jewish scholars in his time (and prior) had removed or suppressed the Bethlehem tradition—i.e., the expectation that the (Davidic) Messiah would be born in Bethlehem—to avoid giving support for the Christian belief in Jesus as the Messiah. However accurate this bit of apologetic may (or may not) be, it could be seen as providing independent confirmation of the Bethlehem tradition by perhaps the mid-2nd century A.D. Around the same time may be dated the Aramaic Targum (Jonathan) on the Prophets, which glosses/paraphrases Micah 5:1 [2] to say specifically that the Messiah comes out of Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the Jewish evidence cannot be dated, reliably at least, any earlier than this. Even within the later Rabbinic writings, the Bethlehem tradition is not very widespread; there is, for example, no reference to Bethlehem in the Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52a where the Messiah’s birth is alluded to. This may be partly because of the complex character of the Messianic figure-types, alternating between ordinary human and supernatural/heavenly figures, sometimes even suggesting a (re)incarnation of David or Elijah himself. In the New Testament we actually have more detail regarding the birth of Jesus as the Messiah than we typically find elsewhere in Jewish tradition regarding the Messiah.

December 14: Revelation 19:14-16

Revelation 19:11-16, continued

In the previous note, we examined the first portion of this vision of the exalted Jesus’ end-time appearance, in the form of a conquering warrior, a ruler on horseback, corresponding to the traditional Messianic figure of the Davidic Ruler type, who will defeat and subdue the nations. Verses 14-16 bring out this military aspect more clearly, in preparation for the battle imagery in the vision of vv. 17-21.

Revelation 19:14

“And the armed soldiers in the heaven(s) followed him upon white horses, having been sunk in(to) [i.e. clothed in] clean white (fine) linen (garments).”

Here both aspects of the white color-symbolism are combined: (1) victory, and (2) purity/holiness. It also draws clearly upon the first vision in vv. 1-10, of the pure and exalted believers who join the heavenly multitude to form the People of God in their fullness. The fine white linen garments, while generally representing heavenly garb, were specifically applied to believers (as the “bride” of the Lamb) in verse 8. Thus, however incongruous it may seem, here believers are part of the heavenly army (“armed soldiers in the heaven”) that the exalted Jesus leads. That they also ride white horses indicates that they are part of the same victorious power that the exalted Jesus possesses. The motif of “following” Jesus (the Lamb) may be a specific allusion to the beautiful image in 14:4.

While not emphasized in the New Testament, the idea that Angels and the Elect of Israel might join forces together in the end-time judgment (and battle) against the wicked was part of Jewish eschatological and apocalyptic tradition (e.g., Ascension of Isaiah 4:14-17, and see esp. the Qumran War Scroll [1QM, and related documents]). Military imagery is applied to believers in the New Testament, but in a different (ethical and spiritual) sense, though still not without eschatological implications (1 Thess 5:8; Eph 6:10-17, etc).

Revelation 19:15

“And out of his mouth travels out a sharp sword, (so) that in [i.e. with] it he should hit the nations (hard), and he shall herd them (together) in [i.e. with] an iron staff, and (it is) he (that) treads the trough of the wine of the impulse of the anger of God the All-mighty…”

Three different strands of eschatological and Messianic tradition are combined here, drawing upon three principal Scripture passages:

    • Isaiah 11:1-4 (v. 4)—As indicated in the previous note (on verse 11), this is one of the key passages viewed as a prophecy of the (Davidic) Messiah’s defeat of the nations. Naturally, such military imagery was ill-suited to Jesus’ earthly career, but it was an established part of Jewish Messianic tradition (Psalms of Solomon 17:24, 35; 4Q161 8-10 iii, 15-19ff; 1 Enoch 62:2; 2/4 Esdras 13:9-11, 37-38). The “rod” or “sword” that comes out of the Messiah’s mouth was reinterpreted as his “word” (parallel to his “breath”) that slays the wicked (on the LXX reading, cf. below); this may relate to the identification of the returning Jesus as the word of God. A similar eschatological use of Isa 11:4 can be found in 2 Thess 2:8.
    • Psalm 2 (v. 9)—The “iron staff” is derived from Psalm 2:9, an even more famous Messianic passage, and one used more frequently by early Christians. This rod/staff blends together with the “rod” of Isa 11:4, creating a second motif of a tool or weapon by which the Messiah subdues the nations. Kings in the ancient Near East were often referred to with Shepherd symbolism, and no more so than a ruler from the line of David (the shepherd). The 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon is probably the best-known Jewish text that combines Psalm 2 and Isa 11:1-4 within a Messianic interpretation (cf. 17:21-35ff, note also 18:6-8). The rod or staff indicates the authority of the ruler, both in the sense of (a) guiding the herd or flock, and (b) protecting it from predators (i.e. enemies).
    • Isaiah 63:1-3 (v. 3, cf. also Joel 3:13)—This is a classic description of the “day of YHWH” (the “day of vengeance” <q*n` <oy, v. 4), presented in terms similar to that in Joel 3:11-13—the judgment of the nations depicted by the imagery of the grape harvest (v. 13). Here it is God’s Anointed representative (Messiah) who comes in His place, as a Messenger of the Judgment. The enemies of God are “trampled” underfoot, just as the grapes are trodden down after the harvest to produce the wine (cf. Isa 25:10; Zech 10:5; Lam 1:15). The flowing red juice was a natural symbol for blood, as in Rev 14:17-20. It is only in Isa 63:1-3 that this imagery is tied to God (or His representative) in the figure of a conquering warrior; the description in our passage generally follows that of Isaiah—(1) his splendid apparel (v. 1), its red color, stained with blood (vv. 2-3), and (3) the act of defeating/punishing the wicked by “trampling the (grapes in the) wine-trough” (v. 3). The extended expression “the wine of the impulse [qu/mo$] of the anger of God” builds on earlier usage in chaps. 14-18.
Revelation 19:16

“And he holds upon his garment and upon his thigh a name having been written: King of kings and Lord of lords.”

The final detail of the visionary description is another name—the third in the passage and the second name that is written. The significance of the thigh (mhro/$) is that is the area of the clothing where the sword would be located. However, since the conquering figure’s sword comes out of his mouth, it is not located in the normal position on the thigh; instead, a name is written in that place. It is unquestionably a divine title, since God (YHWH) was called both “King of kings” (2 Macc 13:4; 3 Macc 5:35) and “Lord of lords” (Deut 10:17; Ps 136:3), and these could also be combined (Dan 4:37 LXX; 11:36; 1 Enoch 9:4; 63:2ff). These titles were previously used of the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) in 17:14 (cf. also 1:5). Rulers in both the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world could be called “King of kings”, as the Scriptures themselves attest (Ezra 7:12; Ezek 26:7; Dan 2:37); like YHWH, Zeus also could be called by this title (Dio Chrysostom Oration 2.75). With regard to the motif of a name written on the thigh, it is worth nothing that there were statues in the Greek world that could be inscribed on the thigh with the dedication “To Zeus, king of the gods”, or something similar (Pausanias Description of Greece 5.27.12). For references, see Koester, p. 759.

The significance of these titles, as applied to the exalted Jesus, is well expressed by the notice in 1:5, which contains imagery foreshadowing that of 19:11-16:

    • “the trust(worthy) witness” —in 19:11 he is also called “trust(worthy)” (pisto/$), and the designation “word/account (lo/go$) of God” very much suggests his role as God’s witness (ma/rtu$), one who speaks on God’s behalf, communicating His word and will.
    • “the first-produced of the dead” —this emphasizes that Jesus’ exalted (and divine) status is understood primarily through his resurrection, by which God raised him to the exalted position at His right hand; there is likewise an allusion to harvest imagery (i.e. Jesus as the ‘first fruits’).
    • “the chief (ruler) [a&rxwn] of the kings of the earth” —here the exalted Jesus is accorded a position above all earthly rulers and kings, because he is God’s Anointed, ruling in heaven at His right hand. At the end-time Judgment, this authority he possesses will be realized and demonstrated, in concrete terms, over all the kingdoms on earth.
    • “the (one) washing us…in his blood” —this is one aspect of the motif in v. 13 of Jesus’ garment “dipped in blood”; similarly, believers who remain faithful are said to have washed their own garments in his blood (7:14).

Given the bloody carnage that will come upon the nations in battle (vv. 17-21, to be discussed in the next note), we might well envision a traditional military conflict, especially with the heavenly army that accompanies the exalted Jesus. However, there can be no doubt that the defeat of the nations is accomplished, not with physical force of arms, but by the sword that comes out of the Messiah’s mouth. As noted above, this image comes primarily from Isaiah 11:4:

“And he will judge the low(ly one)s with justice,
and will make (the) decision in a straight way for the oppressed of the earth;
and he will strike the earth with the staff [fb#v#] of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he will put the wicked to death.”

Here is the same combination of trustworthy judgment and punishment/defeat of the wicked. In the original Hebrew, it is a staff (fb#v#) that comes out of the ruler’s mouth; however, in the Greek version (LXX) it is a word (lo/go$): “…and he will strike the earth with the word of his mouth”. In the fragmentary Qumran commentary (pesher) on Isaiah, discussing 11:1-3, it is stated that the Messiah (“Branch of David”) would judge all the peoples with his sword (4Q161 fr. 8-10, col iii. line 22). Thus there is some precedent for interpreting the “rod” out of the Messiah’s mouth as a sword, which is the more natural weapon for slaying an enemy. For Christians, a more spiritual interpretation was readily at hand, which would depict the Word of God or the Spirit of God as a sword. Note, for example, the statement in Hebrews 4:12:

“For the Word [lo/go$] of God (is) living, and (has power) at work in (it) and (is) able to cut over [i.e. more than] every two-mouthed [i.e. two-edged] sword, reaching through even to (the) parting of soul and spirit…”

In Rev 1:16 (and 2:12, 16) it is similarly a “two-edged” sword that comes out of the exalted Jesus’ mouth, indicating that this “sword” is the Word of God. Note also the famous reference in Ephesians 6:17: “…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”. This statement is misread and misunderstood by many Christians, reversing the word order to make the equation that the Word of God (identified as the Bible) is the sword. A careful reading of the actual Greek shows something quite different. The relative pronoun is neuter, which matches pneu=ma (“Spirit”), not ma/xaira (“sword”)—which is to say that the Spirit is identified as the Word of God. Moreover the Spirit (not Scripture) is the sword, just as salvation is the helmet, etc. In any case, all of this gives added meaning to the identification of the conquering figure in Rev 19 (the exalted Jesus) as the Word of God. He himself possesses that Word, which comes as a sword out of his own mouth, according to the imagery of Isa 11:4 LXX. Similarly, in 2 Thess 2:8, Jesus at his return will slay (lit. “take up”, “take away”) the wicked “Lawless One” with the Spirit (pneu=ma) coming out of his mouth (another allusion to Isa 11:4, “the breath of his lips”). Thus the conquering power is spiritual, and the sword that slays the wicked is the Word/Spirit of God.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the expression “Word of God” in verse 13 has three basic levels or aspects of meaning:

    • The exalted Jesus functions as God’s witness, speaking on God the Father’s behalf, communicating His word and will to believers.
    • The idea that believers in Christ are victorious over the forces of evil through their own witness (following that of Jesus himself). This is expressed precisely in 12:11 (“and they were victorious over him [i.e. the Dragon/Satan] through the blood of the Lamb and through the word [lo/go$] of their witness”), but is implicit throughout the entire book as well.
    • It is also through the Word of God that Jesus achieves the final victory over the wicked and the forces of evil; the exalted Jesus himself functions as that Word, wielding it (as a sword) out of his own mouth.

References marked “Koester” in these notes are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

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December 13: Revelation 19:11-13

Revelation 19:11-16

I previously noted how chapters 14 and 19 have the same basic three-part structure, with a sequence of three visions that follow a common outline:

    • Vision of the People of God (believers), alluding to their faithfulness during the period of distress; they give praise to God and/or the exalted Jesus (the Lamb), and anticipate the final establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
    • Vision of the end-time coming (return) of the Exalted Jesus, as a conquering warrior, drawing upon Messianic imagery.
    • Vision of the Judgment of the Nations, their defeat and destruction in a bloody battle.

The first of these visions in chapter 19 occurred in verses 1-10, discussed in the previous notes. The second vision, of the return of Jesus to earth, is presented in verses 11-16. It is rather interesting that the return of Jesus, so central to early Christian eschatology, is so rarely referenced directly in the book of Revelation, being described only briefly in the visions of 14:14-16 and here in 19:11-16 (cf. also 1:7). By comparison, the end-time period of distress and the great Judgment upon the earth are given extensive and detailed treatment across the three major vision-cycles, along with other intervening visions. The simple sequence in chapters 14 and 19 more accurately reflects the basic eschatological outlook of early Christians, with a very simple chronology:

    • The period of distress (qli/yi$), during which believers were already living, and which would continue, becoming much more intense and severe, for an indeterminate (but relatively short) length of time.
    • The return of Jesus, as the Anointed One of God, to deliver the righteous (believers) and usher in the Judgment
    • The Judgment upon the wicked and the nations of earth
Revelation 19:11

“And I saw the heaven having been opened, and see—! a white horse, and the (one) sitting upon it [being called] trust(worthy) and true, and in justice he judges and makes war.”

The primary image here is of a conquering warrior—a ruler on horseback leading his army into battle. The color white, though it may also represent purity and holiness in the book of Revelation, here more properly signifies victory, as in the white horse of the seal-visions (6:2). There the rider on the white horse was a negative image, depicting the suffering associated with the period of distress; here, it is a positive image of the exalted Jesus’ return. In Greco-Roman tradition, victorious military leaders sometimes rode white horses (Herodotus 7.40; 9.63; Dio Cassius 43.14.3; Koester, p. 753).

This conquering-warrior imagery is joined to the idea of God judging the world. As His Anointed One (Messiah), Jesus acts as God’s representative, inaugurating the end-time Judgment and overseeing it. He acts according to God’s own justice, and does so faithfully; this is why he is called “trustworthy and true” (pisto\$ kai\ a)lhqino/$, also in 3:14), it reflects his character as God’s Anointed representative. The main Messianic aspect here involves the Davidic Ruler figure-type (on which, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The description alludes specifically to Isaiah 11:1-4, a key passage for the tradition of the defeat of the nations by God’s Messiah, functioning as a conquering military hero. This is an aspect of the Davidic Messiah which Jesus clearly did not fulfill in his lifetime, and could only be realized upon his return to earth at the end-time.

The visionary detail of the heaven “having been opened” foreshadows the action of God in bringing the Judgment, a sign that it was about to begin (cf. 11:19; 15:5; Isa 64:1; 3 Macc 6:18-19); moreover, the manifestation of ‘armies’ marching in heaven (its sound, etc) was traditionally viewed as a sign of corresponding conflict that would take place on earth (Josephus, War 6.298-9; Tacitus Histories 5.13, etc; Koester, p. 752).

Revelation 19:12-13

“And his eyes (were) [as] a flame of fire, and upon his head (were) many strips bound around, holding a name having been written (on them) that no one has seen, if not he (him)self, and having thrown about (him) a garment having been dipped in blood, and his name has been called: The Lo/go$ of God.”

The features of this conquering figure represent a combination of Divine and Messianic/Christological details:

    • “eyes as a flame of fire” —a symbol of divine, heavenly power (e.g. Dan 10:6), which also was an attribute of the exalted Jesus in the introductory vision (1:14)
    • “many strips bound round (his head)” —these diadh/mata were honorific strips of cloth, worn around the head by kings and rulers (a common feature in the Greco-Roman tradition).
      • “holding a name having been written (on them)” —i.e., the name is written on the cloth bands; there is a clear parallel with the Dragon and Sea-Creature of the chapter 12-13 visions, who also had diadems or crowns on their heads/horns, along with names insulting to God (12:3; 13:1).
    • “a garment thrown about him having been dipped in blood” —royal figures often wore purple-dyed garments, but the garment of this ruler was been dyed with blood (like the reddish purple ‘blood’ of grapes). Here the symbolism is two-fold: (1) the blood refers to Jesus’ sacrificial death (as well as the death of believers who follow his example), and (2) it prefigures the blood of those to be slain in the coming Judgment. Both aspects are emphasized throughout the book of Revelation (1:5; 5:9; 6:10-12; 7:14; 12:11; 16:3-6, etc), but the immediate reference is to the vision of 14:17-20, where the Judgment on the Nations is symbolized by the ‘blood’ of the grape-harvest (cf. Joel 3:13; Isa 63:1-3).

Of special interest are the two names mentioned in these verses:

    • The first name was, apparently, written on the bands (diadems) around his head; the syntax is unclear, and it is possible that the name was written in a different (unspecified) location, but throughout the book of Revelation we find the motif of a name written on the (fore)head. It is said that no one has seen (or known) this name, except for this ruler (Jesus) himself. There is a long (and ancient) religious tradition involving hidden or secret names—including hidden names of God. Just as the Sea-creature held names insulting to God on his head(s) (13:1), so the exalted Jesus holds a name honoring to God, which is itself a Divine name, indicating his divine status and position. In the Johannine Last Discourse (the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17), Jesus is the one who makes the name of the Father known to humankind (believers), and he, the Son, is the only one who knows it (17:6, 11-12, 25-26). Closer to the sense of our passage here is the Christ-Hymn of Philippians 2:6-11, where the exalted Jesus is given “the name th(at is) over every name” (v. 9).
    • The second name is not written, but called—i.e. it is spoken, or said, of the exalted Jesus. Here this name is stated: “the Lo/go$ of God”. The noun lo/go$ is notoriously difficult to translate consistently in English, especially when applied in a Christological context (“word” fits as good as anything). The usage in the Gospel of John (esp. 1:1, 14) could be seen as confirming the traditional Johannine character of the book of Revelation (i.e., in relation to the Gospel and Letters). Here, lo/go$ is unquestionably used as a divine title. I would suggest that its significance must be understood in the context of the book, where, as outlined especially in the opening verses (1:1-2), we have the important idea of Jesus as God’s witness. He speaks on God the Father’s behalf, as His representative, and thus embodies God’s word, the prophetic account (lo/go$) of the Divine will and purpose which is given out to the People of God. It may also signify the word of God’s judgment.

The remainder of this vision (vv. 14-16) will be discussed in the next daily note.

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Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Pt 2)

In the first portion of this 2-part article, I examined two key passages which are foundational for an understanding of early Christian eschatology as preserved in the book of Acts—(1) Jesus’ final commission and departure (1:6-11), and (2) the citation of Joel 2:28-32 in the Pentecost Speech of Peter (2:16-21). Now, it remains to consider the other eschatological passages and references in the book. This study will be divided again into two parts:

    • References in the closing exhortations of the sermon-speeches, and
    • Scripture citations and other references relating to the Mission to the Gentiles

1. Eschatology of the Sermon-Speeches: Exhortation

According to the discernible pattern for the speeches of Acts, the closing section involves an exhortation to the audience, prompting them to repent and accept the Gospel message (representing by the kerygmatic elements earlier in the speech). Since this exhortation typically involved the idea of salvation (cf. on Acts 2:21 [Joel 2:32a] in Part 1), and early Christian soteriology was centered on the theme of deliverance from the coming end-time Judgment, it was natural that this portion of the preaching would often have an eschatological emphasis. Let us consider the more notable instances in the Sermon-Speeches of Acts.

Acts 2:38-40

Foreshadowed by the citation of Joel 2:32a in verse 21, the exhortation section of Peter’s Pentecost speech occurs at vv. 38-40, and is preceded by a question from the crowd (v. 37):

“And hearing (this), their heart was pierced (through), and they said to the Rock {Peter} and to the rest (of) the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], ‘What should we do [ti/ poih/swmen], men, brothers?'”

Peter’s initial response comes in vv. 38-39, with the actual direction given in verse 38, in a formula so familiar to us now that we may no longer appreciate its importance, in context, as the first such exhortation in the early Christian preaching. The individual components are worth highlighting:

    • Direction: “You must change your mind(set) [i.e. repent] and be dunked [i.e. baptized], each (one) of you…”
    • Focus: “…upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed…”
    • Purpose: “…unto (the) release [i.e. forgiveness] of your sins…”
    • Result: “…and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.”

This aspect (and formula) of the Christian preaching goes back to the very beginning, to the proclamations by John the Baptist (Mark 1:4 par) and Jesus (Mark 1:15 par) in the earliest Gospel tradition. What is unique is the detail that change-of-mind (repentance) and baptism (symbolic cleansing) is to take place “upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed”, that is, in the context of trust in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) of God. In verse 39, Peter expands on the result/effect of this new faith in Jesus:

“For th(is) message about (what God will do) is for you and your offspring, and (also) for the (one)s unto a (great) distance (away), as (many) as should call upon our Lord God.”

This statement sets the Christian exhortation in the context of the prophetic declaration (by God) in Joel 2:32a (2:21), demonstrating again that Joel’s oracle is being fulfilled in the present (v. 16), at the very time of Peter’s speaking. Now the idea of calling “upon the name of the Lord (YHWH)” is interpreted as faith in Christ—”upon the name of the Lord (Jesus)”. In the immediate context, the e)paggeli/a, which I translate above (with a gloss) as “the message about (what God will do)”, relates primarily to the initial citation of Joel 2:28-32 (especially the pouring out of the Spirit), but also embraces everything written in the Scriptures that God has declared, or promised, for His people. It is a comprehensive term, here connoting the salvation, blessing, life, etc, promised to the faithful ones (i.e. believers). More to the point, it is identified with the Spirit itself (as God’s manifest presence in/among His people), as the fulfillment of the promise—this use of e)paggeli/a is confirmed not only in verse 33, but earlier in Lk 24:49 and Acts 1:4 (cf. also 13:23, 32). Paul develops the theological aspects of the word in Romans 4:13-20; 9:4ff; Galatians 3:14-29, etc. Here it carries a two-fold eschatological significance: (a) the manifestation of the Spirit in the “last days” (vv. 16ff), and (b) salvation in terms of deliverance from the coming end-time Judgment. This last point is emphasized in Peter’s closing words of exhortation (v. 40):

“Save (yourselves) from this crooked (period of) coming to be [genea/]!”

The demonstrative tau/th$ (“this”) refers to the current Age, using the word genea/, meaning (literally) a period when people are coming to be (born), i.e., “Age, generation”. Clearly implied is the idea of God’s (impending) Judgment that will come upon humankind (this very generation), marking the end of the current Age. The notion that the current/present Age is especially corrupt, and becoming increasingly bad, is common to most eschatological thought, and is scarcely unique to Jewish and Christian belief.

Acts 3:20-21

The next major speech in Acts—by Peter in 3:11-26 (cf. Part 4 of the series on the Speeches)—follows the basic pattern of the Pentecost speech. The closing exhortation, with embedded Scripture citations, is in verses 19-26. The call to repentance in verse 19 is similar to that in 2:38 (cf. above); but the eschatological elements occur in vv. 20-21:

“So (then) you must change your mind(set) [i.e. repent] and turn (back) upon (God), unto [i.e. for] the rubbing out of your sins, so that there should come (on you) moments of breathing again from the face of the Lord, and (that) he would send forth to you the (one) set before (His) hand, (the) Anointed Yeshua, whom it was necessary (for) heaven to receive until the times of restoration, of which God spoke through the mouth of His holy Foretellers from (the beginning of) the Age.”

In many ways the declaration in these verses (especially the closing words of v. 21b) expound the idea of the “promise” (e)paggeli/a) mentioned in 2:39; and the exposition is two-fold, based on a pair of conceptually related expressions:

kairoi\ a)nayu/cew$ (kairoi anapsy¡xeœs). The first word is the plural of kairo/$, which seems to relate fundamentally to the idea of measure—i.e. of a particular or definite point, either in a spatial or temporal sense. Temporally, it came to have the meaning of “the proper time”, “the right/decisive moment”, “an opportune time”, and so forth. A general match in English is the word “season”, and so it is often translated. However, it is partially synonymous with xro/no$ as well (see below). The noun a)na/yuci$ is derived from a)nayu/xw (“make cool again” or “breathe again”), often with the sense of “recover, refresh (oneself), find relief”, etc. The noun usually translated “soul” (yuxh/) is related to yu/xw (“cool, blow, breathe”). The noun a)na/yuci$ only occurs here in the New Testament (also in the LXX Exod 8:11), with the verb used in 2 Tim 1:16; a similar noun a)na/pausi$ (“rest [again]”) appears in Matt 11:28-29, etc. The expression kairoi\ a)nayu/cew$ could be rendered attractively (and fairly literally) in English as “time to breathe again”.

xronoi\ a)pokatasta/sew$ (chronoi apokatastáseœs). Xro/no$ is a common word for time, often, as here, a fixed measure or point in time (similar to kairo/$, “[opportune] time, occasion, season”); the plural xro/noi can also refer to a long period of time. The noun a)pokata/stasi$ is derived from a)pokaqi/sthmi, “to set (something) down [or make it stand] from (where it was [before])”, i.e. “restore, re-establish”; hence the noun is typically rendered “restoration, restitution”. Occurring only here in the New Testament, a)pokata/stasi$ (along with the related verb) became a technical eschatological term in early Christianity, at least partly due to the use of the verb in the LXX of Malachi 4:6 [3:24] (cf. Mark 9:12; Matt 17:11). The verb also is used in reference to the restoration of Israel/Judah (from exile) in the Prophets (Jer 16:15; 24:6; Ezek 16:55; and cf. Acts 1:6).

It is also possible to view vv. 20-21a as a chiasm:

    • Moments of refreshing
      • from the face/presence of the Lord
        • Jesus to be sent forth
      • present in heaven (at the right hand of God)
    • Times of restoration

At the center is the idea of the imminent but clearly future sending of Jesus as the Messiah (“Anointed”). This may help explain the use of xristo$ earlier in Acts 2:36—there it is stated that God made Jesus to be “Anointed” (Xristo$), following the resurrection. We are accustomed to think of Jesus as the Messiah/Christ in a more general sense, related to his divine nature (as Son of God) and role as savior (through his atoning death); here, however, almost certainly there is preserved an earlier (Jewish Christian) emphasis—of Jesus as the Anointed One who will (soon) come at the end time to restore “all things” and usher in the Kingdom and Judgment of God. The concept of the restoration of “of all things” (pantw=n) is probably derived from eschatological passages such as Isa 65:17; 66:22; cf. also 1 Enoch 45:4b-5; 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 7:75, etc; and New Testament passages such as Rom 8:19-22; Rev 21-22.

From an eschatological standpoint, it is also worth noting the citation of Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 (+ Lev 23:29?) that follows in vv. 22ff, since this was a key Messianic passage prophesying the future coming of Anointed Prophet; by the time of the New Testament, it was certainly understood in a Messianic (and eschatological) sense. For more on the Messianic Prophet figure-type(s), cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Acts 10:42

Peter’s speech to the household of Cornelius (10:34-48, discussed in Parts 13 & 14 of the series on the Speeches), is the first in Acts addressed to non-Jews (Gentiles), and is of the utmost significance for the theme of the mission the Gentiles (cf. below). The closing exhortation is at verse 43, preceded in vv. 36-42 by a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation), the most complete and developed to this point in the book of Acts. At the conclusion of this kerygma, there is mention of the coming end-time Judgment:

“and He [i.e. God] gave along a message to us to proclaim to the people, and to bear witness throughout, that this one [i.e. Jesus] is the (one) marked out under [i.e. by] God (to be) judge of (the) living and dead.” (v. 42)

The use of the verb o(ri/zw here has Messianic significance (Acts 2:23; 17:31; Rom 1:4), though this specific meaning, in relation to the person of Jesus, soon disappeared from use by early Christians. In particular, it relates to the identification of Jesus as one who will represent God at the end-time, overseeing and ushering in the great Judgment. In Gospel tradition, this Messianic role is associated with the title “Son of Man” (Acts 7:55-56, etc) and generally refers to the heavenly-deliverer figure-type (cf. Daniel 7:13-14; 12:1ff); for more on this Messianic type, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Acts 13:40-41

In Paul’s speech at Antioch (13:13-52, cf. Parts 1516 on the Speeches), which is parallel in many way’s to Peter’s Pentecost speech, there is less of an obvious eschatological dimension to the concluding exhortation (vv. 38-41); however, through the citation from Habakkuk 1:5 (vv. 40-41), the end-time Judgment is clearly referenced. This use of Habakkuk 1:5 is actually one of the most extreme examples in the New Testament of an Old Testament passage taken out of its original context. Originally, verses 5-11 were an announcement of judgment (to Judah and the surrounding nations), that of the impending invasion by the Babylonians (Chaldeans). The important point carried over by Paul is that the (historical) Babylonian conquest was the work of God (Hab 1:5-6)—”I (am about to) work a work in your days…”—and foreshadows the coming eschatological Judgment. The context of the original prophecy (and impending invasion) also confirms the idea that the end-time Judgment is imminent: “I (am about to) work…in your days”, i.e. in the days of Paul’s audience, which also happens to be the “last days” (Acts 2:16).

Acts 14:16 & 17:30-31

Paul’s speeches in Lystra (14:8-18 [see Part 17]) and Athens (17:16-34 [Parts 2021]) are the first addressed to a Greco-Roman (pagan) audience, and the principal such speeches in the book of Acts. Naturally, they have many features in common, despite the brevity of the Lystra speech; from the standpoint of the narrative of Acts, the Paul’s address in Lystra foreshadows the great Athens speech. The central proclamation in 14:16-17 includes a component of exhortation, with an implicit reference to the coming Judgment. The true God, as Creator (v. 15)

“…in the (time)s of coming to be [geneai] th(at have) passed along (has) let all the nations (alone) to travel in their (own) ways”

The judgment context is much clearer in the Athens speech, the idea in 14:16 being developed in 17:30-31:

“So (then), (on the one hand) God has overlooked the times of (being) without knowledge, (but) now th(ing)s (are this way): He give along the message to all men everywhere to change (their) mind [i.e. repent], in that [i.e. because] He (has) set a day in which he is about [me/llei] to judge the inhabited (world), in justice, in [i.e. through] a man whom He marked out [w%risen], holding along a trust for all (people) (by) standing him up out of the dead.”

As with most of the prior speeches in Acts, this is an exhortation to repent (metanoei=n, “have a change of mind”), emphasized with a pair of contrasting clauses:

    • V. 30a—me\n (‘on the one hand…’): “God has overlooked the times of unknowing [a&gnoia, without knowledge, i.e. ignorance]”
    • V. 30b—nu\n now (‘on the other hand’), things (are thus): “he brings along a message to all men (in) all places to repent”

For a detailed exposition of the eschatological components of verse 31, cf. the discussion in Part 21 of the “Speeches of Acts” series. The language reflects that of the prior speeches, emphasizing the (Messianic) role of the exalted Jesus as Judge. That this reflects an imminent eschatology is also clear by the use of the verb me/llw (“[be] about to [happen]”); for other such uses of this verb, cf. the first part of the separate article on Imminent Eschatology in the New Testament.

Other References

Other eschatological references or allusions (to the end-time Judgment, etc) may be summarized here:

    • Acts 7:55-56 (narrative conclusion of the speech)—Stephen’s vision of the exalted Jesus as the heavenly “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God; the eschatological inferences are based on the Synoptic Son of Man sayings in Mark 13:26-27; 14:62, as well as Daniel 7:13-14, from which such imagery ultimately derives.
    • Acts 20:29ff—Paul’s warning, in his (farewell) address to the elders of the Ephesian churches, may have eschatological significance, as part of the idea that there will be opposition and persecution of believers, and increasingly so, during the period of mission work prior to the end (Mk 13:9-13 par).
    • Acts 24:15, 21; 26:6-8—These references to the (end-time) resurrection are fundamentally eschatological, and likely relate to the belief in the impending Judgment expressed at a similar point in the prior speeches (cf. above).

2. Eschatology of the Sermon-Speeches: Mission to the Gentiles

The eschatological significance of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles was discussed in Part 1 of this article. It is based on the fundamental idea, expressed clearly in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, that there would be a period of preaching and missionary work among the (surrounding) nations, prior to the Judgment and return of Jesus. The extent of this mission-work, in the minds of early Christians, is a matter of some debate today. The original context of the Eschatological Discourse (cf. the discussion in Part 1 of that article) itself suggests a period of around 30 years (a generation), prior to the destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.). However, in the Matthean and Lukan versions, probably dating from sometime after the Temple’s destruction (c. 70-80), seem to have modified this chronological framework and expectation somewhat (cf. Parts 2 & 3). In particular, the statement in Matt 24:14 could allow for a more extensive and longer period of mission work (in spite of vv. 32-34 par). The author of Luke-Acts almost certainly recognized that the early Christian mission (to the Gentiles) would extend past the time of the Temple’s destruction (cf. the wording in Lk 21:24-25), yet there is little in either the Gospel or Acts to indicate the the end was not still imminent at the time the author wrote. At any rate, the early Christian preaching recorded in Acts certainly evinces an imminent eschatology, as we have seen.

All of this means that the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire—which, for the author of Acts, is represented by Paul’s missionary work—is, in many ways, the central event which must be fulfilled prior to the coming of the end. Paul’s presence in the imperial capital at the end of the book (28:11-31) is an important sign that, to a great extent, the period of mission work, prophesied and commanded by Jesus (cf. on 1:6-11 in Part 1 of this article), has been completed. If the approach of the end was close for the apostles who preached decades before, it is that much closer for believers living in the author’s own time (c. 80?).

Let us now briefly survey the key passages, referring to the mission to the Gentiles, which may be seen as having an eschatological emphasis or aspect:

Acts 13:47

At the close of his speech at Antioch (13:47), Paul defines his own role, as missionary to the Gentiles, in terms of the prophecy in Isa 49:6:

“For so the Lord has given us (this) duty to complete:
‘I have set you unto a light of the nations [i.e. as a light for the nations],
(for) you to be unto salvation [i.e. to bring salvation] until the end(s) of the earth.'”

The author alludes to this same prophecy in the Infancy narrative of the Gospel, through the famous oracle of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). The expression “until the end(s) of the earth” clearly echoes to commission by Jesus in 1:7-8, referring to the missionary outreach that will occur prior to the end (v. 6). There is a similar allusion, by Paul, to Isa 49:6 at the close of his speech before Agrippa (26:23).

Acts 15:15-18

In the speech by James, set during the “Jerusalem Council” (Acts 15), cites Amos 9:11-12 (vv. 15-18), applying it to the early Christian mission and the inclusion of Gentiles as believers in Christ. The Messianic (and eschatological) interpretation of this passage is clear enough from how Amos 9:11 (v. 16) is cited in context. It is clear from the Qumran texts that Amos 9:11 was understood in an eschatological/Messianic sense by other Jews at the time. The Florilegium (4Q174), which strings together related Scripture passages (with a brief interpretation), associates Amos 9:11 with the promise of the Davidic dynasty in 2 Sam 7:

This (refers to the) “Branch of David”, who will arise with the Interpreter of the Law who [will rise up] in Zi[on in] the [l]ast days, as it is written: “I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen”, This (refers to) “the hut of David which has fall[en”, which he will raise up to save Israel. (translation from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1 [Leiden/Brill, 1998/2000], p. 353)

Here the “booth/hut of David” is identified with the Messianic designation “Branch of David”, that is to say with a specific Anointed (Messianic) figure. A similar use of Amos 9:11 is found in the Cairo version of the Damascus Document (CD 7:15-16 [MS A]); this passage mentions in sequence: (a) coming days of judgment and tribulation [citing Isa 7:17], (b) exile of the ‘booth of the king’ [Amos 5:26-27], (c) raising up the ‘booth of David’ [Amos 9:11], (d) the coming of the ‘star’ [Interpreter of the Law] and ‘sceptre’ [Messiah/Prince] who will smite the nations [Num 24:17]. For more on Amos 9:11-12 and its use in James’ speech, cf. the discussion in Part 19 of “The Speeches of Acts”.

Acts 28:28

The final reference in Acts to the mission to the Gentiles comes at the very end of the book, in the concluding words of Paul’s address to Jews in Rome (28:28). It very much echoes his message to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch earlier in 13:46-47 (cf. above). Here, the declaration is even more decisive, emphasizing the Gentile mission. In vv. 26-27, Paul makes use of Isa 6:9-10, in a manner similar to Jesus’ use in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 4:12 par). In the Gospel tradition, Jesus’ citation is made in connection with the idea that the “secret” (musth/rion) of the Kingdom of God is being given to his disciples, while being keep hidden from the people at large. Within the wider context of early Christian thought, it is fair to identify this “secret” with the Gospel message proclaimed by believers (and missionaries) throughout the book of Acts. As in Jesus’ own time, many people (spec. Israelites/Jews) would be unable (or unwilling) to accept this message. There is perhaps a hint here of the idea, which Paul would expound in detail in Romans 9-11, that rejection by other Jews was necessary to allow and provide for the (end-time) mission to the Gentiles. In his Romans exposition, Paul expresses his belief that, once the Gentile mission is completed, there would yet be a great conversion of his fellow Israelites and Jews before the end. Of this there is not the slightest hint in the book of Acts, but it is clearly important for Paul’s own eschatological views, and it will be discussed at the appropriate point in an upcoming article in this series.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Pt 1)

In this next portion of the series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament I will be exploring the early Christian preaching as recorded in the book of Acts. Upon a casual reading, it would appear that eschatology is not very important in the book, since the author himself does not emphasize it explicitly in the narratives, and, even in the various sermon-speeches, statements regarding the ‘end times’ are relatively slight. However, when one considers the two-volume work of the Gospel and Acts together, it is abundantly clear that the context of the entire volume of the ‘Acts’ of the Apostles is, in fact, eschatological. Before proceeding to examine individual passages, it will be important to isolate several of the principal themes of Luke-Acts, and how they relate to the eschatological worldview of early Christians. There are three themes, in particular:

    1. A period of missionary activity by the followers of Jesus, and the persecution they will endure; the eschatological basis for this is established in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (21:5-36 in Luke)
    2. The mission to the Gentiles—a Messianic/eschatological context by way of a number of key passages in the Prophets, as interpreted by early Christians
    3. The coming and work of the Holy Spirit—a sign that the early Christians were living in the “last days”

Beyond this, we must deal with the central fact that the very belief that Jesus is the Anointed One (‘Messiah’), according to whichever Messianic figure-types are in view, is fundamentally eschatological. This is discussed in an earlier article of this series, as well as all throughout the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The uniquely Christian adaptation of Messianic thought also affects the eschatological outlook of early believers, and may be summarized as follows, under two points:

    • Jesus is identified with all of the main Messianic figure-types attested at the time; the appearance of these figures was generally understood to coincide with end of the current Age and the beginning of the Age-to-Come. Thus, it meant that believers in Christ were living in the “last days”—the time just prior to the divine Judgment that marks the end of the (current) Age.
    • At the same time, Jesus, in his lifetime, did not fulfill all of the end-time actions expected of these Messianic figures—esp. the Davidic ruler figure-type, but also the “Son of Man” heavenly-deliverer type. The complete fulfillment of these Messianic roles would not—indeed, could not—take place until the return of Jesus, at an indeterminate time in the (near) future.

We will see both of these points clearly enough as we proceed through all the remaining eschatological/prophetic passages in the New Testament, but they could already be glimpsed in the way that the traditional material—sayings and parables of Jesus, along with the “Eschatological Discourse”—was handled by the three Synoptic Gospel writers, which we studied in detail in the prior articles. It is important to keep them in mind in this study of the early Christian eschatology in the book of Acts. As it happens, the three eschatological themes outlined above, are all present, combined, in the keystone passage at the beginning of the Acts—the transitional episode (1:6-11) between the introduction and the Pentecost narrative(s).

Acts 1:6-11

I have already examined this passage in some detail in earlier notes (cf. the 4-part series “The Sending of the Spirit”). It may be summarized as Jesus’ farewell to his disciples, and outlined as follows:

    • Question by the disciples (v. 6)
    • Jesus’ answer—commission to the disciples (vv. 7-8)
    • Jesus’ departure from earth (v. 9)
    • Angelic announcement to the disciples (vv. 10-11)

There is eschatological significance to each of these elements, which must be briefly considered.

Verse 6

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=|  )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”. The eschatological significance of this verb likely stems from its use in Malachi 3:23 LXX.

This question by the disciples reflects aspects of Messianic (and eschatological) thought shared by many Jews of the first centuries B.C./A.D.—of the restoration of Israel which would occur at the end of the current Age. This was associated, in particular, with the Davidic ruler figure-type—an anointed Ruler from the line of David who, it was believed, will subdue the wicked nations and deliver the people of Israel, establishing a Kingdom even greater than that ruled by David and Solomon centuries before. Whether this Messianic Age (and Kingdom) coincides with the Age to Come, or represents a period preceding it, there can be no doubt that the idea and expectation is fundamentally eschatological. On this Messianic figure-type, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the separate article (Part 5) on the “Kingdom of God”; for more on the Kingdom concept, see also the 2-part article “…the things about the Kingdom of God”. Given the importance of the Kingdom concept in Jesus’ preaching from the very beginning (cf. the earlier article on Mark 1:15 par), and its definite eschatological aspects, it was reasonable that his followers, still operating under the traditional Jewish understanding of the time, would expect that the Messiah (Jesus) would fulfill his role as Davidic Ruler and establish the end-time Kingdom of God on earth. This idea runs through the Gospels and is evident in various ways, especially within the Gospel of Luke; on this traditional Messianic expectation, see, for example, Lk 1:67-75; 2:1-14, 25-26, 38; 17:20; 19:11, 38; 23:51. Such a Kingdom was not established by Jesus prior to his death, even when it might have been expected (19:11, 38); now, surely, after his resurrection from the dead, this would occur.

Verses 7-8

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

The focus is not on the traditional Messianic expectation, but on the unique mission, which they—his followers—were to carry out in his name. It is fair to understand this mission as the way the (Messianic) Kingdom would be realized on earth—through the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit. In this regard, it is important to note the interesting variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (11:2)—instead of the majority reading “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) have “may your holy Spirit come [upon us] and cleanse us” (e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion [e)f’ h(ma=$] kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$). Such a reading was also known by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century (followed by Maximus Confessor), and traces of it are found earlier in Tertullian’s work Against Marcion (4:26). The context of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke specifically relates prayer to a request by believers for the Holy Spirit (11:13), and helps to establish the basic connection of the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Spirit, as we see here in Acts 1:7-8ff. Moreover, the early Christian mission itself, summarized here by Jesus’ words, “and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}, and [in] all of Yehudah {Judea} and Shimron {Samaria}, and unto the end of the earth”, within the Acts narrative structure, is closely connected to the idea of the restoration of Israel, as I have discussed previously. This may be summarized as follows:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

Verse 9

“And having said these (thing)s, (with) their looking at (him), he was lifted upon (the air) and a cloud took him under, (away) from their eyes.”

This verse narrates Jesus’ departure from earth, i.e. his ascension into the heavens. In the Gospel of John, this is described theologically, in terms of his return back to the Father; here, we have the traditional visual idea of being raised up to Heaven (where God the Father dwells). Two specific details are mentioned in relation to this “ascension”: (a) being taken into a cloud, and (b) that he was no longer seen by them (lit. “[taken] away from their eyes”). This first is important quite apart from the obvious association of the cloud with divine manifestation (theophany, Lk 3:21-22; 9:34-35 par), due to the eschatological-Messianic image (from Daniel 7:13-14) of the Son of Man “coming in/on (the) clouds”. This represents the final, climactic moment of the “Eschatological Discourse” (Lk 21:27-28 par), marking the end of the current Age, and is also mentioned as the climactic point in the Synoptic scene of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62; par Lk 22:69). The second detail relates to the uniquely Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, as noted above. The fact that he is no longer to be seen on earth by his disciples, means that he is now in heaven, having been exalted to the right hand of God the Father—a central element of the earliest Gospel proclamation and understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God. There are two key aspects of his presence in heaven (and not on earth) which are essential to the early Christian preaching, and its eschatology, as recorded in the book of Acts:

    • It is this exaltation to God’s right hand which makes Jesus fundamentally different from the traditional idea of the Messiah (as David Ruler, etc)—he has a divine/heavenly status which informs his (Messianic) identity as “Son of God”, but also identifies him with the Danielic (7:13-14, etc) deliverer figure known by the title “Son of Man”
    • It is from this exalted position in Heaven that Jesus will come (back) down to earth to usher in the Last Judgment, and to deliver the faithful ones of God’s people (i.e. believers) at the end-time. While the idea that a Messianic figure would appear from heaven is not unknown in Jewish tradition of the time, rarely (if ever) is it so clear and specific as the early Christian view was.

Verses 10-11

This brings us to the final element of the passage, the announcement of the two heavenly/angelic men in white to the disciples. Their message, echoing the scene of the ascension itself, emphasizes three important details:

    • The focus on the heavenly location from which Jesus will appear—i.e. Jesus as the heavenly deliverer (“Son of Man”) at the end-time
    • That he will come again in the same manner he departed implies an appearance “coming in the clouds” which also identifies him as the “Son of Man” figure (of Dan 7:13-14 etc)
    • It is effectively a promise that Jesus (the Anointed One) will soon return, completing his Messianic role on earth—i.e. realizing the Kingdom of God, delivering the faithful, and ushering in God’s Judgment

Having examined this first passage, it is now necessary to consider the eschatological elements and details in the various sermon-speeches of Acts. It continues to be a point of debate among New Testament scholars and commentators as to whether, or to what extent, these sermon-speeches reflect authentic preaching by the earliest believers, or are the (literary) product of the author. I discuss this question in some detail in my series on the Speeches of Acts, and will not go into it further here, except to point out that, in my view, it is possible to discern enough peculiar features, atypical of Lukan vocabulary and style, which suggest that, in fact, portions of genuine early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) are recorded and preserved in the speeches. This also implies that elements of the earliest Christian eschatology, insofar as they are present in the kerygma, are also preserved for us in the speeches. As I will demonstrate, the language and wording in which these elements are expressed is distinct enough to indicate that they are authentically part of the early preaching.

Generally, the eschatological details are included in the closing exhortation portion, except when there is a key Scripture citation earlier in the speech which, as interpreted by early Christians, has definite eschatological significance. This is certainly the case in the great Pentecost Speech by Peter, part of the Pentecost narrative of chapters 1-2, where the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 is cited.

Acts 2:16-21

Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:14-36ff), opening as it does with the famous quotation from Joel 2:28-32 (in vv. 16-21), must be understood in the context of the narrative of Acts, with its eschatological implications:

    • The final words of Jesus and his departure to heaven (on the eschatological aspects, cf. above)—1:6-11
    • The reconstitution of the Twelve Apostles, symbolic of the (end-time) restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, all gathered together (as one) in Jerusalem—1:12-26
    • The coming of the Spirit upon the believers, symbolizing the coming/establishment of the Kingdom (cf. above)—2:1-4
    • Jews from all the surrounding nations present in Jerusalem to hear the word of God (the Gospel first proclaimed), symbolic of both: (a) the gathering of Jews from the nations, and (b) the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship God, both end-time motifs—2:5-13

Thus, it can as no surprise that Peter’s great speech opens with a profound eschatological message: what the prophet (Joel) said would happen “in the last days” is happening now, at this very moment, among the first believers in Jerusalem (“this is the [thing] spoken through the Foreteller…”)! I have discussed this previously in the article on Peter’s speech (Part 2 in the series “The Speeches of Acts”); here I will repeat parts of that discussion, emphasizing, in particular, the details and features as they relate to early Christian eschatology.

Verse 16

“But this is the (thing) spoken through the Foreteller Yo’el”

The demonstrative pronoun tou=to (“this”) refers back to the manifestations of the Spirit in verses 4ff, specifically the miraculous speaking in other languages (“tongues”) so that the first proclamation of the Gospel could be instantly understood by people (Jews) from the surrounding nations (vv. 5-13). How this relates to the original oracle of Joel is interesting, especially when considered within the context of the Acts narrative (cf. above).

Consider the place of this prophecy in the book of Joel:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted. Regardless, in Acts, it is clearly the spiritual side of Israel’s future restoration that is emphasized, being applied to believers in Christ—a theme which is found throughout the early chapters of the book.

Verses 17-18

“And it will be, in the last days, God declares, ‘I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will foretell [i.e. prophesy], and your young (one)s will look gazing (at visio)ns, and your old (one)s will see (vision)s in (their) sleep; and even upon my (male) slaves and upon my (female) slaves in those days will I pour out from my Spirit, and they will foretell.”

This is the first portion of the actual citation (Joel 2:28-29). There are several differences from the Hebrew; most notably, the generic expression /k@-yr@j&a^, i.e. “after this, following these (things)”, Grk. meta\ tau=ta (LXX), has been changed to “in the last days” (e)n tai=$ e)sxa/tai$ h(me/rai$). This clearly makes it an eschatological interpretation, referring to future events of the end time. Such an interpretation of the passage may be original to the early Christians, but there is also the possibility that it was understood as such by Jews at that time. In particular, the expression /k@-yr@j&a^ (“after this”) could easily have blended with the similar expression <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^, “(the time) after the days”, which occurs at Gen 49:1 and Num 24:14—two passages influential on Messianic/eschatological thought in the first centuries B.C./A.D. That same expression is also found in Deut 4:30; 31:29, and originally meant simply “in days/time to come, in the future”, but came to take on eschatological significance through its use by the later Prophets (e.g., Jer 23:20; 30:24; 31:33; 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; cf. also Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1); in Daniel 10:14, an eschatological framework is clearly in view, as also with its occurrences (around 30) in the Qumran texts.

Interestingly, even though the phenomenon of miraculous speaking in other languages (“tongues”) is at play in the Pentecost episode of Acts 2, the oracle cited by Peter specifically mentions prophecy—indeed, it is especially emphasized by the repetition of “and they will foretell/prophesy” at the end of Joel 2:29, a detail that is not part of the Hebrew text, but which accords well with early Christian priorities. It would seem that prophecy serves here to represent the presence and work of the Spirit among believers, epitomizing all such phenomena. Early Christians regarded prophecy—not simply foretelling the future, but an inspired speaking of the word and will of God before others—as the central and most important such manifestation (or “gift”) of the Spirit, as Paul makes clear at several points in his letters (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1-25ff). This work of the Spirit in and among believers was seen as something new, marking the coming of a New Age, and thus carried eschatological significance even apart from the specific declaration in 2:17a. The fact that the Spirit was manifesting itself in all believers—men and women, young and old, regardless of social and economic circumstances (“even…slaves”)—was a sign that the phenomenon was truly new and momentous. The early Christian acceptance of inspired female prophets, however slight the surviving evidence for it in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 11:2-16), finds support in the citation of Joel 2:28-29.

Verses 19-20

“‘And I will give (out) wonders in the heaven above and signs upon the earth below—blood and fire and blowing of smoke—the sun will be turned over into darkness and the moon into blood, before (the) coming of the day of the Lord th(at is) great and shining (forth) upon (all)!'”

It is still YHWH speaking through the Prophet (Joel 2:30-31), announcing what is to come in the future—the “Day of YHWH” (hw`hy+ <oy). Originally this expression referred to the time when YHWH acts to bring (destructive) judgment on the wicked, whether for the surrounding nations or His own people Israel. As such, it was oriented more or less to the immediate future—i.e., God was about to act in Judgment—but without any eschatological significance per se. However, eventually, through the influence of the oracles of the Prophets as a whole, it came to be understood and used in an eschatological sense, and that is certainly the case in Peter’s Pentecost speech. The “Day of the Lord” (h(me/ran kuri/ou) means the end-time Judgment God was to bring upon the earth and all humankind. Early Christians believed that Jesus, as God’s Anointed (Messiah), on his return to earth, would usher in and oversee the Judgment. This reflects the specific Messianic figure-type indicated by Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man” (inspired by Dan 7:13-14); for the eschatological Son of Man sayings of Jesus, see the earlier article in this series.

In Jewish and early Christian eschatology, as well as in much eschatological thought worldwide, the end of the current Age would be marked by terrible upheavals in the natural order, resulting in both destructive natural disasters and supernatural phenomena. This is abundantly clear from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, especially in the climactic section of Mark 13:24-27 par. Just prior to the appearance of the “Son of Man”, there will be extraordinary and destructive cosmic phenomena, signifying God’s Judgment and the dissolution of the current order of things, the present Age. This summary description in Mk 13:24-25 par echoes Joel 2:30-31, as well as other passages from the Prophets (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 34:4; Joel 2:10; 3:15; Ezek 32:7). The sixth seal-vision in Revelation 6:12-14ff describes similar cosmic phenomena, but without culminating in the appearance of the Son of Man.

A superficial reading of Acts 2:16-20 would suggest that Peter is claiming that such cosmic phenomena are occurring at the present moment, with the coming of the Spirit. What is more important to realize is that, even though the natural wonders of Joel 2:30-31 are not technically being fulfilled at the time of Peter’s speech, they clearly signify that, in the mind of Peter (and, to some extent, the author of Acts), the end-times are definitely at hand. The reference to these upheavals in the natural order simply reflects the essential belief that early believers were living in the “last days”, and that God’s end-time Judgment was soon to come upon the world. We may set this in context by comparing the citation of Joel 2:28-32 with a (partial) outline of the Eschatological Discourse:

    • A period of missionary work by Jesus’ disciples (Mk 13:9-13 par) =
      The Spirit-inspired preaching, etc, of the first believers (Acts 2:17-18)
    • The cosmic phenomena marking the end-time Judgment (Mk 13:24-25) =
      The same sorts of phenomena, identifying this Judgment with the “Day of the Lord” (Acts 2:19-20)
    • The deliverance of the Elect (believers) at the appearance of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26-27) =
      The salvation of all who trust in Jesus prior to the End (Acts 2:21)

Verse 21

“And it shall be (that) all who would call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This citation includes only the first portion of Joel 2:32, omitting the remainder:

“…so that in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be the (one) being saved, according to that (which) the Lord said, and they are (ones) being given the good message [eu)aggelizo/menoi], (those) whom the Lord has called toward (Himself)”
(translating from the LXX; eu)aggelizo/menoi is a misreading of the Hebrew <yd!yr!c=b^ [“among the survivors”])

In its original context, of course, it refers to calling upon the name of God (YHWH) for salvation, etc; however, in an early Christian context, it takes on a new meaning in reference to the risen/exalted Jesus as Lord [ku/rio$, cf. Acts 2:36, etc]. In this regard, note the key kerygmatic statement in Acts 4:12. Early Christian eschatology is not as immediately evident in this declaration, so basic to the thought and life of believers in all times and places. However, it is important to realize that, for the earliest Christians, the principal context of salvation was not being saved from the effects of sin, nor saved from ‘hell’ after death, but rather of being saved from the end-time Judgment (“anger/wrath”) of God that was about to come upon humankind. This is clear enough from the earliest Gospel tradition (Mk 1:4f, 15 par; Luke 3:7ff par, etc), and runs through to the latest portions of the New Testament (cf. the detailed exposition in the book of Revelation). Thus declarations such as Acts 2:21 in the early Christian preaching refer, not to a generic salvation from sin, but to the more concrete salvation/rescue from the coming Judgment.

This last point must be kept in mind, since it relates to the eschatological elements in the other sermon-speeches of Acts, occurring as they do, for the most part, in the closing exhortation/warning sections of the speech. In the second part of this article, we will examine briefly these passages, as well as several other references in the remainder of the book which may be considered to have eschatological significance.