April 5: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

1 Corinthians 15:45-49

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

This is part of Paul’s famous chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed recently in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”), a chapter that begins with the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus (vv. 3-7, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a memorable declaration of the resurrection (of believers) as a climactic end-time event (vv. 50-56). Thus the idea of the future resurrection of believers is blended together with the resurrection of Jesus—the latter serving as the basis (and pattern) for the former.

Indeed, in verses 45-49, as part of his attempt to describe the nature of the resurrection, Paul establishes a contrast between the living body of a human being (possessing a soul, yuxh/), and the body of a resurrected person that has been transformed by the Spirit (pneu=ma). This is expressed in verse 44 (and following) by a bit of wordplay that is most difficult to translate accurately in English. Paul uses two parallel, but contrasting, adjectives: yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$. For the first adjective (yuxiko/$) there is no comparable English word. It is derived from yuxh/, i.e. the cool wind/breath that animates a living being, and typically translated “soul”. Thus, as an adjective, yuxiko/$, would properly mean something like “possessing a soul”, “animated by a soul” —that is, a living (human) being. However, the point of the contrast with pneumatiko/$, is that the living being only possesses a soul, being animated/guided only by its natural soul-breath, and not by the Divine life-breath of the Spirit (pneu=ma). The same contrast is made, even more pointedly, by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14-16. That the point of the contrast is as I have explained here, is confirmed by Jude 19 (cp. James 3:15).

In 1 Cor 15:44ff, the adjective yuxiko/$ is primarily neutral, rather than negative, in meaning. The negative aspect is only hinted at, implied by the reference to Adam, and the idea that humankind is mortal, fated to die and return to the dust (i.e. decay). More important to Paul’s line of argument is the parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the second/last man), used also in Rom 5:12-21. All human beings share the nature and characteristics of the first man, but only believers in Christ take on the nature/characteristics of the second (and last) man. And what are the nature/characteristics of the second man, Jesus? Here is how Paul describes it in vv. 45-49:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul, the last man into a life-giving Spirit. But the (thing possess)ing the Spirit (does) not (come) first, but the (thing possess)ing a soul (comes first), (and) upon [i.e. after] that, the (thing possess)ing the Spirit. The first man (is from) out of the dirt, the second man (is from) out of heaven.”

Jesus is a life-making (i.e. life-giving) Spirit, possessing and animated by the Spirit of God. He is also heavenly, coming from out of heaven, and sharing the nature and character of the One who is upon (i.e. above/over) the heavens. Paul understands this of Jesus, primarily, not in terms of divine/eternal pre-existence, but in terms of the resurrection, and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. In the wording of v. 45, Paul indicates that Jesus “came to be” (transformed) “into” a life-making Spirit; this certainly refers to the resurrection and exaltation.

The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit is complex, and there is no definitive treatment of the matter in the New Testament. The Johannine writings deal with the relationship extensively, as does Paul, in his own way, in his letters. The Spirit can be referred to as “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ,” almost interchangeably (see esp. Rom 8:9); in some passages, the Spirit seems to be a divine power (or being) separate from Jesus, at other times it clearly represents the power and presence of Christ himself. The passage which connects the Spirit most closely with the resurrection is Romans 8:9-11ff. It is said that the resurrection of Jesus came about by the power of the Spirit of God (that is, of God the Father), and yet, just two verses earlier (v. 9), Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ” as that which dwells in believers. The idea seems to be that, with the resurrection, God’s Spirit is united with Jesus, so that they share the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

In Rom 1:4, Paul, following the early line of Christian thought, describes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God as based on the power of the resurrection, by which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. This power is connected with “(a) spirit of holiness” —it was according to this spirit (pneu=ma) that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”, language that reflects the earliest Christian preaching and tradition (cf. Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). The expression “spirit of holiness” could be understood as “Spirit of holiness”, i.e. “holy Spirit”, even though it lacks the definite article. Certainly, it would only take a small step of Christological development for the wording in Rom 1:4 to be understood in terms of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus’ resurrection, even as Paul states in 8:11:

“But if the Spirit, the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead, houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you.”

The precise reference of the expression “his Spirit” is a bit ambiguous—is it again God‘s Spirit, or is the reference now to the Spirit of Christ as that which dwells in the believer? Almost certainly, the latter is intended, being part of the same Christological belief reflected in verse 9, and stated above. With the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the very Spirit of God which raised him from the dead, and it is this “Spirit of Christ” that dwells in the believer; we experience the Spirit of God (the Father) through the Spirit of Christ (the Son). This unifying and uniting principle is presented even more clearly in the Gospel and Letters of John, but, in this regard, Pauline and Johannine theology are very close.

Thus, when Paul says that Jesus came to be (transformed) “into a life-making Spirit”, this is to be understood in the sense that his spirit comes to be united with God’s own Spirit; this occurs through “a spirit of holiness”, the transforming power at work in the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus (Rom 1:4). With this exaltation, Jesus is identified as God’s Son (“Son of God”), and, as such, he shares the same Spirit as God the Father. While Paul likely held an (early) form of belief in Jesus as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:13-20), when speaking of the Sonship of Jesus, he tends to follow the earlier Christology that defines this in terms of the resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand.

The promise in Rom 8:11b—

“…the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you”

which declares that the resurrection of believers will follow after the pattern of Jesus’ own resurrection, is essentially stated by Paul again in 1 Corinthians 15, as the Adam/Christ parallel and illustration continues in vv. 48-49:

“Such as the (one made) of dirt (is), even (so) these (one)s (made) of dirt (are); and such as the (One) upon the heavens (is), even (so) these (one)s upon the heavens (are). And, just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God.

March 29: John 12:1-8; 13:1-2

John 12:1-8; 13:1-2ff

In the Synoptic Gospels, the Passion Narrative begins with a trio of narrative episodes, firmly established in the tradition at an early point, probably well before the Gospel of Mark was composed; and, using the Markan narrative as the point of reference, the three episodes are:

    • Mk 14:1-2—The introductory episode, establishing the Passover setting, and the plans of the religious leaders to arrest Jesus
    • Mk 14:3-9—The anointing of Jesus by a woman (unnamed) at Bethany
    • Mk 14:10-11—Judas agrees to betray Jesus

The central Anointing scene is bracketed by the two short passages relating to the plans to arrest Jesus. It is interesting to consider how these components of the historical tradition were adapted within the Gospel of John, perhaps reflecting a distinctive Johannine line of tradition (for more on this, cf. my study on the Anointing scene, and also the supplemental study on Judas Iscariot, in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). In fact, the Anointing scene in the Gospel of John differs little from the Synoptic (Matthew-Mark) version, with the exception of two major details:

    • Identification of the woman with Mary, sister of Lazarus (vv. 1-3), and
    • Identification of the objecting disciple(s) with Judas Iscariot (vv. 4-6)

Whatever the relationship of these details to the historical traditions, they are significant to the Johannine narrative, both in literary and theological terms; and, each detail has considerable thematic importance to the narrative, which may be summarized as:

    1. The defining place of the Lazarus miracle, and
    2. The role of Judas Iscariot among the disciples

1. The Lazarus Miracle (Resurrection)

The raising of Lazarus (chap. 11) is the last and greatest miracle (or sign) of the “Book of Signs” (chaps. 2-12), and it clearly shapes the way the Passion Narrative is introduced and presented. It affects the early episodes of the Tradition, including the Triumphal Entry scene (cf. the previous note)—11:45ff; 12:1ff, 9-11, 17-18—and provides an effective transition between the first half of the Gospel (“Book of Signs”) and the second (Passion Narrative). From a thematic standpoint, the significance of the Lazarus miracle is three-fold:

    • It shows Jesus to be the Son who possesses the same life-giving power as God the Father (cf. 5:19-29).
    • Resurrection to new life is symbolic of the eternal life that believers experience through trust/union with Jesus (cf. especially the discourse in vv. 20-27, and my earlier notes on this passage).
    • The reference to resurrection establishes the emphasis on “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (cf. the recent article in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”).

All three of these points run through the Johannine Discourses, and are developed, especially, in the great Last Discourse (with its Last Supper/Passion setting).

The specific detail of the location of the Bethany anointing scene (the house or neighborhood of Lazarus) joins these aspects of the resurrection theme to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (i.e. the Passion Narrative). Here is how the Anointing scene is introduced:

“Then Yeshua, six days before the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], came into Beth-‘Aniyyah, where Lazar was, whom Yeshua raised out of the dead. So they made an (extensive) supper for him there, and Marta served, and Lazar was one out of (those) stretched out (at the table) with him. And then Maryam, taking a litra of myrrh-ointment…” (vv. 1-3a)

The reference to Lazarus being raised out of the burial-tomb is paralleled with the idea of Jesus being anointed in preparation for his own burial (v. 7b), a detail (saying of Jesus) that is central to the core tradition (Mk 14:8 par). Similar Passion traditions are adapted and developed in the subsequent discourse of vv. 20-36 (discussed in the recent daily notes).

2. The Role of Judas Iscariot

The Johannine portrait of Judas Iscariot, however brief, is distinctive, though very much rooted in the established Gospel Tradition (cf. again my earlier study in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The negative aspect of Judas is strongly emphasized in the Johannine Gospel (“…one out of you [i.e. one of the disciples] is a dia/bolo$ [i.e. devil]”, 6:70-71, cp. Mk 3:19 par), and the identification of Judas as the disciple who objects to the woman’s anointing of Jesus is part of this wider tendency (esp. the ugly additional detail in v. 6). Beyond this, however, the presence of Judas in the Anointing scene is significant in the way that it prepares for his role in the Passion Narrative.

In the Last Supper scene (chapter 13), we find another example of the special way that the Gospel of John adapts and develops the traditional material—namely, Judas’ presence at the meal and his departure (going out to betray Jesus). Consider how Judas’ presence is introduced in vv. 1-3:

“And (then), before the festival of the Pesaµ [i.e. Passover], (with) Yeshua having seen [i.e. known] that his hour (had) come, (and) that he should step across out of this world toward the Father, (hav)ing loved his own, the (one)s in the world, he loved them unto the completion (of it) [i.e. of his hour]. And, (with the) coming to be of (the) supper, (and) the (One) casting (evil) throughout [i.e. the Devil] having cast (it) into the heart of Yehudah (son of) Shim’on ish-Keryot that he should give him along [i.e. betray him], having seen [i.e. known] that the Father gave all (thing)s to him, into his hands, and that he came out from God and leads (himself) under [i.e. back] toward God, he rises out of the supper…”

The syntax is a bit awkward, especially the clause referring to Judas in v. 2; however, the main point to note is that, as part of the “hour” (cf. the prior note on 12:23) of Jesus impending suffering and death, the Devil puts the impulse to betray Jesus into Judas’ heart. In the Synoptic tradition, it is implied that Judas does this, in part at least, out of greed, a motive fully in accord with the detail in 12:6. However, ultimately, the betrayal is the result of the action of the Evil One (the Satan/Devil). Above, I have translated the term dia/bolo$ rather literally, as one who “casts [vb ba/llw] (evil) throughout”, to capture the word play—i.e. the Devil here “having cast” [beblhko/to$] the evil impulse (to betray Jesus) into Judas’ heart. This evil/diabolic influence becomes even more pronounced as the narrative continues:

    • The foot-washing episode, where Jesus states that one of his disciples there (i.e. Judas) is not clean— “…you are clean, but not all (of you)” (v. 10f)
    • The identification of Judas as the one who will betray him (vv. 21-26, cp. Mk 14:18-21 par)
    • The dramatic moment of Judas’ departure (vv. 27-30)

In one of the most striking moments of the entire Gospel, the Satan enters Judas as he eats the morsel of food given to him by Jesus:

“And with the morsel, then [i.e. at that very moment] the Satan went into that (one) [i.e. Judas].” (v. 27a)

The actual departure of Judas is equally dramatic:

“So (then), (hav)ing taken the morsel, that (one) went out straightaway. And it was night.” (v. 30)

The concluding statement “And it was night” is hardly an incidental detail; it is charged with symbolism, reflecting the darkness of the scene as Jesus’ hour comes. Fair or unfair from the standpoint of the historical tradition, in the Johannine Gospel Judas represents and embodies the evil and darkness of the world, and, as he leaves the group of disciples he goes outside, into the world, where it is night.

It is only after Judas (representing the evil of the world) has left, that Jesus is able to deliver his great Last Discourse to his close disciples. This body of teaching begins in 13:31, precisely after Judas’ departure. A central theme of the Last Discourse (and the Prayer-Discourse in chap. 17) is the relationship of the disciples (believers) to the world. This world (ko/smo$), the order of things in the present Age, is dominated by darkness and evil, and the Evil One (i.e. the Satan/Devil) is himself the “chief (ruler) of the world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou, 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The true believer does not belong to this world anymore than Jesus does, but is united with God the Father and (Jesus) the Son through the Holy Spirit. In the Johannine Gospel, Judas Iscariot represents the false believer (cp. 1 John 2:18-19; 4:1ff, etc) who belongs to the world, instead of to God.

 

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

The Johannine Writings, Part 1:
The Gospel of John

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Resurrection

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

John 5:19-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that (the) hour comes—and is now (here)—when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and the (one)s hearing shall live.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us briefly consider each of these.

Statement by Jesus (v. 23)

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

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

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

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

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

Exposition by Jesus (vv. 25-27)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future—John 14:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

Present (“Realized”)—John 14:18-24

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

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

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

Other Eschatological References

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

1. References to the Judgment

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

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

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

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

2. The Destruction of the Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Tradition in John 21:20-23

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

January 6: Galatians 3:27; 1 John 3:2

Believers as the “sons of God”, continued

In this short study on the “birth” of Believers as the sons/children of God, I have presented this in terms of Christian experience, as a process made up of four ‘stages’. The first two were discussed in the previous note, each with a representative Scripture verse; the last two will be examined today.

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
3. Sonship symbolized in Baptism (Galatians 3:26-27ff)

In the conceptual framework I have adopted, the baptism of believers corresponds, appropriately enough, with the baptism of Jesus (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note). As Jesus was declared God’s Son at the Baptism, so the sonship of believers is recognized (and symbolized) in the ritual of baptism.

References to baptism are surprisingly rare in the New Testament, outside of the Gospels and Acts. Indeed, Paul is the only author to deal with subject (apart from 1 Peter 3:21), and he appears to have developed a distinctive interpretation of the ritual. Drawing upon a common early tradition, he has infused baptism with a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning. There were two factors which led to the association between baptism and the identity of believers as sons of God. The first of these, as noted above, is the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ own baptism. All four Gospels include the tradition of the heavenly voice (of God) declaring Jesus to be his Son. While there is some textual uncertainty regarding this declaration in John (1:34, v.l.), the Synoptic tradition is relatively fixed (Mark 1:11 par). As discussed in an earlier note, the heavenly declaration almost certainly alludes to Psalm 2:7 (in Luke 3:22 v.l. it is a direct citation), and, as such, has definite Messianic significance, though, as we have seen, Christians also came to understand the title “Son of God” (and the statement in Psalm 2:7 itself) in a deeper sense, in terms of the pre-existent deity of Christ.

The second factor involves the significance of the ritual act, as it developed among the earliest believers. From the original idea of cleansing (from sin), baptism came to represent the essential identity of the believer in Christ. This was patterned along the lines of the Lord’s Supper, as presented in the early (Gospel) tradition—as a participation in the death of Jesus, symbolically imitating his own sacrificial act. By going into the water, one dies (symbolically), participating in Jesus’ death; and, in emerging again from the water, our new life in Christ is symbolized—a “rebirth” effected by the same divine power (the Spirit) that raised Jesus from the dead. No one emphasized or expressed this participatory aspect more than Paul. It is clearly and powerfully stated in Romans 6:3-5:

“…are you without knowledge that we, as (many of us) as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? Then we were buried together with him through th(is) dunking into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Father, (so) also we should walk about in newness of life. For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (then) also will we be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up (out of the dead)…”

The same idea is expressed, more concisely, in Colossians 2:12, which better captures the essence of the ritual act:

“…(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [i.e. baptism], in which also you rose together, through the trust (you have) of God’s working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead”

In Galatians, this participatory language also occurs at several points, not always in the context of baptism (see especially 2:19-21). The theme of baptism is introduced at 3:27, directly following the declaration in verse 26 regarding the identity of believers as sons of God (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The entirety of chapter 3 (indeed, all of chaps. 3-4) deals with this question of Christian identity—i.e., believers in Christ as the people of God, heirs to the covenantal promises originally given to Abraham (and Israel). The true identity of humankind as the sons of God comes through trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit—both of which are represented in the baptism ritual. Here is how Paul concludes his discussion in chapter 3:

“For all of you are sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua, for as (many) of you as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you sunk yourselves into (the) Anointed (as a garment). (And) there is in (him) no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, there is in (him) no slave and no free (person), there is in (him) no male and female—for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua! And if you are of the Anointed (One), then you are the seed of Abraham, (the one)s receiving (his) lot, according to (the) message [i.e. promise] (of God) upon (it).” (vv. 26-29)

This same sort of ritual language and imagery is used by Paul in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:10-11 (cp. Eph 4:24). His use of the image of ‘putting on a garment’, with the verb e)ndu/w (literally “sink in”, i.e. into the garment), is even more widespread. It is typically used in the middle voice, that is, of believers reflexively putting on Christ (as a garment). The ‘garment’ signifies the participatory union we have with Jesus (the Son), but also the new life (and new way of life) that this union brings. It is the baptism ritual that symbolizes this new life, but it still must be realized by believers, in the present, each day. Thus, Paul uses the idiom in an ethical context, urging believers to live and walk in this newness of life, which means walking according to the guidance of the Spirit. For the verb e)ndu/w in this context, cf. 1 Thess 5:8; Romans 13:12-14; Col 3:9-12 (cp. 2:11-12); Eph 6:11, 14; and, for similar instruction specifically referring to the Spirit’s guidance, note Rom 8:4-5ff; Gal 5:16-18, 25; 6:8. That the baptismal ‘garment’ is essentially to be identified with the Spirit is clear from 1 Cor 12:13.

In 1 Cor 15:53f and 2 Cor 5:3 the verb e)ndu/w and image of putting on the (new) garment is used in an eschatological context, referring to the resurrection and future glory of believers. It is this (final) aspect of the sonship of believers that I discuss briefly below.

4. Sonship realized through Resurrection/Exaltation (1 John 3:2)

It is in Romans 8:18-25 that Paul addresses the identity of believers as the “sons of God”, as it is finally realized at the end-time, in the resurrection. I have discussed this passage earlier, as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and will not repeat that study here. Instead, I turn to 1 John 3:1-3, for an expression of this eschatological aspect.

The principal thrust of First John has to do with the identity of those who are true believers in Christ. This is defined by the great dual-command of (a) trust in Jesus and (b) love for one’s fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example (3:23-24). For the author of the letter, sin is understood primarily as violating the dual-command. The section 2:28-3:10 deals with the relationship between sin and the believer; no true believer can sin in the sense of transgressing the dual-command, only false believers will sin this way. He warns of the false believers who do not have a proper trust or belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and also do not show love (since they have separated from the Community of believers). And, in common with the Johannine theology, the true believers are identified as children of God, using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), i.e. “the ones having come to be born out of God”. This is the language used in 2:29 (also 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), while the plural noun te/kna (“offspring, children”) occurs in 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; in the Gospel, note 1:12-13; 3:3-8. In the Johannine writings, te/kna is preferred over ui(oi/ (“sons”, except Jn 12:36 “sons of light”), with the noun ui(o/$ reserved for Jesus as the only “Son”.

The section 2:28-3:10 is given an eschatological setting, referring to the end-time coming of Jesus, in 2:28. The author clearly believed that he and his readers were living in the last days (“last hour”, 2:18), and would likely live to see the return of Jesus. The false view of Jesus is called antichrist (a)nti/xristo$, “against the Anointed”) and is a sure indication that the end is near. Thus, in 3:1-3, the identity of believers as sons/children of God has both a present and future aspect, with the future soon to be realized:

“You must see what (sort of) love the Father has given to us, that we would be called (the) offspring of God [te/kna qeou=], and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that [i.e. because] it did not know Him. Loved (one)s, we are now (the) offspring of God, and yet it has not been made to shine forth what we will be. We have seen that, when it should (indeed) be made to shine forth, we will be like Him, (in) that we will look with (open) eyes (seeing) Him even as He is. And (so) every (one) holding this hope upon him makes himself pure, even as that (one) is pure.”

The key eschatological statement is verse 2 (in bold). There are four different dimensions to the believers’ identity as the “offspring of God”, and they generally correspond with the four ‘stages’ outlined in this study:

    • “we would be called” —the love and intention God has for us [Election/Predestination]
    • “we are” —our essential identity and reality as believers [Trust in Jesus]
    • “we are now” —our identity in the present, realized in the Christian life [Symbolized by Baptism, etc]
    • “we will be” —our identity fulfilled at the end-time coming of Jesus [Resurrection/Exaltation]

The syntax of vv. 1-3 poses certain problems, as the referent for the 3rd person singular verbal subject and pronoun is not always clear. Does “he/him” refer to God the Father (the immediate subject in v. 1) or to Jesus (his return, the subject in 2:28). Moreover, the verb fanerwqh=| is unclear—is the subject “what we will be”, or does it refer to the appearance of Jesus? The former is to be preferred as more natural to the syntax, and also to the point the author is making; it should be read “when it should be made to shine forth…”. As to the identity of “he/him”, in my view, it is God the Father in vv. 1-2, but then switches (back) to Jesus in v. 3. The hope of believers is “upon him”, that is, upon the return of Jesus (2:28), and the demonstrative pronoun e)kei=no$ (“that one”) refers back to Jesus. In between, 2:29-3:2, the focus is on God the Father, and our (believers’) relation to Him as His offspring. Admittedly, the syntax is a bit confusing; it requires careful attention to the nuance of the author’s line of argument.

This eschatological dimension of sonship is not that unusual; it relates to the traditional Jewish idea of the righteous as “sons of God”, an identity that will only be fully realized in the blessed afterlife, after having passed through the Judgment—e.g., Wisdom 5:5; Philo On the Confusion of Tongues §147; cp. Matt 5:9; 2 Cor 6:18. We also have the eschatological image of the faithful ones being gathered together, at the end-time, as “sons of God” (Psalms of Solomon 17:28-30; cp. John 11:52). The blessed future life for the righteous involves the vision of God, i.e. seeing God Himself, and it is this experience which fully transforms the righteous (believers) into sons/children of God who resemble their Father (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 3:18; in Jewish tradition, e.g., Philo On Abraham §§57-59; Pesiqta Rabbati 46b [11.7]; Midrash on Psalm 149 [270a]). Cf. R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982), p. 425, and the discussion throughout pp. 378-435.

Ultimately, however, for believers, this transformation is based on our union with Jesus (the Son), through the Spirit. This builds on the familiar idea that our identity as God’s sons/children stems from Jesus’ own Sonship. Paul recognizes this throughout his discussions on the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23ff, 45-49; 2 Cor 4:14; Phil 3:20-21, etc), but most notably in Romans 8:18-25ff, and the climactic statement in verse 29:

“…that the (one)s whom He knew before(hand) He also marked out before(hand) together in (the) shape of the image of His Son, unto his being (the) first-produced [i.e. firstborn] among many brothers

Thus, we are to become truly God’s sons, brothers to Jesus as His Son. Much the same idea is to be found in Hebrews 2:10:

“For it was fitting for Him, through whom all (thing)s (have their purpose), and through whom all (thing)s (came to be), (in) leading many sons into honor/splendor [do/ca], (was) to make complete the chief leader of their salvation through sufferings.”

In 1 John 3:1-3, this relationship is indicated by the outer references to Jesus (2:28, 3:3) which frame the inner references to God the Father. Our sonship derives from Jesus’ own sonship, and our exaltation is similarly based on Jesus’ own exaltation. When he returns, this final aspect of our identity as sons of God will be realized.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 2)

Romans 8:18-25

Verses 18-25 are part of the wider section spanning chapter 8, the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows (for more on this outline, cf. the article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”):

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

As indicated above, the primary theme of chapter 8 is the new life in the Spirit that believers experience, representing the culmination of the “salvation history” or “order of salvation” that Paul lays out in the probatio of Romans.

In verses 12-17, believers are identified as the children (“sons”) of God, an identity that is realized through the Spirit (cp. Gal 4:6). In verse 18, this discussion shifts to the future aspect of our Christian identity, comparing the situation for believers currently (whether understood as Paul’s time or our own) in the world, with what awaits the faithful in the Age to Come. Thus, Rom 8:18-25 is fundamentally eschatological, marking the climax of this last division of the salvation history, at the point in time where believers are positioned—i.e., living at the end of the current Age.

Verse 18

“For I count [i.e. consider] that the sufferings of th(is) moment now (are) not brought up (as equal) toward the honor [do/ca] (be)ing about to be uncovered unto us.”

The noun pa/qhma has the basic meaning “suffering, misfortune”, something negative which happens to a person. Paul uses it (always in the plural, 9 times) in two primary contexts: (1) the sufferings in the flesh, i.e. the impulse toward sin which resides in the flesh (even for believers), along with the suffering this causes (Rom 7:25; Gal 5:24), and (2) the sufferings which believers endure (from non-believers, especially) for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (2 Cor 1:5-7, etc). Both aspects are rightly considered as part of the suffering faced by believers in the present Age, which Paul (and his readers) saw as swiftly coming to a close. Here, the contrast is between the present suffering of believers, and the future honor/glory that waits for them. The present suffering, no matter how severe, does not measure up to the greatness of this future glory. The adjective a&cio$ draws upon the idiom of weighing—i.e. the weight of something which brings up the beam of the scales into balance. The implication is that the future glory far outweighs the present suffering (cp. 2 Cor 4:17).

The use of the auxiliary verb me/llw, indicating that something is about to occur, is another sign that for Paul this eschatological expectation was imminent. He fully expected that those believers to whom he was writing would soon be experiencing this do/ca— “about to be uncovered unto us”.

Verse 19

“For the (stretch)ing of the head of the (thing) formed (by God) looks out to receive th(is) uncovering of the sons of God.”

The statement is almost impossible to translate literally in English, with its wordplay involving the compound noun a)pokaradoki/a and verb a)pekde/xomai. Both compounds are based on the verbal root de/xomai, which denotes a person receiving something. The noun connotes an eager expectation, literally signifying the stretching of the head out (or up), i.e. in anticipation of something coming. The word kti/si$ means something (or someone) that has been formed, i.e. by God; it is used by Paul 5 times in chapter 8, emphasizing the nature of human beings as part of the current order of creation. In other words, believers are living in this (current) created order—that is, in the present Age—all the while waiting for, and expecting, the uncovering of the future glory. Note again the identification of believers as “sons (i.e. children) of God”. Moreover, Paul speaks as though creation itself, taken as a whole, shares in this expectation (cf. below on vv. 20ff); thus there is an inherent ambiguity in the word kti/si$—does it refer comprehensively to all that God has created, or simply to the created nature of human beings?

Verses 20-21

“For the (thing) formed was set under an (arranged) order, in futility, (and) not willingly (so), but through the (one) setting (it) under the (arranged) order—upon hope—(in) that even the (thing) formed it(self) will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay into the freedom of the honor of the offspring of God.”

Paul’s syntax here is notoriously difficult to interpret with precision, though the basic idea is clear enough. Several strands of theological language and religious tradition are brought together:

    • A continuation of the slavery/freedom motif that has been developed throughout Romans. Human beings have been enslaved under the power of sin since the time of the first human (Adam), when sin (and the idea of sin) was introduced into the world (see chapters 5 and 7). Through trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, believers are freed from this bondage.
    • Metaphysical dualism—Related to the slavery/bondage theme is the idea that the current created order has ‘fallen’ into a condition dominated by death and decay (fqora/); as a result, human beings are trapped within this fallen order, needing rescue/deliverance by God (through Christ). In this regard, Paul shares much in common with many “Gnostics”, but differs from them fundamentally by his emphasis that the goal is not simply escape from the material condition, but that the material world itself would be transformed.
    • The Adam/Christ parallel—This was the main organizing principle for Paul’s line of argument in chapter 5, and it is likely that he is alluding to it again here. It is the mythic-narrative corollary to the slavery vs. bondage contrast, defining it according to the narratives surrounding two contrasting persons—one introducing sin into the world, the other delivering the world from sin.

The difficult syntax of vv. 20-21, can, I think, be clarified by considering the thematic structure of the phrases as a chiasm:

    • Creation set under an arranged order of things—in futility
      • It is set under this arranged order through Adam’s sin (implied)
        • Yet this arrangement is based upon an underlying hope
      • It will be set free from this order, through Christ’s saving work (implied)
    • Creation will be freed into a new order of things—out of slavery/decay

According to this line of interpretation, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta is Adam (representing all of humankind). By refusing to put himself under God’s order (cp. use of the vb u(pota/ssw in 8:7; 10:3), he effectively placed the world under a ‘fallen’ order (with the introduction of the enslaving power of sin). Many commentators would see God as the implied subject of u(pota/canta, influenced perhaps by the language in 1 Cor 15:27-28 and the tradition of God (YHWH) cursing the ground, etc, in Genesis 3. While theologically correct, this is unlikely in the rhetorical context here, given the emphasis on the nature of the bondage that Paul describes throughout Romans, and the specific Adam/Christ parallel in chapter 5. Closer to the thought in Romans (and Galatians) would be the idea that the Law subjected creation to the bondage under sin (Rom 7:7-13; Gal 3:22ff). Chapters 5 and 7 present two ways of viewing and explaining the same dynamic—of how humankind came to be enslaved to the power of sin.

The honor (do/ca) that awaits for believers is to be understood primarily in terms of the coming resurrection, as Paul makes clear in the following verses. It is established here by the formal parallel between do/ca and fqora/ (“decay”), the latter indicating the mortality of the created order, in bondage under the power of death.

Verses 22-23

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

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

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

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

Verses 24-25

“For in hope we are saved; but hope being looked at is not hope, for who hopes (after) that which he (can) look at? But if we hope (for) that which we do not look at, (then) we look to receive (it) through (our) remaining under.”

This “hope” (e)lpi/$, and related verb e)lpi/zw) is the same as that mentioned by Paul at the center of vv. 20-21, where the fallen created order, currently in bondage to sin and death, is said to be based upon an underlying hope (“upon hope”, e)f’ e)lpi/di). Now this hope is defined as the salvation of humankind—believers—with their/our identity as sons/children of God. This ultimate deliverance is not something that can be looked at or seen clearly in the material world, for two reasons: (1) salvation is primarily eschatological, realized only at the end of the current Age, and (2) it is currently experienced only through the presence of the Spirit, which is not objectively visible to people at large. With trust and patience, believers endure suffering in the present Age—the temptation of the flesh and persecution by the world—captured by the word u(pomonh/, which literally means “remaining under”, i.e. under obedience to God and Christ. This is the attitude we are to have while waiting for the final salvation—the resurrection and transformation of our bodies.

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

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

Survey of Eschatological References in Romans

Romans 1:18ff

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 2:16

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

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

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

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

Romans 5:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 6:5; 8:11

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

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

Romans 13:11-12

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

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

Romans 14:9-12

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

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

Romans 16:20

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

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

Romans 16:25-26

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

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

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

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Corinthians (Part 3)

Survey of Passages in 2 Corinthians

Most of the eschatological references in 2 Corinthians generally follow those of 1 Corinthians (Part 1), including at least one section dealing with the promise of the end-time resurrection for believers (cf. Part 2 on 1 Corinthians 15).

2 Cor 1:13-14

“For we write to you no other (thing)s but th(ose) which you (can) know again (through reading them) and (so) know about (them), and I hope that you will know about (them) until (the) completion, even as you knew about us from a part [i.e. partially], that we are your boast, even as you (are) ours, in the day of [our] Lord Yeshua.”

The opening address in Paul’s letters frequently contain eschatological references or allusions, as we see here, in a climactic position, where they serve to exhort his readers to remain faithful until the end-time coming of Jesus, which he believed would take place quite soon. The expression “until the completion” (e%w$ te/lou$) is certainly eschatological, with the “completion” (te/lo$) referring primarily, if not exclusively, to the completion (or end) of the current Age (cf. 1 Cor 1:8). For other occurrences of the expression “day of (our) Lord (Jesus)”, and similar abbreviated versions, cf. the references in Part 1 (1 Cor 1:8; 5:5, etc). Believers who remain faithful are able to stand before God (and Christ) in the Day of Judgment, their/our faith being demonstrated by the works done on behalf of Christ. For Paul and his fellow ministers, this involves specifically the apostolic mission-work of proclaiming the Gospel and establishing congregations (such as those in Corinth). Much of 2 Corinthians is devoted to a defense by Paul of his role as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthians, urging them to recognize and affirm the relationship; this is well summarized here in the introduction.

2 Cor 1:22

“And the (One) making us stand firm with you in the Anointed (One), (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God, the (One) also (hav)ing sealed us and (hav)ing given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.” (vv. 21-22)

As part of his lengthy narration (narratio), Paul makes this reference, in passing, to the Spirit. The sealing (vb sfragi/zw) of believers, related to the idea of anointing (xri/w), very much has an eschatological significance. The seal is what marks the believer as belonging to God, and is based on our anointing (i.e. our union with the Anointed One), which is manifest through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and Christ. In the end-time Judgment, those marked as belonging to God (i.e. to Christ) will be saved. This eschatological emphasis is vividly depicted in the book of Revelation (7:3-4ff; 9:4; 14:1-5 [cp. 13:16-18]; 15:2; 17:8; 20:4). The Greek word a)rrabw/n is a Semitic loanword (Heb /obr*u@) used as a technical commercial term—something paid or given beforehand to confirm that a transaction will be fulfilled.

2 Cor 4:14

“And, holding th(is) the (same) Spirit of trust, according to the (thing) having been written, ‘I trusted, therefore I spoke’ [Ps 115:1a], even as we trusted, therefore also we spoke, seeing that the (One) (hav)ing raised the Lord Yeshua will also raise us (together) with Yeshua, and will make us stand alongside (him together) with you.” (vv. 13-14)

The passage in 4:7-15 builds upon the earlier discussion in 3:1-4:6 (see below), emphasizing the presence and work of the Spirit as an indication of the New Age being realized for believers already in the present, prior to the actual end of the current Age. Here this eschatological dimension to Paul’s argument is made clear with this reference to the future resurrection of believers (for more, cf. Part 2 on 1 Cor 15). We already share this power of the resurrection, being united with Jesus and participating (both symbolically and spiritually) in his own death and resurrection. Here the motif of the end-time resurrection includes the idea of believers being gathered together with Jesus at his return, and standing before him in the time of Judgment.

2 Cor 4:17-5:5

Here the same theme of resurrection and future life is developed further, using the natural image of the physical body as a tent. Of all the New Testament authors, Paul makes most use of the imagery of believers—individually and collectively—serving as the dwelling-place (tent/house/shrine) of God (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 8:9-11; also Eph 2:21-22). Here the emphasis is more on the transitory nature of the tent as a dwelling place. Paul refers to this in the context of current/present suffering and hardship among believers:

“For the light(ness) of our distress th(at is) along at this (time) is work(ing) according to a throwing over (and) over (into) the weight of honor of the Ages for us.” (v. 17)

The Greek syntax here is almost impossible to translate literally. The main point is that the current “distress” (qli/yi$) believers face is slight compared to the eternal honor that awaits them at the end; indeed, the present suffering (on earth) leads to that heavenly honor and splendor. The honor that will come, especially, to those persecuted during the end-time period of distress is a common theme in the New Testament. The noun qli/yi$ served as an eschatological technical term for early Christians (Mark 13:19, 24; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 2:4, 6; Rev 7:14, etc), and it is unlikely that Paul would use it here without this connotation in mind (other occurrences of the word in 2 Corinthians are at 1:4, 8; 2:4; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2,13). It was believed that he and his readers were living in the end times, and the suffering experienced by believers (that for the sake of their Christian faith and identity, especially) was very much part of this end-time period of distress (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

References to believers as a house or shrine for the Spirit tend to have a strong ethical (and exhortational) context, drawing upon the idea that the dwelling place of God must be kept pure and holy (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). The same is true here. That Paul has the sanctuary of the Tent-shrine (and Temple) primarily in mind is confirmed by the previous references to the Moses-traditions in 3:7-18 (cf. below). Moreover, the use of the adjective a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”) almost certainly relates to the contrast between the earthly Temple and a “new” Temple as the true/spiritual dwelling of God, found at several key points in early Christian tradition—Mark 14:58; Acts 7:41, 48; cf. Col 2:11. Here, however, the “new” shrine is expressed in terms of the resurrection, a heavenly/spiritual ‘building’ which will be inherited by believers:

“For we have seen that, if our tent-house upon earth should be loosed down [i.e. dissolved], we hold a house-structure out of God, a house of the Ages [i.e. eternal] made without hands, in the heavens.” (v. 1)

The same verb katalu/w (“loose down”, i.e. dissolve, destroy) was used in the Temple-saying traditions of Jesus (Mark 13:2 par; 14:58 par; simple lu/w in John 2:19). In verse 2, the imagery shifts from a building structure to that of clothing—new clothing instead of a new house:

“Indeed, for in this we groan, longing for our house (we) keep (on earth) to be sunk in [i.e. clothed] (with) the (house) out of heaven upon (it).”

The middle verb en)du/omai literally mean “sink oneself in(to)”, usually in reference to a garment. In English idiom we might say “get into (some) clothes”. The verb e)kdu/omai means the opposite, i.e. get out of clothes. This leads to the motif of a person being naked (gumno/$, i.e. unclothed) with its strong ethical implications (v 3). Paul’s words in verse 4 emphasize the importance of the body in the Christian worldview. Contrary to the more extreme instances of metaphysical and ethical dualism, the goal is not to abandon the physical body, but to see it transformed. This takes place at the resurrection, and is accomplished through the Spirit of Christ; thus the passage concludes with the same statement as in 1:22 (cf. above)—the Spirit as a promise (a)rrabw/n), in the present, of what is to be fulfilled at the end.

2 Cor 5:10

The section 4:7-5:10 concludes with a traditional reference to human beings standing before the tribunal of God to face the Judgment. According to the Messianic and eschatological belief of early Christians, it is Jesus, as the Anointed and heavenly representative of God, who oversees the Judgment. Thus it is referred to as the “bh=ma of the Anointed One”, the word bh=ma meaning a raised location one reaches by ascending steps. For other references in 1 Corinthians, with a similar ethical purpose, cf. Part 1.

2 Cor 5:17

“So then, if any (one) (is) in (the) Anointed, (that is) a new formation [kti/si$]—the old (thing)s came [i.e. passed] along, (and) see! they have come to be new”

We are so accustomed of thinking of such statements by Paul (Gal 6:15, cf. also Eph 2:15; 4:24) in terms of the present aspect of our Christian identity, that it is easy to ignore the strong eschatological aspect that is primary to early Christian thought. Indeed, as previously noted, the presence and work of the Spirit among believers is a manifestation of the New Age having come, even before the current Age has actually ended (Acts 2:16-17ff, etc). The end of the Age was still thought to be imminent, coming soon, but there would be a period, however brief (or long), during which the New Age would experienced, but only by believers, in the Spirit.

2 Cor 6:2

“For he says: ‘In a (well-)received moment I heard to you(r request), and in a day of salvation I gave help to you.’ See, now (is) the well-received moment for (this); see, now (is) the day of salvation!”

Paul cites Isaiah 49:8, applying it to his own time and the situation of his readers. It is part of his entreaty in verse 1, “…we call you alongside, not to receive the favor of God into emptiness [i.e. in vain]”. This relates to the overall message of the letter, as he urges the Corinthians to acknowledge his apostolic role and position in relation to them. The citation from Isaiah functions as a reminder (and warning) to them that the end-time “Day of the Lord” is very near, and could occur at any moment. For non-believers this day or moment (kairo/$) is one of judgment and punishment, but for believers, it is a moment of salvation and deliverance. Many Christians have doubtless taken this out of context as a kind of evangelistic message, urging people to come to faith in Jesus. While Paul certainly affirms such a message, it is not at all what he means here. It is specifically an eschatological reference, though the actual expression “day of salvation” is rather rare, occurring only here.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

One of the most striking (and beautiful) passages in the letter is Paul’s illustration making use of the Moses/Exodus traditions (of Exod 34) in 3:7-18. It is part of his series of arguments, built into the narration (narratio) section of the letter (1:12-2:17; 7:5-16), dealing with his own role and position of apostle, in relation to the congregations at Corinth. Chapter 3 specifically introduces the idea of Christian ministers, from outside, who become established (and accepted) in a new location through letters of recommendation introducing them to the congregations. Because of Paul’s missionary (apostolic) role in founding the Corinthian churches, he argues that it is hardly necessary for him to rely on such letters of recommendation (3:1ff). More than this, the deep bond of relation, between he and the Corinthians, is spiritual, as indeed it is for all believers in Christ. This leads to a discussion of the Christian ministry as part of the new covenant between God and His people (believers), a covenant based no longer based on the Old Testament Law (of Moses), but on the Spirit (v. 3). I have discussed this passage as part of a set of notes in the series on Paul’s View of the Law; here I wish to focus on the eschatological aspect of this “new covenant” teaching.

An important, and often overlooked, dimension of Paul’s view of the Law is that, as the central component of the old covenant, is fundamentally part of the older dispensation that governs the current Age. The work of Jesus, and, with it, the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, marks the onset of the new Age, even before the current Age actually comes to an end. For believers, the old has already come to an end, including the binding force of the old covenant and its Law (Torah). Many Christians today, eager to see Paul as a Jewish Christian who continued to recognize the binding force of the Torah, are reluctant (and/or unwilling) to admit the implications of his arguments—in Galatians, Romans, and here in 2 Corinthians. In referring to Jesus as “the completion of the Law”, he uses a word (te/lo$, “completion, end”) which also has strong eschatological significance, i.e. for the completion (end) of the current Age. This same idea is expressed rather differently in our passage; note how he frames the illustration in vv. 7-18, in two interlocking parallel parts (vv. 7-11, 12-18):

    • The glory of Moses’ face: Parameters of the Old Covenant—God’s People (Israel) could only see the glory of God through the intermediary of Moses (v. 7, 13)
      • This reflected glory has been fading, and now comes to an end—use of the verb katarge/w (a Pauline favorite), signifying that something is made to stop working (vv. 7b, 14b)
        • Christ is the end of the Old Covenant and beginning of the New—the Spirit
        • Image of the removal of the veil (vv. 8ff, 14-16)
      • This establishes a permanent glory, that never ends (vv. 10-11, 18a)
    • The glory of Believers’ faces: Parameters of the New Covenant—God’s People (Believers), united with Christ, through the Spirit, are now able to see the Glory of God directly (v. 18)

It is in the climactic verse 18, among the most beautiful statements Paul ever wrote, that the eschatological dimension of the illustration come most clearly into view:

“And we all, the cover having been lifted up (from our) face, (and) ourselves looking at the splendor of God (as) against (a glass), are being transformed into th(is same) image, from splendor into splendor, just as (it is) from the Spirit of the Lord.”

Here Paul simultaneously expresses both aspects of early Christian eschatology: (1) the future being already realized for believers in the present, and (2) the promise of it being fulfilled completely at the end. This two-fold aspect is indicated by the parallel prepositional phrase: “from [a)po/] splendor into [ei)$] splendor”. The first phrase represents the current situation, the splendor (do/ca) believers experience in the present; it is from this point that we move ahead. The second phrase indicates what awaits believers in the future, at the end—the future splendor (do/ca) into which we are moving. Central to the statement is the noun do/ca, primarily meaning something like “esteem, honor”, but, when used of God, often refers to His manifestation in splendor. After his encounter with YHWH, Moses reflected this divine splendor on his face, but the people were unable themselves to look on the same splendor. For believers, the situation is different—we are able to look upon the Divine splendor, as reflected in the pristine clarity of the Spirit (“the Spirit of the Lord”). However, and this is a key point—it can only be seen through the Spirit, at least in the present. In the future, at the end time, it will be seen by believers in a different way, no longer relying upon the inner sight given to us by the Spirit; instead, our transformed bodies (cf. 1 Cor 15, discussed in Part 2), given new form by the Spirit of the Lord, will be able to see all things openly.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Corinthians (Part 2)

In Part 1, all of the relevant passages in 1 Corinthians were discussed, except for the section on the resurrection in chapter 15 (the subject here in Part 2); the references in 2 Corinthians well be addressed in Part 3.

The Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15

Paul’s lengthy chapter on the resurrection is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament, largely due to several key verses that have been enshrined in their King James Version translation. When viewed as a whole, the discussion is considerably more complex, and demonstrates Paul’s inspired gift for giving theological weight and spiritual depth to traditional early Christian material. It will not be possible to treat the entire chapter in detail; here I will survey each section briefly, bringing out some of the more relevant points and features as they relate to Paul’s eschatological understanding.

1 Cor 15:1-2

“And I make known to you, brothers, the good message which I gave as a good message to you, and which you took alongside and in which you have stood, and through which you are saved—what account I gave as a good message to you, if you hold (it) down (in your mind), if you did not trust without (any) purpose.”

This statement serves to introduce the historical tradition of Jesus’ resurrection, which is central (and foundational) to the earliest Gospel preaching (the “good message”, eu)agge/lion, vb eu)aggeli/zw). Paul frames this fact in terms of the Corinthian believers’ own experience of coming to faith, as a way of urging them to accept his instruction. Four verbs in sequence serve as a rudimentary “order of salvation”:

    • “I gave the good message” (eu)hggelisa/men)
    • “you took (it) alongside” (parela/bete)
    • “you have stood (in/on it)” (e(sth/kate)
    • “you are saved (through it)” (sw|/zesqe)

The first two verbs are aorists, indicating past action; the third is a perfect form, referring to a past action or condition that continues into the present; the fourth verb is a present form. The perfect form e(sth/kate (“you have stood”) connotes the continued faithfulness of the Corinthians; from a rhetorical standpoint, this both praises their past faithfulness and encourages it to continue. The present sw|/zesqe (“you are saved”), according to Pauline theology, and reflecting early Christian thought in general, has a two-fold significance: (1) believers are now saved from the power of sin (cf. below on vv. 50-57), and (2) are about to be saved in the coming end-time Judgment. For early Christians, salvation is fundamentally eschatological. The main rhetorical point of emphasis comes at the close of verse 2, where Paul effectively presents his readers with two options: (a) that they “hold down” (i.e. preserve and keep firmly in mind) the Gospel message passed along to them, or (b) that they ignore it (and its implications), meaning that they will end up trusting “without (any) purpose”, the adverb ei)kh=| signifying someone going about randomly or idly.

1 Cor 15:3-8

“For I gave along to you, among the first (thing)s, th(at) which you also took alongside: that (the) Anointed (One) died away over our sins, according to the Writings, and that he was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day according to the Writings, and that he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve, then upon [i.e. after] (that) he was seen by over five hundred brothers all at (once)—out of whom the most (still) remain until now, but some (have) lain down (to sleep)—then upon [i.e. after] (that) he was seen by Ya’aqob, then by all the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], and (then), last of all, he was also seen by me, as if (appearing) to (one who had been) cut out (of the womb).”

Paul’s opening words in verse 3 again emphasize how central the resurrection of Jesus is to the Gospel message. This would seem obvious, and is confirmed by a survey of the content of the earliest Christian preaching as recorded in the book of Acts (cf. the series “The Speeches of Acts”), and elsewhere in the New Testament. Here we have a similar kerygma (proclamation), expanded by a listing of post-resurrection appearances by Jesus. In large part these appearances correspond with the Gospel tradition (as presented in the canonical Gospels), and there is little reason to doubt the authenticity of the traditional information Paul records here. The idea of a reliable chain of tradition was fundamental for early Christians, with the apostles and other first-generation believers—who either saw/heard things firsthand or knew those who did—being the transmitters of tradition. Already at this relatively early point (mid/late-50s A.D.), ministers such as Paul were stressing the importance of preserving and guarding this tradition.

1 Cor 15:8-11

“For I am the least of the (one)s sent forth, which (means) that I (should) not (even be) able to be called (one) sent forth [i.e. an apostle], for (it is) that I pursued [i.e. persecuted] the called out (people) of God; but by the favor of God I am what I am, and His favor th(at was shown) unto me did not come to be empty, but even above all of them I beat [i.e. worked] (hard)—not I but, rather, the favor of God [that] (is) with me. (So) then, if (it is) I or if (it is) those (others), so we proclaimed (the message) and so you trusted.”

Paul’s self-effacing description of his apostleship, while doubtless reflecting his genuine attitude, also serves the rhetorical purpose of gaining the sympathy of his readers, so that they are more likely to hear his instruction. It also reaffirms his own position as a reliable transmitter of Gospel tradition; for another example of this, in an eschatological context, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (and the previous article on that passage).

1 Cor 15:12-19

“But if it is proclaimed (of the) Anointed (One) that he has been raised out of the dead, how is it counted [i.e. thought/said] among some of you that ‘there is not (any) standing up out of the dead’? And if there is no standing up out of the dead, (then the) Anointed (One) also has not been raised; and if (the) Anointed (One) has not been raised, then [even] our proclamation is empty, and your trust also empty, and we are found even (to be) false witnesses of God, (in) that we witnessed according to God that He raised the Anointed (One), whom He did not (in fact) raise, if (it is) then (that) dead (person)s are not raised.

For, if dead (person)s are not raised, (then the) Anointed (One) also has not been raised; and if (the) Anointed (One) has not been raised, (then) your trust (is) futile, (and) you are yet in your sins, and then (also) the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep) in (the) Anointed (One) (have) gone away to ruin. If we are (one)s having hoped in (the) Anointed (One) only in this life, (then) we are the most pitiable of all men!”

The main point of the passage is now introduced. There were, apparently, some Christians in Corinth who expressed the belief (or at least the possibility) that the bodies of human beings could, or would, not be raised from the dead. They presumably accepted the resurrection of Jesus, as a special and unique event, but not that the bodies of other believers would be raised in a similar way. There would still be a blessed afterlife, but not one involving a raised physical body (on similar doubts and skepticism, cf. Acts 17:32, and views of the Sadducees in Mark 12:18 par; Acts 23:6-8). While such an outlook might be understandable, especially for Greek believers, it runs contrary to a central tenet of Paul’s theology (and Christology)—that the fundamental identity of believers involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. So important is this idea for Paul, that he states the relationship here, twice, using forceful language and a clear chain of logic. Taken by itself, and viewed objectively, the actual logic is not all that convincing: why exactly is it that “if there is no resurrection out of the dead, (then) Christ also has not been raised”? Could not Jesus’ resurrection be an example of a special miracle? Similarly, if trust in Jesus leads to a blessed afterlife for the soul (but not the physical body), how would this make Christians “the most pitiable of all men”? Such questions, however, miss the point of the unity believers share with Christ, so that the two cannot be separated—what happens to Jesus must also happen to those united with him. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to say that any such separation effectively nullifies the entire Gospel message! It may not be immediately apparent just why this is, but Paul expounds the matter in some detail in the verses that follow. Here his forceful rhetoric, if nothing else, would likely get the attention of his readers.

1 Cor 15:20-24

“But now (the) Anointed (One) has been raised out of the dead, (the) beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the (one)s having lain down (to sleep). For seeing that death (came) through (a) man, standing up (out of the) dead also (came) through a man. Just as in the Man [lit. ‘Adam] all died away, so also in the Anointed (One) all will be made alive. But each (will be) in his own arranged place: (the) Anointed (One as the) beginning (fruit) from (the harvest), then upon [i.e. after] (that), the (one)s of [ i.e. belonging to] the Anointed in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a], (and) then the completion [te/lo$], when he shall give along the kingdom to God the Father, when he shall make every a)rxh/ and every e)cousi/a and power to cease working.”

There are three key strands to this powerful statement, each with a strong eschatological emphasis:

    • Harvest imagery, expressed by the word a)parxh/ (“[the] beginning from”, i.e. from the harvest); according to Old Testament religious tradition, and, especially, the agricultural regulations in the Law of Moses [Torah], the first part of the harvest was marked as belonging to God. Just as the harvest marked the end of the growing season, so it served as a fitting symbol for the end of the current Age. The threshing process, the separation of grain from chaff, represented the time of Judgment—i.e., separating the righteous from the wicked. The eschatological use of harvest imagery is seen, for example, in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt 3:12 par), the sayings and parables of Jesus (Mark 4:29; Matt 9:37-38 par; 13:30, 39; John 4:35), and the visions of the book of Revelation (14:14-20, cf. Joel 3:13ff).
    • The Adam/Christ parallel, best known from Romans 5:12-21 (cf. my earlier discussion on this passage). The eschatological aspect of this may not be immediately obvious to modern readers. However, Adam represents the beginning of the current Age and Jesus Christ its end; the old order of things was introduced with Adam, and the new order (the New Age) with Jesus. Paul will develop this parallel further in the passage (cf. below).
    • The end-time coming (parousi/a, parousia) of the exalted Jesus. Paul refers to this more clearly in 1 Thess 4:13-18, specifically including a reference to the resurrection—i.e. the raising of believers who have died to join those still alive at the moment of Jesus’ return. His coming marks the completion (te/lo$) of the current Age, accompanied by the final Judgment.

This three-fold description is brought to a climax in verse 24, with a uniquely Pauline presentation of traditional Messianic imagery—i.e. involving Jesus’ role as the Anointed One, drawing especially on two strands of tradition: (1) the Davidic Ruler figure type, that is, of the king serving as God’s representative on earth, and (2) the Heavenly Redeemer (“Son of Man”) figure-type (from Daniel 7:13-14ff, etc); for more on these, cf. Parts 68 and 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here the language reflects the completion of the Judgment, the defeat/subjugation of enemies and opponents of God, carried out by the Anointed One. In so doing, God’s Kingdom is finally realized, with His Rule established over all of Creation. This is depicted in a heavenly ceremonial scene, similar in many respects to the more developed scenes in the visions of Revelation (chaps. 4-5; 7:9-12; 11:15-18; 12:10ff; 19:1-5, 11ff, etc).

1 Cor 15:25-28

“For it is necessary (for) him to rule as king until he should set all the hostile (one)s under his feet—(and the) last hostile (one) made to cease working is Death—for (indeed) he (has) put in order all (thing)s under his feet. But when (one) would say, ‘all (thing)s have been put in order under (his feet)’, (it is) clear that (this is) without [i.e. does not include] the (One) putting all (thing)s in order under him. But when all (thing)s should be put in order under him, then [even] he, the Son, will be put in order under the (One) putting all (thing)s in order under him, (so) that God should be all (thing)s in all.”

Here the Messianic subduing of enemies (v. 24) is cast within a precise theological hierarchy. Paul is apparently sensitive to the exalted status accorded to Jesus, by way of the traditional Messianic imagery of Psalm 110:1 applied to Jesus (Acts 2:34-35; Heb 1:13; 10:13). He takes great care to emphasize that, though Jesus is the Anointed One and Son of God, he is still subordinate to God the Father. Theologians have found great difficulty with this, but the later Christological controversies regarding ‘subordinationism’ are quite foreign to Paul. What Jesus the Anointed One subdues and “puts in order” underneath him (i.e. under his authority) is referred to comprehensively in verse 24 as “every a)rxh/” (that is, every chief ruling power), “every e)cousi/a” (i.e. every one who exercises authority, including the basis by which they act), and “every power” (i.e. the strength and ability by which a person acts). The “last” such ruling power is Death personified. Paul occasionally refers to Sin and Death as personified figures, as rulers who hold humankind in bondage under their power. Christ’s redeeming work freed believers from the power of Sin, but, as human beings, we are still under the power of death (that is, we all die). The resurrection represents the exalted Jesus’ power over death.

1 Cor 15:29-34

“Upon what (then) will they do, the (one)s being dunked [i.e. baptized] over the dead? If the dead are not raised whole, (for) what [i.e. why] even be dunked over the dead? And (for) what [i.e. why] are we in danger every hour? And I die away according to (each) day—(so I swear) by your boast, [brothers,] which I hold in (the) Anointed Yeshua our Lord! If, according to men, I fought wild animals in Efesos, what (is) the gain for me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die off! You must not be led astray: ‘Bad conversations [or, companions] corrupt useful habits’. You must wake out of (this intoxication), as is right, and must not sin; for some hold a lack of knowledge of God—I speak to you toward turning (you) in [i.e. back] (away from this).”

This rather uneven digression includes a number of references that have tripped up commentators, which is unfortunate, since they tend to obscure the primary point being made in the passage. For example, Paul’s mention of the apparent practice of being baptized “over the dead” (v. 29) has proven notoriously difficult to interpret. The preposition u(pe/r (“over”) often has the figurative meaning “for the sake of, on behalf of”; even so, the precise situation referenced by Paul remains elusive. Were baptisms performed on behalf of persons who had died prior to having heard the Gospel proclaimed, so as to bestow salvation or blessing vicariously on them? Or, perhaps, baptisms were being dedicated to believing friends and relatives who had passed away. We cannot be certain. Paul expresses neither approval or disapproval of the practice, and there is no other mention of anything of the sort, either in the New Testament, or other Christian Writings of the first/second century. It is possible that the situation reflects a general concern, regarding the relationship between living and dead believers, such as we find in 1 Thess 4:13-18. There the context is certainly eschatological, and relates also to the resurrection. If dead believers will rise (in their bodies) along with those living, to meet Jesus at his coming, then a denial of the resurrection means that the entire scenario—and the Christian unity it represents—would be negated.

Overall, however, Paul’s point is not so grand here in vv. 29ff. He uses several examples to illustrate the practical implications for human beings if there is no resurrection. The first two relate to believers:

    • Baptisms performed “for the sake of” the dead, whatever this entails precisely; it certainly reflects a care and concern for those who have died (v. 29)
    • The hardship and danger faced by Christians (vv. 30ff)—Paul uses his own example of “fighting wild animals” (in a figurative sense) at Ephesus

In Paul’s view, all such efforts (in the face of death) are rendered meaningless if there is no resurrection for the dead. The last illustration is proverbial (v. 32b), and represents the implication for non-believers: there need not be any concern for the future (“let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die off”), which can lead to self-centered amoral (and immoral) behavior. Paul strongly urges his readers not to be led astray to follow such an example as a result of their disbelief or doubts regarding the resurrection (vv. 33-34).

1 Cor 15:35-41

“But some(one) will say, ‘How are the dead raised? and with what body do they come?’ Senseless (one)! that which you scatter (as seed) is not made alive if it should not (first) die off; and that which you scatter (as seed), (it) is not the body th(at) is coming to be (that) you scatter, but a naked kernel, if it happens (to be) of wheat or of some of the remaining (kind)s, and God gives to it a body even as He wishes, and to each of the scattered (seed)s its own body. Not all flesh is the same flesh, but (rather) a different (one) for men, and a different flesh for creatures (of the field), and a different flesh for winged (creature)s, and a different (one) for fishes. Indeed (there are) bodies upon the heavens and bodies upon the earth, but (also) a distinct honor for th(ose) upon the heavens and (one) distinct for th(ose) upon the earth; (and) a different honor for the sun, and a different honor for the moon, and a different honor for the stars—for star (after) star bears through in (its distinct) honor.”

The agricultural/harvest imagery continues in this section, with the concrete motif of the seed that ‘dies’ only to be made alive as it grows, taking on a distinctive “body”. Jesus was fond of the seed motif in his parables and illustrations (e.g., Mark 4:3-8ff, 26-32 par), using it specifically in reference to his own death and resurrection in John 12:24. Everything in creation has its own “body” (sw=ma), and also its own kind of honor or splendor (do/ca). The distinction of heavenly (i.e. celestial) bodies prepares the way for Paul’s distinction between the physical (earthly) bodies of human beings and the spiritual (heavenly) bodies of believers in the resurrection.

1 Cor 15:42-49

“So also is the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead: it is scattered (as seed) in decay, it is raised (in a form) without decay; it is scattered in (a form) without value, it is raised in (a form with) honor—scattered in a lack of strength, raised in power, scattered (as) a body with a soul, raised as a body with the Spirit. If there is a body with (only) a soul, there is also (a body) with the Spirit. Even so it has been written, ‘The first man Adam into a living soul’, (and) the last ‘Adam’ into a Spirit making alive. But the (body) with the Spirit (is) not first, but the (one) with the soul (is first), (and) then upon [i.e. after] this the (one) with the Spirit. The first man (is) out of the dust (of the earth), the second man (is) out of heaven. Such as the dust (of the earth is), so also (are) those of the (earth-)dust; and such as the (place) upon [i.e. above] the heavens (is), so also (are) those (who are) upon [i.e. above] the heavens. And even as we bore the image of the dust (of the earth), (so) also we will bear the image of th(at which is) upon [i.e. above] the heavens.”

Paul again blends harvest imagery with the Adam/Christ parallel, as in vv. 20-24 (cf. above). The latter motif is expanded into a full-fledged dualism, contrasting the ordinary human being with the believer in Christ. Two main pairs are used for this contrast:

    • Earth vs. Heaven—In verse 40 the word-pair was e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”) and e)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”). Here in vv. 47-49, e)pi/geio$ is replaced by xoi+ko/$, which refers more properly to the “dust” (or “dirt, soil”) of the earth’s surface (and beneath it). This establishes a more extreme contrast: the crude dirt beneath the earth’s surface and the pure place above the skies.
    • Soul (yuxh/) vs. Spirit (pneu=ma)—Here the contrast is primarily between the adjective yuxiko/$ and pneuma/tiko$, both of which are Pauline terms. The latter is usually rendered “spiritual”, while the former proves almost impossible to render accurately into English— “soulish” would be comparable, but that scarcely exists as a legitimate word. Most translations opt for “natural”, which is rather inaccurate and misleading, though it can get across the basic idea. Paul’s only other use of yuxiko/$ is in 1 Cor 2:14; it is also used in the letter of James (3:15), as generally synonymous with e)pi/geio$. Jude 19 captures the correct meaning, glossing it as referring to persons “not holding the Spirit”, i.e. ordinary human beings without the Spirit. That is very much what Paul has in mind in 1 Cor 2:14, and also here. A yuxiko/$ person has a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit, and thus applies to every non-believer.

Perhaps the most striking point of contrast is in verse 45, where Paul, developing the Adam/Christ parallel, states that “the first man Adam (was turned) into a living soul, the second Adam into a Spirit making alive”. The first phrase, of course, comes from the Genesis narrative, but how are we to understand the second phrase? There would seem to be two aspects to Paul’s thought: (1) it refers to the exalted Jesus after the resurrection, and (2) it reflects an understanding of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, i.e. the living and abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. In my view, it is the latter, the Holy Spirit, that is primarily in view. To say that Jesus was changed/turned into the Spirit may seem odd, but it captures the dynamic character of the resurrection and the ascension/exaltation of Jesus into heaven. In both the Luke-Acts narrative, and in the Johannine tradition, the coming of the Spirit is closely connected with Jesus’ resurrection and ascent to the Father (Lk 24:49-51; Acts 1:8-11; 2:1-4ff; John 14:1-4, 15-18ff, 25-26; 15:26; 16:12-13ff; 20:17, 22). There are two related aspects to the resurrection in this regard: (a) believers’ participation in Jesus’ dying and rising, including the power that raised him, and (b) the presence and power of the Spirit in believers, which enables one to be raised from the dead.

1 Cor 15:50-57

“This I tell (you), brothers, that flesh and blood is not able to receive the kingdom of God as (its) lot, and decay is not able to receive (a form) without decay as (its) lot. See, I relate to you a secret! We shall not all lie down (to sleep), but we shall all be made different, in an uncut (particle) [i.e. moment], in a flicker of (the) eye, in the last trumpet (sound)—for it will trumpet and the dead will be raised without decay, and we will be made different. For, it is necessary (for) this decay(ing body) to sink in(to) [i.e. put on] (a form) without decay, and (for) the dying (body) to sink in(to) [i.e. put on] (a form) without death. And when this decay should sink in(to a form) without decay, and this dying should sink in(to a form) without death, then will come to be the account having been written: ‘Death was drunk down into victory. Where, Death, (is) your victory? Where, Death, (is) your (sharp) point?’ And the (sharp) point of the Death (is) Sin, and the power of Sin (is) the Law; but thanks to God (for His) favor, the (One) giving us the victory through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed!”

These climactic verses represent one of the most famous and oft-cited passages in the entire New Testament. As English poetry, the King James Version remains unsurpassed; still, it is even better (and, in its own way, more powerful) when read in the original Greek, the sense of which I attempt to convey in the literal rendering above. The passage here is filled with eschatological motifs and images, which may be listed out as follows:

    • The idea of inheriting the Kingdom of God, drawn from traditional language related to the afterlife/end-time Judgment scene
    • The specific use of the word “secret” (musth/rion), with its strong eschatological implications—cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:1; Col 1:26-27; 2 Thess 2:7; Rev 1:20; 10:7; 17:5ff
    • The sounding of a trumpet to announce the end of the current Age and the end-time Judgment (Matt 24:31; 1 Thess 4:16; Rev 1:10; 4:1; 8:6-13ff; 11:15)
    • The trumpet-blast representing the suddenness with which believers are gathered together at the return of Jesus (1 Thess 4:16; Matt 24:31)
    • The idea of being clothed in new garments, i.e. eschatological use of wedding/festal motifs (Rev 19:7-9; Matt 22:11ff; 25:1ff, etc)
    • The Messianic imagery of being victorious over the enemies of God (and His people); here, the great enemy is Death itself (see vv. 24-26, above)

Throughout, these motifs are expressed in distinctive Pauline theological terms, including his unique view of the relationship between sin and the Law (v. 56). We can see how important that belief is for him by the way that he introduces it here, as an interpretation/application of the Scriptures quoted (Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14), even though it has little immediate relevance to the subject of the resurrection. It also demonstrates that Pauline soteriology focused as least as much on salvation from the power of sin as on the more traditional idea of being saved from the coming Judgment. Deliverance from bondage to the ruling power of sin was the more immediate experience for believers in the present.

It is in verses 50-57 that Paul is closest to the eschatological passage of 1 Thess 4:13-18, in which the resurrection also plays a prominent role. Paul is the only New Testament author who specifically includes those who have died among the believers who are gathered together to meet Jesus at his coming. He likely is simply making explicit what other Christians would have taken for granted. However, in the early years, at least, in view of the strong belief in the imminence of Jesus’ return, the general expectation doubtless was for the vast majority of believers to still be alive when this occurred. By the time Paul wrote (50s A.D.), there would have been a number of Christians who already died before the expected end, so it would have been increasingly necessary to mention the resurrection in the context of Jesus’ return.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Corinthians (Part 1)

1 and 2 Corinthians

Having examined the eschatology in 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Part 1, 2, 3), we now turn to the next portion of Paul’s letters—1 and 2 Corinthians. In these two letters we do not find as many clear or explicit eschatological references, but throughout there is evidence of this aspect of early Christian belief, which needs to be studied, along with several significant passages. Let us first survey the most relevant references in 1 Corinthians.

Survey of Passages in 1 Corinthians

In the Thessalonian letters, we noted several key references to the “day of the Lord” (or simply, “the day”), and expression which preserves the meaning of the “day of YHWH” in the Old Testament Prophets, but given a distinctly Christian interpretation with the exalted Jesus (instead of YHWH) as “Lord” (1 Thess 5:2, 4ff; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:2-3). Instead of a time when God (YHWH) will appear to bring Judgment upon the wicked (nations) and deliver His people, it now refers to the coming of Jesus—as God’s Anointed representative—that is, to the return of the exalted Jesus back to earth at the end-time. His return will usher in the great Judgment. There are a number of such references to “the day (of the Lord)” in 1 Corinthians:

1 Cor 1:7-8—Paul concludes his opening thanksgiving with a prayer (and exhortation) that ends:

“…(look)ing to receive from out of (heaven) the uncovering of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who also will make you (stand) firm until (the) completion, without (anything) calling (you into account) in the day of our Lord Yeshua [the Anointed].”

Paul frequently uses this sort of language, encouraging believers that they are able to remain faithful until the moment of Jesus’ coming. This, of course, indicates the imminent eschatology shared by most, if not all, believers in the New Testament period. Paul fully expected that he and his readers would soon experience the return of Jesus in their lifetime. The “completion” (te/lo$) refers primarily to the completion of the current Age, believed to be imminent.

1 Cor 3:13-15—This “day” is not only one of hope and salvation for believers, but marks the moment of condemnation and punishment for the wicked. Paul draws upon the double-aspect of the end-time Judgment at the close of his discussion in 3:5-15. As a way of combating the partisan divisions in the Corinthian congregations (1:10ff), he argues strongly that the individual leader or minister is not as important as the work that is done for God, in which all believers share. If one is not careful to build upon the foundation of Christ and the Gospel, instead relying upon one’s own abilities, etc, even a Christian minister may come to suffer loss and face a measure of punishment in the time of Judgment:

“…for the work of each will come to be shining forth, for the day will make it clear (in) that [i.e. because] it will be uncovered in (the) fire, and the fire [itself] will consider each (person)’s work, of what sort it is. If one’s work remains, which he built upon (the foundation), he will receive a (proper) wage [i.e. reward]; (but) if one’s work is burned down, he will be at a disadvantage—he (himself) will be saved, but so (saved) through (the) fire.”

For believers, the fire of Judgment is a purifying process, burning away the dross and rubbish, until only the pure metal, etc, remains. This is the significance of a person being saved “through (the) fire”.

1 Cor 4:5—A similar reference to “the day” as a time of testing that reveals a person’s true nature and that of his/her conduct and actions (“works”). Here it is identified specifically with the end-time coming/return of Jesus:

“So then, you must not judge anything before (the proper) moment, until the Lord should come, who indeed will bring to light the hidden (thing)s of darkness and will make to shine forth the purpose [i.e. will/intention] of the(ir) hearts—and then the praise upon (them) will come to be from God, for each (person).”

1 Cor 5:5—Chapter 5, as part of Paul’s instruction for how to deal with a person known to be engaged in improper sexual activity—indeed, as part of the judgment from the congregation for this person—they are told to “give along this (sort of person) to the Satan, unto the ruin of his flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”. The exact meaning of giving someone along to Satan remains uncertain (and disputed). However, the eschatological reference is clear enough, with the idea that the believer, once purified, will ultimately be saved at the time of Judgment.

In 1 Cor 2:6f and 10:11 we have statements indicating rather clearly the early Christian belief (shared by Paul) that the end of the current Age was about to occur. This is most explicit in 10:11:

“and these (thing)s [i.e. recorded in the Scriptures]…were written toward [i.e. for the purpose of] setting (them) in our mind, unto whom the completion of the Ages has come down to meet (us).”

It would be hard to find a better example of the the imminent eschatology of early Christians. While less obvious in 2:6-7, there is still implicit the idea of the end of the current Age, marked by the (end-time) revelation of Jesus to humankind:

“But we do speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete, but wisdom not of this Age, and not of the chief (ruler)s of this Age th(at are) being made to cease working; but (rather) we speak the wisdom of God, in a secret, having been hidden away, which God marked out beforehand, before the Ages, unto our honor…”

The implication is that in this current Age, the wisdom of God can only be made known (among believers) in a hidden way; however, it is about to be manifest clearly to all at the end of this Age. A similar sort of eschatological expectation seems to be evident in Paul’s famous exposition of love in chapter 13 (13:8-12). He expresses a belief that the current manifestation of the Spirit among believers is only temporary, a way for Christians to experience the end-time blessing and presence of God (and Christ), prior to Jesus’ actual return. I discuss this passage in detail in an earlier series. That believers at the time fully expected to be alive at the return of Jesus seems self-evident, confirmed by many of the passages we have studied (and will study) in this series. The same would seem to be true of the language Paul uses in his traditional formula for the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, which includes the additional phrase: “For as much as you would eat this bread and drink (of) this drinking-cup, you bring down [i.e. announce] a message of the death of the Lord until th(e moment at) which he should come” (11:26).

We may also note the language Paul uses in his closing exhortation (16:13), especially the verb grhgoreu/w (“keep awake, keep watch”) as an imperative (grhgorei=te), which has traditional eschatological significance, going back to the sayings and parables of Jesus—Mark 13:34-37 par (cf. also 14:34-38 par); Matt 25:13; Luke 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2-3.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

As part of Paul’s instruction on marriage among believers in chapter 7, in verses 25-31, he argues strongly in favor of the view that Christians, if they are not already married (or engaged), ought to remain unmarried. This is a clear emphasis in his instruction, but one which runs contrary to the general view of Christians in subsequent generations (including today), so much so that many commentators will ignore or gloss it over, assuming that Paul’s emphasis is actually the opposite—that, all other considerations being equal, Christians should get married. There are two aspects, or reasons, for Paul’s preference that unmarried believers stay unmarried. The first is general: the unmarried believer is able to devote more time and attention to serving God. The second is referenced in verse 26, and then expounded in more detail in vv. 29-31. The statement in v. 26 is as follows:

“I consider this well, then, to begin under (this way): through the (thing) pressing up (on us now) having stood among (us), that it is well (for) a man to be this (way) [i.e. as he currently is].”
In more conventional English this might be:
“I consider it good to begin with this: because of the thing pressing (on us) now standing (so close), it is good [i.e. better] for a man to (remain) the (way he is).”

The wording is difficult to render into English, and commentators debate its precise meaning. Most problematic is the phrase e)nestw=san a)na/gkhn. I render a)na/gkh literally as “(something) pressing up”, but the word is often used in a more general or figurative sense as “compelling (reason), compulsion, (what is) necessary, necessity,” etc. The participle e)nestw=san modifies the noun, meaning that the “thing pressing up” is now “standing among” them (perfect “having stood among”). Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to be certain of the point of reference. That it carries an eschatological connotation here seems likely, given such use of the noun a)na/gkh in Luke 21:23 and 1 Thess 3:7, where it is more or less synonymous with the eschatological term qli/yi$ (“distress”, Mk 13:19, 24 par; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rev 7:14, etc). However, later on in verse 37, it is used in the more general sense of something compelling a person to act.

The Corinthian congregations are apparently facing some sort of pressure, which, presumably, would result in significant suffering or hardship. This is what makes it advisable for believers not to marry. I think it unlikely that he is referring here to persecution, in which case he probably would have used different wording, perhaps even the specific term qli/yi$. A time of severe need (such as famine, etc) has been suggested. In any case, the context of Paul’s instruction leads to the following line of interpretation: the end-time period, during which they are living, will be marked by suffering and hardship for believers, increasingly so as the end draws nearer; something of this more intense “pressure” is already coming upon them, and there will doubtless be many more such moments in the near future. Thus, Paul teaches that it is best to begin with (vb u(pa/rxw, “begin under”) the sound principle that it is good for a person to stay as he/she currently is (“to be this way”, i.e. married or unmarried). This is the point made in verse 24, and he expounds it further in vv. 25-39, focusing especially on the unmarried (“virgins”), teaching that it is better for them not to marry. This is not so much a doctrinal point as a pastoral concern:

“And (yet) if you were to marry you did not sin, and if the virgin should marry she did not sin (either), but such (person)s will hold [i.e. have/experience] distress [qli/yi$] in the flesh, and I am (try)ing to spare you (from that).” (v. 28)

Paul clarifies this even further in vv. 29-31, where the eschatological context is abundantly clear:

“And this I (would) tell you, brothers: the moment is (now be)ing put together, (and for) the (time) remaining, (it is) that the (one)s holding wives should be as (ones) not holding (them), and the (one)s weeping as not weeping, and the (one)s (feel)ing delight as not (feel)ing delight, and the (one)s (purchas)ing at market as not holding down (what they purchase), and the (one)s making use of the world as not (do)ing (so) against the (accepted) use (of it), for the shape of this world is leading (itself) along [i.e. passing away].”

Two distinctly eschatological phrases enclose this instruction:

    • “the moment is (now be)ing put together…” (o( kairo\$ sunestalme/no$ e)stin)
    • “…the shape of this world is passing along” (para/gei to\ sxh=ma tou= ko/smou tou/tou)

The first phrase is rather difficult to render into English, with the tricky syntax of the verb of being + perfect participle (lit. “is having been…”). The verb suste/llw literally means “put together”, i.e. “bring together, pull together”, sometimes in the specific sense of shortening a distance, etc. In that light, the phrase is often translated in terms of a period of time being shortened or reduced (compare Mark 13:20 par). However, kairo/$ more properly refers to a moment, rather than a period, of time; the emphasis is not on duration, but on a specific event or moment coming closer. In English idiom, we might say “things are coming together”, to indicate that something is about to happen.

The perfect tense or aspect in Greek typically refers to a past action or condition which continues into the present. Believers in Christ are uniquely aware that it is the end-time, and that a New Age is at hand. For this reason, one should not become overly attached to things and the way of life in the current Age, becoming wrapped up in family matters, daily interactions and experiences, with their joys and sorrows, etc. Not only are these about to come to an end, but believers are already experiencing a new way of life in the present—indeed, the Christian life, marked by the presence and work of the Spirit, is a sign of the New Age, even prior to the actual end of the current Age (“this world”). This reflects the blending of “realized” and future eschatology, common to most Christian thought in the New Testament period. It is thus a serious misreading of Paul to suggest that he is referring only, or even primarily, to the idea of new life in Christ in the present; both present and future aspects are part of the imminence of early Christian eschatology.

The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians

The most extensive eschatological passage in 1 and 2 Corinthians is the discussion on the resurrection in chapter 15. This will be discussed in Part 2 of this article, but it is worth noting Paul’s earlier reference to the resurrection at 6:14. This is part of his instruction on the importance of believers avoiding any kind of improper sexual intercourse or activity. This emphasis is on the idea of believers—including their bodies—as members, in a symbolic and spiritual sense, of the body of Christ. In verse 13, Paul negates the importance of the physical activity of the body, by pointing out that God will make it “cease working” (vb katarge/w), referring to the natural process of death and decay. The focus for believers should not be the ordinary activity of the physical body, but the future/eternal life that soon awaits us; and we can be certain that, as we belong to Jesus (as his body), God will raise our dead bodies to life even as He did for Jesus:

“and even (as) God raised the Lord, He also will raise us out of (the dead) through His power.”

The pronoun “his” (au)tou=) is somewhat ambiguous. It more naturally refers to God‘s power (which raised Jesus); however, in chapter 15, Paul develops the idea of the life-giving power that Jesus possesses, as a result of his resurrection. Thus, it is possible to see the pronoun here as also referring to Jesus— “his power”. This will be considered further in the discussion on chapter 15.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Pt 2)

Part 2: “Day of the Lord”: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Having discussed five key eschatological references in 1 and 2 Thessalonians—1 Thess 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess 1:6-10—in Part 1, along with 1 Thess 2:14-16 (in a special note), we must now examine the main eschatological portion of 1 Thessalonians: the two related sections, 4:13-18 and 5:1-11. These are central to the primary instruction given in the letter—the probatio, using the terminology of rhetorical analysis—in which a main proposition (propositio) is stated, and then expounded through various arguments and illustrations meant to convince (or exhort) the audience. The propositio occurs in 4:1-2, in which Paul urges the Thessalonians to continue in the tradition and instruction given to them, living in a manner worthy of their identity as believers in Christ. The probatio (proving) follows in 4:3-22, and may be divided into six sections:

    • 4:3-8—Ethical instruction: the need to live in a manner befitting believers
    • 4:9-12—Instruction on filadelfi/a: on expressing one’s care for brothers (and sisters) in Christ in daily life
    • 4:13-18—Eschatological instruction: exhortation for believers in light of the end-time
    • 5:1-11—Eschatological instruction: on how believers should conduct themselves in the end-time
    • 5:12-14—Practical instruction: on the need for believers to be engaged in honest work
    • 5:15-22—Miscellaneous instruction, ethical and practical

The two eschatological sections are closely connected, and are at the heart of Paul’s teaching.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In this first eschatological section, Paul appears to be addressing a specific question or concern, introduced in verse 13:

“But we do not wish you to be without knowledge, brothers, about the (one)s lying down (to sleep), (and) that you should not be in sorrow, even as the (one)s remaining (are), the (one)s not holding hope.”

The verb koima/w (“lie down [to sleep]”) often serves as an idiom for a person dying (i.e. death as “sleep”), and so is used here. The exact issue Paul is addressing has been variously understood. I believe that a proper understanding is based on identifying the two things he wishes would not be so for the Thessalonian believers: (1) to be without knowledge (vb a)gnoe/w), and (2) to be in sorrow (vb lupe/w) over those who have died. In other words, their sorrowing reflects a lack of knowledge. Sadness about those who have died is characteristic of the “remainder” (loipoi/) of humankind—that is, those who are not believers. Such non-believers are said to be “not holding hope”. The word hope (e)lpi/$) occurs frequently in Paul’s letters (36 in the corpus, out of 53 in the NT), and may be understood in a three-fold sense which is fundamentally eschatological:

    • our union with Christ gives us hope for salvation and (eternal) life at the end-time
    • this hope is specifically defined in terms of resurrection from the dead
    • it will soon be realized at the (end-time) appearance of Jesus

All three aspects are involved in establishing the reason why the Thessalonians should not be in sorrow regarding others (i.e. other believers) who have died: (a) they have the promise of salvation and life, (b) they will be raised from the dead, and (c) this will soon occur when Jesus appears. In my view, it is not simply a question of a belief in the resurrection, but that this all will take place very soon. What point is there of being sad over those who have died when their resurrection will soon occur? The three aspects noted above are joined together in Paul’s statement in verse 14:

“For if we trust that Yeshua died away and stood up (again), so also will God bring the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep), through Yeshua, (together) with him.”

The place of expression “through Yeshua” (dia\  )Ihsou=) is a bit unclear—whether it belongs with “the ones (hav)ing lain down (to sleep)” or “will bring…with him”, or both. I prefer to view it as a semi-independent phrase, expressing the idea of believers’ union with Jesus—in particular, their/our dying and rising with him (cf. Romans 6:3-4, etc). Both our death and resurrection takes place “through Jesus”. Also somewhat ambiguous is the central clause “God will bring…with him”. While this may relate to the idea, further on in vv. 16-17 (cf. below), of believers meeting Jesus in the air, I believe it is better understood in the more fundamental sense of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God himself brings/leads (vb a&gw) believers through death and into new life, even as he did for Jesus.

The eschatological setting of the resurrection, which Paul connects with the end-time appearance (parousia) of Jesus, is established in verses 15-16 by what Paul says is “a word/account of the Lord” (lo/go$ kuri/ou). We cannot be certain precisely what that means, other than it seems to refer to a tradition that goes back to the words of Jesus himself. There are a number of eschatological sayings and teachings of Jesus preserved in the Gospels, but the most prominent collection is found in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), which I have discussed at length earlier in this series. There is some evidence, seen especially in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, that Paul—probably in common with many early believers—accepted an eschatological framework that is at least roughly similar to that of the Discourse. If so, then the notice here in verse 15 may be an indication that he inherited this from the early Gospel Tradition, identifying it with preserved sayings/teachings by Jesus. In vv. 15-17, Paul is likely paraphrasing or summarizing this traditional teaching for the Thessalonians:

“For this we relate to you, in a word/account of the Lord, that we—the (one)s living (and) remaining about unto [i.e. until] the Lord’s (com)ing to be alongside (us) [parousi/a]—we shall (certainly) not go first (ahead) of the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep); (for it is) that the Lord (him)self, in (the) shout (to begin), in (the) voice of (the) chief Messenger and in (the sounding of the) trumpet of God, he will step down from heaven, and the dead in (the) Anointed will stand up first, and then at (this) we, the (one)s living (and) remaining about, together (at the same time) with them, we will be seized up in (the) clouds, into a (go)ing away to meet the Lord, into (the) air…”

Some commentators would claim that the issue for the Thessalonians had to do with a concern that believers who died would not meet the returning Jesus at the same time as those who are living. This reads too much into the wording, and, in my view, is not correct. I tend to think that Paul, here, is giving a more detailed explanation of what he may have previously conveyed to the Thessalonians only through more general eschatological statements (cf. the examples from 1-2 Thessalonians in Part 1). Now, in vv. 15-17, he offers a fuller presentation of the tradition, one which reads almost like an exposition of the words of Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:26-27 par). In this ‘exposition’, I believe Paul is emphasizing several points:

    • That all believers—both living and dead—will be gathered together at the coming of Jesus.
    • That this will essentially happen at the same time, priority being given to the dead only in that they are not alive, and need to be raised before they can join the living believers.
    • For Paul, this is fundamental symbol of our unity—both with Christ and with each other—to be realized fully at the moment of Jesus’ appearance.
    • And, finally, the dramatic narration of this tradition, in the context of 1 Thessalonians, emphasizes again that the coming of Jesus (and, with it, the resurrection) is imminent.

Verse 17 closes with the following declaration: “…and so we will be with the Lord always [pa/ntote]”. Paul gives no indication of anything that is to take place following the meeting of believers with Jesus in the clouds, but the wording generally suggests that they will be taken with him into heaven—the statement concludes with the words “into the air”, without any indication at all of a return back to earth.

This “taking up” of believers into the sky is commonly referred to as “the rapture, from the Latin raptio and the Latin (Vulgate) translation of 1 Thess 4:17. It has come to be a regular part of modern eschatological parlance, often to the point where the original background (and Scriptural basis) for the idea is often ignored, the term having by now taken on a life of its own (“the Rapture”). Modern eschatological discussion is frequently dominated by speculation as to just when this event will occur within various (and often elaborate) end-time schema. Much of this is far removed from the thought world of the New Testament, and early Christian eschatology in general; however, due to its prominence in modern-day eschatology, I have decided to devote a special note to the subject as part of this series.

Paul certainly understood that the coming of Jesus would bring about the great (final) Judgment on humankind, but that aspect of his eschatology is not described here, rather it is the gathering together of believers that is emphasized, as in Mark 13:27 par. The section ends with a final word of exhortation: “As (this is so), you must (also) call one another alongside in [i.e. by/with] these words”.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

If the eschatological instruction in 4:13-18 was meant to encourage believers, that in 5:1-11 has the purpose of exhorting them regarding how they should conduct themselves in this end-time. The imminence of the end, seen throughout the letter (cf. discussion in Part 1), and emphasized again in the previous section, now takes on greater urgency and importance. Paul begins with a question of chronology—an aspect of eschatology that seems to be of perennial concern for Christians. On this point, the relationship between 1 and 2 Thessalonians is of some significance, as to whether: (a) 2 Thessalonians was indeed written by Paul, and (b) if was written prior to 1 Thessalonians or after. This will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 (on 2 Thess 2:1-12), but it must be noted here that, according to 2 Thess 2:1-2, there would seem to have been some confusion, on the part of the Thessalonians, on the relationship between the end-time generally and the specific event/moment known by the expression “the day of the Lord”. Here, in 1 Thess 5:1, Paul refers generally to the chronological dimension of the end-time events:

“But about the periods and moments (of time), brothers, you hold no occasion [i.e. there is no need] (for me) to write to you…”

He pairs together the plural nouns xro/noi and kairoi/; both xro/no$ and kairo/$ essentially refer to “time”, but with a slight difference—xro/no$ tends to indicate a period of time, and kairo/$ a point in time. Probably the words used in tandem here represent a hendiadys (i.e. two terms for one thing), and refer generally to any chronological questions about exactly when the end will come. This “end” more or less corresponds to the “day of the Lord” in 2 Thess 2:1ff—that is, the moment when Jesus appears and the final Judgment comes upon humankind. Paul uses the same expression (“day of the Lord”, h(me/ra kuri/ou) here in verse 2:

“…for you (your)selves have seen [i.e. known] precisely that ‘the day of the Lord so comes as a stealer in (the) night’.”

I think it quite possible that Paul is quoting a proverbial saying (perhaps coming from Jesus, cf. Matt 24:43; Lk 12:39). Clearly the thrust of the saying is that the “day of the Lord” will come at a time when people are, or may be, caught unaware. The middle of the night is a time when people are asleep, but it also reflects a period of darkness. Paul plays on both of these aspects in the exhortation that follows; as such, he cleverly shifts the discussion from interest over when the end will occur, to how the Thessalonian believers ought to think and act while living in the end-time. However, the traditional imagery of the unexpectedness of the end continues to be brought out in verse 3:

“(And) when they should say, ‘peace and security’, then (it is that), without (any) shining forth [a)fni/dio$], destruction [o&leqro$] will stand upon them, just as the pain (that comes) for the (woman) holding (a child) in the womb, and they shall not flee out (of it).”

The comparison with the pains of a woman in giving birth is traditional, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21). The characteristic of the destruction (esp. of the wicked) at the time of the Judgment, using the adjective a)fni/dio$, is difficult to translate properly in English syntax. Literally, a)fni/dio$ means “without (any) shining forth”, i.e. without anything appearing to indicate that it is about to happen, etc. It is often rendered by the adjective “sudden” or “unexpected”. A more literal translation here brings out the motif of the fire of Judgment, corresponding to the glorious and fiery appearance of Jesus when he comes to earth accompanied by heavenly Messengers (Angels)—cf. 2 Thess 1:7-8 (discussed in Part 1). This fire of destruction will hit suddenly, without any glow or light to warn of its coming. The noun o&leqro$ (“destruction, ruin”) also reflects traditional Judgment-language, and is used, in a similar (but more graphic) context, in 2 Thess 1:9.

It is in verse 4, that Paul shifts the focus to the situation of believers, who, as believers, will be saved from the destructive anger of God in the great Judgment. Here, however, the emphasis is on the identity of believers in Christ, who are not to be characterized by the slumber and darkness (cf. above) of the end time:

“But you, brothers, are not in darkness, (so) that the day should take you down as a stealer (does); for you are sons of light and sons of (the) day, and we are not of (the) night and not of darkness—so then, we should not go down to sleep, as the (one)s remaining (do), but we should keep awake and should stay sober.” (vv. 4-6)

Paul’s shift in mid-sentence from 2nd person to 1st person is most effective, including himself (and all other ministers) with the Thessalonians to whom he is writing. This expresses the theme of unity for believers in Christ in a different manner than he does in the previous section (cf. above). The motif of wakefulness, while natural enough as an extension of the “thief coming at night” illustration, is also traditional, and can be seen in several eschatological parables of Jesus. Indeed, Paul’s entire discussion in 5:1-11 could be seen as an exposition of Mark 13:32-37 par, just as that in 4:13-18 expounds Mk 13:26-27. The thrust of the warning here is, not that believers might end up falling away and face the Judgment, but, rather, that they ought to live according to their identity—as those who belong to the light and who will not be “taken down” (vb katalamba/nw) in the time of darkness. Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gethsemane scene of the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mk 14:38 par) make much the same point, but with a greater sense of the danger that the disciples could fall away during the time of “testing” (peirasmo/$); on this, compare Mk 13:13b par.

In verses 7-8, Paul applies this traditional language of watchfulness/sobriety more directly to the religious identity of believers:

“For the (one)s going down to sleep go down to sleep at night, and the (one)s getting drunk get drunk at night; but we, being of the day, should stay sober, sinking ourselves in(to) (the) chest-armor of trust and love and (the) (protection) about the head (that is the) hope of salvation.”

This “hope of salvation” is the same “hope” (e)lpi/$) mentioned in 4:13 (cf. above). For the believer in Christ, trust, love, and hope—the same triad emphasized by Paul in 1 Cor 13:13—serve as the protective armor we wear. This armor-imagery is developed more extensively in Ephesians 6:11-17; here there are only two protective pieces mentioned:

    • the qw/rac, “chest-guard”, primarily protecting the heart, from which stem our trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus and love (a)ga/ph) for our fellow believers
    • the perikefalai/a, protection “around the head”, representing the uppermost part of our person, and that which point upward, the direction from which our salvation comes, at the end-time

This “salvation” (swthri/a) is given more precise definition in vv. 9-10, emphasizing again the eschatological aspect:

“(for it is) that God did not set us into (His) anger, but (rather) into the making of salvation around (us) through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one hav)ing died away over us, (so) that, if we should be awake (or) if we should go down to sleep, we would live together with him.”

This statement repeats much of the same language from earlier in 4:14-17 (cf. above); in particular, we may note:

    • the salvation of believers comes “through [dia/] Jesus”
    • the idea of believers going down to sleep (using different verbs), and still living
    • that believers will come to be “together with him” (su\n au)tw=|)
    • and that this unity, with Jesus and with (all) other believers, is understood as being complete and simultaneous (“at once”), expressed by the particle a%ma.

Since the verb kaqeu/dw (“go down to sleep”), earlier in vv. 6-7, was used to characterize unbelievers in the time of darkness, its application to believers here needs to be explained. There are two possibilities:

    • Paul is shifting the meaning of both grhgoreu/w and kaqeu/dw to the ordinary human experience of being awake and sleeping
    • He is telling believers that, even if they should lapse into moments of “sleep”, during this time of darkness, they still live (and have life/salvation) in Christ

Probably Paul intends the former, though the latter idea could be justified, for example, by the situation of the disciples in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:37-41 par). I would say, however, that Paul is here retaining the eschatological nuance of believers living (i.e. their daily Christian lives) during the end-time of darkness.

The section concludes (in verse 11) much as the prior section did (4:18), following a basic formula, with a message for believers to exhort one another (using the verb parakale/w, “call alongside” [i.e. for help, comfort, etc]):

“Therefore, you must call one another alongside and build (each other up) one by one, even as you also do (now).”

The closing phrase, with the conjunction kai/ (“and”), serves as an important part of the exhortation—and the rhetoric Paul is using—framing it in terms of what the Thessalonians are already doing. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, 1 Thessalonians can be characterized as paraenetic rather than deliberative rhetoric—that is to say, its chief purpose is to instruct and exhort, rather than to persuade the audience of the correctness of a particular position. Unlike in Galatians or the Corinthian letters, Paul is not addressing any particular conflict or problem facing the congregations; instead, he is simply encouraging the Thessalonians to continue in the faith.

Taken together, the two sections 1 Thess 4:13-5:11, represent the clearest and most specific summary of Paul’s eschatology that has come down to us in any of his letters. There is virtually nothing in it which goes beyond the traditional belief (and mode of expression) common to Christians at the time (c. 50 A.D.). It is actually highly instructive in providing us a snapshot of the early Christian eschatology in its relation to the Gospel Tradition and the (historical) sayings of Jesus. As noted above, Paul appears to have held an eschatological framework that generally corresponds with that of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse. This will be seen in greater detail, as we examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 in the next part of this study.