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

The Johannine Writings, Part 2:
The Letters of John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 2:28-3:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Eschatology and the Structure of the Last Discourse

This note is supplemental to the current article on the Gospel of John. The great Last Discourse (13:31-16:33) of the Gospel is built around a major eschatological theme: the departure and return of Jesus. However, the way this theme is developed within the Discourse-sequence is quite complex, operating at two (or three) levels, in terms of the eschatology of the Gospel. Generally speaking, this two-level exposition corresponds with the two aspects of early Christian eschatology—future and present (“realized”). Moreover, as I noted in the article, Jesus’ departure and return can be understood three different ways:

    • 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

Several of the key passages are discussed in the main article, but I feel it will be helpful to supplement that discussion with a brief analysis of the structure of the Discourse.

The Structure of the Last Discourse (Jn 13:31-16:33)

In an earlier article, I presented a detailed thematic outline of the Last Discourse, which I would divide into three distinct, interconnected discourses, with an introduction and conclusion that relate more directly to the literary (and historical) setting of the Last Supper scene (chap. 13):

    • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

In terms of the literary/historical setting of the narrative, the departure of Jesus would refer primarily to his impending death, when he would be separated from his disciples for a short time. To judge by Jesus’ words in 20:17, in context, this departure (in the present) involved a return to the Father (cf. below). The introduction and conclusion to the Discourse seem to refer to the imminent events of his Passion and death:

    • 13:31-38—Announcement of his going away (v. 33), followed by a prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 36-38, cf. 18:15-18, 25-27 par)
    • 16:29-33—Jesus’ prediction of his disciples being ‘scattered’ (cp. Mark 14:27 par), following the (second) announcement of his going away (vv. 16-17)

Within this framework, Jesus’ departure & return are presented in both future and present (“realized”) aspects. In terms of the handling of the Gospel tradition, this may be outlined as a parallel step-sequence:

PRESENT:

    • Jesus’ departure—his death
      • His return to the Father (unnarrated, cf. 20:17)
        • His return to the disciples, with the coming/bringing of the Spirit (20:19-23)
          • He brings his disciples to the Father, where they dwell together with Him, in the Spirit

FUTURE:

    • Jesus’ departure—leaving the world
      • His return to the Father (unnarrated, cp. Acts 1:9-11 etc)
        • His end-time return to his disciples
          • He brings his disciples to the Father, where they dwell together with Him, in heaven

How is this expressed within the Last Discourse? I believe it is possible to illustrate this by working from the thematic outline above, isolating a multi-level concentric structure that reflects the eschatological development—from traditional to “realized” (i.e., realized in/through the Spirit):

  • His death and return (13:31-38, in/for “a little while” [mikro/n], v. 33)
    • His departure to the Father, with promise of future return (14:1-4ff)
      • His coming again to the disciples in the person of the Spirit (14:15-24ff)
        • His disciples in the world, united with Father and Son in the Spirit (15:1-16:4a)
      • His coming again to the disciples in the person of the Spirit (16:4b-15)
    • His departure to the Father, with promise of future return (16:4bff, 16-24)
  • His death and return (16:16ff, 25-29, in/for “a little while” [mikro/n], v. 16)

The first layer represents the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the literary (and historical) setting of the Discourse. The second layer reflects the traditional (future) eschatology—Jesus’ end-time return in glory, parallel with his exaltation to heaven (at God’s right hand). The third, inner layer represents the “realized” eschatology so prominent and important to the theology of the Discourses. And, at the center of the great Discourse, is the central theme of believers living in the world, while not belonging to the world, united with God the Father and Jesus the Son through the presence of the Spirit; this is expressed primarily by way of the Vine/Branches illustration of 15:1-17.

February 28: Revelation 22:20-21

Revelation 22:20-21

The concluding words, of the exalted Jesus as a witness (ma/rtu$) to the prophetic message, come now in verse 20a:

“The (one) bearing witness [marturw=n] to these (thing)s says: ‘Yes, I come quickly [taxu/]’.”

To which the author of the book echoes:

“Amen, may you come, Lord Yeshua!” (v. 20b)

This refrain surely expresses the heartfelt desire of believers throughout the years, down to the present day. However, in the context of first-century Christianity, it carries a special significance, due to the nature of the imminent eschatology of early Christians and the profound effect it had on nearly every aspect of their thought. I have discussed the subject at length in these notes, and throughout the wider study series (“Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”). It bears repeating as our examination of the book of Revelation comes to a close. Believers at the time (c. 90 A.D.?) fully expected that they would live to see the events prophesied in the book–the great period of distress, the return of Jesus, and the onset of the Judgment. Indeed, this expectation is made clear all through the book itself, including the final words of 22:20.

Jesus states clearly, and unequivocally, that he is coming “quickly” (taxu/). The adverb taxu/, along with the related expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] speed”), was used to express the widespread belief that Jesus’ return would occur soon (also with the sense of “suddenly”). This language has been used repeatedly, particularly at the beginning and end of the book (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6-7, 12); cf. also Luke 18:8; Rom 16:20, and the discussion in my earlier study on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The Greek e&rxou ku/rie (“may you come, Lord”) reflects an underlying Semitic (Aramaic) expression at* an`r^m* (m¹ranâ tâ), which is preserved transliterated in Greek (mara/na qa/) by Paul at the close of 1 Corinthians (16:22). Indeed, the closing of the book of Revelation (v. 21) resembles that of Paul in a number of his letters (1 Thess 5:28; 1 Cor 16:23; Rom 16:20; also 2 Thess 3:18; Gal 6:18; 2 Cor 13:13; Phil 4:23; Philemon 25), cf. below. Interestingly, Paul also uses the expression “may you come, Lord” (mara/na qa/) in 1 Cor 16:22 directly after a curse-formula, just as here in Revelation (cf. the previous note). The verb form e&rxou is an imperative (“you must come, come!”), but when used to address God (or the exalted Jesus) it is perhaps more fitting to translate it as an exhortation (“may you come”), much as imperatives are typically rendered in a prayer-setting (e.g., in the Lord’s Prayer). In the early Christian writing known as the “Teaching (of the Twelve)”, the Didache, the curse + marana/ qa/ format is used in a eucharistic context (10:6), cp. the reference to Jesus’ return in 1 Cor 11:26.

The final words of the book of Revelation are a benediction, or blessing, quite similar to that used by Paul in his letters, as noted above; the closest examples are in 2 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians:

“(May) the favor of the Lord Yeshua (be) with (you) all” (Rev 22:21)
“(May) the favor of our Lord Yeshua (be) with you all” (2 Thess 3:18)
“(May) the favor of the Lord Yeshua…(be) with you all” (2 Cor 13:13)

This may simply indicate a standard form, commonly used by believers at the time. There are a considerable number of textual variations in v. 21, no doubt reflecting variations in usage of the basic form over time, and preserved by copyists. The absence of the pronoun (u(mw=n, “[with] you”) could be due to the fact that, strictly speaking, the book of Revelation was not written to a specific congregation, but to believers generally, over a wide region. In a very real sense, it was written “to all”, i.e. to all believers.

* * * * * * *

This concludes the series of daily notes on the book of Revelation; however, as a way of summarizing the results of this study, I feel it is important now to deal with certain topics which were left largely unaddressed in the notes. These involve issues regarding the authorship and date of the book, different approaches to interpreting the visions, and application of the eschatology for modern-day Christians. I purposely avoided these issues so as not to detract (and distract) from a careful examination of the text itself. Thus, a short set of supplemental notes will be presented during the upcoming week.

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February 17: Revelation 22:7a, 12-13

Revelation 22:7a, 12-13

This is the second component from the two parallel sets that make up verses 6-17 (cf. the previous note on vv. 6, 10-11). It is a declaration, by Jesus, of his imminent end-time appearance:

“And, see! I come quickly [taxu/]!” (v. 7a)
“See! I come quickly [taxu/]…” (v. 12)

This repeats the message of the exalted Jesus in 2:16; 3:11; the corresponding expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] haste”) occurs in 1:1 and 22:6 (cf. the previous note). This is a clear indication, again, that, from the standpoint of the author and readers of the book, the end-time return of Jesus was imminent. On the specific use of taxu[$] / taxo$ with this eschatological meaning among early Christians, cf. my study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The message in vv. 6ff and 10ff is spoken by the heavenly Messenger (Angel); that it shifts here to the first person voice of Jesus is simply a reflection of the book’s understanding that the exalted Jesus is the true source of the message (cf. the discussion on 1:1 in the opening note, and the one previous).

Verses 12-13

The declaration by Jesus in vv. 12-13 is expanded beyond the simple announcement of his imminent return:

“See! I come quickly [taxu/]! and my wage is with me to give forth to each (person), as his work is (deserving). I (am) the Alpha and the O(mega), the first and the last, the beginning and the completion [te/lo$].”

In many ways, this statement provides a concise summary of early Christian eschatology, as may be illustrated by an exegesis of each phrase.

 )Idou\ e&rxomai taxu/ (“See! I come quickly”)—This reflects the early Christian belief that Jesus’ return is imminent (cf. above); it was something that believers at the time would have expected themselves to see.

kai\ o( misqo/$ mou met’ e)mou= (“and my wage is with me”)—This alludes to the coming end-time Judgment, which will be ushered in at Jesus’ return; as God’s appointed (and Anointed) representative, he will also oversee the Judgment—thus the payment (misqo/$) is “with him”, and is his to give (“my wage”).

a)podou=nai e(ka/stw| w($ to\ e&rgon e)sti/n au)tou= (“to give forth to each [person] as his work is [deserving]”)—The noun misqo/$ is often translated “reward”, but “wage” is the proper rendering, referring to service done for payment or hire. Thus, here it specifically denotes payment that is due to a person, appropriate to the work (e&rgon) they have performed. Again, as God’s divine representative, Jesus as the authority to give out (vb a)podi/dwmi, “give from, give forth”) the payment at the time of Judgment. Jesus’ parables involving workers/laborers generally carry this eschatological aspect.

e)gw\ to\ a&lfa kai\ to\ w@ (“I [am] the Alpha and the O[mega]”)—The exalted Jesus identifies himself by this conjunction of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which, elsewhere in the book of Revelation, functions as a Divine title applied to God (1:8; 21:6, cf. the earlier note). Since the exalted Jesus rules alongside God the Father, he shares the same divine position and authority; beyond this, we should be cautious about reading into the wording and symbolism of the book of Revelation a more precisely-developed Christology (regarding divine pre-existence, etc).

o( prw=to$ kai\ o( e&sxato$, h( a)rxh\ kai\ to\ te/lo$ (“the first and the last, the beginning and the completion”)—These two expressions both relate to the motif of “alpha and omega”, expounding it in similar ways. The expression “the first and the last” was used specifically of the exalted Jesus in earlier scenes (1:17; 2:8), while “the beginning and the completion” was applied to God in 21:6. The expressions are eschatological, but also cosmological, in that they refer to the beginning and end of the current Age (and, indeed, of all Ages, all Creation). Jesus is the a)rxh/ (“beginning”) in the sense, certainly, that he serves as the “chief ruler” over Creation (3:14), alongside God the Father; whether this also indicates his role in the original act of Creation itself is harder to say, but I think it likely, given the contours of early Christology as it developed in the latter half of the first century (cp. 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-4, cf. Koester, p. 841). The term te/lo$ (“completion”) is unquestionably eschatological, and the exalted Jesus plays a central role in the completion of the current Age, and the formation (beginning, a)rxh/) of the New.

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Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 2 Peter and Jude

Second Peter and Jude

Of all the New Testament writings thought to be pseudonymous by some commentators, the letter of 2 Peter is unique in that it is the only such writing about which doubts were expressed (regarding its stated authorship) in the early centuries. These doubts were based on clear differences in language and style between 1 and 2 Peter, together with the basic assumption that the Petrine authorship of 1 Peter was genuine. The author presents himself as an eye-witness to Jesus’ transfiguration in 1:16-18, but such a specific reference could just as well serve as an intentional pseudonymous detail meant to establish apostolic authorship (cf. also the apparent self-reference to 1 Peter in 3:1). Critical commentators would also point to the author’s mention of an early authoritative collection of Paul’s letters (3:16), and to the passing of the first generation of believers (3:4), as signs of a later date. On purely objective grounds, the arguments cannot be considered decisive, one way or the other.

If the letter is genuinely from Peter, then it must have been composed in the early-60’s A.D., not long after 1 Peter was written. If pseudonymous, then most likely it was composed nearer to the end of the first-century (c. 90 A.D.?). Regarding the eschatology of 2 Peter in particular, certain aspects do seem more consonant with a post-70 A.D. date; this will be discussed with the relevant passages below.

Commentators often treat the letter of Jude in tandem with 2 Peter, since the two letters share many similarities of subject matter, outlook, style, and emphasis (cp. Jude 2, 3, 5a, 5b-19, 24 with 2 Pet 1:2, 5, 12, 2:1-3:3, and 3:14, respectively). In terms of their eschatology, it also makes sense to discuss the letters together. The precise relationship between these two letters remains a matter of considerable debate among New Testament scholars. Perhaps the best explanation is that they stem from a common Tradition, much as we see with the Johannine writings, sharing a basic religious and theological approach, mode of expression, vocabulary, and so forth. Most critical commentators would date the letters to roughly the same period, c. 90 A.D. Some of the obvious parallels between 2 Peter and Jude, noted above, will be mentioned again in the notes below.

Second Peter

Chapter 1

The eschatological emphasis of 2 Peter can be seen already in the introduction (exordium), 1:3-11, if only brought out clearly in the final verses:

“Therefore (all the) more, brothers, you must act with speed to make secure your calling and gathering out [i.e. being chosen] (by God); for (in) making these (thing)s (secure) you shall (certainly) not ever fall. For so it shall be led round upon you, the way into the kingdom of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal kingdom] of our Lord and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (vv. 10-11)

In the following section (verses 12-21), the historical or autobiographical narration (narratio) and main proposition (propositio) of the letter are essentially combined, since they are wrapped up in the apostolic identity and authority of the author. The longstanding questions regarding the authorship of 2 Peter—whether pseudonymous or genuinely by Peter—were mentioned above. However one views the matter, there can be no doubt that in 1:12-21 the author purposely emphasizes the theme of apostolic authority; this is established in three parts:

    • Verses 12-15—The author, who identifies himself as Peter (v. 1), is nearing the end of his life, and feels it necessary to deliver one final message (as an inspired apostle) to believers. With regard to the critical view that the letter is pseudonymous, it may be worth noting that this sort of “last testament” setting is typical of many Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic writings (which tend to be pseudepigraphic).
    • Verses 16-18—Just as the author (as Peter) was eye-witness to Jesus’ manifestation in glory during the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8 par), so he is also a reliable (prophetic) witness to the glorious end-time appearance of Jesus.
    • Verses 19-21—The reliability of inspired prophecy is emphasized, and thus that the author’s own message (in the letter) is similarly inspired. The Prophets of the old Covenant and Apostles (missionaries) of the new Covenant were frequently joined together in early Christian thought—Luke 11:49; Eph 2:20; 3:5; Rev 18:20ff; cf. also Matt 5:12; 11:13; 23:29-37 par; Acts 10:41-43; 13:27, 31; Rom 16:26; 1 Thess 2:15; 1 Pet 1:10-12.

The central proposition is implicit, being alluded to most directly in verse 16, when the author indicates that his apostolic witness is reliable, and that “we made known to you our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed’s power and (his com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a]…”. The noun parousi/a was a well-established technical term in early Christianity for the end-time return of Jesus, as has been noted many times in this series. Thus, the author’s apostolic message (in the letter) is eschatological, referring to the end-time and the impending return of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 2

2 Peter 2:1-3

In chapter 2, the eschatological message takes the form of a warning against the “false teachers” (yeudodida/skaloi) who will appear at the end-time, implying that they are already present, but will become a more dangerous and pervasive force as the end draws nearer. This reflects a development in the eschatological tradition of the “false prophets” (yeudoprofh=tai) who will exert an influence over humankind during the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$), cf. Mark 13:22 par. This time of distress is marked by an increase in wickedness, that will include intense persecution and suffering by believers in Christ (Mark 13:9-13 par, etc); the faith of believers will be tested, with the danger that they might even be led astray by these “false prophets” and false Messiahs.

First Peter assumes this period of increasing wickedness and suffering/persecution among believers (cf. the previous article in this series), by which their faith will be tested, part of a fiery ordeal within the great end-time Judgment. Second Peter draws on the same basic tradition, but with a significant difference: in 1 Peter, the attacks come from the surrounding (pagan) population, while in 2 Peter they are from “false teachers” within the Christian Community itself. This may well reflect a somewhat later situation, corresponding to what we find in the Pauline Pastoral Letters and the Letters of John. Especially in 1 John (often dated c. 90 A.D.), the end-time “false prophets” are would-be fellow believers who hold (and teach) an erroneous view of Christ (2:18-19ff; 4:1-3ff). The idea of false teachers infiltrating the congregations is particularly prominent in the Pastorals (dated variously, 60-100 A.D., according to different views of authorship)—2 Tim 2:17-19; 3:1-9, 13; 4:3-4; 1 Tim 1:3-7; 4:1-5ff; 5:15; 6:3ff, 20-21; Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11.

In the case of 2 Peter, it is clear that the author has in mind supposed Christians, since he tells his readers that such “false teachers” are (and will continue to be) “among you” (e)n u(mi=n), and that they have “brought in alongside”, i.e. surreptitiously, ruinous and destructive teachings, etc, by which they would lure others in the congregations to follow after them. This is the significance of the noun ai%resi$, preserved in English as a transliterated loanword (“heresy”). The word fundamentally means “taking hold” of something, figuratively in the sense of choosing to follow or trust in something, often with the partisan connotation of aligning oneself with a particular group or side. This is only such instance in the New Testament of this technical (negative) connotation which would become so prominent in early Christianity (cp. Acts 5:17; 15:5, etc; 1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20).

It is not clear precisely what these “false teachers” say and do, though at least a partial portrait emerges from the illustrations and expositions in the remainder of the chapter. Here, it is indicated that they are both greedy and deceptive in their speech, by which they would exploit and take advantage of believers (v. 3). Their actions are tantamount to denying the Lord (Jesus) himself, and are such that they would cause the “way of truth” to be defamed and insulted (v. 2). God’s end-time Judgment is very much in view when the author speaks of them “bringing ruin/destruction swiftly upon themselves” (v. 1). Even more explicit is the declaration in verse 3b:

“…these (person)s (for) whom the judgment of old is not idle (in coming), and their (final) ruin/destruction does not nod (off) [i.e. go to sleep].”

2 Peter 2:4-14

The eschatological warning of vv. 1-3 is developed by a pair of Scriptural illustrations (vv. 4-9, 15-17), each of which includes an exposition (vv. 10-14, 18-22) that applies it to the current situation, in the context of the coming Judgment. The first illustration brings together the two most famous episodes from the Old Testament which represent and depict the judgment of God upon the wickedness of humankind—the Great Flood (vv. 4-5) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 6-7). As it happens, each of these judgment-scenes came to serve as an illustrative type-pattern for the coming end-time Judgment. Jesus makes use of them together in an eschatological context (Luke 17:26-29; par Matt 24:37-38, where only Noah and the Flood is mentioned). Noah’s Flood is used in a similar fashion in 1 Peter (3:20ff, cf. the previous article). Of course, destruction by water and fire are the most common means by which the current Age is expected to come to an end, as seen in many eschatological traditions worldwide; this is a basic point of which the author was well aware (cf. below on 3:5-7).

Especially important are the figures of Noah and Lot, each of whom maintained his upright character in the face of the pervasive wickedness in the surrounding society, and, as a result, they were among the very few who were saved from the Judgment. The eschatological implications, and the application to believers (i.e. the readers of the letter), are obvious; these illustrations serve as an exhortation (and warning), vv. 8-9. Moreover, the wicked in the present day (from the standpoint of the letter) follow the pattern of those human beings (and Angels) who sinned in olden times, and are about to face a similarly destructive Judgment (vv. 10-14). The implication is that the “false teachers” are among this group of corrupt and evil persons, depicted so graphically (with some hyperbole) here; however, in this section, it is primarily the wickedness of society (humankind) as a whole that is in view.

2 Peter 2:15-22

The illustration in verses 15ff more properly relates to the false Christian teachers, utilizing the figure of Balaam from Old Testament and Israelite history (cf. similar references in Revelation 2:14 and Jude 11 [below]). Balaam, in the original matrix of traditions, is a complex character, featuring in chapters 22-24 of the book of Numbers. Ultimately, it was the negative aspect of this tradition—particularly, his apparent association with the incident at Peor (cf. Num 31:8, 16)—that came to dominate in subsequent Jewish tradition. Early Christians simply inherited Balaam as a representative figure for wickedness, idolatry, and false prophecy. Covetousness and greed is implied in this portrait (v. 15b), though it is not entirely clear how this relates specifically to the “false teachers”. The author caricatures them savagely, drawing upon the image of Balaam and his donkey (v. 16), and calling them

“fountains without (any) water, (cloud)s of fog being pushed under a storm-wind, for whom the gloom of darkness has been kept (waiting)” (v. 17)

In verses 18-19 we have the first real indication of what these persons may have taught, but it remains quite obscure (to us, at least). It may be that they were advocating social unrest among believers. If the letter was genuinely written by Peter, and/or written in the same setting and time-frame as 1 Peter, then it may reflect a situation of opposition and persecution by segments of the established (pagan) society in the region. Conceivably, these “false teachers” were giving the opposite advice of 1 Peter—instead of patience and humble, law-abiding behavior, they may have advocated a more aggressive approach, promising “freedom” and security by revolutionary means. On the other hand, this e)leuqeri/a (v. 19) could be understood more properly in moral/ethical terms, indicating a ‘false freedom’ that promoted corrupt and licentious behavior. Was the message political, social-ethical, or some combination of the two? What is certain is that these “false teachers” would consider themselves (and/or pretend to be) genuine Christians, and that they, whether intending to or not, would lead other believers away from the true faith (vv. 20-21). They face the same impending Judgment as do the wicked in the rest of society.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 forms the second part of the eschatological message. Alongside the warning of the “false teachers” of the end-time (chap. 2, cf. above), the author now assures his readers of the promise of Jesus’ return, that it is yet imminent.

2 Peter 3:3-7

After reiterating his main point—the reliability of the inspired apostolic witness (the author identifying himself as the apostle Peter, cf. above)—he proceeds to address the eschatological subject of the exalted Jesus’ return to earth. Verse 3 echoes the theme in chapter 2, of those wicked and deceptive “false teachers” who appear at the end-time, prior to Jesus’ return. Now they are turned (rhetorically) into mockers and skeptics who express doubt that Jesus will ever return, that this central Christian belief is itself foolish and misguided. The point as issue is set in their mouths as a question, followed by a taunt:

“Where is the (fulfillment of) the message about his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a]? For, from the (time in) which the fathers laid down (to sleep), all (thing)s remain so throughout, (as they have) from (the) beginning of (the) formation (of the world)!” (v. 4)

The taunt in v. 4b actually serves to frame an apparently quite reasonable observation, and one which would only have had meaning for the early Christian Community. The central issue is the fact that, from the standpoint of the time when the letter was written, the first generation of believers (including the leading figures and apostles, “the fathers”) had passed away (“laid down [to sleep]”), and yet Jesus had still not returned. This reflects a concern over what is referred to by New Testament scholars as “the delay of the parousia” (on the term parousi/a, “[com]ing to be alongside”, cf. above).

As I have discussed throughout this series, virtually all Christians in the earliest period held an imminent eschatology—i.e., that the end, and the return of Jesus, was about to occur soon, generally within the lifetime of most believers. The idea that the first generation of believers would not (or might not) pass away until the end had come is expressed at several points in the Gospels and early Christian tradition, including the famous eschatological saying by Jesus in Mark 13:30 par. Concern over the passing of the generation of the apostles seems to underlie the tradition in John 21:22-23 as well. I discuss these passages in a separate note, as part of the study on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The historical and/or literary setting of 2 Peter is centered around Peter’s (impending) death, much as the death of the ‘Beloved Disciple’ informs the appendix (chap. 21) of the Johannine Gospel. Most critical commentators recognize that the reference to the passing of the first generation (“the fathers”) is the mark a somewhat later date (post-70 A.D.), and thus the letter was likely not written by Peter. Traditional-conservative commentators would not be so quick to disregard the indications of Petrine authorship in chapter 1, and might explain the issue of the ‘delay of the parousia’ rather differently. Be that as it may, this sense of ‘delay’ is at the heart of the message in chapter 3. As a point of religious psychology, nearly all adherents—individuals and groups—with a strong eschatological orientation believe that they are the final generation, and that they will live to see the coming of the end. When that generation passes, when the expected moment comes and goes, it is then necessary to explain the apparent delay. We see this, for example, with the Community of the Qumran texts—cf. especially the commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab 7.6-14, commenting on Hab 2:3).

The explanation offered in 2 Peter to the problem follows in verses 8ff; however, it is preceded by a warning against all such doubts (i.e. that the return of Jesus may never come), aligning such skeptics with both the “false teachers” of chap. 2 and the earlier wicked generation that perished in the great Flood (2:4-5ff, cf. above), the implication being that they, too, will perish in the coming end-time Judgment. The author makes a clear parallel between the ancient destruction by water (the Flood) and the modern destruction by fire. This suggests an adaptation of the traditional cycle of Ages so common to the eschatology of the ancient world. At the very least, there is a sequence of two Ages: (1) the antediluvian world, destroyed by water, and (2) the current Age that followed, and still exists, which will be destroyed by fire. This is expressed quite clearly in verses 6-7. The idea that the current world would be consumed by fire was prominent, for example, in contemporary Stoicism, but it can be attested in many cultures and traditions of the period.

2 Peter 3:8-10

The author’s explanation of the ‘delay’ is rather simple, though many readers today would probably not find it particularly convincing. The first point, made in verse 8, draws upon the statement in Psalm 90:4:

“For a thousand years in your eyes (are) as (the) day before, for it passes over and (is as) a watch in the night.”

“But this one (thing) must not be hidden from you, (be)loved (one)s, that ‘a single day alongside (the) Lord (is) as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a single day’.” (v. 8)

In other words, God’s way of measuring time is very different from that of humans. The correspondence of “day” and “thousand years” was utilized in other apocalyptic/eschatological writings of the period, as a way of describing the time-frame of the current Age (and the Age to Come) according to the pattern of the seven days of Creation (cf. my recent article on the “thousand years” in Revelation 20). However, this does not seem to be in view here; rather, the comparison (day vs. thousand years) merely serves to open the possibility that the apparent delay is part of the wider plan of God, which we are not fully able to comprehend (cp. 1QpHab 7.7-8, 12-14).

The second explanation (v. 9) is more traditional (and ethical), based on the idea that God’s actions are aimed at giving humankind every opportunity to repent:

“For (the) Lord is not slow (regarding) the (fulfillment) of (His) messages about (the end), as some would lead (forth the idea) of slowness, but He is long in (His) impulse unto us, not wishing any(one) to go to ruin, but (rather) for all to make space [i.e. come over] into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance].”

In spite of this apparent “slowness” (bradu/th$), the author maintains the imminence of Jesus’ return, emphasizing that it could yet occur at any moment:

“But the day of the Lord will arrive as (one) who steals [i.e. a thief], (a day) in which the heavens will go along [i.e. pass away] with a whir, and the (part)s of (its) arranged order will be loosened [i.e. dissolved], burning (with fire), and the earth, and the works in her, will be found (exposed).” (v. 10)

This is a graphic and colorful depiction of the end-time Judgment, though not without certain difficulties of vocabulary and syntax, using the imagery of the dissolution of the universe through fire, at the end of the current Age. The illustration of the day of the Lord coming unexpectedly, as a thief, is traditional, going back to the eschatological sayings of Jesus (Matt 24:43 par; cp. 1 Thess 5:2, 4; Rev 3:3; 16:15).

2 Peter 3:11-18

The message of vv. 1-10 leads into a closing exhortation, emphasizing again the coming Judgment and return of Jesus. The eschatological emphasis features in verses 11-14, transitioning from v. 10 with the opening phrase (v.11) that establishes the context of the exhortation: “All these (thing)s thus being loosened [i.e. dissolved]…”. In other words, with the end of the world still imminent, how are we to live as believers in Christ? In particular, Christians, in their thoughts and actions, should always be “looking toward (receiving)” (prosdokw=nta$) and “speeding oneself (toward)” (speudo/nta$) the return (parousi/a) of Jesus (v. 12). His return corresponds with the great Judgment and the dissolution of the universe, from which believers will be rescued. In turn, there is the promise of “a new heavens and a new earth” in which justice and righteousness dwells (v. 13). This is the coming New Age, described as a “new creation”, with an allusion to Isaiah 65:17; 66:22. What is mentioned briefly here is expounded in more precise visionary and symbolic detail in Revelation 21:1-22:5 (cf. the current notes on Revelation); but the basic eschatological concepts and traditions are the same.

The eschatological exhortation sharpens, reaching its climax in verse 14:

“Therefore, (be)loved (one)s, looking toward (receiving) these (thing)s, you must act with speed to be found without spot and without fault (before) Him, in peace.”

The verb speuda/zw, like the related speu/dw in v. 12, indicates the urgency for believers, in light of the impending return of Jesus (and end of the Age). It means acting with speed, or haste, but often connotes striving to accomplish something or to reach a particular goal; it may also reflect the eagerness with which we await the coming of Jesus.

The Letter of Jude

This short letter is said to have been written by one  )Iou/da$ (Heb. hd`Why+, Yehudah, “Judah, Juda[s]”); the intended person in question should probably be identified as the brother of Jesus (and James) mentioned in Mark 6:3 par, however, scholars debate whether this detail of verse 1 is authentic or a mark of pseudonymity (cf. on 2 Peter, above). The letter is quite similar in style, tone, and emphasis to 2 Peter—in particular, the bulk of Jude (vv. 5b-19) resembles chapter 2 (2:1-3:3) of 2 Peter. As noted above, the relationship between the two letters has been explained various ways; in my view, the best explanation is that they stem from a common line of tradition—here, primarily, an eschatological tradition regarding “false teachers” (= “false prophets”) who are to appear at the end-time, prior to Jesus’ return. As in 2 Peter, the implication is that they are already present among believers, having infiltrated the congregations; this, of course, serves as another sign (and reminder) that Jesus’ return and the end-time Judgment are imminent.

The eschatological orientation of the letter is indicated in the opening greeting (v. 1), as well as the closing doxology (vv. 24f). In verse 1, the description of believers as those “…having been kept watch over [i.e. guarded/preserved] in Yeshua (the) Anointed”, i.e. guarded until they are united with Jesus at his return. This is stated more clearly in the conclusion (v. 24):

“And to the (One) being able to guard you and to stand you in the sight of His splendor, without fault, in a leaping (for joy)…”

This is a depiction of believers standing before God at the Judgment, and able to pass through, delivered from the Judgment by our union with Jesus Christ and our participation in his saving work, i.e., “through Yeshua the Anointed our Lord”.

The idea of the “false teachers” is introduced in verse 4, being contrasted with “the trust [i.e. faith] (hav)ing been given along once to the holy (one)s” (v. 3)—that is, being received by the first witnesses, and passed down through a single, authentic and reliable chain of tradition. In 2 Peter, these “false teachers” are similarly contrasted with the inspired witness of Peter (and the other apostles), 1:16-21 (cf. above). The basic setting and premise (propositio) of the two letters is very similar, as is the expository development (probatio) that follows, in 2 Peter 2 and Jude 5ff, respectively. The Old Testament scenes of judgment—Israel in the wilderness, the Angels and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah—serve as a type-pattern for the coming end-time Judgment (“the Judgment of the great Day”, v. 6); they also serve as a warning to God’s people today, of the need to remain faithful and alert, in the face of the increasing wickedness and deception in the last days.

The ‘false teachers’ are compared with those earlier wicked generations (v. 8). As in 2 Peter, we cannot be certain of exactly what they taught or did; the description is specific, but (to us) no longer clear; they are said to be:

“(one)s being (caught) in dreams—(on the one hand) they pollute the flesh, but (on the other) they set aside (the) honored (one)s and insult (them).”

Their lack of real knowledge, according to Jude, is declared harshly in verse 10. They are compared again with the wicked Angels, as well as key disobedient and rebellious figures from Old Testament and Israelite tradition—Cain, Balaam, Korah and his followers (verse 11, on Balaam, cf. above). They will be struck by the impending Judgment (vv. 12-13, note the similarity in thought and language with 2 Pet 2:17), the coming of which was prophesied already in the most ancient times, by Enoch (citing 1 Enoch 1:9, apparently, as authoritative Scripture). This is a common feature of apocalyptic literature of the period—events of the current time (or which are about to occur) are presented as prophecies made by famous figures of the past, i.e. as things which will take place in the distant future. Jude 14ff illustrates something of how such pseudepigrapha might develop.

The author (Jude) is more direct in his eschatological message, in verses 17-19:

“But you, (be)loved (one)s, you must remember the utterances, the (one)s having been spoken before(hand) under [i.e. by] the (one)s sent forth by [i.e. apostles of] our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, (the way) that they related to you [that] ‘Upon [i.e. in/at] the last time, there will be (the one)s acting as children in (all things), traveling (about) according to their own impulses (focused) upon (thing)s without reverence’. These are the (one)s marking themselves off (completely), (away) from (the truth), (one)s with (only) a soul, (but) not holding the Spirit.”

The sense of these ‘separatist’ Christians as false believers (“not holding the Spirit”) is reminiscent of the famous descriptions in 1 John (2:18-19; 4:1-3, etc). Though the situation in the two letters is no doubt quite different, they seem to share a common way of referring to other Christians whom they regard as having departed from the truth. The emphasis on preserving the common Tradition, and the danger from those who do not adhere to it (for whatever reason) is quite clear in these writings (as also in 2 Peter and the Pauline Pastoral letters). Most critical commentators would hold that Jude and 1 John, though stemming from different lines of tradition, were written at about same time (c. 90 A.D.).

The exhortation in verse 21 well summarizes the eschatological outlook of Jude, with its directive to “keep watch over [thrh/sate] yourselves”, and the emphasis on “looking toward (receiving) the mercy of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto the life of the Age[s]”. This points out once again how, for early Christians, their understanding of salvation (“our common salvation”, v. 3) is primarily (and fundamentally) eschatological. The end-time Judgment is likely in view in verse 23 as well, with the reference to “snatching out of the fire”, and the urgency surrounding the author’s exhortation. On the eschatological aspect of the closing doxology (vv. 24-25), cf. above; we should note, in particular, the important distinction made between “all the Age, even now” (i.e. the current Age), and the Age(s) to come (“into all the Ages”). Early Christians were quite cognizant of living on this threshold (“the last days/time/hour”) between the current Age and the Age to come—the coming Age being a “New Age” that opens into the fullness of eternal life.

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

(This is a continuation of the article from Part 1)

1 Peter 3:13-22

In the previous sections (2:13-3:12), the ethical-religious instruction in the letter became more practical in approach, dealing with how believers are to conduct themselves in society (and with each other). In the verses that follow, this instruction is increasingly set within an eschatological framework, along with repeated occurrences of one of the key themes of the letter—the need to remain faithful in the face of suffering as the end draws near.

We can see how this plays out in the current section, as the author (Peter) exhorts believers that they have nothing to fear from anyone, if they follow the example of Jesus in their daily life. They may indeed face suffering, but not as the result of their own inappropriate or unlawful conduct. Believers may consider themselves happy if they “suffer through justice [i.e. on account of justice/righteousness]” (v. 14), and should not be afraid; in such instances, they are to remain faithful since “the will of God may intend” that a measure of suffering take place (v. 17). There is unquestionably an eschatological dimension to the “suffering” (pa/sxein) that his readers are currently enduring (and/or that he expects they will have to endure); for more on this, cf. the discussion on 4:17 below.

The main point in this section is that, by enduring suffering, believers are truly following Jesus’ example, and share in his own sufferings—drawing upon the same basic idea of participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus that is so prominent in Paul’s letters. This is summarized in verse 18:

“(For it is) that even (the) Anointed suffered once, about [i.e. for the sake of] sins, a just (person) over [i.e. on behalf of] (those who are) without justice [i.e. unjust], (so) that he should lead us toward God, (hav)ing been put to death in the flesh, but (hav)ing been made alive in the Spirit…”

The reference to Jesus’ death leads to mention being made of his proclamation “to the spirits in (the prison) guard” (v. 19). This much-debated verse is the basis for the doctrine of Jesus’ “descent into Hell/Hades”. It would go much too far afield to discuss the subject here in any detail; there remain considerable differences of opinion over how to interpret “the spirits”, whether they are (a) the ‘fallen’ heavenly beings of Gen 6:1-4 (cf. 2 Pet 2:4), (b) the spirits of dead human beings bound in the realm of death (Hades/Sheol)—or some combination of the two. The immediate reference to the great Flood (v. 20) suggests the former, but the sense of the discussion that follows (esp. in 4:1-6, cf. below) seems to have the latter in view. On the relation of the Flood-tradition to Christian baptism (vv. 20b-21), see my recent Christmas-season note.

The great Flood also serves the author’s purpose, as an eschatological motif, a type-pattern of the coming Judgment—just as God destroyed humankind by the Flood in Noah’s time, so the wicked will perish at the end-time (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 24:37-38 par, also in 2 Peter 2:5ff). Traditionally, the most common means by which the current Age would come to end, is through water (as in Noah’s Flood) or by fire (the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah), cf. Luke 17:26-30, and 2 Pet 2:5-9; 3:5-7 (to be discussed). There are other less obvious eschatological details in this passage, of which we may note the following:

    • The connotation of the Beatitude-form in verse 14, with the use of the plural adjective maka/rioi (“happy/blessed”); cf. my earlier discussion on the background of the Beatitude-form.
    • The expression “the hope [e)lpi/$] in you” (v. 15); as noted in Part 1, the early Christian use of the word e)lpi/$ was primarily eschatological—i.e. the future hope that awaits believers (the resurrection and eternal life)—even though this was already realized, at least in part, for believers in the present.
    • There is an allusion to the coming Judgment in verse 16, with the assurance that those speak against believers will “have shame brought down” on them (vb kataisxu/nw).
    • The concluding reference to Jesus’ exaltation (to God’s right hand, v. 22) assumes the future context of the final subjugation of all things to him; Paul assumes a similar context in the discussion of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:24-28.

1 Peter 4:1-6

The instruction in 4:1-6 builds on the themes of the previous section, in the form of a more forceful ethical exhortation, based on the identity of believers as those who have participated in the sufferings of Christ (v. 1). The wickedness of the surrounding pagan (Greco-Roman) society in Asia Minor is vividly described in verses 2-3, though, to be sure, in rather stereotypical and exaggerated terms. The immorality of pagans was a stock motif in Judaism and early Christianity, but the point of the contrast is clear enough—believers are no longer to conduct themselves as those in the world around them do (v. 4). This is all the more important in light of the impending Judgment:

“th(e one)s who will (have to) give forth an account (of themselves) to the (One who is) ready to judge the (one)s living and dead” (v. 5)

The tradition cited in 3:20 is here given a new interpretation (v. 6), involving the distinction between death in the “flesh” and life in the Spirit (3:19). The idea seems to be that the Gospel is effectively proclaimed to all humankind—those who are dead both literally (physically) and figuratively—and, indeed, all humankind will be judged before God. Those who remain bound in the flesh will face the punishment of death, but those who have already died to the flesh (through trust in Jesus, symbolized by baptism), i.e. believers, will live, according to the same life-giving Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.

1 Peter 4:7ff

“And (indeed) the completion [te/lo$] of all (thing)s has come near [h&ggiken].” (v. 7a)

The ethical instruction of vv. 1-6 is followed by more practical teaching, set again in a strong eschatological context that is established in the opening verse. It is hard to imagine a more concise and unequivocal statement of eschatological imminence; and, for commentators who are reluctant to admit the imminent eschatology expressed throughout the New Testament, such a clear statement is virtually impossible to explain any other way. The author (Peter) declares, simply enough, that the end (te/lo$, “completion”) of the current Age (“all [thing]s”) has come near (h&ggiken, perfect tense)—that is, of course, near to his readers (c. 60 A.D.?); doubtless, he expected that most of them would experience the return of Jesus and the end of the Age. On the technical eschatological use of the noun te/lo$ and verb e)ggi/zw (“come near”), cf. the separate study on imminent eschatology.

1 Peter 4:12-19

The eschatological aspect of the instruction in 1 Peter is heightened considerably in this section, beginning with the opening verses (vv. 12-13):

“(Be)loved (one)s, you must not regard as strange the fiery (burn)ing (that is) coming to be among you, toward (the) testing [peirasmo/$] of you, as (if) a strange (thing) is stepping [i.e. coming] together on you; but, according to the way you share (this) in common with the sufferings of the Anointed, you may delight (in it)! that, in the uncovering of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you may have delight, leaping (about for joy).”

As noted in Part 1, the noun peirasmo/$ (“test[ing]”) has a clear eschatological connotation in early Christianity, especially as there crystalized the idea of an end-time period of distress that would come upon humankind, in the time after Jesus’ ascension and before his subsequent return. During this time, believers would be severely tested, experiencing suffering (cf. above) that included persecution on account of their faith in Jesus. This is the “fiery (burn)ing” (pu/rwsi$) that he speaks of, part of the Judgment by fire (cf. below), a fire that tests the faith of believers. The suffering and persecution of this fiery test is described, in part, in verses 14-16, with a clear distinction between suffering because one has genuinely done wrong, and suffering that is experienced by the innocent—i.e. the faithful believer—in the same manner that Jesus himself suffered.

“(For it is) that (this is) the moment of the Judgment beginning, (and) from the house of God! But, if first from us, what is the completion [te/lo$] (of it) for the (one)s being unpersuaded by the good message of God?” (v. 17)

This statement (and rhetorical question) is striking, and a bit difficult to understand at first. After all, is not the Judgment directed against the wicked? How, then, can it be said to begin with the “house of God” (i.e. believers)? Here the pronoun a)po/ (“from”) indicates the point at which, or from which, something occurs. In actuality, the early Christian concept of the end-time Judgment (kri/ma) encompasses the great Judgment proper, but also the preceding period of distress (qli/yi$) and the intervening event of Jesus’ return to earth. Believers are rescued/saved from the Judgment proper, but they do still have to endure the time of distress, as is clear from Jesus’ eschatological discourse (Mark 13:5-13ff par), the visionary narrative of the book of Revelation, and many other passages in the New Testament discussed in this series. It also reflected the practical experience of many believers at the time, as Paul, for example, makes clear at a number of points in his letters (esp. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and the earlier articles on them in this series).

All of this means that, in going through the period of distress, believers, were, in a sense, experiencing the first stages of God’s Judgment—it begins with the house of God. However, while the fire of Judgment means punishment for the wicked (non-believers, those “unpersuaded” by the Gospel), for believers it serves as a means of testing one’s faith, like precious metal purified in the fire. At the same time, if believers are careless or negligent, they may still escape the punishment, but only narrowly, and through fire that burns away all that is impure or improper. This seems to be the implication, in part, of the citation of Prov 11:31 (LXX) in verse 18; Paul says much the same thing, though in a different context, in 1 Cor 3:12-15. The providential character of the suffering of believers is made clear in the final encouraging words of verse 19, referring to believers as “the (one)s suffering according to the will of God” —it is suffering that, ultimately, serves a beneficial purpose.

1 Peter 5:1-5

In 5:1-5, the instruction shifts to those who are the “elders”, the leading ministers and overseers of the congregations. As ‘shepherds’ who guard and guide the congregation, these persons have a greater responsibility, which includes strengthening the ones who experience suffering and persecution during the time of distress. Along with this responsibility, and a significant share of suffering as well, there is the promise of the heavenly reward, the “honor/splendor [do/ca] th(at is) about to be uncovered” (v. 1) This refers primarily to the end-time return of Jesus, but also to all that awaits for believers once we are gathered to him. This is the future hope (e)lpi/$) mentioned throughout the letter (cf. above, and in Part 1). The promise is stated more precisely in verse 4:

“…and, (at the) shining forth of the Chief Herdsman [i.e. Jesus the Shepherd], you will (receive and) care for a wreath of honor/splendor [do/ca] th(at is) without fading [i.e. that never fades].”

1 Peter 5:6-11

The ethical and religious instruction of the letter reaches it climax in these closing verses, with its sense of eschatological urgency coming through vividly. The sense that time is short, and that danger and persecution are close at hand, permeates the passage, from its initial words:

“So (then) you must lower [i.e. humble] yourselves under the mighty hand of God, (so) that He may lift you high in the (coming) moment…” (v. 6)

This “moment” (kairo/$) has eschatological significance, though the particular aspect may not be immediately apparent on a casual reading (see the other occurrences of the noun in 1:5, 11; 4:17 [above]). Also unquestionably eschatological is the use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“keep awake, keep watch”), as can be seen from similar exhortations in Mark 13:34-37 par (also 14:34ff par); Matt 25:13; Luke 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15. It is part of verse 8, one of the most famous in the letter:

“You must be sober, you must stay awake [grhgorh/sate]! The (one seek)ing decision against you, (the) Dia/bolo$, walks about roaring as a lion, seeking [someone] to gulp down…”

The noun a)nti/diko$, usually translated as “opponent, adversary”, here captures the eschatological Judgment-context. It literally means something like one who seeks “a right (decision) against” someone, i.e. in a court of law. The original meaning of the Hebrew /f*c* (´¹‰¹n, Satan) was also primarily judicial; even the corresponding Greek dia/bolo$ (i.e. Devil) preserves this aspect when understood literally as one who “throws across” accusations against someone. However, the Satan/Devil truly is opposed to believers (and to God), and represents the forces of evil that would attack (i.e. persecute) the faithful (lit. “gulp down”, katapi/nw; cp. the imagery in Revelation 12:4, 15-16). Christians should not despair in the face of such attacks, since believers everywhere are experiencing this (v. 9), and will continue to all the more, as the period of distress intensifies, prior to Jesus’ return.

Some commentators have sought to tie these references to specific instances of persecution against Christians, in the Roman Empire, during the mid-late 1st century, such as the brief (but severe) attack in the city of Rome during Nero’s reign. This would correspond roughly with the likely date of the letter (early 60’s), a letter which, it would seem, was itself written from Rome (“Babylon”, v. 13); even so, there is not enough information to draw any definite conclusions. The author (Peter) does not seem to be referring to direct attacks by the local (or imperial) authorities, though he may envision the possibility of this in his instruction that Christians are to behave honorably, avoiding provocative or anti-social behavior (cf. 2:13-23; 3:13-17). Any opposition toward believers is expected to come more from the surrounding (pagan) society as a whole, rather than from the government.

The final words of encouragement in verse 10, fittingly, bring out the eschatological emphasis that has been maintained throughout the letter:

“And the God of all favor, the (One hav)ing called you into His honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Ages, in (the) Anointed [Yeshua], (hav)ing suffered a little, He will (set you) down fit, He will (set you) firm, He will strengthen (you), He will (keep you) in place.”

At the heart of this statement is a contrast between a brief period of suffering in the present (“[hav]ing suffered a little”), and the eternal reward (“honor, splendor”, do/ca) that awaits for believers. It is to this moment that God has called us, the promise of which we already experience now “in Christ”; after only a little while, it will be realized in full with Jesus’ return in glory to earth. For believers, eternal life follows the consummation of the current Age, a significance that is rightly preserved by a literal translation of the idiom as “honor/splendor of the Age(s) [ai)w/nio$]”.

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

The Letter of 1 Peter

The two Petrine letters are the most thoroughly eschatological of all the New Testament writings (apart from the book of Revelation). It is hard to say how much our understanding of the early Christian eschatology in these letters is to be affected by longstanding questions regarding their authorship. Both letters claim to have been written by the apostle Simon Peter, and yet commentators have expressed doubt over the authenticity of this detail, though less so in the case of 1 Peter. If the reference in 1 Pet 1:1 is genuine (and not a mark of pseudonymity), then the letter is probably to be dated around 60 A.D. Even so, there are several ways to understand Peter’s role in the composition of the letter (and of the reference to Silvanus in 5:12): (1) Peter dictated the letter to Silvanus who presented it in more polished Greek, (2) it was co-authored with Silvanus, or (3) it was sent in the name of Peter, on his behalf, by an unknown author (together with Silvanus). Of these traditional-conservative approaches, the second makes most sense. If this “Silvanus” is the same as the “Silas” who served as an apostolic missionary together with Paul, it might explain some of the apparent similarity, in thought and expression, between 1 Peter and the Pauline letters.

In my view, the eschatology of the letter is fully in accord with a date of c. 60 A.D. It generally corresponds to the eschatological orientation in the Pauline letters we have examined (mainly in the period c. 50-58 A.D.), as well as the letter of James (cf. the previous article). Which is not to say that there are not some significant differences in emphasis, as we shall consider here below. Space will not allow detailed exegesis of every eschatological section in 1 Peter; instead, each important section will be surveyed, with special attention paid to the key eschatological phrases and expressions in the passage.

1 Peter 1:3-12

Following the epistolary prescript (opening/greeting), the exordium (introduction/thanksgiving) in verses 3-12 demonstrates the strong eschatological orientation of the letter. Verses 3-9 comprise a single long sentence in Greek, which becomes quite impractical in a modern English translation. However, I make every attempt here to preserve this syntax, as it is vital to maintain a sense of the force and flow of the author’s rhetoric. To aid the reader, I give this here in a syntactical outline form:

  • “(Of) good account (is)
    the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed,
    • the (One who), according to (how) much (there is) of His mercy,
      • (hav)ing caused us to be (born) again
        • into a living hope through the standing up (again) of Yeshua out of the dead,
        • into the lot (that is) without decay and without stain and without fading (away),
          • having been kept watch (over) in (the) heavens unto [i.e. for] you,
            • the (one)s (who) in the power of God (are) being watched before (Him), through trust, into (the) salvation
              • made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment,
                • in which you leap (for joy), if a little (while) now (your) being saddened [is] necessary, in (your) various (time)s of testing,
                  • (so) that the consideration of your trust, more valuable than (the) gold th(at is) going to ruin, but (now) being considered through fire, should be found unto praise and honor and value in (the) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed,
                    • who, not (hav)ing seen, you (still) love,
                    • in whom, not perceiving him now, but (still) trusting,
                      • you leap (about) in joy (that is) without (any) calling out and (yet) having been esteemed,
                        • taking care (to receive) the completion of [your] trust—
                          • the salvation of your souls.”

Let us briefly consider the main eschatological phrases and statements within this extraordinary opening sentence.

“…into a living hope through the standing up (again) of Yeshua out of the dead, into the lot (that is) without decay and without stain and without fading (away), having been kept watch (over) in heaven unto [i.e. for] you” (vv. 3b-4)

The twin prepositional phrases, governed by the preposition ei)$, indicate what believers have come to be born into—(1) a living hope (e)lpi/$), and (2) inheriting the lot portioned out (klhronomi/a) that is without decay, etc. In the New Testament the word e)lpi/$ (“hope”) is fundamentally eschatological—i.e., the future hope. Paul uses it most frequently, where it often alludes to the future resurrection; cf. especially Rom 8:24-25 (and my earlier article on this passage), also 1 Cor 15:19; 2 Cor 3:12; Gal 5:5, etc. We may note in particular the similar wording in Col 1:5, of a future hope that is waiting for believers in heaven. Here, indeed, in v. 3b hope is connected with the resurrection, though it is Jesus’ own resurrection that is emphasized. The statement agrees with Paul, in terms of the idea that believers participate in the life-giving resurrection of Jesus—we are “born into” it, and it is a “living” hope. Almost certainly, the context of baptism is in view, along with our union with Christ through the presence of the Spirit. This is “realized” for believers already in the present, but we still await its fulfillment in the future.

Even more traditional is the reference to this new life in terms of inheritance, using the noun klhronomi/a, which refers to a person receiving the lot or share that has been portioned out. Again Paul makes frequent use of this idiom, but its occurrence is widespread. The contrast with an ordinary earthly inheritance (cf. further in v. 7) is made by the use of a trio of a)-privative adjectives (“without…”); in other words, it is a heavenly, eternal inheritance, as is made explicit with the final phrase “having been kept watch (over) in the heavens”. God Himself watches over this inheritance, and it is reserved for believers (“unto you”).

“…into (the) salvation made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment” (v. 5b)

Even as God keeps watch (vb thre/w) over the heavenly inheritance of believers, so also He watches over believers themselves, in the time while they are yet on earth. In verse 5a, believers are characterized as “the (one)s (who) in the power of God (are) being watched before (Him)”. The verb froure/w is a bit difficult to translate; it refers to someone keeping an eye on (i.e. watching) something that is before him. Here, again, the implication is that it is God doing the watching. That He watches believers is clear by the expression “through trust” (dia\ pi/stew$); this is parallel with the expression “in the power of God”, giving both sides of the dynamic—the divine protection involves both God’s power and our trust.

The purpose, or goal, of this protection is indicated by the prepositional phrase in verse 5b, again using the preposition ei)$ (“into”)—believers are guarded unto/into salvation. On numerous occasions in this series, I have noted how, for early Christians, the idea of salvation (swthri/a) is primarily eschatological, with the emphasis on being saved from God’s end-time Judgment on humankind. The eschatological orientation is made explicit here, as this salvation is “made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment”. That the author (Peter) believes he and his readers are living at the time when this “last moment” will come, is clear enough from the context of the passage, and the letter as a whole (cf. below). It is unquestionably an imminent eschatology.

“…in (your) various (time)s of testing, (so) that the consideration of your trust, more valuable than (the) gold th(at is) going to ruin, but (now) being considered through fire, should be found unto praise and honor and value in (the) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6b-7)

Currently, the trust of believers is being tested, indicated here by the plural noun peirasmoi/, in the expression e)n poiki/loi$ peirasmoi=$, which I have translated as “in various (time)s of testing”. The noun peirasmo/$ is often rendered as “temptation”, but this can be misleading; it more properly means “test(ing)”, i.e. being put to the test. It has a specific eschatological connotation in early Christianity, as a number of occurrences in the New Testament make clear. This is certainly the case, for example, in Revelation 3:10, and also elsewhere in the Petrine letters (4:12, discussed in Part 2; and 2 Pet 2:9). Yet even in Jesus’ use of the word—in the Lord’s Prayer and Garden scene of his Passion (Matt 6:13 par; Mark 14:38 par), there is a strong eschatological aspect which is often overlooked. The context of 4:12, with the same motif of fire, suggests that the sense of the “testing” is also eschatological here. The proof of the believer’s faith and devotion will be manifest at the “uncovering” of Jesus, i.e. his end-time return, which is thought to be imminent.

“…taking care (to receive) the completion of [your] trust—the salvation of your souls.” (v. 9b)

This final statement brings out the exhortational dimension of the entire passage. Believers are to take care to remain faithful, even during the moments of testing in the end-time, so that they/we may receive the inheritance that awaits for us in heaven. Again, it must be emphasized that the early Christian understanding of salvation was fundamentally eschatological, a point brought out here vividly at the conclusion of the sentence (cp. Jesus’ words in Mark 13:13 par). The use of the word te/lo$ (“completion”) likely has eschatological significance here as well (cf. 4:7).

More is said about this “salvation” that awaits for believers, in verses 10-12. It is possible to regard these verses as part of the same sentence as vv. 3-9, separating with a pause, or semi-colon; however, I think it better to treat vv. 10-12 as a separate sentence:

“About which salvation the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] sought out and searched out… to whom it was uncovered that (it was) not for themselves, but for us, (that) they served (God in) th(ese thing)s, which are now given up as a message to you by the holy Spirit…”

This brings out a basic concept in early Christianity, one expressed by Paul with the use of the term musth/rion (“secret”)—that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ was a secret, hidden through the Ages, but only now being revealed, at the end-time. It was made known to the Prophets, but only in a veiled way, so that they did not fully understand what was being revealed to them, but had to “search out” the truth. The Spirit now makes clear this message for believers. Since Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah), who has expected to appear at the end-time, the prophecies regarding him were eschatological prophecies. For early Christians, there was no significant separation between Jesus’ first coming and his eventual return—they were part of the same Prophetic message.

1 Peter 1:13-21ff

The exhortation of vv. 3-12 sharpens into a more precise ethical instruction in vv. 13-16ff; however, the eschatological orientation remains firmly in view. The imminence of Jesus’ return is expressed in verse 13, giving urgency to the instruction:

“Therefore, binding [i.e. girding] up the thighs/loins of (what goes) through your mind, (always) being sober, you must hope complete(ly) upon the favor (that is) being brought [lit. borne/carried] to you in the uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The adverb telei/w$ (“complete[ly]”), related to te/lo$ (“completion, end”), likely has a specific eschatological connotation here as well (cf. above, and on 4:7). Again, the “hope” (e)lpi/$) of believers is fundamentally eschatological, and rests on the end-time coming of Jesus, who will usher in the Judgment and save/deliver those who trust in him and remain faithful.

Verses 14-16 introduce the theme of believers as the chosen people of God; as such, the need to preserve the holiness of God, is central to the ethical instruction in the letter. The people of God are also his children (“offspring”, te/kna, v. 14), and so God is truly for them the Father (v. 17). This identity of believers as pure and holy people/children of God frames the passage in vv. 17-21, with its strong eschatological message. To begin with, the impending Judgment is mentioned in v. 17. Believers do not belong to the world (upon which the Judgment is coming), but are merely travelers passing through, in temporary dwellings (paroiki/a, “housing alongside”), living so for only a brief time (“you turn over [i.e. spend] your time”). While this may be understood generally, in terms of the relative brevity and transitory nature of human life (a common theme of Wisdom literature), it is all the more significant when the time remaining before the end is so short. The letter of James expresses this same eschatological aspect of the Wisdom tradition (cf. 1:9-11; 4:11-5:11).

Believers in Christ were set free from bondage to the transitory and corrupt existence of the world, and, as God’s own people (and children), now belong to the eternal and heavenly realm instead. This is experienced in the present, but will only be realized fully at the end-time. Both aspects—present and future—are expressed powerfully in the Christological statement of verses 19-20:

“(you were loosed from bondage) by the valuable blood of (the) Anointed, as (of) a lamb without fault and without spot, having been known before(hand), before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, but (having) been made to shine forth (now) upon the last times, through you [i.e. for your sake]”

There can be no doubt that, according to this statement, Jesus’ coming to earth took place in the “last times” (cp. Acts 2:17, “last days”, etc). If that is true of his initial appearance, it applies all the more to his return. Keep in mind that, for New Testament believers, c. 40-70 A.D., there was thought to be only a short gap of time between Jesus’ ascension and his return—both appearances reflect his identity as the Anointed One of the end-time, and both take place in the “last times”.

1 Peter 2:1-12

The same sort of ethical-religious instruction is found in 2:1-12, but presented in a more homiletic form, typical of the early Gospel preaching, in which the proclamation (kerygma) is set in the context of an Old Testament Scripture. Here the Scripture is a citation of Psalm 118:22 (also Isa 8:14), along with an allusion to Isa 28:16. The same Scripture was cited by Jesus in the Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par), and is also quoted or referenced in Acts 4:11 and Eph 2:20. In these passages, the emphasis is on Jesus as the foundation-stone or “cornerstone”; however, 1 Peter adds to this interpretation the image of believers as precious “living stones” (vv. 4-5, Isa 28:16; cp. Eph 2:21-22). This is important in light of the continuing theme of believers as the holy and chosen people of God (vv. 9-10). Because of this essential identity we possess, believers must live and act in a pure and upright manner that reflects this identity. The goal and purpose is that we would “grow into salvation” (v. 2). Again, this sense of salvation (swthri/a) is primarily eschatological—the eschatological aspect of the passage here is only brought out clearly in the closing exhortation of vv. 11-12:

“(Be)loved (one)s, I call (you) alongside, as (one)s (who only) house alongside and live alongside (the) people (of the world), to hold (yourself) away from (the) impulses upon fleshly (thing)s which make war (like) soldiers against the soul; (instead), (you should be) holding fine (the manner of) your turning up among the nations, (so) that, in the (way) that they speak against you as (one)s doing bad (things), (yet) casting (their) eyes upon (what comes) out of (your) fine works, they might honor God in the day of His (coming to) look (things) over [e)piskoph/].”

The vocabulary and syntax of these verses create certain difficulties in translation; preserving a literal rendering requires a fair amount of glossing and use of parenthetical words to fill out the passage. The sense of the exhortation is clear enough, though the precise meaning of the last clause remains a bit uncertain. Unquestionably, it refers to the end-time appearance of God, when he comes to bring Judgment. The idea seems to be that, even though at the moment many non-believers will disparage and speak evil of believers, they also (perhaps reluctantly) recognize the good that Christians do. And, as a result, this witness may eventually lead to the conversion of at least some non-believers, so that they will give honor to God at the time of Judgment. Compare Paul’s discussion, along similar lines, within a mixed marital setting (believer and non-believer), in 1 Cor 7:12-16.

In any case, the key word here is e)piskoph/ (literally, a “looking over”), sometimes used specifically in the sense of a supervising official coming (i.e. making an official visit) to look things over. In Hellenistic Judaism of the period, and in early Christianity, it came to have a technical meaning, referring to God’s (end-time) appearance on earth to look things over and render the Judgment accordingly. This could be understood as taking place through God’s appointed representative, i.e. the Messiah, or a similar heavenly/divine being. It has this meaning most clearly in Luke 19:44, where, in an early Christian (Gospel) setting, it functions as an allusion to Jesus’ end-time return.

(The remainder of this article follows in Part 2)

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Pauline Letters (Conclusion)

The Remaining Pauline Letters

Having examined the key passages in the five Pauline letters where eschatology features most prominently—1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans—it now remains to survey the eschatological references in the remaining letters. I begin with the two letters where Paul’s authorship is undisputed—Galatians and Philippians (Philemon contains no relevant references).

Galatians

Galatians is not so replete with eschatological passages as are the other major Pauline letters. The primary reason for this surely is the single-minded attention Paul gives to the theological and religious-cultural questions surrounding the relationship of believers to the Torah and the Old Covenant. Even so, there is certainly an eschatological aspect to this area of Paul’s thought, as can be glimpsed by a brief survey of the most relevant passages.

Galatians 1:4

The central tenet of Paul’s soteriology was that the sacrificial death of Jesus freed humankind from bondage under the enslaving power of sin. According to this basic view, the world, in the present Age, is under the control of sin and evil. Paul expresses this clearly here when he states that Jesus gave himself “over our sins, so that he might take us out of th(is) evil Age”. Traditional Jewish eschatology drew a dividing line (conceptually) between “this Age” (o( ai)w\n ou!to$) and “the Age (that is) coming” (o( ai)w\n me/llwn). Paul frequently uses the expression “this Age” (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6, 8; 3:18-19; 2 Cor 4:4; also Eph 2:1-2), with the implication that this current Age is especially corrupt and dominated by evil. The Johannine writings express much the same idea, though with different terminology (1 John 5:19, etc). It is a fundamental tenet in eschatological thought that the time in which people are living, being close to the end of the Age (or cycle of Ages), is more widely corrupt and wicked than the times past—indeed, such wickedness is a sign that the end is near.

Galatians 3:22ff; 4:5ff

In parallel with the idea that humankind, in the present Age, is in bondage to sin, Paul also teaches that people are also in bondage under the Law. This juxtaposition of the Law and sin is one of the most controversial aspects of Paul’s thought (discussed at length in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”); and yet he expresses the association clearly enough both in Romans and here throughout Galatians. It is stated most precisely as part of the line of argument in chapter 3 (vv. 22ff). The binding power of the Torah is part of the Old Covenant, which is rooted in the present Age, dominated as it is by sin and evil. The coming of Jesus, with his sacrificial, atoning work, ushers in a New Covenant and the beginning of a New Age (i.e. the “Age to come”). But this is a “realized” eschatology—the New Age is experienced now, in the present, only by believers in Christ, and only through the presence of the Spirit, as Paul describes, especially, in 4:5-6ff. The bondage under the “Law” is not limited to Israelites and Jews, but applies universally to all humankind (cf. how Paul presents this in 4:8-11).

Other References

Several other references with eschatological significance may be noted:

Philippians

We may note first the references to the “day of (Jesus) Christ” in Phil 1:6, 10, and 2:16; this is a Christian development of the Old Testament motif of the “day of YHWH”, when He will appear to bring Judgment on a particular nation or people. By the first-century A.D., the idea was thoroughly and profoundly eschatological—i.e. the end-time Judgment on the nations—with God’s presence in the Judgment filled by his Anointed (Messianic) representative. Thus, for early Christians, it was Jesus Christ who will act as Judge, overseeing the Judgment (Acts 17:31, etc); this will take place upon his return to earth at the end-time. For Paul’s use of this idiom (“the day [of Christ]”) elsewhere, cf. 1 Thess 5:2-5; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:2-3; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; Rom 2:16, etc. It is typically coupled with the idea of believers being able to present themselves with confidence before Christ at his coming, and so here in the three references in Philippians. The climactic lines of the “Christ-hymn” (2:10-11) similarly allude to the role of the exalted Christ as ruler and judge over all.

The Judgment itself (i.e. the judgment on the wicked) is alluded to in 1:28 and 3:19, emphasizing again how the idea of salvation, for early Christians, was primarily eschatological—that is, we are saved from the coming Judgment. Moreover, for believers, salvation also involves entering (and inheriting) the Kingdom of God (cf. above), which entails the idea of receiving a heavenly reward. Paul’s repeated references to this reward that awaits the faithful believer, is very much reflective of the early Christian eschatology—cf. 3:8ff, 14. A more direct promise and eschatological declaration is found in 2:15 (with echoes of Dan 12:3):

“…that you should come to be without fault and without ‘horns’, offspring [i.e. children] of God without (any) flaw, in the middle of a twisted (Age) of coming-to-be and (those) having been turned throughout, among whom you will shine forth as lights in the world!”

The future resurrection of believers is specifically emphasized in 3:10-11, drawing upon the familiar Pauline motif of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (‘dying and rising with Christ’). The eschatological orientation continues in verses 17-21, warning again of the impending Judgment (v. 19) and the heavenly reward that awaits for those believers who remain faithful (vv. 20-21). This promise of final/future reward is expressed primarily in terms of the resurrection, along with the motif of the ‘heavenly city’ (cf. on Gal 4:26, above):

“For our citizenship [poli/teuma] begins under [i.e. has its existence] in the heavenly (place)s, out of which also we look to receive from (God) a savior—(our) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed—who will change the shape of the body of our lowliness, (to be) formed together in the body of his honor/splendor [do/ca], according to the (power) working in (him) th(at makes) him to be able even to set all (thing)s in order under him.” (vv. 20-21)

The end-time appearance, or return, of Jesus is clearly indicated here, which will coincide with the resurrection/transformation of our bodies (1 Thess 4:4-17; 1 Cor 15:23ff); it is also alluded to in the short declaration in 4:5b: “The Lord is near [e)ggu/$]”. To be sure, this is another reference to the imminent eschatology of Paul, which he shared with most believers of the time, as I have noted repeatedly; on the use of adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”) to signify this, cf. the earlier article in this series on the imminent eschatology of early Christians.

Colossians and Ephesians

Many critical commentators view both Colossians and Ephesians as pseudonymous. For my part, I accept Colossians as authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), with no real reservations. However, the situation with Ephesians is a bit more complicated, with more questions that could legitimately be raised in terms of the vocabulary, style, etc, of the letter. Even so, the eschatology of Ephesians does not appear to differ markedly from either Colossians or the other undisputed letters. Therefore, all other critical questions (regarding authorship) aside, it is proper to examine the eschatological passages of Ephesians here together with those of Colossians.

The exordium and opening section(s) of Colossians (1:3-29) are full of eschatological references and allusions which reflect other key passages (already discussed) elsewhere in Paul’s letters. As we have seen, the thanksgiving aspect of the exordium allows Paul the opportunity to encourage believers to remain faithful, in light of the promise of the heavenly reward that awaits them. This is emphasized here in 1:5, 12:

“…through the hope th(at is) being stretched out (waiting) for you in the heavenly (place)s” (v. 5)
“…giving (thanks) to the Father for (His) good favor, to the (One) (hav)ing made us fit unto the portion of the lot [klh=ro$, i.e. inheritance] of the holy (one)s in the light” (v. 12)

The end-time (and afterlife) Judgment scene, along with the role of the Anointed Jesus as Judge (cf. above), is likewise alluded to in 1:18, 22:

“…and he [i.e. Jesus] is the head of the body of the (ones) called out [e)kklhsi/a], the (one) who is (himself the) beginning, (the one) produced first [prwto/toko$] out of the dead, (so) that he should come to be (the one) being [i.e. who is] first in all (things).” (v. 18)
“…and now he (has) made (things) different (for you) from (what they were before) [vb a)pokatalla/ssw], in the body of his flesh, through (his) death, to make you (to) stand alongside (him) in his sight, holy and without fault and without (any reason) to call (you) in (to judgment) [a)ne/gklhto$].” (v. 22)

Even though Colossians 1-2 indicates a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, here his position as (heavenly) ruler and judge is expressed more traditionally, in terms of his resurrection and exaltation. Moreover, it is his sacrificial death which enables believers to stand before him in holiness (at the Judgment). These are familiar Pauline themes, as is the idea in 1:26f, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a secret (musth/rion) that has been kept hidden throughout the Ages, until the present time—cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:1, 7; and, similarly, with special emphasis, in Eph 3:3-6, 9. This idea is strongly eschatological, i.e. that believers are living at the onset of a New Age, with the implication that the current Age, with all that has gone before, is coming to an end.

Colossians 3:1-4

The most prominent eschatological passage in Colossians is 3:1-4. As in the exordium, Paul ties his exhortation for believers—that they should live in holiness and faithful devotion—to the promise of Jesus’ end-time return. He makes use of the traditional concept of believers being gathered to Jesus, at his return (1 Thess 4:14-18; cp. Mark 13:26-27 par, etc), but deepens the imagery through the theological (and Christological) motif of beliefs being united with Jesus (“in Christ”). Note how this added dimension gives to the traditional eschatology a profound new meaning:

“So, if you were raised together with Yeshua, you must seek the (thing)s above, the (place at) which the Anointed (One) is sitting on (the) giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God—you must set (your) mind (on) the (thing)s above, not (on) the (thing)s upon the earth. For you died away, and your life has been hidden with the Anointed, in God; (and) when the Anointed should shine forth, (he who is) our life, then you also will shine forth with him in honor/splendor.”

It is beautiful indeed how Paul weaves into the idea of Jesus’ return the (baptismal) imagery of believers participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 6:3-4 etc, and earlier here in Col 2:11-13, 20). To use the familiar Pauline language, believers are “in Christ”, which means that, in a real sense, we are with him where he is now—at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. So, too, we will be with him when he appears on earth at the end-time. We might even say that we will be meeting ourselves, not in a concrete metaphysical sense, but in terms of a full realization, and fulfillment, of what we are in Christ (for a similar idea, expressed rather differently, cf. 1 John 2:28-3:3).

Additional References in Ephesians

As noted above, Ephesians restates many of the same ideas and points of emphasis in Colossians, and this is also true in terms of the eschatology of the letters. For example, Eph 1:8 more or less says the same as Col 1:5, 12 (cf. above), bringing together the idea of the “hope” (e)lpi/$) that waits for believers in heaven, along with the heavenly reward that we will inherit (as our “lot”, klh=ro$, klhronomi/a). This also is part of the exordium (and thanksgiving) in Ephesians, which resembles that of Colossians in some of its wording and theological expression, such as the emphasis on Christ’s position as ruler and head over all things (1:20-23), including his role in the Judgment at the end of this Age (v. 21, cp. Col 1:18, 22, above). A different sort of emphasis is found in 1:10-12ff, which blends together “realized” and future eschatology, drawing upon the (baptismal) imagery of being “sealed” with the Spirit; this is expressed in unquestionably Pauline terms:

    • In Christ (“in him”) we have already (i.e. now, in the present) obtained our inheritance (vb klhro/w)—v. 11, “realized” eschatology
    • Yet in Christ (“in him”) we still hope for what is to come (v. 12), our “seal” of the Spirit being a promise (and guarantee) of our full inheritance (klhronomi/a)—v. 14, future eschatology
      (cf. also 4:30 where the Spirit-seal is said to be specifically for “the day of loosing from [bondage]”, i.e. the day of Christ and his return)

We may also see an echo of Col 3:1-4 (cf. above) in Eph 2:6-7, where we find the same basic idea of believers being present (now) with Jesus in the heavenly places, with the promise that we will experience this more fully “in the coming Ages”. Admittedly, the eschatological sense of this is not as strong in Ephesians as in Colossians, but it is still clearly discernable. A different way of expressing the (future) realization of our identity in Christ is found in Eph 4:13, with wording that is more distinctive of Ephesians:

“…until we all should meet down (together) into the unity of the trust and the knowledge (we have) about the Son of God, (and so) into (being) a complete man—into the measure of (the) stature of the fullness of the Anointed”

Another image of this completeness of believers in Christ, only to be realized at the end-time, and in the Ages to come, is that of the bride presented to her husband in perfect holiness and purity (5:27, cf. 2 Cor 11:2, and compare Rev 19:7ff).

Two other passages in Ephesians have an eschatological emphasis; both are part of a traditional mode of ethical instruction and exhortation, urging believers to continued faithfulness:

    • 5:5, 8-14—The use of light vs. darkness imagery, along with much of the wording, is quite similar to Paul’s instruction in 1 Thess 5:1-11 (cf. the earlier article on this passage), though perhaps with somewhat less eschatological urgency
    • 6:12-13ff—The characterization of the present Age as evil and wicked, and that it is all the more so as the end draws closer, is common theme in Jewish and Christian eschatology of the period; the urgency of the instruction here implies that believers are about to enter into an especially intense period of distress and persecution (cf. Mark 13:5-13ff par, and throughout the book of Revelation, etc)

2 Timothy (and the Pastoral Letters)

As with Colossians and Ephesians, there are many questions (and doubts) among scholars regarding the authorship of the Pastoral Letters; many critical commentators consider all three letters to be pseudonymous. I am inclined (on entirely objective grounds) to accept 2 Timothy as authentically Pauline; in my view, the style, wording, points of emphasis, not to mention the personal details, all seem to conform fairly closely with what we find in the other (undisputed) letters. By contrast, 1 Timothy contains many words and phrases, etc, which are atypical of Paul, and so the questions regarding authorship are considerably more significant; the situation with the letter to Titus is harder to judge, due to its relative brevity. As it happens, there are many more eschatological references and allusions in 2 Timothy than there are in 1 Timothy or Titus—a fact which would tend to confirm the authenticity of 2 Timothy, and, perhaps, support the idea that 1 Timothy (and Titus) were written later, and/or by someone other than Paul.

Indeed, as I read 2 Timothy closely, I can find little (if anything) to distinguish the eschatology of the letter as being in any way different from that of Paul’s other letters. The language is generally similar, including the expression “that day”, referring to “the day of Christ”, when the exalted Jesus will appear and God will judge the world through him (cf. above). The specific expression “that day”, also found in 2 Thess 1:10 (cp. “the day” in 1 Thess 5:4; Rom 2:16), occurs here in 2 Tim 1:12, 18 and 4:8.

Also thoroughly Pauline is the idea of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a secret hidden away throughout the Ages, but only revealed (to believers) in the present time—2 Tim 1:9-10, and cf. on Col 1:26f above. The language and wording is quite consistent with Paul’s usage elsewhere, as are the references to the future resurrection and the heavenly reward that awaits believers (2 Tim 2:10, 18). The eschatological dimension to the idea of salvation (2:10) is typical of the earliest Christian period, and tends not to be as prominent in later writings. As for the reference to the resurrection in 2:18, the fact that some might say that it “had already come to be” —that is, it had, somehow, already taken place—demonstrates the prevalence of the same imminent eschatology we see elsewhere in Paul’s letters (and throughout most the New Testament); by contrast, toward the end of the first century A.D. (and thereafter), this sort of imminent expectation begins to disappear from early Christianity (cf. below).

The most extensive eschatological passages in 2 Timothy are the sections of (ethical) instruction in 3:1-9ff and 4:1-5. This parallels similar paraenetic passages in the other letters of Paul, only here the instruction is aimed at the minister (Timothy, in the letter), warning him that, as bad as things might be (in the world) at the moment, they will become even worse as the end draws closer (cf. above on Eph 6:12-13ff). Here is how the instruction begins in 3:1:

“And you must know this: that in (the) last days, moments (when things sink) lower will (soon) stand in (on us)…”

The increasing wickedness and lack of faith in the population at large—including among those claiming to be believers—serves as a clear sign that these are the “last days” and that the end-time is near. The description in vv. 2-5 echoes traditional Jewish and early Christian eschatological narratives (cf. Mark 13:5-13 par), which include the presence of divisions and incursions of false teaching among believers. As an instruction for ministers, this warning against false prophets and teachers is especially appropriate (vv. 6-9). So intense will this be, in the time that is soon coming (4:3f), that many in the congregations may no longer wish to listen to sound and reliable teaching, instead turning away to more superficially attractive or exciting words. In these sorts of warnings, with their eschatological context, the idea of the coming Judgment is never far away (4:1).

By comparison with 2 Timothy, there are few eschatological references in 1 Timothy and Titus, and, in those which do occur, there does not seem to be the same sense of urgency or imminence surrounding them. Compare, for example, 1 Timothy 4:1ff, which, on the surface, resembles 2 Tim 3:1ff—describing a time of increasing corruption and wickedness in the world. 2 Tim 3:1 begins “in the last days…”, implying that believers currently are living in the “last days”; in 1 Tim 4:1 the wording is different, referring to things that will happen “in (the) following moments”, i.e. later, sometime after the present moment. This gives to the instruction a somewhat different context; it is more generalized, relating to things the minister must deal with (false/deceptive teaching, etc), but without a specific eschatological context.

There are references to the end-time return of Jesus, in 1 Tim 6:14-15 and Titus 2:13; however, one may detect in both these passages a greater emphasis on believers living in the present Age, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on an imminent expectation of the end. Consider the way this is phrased in Tit 2:12-13:

“…(how) we should live in th(is) Age now, (while) (look)ing toward receiving the happy hope and the shining forth upon (earth) of the splendor of our great God and Savior Yeshua (the) Anointed”

Even more pronounced is the apparent lack of imminence in 1 Tim 6:14-15ff, especially in verses 17-19, which could be taken as implying that our life in the current Age will likely continue for some time. Even the specific reference to Jesus’ return seems to be located more generally at some unspecified future time:

“…you are to keep watch (over) th(is) duty placed on (you) to complete…until the shining forth upon (earth) of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, which (God) will show in (his) own moments/times (to come)…”

As in Titus 2:12-13, verse 17 has the same emphasis on “th(is) Age now”, i.e. present Age (and how we live in it), rather than on the Age to come. The promise of future reward (in heaven) is preserved (v. 19), but without the eschatological immediacy and urgency we find in similar passages elsewhere in the Pauline letters.

December 21: Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6

This is the second of the four visionary episodes in chapter 20 (on the first episode, vv. 1-3, cf. the previous note). As I indicated, these visions alternate between two distinct, but related, themes: (1) a thousand-year period during which Satan is imprisoned (vv. 1-3, 7-10), and (2) the heavenly judgment before the throne of God (vv. 4-6, 11-15). Moreover, the visionary scenes of chap. 20 can be understood in two different ways: (a) as the continuation/climax of chap. 19 (and the earlier Judgment-visions), or (b) as a separate/parallel cycle of visions depicting the eschatological scenario from the exaltation of Jesus to the final Judgment.

Revelation 20:4

“And I saw seats of rule [qro/noi], and they sat down upon them and judgment was given to them, and the souls of the (ones) having been struck with an axe [i.e. beheaded] through [i.e. because of] the witness of Yeshua and through the word/account of God, the (one)s who did not kiss toward [i.e. worship] the wild animal and did not (worship) its image, and (also) did not receive the engraved (mark) upon the (space) between (their) eyes and upon their hands—and they (all) lived and ruled as king with the Anointed (One for) a thousand years.”

The ambiguity of the syntax in this description at several points creates some difficulty for interpretation. The first is that the referent for the initial pronoun “they/them” is unclear. There are several possibilities:

    • It refers to the twenty-four Elders (4:4, 10; 11:6, etc), representing the People of God in their heavenly aspect, who pronounce judgment on behalf of the faithful ones (believers) who have come through the period of distress.
    • It anticipates the slain believers (martyrs) mentioned in the next phrases—i.e., the ruling-seats are reserved for them and they sit down on them.
    • It is a general and comprehensive reference to believers as a whole, of whom those slain during the period of distress are especially deserving of mention.

Secondly the precise meaning of the phrase kri/ma e)do/qh au)toi=$ (“judgment was given to them”) is disputed; it could mean either (a) that judgment was given for them (i.e. on their behalf), or (b) that they were given the power to render judgment. The idea of believers serving as judges in heaven (and/or in the Age to Come) is expressed at several points in early Christian tradition (Matt 19:28; par Luke 22:30; 1 Cor 6:1-2); however, in the book of Revelation, judgment is consistently reserved for God and the exalted Jesus (14:7; 16:5, 7; 19:11; 20:12-13). Yet here, if those on the thrones rule together with Jesus, then it is reasonable to assume that they have the power to render judgment along with him as well. I find it difficult to decide which aspect of the phrase is being emphasized, yet I would probably interpret the setting of verse 4 as follows:

The ruling-seats, or thrones, are reserved for all true believers, who, in their exalted status, become part of the People of God in its heavenly aspect. Those who remained faithful during the period of distress are true believers, though they are not the only such ones; the reason why they are mentioned here is two-fold:

(1) they are the focus of the visions of Revelation (esp. chapters 13ff), and
(2) they relate most immediately to the original audience of the book, since, based on the imminent eschatology of early Christians, it was expected that the majority of those first readers would go through the period of distress described in the visions, with many of them suffering and being put to death.

If believers occupy a place of rule along with Jesus, then they also have the power to judge, the phrase kri/ma e)do/qh au)toi=$ probably meaning that this authority for judgment was given to them. Believers are said to rule with Jesus for a “thousand years” (a symbolic number), but it is by no means clear that this is a kingdom on earth (cf. below).

Revelation 20:5

“And the (one)s remaining of the dead did not live (again) until the thousand years were completed, (since) this is the first standing up [i.e. resurrection] (out of the dead).”

Again, there is some uncertainty regarding this scenario: does the “remainder of the dead” refer to (1) all other believers, or (2) all non-believers, or a combination of the two? Most likely this is a roundabout way of making a distinction between the resurrection of dead believers, and all other human beings (non-believers). References to the end-time resurrection are surprisingly rare in the book of Revelation, as are descriptions of the return of Jesus. However, almost certainly, there is an allusion to both in 14:14-16, where the harvest imagery refers to the gathering of believers to Jesus at his end-time return, which would include the resurrection of those who have died (cf. 1 Thess 4:14-17 and the harvest imagery in 1 Cor 15:20-23, 36ff). Thus the “first” resurrection is that of believers, at Jesus’ return, while the rest of humankind is raised at a ‘later’ point (or stage) to face the Judgment in heaven. Here the visionary scene depicts the two events occurring at the beginning and end of a symbolic “thousand year” period. The use of the verb za/w (“live”) in vv. 4-5 has the special connotation of living or coming to life again.

Revelation 20:6

“Happy and holy is the (one) holding a part in the first standing up [i.e. resurrection]—upon these the second death does not hold (any) e)cousi/a [i.e. authority/power], but they will be sacred (servant)s of God and of the Anointed (One), and they will rule as kings with him (for) [the] thousand years.”

The opening adjective maka/rio$ (“happy”) marks this as another beatitude (or macarism) in the book of Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; also 22:7, 14). The background of the beatitude form is fundamentally eschatological, originally relating to the idea of the judgment-scene in the afterlife. Those who pass through the judgment (after death) will be worthy of entering into the blessed and divine life (in heaven). Eschatological tradition shifts the focus of the Judgment from the afterlife to the end-time, but the basic concepts and imagery are the same. Here the afterlife setting is retained, since the visionary portrait relates to the resurrection of believers who have died.

There are two aspects for the second adjective, a%gio$ (“holy”)—(1) it indicates the purity of the believers who have remained faithful, especially during the end-time period of distress (cf. 13:7, 10; 14:12), and (2) it signifies their exalted status, sharing in the holiness of God and Christ (3:7; 4:8; 6:10). The designation of believers as priests (i(erei=$, “sacred officials”) and kings, echoes ancient Old Testament tradition regarding Israel as the People of God (Exod 19:6; Isa 61:6, etc). This same language was applied to believers generally in the New Testament (1 Pet 2:5, 9), but its takes on special significance in the book of Revelation, which ultimately depicts the very exaltation of believers, realizing their status as the People of God in heaven, that is anticipated elsewhere in early Christian tradition (cf. 1:6; 5:10).

The expression “the second death” will be discussed in the note on vv. 11-15. Just as there are two resurrections, so there are also two deaths—one related primarily to believers, the other reserved for non-believers. This distinction also runs parallel to the two aspects of the Judgment-setting—earthly and heavenly. The earthly Judgment leads to physical death for the wicked (19:21), while the heavenly Judgment ends in the final death of the soul (20:14).

Does the scene in vv. 4-6 take place on earth or in heaven? Is the thousand year period, etc, symbolic of the blessed life in heaven, or is it meant to depict a span of actual time on earth? The answer to this question depends on how the book of Revelation envisions the Age to Come. It is not a simple answer, since the imagery and symbolism in visions of chapters 20-22, like that elsewhere in the book, is complex and multi-faceted. Moreover, within Jewish tradition there were several different ways of understanding the Age to Come; these generally can be distilled into two main constructs: (1) an idealized form of the current life on earth, emphasizing health and prosperity, long life and security, etc, and (2) the blessed life in heaven with God. These are not incompatible, but it can be difficult to harmonize them. As we proceed through the remaining visions of chaps. 20-22, we should be able to gain a clearer sense of how this is to be understood in the book of Revelation.

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