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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Eschatology of the New Testament, I-V

Dictionaries :: Eschatology of the New Testament, I-V

Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Eschatology of the New Testament, I-V:







1. Definition

2. Signs Preceding the Parousia

3. Events Preceding the Parousia

(1) The Conversion of Israel

(2) The Coming of the Antichrist

4. The Manner of the Parousia


1. Its Universality

2. The Millennium

3. The Resurrection of Believers

4. The Resurrection-Body






I. Doctrinal and Religious Significance.

The subject of eschatology plays a prominent part in New Testament teaching and religion. Christianity in its very origin bears an eschatological character. It means the appearance of the Messiah and the inauguration of His work; and from the Old Testament point of view these form part of eschatology. It is true in Jewish theology the days of the Messiah were not always included in the eschatological age proper, but often regarded as introductory to it (compare Weber, Judische Theol. 2, 371 ff). And in the New Testament also this point of view is to some extent represented, inasmuch as, owing to the appearance of the Messiah and the only partial fulfillment of the prophecies for the present, that which the Old Testament depicted as one synchronous movement is now seen to divide into two stages, namely, the present Messianic age and the consummate state of the future. Even so, however, the New Testament draws the Messianic period into much closer connection with the strictly eschatological process than Judaism. The distinction in Judaism rested on a consciousness of difference in quality between the two stages, the content of the Messianic age being far less spiritually and transcendentally conceived than that of the final state. The New Testament, by spiritualizing the entire Messianic circle of ideas, becomes keenly alive to its affinity to the content of the highest eternal hope, and consequently tends to identify the two, to find the age to come anticipated in the present. In some cases this assumes explicit shape in the belief that great eschatological transactions have already begun to take place, and that believers have already attained to at least partial enjoyment of eschatological privileges. Thus the present kingdom in our Lord's teaching is one in essence with the final kingdom; according to the discourses in John eternal life is in principle realized here; with Paul there has been a prelude to the last judgment and resurrection in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the life in the Spirit is the first- fruits of the heavenly state to come. The strong sense of this may even express itself in the paradoxical form that the eschatological state has arrived and the one great incision in history has already been made (Heb 2:3,1; 9:11; 10:1; 12:22-24). Still, even where this extreme consciousness is reached, it nowhere supersedes the other more common representation, according to which the present state continues to lie this side of the eschatological crisis, and, while directly leading up to the latter, yet remains to all intents a part of the old age and world-order. Believers live in the "last days," upon them "the ends of the ages are come," but "the last day," "the consummation of the age," still lies in the future (Mt 13:39,40,49; 24:3; 28:20; Joh 6:39,44,54; 12:48; 1Co 10:11; 2Ti 3:1; Heb 1:2; 9:26; Jas 5:3; 1Pe 1:5,20; 2Pe 3:3; 1 Joh 2:18; Jude 1:18).

The eschatological interest of early believers was no mere fringe to their religious experience, but the very heart of its inspiration. It expressed and embodied the profound supernaturalism and soteriological character of the New Testament faith. The coming world was not to be the product of natural development but of a Divine interposition arresting the process of history. And the deepest motive of the longing for this world was a conviction of the abnormal character of the present world, a strong sense of sin and evil. This explains why the New Testament doctrine of salvation has grown up to a large extent in the closest interaction with its eschatological teaching. The present experience was interpreted. in the light of the future. It is necessary to keep this in mind for a proper appreciation of the generally prevailing hope that the return of the Lord might come in the near future. Apocalyptic calculation had less to do with this than the practical experience that the earnest of the supernatural realities of the life to come was present in the church, and that therefore it seemed unnatural for the full fruition of these to be long delayed. The subsequent receding of this acute eschatological state has something to do with the gradual disappearance of the miraculous phenomena of the apostolic age.

II. General Structure.

New Testament eschatology attaches itself to the Old Testament and to Jewish belief as developed on the basis of ancient revelation. It creates on the whole no new system or new terminology, but incorporates much that was current, yet so as to reveal by selection and distribution of emphasis the essential newness of its spirit. In Judaism there existed at that time two distinct types of eschatological outlook. There was the ancient national hope which revolved around the destiny of Israel. Alongside of it existed a transcendental form of eschatology with cosmical perspective, which had in view the destiny of the universe and of the human race. The former of these represents the original form of Old Testament eschatology, and therefore occupies a legitimate place in the beginnings of the New Testament development, notably in the revelations accompanying the birth of Christ and in the earlier (synoptical) preaching of John the Baptist. There entered, however, into it, as held by the Jews, a considerable element of individual and collective eudaemonism, and it had become identified with a literalistic interpretation of prophecy, which did not sufficiently take into account the typical import and poetical character of the latter. The other scheme, while to some extent the product of subsequent theological development, lies prefigured in certain later prophecies, especially in Dnl, and, far from being an importation from Babylonian, or ultimately Persian, sources, as some at present maintain, represents in reality the true development of the inner principles of Old Testament prophetic revelation. To it the structure of New Testament eschatology closely conforms itself.

In doing this, however, it discards the impure motives and elements by which even this relatively higher type of Jewish eschatology was contaminated. In certain of the apocalyptic writings a compromise is attempted between these two schemes after this manner, that the carrying out of the one is merely to follow that of the other, the national hope first receiving its fulfillment in a provisional Messianic kingdom of limited duration (400 or 1,000 years), to be superseded at the end by the eternal state. The New Testament does not follow the Jewish theology along this path. Even though it regards the present work of Christ as preliminary to the consummate order of things, it does not separate the two in essence or quality, it does not exclude the Messiah from a supreme place in the coming world, and does not expect a temporal Messianic kingdom in the future as distinguished from Christ's present spiritual reign, and as preceding the state of eternity. In fact the figure of the Messiah becomes central in the entire eschatological process, far more so than is the case in Judaism. All the stages in this process, the resurrection, the judgment, the life eternal, even the intermediate state, receive the impress of the absolute significance which Christian faith ascribes to Jesus as the Christ. Through this Christocentric character New Testament eschatology acquires also far greater unity and simplicity than can be predicated of the Jewish schemes. Everything is practically reduced to the great ideas of the resurrection and the judgment as consequent upon the Parousia of Christ. Much apocalyptic embroidery to which no spiritual significance attached is eliminated. While the overheated fantasy tends to multiply and elaborate, the religious interest tends toward concentration and simplification.

III. Course of Development.

In New Testament eschatological teaching a general development in a well-defined direction is traceable. The starting-point is the historico-dramatic conception of the two successive ages. These two ages are distinguished as houtos ho aion, ho nun aion, ho enesios aion, "this age," "the present age" (Mt 12:32; 13:22; Lu 16:8; Ro 12:2; 1Co 1:20; 2:6,8; 3:18; 2Co 4:4; Ga 1:4; Eph 1:21; 2:2; 6:12; 1Ti 6:17; 2Ti 4:10; Tit 2:12), and ho aion ekeinos, ho aion mellon, ho aion erchomenos, "that age," "the future age" (Mt 12:32; Lu 18:30; 20:35; Eph 2:7; Heb 6:5). In Jewish literature before the New Testament, no instances of the developed antithesis between these two ages seem to be found, but from the way in which it occurs in the teaching of Jesus and Paul it appears to have been current at that time. (The oldest undisputed occurrence is a saying of Johanan ben Zaqqay, about 80 AD.) The contrast between these two ages is (especially with Paul) that between the evil and transitory, and the perfect and abiding. Thus, to each age belongs its own characteristic order of things, and so the distinction passes over into that of two "worlds" in the sense of two systems (in Hebrew and Aramaic the same word ‘olam, ‘olam, does service for both, in Greek aion usually renders the meaning "age," occasionally "world" (Heb 1:2; 11:3), kosmos meaning "world"; the latter, however, is never used of the future world). Compare Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, I, 132-46. Broadly speaking, the development of New Testament eschatology consists in this, that the two ages are increasingly recognized as answering to two spheres of being which coexist from of old, so that the coming of the new age assumes the character of a revelation and extension of the supernal order of things, rather than that of its first entrance into existence. Inasmuch as the coming world stood for the perfect and eternal, and in the realm of heaven such a perfect, eternal order of things already existed, the reflection inevitably arose that these two were in some sense identical. But the new significance which the antithesis assumes does not supersede the older historicodramatic form. The higher world so interposes in the course of the lower as to bring the conflict to a crisis.

The passing over of the one contrast into the other, therefore, does not mark, as has frequently been asserted, a recession of the eschatological wave, as if the interest had been shifted from the future to the present life. Especially in the Fourth Gospel this "de-eschatologizing" process has been found, but without real warrant. The apparent basis for such a conclusion is that the realities of the future life are so vividly and intensely felt to be existent in heaven and from there operative in the believer's life, that the distinction between what is now and what will be hereafter enjoyed becomes less sharp. Instead of the supersedure of the eschatological, this means the very opposite, namely, its most real anticipation. It should further be observed that the development in question is intimately connected and keeps equal pace with the disclosure of the preexistence of Christ, because this fact and the descent of Christ from heaven furnished the clearest witness to the reality of the heavenly order of things. Hence, it is especially observable, not in the earlier epistles of Paul, where the structure of eschatological thought is still in the main historico-dramatic, but in the epistles of the first captivity (Eph 1:3,10-22; 2:6; 3:9,10; 4:9,10; 6:12; Php 2:5-11; 3:20; Col 1:15,17; 3:2; further, in Heb 1:2,3; 2:5; 3:4; 6:5,11; 7:13,16; 9:14; 11:10,16; 12:22,23). The Fourth Gospel marks the culmination of this line of teaching, and it is unnecessary to point out how here the contrast between heaven and earth in its christological consequences determines the entire structure of thought. But here it also appears how the last outcome of the New Testament progress of doctrine had been anticipated in the highest teaching of our Lord. This can be accounted for by the inherent fitness that the supreme disclosures which touch the personal life of the Saviour should come not through any third person, but from His own lips.

IV. General and Individual Eschatology.

In the Old Testament the destiny of the nation of Israel to such an extent overshadows that of the individual, that only the first rudiments of an individual eschatology are found. The individualism of the later prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, bore fruit in the thought of the intermediate period. In the apocalyptic writings considerable concern is shown for the ultimate destiny of the individual. But not until the New Testament thoroughly spiritualized the conceptions of the last things could these two aspects be perfectly harmonized. Through the centering of the eschatological hope in the Messiah, and the suspending of the individual's share in it on his personal relation to the Messiah, an individual significance is necessarily imparted to the great final crisis. This also tends to give greater prominence to the intermediate state. Here, also, apocalyptic thought had pointed the way. None the less the Old Testament point of view continues to assert itself in that even in the New Testament the main interest still attaches to the collective, historical development of events. Many questions in regard to the intermediate period are passed by in silence. The Old Testament prophetic foreshortening of the perspective, immediately connecting each present crisis with the ultimate goal, is reproduced in New Testament eschatology on an individual scale in so far as the believer's life here is linked, not so much with his state after death, but rather with the consummate state after the final judgment. The present life in the body and the future life in the body are the two outstanding illumined heights between which the disembodied state remains largely in the shadow. But the same foreshortening of the perspective is also carried over from the Old Testament into the New Testament delineation of general eschatology. The New Testament method of depicting the future is not chronological. Things lying widely apart to our chronologically informed experience are by it drawn closely together. This law is adhered to doubtless not from mere limitation of subjective human knowledge, but by reason of adjustment to the general method of prophetic revelation in Old Testament and New Testament alike.

V. The Parousia.

1. Definition:

The word denotes "coming," "arrival." It is never applied to the incarnation of Christ, and could be applied to His second coming only, partly because it had already become a fixed Messianic term, partly because there was a point of view from which the future appearance of Jesus appeared the sole adequate expression of His Messianic dignity and glory. The explicit distinction between "first advent" and "second advent" is not found in the New Testament. It occurs in Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Abraham 92:16. In the New Testament it is approached in Heb 9:28 and in the use of epiphaneia for both the past appearance of Christ and His future manifestation (2Th 2:8; 1Ti 6:14; 2Ti 1:10; 4:1; Tit 2:11,13). The Christian use of the word parousia is more or less colored by the consciousness of the present bodily absence of Jesus from His own, and consequently suggests the thought of His future abiding presence, without, however, formally coming to mean the state of the Saviour's presence with believers (1Th 4:17). Parousia occurs in Mt 24:3,17,39; 1Co 15:23; 1Th 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2Th 2:1,8; Jas 5:7,8; 2Pe 1:16; 3:4,12; 1 1Joh 2:28. A synonymous term is apokalupsis, "revelation," probably also of pre- Christian origin, presupposing the pre-existence of the Messiah in hidden form previous to His manifestation, either in heaven or on earth (compare Apocrypha Baruch 3:29; 1:20; Ezra 4; #/APC 2Esdras 7:28; Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Levi 18; Joh 7:27; 1Pe 1:20). It could be adopted by Christians because Christ had been withdrawn into heaven and would be publicly demonstrated the Christ on His return, hence used with special reference to enemies and unbelievers (Lu 17:30; Ac 3:21; 1Co 16; 2Th 1:7,8; 1Pe 1:13,10; 5:4). Another synonymous term is "the day of the (Our) Lord," "the day," "that day," "the day of Jesus Christ." This is the rendering of the well-known Old Testament phrase. Though there is no reason in any particular passage why "the Lord" should not be Christ, the possibility exists that in some cases it may refer to God (compare "day of God" in 2Pe 3:12). On the other hand, what the Old Testament with the use of this phrase predicates of God is sometimes in the New Testament purposely transferred to Christ. "Day," while employed of the parousia generally, is, as in the Old Testament, mostly associated with the judgment, so as to become a synonym for judgment (compare Ac 19:38; 1Co 4:3). The phrase is found in Mt 7:22; 24:36; Mr 13:32; Lu 10:12; 17:24; 21:34; Ac 2:20; Ro 13:12; 1Co 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2Co 1:14; Php 1:6; 2:16; 1Th 5:2,4 (compare 5:5,8); 2Th 2:2; 2Ti 1:12,18; 4:8; Heb 10:25; 2Pe 3:10.

2. Signs Preceding the Parousia:

The parousia is preceded by certain signs heralding its approach. Judaism, on the basis of the Old Testament, had worked out the doctrine of "the woes of the Messiah," chebhele ha-mashiach, the calamities and afflictions attendant upon the close of the present and the beginning of the coming age being interpreted as birth pains of the latter. This is transferred in the New Testament to the parousia of Christ. The phrase occurs only in Mt 24:8; Mr 13:8, the idea, in Ro 8:22, and allusions to it occur probably in 1Co 7:26; 1Th 3:3; 5 Besides these general "woes," and also in accord with Jewish doctrine, the appearance of the Antichrist is made to precede the final crisis. Without Jewish precedent, the New Testament links with the parousia as preparatory to it, the pouring out of the Spirit, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the conversion of Israel and the preaching of the gospel to all the nations. The problem of the sequence and interrelation of these several precursors of the end is a most difficult and complicated one and, as would seem, at the present not ripe for solution. The "woes" which in our Lord's eschatological discourse (Mt 24; Mr 13; Lu 21) are mentioned in more or less close accord with Jewish teaching are:

(1) wars, earthquakes and famines, "the beginning of travail";

(2) the great tribulation;

(3) commotions among the heavenly bodies; compare Re 6:2-17.

For Jewish parallels to these, compare Charles, Eschatology, 326, 327. Because of this element which the discourse has in common with Jewish apocalypses, it has been assumed by Colani, Weiffenbach, Weizsacker, Wendt, et al., that here two sources have been welded together, an actual prophecy of Jesus, and a Jewish or Jewish-Christian apocalypse from the time of the Jewish War 68-70 (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 5, 3). In the text of Mark this so-called "small apocalypse" is believed to consist of 13:7,8,14-20,24-27,30,31. But this hypothesis mainly springs from the disinclination to ascribe to Jesus realistic eschatological expectations, and the entirely unwarranted assumption that He must have spoken of the end in purely ethical and religious terms only. That the typically Jewish "woes" bear no direct relation to the disciples and their faith is not a sufficient reason for declaring the prediction of them unworthy of Jesus. A contradiction is pointed out between the two representations, that the parousia will come suddenly, unexpectedly, and that it will come heralded by these signs. Especially in Mr 13:30,32 the contradiction is said to be pointed. To this it may be replied that even after the removal of the assumed apocalypse the same twofold representation remains present in what is recognized as genuine discourse of Jesus, namely, in Mr 13:28,29 as compared with 13:32,33-37 and other similar admonitions to watchfulness. A real contradiction between 13:30 and 13:32 does not exist. Our Lord could consistently affirm both: "This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished," and "of that day or that hour knoweth no one." To be sure, the solution should not be sought by understanding "this generation" of the Jewish race or of the human race. It must mean, according to ordinary usage, then living generation. Nor does it help matters to distinguish between the prediction of the parousia within certain wide limits and the denial of knowledge as to the precise day and hour. In point of fact the two statements do not refer to the same matter at all. "That day or that hour" in 13:32 does not have "these things" of 13:30 for its antecedent. Both by the demonstrative pronoun "that" and by "but" it is marked as an absolute self-explanatory conception. It simply signifies as elsewhere the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Of "these things," the exact meaning of which phrase must be determined from the foregoing, Jesus declares that they will come to pass within that generation; but concerning the parousia, "that (great) day," He declares that no one but God knows the time of its occurrence. The correctness of this view is confirmed by the preceding parable, Mark 13:28,29, where in precisely the same way "these things" and the parousia are distinguished. The question remains how much "these things" (verse 29; Lu 21:31), "all these things" (Mt 24:33,14, Mr 13:30), "all things" (Lu 21:32) is intended to cover of what is described in the preceding discourse. The answer will depend on what is there represented as belonging to the precursors of the end, and what as strictly constituting part of the end itself; and on the other question whether Jesus predicts one end with its premonitory signs, or refers to two crises each of which will be heralded by its own series of signs. Here two views deserve consideration. According to the one (advocated by Zahn in his Commentary on Mt, 652-66) the signs cover only Mt 24:4-14.

What is related afterward, namely, "the abomination of desolation," great tribulation, false prophets and Christs, commotions in the heavens, the sign of the Son of Man, all this belongs to "the end" itself, in the absolute sense, and is therefore comprehended in the parousia and excepted from the prediction that it will happen in that generation, while included in the declaration that only God knows the time of its coming. The destruction of the temple and the holy city, though not explicitly mentioned in Mt 24:4-14, would be included in what is there said of wars and tribulation. The prediction thus interpreted would have been literally fulfilled. The objections to this view are:

(1) It is unnatural thus to subsume what is related in 24:15-29 under "the end." From a formal point of view it does not differ from the phenomena of 24:4-14 which are "signs."

(2) It creates the difficulty, that the existence of the temple and the temple-worship in Jerusalem are presupposed in the last days immediately before the parousia.

The "abomination of desolation" taken from Da 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; compare Sirach 49:2-according to some, the destruction of the city and temple, better a desecration of the temple-site by the setting up of something idolatrous, as a result of which it becomes desolate-and the flight from Judea, are put among events which, together with the parousia, constitute the end of the world. This would seem to involve chiliasm of a very pronounced sort. The difficulty recurs in the strictly eschatological interpretation of 2Th 2:3,1, where "the man of sin" (see SIN, MAN OF) is represented as sitting in "the temple of God" and in Re 11:1,2, where "the temple of God" and "the altar," and "the court which is without the temple" and "the holy city" figure in an episode inserted between the sounding of the trumpet of the sixth angel and that of the seventh. On the other hand it ought to be remembered that eschatological prophecy makes use of ancient traditional imagery and stereotyped formulas, which, precisely because they are fixed and applied to all situations, cannot always bear a literal sense, but must be subject to a certain degree of symbolical and spiritualizing interpretation. In the present case the profanation of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes may have furnished the imagery in which, by Jesus, Paul and John, anti-Christian developments are described of a nature which has nothing to do with Israel, Jerusalem or the temple, literally understood.

(3) It is not easy to conceive of the preaching of the gospel to all the nations as falling within the lifetime of that generation. It is true Ro 1:13; 10:18; 15:19-24; Col 1:6; 1Ti 3:16; 2Ti 4:17 might be quoted in support of such a view. In the statement of Jesus, however, it is definitely predicted that the preaching of the gospel to all the nations not only must happen before the end, but that it straightway precedes the end: "Then shall the end come" (Mt 24:14). To distinguish between the preaching of the gospel to all the nations and the completion of the Gentilemission, as Zahn proposes, is artificial. As over against these objections, however, it must be admitted that the grouping of all these later phenomena before the end proper avoids the difficulty arising from "immediately" in Mt 24:29 and from "in those days" in Mr 13:24.

The other view has been most lucidly set forth by Briggs, Messiah of the Gospels, 132-65. It makes Jesus' discourse relate to two things:

(1) the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple;

(2) the end of the world.

He further assumes that the disciples are informed with respect to two points:

(1) the time;

(2) the signs.

In the answer to the time, however, the two things are not sharply distinguished, but united into one prophetic perspective, the parousia standing out more conspicuously. The definition of the time of this complex development is: (a) negative (Mr 13:5-8); (b) positive (Mr 13:9-13). On the other hand in describing the signs Jesus discriminates between (a) the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Mr 13:14-20); (b) the signs of the parousia (Mr 13:24-27). This view has in its favor that the destruction of the temple and the city, which in the question of the disciples figured as an eschatological event, is recognized as such in the answer of Jesus, and not alluded to after a mere incidental fashion, as among the signs. Especially the version of Lu 21:20-24 proves that it figures as an event. This view also renders easier the restriction of Mr 13:30 to the first event and its signs. It places "the abomination of desolation" in the period preceding the national catastrophe. The view that the two events are successively discussed is further favored by the movement of thought in Mr 13:32 ff. Here, after the Apocalypse has been brought to a close, the application to the disciples is made, and, in the same order as was observed in the prophecy, first, the true attitude toward the national crisis is defined in the parable of the Fig Tree and the solemn assurance appended that it will happen in this generation (13:28-31); secondly, the true attitude toward the parousia is defined (13:32-37). The only serious objection that may be urged against this view arises from the close concatenation of the section relating to the national crisis with the section relating to the parousia (Mt 24:29: "immediately after.... those days"; Mr 13:24: "in those days"). The question is whether this mode of speaking can be explained on the principle of the well-known foreshortening of the perspective of prophecy. It cannot be a priori denied that this peculiarity of prophetic vision may have here characterized also the outlook of Jesus into the future which, as Mr 13:32 shows, was the prophetic outlook of His human nature as distinct from the Divine omniscience. The possibility of misinterpreting this feature and confounding sequence in perspective with chronological succession is in the present case guarded against by the statement that the gospel must first be preached to all the nations (compare Ac 3:19,25,26; Ro 11:25; Re 6:2) before the end can come, that no one knows the time of the parousia except God, that there must be a period of desolation after the city shall have been destroyed, and that the final coming of Jesus to the people of Israel will be a coming not of judgment, but one in which they shall hail Him as blessed (Mt 23:38,39; Lu 13:34,35), which presupposes an interval to account for this changed attitude (compare Lu 21:24: "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled"). It is not necessary to carry the distinction between the two crises joined together here into the question as put by the disciples in Mt 24:3, as if "when shall these things be?" related to the destruction of the temple exclusively, as the other half of the question speaks of the coming of Jesus and the end of the world. Evidently here not the two events, but the events (complexly considered) and the signs are distinguished. "These things" has its antecedent not exclusively in 24:2, but even more in 23:38,39.

The disciples desired to know not so much when the calamitous national catastrophe would come, but rather when that subsequent coming of the Lord would take place, which would put a limit to the distressing results of this catastrophe, and bring with it the reacceptance of Israel into favor. This explains also why Jesus does not begin His discourse with the national crisis, but first takes up the question of the parousia, to define negatively and positively the time of the latter, and that for the purpose of warning the disciples who in their eagerness for the ultimate issue were inclined to foreshorten the preceding calamitous developments. That Jesus could actually join together the national and the cosmical crises appears from other passages, such as Mt 10:23, where His interposition for the deliverance of the fugitive disciples is called a "coming" of the Son of Man (Mt 16:28; Mr 9:1; Lu 9:27, where a coming of the Son of Man in His kingdom (Matthew), or a coming of the kingdom of God with power (Mark), or a seeing of the kingdom of God (Luke) is promised to some of that generation). It is true these passages are frequently referred to the parousia, because in the immediately preceding context the latter is spoken of. The connection of thought, however, is not that the parousia and this promised coming are identical. The proximate coming is referred to as an encouragement toward faithfulness and self- sacrifice, just as the reward at the parousia is mentioned for the same purpose. The conception of an earlier coming also receives light from the confession of Jesus at His trial (Mt 26:64; where the "henceforth" refers equally to the coming on the clouds of heaven and to the sitting at the right hand of God; compare Mr 14:62; Lu 22:69). The point of the declaration is, that He who now is condemned will in the near future appear in theophany for judgment upon His judges. The closing discourses of John also have the conception of the coming of Jesus to His disciples in the near future for an abiding presence, although here this is associated with the advent of the Spirit (Joh 14:18,19,21,23; 16:16,19,22,23). Finally the same idea recurs in Rev, where it is equally clear that a preliminary visitation of Christ and not the parousia for final judgment can be meant (Joh 2:5,16; 3:3,10; compare also the plural "one of the days of the Son of man" in Lu 17:22).

3. Events Preceding the Parousia:

(1) The Conversion of Israel:

To the events preceding the parousia belongs, according to the uniform teaching of Jesus, Peter and Paul, the conversion of Israel (Mt 23:39; Lu 13:35; Ac 1:6,7; 3:19,21; where the arrival of "seasons of refreshing" and "the times of restoration of all things" is made dependent on the (eschatological) sending of the Christ to Israel), and this again is said to depend on the repentance and conversion and the blotting out of the sins of Israel; Ro 11, where the problem of the unbelief of Israel is solved by the twofold proposition: (1) that there is even now among Israel an election according to grace; (2) that in the future there will be a comprehensive conversion of Israel (Ro 11:5,25-32).

(2) The Coming of the Antichrist:

Among the precursors of the parousia appears further the Antichrist. The word is found in the New Testament in 1Joh 2:18,22; 4:3; 2Joh 1:7 only, but the conception occurs also in the Synoptics, in Paul and in Revelation. There is no instance of its earlier occurrence in Jewish literature. Anti may mean "in place of" and "against"; the former includes the latter. In Joh it is not clear that the heretical tendencies or hostile powers connected with the anti- Christian movement make false claim to the Messianic dignity. In the Synoptics the coming of false Christs and false prophets is predicted, and that not merely as among the nearer signs (Mr 13:6), but also in the remote eschatological period (Mr 13:22). With Paul, who does not employ the word, the conception is clearly the developed one of the counter-Christ. Paul ascribes to him an apokalupsis as he does to Christ (2Th 2:6,8); his manner of working and its pernicious effect are set over against the manner in which the gospel of the true Christ works (2Th 9-12). Paul does not treat the idea as a new one; it must have come down from the Old Testament and Jewish eschatology and have been more fully developed by New Testament prophecy; compare in Da 7:8,20; 8:10,11 the supernaturally magnified figure of the great enemy. According to Gunkel (Schopfung und Chaos, 1895) and Bousset (Der Antichrist in der Uberlieferung des Judenthums, des New Testament und der allen Kirche, 1875) the origin of the conception of a final struggle between God and the supreme enemy must be sought in the ancient myth of Chaos conquered by Marduk; what had happened at the beginning of the world was transferred to the end. Then this was anthropomorphized, first in the form of a false Messiah, later in that of a political tyrant or oppressor. But there is no need to assume any other source for the idea of a last enemy than Old Testament eschatological prophecy (Ezekiel and Daniel and Zechariah). And no evidence has so far been adduced that the Pauline idea of a counter-Messiah is of pre-Christian origin. This can only be maintained by carrying back into the older period the Antichrist tradition as found later among Jews and Christians. It is reasonable to assume in the present state of the evidence that the combination of the two ideas, that of the great eschatological enemy and that of the counter- Messiah, is a product of Christian prophecy. In fact even the conception of a single last enemy does not occur in pre- Christian Jewish literature; it is found for the first time in Apocrypha Baruch 40:1,2, which changes the general conception of 4 Ezra to this effect. Even in the eschatological discourse of Jesus the idea is not yet unified, for false Christs and false prophets in the plural are spoken of, and the instigator of "the abomination of desolation," if any is presupposed, remains in the background. In the Epistle of John the same plural representation occurs (1Joh 2:18,22; 2Joh 1:7), although the idea of a personal Antichrist in whom the movement culminates is not only familiar to the author and the reader (1Joh 2:18, "as ye heard that antichrist cometh"), but is also accepted by the writer (1Joh 4:3, "This is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is in the world already"; compare 2Th 2:7, "The mystery of lawlessness doth already work").

Various views have been proposed to explain the concrete features of the Pauline representation in 2Th 2 and that of Re 13 and 17. According to Schneckenburger, JDT, 1859, and Weiss, SK, 1869, Paul has in mind the person whom the Jews will acclaim as their Messiah. The idea would then be the precipitate of Paul's experience of hostility and persecution from the part of the Jews. He expected that this Jewish Messianic pretender would, helped by Satanic influence, overthrow the Roman power. The continuance of the Roman power is "that which restraineth," or as embodied in the emperor, "one that restraineth now" (2Th 2:6,7). (For an interesting view in which the roles played by these two powers are reversed, compare Warfield in The Expositor, 3rd series, IV, 30-44.) The objection to this is that "the lawless one," not merely from Paul's or the Christian point of view, but in his own avowed intent, opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or worshipped. This no Jewish pretender to the Messiahship could possibly do: his very Messianic position would preclude it. And the conception of a counter-Christ does not necessarily point to a Jewish environment, for the idea of Messiahship had in Paul's mind been raised far above its original national plane and assumed a universalistic character (compare Zahn, Einleitung in das NT(1), I, 171). Nor does the feature that according to 2Th 2:4, "the lawless one" will take his seat in the temple favor the view in question, for the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and later similar experiences may well have contributed to the figure of the great enemy the attribute of desecrator of the temple. It is not necessary to assume that by Paul this was understood literally; it need mean no more than that the Antichrist will usurp for himself Divine honor and worship. Patristic and later writers gave to this feature a chiliastic interpretation, referring it to the temple which was to be rebuilt in the future. Also the allegorical exegesis which understands "the temple" of the Christian church has found advocates. But the terms in which "the lawless one" is described exclude his voluntary identification with the Christian church. According to a second view the figure is not a Jewish but a pagan one. Kern, Baur, Hilgenfeld and many others, assuming that 2Th is post-Pauline, connect the prophecy with the at-one- time current expectation that Nero, the great persecutor, would return from the East or from the dead, and, with the help of Satan, set up an anti-Christian kingdom. The same expectation is assumed to underlie Re 13:3,12,14 (one of the heads of the beast smitten unto death and his death stroke healed); 17:8,10,11 (the beast that was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss; the eighth king, who is one of the seven preceding kings).

As to Paul's description, there is nothing in it to make us think of a Nero reappearing or redivivus. The parousia predicated of the lawless one does not imply it, for parousia as an eschatological term means not "return" but "advent." The Antichrist is not depicted as a persecutor, and Nero was the persecutor paragraph excellence. Nor does what is said about the "hindering" or the "hinderer" suit the case of Nero, for the later Roman emperors could not be said to hold back Nero's reappearance. As to Revelation, it must be admitted that the role here ascribed to the beast would be more in keeping with the character of Nero. But, as Zahn has well pointed out (Einleitung in das NT(1), II, 617-26), this interpretation is incompatible with the date of Revelation. This book must have been written at a date when the earlier form of the expectation that Nero would reappear still prevailed, namely, that he would return from the East to which he had fled. Only when too long an interval had elapsed to permit of further belief in Nero's still being alive, was this changed into the superstition that he would return from the dead. But this change in the form of the belief did not take place until after Revelation must have been written. Consequently, if the returning Nero did figure in Revelation, it would have to be in the form of one reappearing from the East. As a matter of fact, however, the beast or the king in which Nero is found is said by Re 13:1; 17:8 to have been smitten unto death and healed of the death stroke, to come up out of the sea or the abyss, which would only suit the later form of the expectation. It is therefore necessary to dissociate the description of the beast and its heads and horns entirely from the details of the succession of the Roman empire; the prophecy is more grandly staged; the description of the beast as partaking of several animal forms in Re 13:2 refers back to Daniel, and here as there must be understood of the one world-power in its successive national manifestations, which already excludes the possibility that a mere succession of kings in one and the same empire can be thought of. The one of the heads smitten unto death and the death stroke healed must refer to the world-power to be made powerless in one of its phases, but afterward to revive in a new phase. Hence, here already the healing of the death stroke is predicated, not merely of one of the heads, but also of the beast itself (compare Re 13:3 with 13:12).

And the same interpretation seems to be required by the mysterious statements of Re 17, where the woman sitting upon the beast is the metropolis of the world-power, changing its seat together with the latter, yet so as to retain, like the latter in all its transformations, the same character whence she bears the same name of Babylon (17:5). Here as in Re 13 the beast has seven heads, i.e. passes through seven phases, which idea is also expressed by the representation that these seven heads are seven kings (17:10), for, as in Da 7, the kings stand not for individual rulers, but for kingdoms, phases of the world-power. This explains why in Re 17:11 the beast is identified with one of the kings. When here the further explanation, going beyond Re 13, is added, that the beast was and is not and is about to come up out of the abyss (13:8), and in 13:10,11 that of the seven kings five are fallen, one is, the other is not yet come, and when he comes must continue a little while, to be followed by the eighth, who is identical with the beast that was and is not, and with one of the seven, the only way to reconcile these statements lies in assuming that "the beast," while in one sense a comprehensive figure for the world-power in all its phases, can also in another sense designate the supreme embodiment and most typical manifestation of the world-power in the past; in respect to this acute phase the beast was and is not and is to appear again, and this acute phase was one of seven successive forms of manifestation, and in its reappearance will add to this number the eighth. Although a certain double sense in the employment of the figures thus results, this is no greater than when on the other view Nero is depicted both as "the beast" and as one of the heads of "the beast." Which concrete monarchies are meant by these seven phases is a matter of minor importance. For a suggestion compare Zahn, op. cit., II, 624: (1) Egypt; (2) Assyria; (3) Babylon; (4) the Medo-Persian power; (5) the Greco-Alexandrian power; (6) the Roman power; (7) a short-lived empire to succeed Rome; (8) the eighth and last phase, which will reproduce in its acute character the fifth, and will bring on the scene the Antichrist, the counterpart and, as it were, reincarnation of Antiochus Epiphanes. The seer evidently has his present in the Roman phase of the power of the beast, and this renders it possible for him to give in Re 17:9 another turn to the figure of the seven heads, interpreting it of the seven mountains on which the woman sits, but this apocalyptic looseness of handling of the imagery can furnish no objection to the view just outlined, since on any view the two incongruous explanations of the seven heads as seven mountains and seven kings stand side by side in Re 17:9 and 10. Nor should the mysterious number of 666 in 13:18 be appealed to in favor of the reference of the beast to Nero, for on the one hand quite a number of other equally plausible or implausible solutions of this riddle have been proposed, and on the other hand the interpretation of Nero is open to the serious objection, that in order to make out the required number from the letters of Nero's name this name has to be written in Hebrew characters and that with scriptio defectiva of Qesar (Neron Qesar) instead of Qeisar, the former of which two peculiarities is out of keeping with the usage of the book elsewhere (compare Zahn, op. cit., II, 622, 624, 625, where the chief proposed explanations of the number 666 are recorded). Under the circumstances the interpretation of the figure of the beast and its heads must be allowed to pursue its course independently of the mystery of the number 666 in regard to which no certain conclusion appears attainable.

The following indicates the degree of definiteness to which, in the opinion of the writer, it is possible to go in the interpretation of the prophecy. The terms in which, Paul speaks remind of Daniel's description of the "little horn." Similarly Re attaches itself to the imagery of the beasts in Daniel. Both Paul and Re also seem to allude to the self- deification of rulers in the Hellenistic and Roman world (compare Zeitsehrift fur neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 1904, 335 ff). Both, therefore, appear to have in mind a politically organized world-power under a supreme head. Still in both cases this power is not viewed as the climax of enmity against God on account of its political activity as such, but distinctly on account of its self-assertion in the religious sphere, so that the whole conception is lifted to a higher plane, purely spiritual standards being applied in the judgment expressed. Paul so thoroughly applies this principle that in his picture the seductive, deceptive aspect of the movement in the sphere of false teaching is directly connected with the person of "the lawless one" himself (2Th 2:9-12), and not with a separate organ of false prophecy, as in Re 13:11-17 (the second beast). In Revelation, as shown above, the final and acute phase of anti-Christian hostility is clearly distinguished from its embodiment in the Roman empire and separated from the latter by an intermediate stage. In Paul, who stands at a somewhat earlier point in the development of New Testament prophecy, this is not so clearly apparent. Paul teaches that the "mystery of lawlessness" is already at work in his day, but this does not necessarily involve that the person of "the lawless one," subsequently to appear, must be connected with the same phase of the world-power, with which Paul associates this mystery already at work, since the succeeding phases being continuous, this will also insure the continuity between the general principle and its personal representative, even though the latter should appear at a later stage. It is impossible to determine how far Paul consciously looked beyond the power of the Roman empire to a later organIzation as the vehicle for the last anti-Christian effort. On the other hand, that Paul must have thought of "the lawless one" as already in existence at that time cannot be proven. It does not follow from the parallelism between his "revelation" and the parousia of Christ, for this "revelation" has for its correlate simply a previous hidden presence for some time somewhere, not an existence necessarily extending to Paul's time or the time of the Roman empire, far less a pre- existence, like unto Christ's, in the supernatural world. Nor is present existence implied in what Paul says of "the hindering power." This, to be sure, is represented as asserting itself at that very time, but the restraint is not exerted directly upon "the lawless one"; it relates to the power of which he will be the ultimate exponent; when this power, through the removal of the restraint, develops freely, his revelation follows. According to 13:9 his "parousia is according to the working of Satan," but whether this puts a supernatural aspect upon the initial act of his appearance or relates more to his subsequent presence and activity in the world, which will be attended with all powers and signs and lying wonders, cannot be determined with certainty. But the element of the supernatural is certainly there, although it is evidently erroneous to conceive of "the lawless one" as an incarnation of Satan, literally speaking. The phrase "according to the working of Satan" excludes this, and "the lawless one" is a true human figure, "the man of sin" (or "the man of lawlessness," according to another reading; compare the distinction between Satan and "the beast" in Re 20:10), Re 13:3. The "power" and "signs" and "wonders" are not merely "seeming"; the genitive pseudous is not intended to take them out of the category of the supernatural, but simply means that what they are intended to accredit is a lie, namely, the Divine dignity of "the lawless one." Most difficult of all is the determination of what Paul means by the hindering power or the hinderer in 13:7.

The most common view refers this to the Roman authority as the basis of civil order and protection, but there are serious objections to this. If Paul at all associated the Antichrist in any way with the Roman power, he cannot very well have sought the opposite principle in the same quarter. And not only the hindering power but also the hindering person seems to be a unit, which latter does not apply to the Roman empire, which had a succession of rulers. It is further difficult to dismiss the thought that the hindering principle or person must be more or less supernatural, since the supernatural factor in the work of "the lawless one" is so prominent. For this reason there is something attractive in the old view of von Hofmann, who assumed that Paul borrowed from Dnl, besides other features, also this feature that the historical conflict on earth has a supernatural background in the world of spirits (compare Da 10). A more precise definition, however, is impossible. Finally it should be noticed that, as in the eschatological discourse of Jesus "the abomination of desolation" appears connected with an apostasy within the church through false teaching (Mr 13:22,23), so Paul joins to the appearance of "the lawless one" the destructive effect of error among many that are lost (2Th 2:9-12). The idea of the Antichrist in general and that of the apostasy in particular reminds us that we may not expect an uninterrupted progress of the Christianization of the world until the parousia. As the reign of the truth will be extended, so the forces of evil will gather strength, especially toward the end. The universal sway of the kingdom of God cannot be expected from missionary effort alone; it requires the eschatological inter-position of God.

4. The Manner of the Parousia:

In regard to the manner and attending circumstances of the parousia we learn that it will be widely visible, like the lightning (Mt 24:27; Lu 17:24; the point of comparison does not lie in the suddenness); to the unbelieving it will come unexpectedly (Mt 24:37-42; Lu 17:26-32; 1Th 5:2,3). A sign will precede, "the sign of the Son of Man," in regard to the nature of which nothing can be determined. Christ will come "on the clouds," "in clouds," "in a cloud," "with great power and glory" (Mt 24:30; Mr 13:26; Lu 21:27); attended by angels (Mt 24:31(compare Mt 13:41; 16:27; Mr 8:38; Lu 9:26); Mr 13:27; 2Th 1:7).

Continued 8177

Written by Geerhardus Vos


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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