God as the Judge in Apocalyptic Literature

Enoch-ApocalypseA feature of apocalyptic which is drawn from the Hebrew Bible is the belief God will intervene in history to destroy the evil attacking the faithful. The nation of Israel always understood God as their defender.  There is a great deal of “warrior language” in the Old Testament, it is God that fights on behalf of the nation. In addition to this, Israel always understood God to be their king.

The book of Daniel describes the judgment of the final nation to oppress Israel.

Daniel 7:9–10 (NRSV) As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. 10A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

After the books are opened the final beast is killed and burned with fire (7:11) and the “little horn” which oppressed God’s people will be destroyed. The dominion once granted to the kingdoms of the earth will be rescinded. The Ancient of Days will grant that authority to a son of man who will come on the clouds of heaven. This kingdom will never pass away or be destroyed (7:14, 7:26-27).

A similar judgment scene appears in 1 Enoch 50-52. James VanderKam calls this section a “Scenario for the End Time” because all of the powerful beings will be humiliated “in those days.” They will delivered into the hand of the Chosen One like grass to the fire or lead to the water. The image of grass being taken to a fire at the time of the harvest is used by Jesus in several parables (for example, the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The reason they are delivered for judgment is that they have denied the name of the Lord of Spirits and his Messiah.

1 Enoch 50 describes the renewal of the righteous from their time of weariness.  This includes a judgment in which the sinners receive evil and the righteous receive good. The righteous are to be saved through the “name of the Lord of Spirits” who will lead people to repentance. This chapter stresses the justice of the judgment of the Lord of Spirits – “oppression cannot escape him.” Those who are under his judgment no longer receive mercy (verse 5).

Chapter 51 is in many ways the most important chapter in the Similitudes since it deals with the resurrection of the dead. The context is eschatological (“in those days,” parallel to the judgment in 50:1). Sheol will give up all the dead and the “Elect One” will sit on his throne and pick out of the risen dead the holy ones (50:1-2). The elect will sit on the throne of the Lord (51:3) and hear wisdom from the mouth of the Elect One. After this resurrection, the “mountains will skip like rams” and the whole earth will rejoice (51:5). This is an allusion to Psalm 114:4 and the messianic age. Verse four possibly connects the resurrection of the dead to the rising of the Elect One.

1 Enoch 51:4-5 In those days, mountains shall dance like rams; and the hills shall leap like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on that day the Elect One has arisen. And the earth shall rejoice; and the righteous ones shall dwell upon her and the elect ones shall walk upon her.

In both Daniel and 1 Enoch, an oppressed people look forward to God’s righteous and fair justice. They believe they are the ones who will be vindicated and those who have oppressed them will face a fiery judgment. In both cases the righteous will rewarded with a kingdom ruled by a representative of God (a son of man, an elect one) and that kingdom will never end. Both example look forward to God delivering his people from their oppressors once again.

Does this kind of apocalyptic judgment offer real hope to the oppressed? This seems like good news for the oppressed, but is there any hope for salvation or any chance of repentance for the oppressor? Is apocalyptic literature simply saying, “Endure to the end and you will be rewarded”?  Is there active resistance as in 1 Maccabees?

 

18 thoughts on “God as the Judge in Apocalyptic Literature

  1. One of the serious problems of the judgment concepts you’re highlighting, including some in the NT is this: The oppressed often DO become the oppressors once give a little space to “rise”. Jesus pointed this out in at least one parable, in which a debtor is forgive a massive debt, only to turn around and punish a smaller debtor to him, who is unable to pay. It’s just human nature, unfortunately, though not everyone is so callous or unhealed, forgiving.

    As to belief in God’s judgment, even biblically, it is not clear exactly what kind/level of injustice, sinful action or wrong belief will incur it. Thus the anxiety of many sincere believers, who try to do what’s right, believe without doubt, etc.

    It’s one of the psychologically harmful aspects of this concept, in which the humanity of biblical authors comes through all too often. A more true-to-reality concept of God who I believe is ONLY loving, persuasive, gracious (not “jealous” or “repaying” for sins) is difficult to tease out from the Bible, given its broad base of authors, time periods, motivations, etc., but Process theologians and others have responsibly shown how one can do it.

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  2. I think that this kind of apocalyptic judgment did offer a real hope to the oppressed, to know that the things that they were suffering through would one day be something that would turn into joy and eternal life with God or the Son of God. I think that, from reading this post and verses, that there is no hope for the oppressor. If the oppressor is already standing in judgement it is too late for him, but if he repents before that while he is still alive on earth I think that there is still hope for him. I do not think that that is all apocalyptic literature is saying, I think that it really does offer hope and at times it may turn into an ‘endure to the end and you will be rewarded’; if things are really bad maybe the person loses hope and they just know that they need to endure.

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    • There are those who will view this apocalyptic literature as hopeful for the future. The idea is that the “judgment of God takes the form of his intervention in history by re-establishing his true people in Jerusalem” (Long, “Apocalyptic in the Second Temple Period”, p. 9). With that being said, I would think that this would offer real hope to the oppressed. However, like what was featured in the Book of Dream Visions, there is a new feature that those who are cast into the abyss will be converted (90:30-31, 37-39). Maybe this is implying that judgment will be cast on the oppressors but they will have the opportunity to repent in order to receive the blessings and promises of the “end of times” with Christ? In regards to the last question of whether there was an active resistance like in 1 Maccabees, I would say that both Daniel and 1 Maccabees both had movements that ultimately failed but generated a following who were willing to “die to effect change” (Long, “Apocalyptic in the Second Temple Period, p. 3).

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  3. If I were a person under an oppressive government I would be eager to imagine and read apocalyptic stories about the judgment on oppressors. Yet despite this I would not take the story itself as a hope unless it came from a reliable source of prophecy. It can be quite hard to determine what is or who can give real prophecy from the perspective of current events. It is when we look back on the history that we see who truly were prophets. Anyway back to how this affects the hope value of apocalyptic literature. For me they do not serve a direct giving of hope as the literature does not directly give me a hope to wait for. The idea of it though would create a semblance of hope and possibly even a call to action. For the idea of hope coming from apocalyptic I would look to Revelation since it is a well attested biblical prophecy. In Revelation we see examples of oppression, its destruction, and promised reward for the righteous. It is in this real prophetic reward that hope is most evident. Without a belief in the apocalyptic story there is little benefit it can do for one’s hopes. In summary I believe that the apocalyptic story only gives hope if it is true or if it inspires many to act to make it true.

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    • I think that this type of apocalyptic literature could have been perceived in different ways. To most people, I think there would have been a significant amount of hope that the literature provided for them. I am sure that any people group that was under great oppression that read of a redemptive story would be given hope in some shape or form. The question is was there any hope for salvation, or repentance of the oppressor? I think that there could have been hope for salvation because of the overall message. I also think that when the oppressors heard of this literature they could have reacted in different ways. I for one would repent if I knew what was going to come to me in the end. However, if the oppressor is already facing the wrath and judgement of God; it’s difficult to say if repentance would help.

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  4. Oppression to the Jewish nation was never anything new to God’s chosen people. When your history is that of Israels you know that God has provided not just what they needed but in a physical way defeating the enemies of Israel before. So it should be comforting at this time when this book describes God’s wrath and punishment on the nations and his promises to help them. This should be a message of hope, anyone who remembers what God has done and knows he has should in fact take heart with this because even if it isnt cannon God indeed is with his people.

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  5. In regards to the nature of apocalyptic literature, in my opinion, apocalyptic literature is in a sense more of a hopeful endeavor for a future salvation of oppressed groups by God. Especially when we look at groups such as the Jews and their persecution by Antiochus (1 Mac. 1-41-61) or even when the Jews divided in to the various sects such as the Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees as mentioned by Tomasino (Tomasino, 161). The fact of the matter is apocalyptic literature may have been seen as an outlet for those oppressed groups as a way to truly think positive, in a time period that truly might have been the complete opposite. A facet of apocalyptic literature as mentioned by the blog post resides on the notion that God would indeed “intervene” and do something for his chosen people. If this is this belief and thought process similar to that of portrayed in Daniel and 1 Enoch, there’s no doubt in my mind that most of the apocalyptic literature written would of been hopeful and desirable news for oppressed groups, that a future salvation would come from God in some way.

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  6. I tend to think that these apocalyptic writings do indeed offer hope to those who are oppressed. What these books are demonstrating is that God is sovereign and ultimately in control of everything. They show that God clearly has the ability and authority to intervene and judge everyone fairly. Many people would look at these and find hope in the thought that God will punish those who wronged them. I on the other hand, find hope in that it shows that God is in control. Is there hope for the oppressor? Absolutely, just look at 1 John 1:9. Such people have every chance possible to turn to God for salvation before they die or Christ returns and it will be granted to them freely.

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  7. This apocalyptic judgement does offer hope for the oppresed. The reasoning for this is that Israel are God’s chosen people and they are promised rewards and an eternal life. Regarding the oppressors, however, I think that because there is expected judgement for the wicked, I do not think that leaves the oppresors (as a whole) with much hope for new life. While I do think that it is possible for some to be made righteous, but as for all of Israels enemies, I do not think that there is hope in regards to this apocalyptic judgement.

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  8. When it says that Sheol will give up all the dead and the righteous will be picked out from the dead, does that actually mean that as of right now people who have died between the fall and the present and were believers of Christ are in a middle ground between heaven and hell? Are the Catholics right in that there is a purgatory? As little kids, we are taught that if a person is truly good, they went to heaven, but if a person is very bad, they go straight to hell. Who or what is right?

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  9. Israel believed God was their warrior. During the intertestamental period, I am sure many of them were wondering why God was doing such a terrible job at fighting for Israel…until the Maccabees. However, the Maccabees presents an interesting consideration. If 1 Enoch was meant to encourage those to persevere in what they believe, how did some interpret it as license for militaristic force. This makes matching the book with the Maccabean revolt tricky.

    What I find most interesting is how apocalyptic literature in the “silent years” reminds me of the Book of Revelation. There are some pretty stark similarities. Is it possible that John, writing from the same framework as the writers of the apocalyptic pseudepigraphics, included the same elements? Or is it possible that he wrote to those who were familiar with the apocalyptic pseudoepigraphic genre, and transferred similar language and ideas, saying, in effect, “the kingdom about which these other folks wrote… that Elect One is Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is coming.”

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    • As for whether these wicked people will receive salvation or not, it appears as though it is not the case. I think the premise in 1 Enoch is that battle lines have already been drawn, with those who fear God on His side, and those who oppose God on the other side, and that’s it. There appears, in 1 Enoch, to be no chance (or even desire) for the wicked to be saved. Today, we live from the perspective that God can grant repentance to anyone who comes to Him, even at the last split second. However, I don’t think they had that perspective at that time, before Christ.

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    • I think it is certain John was writing apocalyptic, but whether he knew the literature that is now known as 1 Enoch is difficult to prove one way or the other since he does not directly cite it. There may be allusions, but those are only possibilities not a direct quote (as in Jude).

      Would it make a difference to you (canonically) if John did intentionally use imagery drawn from the non-canonical 1 Enoch?

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  10. It is interesting how similarly the beginning of the story of 1 Maccabees and apocalyptic literature. There is the righteous few that are being persecuted by the unrighteous. The big difference is that in 1 Maccabees there is a great struggle for the rebels to overthrow their immoral rulers. The book had God helping them along the way, but God does not just come in and obliterate the Seleucids. In contrast, in apocalyptic literature God generally wipes out the unrighteous on a great judgement day. There really is not that struggle against evil as much in the end. God just comes in and starts destroying His enemies.

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  11. There is a recurring pattern throughout the Old Testament of Israel depending on God in times of stress and oppression. This often occurs as a result of the nation straying from God, and falling into under the rule of foreign kingdoms. The belief that God will deliver his chosen people is everywhere in the Old Testament. For instance, Isaiah 43:1-5 talks about how Israel is to “fear not, for I am with you.” The passage is an excellent example of God’s promises of deliverance that the nation put their trust in. These ideas are extremely prevalent even into the New Testament. During Jesus’ lifetime the Jews were trusting in God to send them a Messiah who would deliver them from the Romans. It is in the gospels especially that this idea of waiting patiently and enduring until God delivers can be found. Based on this pattern, it seems that the apocalyptic judgement must have offered hope to the oppressed because they didn’t have much else to cling to in times of persecution.

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