God as judge is a feature of apocalyptic 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 The dominion once granted to the kingdoms of the earth will be rescinded.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?