In a previous post I stated that the “times of refreshing” was a Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom, or the messianic age. Many of the Jews assembled in the Temple courts would have understood Peter’s words in Acts 3:20 as referring to the “age to come” when God restores creation to its original state. Deliverance of creation was something that at least some Jews expected at the time of the messianic age. This deliverance is described as a restoration of creation to something like Eden, a place of prosperity and peace.
1 Enoch 5:7 says that for the elect, the eschatological age will be “light, joy, and peace, and they shall inherit the earth.” Recall that Jesus said that the “meek will inherit the earth” in Matt 5:5. In 25:6, the elect will be presented the “And the elect will be presented with its fruit for life” and they will “live long lives on the earth.” In 45:5 indicates that God will “transform the earth and make it a blessing ,and cause my Elect One (messiah) to dwell in her.” Alluding to Ps 114, 1 Enoch 51:4 says that “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.”
Fourth Ezra, a Jewish apocalypse written after 90 A.D., has a number of references to the coming eschatological age as a refreshment of creation and a time of rest. In 4 Ezra 7:75 “we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation,” and in 11:46 the writer looks forward to the coming judgement “so that the whole earth, freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved.” In 13:26-29, the messiah is described as the one “whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left.”
Perhaps 2 Baruch 73-74 is the most similar to the sorts of things we read in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. In 2 Baruch 73:1, after the messiah “has sat down in eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” then “joy will be revealed and rest will appear.” Just as Acts has described Jesus as ascending to heaven and sitting on the right hand of the Father, 2 Baruch describes the coming age as a time when a messianic figure provides eternal peace from a heavenly throne.
There are more texts which could supplement this list (Jubilees 23:29; T.Levi 18:4; and T.Jud 24:1), but these serve to indicate that the idea of a messianic kingdom as a “time of refreshing” was well known in the first century.
Two thoughts come to mind from reading this data. First, is this sort of kingdom what people thought that Peter was talking about? I see some evidence in Acts that the first community was looking for an imminent return of the Messiah, but how long did that belief persist?
A related second question concerns the non-arrival of the kingdom. Why if this is what “times of refreshing” meant to the biblically literate crowds, why was there no renewal of creation or return of the Exiles? Is there a disconnection from Jewish expectations here?