The Apocalyptic Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12)

2 Thessalonians 2 is as apocalyptic as Paul gets in his letters. While there are other hints of an apocalyptic worldview in Paul, 2 Thessalonians 2 has a vision of the future in step with Second Temple Judaism’s view of a general persecution at the end of the age before God breaks into history to intervene on behalf of his people.

For example in 1 Enoch 48-50, the “Son of man” will become a “staff for the righteous ones,” people may lean on him and not fall; he will be the hope of the sick and all who dwell on the earth will worship him (48:4-5, cf. 62:6, 9, 63, 90:37; Ps. 72:9, 11; Phil. 2:10.)   He will be the light of the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6, 49:6, cf. Luke 2:32).  The righteous will be saved by his name (48:7).  All of the powerful will be humiliated “in those days” as we are told they will be 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). For bakground on 1 Enoch, see this post, or check out all my posts on the Enochic Literature.

In 1 Enoch 50 the prophet describes a 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).

PaulPaul’s apocalyptic description of the activities of the Anti-Christ and his coming judgment resonate with 1 Enoch.  In 2 Thessalonians 2 as a parody of the “real Christ.”  The man of sin has a “coming” is παρουσία, the word that is most regularly associated with the return of Christ. Just as Christ has a παρουσία, so to does his doppleganger, the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ will do “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” The “miracles, signs and wonders” are also a part of this the Satanic parody since these are the very words associated with the ministry of Jesus and his presentation as the Messiah in Acts 2:22 and his representatives (Cf., Heb 2:3-4).

These “miracles, signs and wonders” are modified by ψευδος, a lie. The word is used here and in verse 11, underscoring the false-ness of the activities of the Anti-Christ. The signs will likely be much like the miracles of Christ, although powered by Satan. This is parallel to Revelation 13:1-4, 13-15, the most detailed discussion of the activities of these end-time players. While the true Messiah did great signs and miracles, he was rejected by his people. The Anti-Christ will demonstrate the same sorts of power, but he will be accepted by the people and worshiped as a god.

The goal of these signs is to deceive people. While the miracles may appear to be good and positive things, things that help people. Those that are deceived are described as perishing since they have rejected the love of truth. The word for “perishing” here is the same as the description of the Anti-Christ in verse 3, “son of perdition.” Those that are perishing will be lead to believe the ultimate “one who is perishing.”

When Jesus return in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, he destroys the power of the man of sin with the power of his word, not unlike the description of the beginning of the messianic age in Isaiah 11:4. The timing of the judgment of the Anti-Christ is at the “splendor of his coming.” This combines παρουσία and the word ἐπιφάνεια, a word that also means something like “appearance,” and is applied to the return of Christ a number of times in the New Testament. The combination of the words was used to describe the arrival of the Emperor from the time of Caligula on, implying the presence of a divine being as well as all of the pomp and ceremony associated with the Emperor.

Paul therefore resonates with the Jewish apocalyptic traditions common in the Second Temple period, at least in this earliest of his letters.

Paul’s Calling as Apocalyptic

Galatians 1:11–12 (ESV) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of Galatians, Paul offers his own testimony of how he encountered the grace of God. Although he does not recount the story as we know it from Acts 9, Paul is describing his initial encounter with God as an apocalyptic experience. By this I mean God dramatically broke into history and revealed something to Paul which altered his understanding of God had what God is doing in the world through Jesus.

First, Paul’s claim is that he was not evangelized by other apostles. Although there is a case to be made for Paul having heard the preaching of Jesus before the crucifixion, based on his persecution of the early Christ-followers it is clear he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah before meeting him on the road to Damascus. Although Stanley Porter has recently argued Paul did know Jesus, there is no hint in either Acts or the letters that he heard Jesus teach or was he present at the execution.

Paul Road to DamascusIn fact, Acts describes Paul as a bitter opponent of the gospel. Paul makes a similar statement in Galatians 1:13. Paul likely began to oppose the preaching of Stephen in the Greek-speaking Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:1-8:1). As a Hellenistic Jew from the Diaspora Paul have fellowshipped at this synagogue, but as a Pharisee he would have been shocked and offended by Stephen’s claim Jesus was the messiah, God had raised him from the dead, and he was going to return soon to render judgment. (Although we do not have Stephen’s speeches before his final one prior to being stoned, it seems likely he would say the same sorts of things Peter and John did in Acts 2-3.)

Second, Paul did not learn his gospel from the other apostles. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul did not submit to a period of discipleship in order to learn the basics of the Gospel nor did he associate himself with the Apostles in Jerusalem. In Galatians Paul claims not encounter the Apostles until after he was given a revelation from Jesus.

This, the origin of Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles is a revelation from Jesus (Galatians 1:12). The noun ἀποκάλυψις appears in Paul’s letters thirteen times, and as might be expected, the word has the connotation of God’s decisive actions in history to bring salvation into the world. This is in fact the title of the final book of the New Testament, the “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul claims that he received this Law-free gospel for the Gentiles through revelation in Ephesians 3:1-6 as well. What Paul experienced on the Road to Damascus was like the prophetic calling of Isaiah or Ezekiel. In fact, Paul is the “light to the Gentiles,” a possible allusion to the suffering servant Isaiah 49:6 and he quotes Isaiah 6 when he arrives in Rome as fulfilled in his mission.

This revelation stands in contrast to receiving a gospel from other humans. Rather than being informed by others of a “Law-free Gospel” for the Gentiles, God revealed it to him through Jesus. In Galatians 1-2, Paul will offer evidence for the claim that his gospel does not come from humans, but from God.

This fierce claim of independence from the Twelve in Jerusalem and the original followers of Jesus is disturbing to some readers. Although Paul claims to be an outsider from the first followers of Christ, he says his authority comes from the highest level: God called him through a dramatic unveiling of Jesus, the Son of God. What are the ramifications of this claim for reading Paul’s letters? Does his claim of independence affect the way we understand his relationship with the other Christ followers in Jerusalem?

Summer Series: (Even More) Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

In the summer of 2016 I began a long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I made about 75 posts that summer but only managed to work through the Enoch literature, the Sibylline Oracles, Fourth Ezra and 2 Baruch, and short posts on Treatise of Shem, The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, and Apocalypse of Zephaniah. I picked up the series again in the summer of 2017 and worked my way through Joseph and Asenath. Even after 120 posts on this literature, there is still many more the pseudepigraphical books I have yet to cover in Charlesworth. I hope to get to the recent More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (eds. Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, Alexander Panayotov; Eerdmans 2013).

My original motivation for the series was preparation for teaching an intertestamental literature class in Spring 2017. I enjoyed teaching the class and I think most of the students liked the class and learned a great deal about the literature of the Second Temple Period. Evangelicals tend to shy away from this material, but I think it is essential to have a firm grasp on what was in the air in the Second Temple period in order to understand the New Testament, especially as more scholars recognized the apocalyptic nature of both Jesus and Paul.

Another benefit of an open publication like this blog is the feedback I get from readers. There were a number of comments which interacted with what I had posted and often gave me new insights or links to other material to supplement my posts. Most of the posts in the original series still generate hits every day, so I hope people are finding some value in this series.

I plan to pick up this series again this summer beginning with the biblical expansions as they appear in Charlesworth and then move on to the Wisdom and Poetry Literature.

If you missed the series last two summers, here is an index for the previous posts on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

Introduction

1 Enoch

2 Enoch

3 Enoch

Sibylline Oracles

The Treatise of Shem

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragment 1

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragments 2-5

What is the Apocalypse of Zephaniah?

Fourth Ezra

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch

The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)

Apocalypse of Abraham

Apocalypse of Adam

Apocalypse of Elijah

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

Testament of Job

Testament of Abraham

Testament of Isaac

Testament of Jacob

Testament of Moses

Testament of Solomon

Jubilees

The Martyrdom of Isaiah

Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah

The Life of Adam and Eve

The Apocalypse of Adam and Eve

Joseph and Aseneth

 

 

 

 

 

A Millennial Kingdom – Revelation 20:4-6

After describing the coming of the Messiah, John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones. These thrones for those who were killed during the time of tribulation described in Revelation. There are other New Testament passages the_lion_and_the_lambpromising thrones to the faithful. In Matt 19:28 Jesus tells the twelve disciples they will sit on “twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Cor 6:2-3, Paul tells the Corinthians that believers will “judge the world” and will “judge angels.” Even in Revelation, the one who overcomes will have sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21).

The souls John sees in these verses are likely those under the altar in Rev 6:9. In that context, the souls were crying out to God asking to be avenged. Likewise, in 20:4 these souls were put to death because of their testimony of Jesus. These souls came to life and reign with Christ for the 1000 years (Rev 20:4). The verb ζάω (“came to life”) is used often in Revelation to describe God as the “living one” (1:18, 10:6) or Jesus as the one who “died and lives again” (2:8). In 13:14 the beast appears to have died and “came to life.” This first resurrection is after the tribulation and the return of Jesus. It is quite specific since only those who were martyred are raised. But they are raised to life on earth, not some ethereal heavenly state.

The function of these souls is that they are “priests of God” and reign with Christ. This reflects Exodus 19:6, God’s promise that Israel would be a nation of priests. This is consistent with the rest of Revelation. In 1:5-6 the people of God are called “a kingdom and priests,” now at the end of the book a kingdom is established and the resurrected martyrs fulfill Israel’s role as priests of God.

How should we understand the “1000 years?” A 1000 year rule by the messiah is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Even though a kingdom is described frequently in both the Old and New Testaments, the duration of 1000 years is not found. In fact, the kingdom is usually described as eternal: it never ends. But the idea of a Millennium (Latin, mille, a thousand; anum, years) is not based on this single passage since even here the kingdom continues forever, even if an event occurs after 1000 years.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah to come and establish a kingdom, a real physical rule on earth. This Messiah would be God’s personal representative, and like the kings of Israel, would be called a “son of God.” Beyond this, they speculated about how long human history would last, and how much of that history would be the kingdom. Ranges for the duration of the kingdom in Jewish apocalyptic ranged from 40 years to 7000 years. In the Apocalypse of Weeks human history is portrayed as a series of ten “weeks,” the first seven weeks lead up to the time of the writer but the eighth through tenth weeks are still future. 1 Enoch describes this “eighth week” after the judgment as a “week of righteousness.” During this period a house will be built for the great king “in glory forevermore” (91:12-13). The (Christian) letter of Barnabas described the history of the world in seven creational days of 1000 years each, with the seventh being the idealized age (i.e., the kingdom).

John clearly intends for us to understand a particular period of time in human history when Christ will rule with the martyred on earth. This was the understanding of the early church as well, Justin Martyr taught in the second century that the dead in Christ would be raised, followed by 1000 years in Jerusalem. Irenaeus, also in the second century, taught that there would be an earthly millennium where saints and martyrs would be rewarded. But by the fifth century, Augustine tried to interpret the kingdom in a non-literal way. The 1000 years, he taught, were the interval between the first and second coming. Satan was bound in Jesus earthly ministry, the first resurrection is the moment of salvation.

Revelation 20 follows the glorious return of the Lord and represents the final vindication of those who have died for their testimony of Jesus—they are raised to life to reign with Jesus. This reign is the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Jews and Christians in the first century. God will act decisively and send his anointed one to deal with the empires of man. The point of the Millennium is not to reward martyrs in some sensual paradise, but to demonstrate that God’s Kingdom has finally overcome the kingdoms of man.

The Rider and the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

AragornVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ.  But as Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The various descriptions in this paragraph of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of Second Temple literature. In fact, this Rider is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The Rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12).   In the Greco Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has “many” crowns, perhaps so many that they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13).  Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3. Finally, a sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a).  This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21).

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named “Faithful and True,” titles used for Jesus in Rev 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b).  Divine beings sometimes have a “secret name” or are not willing to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked.  Third, His name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word.  Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (16).   There are a number of ancient references to names being inscribed on the thigh of statues,

The Rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b).  That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.

 

 

 

“God’s Wrath is Completed” – Revelation 15:1-8

John says he sees another “great and marvelous sign,” the third such description in the book (cf. 12:1 and 12:3).  The sign, in this case, is the last set of seven angels. These are the last because “God’s wrath is completed.” God’s wrath is associated with Israel’s rebelliousness, but the prophets extend that wrath to the eschatological events (Isa 26:20, Ezek 7:19, 22:24, for example).

In Revelation, God’s wrath is a featured attribute of God.  This is a righteous wrath, and is to a large extent anthropomorphic.  God’s anger is not at all like human wrath, he is justly punishing those who have offended his law. The wrath of God is nearly completed.  This can be translated “has been accomplished,” meaning that with these final judgments the wrath which was begun in chapter 6 has run its course.

MosesThe doors to the heavenly temple are opened and seven angels appear with the final seven plagues. The description of this location is as the temple and the tent / tabernacle.  The reference to the tent is likely to the tent of meeting, the place where Moses spoke face to face with the Lord, yet another allusion to events of the Exodus.

Temples with open doors were considered a “bad sign” in the ancient world. David Aune lists several sources indicating a temple door opening by themselves was a sign of God’s wrath (Revelation, 2:878). The whole temple is filled with the smoke of the glory of God.  This is a theophany: God’s presence is about to come to earth to finish his wrath.

After announcing that the final wrath of God has begun, John witnesses yet another worship scene in heaven (15:2-4).  This worship scene has elements from chapter 4-5, now familiar scenes of heavenly worship (sea of glass, martyrs worshiping, harps and singing).  In this case the martyrs are identified as those who have overcome the beast and the number of his name.  Presumably they have been martyred because they refused to take the mark of the beast.

The song they are singing is identified as the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The Song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1-18, Deut. 31:30-32:43; and Psalm 90. The problem with the Song of Moses in this context is that there is no literary relationship between the song recorded in Revelation and the various versions of the Song of Moses in the Old Testament.  Perhaps what follows is only the Song of the Lamb and the reader is assumed to know what the song of Moses is. More likely is that the context of the original song is what John wants to evoke. If you head someone hum a few notes of a famous song, the whole song comes to mind.

The Song of Moses is worship of God because he has overcome the enemies of Israel. In Exodus, God rescued his people out of Egypt and overcame the Egyptians and their gods.  There are obvious connections between the following bowl judgments and Exodus. Just as he has done in the past, God is once again working to redeem his people from an oppressive and evil empire.

Revelation 14:8 – The Message of the Second Angel

Revelation 14:8 A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

This verse is interesting because John finally names the kingdom of the beast:  “Babylon the Great.” As with the coming of the judgment, the fall of Babylon is described as an event that has already taken place (two aorist verbs, ἔπεσεν, ἔπεσεν). Sometimes an aorist verb can be used for a future event in order to highlight the certainty of the prophetic prediction. Wallace calls the use a “rhetorical transfer” of a future event to the past because it is so certain (GGBB 564). This proleptic aorist is rare, but it is possible here depending on how the interpreter understands Babylon in verse 8. The arrogant empire of Babylon had already fallen hundreds of years before this, but John predicts another arrogant empire was about to fall.

AngelFor most readers of Revelation, “Babylon the Great” is a clear allusion to Rome. Writing from Rome, Peter greets his readers by implying he is in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). After the first century, the identification of Rome and Babylon is four in other apocalypses (2 Baruch and 4 Ezra). The parallels are obvious, both are huge world empires that are completely anti-God, both quite arrogant, and both destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70). Babylon as the final enemy of God appears several times in Revelation (16:19, 17:5-6, 18: 2, 10, 21).

The prediction that Rome had fallen would have been laughable in the first century. Rome had endured for centuries by the time John wrote Revelation, and would last in glory until the 400’s A. D. when the Germanic tribes looted Rome. The Empire still hung together, although in a far less glorious form, well into the middle ages. There were predictions of the fall of Rome in the first century, such as the Oracles of Hystaspes, which predicted Rome would fall to powers from the east, but 6,000 years in the future!

This will be the cause of the destruction and confusion, that the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled … will be taken from the earth, and power will be returned to Asia, and again the Orient will dominate and the West will serve.

Unfortunately this text dates to the early fourth century and may not reflect first century views of the fall of Rome. (The text was quoted by Lactantius Div. Inst. 7.15.11, Aune, Revelation, 2:830–831.)

In Rev 14:8 Rome is described as giving the world “maddening wine of her adulteries.” The noun θυμός refers to “an intense, passionate desire of an overwhelming and possibly destructive character” (LN 25.19). This is probably a reference to the imposition of Roman worship on Christians. In the Hebrew Bible, adultery is a common metaphor for idolatry, and the spiritual adultery of Judah resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and the long Exile.

So what, or perhaps “when,” is John talking about? In the first century Rome did not fall and Babylon is long gone. The empire described as a “beast” in Revelation 13 is a conglomeration of all the previous kingdoms predicted by Daniel 2 and 7. The message of this verse is that arrogant empires of humanity will fall to the coming kingdom of God. For a preterist, this is a prediction of the actual fall of Rome, even if that prediction was not realized quite as John imagined it (with the return of the Messiah). For a futurist this is a prediction of the ultimate enemy of God in the future, an empire that styles itself as a “new Rome” by bringing peace to the world.

There is no need to fret over what empire this will be since John’s point in Rev 14 is that the kingdoms of mankind will finally be judged at the return of the Messiah.