“Peace and Security!”

When they are saying, “Peace and security!” then destruction overtakes them suddenly…

This article is a continuation of the previous two that were centered on 1Th 4:13­‑18 (Rapture Ready? and Escorting the King of Kings?). The beginning of the very next chapter in Paul’s first Thessalonian epistle (5:1-11) should be understood as further explanation of the Christian resurrection hope, which is to occur at the Parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 But the focus is on how the Christians at Thessalonica are to abide in the interim:2

5:1 Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers (and sisters), you have no need to be written to you. 2 For you certainly know that the Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. 3 When they are saying, “Peace and security!”3 then destruction overtakes [ephistēmi] them suddenly [aiphnidios], as in the pain during birth pangs, and they will not escape [ekpheugō].

4 But you, brothers (and sisters), are not in darkness, that the Day might surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all sons (and daughters) of light and sons (and daughters) of the D/day. We are neither of the night nor of darkness. 6 Thus, therefore, let’s not sleep as the rest, but rather let’s stay awake and remain sober. 7 For those who sleep, at night they sleep, and those who get drunk, at night they get drunk.

8 But we, being of the day, let’s remain sober, wearing faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet, 9 because God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us, so that whether awake or asleep we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore, encourage each other, and edify one another, as you are already doing.

The Apostle Paul contrasts “they”/”them” (v. 3) with his Thessalonian “brothers (and sisters)”. One group is “of darkness” and “of the night”; the other is “of light” and “of the D/day”. And while “they” are ‘sleeping’ and ‘getting drunk’, the “brothers (and sisters)” making up the ekklēsia4 of Thessalonica are encouraged to “stay awake” and “remain sober” instead.

Most likely, “they”/”them” is the same group as “those who have no hope” in 4:13. Support for this is found in Paul’s use of “the rest” (hoi loipoi) in both 4:13 (“so that you will not grieve as the restthose who have no hope”) and 5:6 (“let’s not sleep as the rest“). This is another way Paul linguistically ties 5:1–11 to 4:13–18.5

Note that, in a sense, the Apostle mixes metaphors here. He refers to those in spiritual darkness (“they”/”them”) as “those who sleep” in 5:6–7. Yet in 5:10 he returns to the meaning of “asleep” from 4:14–17, which is as a euphemism for those who died in Christ. This is yet another way to linguistically link the two passages.

In 5:1, “the times and the seasons”6 refers back to the Parousia of 4:15­‑17 in a general sense (cf. Matt 24:33). And “the Day of the Lord” in verse 2 is clearly a way of rephrasing Jesus’ Parousia. In other words, the two refer to the same event—more accurately, the same series of events. That “Day”, the day of Jesus’ return (Parousia), will come as a complete surprise to “they”/”them”. In contrast, the discerning Christian will know when that time is near.

No Surprise for the Wise

After detailing a series of events to precede His Parousia (Luke 21:7–28; cf. Matt 24:3–31), Jesus provides the example of a budding fig tree as a metaphor for discerning the nearness of His return (Luke 21:29–36; cf. Matt 24:32–51). So, to witness these events unfold is to know Jesus’ return is growing near. In the selection from Luke’s Gospel below, note the three words in brackets, which are the same Greek terms identified in 1Th 5:3 above:7

Luke 21:29 He told them a parable: “Observe the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they bud, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 Likewise also you, as you observe these things occurring, recognize that the Kingdom of God is near . . . 34 But watch yourselves lest your hearts be heavy with intoxication and drunkenness, as well as life’s worries, and that Day overtake [ephistēmi] you suddenly [aiphnidios] 35 like a trap. For it will spring upon all those dwelling on the face of the entire earth. 36 But stay watchful in every season, praying that you may have the strength to escape [ekpheugō] all these things that are going to occur, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Notice how the three bracketed terms in Luke’s context differ with their usage in 1Th 5:3. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is making a blanket appeal to His entire audience to guard against becoming heavy-hearted with worldly distractions to the extent of being unprepared when He returns (see Parable of the Ten Virgins). Such unpreparedness may result in not having the strength to stand before the Son of Man.

Comparatively, Paul is being more pastoral. He assures his Thessalonian ekklēsia that they will not be ‘overtaken’ “suddenly”—unable to “escape”—as “the rest” will be.  Using the emphatic you (and we in v. 8) to press his point, he reassures his “brothers (and sisters)” that they will remain “awake” and “sober” instead. The Apostle encourages them to encourage each other in this regard (5:11).

To be clear, Paul is not countering or amending Jesus’ words here. He accepts them as they are. Yet, for his brothers’ and sisters’ sake, he assures them that they have the capacity to hold fast to their faith and hope. And, carrying this forward to today, we are to do the same.

In 1Th 5:9 (God has not appointed us to wrath, but rather to obtaining salvation . . .), Paul returns to a statement near the opening of his epistle (1Th 1:10): . . . to wait for God’s Son Whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, Who will deliver us from the wrath to come. This agrees with the thrust of Jesus’ statement in the verse directly preceding the above passage in Luke (21:28): But when these things begin to occur, stand and lift up your head, for your redemption is drawing near.

To borrow the pithy words of Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

The Pax Romana

What did Paul mean by, “Peace and security!”? Most likely the Apostle was referring to the ‘peace and security’ provided by the Roman Empire.8

Roman poet Ovid refers to the “peace of Augustus” (Ex Ponto 2.5.18), while Tacitus (Annals 12.29) and Martial (7.80.1) speak of the Pax Romana, the “Roman Peace”.9

The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was a period of relative peace and stability across the Roman Empire which lasted for over 200 years, beginning with the reign of Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). The aim of Augustus and his successors was to guarantee law, order, and security within the empire even if this meant separating it from the rest of the world and defending, or even expanding, its borders through military intervention and conquest.10

The city of Thessalonica, as part of the larger Macedonia, actively sought the favor of Rome.11 This afforded the city relative freedom, including a bit of self-government, compared to mainland Greece.12 The peace and security (pax et securitas) provided by Augustus’ reign was greatly appreciated.13 From their god-like worship of the Emperor arose the Imperial Cult—emperor worship.14 Undoubtedly, Paul saw the temple for and the statue of Augustus during his trip to the city.15

Understanding this background, the Apostle apparently used “peace and security” to reference this Pax Romana. The Thessalonian congregation would surely understand Paul’s meaning. As former pagans (1Th 1:9), the “brothers (and sisters)” almost assuredly had formerly engaged in the Imperial Cult—in effect, worshiping the Empire through the Emperor. This is in addition to the former worship of other pagan ‘deities’.16 But now the Thessalonian ekklēsia worshiped the One True God, which put them at odds with “the rest”.17

In their conquest for “peace”, the Roman army had a reputation for insatiable ruthlessness. Calgacus, a Caledonian (Briton) chieftain, described the devastation behind Roman conquest in a pre-battle speech:

. . . and the more menacing Romans, from whose oppression one vainly seeks to escape through compliance and submission. Bandits of the globe, after laying the land bare by their universal plundering, they ransack the sea. If foreigners have riches, they are greedy; if poor, dominating. Neither east nor west has been able to satisfy. Unique among all, the wealthy and the impoverished they equally desire to rob, massacre, and plunder in the supposed name of the Empire. And where they create desolation, they call it “peace”.18

What Now?

As regards futuristic prophecy, what conclusions may be drawn from this background information? Without speculating too much here, a specific current event commands our attention. Apparently, on November 9, 2021, the statue pictured below was unveiled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

UNPeaceSculptureMex-002

On this website is the following caption, which was also placed on a UN tweet:

A guardian for international peace and security sits on the Visitors Plaza outside UN Headquarters. The guardian is a fusion of jaguar and eagle and donated by the Government of Oaxaca, Mexico. Artists Jacobo and Maria Angeles created it. November 09, 2021. The United States of America. New York. UN Photo/Manuel Elías.

The jaguar has been an enduring symbol in Mexican lore. And, of course, the eagle is an American symbol, representing freedom. So, this statue appears to be a composite of Mexican and American symbolism. But why was it given to the UN as a “guardian for international peace and security”?

Others have been quick to point out its similarity to the beast depicted in Revelation 13:2:

The beast which I saw was similar to a leopard, yet its feet were like a bear, and its mouth like a lion

But this description does not include anything about an eagle. Of course, Daniel 7:4 speaks of a beast like a lion with eagle’s wings. But the statue above is part jaguar, not leopard or lion. However, note this from Louw and Nida’s excellent Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.), referring to the Greek word for “leopard” (bold added):

πάρδαλις [pardalis] . . . ‘a beast whose appearance was like a leopard’ Rev 13:2. As in the case of the term for ‘bear’ (ἄρκος [arkos]), this reference to a leopard occurs in the NT only in Rev 13:2 and is likewise used as a means of describing the apocalyptic beast. A term referring to a local type of leopard or jaguar would be perfectly appropriate, and in some languages a term referring to a mountain lion has been employed. In other instances the equivalent expression is based upon a phrase meaning ‘fierce, large, a cat-like animal.’ A borrowed term may also be employed with a descriptive classifier, for example, ‘an animal called leopard.’19

Now, do note that the feet of the above pictured statue are not quite cat-like. But do they resemble bear’s feet (Rev 13:2)?

Whatever is to be made from all this, the statue as a “guardian for international peace and security” is quite curious.

_______________________________________

1 In my opinion, the chapter break between chapters 4 and 5 in modern Bibles should have never been made. I infer that this is the view of some commentary writers, for not a few treat 4:13–5:11 as a unit. This chapter break is unfortunate, as this can lead some—and certainly has led some—to dubious exegesis. Some mistakenly separate Jesus’ Parousia in 4:13–18 from “the Day of the Lord” in 5:1–11, as if these are completely separate events.

2 The parenthetical “and sisters” and “and daughters” is to capture the inclusive intent of Paul’s masculine words here (in a strongly patriarchal culture). The italics indicate emphasis in the form of pronouns in the Greek text alongside the implied pronouns of their accompanying finite verbs (finite verbs encode person and number, and thus a separate pronoun is unnecessary, usually implying emphasis). The bold “not” in v. 3 indicates the emphasis of the Greek double negative. The first two of the three bracketed Greek (transliterated and in green) words in v. 3 are unique in Paul’s writings; and, when considered alongside the third bracketed word, may well indicate the Apostle has purposed these from Luke 21:34–36, in order  to evoke these words of Jesus (see below for further explanation). Cf. Charles A. Wannamaker, Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), p 180; Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), pp 232, 266 nt 160. Assuming so, this would seem to indicate a strong oral tradition preceding the scribal tradition of Luke’s Gospel. Cf. John H. Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

3 The exclamation is my interpretation. It may well be simply, “Peace and security” (or “Peace and safety”).

4 In the very first verse of this epistle (1:1) Paul specifically refers to the ekklēsia̢ Thessalonike̒ōn, the assembly of Thessalonians. I am opposed to the use of “church” because of the baggage it has accumulated over the years; see Re-Assembly Required.

5 See, e.g., Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974): “In 4:13, ‘the rest’ are non-Christians, those who have no hope. Here, they are described in terms of quality of life that is in contrast to the sober vigilance of those who do have hope in salvation” (p 295). See A Closer Look section of Escorting the King of Kings? for the other linguistic links.

6 This phrase “the times and the seasons”, opines Gordon D. Fee, “is almost certainly to be taken as a hendiadys, where, as this Greek term itself implies, the two words function to express a single idea” (The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009] p. 186; cf. 185–86). In the New Testament, this specific verbiage is found only here, though Acts 1:7 has it without the Greek articles (“times and seasons”); in the LXX, it is found in the singular and without the articles in Daniel 7:12 (“time and season”), while  Daniel 2:21 and Wisdom of Solomon 8:8 reverse the order (“season and time”).

7 See, e.g., Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, pp 232, 266 nt 160.

8 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), pp 146–148.

9 Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, p 266  nt 163.

10 Donald L. Wasson, “Pax Romana“, World History Encyclopedia, last modified December 08, 2015, https://www.worldhistory.org/Pax_Romana/, para 1; as accessed 10/24/2021. The inclusive dates in the parenthesis changed from the secularized “BCE” and “CE” in the original source to the Christianized “BC” and “AD” here.

11 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 1–7.

12 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 4–5.

13 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p 5; cf. Wasson, “Pax Romana”, para 4.

14 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, pp 5–6; cf. Wasson, Pax Romana”, para 9.

15 Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p 5.

16 According to Witherington, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, “What is sometimes overlooked is the emperor cult was syncretized with the local worship of the Cabiri, the mystic deities of Samothrace (a cult patronized by Philip and Alexander), and so here the emperor was deified as Kabeiros [‘the ancestral and most holy of all gods’], as coins show” (p 5).

17 See Larry W. Hurtado’s popular-level (non-academic) work Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016).

18 Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola [De Vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Julius Agricola)] 30.4–6. Translated from the Latin, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, beginning here, with help from English translations here and here. Agricola was Tacitus’ father-in-law.

19 “πάρδαλις”, Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4, p 39.

The Kingdom of God is at Hand, part I

[see part II here.]

Jesus Himself stated, “The kingdom of God is at hand” in Mark 1:15 [NIV]; however, it is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that He also said “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17, 10:7 NIV] A quick examination of Scripture leads to the conclusion that the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous. So, is the kingdom of God NOW?

Most first century Jews, according to their understanding of Scripture, were looking for a Messiah who would provide theocratic rule thus delivering them from Roman oppression and immediately establishing the Kingdom of God – the Age to Come. The then-current age – “Satan’s Time” – was one of sin, sickness, demonic possession, and evil in which evil men were triumphant.[1]

Consequently, even though Jesus Christ healed the sick, drove out demons and even claimed to have forgiven sins, the majority of religious leaders did not recognize Him as the Messiah in part because He did not try to overthrow Rome. Since many of the Pharisees – one of the religious parties of the day – did not believe Jesus’ claim as the “I Am” [John 8:58] they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy!

Historical background

Writings of the Intertestamental Era

400 years had already elapsed between the writing of Malachi, the last Old Testament book to be recorded, and the era of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the intertestamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments), the Jews were not a free people most of the time instead subjected to the rulership of various empires. There were no prophets providing correction or guidance; and, consequently, it was a rather unhappy time. As a result, it was a period marked by a surge in the production of literary works, the most important of which were the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Tanakh – what Christians know as the Old Testament (abbreviated LXX)[2], the Apocryphal & Pseudepigraphic writings (some of the Apocrypha were translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic and included as part of the LXX)[3], and the Dead Sea Scrolls.[4]

The word Apocrypha, from Greek derivation, means “hidden” which has a view of the works being either esoteric and only to be understood by the initiated or, “hidden” in that the nature of the writings are questionable or heretical[5]. The term Pseudepigrapha is usually applied to Jewish (and Jewish-Christian) writings from 200BC to AD200 and comes also from Greek etymology meaning the writings were attributed to fictitious authors[6] although some have authorship ascribed[7]. From both groups of works the subject of eschatology has a significant role. Taken all together, this literature appeared to have a profound effect on the pre-Christian and the immediate post-Resurrection era[8] up through the destruction of the Second Temple in AD70[9]. [Note: for the purposes of this article the “New Testament Apocrypha” including the so-called “Lost Gospels, ” Acts of Andrews, Epistles of the Apostles, etc. are not considered.]

…These and other writings emerged during the long silence that fell between the death of the last OT prophet, Malachi (about 400 B.C.), and the appearance of John the Baptist. To some extent these writings attempted to discern what God was saying to a nation that, though it had repudiated idolatry, still suffered under the dominion of a succession of pagan powers… [10]

At the Council of Jamnia in AD90 Jewish rabbis rejected the Apocrypha (of which parts were included in the Septuagint) as canonical[11]. Yet, some of the Apocrypha are included in the Catholic New American Bible as Deuterocanonical (meaning later added to the canon) books[12]. Some of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine such as purgatory, masses for the dead, and obtaining the merit of God through good works come from these Apocryphal works[13].

The OT canon accepted by Protestants today was “very likely established by the dawn of the second century,” some time after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD70. However, the Apocrypha was still in common use by most Christians until the Protestant Reformation[14].

Societal Developments of the Period

Even though the Second Temple was in operation from 516 BC[15] until AD70[16,17] geographical constraints and oppressive regimes prevented easy travel for the typical Jew. Thus the synagogue was born. Synagogues can be likened to our modern day church buildings as they provided a convenient way to gather socially and to worship. Jesus Himself visited local synagogues [Luke 4:14-21; Matthew 12:9; Mark 1:21]; and, the Apostles [Acts 9:20, 13:5-43] and early Christian missionaries preached in them as well[18].

The Sanhedrin was a committee of Jews with recognized executive, legislative, and judicial power over Jewish faith and lifestyle during the Seleucid Empire (196 – 167BC), the Maccabean revolt (168 – 143BC) and within the limits imposed by Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, and Roman procurators during the Roman Empire (44BC – AD66).[19,20] Subordinate to the Sanhedrin were the religious parties or sects known as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and the Qumran community[21]. Since the Sanhedrin had authority over these sects and ultimate authority over capital cases (yet subordinate to Rome during Roman occupation), Jesus’ trial is seen as being conducted illegally[22].

Beliefs of the Sects

Not much is known about the separative and isolationistic Essene group except that they were very legalistic living both frugally and communally while limiting contact outside their sect. While they did not condemn marriage in principle it was avoided and celibacy was celebrated. Their sect was continued on by the adoption of children. There was an expectation of an impending apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Evidence of a soon to emerge Messiah is in their writings also[23].

Even less was known of the Qumran community until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) which were first unearthed in 1947. The Qumranians are likely a sect that broke from the Essenes. This extremely sectarian group rejected the Jewish leadership referring to them as “sons of darkness” and “men of the pit” while referring to themselves as “sons of light” and “sons of truth.” They firmly believed they were living in the end times[24].

From the DSS it is evident that the Qumranians were highly legalistic with a commitment to study the Torah. The Qumran group believed they were living in the end times and accepted the guidance of a certain teacher of righteousness [ed: probably based at least in part on Malachi 4:5] who was presumably preparing them for the Messiah. Their own writings about this “righteous teacher” are too sketchy to determine the exact role of this figure; however, it is apparent that the community accepted his interpretations of the prophetic OT books regarding eschatology. Since the Qumran believed in a resurrection of the dead, it may be assumed in studying portions of the DSS that they expected the “teacher of righteousness to be martyred and eventually raised up[25]. Their Messiah figure, on the other hand, was more of a human son of David concept rather than a divine apocalyptic Son of man[26]. Some scholars construe that the Qumran belief system supports two or three Messianic figures[27,28].

As supernaturalists, the Pharisees believed in angels, demons, bodily resurrection [Acts 23:8], and immortality with reward for the righteous dead[29] in contrast with retribution for the unrighteous[30]. They were legalistic to the point of going beyond the Scriptures in attempting to adhere to the Torah; and, to this end added their own oral tradition to keep various points of the law. A good example of this is their view of the Sabbath [Mark 2:23-28]. The Pharisees “neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” [Matthew 23:23 NIV] creating a more works-based religion than one with a personal God.

The Pharisees believed both in man’s free will and the sovereignty of God yet thought neither would cancel out the other. Ethics such as human equality were emphasized in their teachings but not necessarily from a theological standpoint[31]. They expected the Messiah to restore Jewish freedom[32].

One credible source stated outright that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation[33]; yet, the general consensus among Christian scholars is that Pharisaical belief regarding immortality adhered to orthodoxy instead. However, in the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature there are references to reincarnation[34]. In some camps, the Kabbalah was thought to be in use as early as the time of Moses as part of an oral tradition and reincarnation is one of the tenets of Kabbalistic doctrine[35]. While there are certainly some Jewish sects who currently espouse reincarnation[36], it is not clear when this doctrine first came about. The Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach[37], contains a warning against such esotericism [Sirach 3:20-22].[38]

The common people were predominantly middle class and identified mostly with the Pharisees in part because this party was of the same class[39]. It should be noted that not all Pharisees were of the same ilk as those represented in the NT. Some contemporaries within their own party recognized their hypocrisy and rebuked them for it[40]. Gamaliel appeared to try to honor a personal God with his words [Acts 5:33-41]. Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, would, of course, become the Apostle Paul.

The Sadducees, more than any of these groups, had an interest in Temple ceremonies and sought a literal interpretation of the Torah. They appeared to reject extra-canonical sources for doctrine. As the most affluent of the religious groups, the Sadducees wielded political clout disproportionate to their relative size[41]. It is assumed that they held a large percentage of seats on the Sanhedrin.

The Sadducean view of eschatology was quite simplistic and widely divergent from the other sects as they did not believe in a resurrection [Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27] or an afterlife and even denied the existence of a spiritual world altogether [Acts 23:8] attributing everything to free will[42].

Eschatological Views of the Pre-Christian and Immediate Post-Resurrection Era

With the exception of the Sadducean view, the predominant Jewish belief of the pre-Christian era included the imminent arrival of a Messianic figure (or figures assuming one of the viewpoints regarding the Qumran group) to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and immediately establish the Kingdom of God. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, describe the Jewish eschaton (view of the end of time) as the belief that the Messiah’s coming would usher in the “Age to Come” to be “characterized by the presence of the Spirit, righteousness, health, and peace.”[43]

Since Jesus Christ’s disciples/followers came directly from Jewish heritage or were familiar with Jewish eschatological beliefs, they were also expecting Him to soon usher in the Kingdom and overthrow Rome[44] while He was still on the earth. Consequently, Jesus’ arrest and subsequent death on the Cross was met with immense disillusionment among His disciples in part because of this assumption [Luke 22:61-62; 23:27, 48-49; 24:17-21]. However, their sorrow turned to joy with His Resurrection and Ascension!

Yet it was apparent that the end of the age had not come in full:

“Very early, beginning with Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, the early Christians came to realize that Jesus had not come to usher in the ‘final’ end, but the ‘beginning’ of the end, as it were. Thus they came to see that with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, the blessings and benefits of the future had already come. In a sense, therefore, the end had already come. But, in another sense the end had not yet fully come. Thus it was already but not yet. [45] [emphasis in original]

First century Christians had to adjust their eschatological thinking to fit the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. However, apparently some were expecting the imminent return of Jesus Christ prompting the Apostle Paul to write the two Thessalonian letters to provide markers of what first must take place before His return. They still had a “kingdom now” mindset. This expectation of imminency with regard to Christ’s return continues in the mindset of most Christians today.

This “tension” between the already but not yet is an important hermeneutical tool in interpreting the New Testament[46]. Passages such as Colossians 3:1-2 illustrate this quite well:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [NIV]

We are already raised up with Christ, yet we are still physically here on earth. However, since we have the future expectation of being raised with Christ, we are to already set our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Similarly, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” He was using this same principle. The Kingdom era has already begun; but, the consummation is yet to be fulfilled.

There are those today who are attempting to hasten Jesus Christ’s return by taking the not yet into their own hands. It is the doctrines of some of these which will be compared to the doctrines of the groups above in the second part of this article.

See Part II here.

Endnotes:

[1] Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stewart “The Gospels: One Story, Many Dimensions.” How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. second edition, 1993; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 131

[2] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 164-174. This section features Bruce M. Metzger as contributor.

[3] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Between the Testaments.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 179-192. This section features Harold W. Hoehner as contributor.

[4] Barker, Kenneth; Burdick, Stek, et. al. “The Time between the Testaments” NIV Study Bible. copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 1424-1425

[5] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 161 Metzger

[6] ibid. pp 162, 170

[7] Marshall, I. Howard; Millard, Packer “Pseudepigrapha” New Bible Dictionary. third edition, 1996; Intervarsity, Downers Grove, IL; p 985

[8] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 173-174 Hoehner

[9] Richards, Lawrence O. “Apocrypha” Richards Complete Bible Dictionary. 2002; World Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, IO; p 76

[10] ibid.

[11] Marshall, Op.cit.

[12] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 162

[13] Richards, Op.cit.

[14] Barker, Op.cit. p 1425

[15] Richards, Lawrence O. “Ezra” Richards’ Complete Bible Handbook. 1987; Word, Inc., Dallas, TX; pp 233-234

[16] Wikipedia The Second Temple <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple> para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[17] Richards, Op.cit. “The Second Temple” Bible Dictionary p 967

[18] ibid. “synagogue” pp 957-958

[19] ibid. “Sanhedrin” pp 894-895

[20] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 184, 189-191 Hoehner

[21] ibid. pp 192-193

[22] Richards, Op.cit. p 895

[23] ibid. “Essenes” pp 346-347

[24] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 395-398. This section features William Sanford LaSor as contributor.

[25] ibid. pp 399-401

[26] ibid. pp 400-403 [The bulk of this information on the Qumran is from the work of William S. LaSor titled The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972]

[27] Barker, Op.cit. p 1427

[28] Hanson, Kenneth “The Wicked Priest” Dead Sea Scrolls: the Untold Story. 1997; Council Oaks Books, Tulsa, OK; p 82

[29] Richards, Op.cit. “Pharisees” p 782

[30] Barker, Op.cit. “Jewish Sects” p 1473

[31] ibid.

[32] Richards, Op.cit.

[33] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[34] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 165 Metzger

[35] Wikipedia “Primary Texts” Kabbalah. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah> para 2, also “History: Origin of Terms” para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[36] Rich, Tracey R. “Resurrection and Reincarnation” Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. <http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm>  Copyright 5759-5760 (1999); Tracey R. Rich; para 4; as accessed 10/17/10

[37] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 166

[38] Confraternity of Christian Doctrine “Sirach” New American Bible. <http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/sirach/sirach3.htm> 2002; Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC; Sirach 3:20-22; as accessed 10/17/10

[39] Richards, Op.cit. “The Common People” Bible Handbook p 443

[40] ibid. “The Pharisees” p 442

[41] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[42] Richards, Op.cit. “Sadducees” p 885

[43] Fee, Op.cit. p 132

[44] ibid.

[45] ibid. pp 132-133

[46] ibid. p 133

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