Monday, July 17, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 3)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here.

AP: Perhaps Paul identified Jesus as the mysterious "son of man" found in Daniel 7:13–14, although he does not use that Aramaic expression, since it would have been absolutely unintelligible to his Gentile audience. The syntagma is replaced by "son of God." But it does employ the characteristic background image: Christ will come carried by clouds traveling through the air. This is the same vehicle by which he had been brought before God as the son of a man (mentioned in Daniel). The imagery of being transported by clouds is found throughout the Old Testament to the divine realm. And in this way Paul signals that the resurrected Messiah is the character mentioned in Daniel.

The image of the angels who accompany Jesus with their trumpets announcing the Judgment and the beginning of the reign of God or his messiah is also very common in apocalyptic literature (Apocalypse of Zephaniah 9:1–12:1; Paralipomenos of Jeremiah 3:1ff.; and above all IV Esdras 6:22ff.). After the faithful of Jesus are called up in the clouds and meet the Lord Jesus, his kingdom will take place for a moment (it is presupposed) on earth, to put an end to all his enemies (1 Cor. 15:22–28) as the divine Messiah according to Paul. The definition of the content of the Kingdom seems to be summarized in the laconic expression "so we shall be with the Lord forever" (also in Philippians 1:23: "to be with Christ"). "To be with God and his Messiah" is the highest reward for the righteous. It is understood that this will occur in heaven or final paradise, according to the common apocalyptic belief, although Paul does not specify it here. There is, however, another passage from the apostle that seems to clarify this question:
"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord––for we walk by faith, not by sight––we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." (2 Cor. 5:1–8)
This passage is relatively clear and fits into the general Pauline conception of the last days, as a variant of the Jewish apocalyptic. The future kingdom of God and his Messiah––pointed out indirectly with the mention of longing to be stripped of the body as it is in this world (before clothed with incorruption; 1 Cor. 15:22–28, 50–55)––are seen as ultra-terrestrial, although perhaps the Messiah has a small role on earth, as we have indicated. The future heavenly existence, bodily but transmuted, as we shall see in the commentary on the text 1 Cor. 15:50–55, is conceived of in a way that is both very Jewish and very Greek. We therefore reaffirm that there seems to be no idea of ​​a lasting kingdom of God on earth in the apostle's way of thinking, much less a millenarian concept as expressed diaphanously in Rev. 20:1–7.

Galatians 5:19–21 was written by Paul in Ephesus around A.D. 54–58, according to most scholars. In this passage, Paul uses, probably from memory, the lists or catalogs of vices common among the listeners of the propagandists Cynics and Stoics in the Roman Empire. The concept of "inheriting the kingdom" is typically biblical, for Israel will inherit the world in the time of messianic restoration and will rule over all nations.

1 Corinthians 6:9–10 is similar to Gal. 5:19–21 and requires no special comment as to its content.

1 Corinthians 4:18–20 should be seen as a response to the so-called "eschatology of the present" (typical text: John 5:21–29: the world is already judged; the resurrection has already happened) held by some of Paul's audience in Corinth. Such individuals boasted of having already achieved the resurrection and entrance into the kingdom of God in this life thanks to the fullness of the Spirit of God that they had received. A key idea of these individuals, ironically referred to by Paul in his own letter, was the following (vv. 8–9):
"You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men." 
According to the ironic tone of this passage, Paul thinks that the opinion of the Corinthians is not entirely true (they do not possess the Spirit as they think), even if he does accept the foundation, namely: the possession of the Spirit of God, or Christ, is what allows someone at the time, in the future, to enter the kingdom and reign with Christ. By not describing how this kingdom is, Paul implies that between him and his readers there is no substantial difference in their understanding.

There's lots more for us to comment on. I'll pick up here in the next post. Please feel free to post some comments. Thomas and I would enjoy seeing some interaction in the comments sections.

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