Sunday, July 30, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 6)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.

AP: Senén Vidal (2002, p. 143) presents a summary of the Pauline apocalyptic events, in which the theme of the kingdom of God is naturally included as evidenced in the whole of Paul's letters. Here is the scheme of events as presented by Vidal:
1. The resurrection of Christ as the "firstfruits" (1 Cor. 15:23b and many other texts).
2. The appearance or parousia of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23c; 1 Thess. 4:16). This event consists of the following events: (a) the resurrection of believers who had already passed away (1 Cor. 15:23c; 2 Cor. 4:14); the transformation of the living and the dead (1 Cor. 15:51–55; Rom. 8:11; Phil. 3:21); (c) the gathering of believers in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:23c; 1 Thess. 4:14–17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 11:25); (d) the judgment of believers (1 Thess. 3:13; 1 Cor. 3:13–15). 
3. The reign of the Messiah together with believers (1 Cor. 15:24, 28; 1 Thess. 4:14–17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 11:25–27 [cf. Rev. 20:1–6]). 
4. The resurrection of everyone else and the judgment presided over by the Messiah together with believers (1 Cor. 6:2–3; 1 Cor. 15:24–28 [cf. Rev. 20:11–15]). 
5. The kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24–28, 50; 1 Thess. 2:12 [cf. Rev. 21:1; 22:5]). 
Vidal points out that this logical sequence is not fixed in the Pauline texts and that the various nuances do not fit well with each other. In this scheme, a description of the end of the world is missing, since Paul does not provide one, except for the slight allusion to the end of Satan in Rom. 16:20. In fact, it seems that the Pauline thought is quite different from the apocalyptic norm, and especially from the Apocalypse of John. Just as we said, there seems to be no clear cosmic drama that unfolds. There is no destruction of the Roman Empire, just the annihilation of "powers": sin, death, Satan. In Romans 11, the scheme expands with the theme of Israel's final salvation, especially in vv. 26–29: "And so all Israel shall be saved . . . for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." This is the subject of tremendous debate today––what in the world does Paul mean when he says "all Israel shall be saved" in v. 26?

Regarding the Pauline concept of the Last Judgment, as a complementary element to his notions about the kingdom/reign of the Messiah and God, I must confess that I am not as sure as S. Vidal about where this fact should be placed precisely in the mental scheme of Paul. Should it come after the parousia of Christ or immediately after the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah, before he gives his kingdom to God after defeating all enemies. This last option seems more likely. In defense of the first proposal, though, Vida quotes 1 Thess. 2:19, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?" and 1 Thess. 3:13, "so that he may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." The problem is these passages do not seem to indicate any judgment at all.

Be that as it may, we find mention of the wrath of God associated with the "coming" or parousia passages. Take 1 Thess. 1:10 for example: "and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." This is an imitation of "the day of Yahweh" expression that appears so frequently in the Old Testament. It speaks of the "day" in which the wrath (of God) will be revealed and this is wrath from which Jesus will save those who believe in him. Paul mentions the "wrath of the Lord" about fifteen times in his letters. For example, it will be "a day of great wrath" (Rom. 1:18), of "vengeance" (Rom. 12:19), likened to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:29). That day (also mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:8; in 1 Cor. 1:7 it is characterized as the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ) is without a doubt the final judgment, with which Paul would be in agreement with the following apocalyptic writings: Biblical Antiquities 10:5; Apocalypse of Elijah 5:22; Sibylline Oracles II 170ff., IV 159ff; 1 Enoch 62:12).

I'll point out the three most important passages from Paul dealing with the last judgment in the next post. In the meantime, which ones do you think they are?

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