Saturday, August 5, 2017

Paul, Eschatology, And The Kingdom Of God (Part 7)

Part 1 is available here. Part 2 is here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, and Part 6 here.

AP: So the most important Pauline texts that deal with the final judgement are as follows:
1 Cor. 3:13–15: "Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work that he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
1 Cor. 5:5: "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 
1 Cor. 6:2–3: "Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?" 
Paul imagined the Great Judgment as a trial before the divine court, presided over by God and his Messiah, in which all works were to be tried by fire, like gold in a crucible (1 Cor. 3:13–15). We do not know if Paul understood all this metaphorically or whether he believed it would actually happen like that. In that judgment, whose celebration had often been preached by the prophets in the Scriptures, an inexorable sentence must be pronounced according to the works of each one. There is no contradiction here with the general thesis of the apostle that the sinner's "justification" in itself is attained by faith in the Messiah, whose faithfulness to God is shown in the saving act on the cross, and that once justified, man is to act according to the law of Christ/Messiah, also known as  the "law of love" (Gal. 6:2). The judgment refers to the performance of these works according to this law of the Messiah according to the Pauline axiom: "The justification of humans is achieved by faith. But in the judgment, he will be judged by works = i.e., for his faithfulness."

The apostle assumes that those who are faithful to Christ, by remaining faithful, will pass the test of judgment without any problem. This is why he prophesizes that our citizenship is already in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Paul also believes that, together with God and his Messiah, the faithful to Christ will constitute what is known as a "choir" or "jury" that will actively participate in that judgment (proclaiming the justice of God and his Messiah?) The individual who during his life has committed some sin and has been purged by repentance and perhaps some punishment (this would be communal; see 1 Cor. 5:5) will be saved equally. The passage speaks only of the salvation of a person's "spirit" but it is understood, according to the Pauline doctrine contained in 1 Cor. 15:50–55 and Rom. 14:16–17, that his body will also participate in the final sentence of acquittal. In other passages that are not so explicit about the "Judgment" or "Day," one observes how Paul employs judicial language (κρίσις and its cognates: Rom. 2:5, 16; 3:5): it is a process before the court (βῆμα in Rom. 14:10), or simply before God or the Lord Jesus (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13), who issues both positive and negative judgement (κατακρίνω: e.g., 1 Cor. 11:32; Rom. 5:14, 18).

Together, both the final judgment and the kingdom of God in Paul has been spiritualized, and dejudiazed as much as possible. The undoubtedly Jewish apocalyptic background of his thinking has been shifted to make it accessible to his mostly Gentile readers. It is also possible that, in reformulating the concept of the kingdom of God, Paul had in mind the idea of ​​manifesting an express opposition to the notions of authority, kingdom and rule to the earthly Caesars, the emperors of the Roman Empire, from Tiberius to Nero, under whose reigns he had lived. There are no other lords than God and his Messiah.

Like the immense majority of Jewish apocalyptics, Paul chose not to describe the life beyond the grave for the righteous who are saved. But there are texts that give us some hint as to what he thought about such matters. This life will be
· Something far superior to what has ever been seen in this world (2 Cor. 4:18)
· In a great light and glory (2 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 8:18)
· Always with the Lord: (1 Thess. 4:17; 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:–8; Phil. 1:23)
· Marked by fullness of knowledge (1 Cor. 13:12)
· Fullness of the complete being of man: the body will also participate in that life beyond the grave, only spiritualized (1 Cor 15:44)
In summary, the apostle, who wrote years before the theology of the Synoptic Gospels developed, has in fact profoundly transformed the notions of the kingdom of God from the Jesus of history. From his perspective of the necessary reinterpretation / re-reading of the Bible and tradition in the messianic age, Paul believed he was impelled by the Spirit to reinterpret such matters for a geographical and conceptual world that much wider than that of the Jews, the concept of the kingdom of God which the earthly Jesus had. The Bultmannian synthesis is still a good summary of the fact that in Paul, Jesus moves from preacher of the Kingdom to the object of his preaching: from "proclaimer to proclaimed." Paul thinks of the kingdom, the judgment, and life beyond the grave in totally apocalyptic terms, no doubt, but he disobeys them as far as he can according to what might be admissible in the empire. Jesus is considered almost exclusively the Risen and the Exalted, a divine heavenly Messiah (4:13) who will have his own kingdom and subjects resurrected, transformed, endowed also with a body but spiritual, not in the land of Israel, but in a land beyond this world. But in carrying out this kind of transposition, Paul behaved like a Jew of his time, pious, apocalyptic, operating with a worldview largely rooted in the Israel of his day, for, despite the changes, the kingdom of God was about to come and was nothing more than the fulfillment of the final, irrevocable promises of God to Israel.

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