New Testament Eschatology: Part 7 of 7 Johannine Writings

Johannine Epistles

The Johannine Epistles reference the presence of the last days by repeatedly mentioning the presence of the antichrist. 1 John 2:18 states, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” Also, 1 John 2:28 mentions Christ’s future second coming which may happen at any moment, and so Christians should persevere until his coming so that at Christ’s coming they may be confident that they “shall be like him, for [they] shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Revelation

The book of Revelation opens by explaining that Christ through his resurrection has taken the position of “ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5) and has in his possession the “keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:18). Christ is the eschatological messianic king and he has established his messianic kingdom. Christ is the “firstborn from among the dead,” (1:5) and so his resurrection has inaugurated the fulfillment of the resurrection of the saints who will rule with him in his kingdom. Revelation expects the imminent return of Christ where he will judge the ungodly (6:12-17) and reward and bless his people (11:18). Christ will establish his kingdom in its final, complete, and eternal form (11:15-17).

New Testament Eschatology: Part 6 of 7 General Epistles

Hebrews

In the first few verses of the book of Hebrews, the writer explains that God “in these last days” (Gr. ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων) has spoken to us by his son whom he appointed heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). This refers to the eschatological messianic kingship that started its fulfillment in the first advent of God-the Son, Jesus. Moreover, the writer of Hebrews exhorts the Jewish Christians to preserve “until the end” (Gr. μέχρι τέλους) (3:14), where they will receive full salvation (9:28) and the promised reward (10:35) and inheritance (6:11-12). The author of Hebrews explains that the Israelites failed at entering the “rest” of the promised land after its wilderness sojourn, but the Jewish Christians “are exhorted to preserve in their earthly sojourn so that they will enter the “rest” of the antitypical “heavenly country”…. Only then will the intended Sabbath rest of the new creation be enjoyed.”[1] Lastly, the book of Hebrews mentions the coming judgment of unbelievers and apostates at the end of the age (6:2, 9:27); therefore, the writer explains that the readers should not be lax and should take all the exhortations seriously because “the Day is approaching” (Gr. ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν) (10:25).[2]

James, 1-2 Peter, Jude

The epistle of James rebukes its readers for living ungodly lives and neglecting to do acts of righteousness “in the last days” (Gr. ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις) (5:3). Also, James encourages Christians to “be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (5:8).

1 Peter explains that Christ’s first coming and his resurrection took place “in these last times” (Gr. ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων) (1:20-21), and Christians participate in Christ’s resurrection, and so they have a living hope of future resurrection (1:3).

2 Peter and Jude address false teachers that have infiltrated the Christian community, and these false teachers are identified as those whom Jesus foretold would come “in the last days” (Gr. ἐπ’ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν) (2 Pet 3:3 cf. Jude 18). Thus, Peter and Jude explain that the expected latter-day tribulation of apostate teaching has begun.[3] Final judgement is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:3,9 and Jude 6, 14-15, and Peter states that at the time of this judgement, “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Pet 3:10).[4]


[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 144. [2] Beale, A New Testament, 145. [3] Beale, A New Testament, 146 [4] Beale, A New Testament, 146.

New Testament Eschatology: Part 5 of 7 Pauline Epistles

The Apostle Paul clearly states, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, that “the ends of the ages have come” (Gr. τὰ τέλη τῶν αἰώνων κατήντηκεν). Also, he refers to Jesus’ incarnation as taking place “when the fullness of time had come” (Gr. ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου) in fulfillment of Jewish messianic prophecies (Gal 4:4). In Ephesians 1:7-10, Paul uses the phrase “the fullness of time” (Gr. τοῦ πληρώματος τῶν καιρῶν) referring to when believers were redeemed and forgiven through Jesus’ death and resurrection.[1]

Paul alludes to the latter-day new creation prophesied by Isaiah when he writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17 cf. Isa 43; 65-66). The letters of 1-2 Timothy depict a present “understanding of a latter-day tribulation characterized by false teaching and unbelief”[2] which is described in Daniel 7-12 and in other early Jewish literature.[3]

Furthermore, Paul gives instructions concerning the future fulfillment of the latter days. In 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, he writes, “as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:24 states, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.”[4] With this perspective, Paul addresses practical questions regarding the end and the future second coming Jesus when he writes to the church at Thessalonica (ex. questions about the dead in Christ in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 ) and the church at Corinth (ex. questions about marriage if the end is imminent in 1 Cor 7).


[1] Beale, A New Testament, 140-141. [2] Beale, A New Testament, 141. [3] Beale, A New Testament, 141. [4] Beale, A New Testament, 141.

New Testament Eschatology: Part 4 of 7 Acts

According to Acts, Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated his messianic reign, and his giving of the Holy Spirit inaugurated his rule through the Christian church (Acts 1:8; 2:1-43). The events at Pentecost (Acts 2) were understood by Peter as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days where God’s Spirit would ascend upon all of God’s people (Joel 2:28 cf. Acts 2:15-17).[1] G.K. Beale writes,

The reason why the coming of the Spirit is perceived in such a highlighted eschatological manner is that one of its purposes was to demonstrate the exalted, heavenly messianic kingship of Jesus, as a result of the resurrection from the dead. This was natural because the spirit was linked with the future hope of resurrection life in the OT and in Judaism.[2]

Moreover, Acts portrays a future expectation and fulfillment of the “latter days.” Acts 1:6-7 depicts Jesus’ disciples asking “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6), and Jesus responded, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v.7). Acts 3:21 refers to Jesus’ ascension and return by stating, “Heaven must receive him [Jesus] until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Lastly, the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:30-31 and 26:6-7 refers to a future day of judgement at the end of history and to “a hope of the promise of a final resurrection for the nation of Israel.”[3]


[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 136-137. [2] Beale, A New Testament, 137. [3] Beale, A New Testament, 138.

New Testament Eschatology: Part 3 of 7 Gospel of John

Like the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John refers to a future final judgement and bodily resurrection that is coming on “the last day” (Gr. τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ). In John 12:48, Jesus states, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” In John 6:40, Jesus states, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (See also 6:39, 44, 54; 11:24.) It was believed that when the messiah comes, he would exist forever (John 12:34), and so Jesus promises that those who are in him will have “eternal life” (Gr. ζωὴν αἰώνιον) or life that will continue “unto the age” (Gr. εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα) (John 4:14; 6:51, 58)[1]

The Gospel of John uses more emphatic language than the synoptic gospels in describing the inaugurated “latter days.” In John 5:24-29, Jesus explains that the resurrection and eternal life has already come and is coming in the future. Jesus states,

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

 Furthermore, in John 16, Jesus signals the beginning of the “latter days” by stating “a time is coming” (v. 2, 25, 32) and “in fact has come” (v. 32) when referring to a future and present tribulation. Lastly, in John 4:21-24, Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, and he states, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (v. 21), and “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (v. 23).[2]


[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 131. [2] Beale, A New Testament, 131-134.

New Testament Eschatology: Part 2 of 7 Synoptic Gospels

Throughout the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) there is an implied emphasis on Jesus inaugurating the “latter days” as described in the First Testament. This is seen throughout the narratives where the writers refer to lineage, to messianic titles, to prophetic fulfillment, to miraculous signs, and to the arrival of the kingdom of God.[1] As for specific instances of eschatological language throughout the synoptic gospels, there is not much to draw from; however, when it does appear in the writings, the focus is on the future final “age” (Gr. αίων) that is on the horizon.

Matthew uses the phrase the “end of the age” (Gr. συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος) to refer to a future coming final judgement and to refer to Christ’s ongoing presence with his people until he comes again (Matt 13:39-40; 24:3; 28:20). Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 refer to the saints who will receive “in the age to come, eternal life” (Gr. ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον) which is linked with the phrase in Luke 20:34-35 “of that age to attain and in the resurrection from the dead” (Gr. τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν).[2]

Moreover, Luke 1:33 refers to Jesus’ messianic reign lasting “into the ages” (Gr. εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας) and “of his kingdom there will be no end” (Gr. τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος). Lastly, the synoptic gospels refer to the coming signs and events that precede the “end” (Gr. τέλος).[3] Matthew 24:6 states, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (cf. Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9). Matthew 24:13-14 states, “but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”


[1] K.E. Brower, “Eschatology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT), edited by T. Desmond Alexander, et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 461. [2] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 130[3] Beale, A New Testament, 130.

New Testament Eschatology: Part 1 of 7 Contextual Background

In order to begin a study on New Testament eschatology, one must understand that the first Christians were Jewish, and so they would have been influenced by Jewish eschatology. Furthermore, the first Christians also lived within the predominant Greco-Roman World, and so the eschatological views of the contextualized Greco-Roman culture should also be explored.

Jewish Thought

The first Christians were rooted in the Old Testament (I prefer to say First Testament) and Second Temple Judaism and most of the eschatological themes found in the First Testament are also found in Second Temple Jewish literature. At that time, eschatological views were fixed on a series of events in which God would intervene by ending the oppression of Israel and by establishing his rule.[1] The First Testament and Jewish literature often refer to the “latter days” as a time marked by tribulation, persecution, apostasy and exile, which is followed by the culmination of history due to the final arrival of a conquering leader (Messiah) from Israel who would permanently deliver the Israelites and exercise judgment over their enemies.[2] At this time, God would raise from the dead the saints of Israel while establishing a kingdom on earth and entering into a new covenant with Israel. Moreover, some of Israel’s enemies (Gentiles) would experience mercy and deliverance by God.[3] Thus, the “latter days” ultimately meant that there would be a future period defined by an irreversible, permanent and extreme change from the preceding period.[4]

For the Israelites, there was a hope of a future greater people, greater covenant, greater land, and greater king. In other words, during the “age to come,” there would be a spiritual people who would be the inheritors of the faith, a new covenant that would be written on the hearts of God’s people and would supersede the covenant mediated by Moses, a land described as the new heaven and the new earth and a king who would rule and reign through his defeat of evil and of Satan.[5] In Jewish thought, the strong and prevailing conviction was that in the future God would act in a powerful and transformative way on behalf of his people.[6]

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) at Wadi Qumran in 1947 has contributed to the understanding of eschatological thought within Judaism from about 250 BCE to the first century CE. Discovered in the DSS were copies (QNJ collection) of an unknown writing which describes an apocalyptic vision of the renewed heavenly Jerusalem in the eschatological age. This text appears to have relied heavily upon Ezekiel 40-48.[7]

Moreover, the Qumran War Scroll (1QM) depicts a final battle on earth between the redeemed of God or the “Sons of Light,” led by the warrior angels Melchizedek and Michael, and the forces of evil or the “Sons of Darkness.” The “Sons of Light” defeat the “Sons of Darkness.” However, the text is more theological in nature than a military composition, and it appears to have been influenced by Daniel 7-9, Isaiah 24-27, Zechariah 12-14 and 1 Enoch.[8]

Greco-Roman Thought

The ancient Greek religions and philosophies had numerous views on life after death or on last states of the cosmos. The tales of Homer portrayed the idea of an underworld where dreary souls wandered after death;[9] by contrast, Plato believed that the soul is the divine self that exists eternally and is preferred over the physical body. In fact, in his view, the physical body incarcerates the soul after a fall from the eternal realm. Therefore, the soul needs a liberation from the body followed by a series of reincarnations in order to return to the eternal realm with the One.[10] According to Plato, only noble souls would survive the death-reincarnation cycle and arrive at a state of perfect and ascending knowledge.[11]

Other Greek philosophers believed that upon death people would transform into a star in the galaxy or undergo a reincarnation of some sorts. The Epicureans advocated for an absolute non-existence or complete extinction after death.[12] Epicurus writes, “Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling, and that which has no feeling is nothing for us.”[13] Another ancient belief of the afterlife is that the deceased continued to live a peaceful, soulish life in the tomb. This is supported by archaeological discoveries of ancient tombs that had openings so that gifts, food and drinks could be delivered.[14]

The Stoic philosophers believed in an endless, repeating cycle of the cosmos. When one cosmic cycle completed, another cycle began repeating the same ordered history. Thus, upon death, a soul would be temporarily extinct until the current cosmic cycle ended and then restarted. Chrysippus sums up this view by writing, “Socrates and Plato will exist again and every man with his friends and his fellow citizens; he will suffer the same and do the same and do the same. Every city, every village and field will grow again. And this restoration will not happen once, but the same will return without limit and end.”[15]

In view of all these ancient Greco-Roman beliefs, Hubbard explains that Greek philosophers were united on one point: “their denial of a bodily resurrection.”[16] This point is in sharp contrast with Jewish eschatology and as we will see with New Testament eschatology.

New Testament Eschatology

As mentioned earlier, the first Christians were Jewish, and so they were influenced by the First Testament and by Jewish eschatology; therefore, it should not be surprising that the Christian New Testament writers followed the First Testament’s use of the phrase “latter days.” While the New Testament’s use of “latter days” has the same overall meaning as in the First Testament, the New Testament uniquely views the “latter days” as beginning their fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus and as continuing until Jesus’ final return.[17] G.K. Beale writes,

The OT expectations of the great tribulation, God’s domination of the Gentiles, deliverance of Israel from oppressors, Israel’s resurrection, the new covenant, the new creation and the establishment of God’s kingdom have been set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection and in the emergence of the Christian church.[18]


[1] T.A. Noble, “Eschatology,” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2] G.K. Beale, “Eschatology,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (DLNT), edited by R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 330-331. [3] Beale, “Eschatology,” in DLNT, 330-331. [4] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 114. [5] Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 169. [6] K.E. Brower, “Eschatology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT), edited by T. Desmond Alexander, et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 461. [7] L.D. Hurst, “Qumran,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (DLNT), edited by R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 997. [8] Hurst, “Qumran,” in DLNT, 997. [9] Moyer V. Hubbard, “Greek Religion” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts eds. Joel Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 121. [10] Horton, The Christian Faith, EPUB edition, pt. 6, ch. 27, “Dualism and the Myth of the Exiled Soul. [11] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [12] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [13] Epicurus, Principal Doctrines 2 in Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.139 LCL quoted by Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [14] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [15] Stoicorum veterum fragmenta ed. H.v. Arnim, II, 190, 16 ss. quoted by Rudolf Bultmann, History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 24. [16] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [17] Beale, “Eschatology,” in DLNT, 331. [18] Beale, “Eschatology,” in DLNT, 331.