NT Eschatology—Letters 10
As we continue our look at the eschatology of the New Testament (which we started last year) and because of the recent “blood moon” and all of the questionable “end times” fear spins that have been produced because of it, I wanted to look at another passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapter 13, Paul wrote:
As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night’s almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.
The first thing that stands out here is the second sentence, “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith.” Once more, Paul echoes a statement from Jesus. In Luke’s telling of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said (compare Matthew 24.29-34):
“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”
Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer’s near. In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
In Luke 21, Jesus was in the Temple watching people put money in the collection box (vv. 1-2). He overheard some people talking about how beautiful the building was (verse 5; Matthew, and some other translations, has that conversation among the disciples). He told them that the time was coming that the whole thing would be demolished—“not even one stone will be left” (verse 6). Those people, in turn, asked Jesus when that would happen. He then begins to tell them of the different signs that would point to the Temple’s approaching doom. The key, then, like in Matthew, is to understand that Jesus was speaking to a particular group of people about things they would experience. He doesn’t tell them of things that another group, separated by thousands of years, would go through. No. He’s talking to them. In the passage above, he uses the personal pronoun “you” seven times. They would have understood Jesus was speaking to them about what they should look out for; what their generation would experience.
Now, that’s very important. Jesus told his first century contemporaries about things they would witness; what they would experience. He told them, “When all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near” (verse 28). Jesus then goes on to claim that his generation “will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place” (verse 32).
Now, back to Romans.
Paul—still living within that generation, still waiting for the coming war between the Jews and Rome, still waiting for the destruction of the city and Temple, still waiting for the close of the then present age—can tell by “all [those] things” Jesus warned about that their “salvation [was] nearer than when [they] first had faith.” This isn’t a different salvation. It’s the same salvation Jesus said would come.
Furthermore, Paul wrote, “The night’s almost over, and the day is near.” Note that Paul tied the coming of “the day” to the coming of their salvation in the previous sentence. This, too, is an echo of Jesus’ teaching. In the paragraphs just before and after our previous quote, Jesus said:
“And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you’ll know that the time of its destruction has arrived. Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country shouldn’t return to the city. For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They’ll be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end…
“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”
Again, Jesus was speaking to people standing around him when he made those statements. He used the term “you” five times, referring to those same people. Now notice the word “day(s).” It appears four times in the above paragraphs—paragraphs that, again, come right before and right after Jesus said that the signs would point out that their salvation was near.
In other words, when Jesus’ contemporaries saw Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman armies, they would know that “God’s vengeance” had come at last. What is this “vengeance” and what’s it for? It’s nothing short of the “Day of Yahweh” found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. It’s the time when God’s justice is administered. For example:
Yahweh of heavenly forces has planned a day:
against all that is prideful and haughty;
against all that is lofty, and it will be laid low;
Wail, for the day of Yahweh is near.
Like destruction from the Almighty it will come.
Look, the day of Yahweh is coming with cruel rage and burning anger,
making the earth a ruin,
and wiping out its sinners.
Heaven’s stars and constellations won’t show their light.
The sun will be dark when it rises;
the moon will no longer shine.
Blow the horn in Zion;
give a shout on my holy mountain!
Let all the people of the land tremble,
for the day of Yahweh is coming.
It is near—
a day of darkness and no light,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread out upon the mountains,
a great and powerful army comes,
unlike any that has ever come before them,
or will come after them in centuries ahead.
The earth quakes before them;
the heavens shake.
The sun and the moon are darkened;
the stars have stopped shining,
because Yahweh utters his voice
at the head of his army.
How numerous are his troops!
Mighty are those who obey his word.
The day of Yahweh is great;
it stirs up great fear—who can endure it?
I’ll give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of Yahweh comes. But everyone who calls on the Yahweh’s name will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be security, as Yahweh has promised; and in Jerusalem, Yahweh will summon those who survive.
As to why was the “day of Yahweh” coming upon Jerusalem? Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:
“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. You say, ‘If we’d lived in our ancestors’ days, we wouldn’t have joined them in killing the prophets.’ You testify against yourselves that you’re children of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, complete what your ancestors did. You snakes! You children of snakes! How will you be able to escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, look, I’m sending you prophets, wise people, and legal experts. Some of them you’ll kill and crucify. And some you’ll beat in your synagogues and chase from city to city. Therefore, upon you will come all the righteous blood that’s been poured out on the earth, from the blood of that righteous man Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. I assure you that all these things will come upon this generation.”
Again, back to Romans.
Paul was letting the followers of The Way of Jesus in Rome know that their generation would soon be coming out of “night.” That the Day of Yahweh’s justice would soon come and they would be “saved.” That is, they would be rescued from persecution. Again, Paul and that generation were still waiting for Jesus’ words to be fulfilled. In seeing the signs unfold around him, Paul easily discerned that the wait was almost over and their salvation was close at hand.
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In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC