Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Eschatology (2)


I. Eschatology in the Synoptic Gospels.

A. Current Jewish eschatological conceptions.

1. The coming Kingdom.

2. The Jewish supremacy.

3. The Messiah.

4. Various forms of the conception of the Messiah.

5. The preliminaries of the coming Kingdom.

(a) The heirs of the Kingdom.

(b) The Resurrection.

(c) Hades, Gehenna, Paradise.

(d) The Final Judgment.

B. The main features of our Lord’s eschatological teaching.

1. His conception of the Kingdom of God.

2. His Messianic consciousness.

3. His view of the time of the Consummation.

II. Eschatology in the Gospel of John.

1. The idealizing style of the Gospel.

2. Its conception of Eternal Life.

3. Its attitude to Eschatology proper.


The design of this article is indicated particularly under the letter B in the above Table of Contents. It is to set forth the main features of the teaching of our Lord regarding the Last Things. His doctrine is presumably discoverable from the Four Gospels, and is capable of being exhibited in a self-consistent form. Yet in view of the facts of the case and the present state of critical opinion, it will be necessary to keep certain distinctions steadily in mind.

We must distinguish between (I.) the Synoptic Gospels and (II.) the Gospel of John; and we must distinguish between (A) current Jewish conceptions and (B) the conceptions of Jesus. In proportion to our feeling of the real unity of our subject, it will be impossible to maintain these distinctions with rigidity; yet a total disregard of them is impossible to any one who would keep on terms with the criticism of the Gospels in our own day, or, what is more important, would appreciate in any just degree the holy originality of Jesus. The bearing, however, of what is called the Synoptic Problem upon any matter important to our purpose is so slight that we may safely ignore it, mentioning only that we assume as a good working hypothesis the prevailing critical theory, which gives precedence in point of time, and even, in certain aspects, of importance, to the Gospel of Mark.

I. Eschatology in the Synoptic Gospels.—

A. Current Jewish eschatological conceptions as Witnessed to by the Gospels.—So far as these are concerned, it does not seem necessary to make any distinction between the Synoptics among themselves or between them and John. It may be generally postulated, moreover, that the fundamental conceptions are those of the OT, although it will be found that some of these have undergone modification since the time of the latest canonical books. Our principal witnesses are naturally the Synoptics. In them we have the most accurate reports accessible to us of the words actually used by Jesus; and where His sayings, as there recorded, employ the language of eschatology, apart from explanations which give it a turn peculiar to Himself, we may assume that the language in its natural implications represents current Jewish belief.

1. The coming Kingdom.—It is clear that Jesus addressed people who had a perfectly distinct, though not accurately defined, idea of an age or kingdom to come, which should follow on the consummation (συντέλεια, Matthew 13:39 f.) of the present age. He speaks, e.g., of rewards to the faithful ‘in this time (καιρός),’ and of eternal life in the ‘world (αἱών) to come’ (Mark 10:30); and the phrase ‘Kingdom of God,’ which was constantly on His lips, while doubtless subjected to expositions which charged it with new meanings for His followers, yet rested on a view of things common to Him and to even irresponsive hearers. It meant the perfect form of the Theocracy of which all the prophets had spoken.

2. The Jewish supremacy.—It was generally believed that the Kingdom would come through an act of power, in which God would visit His people,—the Jews,—delivering them from all their enemies, so that they might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness for ever (Luke 1:74). Men of the type of Simeon, Zacharias, and Joseph of Arimathaea waited for the consolation of Israel. Such persons doubtless believed with the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 11:1 ff; Isaiah 9:4 ff., Zechariah 9:9) that the supremacy of God’s people would be maintained, if not actually accomplished, by methods of peace, and even in the spirit of brotherly alliance among the nations (see esp. Isaiah 19:24 f.), who would receive the ‘law’ from Mount Zion (Isaiah 2:2-4). Yet obviously both they and the general populace, and even the disciples after the Resurrection (Acts 1:6), thought of a state of things in which the position of God’s ancient people would be central and supreme.

3. The Messiah.—Beyond the general belief that the Kingdom would come through an act or series of acts of Divine power, there is abundant evidence that in the time represented by the Gospels there was among the Jewish people, though not confined to them,* [Note: On this cf. Tacitus, Hist. v. 3; Suetonius, Vesp. 4; Josephus, BJ vi. v. 4.] the definite expectation that the Kingdom would come through the advent of a personal Ruler—called by the Jews the Messiah or, in Greek, the Christ = ‘the Anointed’—on whom God would pour forth His Spirit in extraordinary measure. This belief, so far as the Jews were concerned, goes back to the testimony of the earlier prophets (esp. Isaiah and Micah), but its history within the OT period shows that it sometimes either disappeared altogether or retired into the background, its place being taken by such a view as that expressed in Jeremiah 31:31 ff.—of a reign of Jahweh Himself through His law written on the hearts of His people. [Note: On this fluctuation see esp. Riehm’s Messianic Prophecy, T. & T. Clark, 1900.] We need not here inquire into the causes of this fluctuation. It is enough to remark that for about a century before the time of Christ the belief that the Kingdom would be established through an individual worldwide Ruler, who would exercise practically Divine powers, had been current in larger or smaller circles among the Jews. Sufficient proof of this lies in the circumstance that in the time of our Lord passages in the Prophets (e.g. Deutero-Isaiah) or in the Apocalypse of Daniel, which had originally no reference to an individual Messiah, [Note: In the case of Daniel this is disputed by such competent scholars as Hilgenfeld and Riehm.] had come to be so interpreted. The interpretation is current. No other is even thought of. In some cases, no doubt—as notably in the fulfilments of prophecy marked by the First Evangelist—it may be difficult to decide whether the exegesis of a passage cited from a prophet is not of purely Christian origin; but there are unquestionably some cases (notably Daniel 7:13) in which the importation of a reference to an individual Messiah into passages which really contain no such reference, is of pre-Christian date.

4. Various forms of the conception of the Messiah.—It is difficult to determine with any minuteness how the Messiah was conceived, as regarded either His Person or His work. In regard to the former, e.g., it would be unwarrantable to infer from Matthew 1:23 (cf. Isaiah 7:14) that it was generally believed that He would be born of a virgin, and perhaps equally so to infer from the fact that the disciples (Matthew 16:16|| [Note: | Skizzen u. Vorarbeiten, Heft vi., Berlin, 1899.] ), and perhaps others also (Matthew 14:33), expressed their belief in the Messiahship of Jesus by calling Him the Son of God, the prevalence of a belief among Jewish theologians of the 1st cent. that the Messiah was of one metaphysical being with Jahweh. The utmost perhaps which we can affirm is that it was largely believed that the origin of the Messiah would be mysterious (John 7:27), and that this belief rested in all probability directly on the Messianic interpretation of Daniel 7:13 ff.§ [Note: On the antiquity of the Danielic conception itself see the interesting work of H. Gressmann, Der Crsprung der isr.-jüd. Eschatologie, p. 334 ff., Gottingen, 1905.] It seems possible, however, to distinguish two general types of belief regarding the Messiah and His work. The one may be called the Prophetic, the other the Apocalyptic type. The former type, which was the more popular and held its ground even with the scholars of the time (Mark 12:35 ff.|| [Note: | Skizzen u. Vorarbeiten, Heft vi., Berlin, 1899.] ), rested on the early Prophetic testimony that the Messiah would spring from the house of David,—a belief of whose persistence and of whose correspondence with the actual fact the circumstance that Jesus is confidently affirmed or assumed by five of the NT writers (Matthew, Luke, Paul, author of Hebrews, author of Apocalypse* [Note: Matthew 1:1, Luke 3:31, Romans 1:3, Hebrews 7:14, Revelation 5:5.] ) to have been of the seed of David may be considered the most striking proof. According to this type, so far as purely Jewish belief is concerned, the work of the Messiah, while superhuman, was conceived on comparatively secular lines. He would destroy his persistent enemies and establish a reign of lasting righteousness and peace over obedient and contented subjects. This type, taken by itself, hardly possesses for us eschatological interest. It belongs to a mode of conception in which the problems of death and immortality, if realized at all, cannot be solved. The sphere offered for solving them is too mundane. It is otherwise with the apocalyptic type of view, which rested mainly on the Book of Daniel, esp. Daniel 7:13 ff; Daniel 12:2 f. Whether or not the author of Daniel in the latter of these passages conceived of a resurrection from the dead available for all past generations of faithful Israelites, it seems certain that in the time of our Lord this sense was assigned to his words by those who, like the Pharisees, held the doctrine. According to Josephus, [Note: xviii. i. 3; BJ ii. viii. 4.] the Pharisees held a fatalistic doctrine of the present life—but not of human conduct—which seems to have resembled that of the Stoics, and which made them for the most part averse to schemes of political revolution. Their participation, therefore, in the popular view of the ‘Son of David’ was more theoretical than real. Their tendency was to conceive the final Kingdom on strictly supernatural lines. It was a wonder that would not spring from earth, but would descend from heaven. The Messiah was the Man of Daniel’s vision, the Man of the Clouds. [Note: Gressmann, l.c., p. 336.]

Two points have recently been much in dispute: (a) Whether in view of the grammatical possibilities of Aramaic, as used in the time of Jesus, He could have applied to Himself the phrase ‘Son of Man’ or ‘Man’ as a title, basing on Daniel 7:13; and (b) Whether He could have done this so habitually as our Gospels represent. Even those who, like Lietzmann§ [Note: Der Menschensohn, ein Beitrag zur neutest. Theol. 1896.] and Wellhausen,|| [Note: | Skizzen u. Vorarbeiten, Heft vi., Berlin, 1899.] have reached on these points the most negative conclusions, do not doubt that in the fatter part of His career, and perhaps habitually, Jesus held the apocalyptic view of the final Kingdom and of the glorious advent of the Messiah; and, even if we exclude the title ‘Son of Man’ from those passages in the Gospels which have no eschatological reference, there remains a sufficient number (about a third of the entire number, exclusive of John) where the eschatological reference is distinct. Thus, e.g., out of 32 instances of ‘Son of Man’ in Matthew’s Gospel, 14 are apocalyptic. [Note: Muirhead, Eschatology of Jesus, p. 218, London, 1904.]

It is indubitable that in the time of our Lord the Book of Daniel and other Apocalypses modelled on it were much read by a considerable portion of the Jewish people. Many of those whose views were influenced by this literature saw no inconsistency in combining with these views others derived from literature of the ‘prophetic’ type, e.g. The Psalter of Solomon,** [Note: * Psalms of the Pharisees, commonly called The Psalms of Solomon, Ryle and James, Cambridge, 1891.] embodying the ancient and still popular conception of the ‘Son of David.’ Yet, as this veneration for ancient prophecy was combined for the most part with political quiescence, it may perhaps be said that in the more reflective minds ‘Son of David’ and ‘Son of Man’ represented one heavenly ideal. Jesus Himself expressly repudiated the implications of ‘Son of David’ (Mark 12:35 ff. ||); but it is remarkable that this did not hinder the prevalence in Christian circles of the Apostolic age of the belief that He was of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Evangelists Matthew and Luke risked publishing pedigrees, whose apparent mutual inconsistencies constitute the chief difficulty of the modern mind in accepting the fact they were designed to establish.

Instructive in this connexion is the phrase ‘Kingdom of the heavens’ in Matthew’s Gospel. The phrase is, of course, equivalent in meaning to ‘Kingdom of God’ which the other Evangelists employ. It need not, however, be questioned that Jesus, occasionally at least, used ‘Kingdom of the heavens,’ and it seems certain that He did not invent the phrase. It was current, and it pointed to the apocalyptic construction of the Messianic hope. The Kingdom belonged to the heavens, and would come thence to earth. It was the unlikeness of Jesus to the altogether wonderful Personage of the apocalyptic Messiah that offended the Pharisees. If He were the Messiah, why should He refuse a sign from heaven? (Matthew 16:1 ff.).

5. The preliminaries of the coming Kingdom.—Assuming this leading idea of a Kingdom to come, heavenly in its origin and nature, we must now ask how the various matters preliminary to or accompanying its advent were conceived.

(a) Who were the heirs of the Kingdom? There were people ‘just and devout’ (Luke 2:25) who ‘waited for the consolation of Israel,’ the still surviving type of Jahweh’s ‘poor ones’ who ‘cried unto him and he heard them’ (Psalms 34:6). Such persons, however, did not advertise themselves, nor did they as a rule sit in the seat of the learned. The prevailing teachers were the scribes and Pharisees, whose yoke, practically intolerable, was yet theoretically imperative. It has been questioned how far readers of the Gospels get from them a fair impression of the moral and religious influence exercised by the teachers of the Law, and it has been contended, with perhaps some justice, that the impression so derived is as one-sided as the impression of the Roman Church one naturally gathers from histories of the Protestant Reformation. Still, the good type of scribe or Catholic is not due to the tendency against which the Evangelic text or the Reformation is a protest. It cannot be doubted that in the time of our Lord it was authoritatively taught by the Pharisees that the title to inheritance of the heavenly kingdom was a punctilious observance of the Law after the manner of their own practice. Their doctrine, indeed, on this point is not explicitly stated in the Gospels or in any contemporary documents. But the impression we gather from the situation depicted in the Gospels and from the record regarding the Apostle Paul favours the supposition that the view of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus is that represented by the Rabbinism of the 2nd cent., viz. that the Messiah would come when Jahweh’s people, the Jews, were found generally and carefully observing the Law.* [Note: The Jerusalem Talmud (Taan. 64a) remarks on Exodus 16:25 that ‘if Israel only kept one Sabbath according to the commandment, the Messiah would immediately come.’ See Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. ii. p. 713.] And the ‘Law’ meant not simply the legal precepts of the Pentateuch (in particular the Priestly Code), it meant the ‘tradition’ of the elders. While the average man inevitably shook off the punctilios of obedience, and the Pharisees themselves took refuge from their own rigour in an elaborate casuistry, we cannot doubt that the generally accepted view was that the passport to the Kingdom was ‘the righteousness of the law.’

(b) The Resurrection. But generations of faithful Israelites passed, and the Messiah did not come. Would they miss the glory when it came? At least since the time of the Syrian persecution (b.c. 168–165)—the time of the Apocalypse of Daniel—it was taught that death formed no insuperable barrier to the inheritance of the Kingdom. Probably the author of Daniel (Daniel 12:2 f.) had in view mainly (we cannot say exclusively) those Israelites who had sealed their fidelity to the law of Jahweh with their blood, but it may be taken for certain that, long before the time represented by the Gospels, all idea of the blessings of the Kingdom being restricted to members of the holy nation who had suffered death for their fidelity (if such an idea was ever entertained), had completely disappeared. It was taught that there would be a resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:14), i.e. of those who kept the ‘Law’ and the ‘Tradition.’

(c) Hades, Gehenna, Paradise. There is nowhere in the Gospels an explicit statement of what was held regarding the state of the dead; but four times (Matthew 11:23; Matthew 16:18, Luke 10:15; Luke 16:23) the word Hades (Αἵδης) occurs. In the LXX Septuagint this word is the almost invariable equivalent of שְׁאול; and when Jesus used it without comment, it must be held to have conveyed to His hearers the associations proper to that word. The NT as well as the OT* [Note: On this whole subject of the conception of Sheol, etc., cf. esp. A. B. Davidson, Theol. of the OT, p. 425 ff., T. & T. Clark, 1904] is dominated by a view of things in which the modern idea that annihilation may be the fate of some men has no place. The dead are in a land of darkness and forgetfulness, cut off from knowledge of affairs human and Divine. Still, in this condition—at most the pale reflexion of full-blooded life—they exist. Two things, however, must be observed: (i.) There is in the OT itself a marked, if not systematized, protest against the idea that permanent detention in Sheol or Hades can be the fate of the righteous, who had found their portion in the living God (see esp. Psalms 16, 73 and Job 14, 19). Historically, doubtless, the experience of suffering under the various oppressors of the nation (Assyrian, Chaldaean, Graeco-Syrian) had much to do with the development of this protest; but it is probably a mistake to suppose that it was when they were actually suffering under the yoke of the world-powers that the people of Jahweh adopted from foreign sources much or anything that bore on the problem of what lay beyond death. This caution applies specially to the relation of Hebrew thought to the mythological ideas of Babylon or Egypt. The impregnation of the Hebrew spirit with ideas coming from these sources dates in all probability from a much earlier period than the 6th cent. b.c. All we can say for certain, perhaps, is that the experience of national humiliation quickened in a special degree the peculiar Hebrew genius, leading it at this time (say from the 6th cent. onwards) to place the peculiar stamp of the Jahweh faith on mythical ideas or pictures, which in some cases it had carried with it since the days of its infancy in Mesopotamia. (ii.) Although there is no hint in the OT itself of effect being given to moral distinctions between the wicked and the godly in Hades itself, yet the suggestion of a possible escape for the godly from the gloom of the underworld could not but raise, and ultimately decide, another question, viz. whether the distinction between the godly and the wicked was not observed from the moment of death. For perhaps about 100 years before Christ the idea of separate compartments in Hades, for the godly and the wicked respectively, had more or less prevailed (see Apocalyptic Literature, esp. the part dealing with the Book of Enoch). Obviously our Lord could not have uttered the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 ff.), or said to the penitent malefactor (Luke 23:43), ‘To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,’ had He not been addressing people accustomed to the idea that in the intermediate state, previous to the resurrection and the final judgment, moral distinctions were accorded a real, if incomplete, recognition. It is obvious from the entire tenor of our Lord’s references (see esp. the instructive passage Matthew 5:21 f.) to Gehenna that He spoke to those to whom this term represented the utmost condemnation and punishment. It represented the fate of those who should still be enemies of Jahweh in that day when Jerusalem should be renewed by righteousness, and all flesh (i.e. all living) should go out and behold the car-cases of those who had transgressed, for ‘their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched’ (Isaiah 66:23 f.). See artt. Gehenna and Paradise.

(d) The Final Judgment. In our Christian minds, as with the NT writers, the idea of the Resurrection is inseparably associated with that of the Judgment which follows it. In the main track of OT thought, indeed, this association did not exist. The habit of conceiving the subject of the Divine favour or punishment rather as a nation than as a number of individuals, made it possible, or even natural, practically to ignore the individual side of the problem of life and death, and the distinction, natural to us, between this world and that which is to come is represented in the OT mainly by the distinction between this life with God and this life without Him. Under this view of things the prevailing conception of judgment in OT times is that of a manifestation of Jahweh’s righteousness (whether it be through His ‘messenger’ [Malachi 3:1] or through the Messianic ‘Son of David’ [Isaiah 11:1 ff.]), in which He effectually visits His people with His mercy, and breaks the arm of the unrighteous peoples, who forget God and oppress them. These heathen return to Sheol (Psalms 9:17); but the covenant of Jahweh with His faithful people is established for ever. The history seems to show that it was possible for pious Israelites to rest in this view, merging individual hopes in hopes for the nation, until the actual disaster of the Exile shook their faith in the permanence of the collective unit of the Jewish State. From this time, however, as we see clearly from the writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (cf. esp. Ezekiel 18), the claims of the individual come into prominence. It was felt that in the righteousness of God one generation ought not to suffer for the sins of its predecessors. Each generation, even each unit of a generation, had its own rights. Yet, in fact, it seemed as though these rights were ignored. It is with the problem raised by this conflict between the prophetic conscience and the facts, that the apocalyptic literature from Daniel onwards is concerned. The solution obtained springs from the despair that lies on the border of hope. The mundane element in the old idea of a Prince of the house of David tends to disappear. The blessing, which could not spring from earth, was expected from heaven, and at the touch of the new power, coming thence, even the ‘dust’ of the earth (i.e. esp. dead Israelites who had kept the covenant) should awake (Isaiah 26:19). While, doubtless, the adumbrations of the conception of immortality which we find scattered throughout the OT had their origin in the sentiment that it must be well with the righteous for ever, this positive aspect of the matter was inseparable from a negative. The righteous could hardly be vindicated unless punishment fell on the rebels and transgressors. Hence even in Daniel 12:2, which cannot be said to teach a universal resurrection, among the ‘many’ who awake from the dust of the earth there are ‘some’ who arise to ‘shame and everlasting contempt.’ It was inevitable that these conceptions should be universalized. If, as even the former Prophets and Psalmists in their own fashion had taught, there was to be a universal judgment (i.e. a vengeance of Jahweh exercised upon all rebel Gentiles and upon the transgressors of the covenant in Israel), and if the collective unit of the nation was practically displaced by the individual, it is clear that the idea of universal judgment must have come to have for its counterpart the idea of universal resurrection. No doubt the conception was held vaguely, and was as little effective for practical consolation as it is to this day (cf. Martha’s attitude, John 11:24)—still it was there. When Jesus spoke of the ‘resurrection of the dead,’ or even of the Messianic ‘Son of Man’ as executing judgment, He was using language whose general implications were either entirely or (as in the case of ‘Son of Man’) at least partially understood by His hearers.

B. The main features of our Lord’s eschatological teaching,—Turning now to the subject of our Lord’s eschatological teaching, and looking to the present condition of critical opinion, we may make a distinction, which has in most respects only a theoretical value, between the eschatological views of the early Church as reflected in the Gospels and those held and taught by Jesus Himself. The Gospels are as a whole too entirely dominated by the spirit of truth as it was in Jesus to make it possible, without arbitrariness, to vindicate this distinction in detail. Yet the investigation in which we are engaged seems to reveal problems arising out of portions of even the Synoptic Gospels, in connexion with which it may be well to remember that the Master must not be measured even by His best reporters. The distinction may seem a priori to have even more warrant in reference to the Fourth Gospel, whose representation both of the Person and the words of Jesus stands in such obvious contrast to that of the Synoptics as to justify our dealing with it in a separate section. We may do this even though in the end we may find ourselves to agree with Haupt* [Note: Haupt, Die Eschatol. Aussagen Jesu in den Synopt. Evangelien, Berlin, 1895.] that the Johannine presentation of the eschatology of Jesus supplies just the kind of supplement to that of the Synoptics which a critical study of the latter led us to think necessary. We therefore consider at present only the eschatology of Jesus as presented in the Synoptic Gospels.

1. His conception of the Kingdom of God.—Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached, saying, ‘Repent: for the Kingdom of God (in Mt. most frequently ‘the Kingdom of the heavens’) is at hand.’ There seems no reason to doubt that in general Jesus thought of the Kingdom just as John did. Modern writers on the Gospels, like Johannes Weiss [Note: Johannes Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes, Gottingen, 1900.] and Titius, [Note: Titius, Die neutest. Lehre von der Seligkeit, pt. i. 1895.] warn us with considerable justice against reading our own philosophical thoughts into the simple realism of the Bible. The Kingdom of God meant the perfect rule of God over all things in earth and heaven for the benefit of His people. It was eternal, it was universal in the sense of embracing people of all nations, though, of course, only those in each nation who did righteousness; and it embraced not earth only, but also heaven, whence it should come, and to whose type, as regarded at least the character of its subjects, it should be conformed. It may be postulated perhaps, further, that the Kingdom was conceived by Jesus, in at least its external features, on the closest possible analogy to an earthly kingdom. In two important respects, however, it differed from the latter. (a) It was not promoted by the weapons of flesh and blood. It was a Kingdom where rank—even that of the King Himself—was determined by the measure of service. The spirit of service was the spirit of lowly love. (b) It was a Kingdom which, while coming ultimately from God and heaven, came through a Mediator, by whom it would be administered. Since His baptism Jesus had the witness within Himself that He was the Mediator. He was the Messianic King who was truly the ‘Son of God’ (Psalms 2). To Him the whole trust of the Kingdom was given, even all power in heaven and earth. Barring the mystery revealed at His baptism, which concerned primarily Himself only, we must admit that such a view of things was inevitable to One who found the form and substance of His faith in the OT, and at the same time believed, in harmony with the earlier Prophets and the prevailing tendency of His own time, in a personal Messiah. We seem therefore warranted in assuming that such was the view of Jesus at the commencement of His ministry. The Kingdom was coming from heaven. He Himself was the Person appointed to establish it on earth. Beyond this, however, the witness of the OT and His own special experience previous to and at the time of His baptism would not necessarily carry Him. It is perhaps permissible to find in the story of the Temptation (Matthew 4:1 ff., Luke 4:1 ff.) the record of a period when, not without a struggle with the prince of this evil world, He renounced the idea that the Kingdom was to come immediately through some dramatic catastrophic exercise of the heavenly power with which He felt Himself to be charged. It is more to our purpose at present to note that while He renounced this catastrophic ideal (if we may call it so) to the extent of refusing to allow it to deflect Him from obedience to the Divine word, He did not, according to the Synoptics, renounce it so far as His general view of the mode of the Kingdom’s advent was concerned. To the last He spoke in apocalyptic fashion of the Son of Man coming on the clouds. The glorious Parousia would illuminate simultaneously all quarters of heaven like the lightning (Luke 17:24). It would happen within that generation although He could not tell the day nor the hour, and it would be preceded by disasters on a great scale, affecting not simply the human world, but the cosmical system. How far it is true to the mind of Jesus, as He spoke on earth, to take the language of the so-called ‘great eschatological discourse’ (Mark 13, cf. Matthew 24) with strict literalness, has been of late keenly debated, and some have been disposed to see in this discourse and matter harmonizing with it in the Gospels, an example of the way in which our Lord found it necessary to accommodate His language to conceptions which were inevitable for the hearers if not for Himself. Others may perhaps incline to a view which has been advocated by the present writer,* [Note: cit., Lect. i.] that the phenomena of this peculiarly apocalyptic discourse offer an occasion on which it is profitable to remember that the thoughts of Jesus far transcended those of even the most forward of His disciples. But, while we may well acknowledge a certain elusiveness in the language of Jesus in which He deals with the future, we cannot without violence to the Synoptic record refuse to admit that in His habitual view the Kingdom of God was not something that had already come with Himself, but was rather something that still lay in the future. Everyone sees that when Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand’ (cf. ἤγγικεν = has come near), or bade the disciples pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ He must have thought of the Kingdom as being still in the future.

But what of the passages in which it seems to be implied that the Kingdom is already present? For instance Matthew 11:11 (cf. Luke 7:28), in which John the Baptist is declared less than the least in the Kingdom of God, or Matthew 12:28 (cf. Luke 11:20), in which the expelling of demons in the name of God is offered as proof that the Kingdom of God has come, or the parables (Matthew 13:31 ff., Mark 4:30 ff.) in which the Kingdom of God is represented as actually in process of coming to its proper magnitude in the world, and therefore already rooted there? It is the crux of the student of eschatology in the Gospels to show how these two modes of conception, presential and futuristic (sometimes distinguished as ethical and eschatological), can be reconciled. Perhaps the most satisfactory recent treatment of the subject is to be found in a brief but brilliant essay of Professor Wernle.* [Note: Die Reichsgotteshoffnung in den ältesten christlichen Dokumenten und bei Jesus, 1903.] Wernle lays probably excessive stress on what he considers the ‘ecclesiastical’ element in the construction of even the Synoptic Gospels (esp. Matthew). But his book, read in the light of the contributions of predecessors to the same discussion (esp. Haupt, Titius, and Joh. Weiss), shows very convincingly that we must, in fairness to our authorities the Synoptics, and in view of the entire historical situation reflected in these writings, start from the fact that our Lord habitually thought and spoke of the Kingdom—however much He might identify it with Himself—as, so to speak, an objective wonder of the future. It does not, indeed, follow that this was the sole or even the most important aspect of it present to His mind; but it seems right that we should accommodate to it, if possible, those passages in which the Kingdom seems to be spoken of as if it were already present, and that this accommodation should be made apart from the intrusion of distinctively modern thoughts. This Wernle has done with great plausibility in the case of the passages above referred to, pointing out that when regard is had to the context, literal or circumstantial, the difficulty disappears. Thus in the passage Matthew 11:11 (Luke 7:28) a main element in the situation is a certain rivalry between the circle of John the Baptist and the circle of Jesus. The former approach the latter in an attitude of aggressive doubt. If Jesus is the Messiah, where is the Kingdom that should come with Him? In what respect are those who have attached themselves to Jesus better than those who hold to their old master, John? To such aggressive questioning the answer is: ‘The Kingdom has come already. Its powers are seen working among us (Matthew 11:5 f.). Those who keep apart from the sphere of these wonders, however truly they may fulfil otherwise the conditions of membership in the Kingdom, are yet actually standing on the outside.’ On this reading, the passage, so far from being antagonistic to the eschatological view of the Kingdom, in reality strongly supports that view. For a main point of the argument is the assumption that, while a high ethical standard in practice may be expected of the children of the Kingdom or may be a condition of entrance into it, the Kingdom itself is something more than this. It is the product of a power altogether supernatural and apart from the will of men. Not righteousness, but the working of this power, is the criterion of the Kingdom. Else surely the Kingdom would be with the greatest of men born of women, and not (as it actually is) with men of even much less stature than his.

The same line of solution seems available in the case of the other passages. Thus in the passage Matthew 12:22 ff., esp. Matthew 12:28 (cf. Luke 11:14 ff., esp. Luke 11:20), a main element in the situation is again the element of attack. The Pharisees insinuate that the demons may be subdued by the power of Beelzebub, their prince. Jesus answers that such a state of the case is inconceivable. Satan cannot wish to overthrow his own work. If, on the other hand, the power be the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has come in effect. The strong man armed (the prince of this world and author of all evil in it) has been conquered and bound. Again, obviously, the criterion of the Kingdom is not simply the presence of the good, but the presence of the good in power. Finally, there are the parables in which the Kingdom is spoken of as something growing in the earth and therefore already planted. Note especially the parables of the Mustard-seed and the Leaven. Here, indeed, we are left to imagine the context in which the parables were uttered, as even Mark (Luke 4:36 ff.) in this instance follows the topical method of Matthew, and relates the parables only as specimens of the didactic method of Jesus (cf. Luke 4:33). But may we not reasonably suppose, as in the other cases, the context of a certain antagonism? Timid followers come to Him with a difficulty born of vision and reflexion: ‘If Thus art He with whom the Kingdom comes, why is the word of the Kingdom really received by so few who hear it, or how shall even the wonders of God done in one little land affect the whole world?’ To which Jesus replies in effect: ‘Have patience, and you shall see.’ The greatest things of the world are not always those that give promise of greatness. They are often those whose beginnings are remarkably small, and yet connecting beginning and end is the one power. If this was the occasion of the utterance of the parables under discussion (and it seems difficult even to imagine another), it is obvious that both the question of the doubters and the answer of Jesus assume that the constituent of the Kingdom is the supernatural Divine power before which no opposition can stand. The question is, Can the power really be present when there is so little to show for it? And the answer is, Yes, it can. The same power that begins with little ends with much. We read our own thoughts into the simple intention of these parables, when we speak as if Jesus intended to teach that the manifestation of the Kingdom would not be catastrophic, but would be a matter of growth and development. Doubtless the parables, taken by themselves, are capable of bearing this meaning; but just this isolation of them from the general context of the situation reflected in the Gospel history is that of which we must beware. But there remains still what is, apparently, the most important passage, Luke 17:20 ff. Whether we translate ‘in you’ or ‘among you’ (ἐντὸς ὑμῶν, Luke 17:21), Jesus seems to say very emphatically that the Kingdom is present. On a nearer view of the passage, however, and a more careful articulation of its sentences, this appearance vanishes. Luke 17:21 must be understood in harmony with Luke 17:23 ff. (cf. the ‘lo, here’ and the ‘lo, there’ of Luke 17:21; Luke 17:23). The leading thought of the passage is the suddenness (in the special aspect of simultaneousness) of the manifestation of the Kingdom. The advent of the great day shall be like the lightning flash, of which you cannot say, ‘here’ or ‘there,’ for it is everywhere and all at once.

It thus appears that there is nothing in the Synoptics really antagonistic to the ‘eschatological’ view of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not present in any sense not reconcilable with the fact that it is also and mainly future. No one may understand the Gospels who cannot accept the fact that in a perfectly distinct sense the teaching of Jesus was not modern. It was in the highest degree sane and authoritative, yet it remained true to the traditional view that the Kingdom would come by miracle and catastrophe. The unmistakable indications of this are the facts that the references to the Kingdom in the Synoptics are prevailingly of futuristic implication (on this see Wernle, op. cit.), and that even in the Fourth Gospel there are numerous passages to show that Jesus never thought of the Consummation apart from the transcendent wonders of the Resurrection and the Judgment.

There was, however, one important modification of the traditional view. The Consummation and all that accompanied it were to be mediated and, indeed, effected by Himself. Prophecy, it is true, contained the promise of a Messiah. But the correspondences of fulfilment to prophecy are largely contrasts, and the impressiveness of history is perhaps mainly due to these contrasts. The efforts of the Evangelist Matthew to show—sometimes in strangely far-fetched ways—that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies, are an instructive index of the difficulties felt by even the most spiritually minded Jews in reconciling the Messiahship of Jesus with the testimony of prophecy. It becomes important to inquire how in an eschatological aspect Jesus conceived His own Messiahship.

2. His Messianic consciousness.—Of great significance in this connexion is the Temptation. The record of this cannot rest on other testimony than His own, and the key to the juxtaposition of the narratives of the Baptism and the Temptation must be sought in His Messianic consciousness. The latter, therefore, we must try reverently to conceive. It seems true to say that the Temptation represents a contrast or conflict of faith that pervades our Lord’s entire ministry on earth. In general it is the contrast between God and man, between what is omnipotent and what is humanly possible; in particular, it is the contrast between a measureless gift and the definite responsibility of using it aright. Jesus had received a practically limitless endowment. He was in the world as God, for He was the ‘Son’ of God accredited to His own consciousness by His Father. Yet He was flesh and blood, a genuine Brother of men. Each term of this contrast had its own place in the will of God. It was the task of the Messiah to reconcile them. Thus He would do the will of God. An unrestrained use of this gift would remove Him from the brotherhood of men; a refusal to use it meant the failure of His mission. How was a superhuman task to be done by One who should yet remain a man? The key to this problem was grasped in the victorious experience of the Temptation. What the solution meant in detail we learn from the subsequent history. Reading that history in the light of the Temptation-narrative, we seem to discern in it two principles: (a) the one is the principle of faith; (b) the other is the principle of self-sacrifice. These two principles have, of course, a common root in the one Messianic life; but it is useful to view them apart. The principle of faith covers the strictly supernatural side of the work of consummating the Kingdom. It is the hope of what God will do through His Messianic Son in bringing the promised Kingdom from heaven to earth. We cannot do justice to the consciousness of our Lord reflected in the Gospels if we fail to note the supremacy of this principle. If we may make for the moment the distinction between faith and duty, we must find what is at once deepest and loftiest in the consciousness of Jesus—not in the thought of what He Himself is to do in the fulfilment of the Messianic career but—in what God is to do in Him and through Him. He never loses sight of the ‘one like unto a son of man’ who is to come with the clouds and receive a dominion universal and everlasting. The Messiahship is not simply His present task. It is His hope for Himself and for the world. The eschatology of Jesus is mainly His hope of the accomplishment of an act of omnipotence, in which God will finally constitute the Messianic Person and functions. This hope was necessarily shadowy in circumstantial outline, but it rested on an absolutely substantial foundation. Its foundation was the presence of the Spirit that fell to Him as the Son of God. The gift of the Spirit, moreover, was not simply the ground of a hope that related primarily only to Himself. It was a leading of duty and a power of benefit in relation to others. He could give to others helps that were not permissible to Himself. Hence there is a miraculous element in the Messianic ministry even on earth. The miracles are the premonitory signs of the final Messianic glory. They are the pledge that the Power which will be manifested in that glory is not far away. While these σημεῖα and δυνάμεις abound in the earthly ministry, they are always under the control of the principle of faith. No one is suffered to experience the extraordinary helps who does not believe.

The other principle, resting equally in the depths of our Lord’s filial consciousness, is the principle of self-sacrifice. It is in the practical dominance of this principle that we may discern at once the originality of Jesus and the difference between His eschatology and that of contemporary Jewish faith. While He retains the traditional view that the Consummation will be effected in transcendent catastrophic fashion,—collapse of the present world, appearance of the ‘Son of Man,’ resurrection, judgment,—He reaches the conviction, possibly as early as the time of His baptism, that this Consummation will not be attained previous to His own death and resurrection. How entirely this conviction, once attained, dominated His conception of the Divine purpose and His teaching of His disciples, may be seen in the facts not only that in the Fourth Gospel the sacrificial death of the Messiah is prophesied by the Baptist, and is a matter of our Lord’s consciousness from the very beginning of His ministry (John 2:19 ff.), but also that (as regards the latter point) there is little if anything in the Synoptic Gospels opposed to the Johannine view. This may not decide the comparatively unimportant question as to when our Lord attained the conviction that He must as the Messiah submit to a violent death, but taken along with the testimony of the rest of the NT (say, especially, the Pauline and Petrine Epp.) it shows conclusively the practically predominant importance of this event—or rather signal service—in the mind and faith of the Christian Church. For every one text in the Epistles that calls attention to the glory of the Kingdom that is to come in the incomprehensible power of God, there are probably at least two in which the emphasis rests not on the power of God the Father, but on the love of the Son of God. Indeed, it may be questioned whether there is a single reference to the Consummation in the Epistles or the Apocalypse of the NT which does not in its immediate context suggest that the centre of the coming glory is the Person of Him who was delivered for the offences of His people, but raised for their justification. Even in the Epp. to the Thessalonians, which are commonly supposed to represent the most primitive type of Pauline doctrine, it is not the ‘Kingdom of God,’ but ‘His Son from heaven,’ that is to believers the object of waiting (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

This indissoluble connexion between the ‘sufferings of the Christ’ and the ‘glory that should follow’ (1 Peter 1:11) could not have been fixed so securely in the mind of the first believers had it not been first in the mind of Jesus Himself. The Synoptics bear witness to the importance of the connexion for Jesus not only by reporting the profoundly significant but isolated sayings, Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28 f. ||, but by the very distinct way in which they connect the critical incident of the disciples confessing their Master’s Messiahship with the institution of a new order of lessons, the theme of which is the necessity and the near prospect of the Messiah’s sufferings (Matthew 16:21 ff. ||). This representation rests on a sure basis of reminiscence, and it seems to have a special guarantee in the fact that the teaching does not contain an articulated doctrine of atonement like that which is expressed in the Epp. (esp. Romans), but aims rather at expressing the necessity of the Master’s sufferings in terms that apply equally to the disciple. Admitting the distinctiveness of the two sayings, Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28 f. ||, we seem warranted in saying that, according to the Synoptics, the view of things that practically determined the career of Jesus was that the good of which He possessed the pledge in His unique filial consciousness would not come during the period of His own life on earth. The spirit that brought help and healing to others was, as regarded Himself, a spirit of self-sacrifice. The sacrifice would culminate in His death. But the death would be momentary. In two or three days (cf. Hosea 6:2) He would rise again. Yet the momentary death would not be in vain. The death and resurrection of the Messiah meant a conquest of death for a new believing Israel. The death would be the ransom price (λύτρον, Matthew 20:28) which neither man nor angel could pay for the soul of a brother man. It would be the institution and support of the true and abiding temple of the Divine presence (Exodus 30:11 ff., Job 33:18-24, Psalms 49:6-9. See on this A. B. Bruce’s Kingdom of God: T. & T. Clark, 1889). The thought of the redemptive value of the sufferings of Jesus as the Christ dominates the Fourth Gospel, most of the Epistles, and the Apocalypse of the NT. If it is not prominent, it is certainly present, in the Synoptic Gospels. The lack of prominence finds its explanation in the reserve that naturally characterized the utterance of Jesus regarding His own death. The presence of frequent or elaborate references to the matter in these Gospels would have taken from our estimate of their ‘objective’ character. Jesus may well have felt that the work of the Messiah was to die, not to explain the consequences or power of that death. Of this there would be another Witness. He who sacrifices himself commits his case to God and to posterity. This brings us to another matter.

3. His view of the time of the Consummation.—We have seen that Jesus did not dissociate Himself from the traditional view that the end would come in the form of a catastrophic transformation, culminating in the advent of the Messiah Himself, who would come from heaven. He seems rather everywhere, both by the assumptions and by the direct references of His language, to set His seal to this view. When we consider how widely His consciousness of personal concern in the accomplishing of the Kingdom must have caused His view of things to differ from all views that were by comparison tentative and theoretical, and reflect how much there is in the ethical quality of His teaching, particularly in the parables which conceive the Kingdom under the analogy of natural growth, to suggest an openness of His mind to all that may be of abiding worth in the modern idea of evolution, the tenacity with which He adhered to the catastrophic view of the final event cannot but profoundly impress us. Reverent investigators will pause before accepting the conclusion that He was in this matter under some kind of delusion. They will strive rather to see in the attitude of One who was conscious of being not simply the herald but also the bearer of the Kingdom of God, a model for the attitude of all who would turn serious thoughts to the last things. Whatever else we bring to a study where there is room for all knowledge and all thought, we must give a final as well as a supreme and pervasive place to the wonder-working power of the living God. We have sure ground in the Synoptics for saying that, while Jesus regarded the work of His Father in heaven, even in what we call nature and ordinary providence, as wonderful (Matthew 6:25 ff. etc.), this did not prevent Him from steadfastly contemplating a final wonder of destruction and reconstruction which should be the consummation of the Kingdom or its perfect establishment on earth. While so much is clear, there is very great difficulty involved in the question whether He predicted, so definitely and unmistakably as the Synoptics lead us to suppose, that the final wonder would be accomplished within the term of the generation then living. The problem is not to be solved either by the quantitative method of counting heads (whether Gospel texts or modern authorities), or by the alternative method of saying, Either He was mistaken, or such texts as Mark 9:1; Mark 13:30 || are false reports. It can hardly be doubted that Jesus uttered words which were naturally understood, by those who heard them and by others to whom they were reported, to mean that the final wonder—the Parousia of the ‘Man’ of Daniel’s vision and of age-long expectation—would happen within their own generation. It is inconceivable that an expectation so confident and definite could have rested on anything but a definite reminiscence of words used by Jesus which seemed capable of only one interpretation.

Is it, then, possible to justify such sayings as Mark 9:1; Mark 13:30 || apart from the blunt avowal that Jesus laboured under an illusion, and that He transmitted the illusion to His immediate followers not only before but after His death and resurrection? This has been felt to be among the most difficult questions of historical Christology, and various types of solution of the problem are still represented by leading authorities. These may be roughly classified under the heads: (a) prophetic, (b) pictorial, (c) realistic. Under (a) would be included all theories, such as that of Beyschlag, which emphasize the fact that in this instance at least Jesus spoke in the manner of an OT prophet, and that His utterance kept within the limitation common to all the prophets. This limitation required Him to see and announce the final salvation of Jehovah as about to happen within a measurable interval after the judgment (in this case the fall of Jerusalem) impending over the nation. Under (b) would be included theories of the type of Haupt’s, which emphasize the necessarily pictorial character of language, which must express extra-mundane realities in mundane forms. Might not the assertion that the Son of Man would come on the clouds within their own generation be the most effective way of leading persons familiar with the apocalyptic style of language to the perfectly confident but also essentially spiritual type of faith represented in the NT literature? (c) The term realistic, finally, might describe all theories whose tendency is to insist on what has been called the ‘biblical realism,’ and to require us to put upon the language of Jesus the most literal or natural construction possible. The most distinguished representative of this type in its bearing on the present problem is perhaps Titius. Titius thinks that Jesus must be considered to have held in a bonâ fide sense the view which His words naturally express, viz. that His own generation would see the end of the present wicked world and the establishment on earth of the perfect heavenly Kingdom. But His confession of ignorance as to the day and the hour of the Consummation (Mark 13:32) shows that He held His own conviction in

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Eschatology (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: