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Eschatology of the New Testament








1. Definition

2. Signs Preceding the Parousia

3. Events Preceding the Parousia

(1) The Conversion of Israel

(2) The Coming of the Antichrist

4. The Manner of the Parousia


1. Its Universality

2. The Millennium

3. The Resurrection of Believers

4. The Resurrection-Body






I. Doctrinal and Religious Significance.

The eschatological interest of early believers was no mere fringe to their religious experience, but the very heart of its inspiration. It expressed and embodied the profound supernaturalism and soteriological character of the New Testament faith. The coming world was not to be the product of natural development but of a Divine interposition arresting the process of history. And the deepest motive of the longing for this world was a conviction of the abnormal character of the present world, a strong sense of sin and evil. This explains why the New Testament doctrine of salvation has grown up to a large extent in the closest interaction with its eschatological teaching. The present experience was interpreted. in the light of the future. It is necessary to keep this in mind for a proper appreciation of the generally prevailing hope that the return of the Lord might come in the near future. Apocalyptic calculation had less to do with this than the practical experience that the earnest of the supernatural realities of the life to come was present in the church, and that therefore it seemed unnatural for the full fruition of these to be long delayed. The subsequent receding of this acute eschatological state has something to do with the gradual disappearance of the miraculous phenomena of the apostolic age.

II. General Structure.

New Testament eschatology attaches itself to the Old Testament and to Jewish belief as developed on the basis of ancient revelation. It creates on the whole no new system or new terminology, but incorporates much that was current, yet so as to reveal by selection and distribution of emphasis the essential newness of its spirit. In Judaism there existed at that time two distinct types of eschatological outlook. There was the ancient national hope which revolved around the destiny of Israel. Alongside of it existed a transcendental form of eschatology with cosmical perspective, which had in view the destiny of the universe and of the human race. The former of these represents the original form of Old Testament eschatology, and therefore occupies a legitimate place in the beginnings of the New Testament development, notably in the revelations accompanying the birth of Christ and in the earlier (synoptical) preaching of John the Baptist. There entered, however, into it, as held by the Jews, a considerable element of individual and collective eudaemonism, and it had become identified with a literalistic interpretation of prophecy, which did not sufficiently take into account the typical import and poetical character of the latter. The other scheme, while to some extent the product of subsequent theological development, lies prefigured in certain later prophecies, especially in Dnl, and, far from being an importation from Babylonian, or ultimately Persian, sources, as some at present maintain, represents in reality the true development of the inner principles of Old Testament prophetic revelation. To it the structure of New Testament eschatology closely conforms itself.

In doing this, however, it discards the impure motives and elements by which even this relatively higher type of Jewish eschatology was contaminated. In certain of the apocalyptic writings a compromise is attempted between these two schemes after this manner, that the carrying out of the one is merely to follow that of the other, the national hope first receiving its fulfillment in a provisional Messianic kingdom of limited duration (400 or 1,000 years), to be superseded at the end by the eternal state. The New Testament does not follow the Jewish theology along this path. Even though it regards the present work of Christ as preliminary to the consummate order of things, it does not separate the two in essence or quality, it does not exclude the Messiah from a supreme place in the coming world, and does not expect a temporal Messianic kingdom in the future as distinguished from Christ’s present spiritual reign, and as preceding the state of eternity. In fact the figure of the Messiah becomes central in the entire eschatological process, far more so than is the case in Judaism. All the stages in this process, the resurrection, the judgment, the life eternal, even the intermediate state, receive the impress of the absolute significance which Christian faith ascribes to Jesus as the Christ. Through this Christocentric character New Testament eschatology acquires also far greater unity and simplicity than can be predicated of the Jewish schemes. Everything is practically reduced to the great ideas of the resurrection and the judgment as consequent upon the Parousia of Christ. Much apocalyptic embroidery to which no spiritual significance attached is eliminated. While the overheated fantasy tends to multiply and elaborate, the religious interest tends toward concentration and simplification.

III. Course of Development.

IV. General and Individual Eschatology.

In the Old Testament the destiny of the nation of Israel to such an extent overshadows that of the individual, that only the first rudiments of an individual eschatology are found. The individualism of the later prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, bore fruit in the thought of the intermediate period. In the apocalyptic writings considerable concern is shown for the ultimate destiny of the individual. But not until the New Testament thoroughly spiritualized the conceptions of the last things could these two aspects be perfectly harmonized. Through the centering of the eschatological hope in the Messiah, and the suspending of the individual’s share in it on his personal relation to the Messiah, an individual significance is necessarily imparted to the great final crisis. This also tends to give greater prominence to the intermediate state. Here, also, apocalyptic thought had pointed the way. None the less the Old Testament point of view continues to assert itself in that even in the New Testament the main interest still attaches to the collective, historical development of events. Many questions in regard to the intermediate period are passed by in silence. The Old Testament prophetic foreshortening of the perspective, immediately connecting each present crisis with the ultimate goal, is reproduced in New Testament eschatology on an individual scale in so far as the believer’s life here is linked, not so much with his state after death, but rather with the consummate state after the final judgment. The present life in the body and the future life in the body are the two outstanding illumined heights between which the disembodied state remains largely in the shadow. But the same foreshortening of the perspective is also carried over from the Old Testament into the New Testament delineation of general eschatology. The New Testament method of depicting the future is not chronological. Things lying widely apart to our chronologically informed experience are by it drawn closely together. This law is adhered to doubtless not from mere limitation of subjective human knowledge, but by reason of adjustment to the general method of prophetic revelation in Old Testament and New Testament alike.

V. The Parousia.

1. Definition:

2. Signs Preceding the Parousia:

(1) wars, earthquakes and famines, "the beginning of travail";

(2) the great tribulation;

(3) commotions among the heavenly bodies; compare Re 6:2-17.

What is related afterward, namely, "the abomination of desolation," great tribulation, false prophets and Christs, commotions in the heavens, the sign of the Son of Man, all this belongs to "the end" itself, in the absolute sense, and is therefore comprehended in the parousia and excepted from the prediction that it will happen in that generation, while included in the declaration that only God knows the time of its coming. The destruction of the temple and the holy city, though not explicitly mentioned in Mt 24:4-14, would be included in what is there said of wars and tribulation. The prediction thus interpreted would have been literally fulfilled. The objections to this view are:

(1) It is unnatural thus to subsume what is related in 24:15-29 under "the end." From a formal point of view it does not differ from the phenomena of 24:4-14 which are "signs."

(2) It creates the difficulty, that the existence of the temple and the temple-worship in Jerusalem are presupposed in the last days immediately before the parousia.

The other view has been most lucidly set forth by Briggs, Messiah of the Gospels, 132-65. It makes Jesus’ discourse relate to two things:

(1) the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple;

(2) the end of the world.

He further assumes that the disciples are informed with respect to two points:

(1) the time;

(2) the signs.

3. Events Preceding the Parousia:

(1) The Conversion of Israel:

(2) The Coming of the Antichrist:

Various views have been proposed to explain the concrete features of the Pauline representation in 2Th 2 and that of Re 13 and 17. According to Schneckenburger, JDT, 1859, and Weiss, SK, 1869, Paul has in mind the person whom the Jews will acclaim as their Messiah. The idea would then be the precipitate of Paul’s experience of hostility and persecution from the part of the Jews. He expected that this Jewish Messianic pretender would, helped by Satanic influence, overthrow the Roman power. The continuance of the Roman power is "that which restraineth," or as embodied in the emperor, "one that restraineth now" (2Th 2:6,7). (For an interesting view in which the roles played by these two powers are reversed, compare Warfield in The Expositor, 3rd series, IV, 30-44.) The objection to this is that "the lawless one," not merely from Paul’s or the Christian point of view, but in his own avowed intent, opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or worshipped. This no Jewish pretender to the Messiahship could possibly do: his very Messianic position would preclude it. And the conception of a counter-Christ does not necessarily point to a Jewish environment, for the idea of Messiahship had in Paul’s mind been raised far above its original national plane and assumed a universalistic character (compare Zahn, Einleitung in das NT(1), I, 171). Nor does the feature that according to 2Th 2:4, "the lawless one" will take his seat in the temple favor the view in question, for the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and later similar experiences may well have contributed to the figure of the great enemy the attribute of desecrator of the temple. It is not necessary to assume that by Paul this was understood literally; it need mean no more than that the Antichrist will usurp for himself Divine honor and worship. Patristic and later writers gave to this feature a chiliastic interpretation, referring it to the temple which was to be rebuilt in the future. Also the allegorical exegesis which understands "the temple" of the Christian church has found advocates. But the terms in which "the lawless one" is described exclude his voluntary identification with the Christian church. According to a second view the figure is not a Jewish but a pagan one. Kern, Baur, Hilgenfeld and many others, assuming that 2Th is post-Pauline, connect the prophecy with the at-one- time current expectation that Nero, the great persecutor, would return from the East or from the dead, and, with the help of Satan, set up an anti-Christian kingdom. The same expectation is assumed to underlie Re 13:3,12,14 (one of the heads of the beast smitten unto death and his death stroke healed); 17:8,10,11 (the beast that was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss; the eighth king, who is one of the seven preceding kings).

As to Paul’s description, there is nothing in it to make us think of a Nero reappearing or redivivus. The parousia predicated of the lawless one does not imply it, for parousia as an eschatological term means not "return" but "advent." The Antichrist is not depicted as a persecutor, and Nero was the persecutor paragraph excellence. Nor does what is said about the "hindering" or the "hinderer" suit the case of Nero, for the later Roman emperors could not be said to hold back Nero’s reappearance. As to Revelation, it must be admitted that the role here ascribed to the beast would be more in keeping with the character of Nero. But, as Zahn has well pointed out (Einleitung in das NT(1), II, 617-26), this interpretation is incompatible with the date of Revelation. This book must have been written at a date when the earlier form of the expectation that Nero would reappear still prevailed, namely, that he would return from the East to which he had fled. Only when too long an interval had elapsed to permit of further belief in Nero’s still being alive, was this changed into the superstition that he would return from the dead. But this change in the form of the belief did not take place until after Revelation must have been written. Consequently, if the returning Nero did figure in Revelation, it would have to be in the form of one reappearing from the East. As a matter of fact, however, the beast or the king in which Nero is found is said by Re 13:1; 17:8 to have been smitten unto death and healed of the death stroke, to come up out of the sea or the abyss, which would only suit the later form of the expectation. It is therefore necessary to dissociate the description of the beast and its heads and horns entirely from the details of the succession of the Roman empire; the prophecy is more grandly staged; the description of the beast as partaking of several animal forms in Re 13:2 refers back to Daniel, and here as there must be understood of the one world-power in its successive national manifestations, which already excludes the possibility that a mere succession of kings in one and the same empire can be thought of. The one of the heads smitten unto death and the death stroke healed must refer to the world-power to be made powerless in one of its phases, but afterward to revive in a new phase. Hence, here already the healing of the death stroke is predicated, not merely of one of the heads, but also of the beast itself (compare Re 13:3 with 13:12).

And the same interpretation seems to be required by the mysterious statements of Re 17, where the woman sitting upon the beast is the metropolis of the world-power, changing its seat together with the latter, yet so as to retain, like the latter in all its transformations, the same character whence she bears the same name of Babylon (17:5). Here as in Re 13 the beast has seven heads, i.e. passes through seven phases, which idea is also expressed by the representation that these seven heads are seven kings (17:10), for, as in Da 7, the kings stand not for individual rulers, but for kingdoms, phases of the world-power. This explains why in Re 17:11 the beast is identified with one of the kings. When here the further explanation, going beyond Re 13, is added, that the beast was and is not and is about to come up out of the abyss (13:8), and in 13:10,11 that of the seven kings five are fallen, one is, the other is not yet come, and when he comes must continue a little while, to be followed by the eighth, who is identical with the beast that was and is not, and with one of the seven, the only way to reconcile these statements lies in assuming that "the beast," while in one sense a comprehensive figure for the world-power in all its phases, can also in another sense designate the supreme embodiment and most typical manifestation of the world-power in the past; in respect to this acute phase the beast was and is not and is to appear again, and this acute phase was one of seven successive forms of manifestation, and in its reappearance will add to this number the eighth. Although a certain double sense in the employment of the figures thus results, this is no greater than when on the other view Nero is depicted both as "the beast" and as one of the heads of "the beast." Which concrete monarchies are meant by these seven phases is a matter of minor importance. For a suggestion compare Zahn, op. cit., II, 624: (1) Egypt; (2) Assyria; (3) Babylon; (4) the Medo-Persian power; (5) the Greco-Alexandrian power; (6) the Roman power; (7) a short-lived empire to succeed Rome; (8) the eighth and last phase, which will reproduce in its acute character the fifth, and will bring on the scene the Antichrist, the counterpart and, as it were, reincarnation of Antiochus Epiphanes. The seer evidently has his present in the Roman phase of the power of the beast, and this renders it possible for him to give in Re 17:9 another turn to the figure of the seven heads, interpreting it of the seven mountains on which the woman sits, but this apocalyptic looseness of handling of the imagery can furnish no objection to the view just outlined, since on any view the two incongruous explanations of the seven heads as seven mountains and seven kings stand side by side in Re 17:9 and 10. Nor should the mysterious number of 666 in 13:18 be appealed to in favor of the reference of the beast to Nero, for on the one hand quite a number of other equally plausible or implausible solutions of this riddle have been proposed, and on the other hand the interpretation of Nero is open to the serious objection, that in order to make out the required number from the letters of Nero’s name this name has to be written in Hebrew characters and that with scriptio defectiva of Qesar (Neron Qesar) instead of Qeisar, the former of which two peculiarities is out of keeping with the usage of the book elsewhere (compare Zahn, op. cit., II, 622, 624, 625, where the chief proposed explanations of the number 666 are recorded). Under the circumstances the interpretation of the figure of the beast and its heads must be allowed to pursue its course independently of the mystery of the number 666 in regard to which no certain conclusion appears attainable.

The following indicates the degree of definiteness to which, in the opinion of the writer, it is possible to go in the interpretation of the prophecy. The terms in which, Paul speaks remind of Daniel’s description of the "little horn." Similarly Re attaches itself to the imagery of the beasts in Daniel. Both Paul and Re also seem to allude to the self- deification of rulers in the Hellenistic and Roman world (compare Zeitsehrift fur neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 1904, 335 ff). Both, therefore, appear to have in mind a politically organized world-power under a supreme head. Still in both cases this power is not viewed as the climax of enmity against God on account of its political activity as such, but distinctly on account of its self-assertion in the religious sphere, so that the whole conception is lifted to a higher plane, purely spiritual standards being applied in the judgment expressed. Paul so thoroughly applies this principle that in his picture the seductive, deceptive aspect of the movement in the sphere of false teaching is directly connected with the person of "the lawless one" himself (2Th 2:9-12), and not with a separate organ of false prophecy, as in Re 13:11-17 (the second beast). In Revelation, as shown above, the final and acute phase of anti-Christian hostility is clearly distinguished from its embodiment in the Roman empire and separated from the latter by an intermediate stage. In Paul, who stands at a somewhat earlier point in the development of New Testament prophecy, this is not so clearly apparent. Paul teaches that the "mystery of lawlessness" is already at work in his day, but this does not necessarily involve that the person of "the lawless one," subsequently to appear, must be connected with the same phase of the world-power, with which Paul associates this mystery already at work, since the succeeding phases being continuous, this will also insure the continuity between the general principle and its personal representative, even though the latter should appear at a later stage. It is impossible to determine how far Paul consciously looked beyond the power of the Roman empire to a later organIzation as the vehicle for the last anti-Christian effort. On the other hand, that Paul must have thought of "the lawless one" as already in existence at that time cannot be proven. It does not follow from the parallelism between his "revelation" and the parousia of Christ, for this "revelation" has for its correlate simply a previous hidden presence for some time somewhere, not an existence necessarily extending to Paul’s time or the time of the Roman empire, far less a pre- existence, like unto Christ’s, in the supernatural world. Nor is present existence implied in what Paul says of "the hindering power." This, to be sure, is represented as asserting itself at that very time, but the restraint is not exerted directly upon "the lawless one"; it relates to the power of which he will be the ultimate exponent; when this power, through the removal of the restraint, develops freely, his revelation follows. According to 13:9 his "parousia is according to the working of Satan," but whether this puts a supernatural aspect upon the initial act of his appearance or relates more to his subsequent presence and activity in the world, which will be attended with all powers and signs and lying wonders, cannot be determined with certainty. But the element of the supernatural is certainly there, although it is evidently erroneous to conceive of "the lawless one" as an incarnation of Satan, literally speaking. The phrase "according to the working of Satan" excludes this, and "the lawless one" is a true human figure, "the man of sin" (or "the man of lawlessness," according to another reading; compare the distinction between Satan and "the beast" in Re 20:10), Re 13:3. The "power" and "signs" and "wonders" are not merely "seeming"; the genitive pseudous is not intended to take them out of the category of the supernatural, but simply means that what they are intended to accredit is a lie, namely, the Divine dignity of "the lawless one." Most difficult of all is the determination of what Paul means by the hindering power or the hinderer in 13:7.

The most common view refers this to the Roman authority as the basis of civil order and protection, but there are serious objections to this. If Paul at all associated the Antichrist in any way with the Roman power, he cannot very well have sought the opposite principle in the same quarter. And not only the hindering power but also the hindering person seems to be a unit, which latter does not apply to the Roman empire, which had a succession of rulers. It is further difficult to dismiss the thought that the hindering principle or person must be more or less supernatural, since the supernatural factor in the work of "the lawless one" is so prominent. For this reason there is something attractive in the old view of von Hofmann, who assumed that Paul borrowed from Dnl, besides other features, also this feature that the historical conflict on earth has a supernatural background in the world of spirits (compare Da 10). A more precise definition, however, is impossible. Finally it should be noticed that, as in the eschatological discourse of Jesus "the abomination of desolation" appears connected with an apostasy within the church through false teaching (Mr 13:22,23), so Paul joins to the appearance of "the lawless one" the destructive effect of error among many that are lost (2Th 2:9-12). The idea of the Antichrist in general and that of the apostasy in particular reminds us that we may not expect an uninterrupted progress of the Christianization of the world until the parousia. As the reign of the truth will be extended, so the forces of evil will gather strength, especially toward the end. The universal sway of the kingdom of God cannot be expected from missionary effort alone; it requires the eschatological inter-position of God.

4. The Manner of the Parousia:

VI. The Resurrection.

1. Its Universality:

The inference to the universality of the resurrection sometimes drawn from the universality of the judgment is scarcely valid, since the idea of a judgment of disembodied spirits is not inconceivable and actually occurs. On the other hand the punishment of the judged is explicitly affirmed to include the body (Mt 10:28). It cannot be proven that the term "resurrection" is ever in the New Testament eschatologically employed without reference to the body, of the quickening of the spirit simply (against, Fries, in ZNTW, 1900, 291 ff). The sense of our Lord’s argument with the Sadducees does not require that the patriarchs were at the time of Moses in possession of the resurrection, but only that they were enjoying the covenant-life, which would in due time inevitably issue in the resurrection of their bodies. The resemblance (or "equality") to the angels (Mr 12:25) does not consist in the disembodied state, but in the absence of marriage and propagation. It has been suggested that Hebrews contains no direct evidence for a bodily resurrection (Charles, Eschatology, 361), but compare 11:22,35; 12:2; 13:20. The spiritualism of the epistle points, in connection with its Pauline type of teaching, to the conception of a pneumatic heavenly body, rather than to a disembodied state.

2. The Millennium:

In 1Th 4:13-18 the presupposition is not that the readers had worried about a possible exclusion of their dead from the provisional reign of Christ and from a first resurrection, but that they had sorrowed even as the Gentiles who have no hope whatever, i.e. they had doubted the fact of the resurrection as such. Paul accordingly gives them in 4:14 the general assurance that in the resurrection of Jesus that of believers is guaranteed. The verb "precede" in 4:15 does not imply that there was thought of precedence in the enjoyment of glory, but is only an emphatic way of affirming that the dead will not be one moment behind in inheriting with the living the blessedness of the parousia. In 4:17, "so shall we ever be with the Lord," the word "ever" excludes the conception of a provisional kingdom. 2Th 1:5-12 contains merely the general thought that sufferings and glory, persecution and the inheritance of the kingdom are linked together. There is nothing to show that this glory and kingdom are aught else but the final state, the kingdom of God (2Th 1:5). In Php 3:9-11, it is claimed, Paul represents attainment to the resurrection as dependent on special effort on his part, therefore as something not in store for all believers. Since the general resurrection pertains to all, a special grace of resurrection must be meant, i.e. inclusion in the number of those to be raised at the parousia, at the opening of the millennial kingdom. The answer to this is, that it was quite possible to Paul to make the resurrection as such depend on the believer’s progress in grace and conformity to Christ, seeing that it is not an event out of all relation to his spiritual development, but the climax of an organic process of transformation begun in this life. And in verse 20 the resurrection of all is joined to the parousia (compare for the Pauline passages Vos, "The Pauline Eschatology and Chiliasm," PTR, 1911, 26-60).

The passage Re 20:1-6 at first sight much favors the conception of a millennial reign of Christ, participated in by the martyrs, brought to life in a first resurrection, and marked by a suspension of the activity of Satan. And it is urged that the sequence of visions places this millennium after the parousia of Christ narrated in Re 19. The question of historic sequence, however, is in Revelation difficult to decide. In other parts of the book the principle of "recapitulation," i.e. of cotemporaneousness of things successively depicted, seems to underlie the visions, and numbers are elsewhere in the book meant symbolically. These facts leave open the possibility that the thousand years are synchronous with the earlier developments recorded, and symbolically describe the state of glorified life enjoyed with Christ in heaven by the martyrs during the intermediate period preceding the parousia. The terms employed do not suggest an anticipated bodily resurrection. The seer speaks of "souls" which "lived" and "reigned," and finds in this the first resurrection. The scene of this life and reign is in heaven, where also the "souls" of the martyrs are beheld (Re 6:9). The words "this is the first resurrection" may be a pointed disavowal of a more realistic (chiliastic) interpretation of the same phrase. The symbolism of the thousand years consists in this, that it contrasts the glorious state of the martyrs on the one hand with the brief season of tribulation passed here on earth, and on the other hand with the eternal life of the consummation. The binding of Satan for this period marks the first eschatological conquest of Christ over the powers of evil, as distinguished from the renewed activity to be displayed by Satan toward the end in bringing up against the church still other forces not hitherto introduced into the conflict. In regard to a book so enigmatical, it were presumptuous to speak with any degree of dogmatism, but the uniform absence of the idea of the millennium from the eschatological teaching of the New Testament elsewhere ought to render the exegete cautious before affirming its presence here (compare Warfield, "The Millennium and the Apocalypse," PTR, 1904, 599-617).

3. The Resurrection of Believers:

4. The Resurrection-Body:

The main passage informing us as to the nature of the resurrection body is 1Co 15:35-58. The difficulty Paul here seeks to relieve does not concern the substance of the future body, but its kind (compare 1Co 15:35 "With what manner of body do they come?"). Not until 1Co 15:50 is the deeper question of difference in substance touched upon. The point of the figure of "sowing" is not that of identity of substance, but rather this, that the impossibility of forming a concrete conception of the resurrection body is no proof of its impossibility, because in all vegetable growth there appears a body totally unlike that which is sown, a body the nature and appearance of which are determined by the will of God. We have no right to press the figure in other directions, to solicit from it answers to other questions. That there is to be a real connection between the present and the future body is implied rather than directly affirmed. 1Co 15:36 shows that the distinction between the earthly body and a germ of life in it, to be entrusted with it to the grave and then quickened at the last day, does not lie in the apostle’s mind, for what is sown is the body; it dies and is quickened in its entirety. Especially the turn given to the figure in 15:37--that of a naked grain putting on the plant as a garment-- proves that it is neither intended nor adapted to give information on the degree of identity or link of continuity between the two bodies. The "bare grain" is the body, not the spirit, as some would have it (Teichmann), for it is said of the seed that it dies; which does not apply to the Pneuma (compare also 15:44). The fact is that in this entire discussion the subjective spirit of the believer remains entirely out of consideration; the matter is treated entirely from the standpoint of the body. So far as the Pneuma enters into it, it is the objective Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. As to the time of the sowing, some writers take the view that this corresponds to the entire earthly life, not to the moment of burial only (so already Calvin, recently Teichmann and Charles). In 15:42,43 there are points of contact for this, inasmuch as especially the three last predicates "in dishonor," "in weakness," "a natural body," seem more applicable to the living than to the dead body. At any rate, if the conception is thus widened, the act of burial is certainly included in the sowing. The objection arising from the difficulty of forming a conception of the resurrection body is further met in 15:39-41, where Paul argues from the multitude of bodily forms God has at His disposal. This thought is illustrated from the animal world (15:39); from the difference between the heavenly and the earthly bodies (15:40); from the difference existing among the heavenly bodies themselves (15:41). The structure of the argument is indicated by the interchange of two words for "other," allos and heteros, the former designating difference of species within the genus, the latter difference of genus, a distinction lost in the English version. In all this the reasoning revolves not around the substance of the bodies but around their kind, quality, appearance (sarx in 15:39 = soma, "body," not = "flesh").

The conclusion drawn is that the resurrection body will differ greatly in kind from the present body. It will be heteros, not merely allos. The points of difference are enumerated in 15:42,43. Four contrasts are named; the first three in each case appear to be the result of the fourth. The dominating antithesis is that between the soma psuchikon and the soma pneumatikon. Still Paul can scarcely mean to teach that "corruption," "dishonor," "weakness" are in the same sense necessary and natural results of the "psychical" character of the earthly body, as the corresponding opposites are necessary and natural concomitants of the pneumatic character of the resurrection body. The sequel shows that the "psychical body" was given man at creation, and according to 15:53 corruption and death go together, whereas death is not the result of creation but of the entrance of sin according to Paul’s uniform teaching elsewhere. Hence, also the predicate sarkikos is avoided in 15:46,47, where the reference is to creation, for this word is always associated in Paul with sin. The connection, therefore, between the "natural (psychical, margin) body" and the abnormal attributes conjoined with it, will have to be so conceived, that in virtue of the former character, the body, though it need not of itself, yet will fall a prey to the latter when sin enters. In this lies also the explanation of the term "psychical body." This means a body in which the psuche, the natural soul, is the vitalizing principle, sufficient to support life, but not sufficient to that supernatural, heavenly plane, where it is forever immune to death and corruption. The question must be asked, however, why Paul goes back to the original state of man’s body and does not content himself with contrasting the body in the state of sin and in the state of eternal life. The answer is found in the exigency of the argument. Paul wished to add to the argument for the possibility of a different body drawn from analogy, an argument drawn from the typical character of the original creation-body. The body of creation, on the principle of prefiguration, pointed already forward to a higher body to be received in the second stage of the world-process: `if there exists a psychical body, there exists also a pneumatic body’ (15:44). The proof lies in Ge 2:7. Some think that Paul here adopts the Philonic doctrine of the creation of two men, and means 1Co 15:45 b as a quotation from Ge 1:27. But the sequence is against this, for Paul’s spiritual man appears on the scene last, not first, as in Philo. Nor can the statement have been meant as a correction of Philo’s sequence, for Paul cannot have overlooked that, once a double creation were found in Ge 1 and 2, then Philo’s sequence was the only possible one, to correct which would have amounted to correcting Scripture.

VII. The Change of Those Living at the Parousia.

VIII. The Judgment.

IX. The Consummate State.

X. The Intermediate State.

In regard to the state of the dead, previously to the parousia and the resurrection, the New Testament is far less explicit than in its treatment of what belongs to general eschatology. The following points may here briefly be noted:

(3) The New Testament nowhere encourages the living to seek converse with the dead. Its representation of the dead as "sleeping" with reference to the earthly life distinctly implies that such converse would be abnormal and in so far discountenances it, without explicitly affirming its absolute impossibility. Not even the possibility of the dead for their part taking knowledge of our earthly life is affirmed anywhere. Heb 12:1 does not necessarily represent the Old Testament saints as "witnesses" of our race of faith in the sense of spectators in the literal sense, but perhaps in the figurative sense, that we ought to feel, having in memory their example, as if the ages of the past and their historic figures were looking down upon us (Lu 16:29; Ac 8:9; 13:6 ff; 19:13 ff).

(4) As to the departed saints themselves, it is intimated that they have mutual knowledge of one another in the intermediate state, together with memory of facts and conditions of the earthly life (Lu 16:9,19-31). Nowhere, however, is it intimated that this interest of the departed saints in our earthly affairs normally expresses itself in any act of intercession, not even of intercession spontaneously proffered on their part.

(5) The New Testament does not teach that there is any possibility of a fundamental change in moral or spiritual character in the intermediate state. The doctrine of a so-called "second probation" finds in it no real support. The only passages that can with some semblance of warrant be appealed to in this connection are 1Pe 3:19-21 and 4:6. For the exegesis of the former passage, which is difficult and much disputed, compare SPIRITS IN PRISON. Here it may simply be noted that the context is not favorable to the view that an extension of the opportunity of conversion beyond death is implied; the purport of the whole passage points in the opposite direction, the salvation of the exceedingly small number of eight of the generation of Noah being emphasized (1Pe 3:20). Besides this it would be difficult to understand why this exceptional opportunity should have been granted to this peculiar group of the dead, since the contemporaries of Noah figure in Scripture as examples of extreme wickedness. Even if the idea of a gospel-preaching with soteriological purpose were actually found here, it would not furnish an adequate basis for building upon it the broad hypothesis of a second probation for all the dead in general or for those who have not heard the gospel in this life. This latter view the passage is especially ill fitted to support, because the generation of Noah had had the gospel preached to them before death. There is no intimation that the transaction spoken of was repeated or continued indefinitely. As to the second passage (1Pe 4:6), this must be taken by itself and in connection with its own context. The assumption that the sentence "the gospel (was) preached even to the dead" must have its meaning determined by the earlier passage in 1Pe 3:19-21, has exercised an unfortunate influence upon the exegesis. Possibly the two passages had no connection in the mind of the author. For explaining the reference to "the dead" the connection with the preceding verse is fully sufficient. It is there stated that Christ is "ready to judge the living and the dead." "The living and the dead" are those who will be alive and dead at the parousia. To both the gospel was preached, that Christ might be the judge of both. But that the gospel was preached to the latter in the state of death is in no way indicated. On the contrary the telic clause, "that they might be judged according to men in the flesh," shows that they heard the gospel during their lifetime, for the judgment according to men in the flesh that has befallen them is the judgment of physical death. If a close connection between the passage in 1Pe 3 and that in chapter 4 did exist, this could only serve to commend the exegesis which finds in the earlier passage a gospel-preaching to the contemporaries of Noah during their lifetime, since, on that view, it becomes natural to identify the judgment in the flesh with the Deluge.


Besides the articles on the several topics in the Bible Dictionaries and in Cremer’s Lexicon of New Testament Greek, and the corresponding chapters in the handbooks on New Testament Theology, the following works and articles may be consulted: Bousset, Die Religion des Judenthums2, 1906, especially 233-346; id, Der Antichrist in der Ueberlieferung des Judenthums, des New Testament und der alten Kirche, 1895; Bruston, La vie future d’apres Paul, 1895; Charles, Eschatology Hebrew, Jewish and Christian: A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, 1899; Cremer, Ueber den Zustand nach dem Tode3, 1892; Grimm, "Ueber die Stelle 1 Kor 15:20-28," ZWT, 1873; Haupt, Die eschatologischen Aussagen Jesu in den synoptischen Evangelien, 1895; Kabisch, Eschatologie des Paulus in ihren Zusammenhangen mit dem Gesamtbegriff des Paulinismus, 1893; Kennedy, Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, 1904; Kliefoth, Christliche Eschatologie, 1886; Klopper, "Zur Paulinischen Lehre von der Auferstehung: Auslegung von 2 Kor 5:1-6," JDT, 1862 (the author modified his views in his commentary on 2 Cor); Kostlin, "Die Lehre des Apostels Paulus von der Auferstehung," JDT, 1877; Luthardt, Lehre von den letzten Dingen3, 1885; Muirhead, The Eschatology of Jesus, 1904; Oesterley, The Doctrine of the Last Things, 1908; Philippi, Die biblische und kirchliche Lehre vom Antichrist, 1877; Rinck, Vom Zustande nach dem Tode, 1885; Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality5, 1901; Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode, 1892; Sharman, The Teaching of Jesus about the Future According to the Synoptic Gospels, 1909; Stahelin, "Zur Paulinischen Eschatologie," JDT, 1874; Teichmann, Die Paulinischen Vorstellungen von Auferstehung und Gericht, 1896; Volz, Judische Eschatologie von Daniel bis Akiba, 1903; Waitz, "Ueber 2 Kor 5:1-4," JPT, 1882; Wetzel, "Ueber 2 Kor 5:1-4," SK, 1886; Wendt, Die Begriffe Fleisch und Geist im biblischen Sprachgebrauch, 1878.

Geerhardus Vos