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giveness. The only conditions demanded by God
are (a) belief in Jesus as Lord and Messiah (Ac
16 sot. . c f. 237ff. } etc.), and (b) repentance (Ac 2 s8 3 19
20 21 ). Those who 'believe' and 'repent' will be
saved in the Judgment from the condemnation
which is impending over all the world (Ac 2 40
319. 23-26) 5 an( j w ju foe forgiven by the Lord Jesus,
who, as Messianic Judge, alone has the authority
to grant such pardon (Ac 5 31 10 43 ). Thus it will be
seen that ' salvation ' and ' forgiveness,' as terms
of Christian theology, are in their origin eschato-
logical, though they have been found capable of
development along non-eschatological lines (see
below). And it was just because of this eschato-
logical background that the apostolic ' gospel '
was so intensely fervent and urgent ; for there
was not a moment to spare ; ' the Judge was stand-
ing before the doors' (Ja 5 9 ; cf. 1 P 4"- 7 - "), and
every convert was indeed a brand plucked from
the burning (Ac 2 38 - 40 - 47 3 19 - 26 ). So the apostolic
preaching was transformed from a denunciation and




a warning of impending judgment into an evangel
of salvation and forgiveness.

(5) The free gifts of God. To describe the
apostolic gospel simply as a promise of escape from
the wrath to come would be inadequate; it was a
promise rich with new gifts and blessings e.g. the
outflowing of the Divine Spirit (Ac 2 s3 - *** 5 82 }, and
the ' seasons of refreshing,' which would sustain
the elect until the return of the Messiah and the
' restoration of all things ' (Ac 3 19 " 21 ; see below, I.
4 (5)). And these blessings were not to be labori-
ously earned, but were freely offered to all who
would 'repent' and 'believe.'

4. The application of the apostolic message to
the chief doctrines of the Last Things. The ideas
underlying the most primitive Christian eschato-
logy, as we have outlined it above, are so unfamiliar
to us that their bearing upon the great problems of
the future life is not at first sight evident, and
requires a brief consideration.

(1) The Second Coming of our Lord. Most early
Christians doubtless conceived of this in the
traditional dramatic form, in accordance with the
teaching of Enoch and other Jewish apocalypses.
On the other hand, it should be remembered that
(a) the ' unearthly ' conception of the Messiah set
forth in the Enochic ' Son of Man ' would be modi-
fied by the recollection of the historical human
personality of Jesus the Messiah ; and (b) the
apocalyptic idea of Messiahship, though one-sided,
and therefore inadequate for a satisfactory Christo-
logy, was yet a high and transcendent ideal one
which needed to be supplemented and enlarged,
rather than corrected. It formed a good founda-
tion, upon which Christian thought and experience
were able to build a fuller and truer doctrine of our
Lord's Person and Second Coming.

(2) The Last Judgment. This also was, in
primitive Christian thought, closely linked with
the Person of our Lord as Messianic Judge. It
was thought of as limited in time to a date in the
near future, and probably localized at some place
on the earth (perhaps Jerusalem ; cf. Ac 6 14 , 1 P
4 17 ). Such ideas, however crude, were capable of
being 'spiritualized' in course of time, without
any breach in the continuity of Christian teaching.
A more serious problem is raised by the difficulty
of reconciling the doctrine of a universal Judgment
(Ac 17 31 , 1 P 4 8 ) with the doctrine of forgiveness,
by which some men are ' acquitted ' beforehand in
anticipation of the Judgment. This is a hard,
perhaps an insoluble, problem ; but it is not
peculiar to eschatology ; for it confronts us wher-
ever the ideas of forgiveness and justice are placed
side by side.

(3) The Intermediate State. So long as the
Return of the Lord was expected to occur immedi-
ately, there was little room for any speculations
with regard to the state of those who had ' fallen
asleep in Christ.' The ' waiting- time ' seemed so
brief that it did not invite much consideration.
To expect to find in the NT authoritative state-
ments either for or against prayers for the dead,
or formal distinctions between an intermediate
state of purgation and a final state of bliss, is to
forget the peculiar eschatological outlook of primi-
tive Christianity, and to look for an anachronism.
The beginnings of Christian speculation concerning
the Intermediate State come before us at quite an
early stage (e.g. in 1 Thess. ) ; but they do not be-
long to the earliest stage of all.

The case was somewhat different with regard
to the faithful who had died before Christ came.
Christians naturally wished to know how these
would be enabled to hear the 'good tidings,' and
share in the forgiveness and salvation now offered
by Christ. Two well-known passages in 1 Peter
bear upon this point : the ' preaching to the spirits

in prison '(IP 3 19 ), and the ' preaching to the dead '
(1 P 4 B ). A detailed discussion is impossible here ;
see the Commentaries ad loc. In the present
writer's Primitive Christian Eschatology, p. 254 ff.,
it is contended that the passages should be inter-
preted in accordance with the methods of Jewish
apocalyptic ; and that their main purpose is to
teach that the ' good tidings ' have been proclaimed
by Christ to those who had died before His Coming,
so that at His Return they may have the same
opportunities of repentance as those who are alive
at the time. Broadly, too, we may see in these
passages Scriptural warrant for the view that there
may be opportunities for repentance after death.

(4) The Resurrection. Questionings with regard
to the nature and manner of the resurrection are
scarcely seen at all in the earliest eschatology as
reflected in Acts and the Judaeo-Christian Epistles
(see Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, p. 91 f. ).
Generally the references apply to our Lords Re-
surrection, and even where the general resurrection
is implied (Ac 23 6 " 8 24 18 26 6 - 8 ) no details as to the
manner thereof are forthcoming. In Ac 24 18 its
universal scope ('both of the just and unjust') is
asserted ; and in He 6 U 2 dvdorcurtj venp&v is in-
cluded among 'the principles of Christ' which
are too well known to need a detailed exposition.
But we find nothing corresponding to the Pauline
discussion as to the nature of the resurrection-body.
In the Jewish apocalypses, the doctrine fluctuates
from an extremely material conception to one
which is purely spiritual ; and probably the early
Christians inherited various views on this point.
The idea that our Lord's Resurrection was a ' first-
fruits ' of the general resurrection is implied in Ac
2G 23 , and this was destined in time to influence the
Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

(5) Final destinies. Here again, no detailed
scheme of doctrine is yet put forward. Broadly,
it is implied that supreme joy will be the reward
of the 'believers,' and that a dreadful fate awaits
unbelievers (Ac S 23 ). The phrase 'restoration of
all things' (Ac 3 21 ) might be taken to imply a
' universalistic ' view of future destinies, or even
some idea of 'world-cycles' by which the eras that
are past are brought back in course of time ; but
a similar phrase is found in Mai 4 5 (LXX), and may
be no more than a general term for the perfection
of the Messianic Kingdom.

5. The extent and importance of the apocalyptic
element in the earliest Christian eschatology.
Until recent years, the apocalyptic element in the
NT received but scant notice ; but of late a new
theory as to the teaching and ' tone ' of apostolic
Christianity has been put forward (see e.g. Lake,
The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, or Schweitzer,
Paul and his Interpreters). It is contended that
the 'gospel' of primitive Christianity was ex-
clusively an eschatological message, foretelling,
in terms of current Jewish apocalyptic, the ap-
proaching end of this world-era and the beginning
of the next. If the interpretation given above be
correct, there is a measure of truth in this ' Con-
sistent Eschatological' view of apostolic eschato-
logy ; for the new faith did not at once sweep away
the old methods of thought, and we should miss
the force and full significance of NT eschatology
unless we interpreted it in the light of Jewish

On the other hand, the 'Consistent Eschato-
logists' do not appear to give sufficient place to
other factors: e.g. (1) the 'political' type of
Jewish thought, in which the Messiah is conceived
of as an earthly Monarch, and the Kingdom of God
as an extensive Jewish Empire. Some such political
ideas were clearly in the minds of the apostles at
the first (Ac I 8 ), and they may well have existed in
the primitive Church side by aide with the purely




apocalyptic eschatology. And (2) the ' Consistent
Eschatologists ' under-rate the importance of the
new and distinctively Christian element in the
apostolic eschatology. Also (3) a study of the NT
shows that, from the very first, moral teaching
held a place second to none in the apostolic preach-
ing. In view of these facts, it would appear to be
an exaggeration to speak of the primitive apostolic
'gospel' as though it were exclusively, or even
predominantly, an eschatological message.

6. The relation of the primitive apostolic
eschatology to the teaching of our Lord. It was
from the teaching and work of our Lord that the
apostolic preaching derived its primary inspiration,
and hence it is evident that the apostolic doctrine
of the Last Things was intended to be founded
upon His. And since recent study of the NT
seems to have shown that eschatology held an
important place in our Lord's teaching, we may
not regard the eschatological ' tone ' of the primi-
tive apostolic message as an element foreign to
the mind of Christ, or one invented by the apostles
merely to satisfy their own predilections. It does
not follow, however, that the apostolic teaching
coincided precisely with that of our Lord. It was
only natural that the apostles should tend to
emphasize those aspects of His teaching which were
most full of meaning to themselves, and to lay
but little stress upon whatever appeared to them
unfamiliar or incomprehensible. And so the pro-
portions of the message undergo some modification :
for instance, in the apostolic preaching, the ex-
pectation of the Second Coming is set forth more
definitely than in the words of the Master Himself.

But in one point the community of spirit between
the eschatology of Christ and His followers is most
noteworthy : the close link between the eschatology
and practical morality. From the first, the call to
repentance always accompanies the eschatological
message (Ac 2 s8 , etc. ) ; and the ' repentance ' of the
primitive Christians involved a very real change of
life. Herein, from the very first, lay a difference
between Jewish and Christian eschatology : the
former was often only a comfortable theory, to give
encouragement in times of trouble ; the latter was
always an inspiring call to a new life of faith and
love. This was an essential element of the apos-
tolic eschatology, destined to survive when the
forms and phrases of Jewish apocalyptic gave way
under the trials of the long delay in the Master's

7. The decline of the earliest type of Christian
eschatology. The form of the earliest Christian
doctrine of the Last Things, as we have estimated
it above, was congenial only to Jewish surround,
ings, and it soon began to undergo some modifica-
tion. Some of these lines of development may be
traced to the influence of Gentile thought, as
reflected, e.g., in St. Paul's Epistles ; to the deepen-
ing of the spiritual ideas underlying the dramatic
eschatology, as we see in the Johannine writings ;
and to the rise of the Christian apocalyptic litera-
ture, with its close resemblance to Jewish apocalyp-
tic. For the present, our consideration of these
may best be deferred. But in certain quarters
the primitive Judseo-Christian eschatology appears
to have been but little modified by external in-
fluences; only it shows a steady decline and a
gradual loss of its original vitality and power.
The beginnings of this decline may be seen even
in the NT writings which we have already been
considering, viz. Acts, James, Hebrews, 1 Peter ;
its later stages are reflected chiefly in Jude, 2 Peter,
theDidache (if the early date be accepted), and
some of the Apostolic Fathers. The Johannine
and Pauline writings also indirectly throw light
upon this subject.

(1) Games of the decline. (a) The recollection of

our Lord's teaching. If, as we have contended, the
eschatology of our Lord was wider and deeper
than the apostolic interpretation of it, it was
natural that some of the half-understood sayings
of the Master particularly the parting commis-
sions, Mt 28 20 , Ac I 7 - 8 , which are so notably non-
eschatological should remain in the memory of
the apostles, and that in course of time a fuller
meaning should dawn upon their minds. So it
would come to pass that the moral and spiritual
aspects of the gospel, and the world- wide scope of
its mission, would claim an increasing pre-eminence
in the apostolic preaching. (For the influence of
our Lord's teaching on St. Paul, see Kennedy, St.
Paul's Conceptions of the Last Things, pp. 96-101.)

(b) A keen sense of moral values. ' Practical
morality' was from the first held in the highest
esteem in the Judaeo-Christian communities (see,
e.g., the Epistle of James), and this tended to draw
the centre of Christian interest away from escha-
tology to morality. It is difficult to illustrate this
by detailed quotations ; perhaps the best proof may
be obtained by a rapid perusal of Acts, by means of
which the steady diminution of the eschatological
expectation as the narrative proceeds is readily
noticed. In the later speeches of St. Paul, at
Miletus (Ac 20 18 - 85 ) or at Jerusalem (Ac 22), escha-
tology is almost ignored ; and St. Paul before Felix
reasons of ' righteousness and temperance ' as well
as of 'judgment to come' (Ac 24 25 ). Also the
teachingof 1 Peter, and most of all of James, suggests
that moral and spiritual values are far more es-
teemed than eschatological problems.

(c) The charismata. The spiritual gifts, e.g. of
healing or of tongues, while originally regarded
by Jewish Christians as 'signs of the end' (see
above, I. 3 (2)), soon began to acquire an intrinsic
value of their own in the eyes of the Christian
community. Men knew, as a fact of Christian
experience, that they had been freed from the power
of sin and from the sense of guilt before God ; and
so they began to use the terms ' salvation,' 'justi-
fication,' etc., to describe their own spiritual experi-
ences rather than purely eschatological hopes. (In
Ac 16 31 , e.g., 'salvation' scarcely seems eschato-
logical ; and in Ac 10 38 our Lord is described simply
as 'one who went about doing good and healing. )

It will be noticed that the influences we have
been considering tended to alter the proportions of
Christian teaching by emphasizing wew-eschato-
logical factors at the expense of eschatology. But
there were also other influences at work, directly
tending to break up the primitive doctrine of the
Last Things.

(d) The delay in the Return. This was the
most potent of all the factors which changed the
' tone of Christian eschatology. As the days and
months passed, and the Son of Man did not appear
on the clouds of heaven, it was impossible to repeat
with the same assurance the ola message : 'The
time is at hand.' Yet the old hope persisted long
in Judseo-Christian circles, not only in the earlier
writings, e.g. Ja 5 9 , 1 P 4 7 , but until the close of
the 1st cent., e.g. 1 Jn 2 18 , Didache 16, and even in
the Apology of Aristides.

But we see the change of 'tone' in St. Paul's
charge to the Ephesian elders (Ac 20 28 " 82 ), which,
so far from anticipating an immediate Return of
the Lord, looks forward to a period of apostasy,
and to an extended ministry in the Church. We
see it even more plainly in 2 P S 4 *, where the
mocking question, ' Where is the promise of His
coming ?' is met by the old answer of Jewish apoca-
lyptists: 'One day is with the Lord as a thou-
sand years, and a thousand years as one day ' (2 P 3 8 ;
cf. Slavonic Enoch, 32). Such an argument vir-
tually implies that the primitive confidence in an im-
mediate Return had been surrendered. The gradual




weakening of that confidence will come before us
again in St. Paul's Epistles [see below]. In Didache,
16, the Return, though near, is to be preceded by
the rule of Antichrist ; and the rise of ' Chiliasm '
in the 2nd cent, thrust the final consummation still
further into the future.

(e) The problem of sin in the Christian community.
This, though not at first sight an eschatological
question, indirectly helped to modify the primitive
doctrine of the Last Tilings. The early Christian
conception of final destinies was simple and con-
sistent : those who believed and repented would be
saved ; those who believed not would be condemned.
This view assumed that Christian practice would
always be in complete accord with Christian pro-
fession ; and, so long as this was the case, it was
not open to objection. But in practice it was soon
founa that professing Christians were not always
consistent in their lives ( Ja 3 1 4 1 - 2 ; cf . Ac 20 :JO ).
So the simple two-fold division of mankind into
' saved ' and ' not-saved ' became unsatisfactory to
man's sense of justice, for it did not correspond to
the facts of experience ; and similarly the two-fold
division of final destinies into ' eternal bliss ' and
' eternal woe ' became open to the charge that it
imputed to God a line of action not wholly just.

This difficulty was met in two ways, (a) The
stricter minds insisted that post-baptismal sin for-
feited the right to salvation, and incurred con-
demnation (He 6 4 ' 6 ). By this means all Christians
guilty of sin were classed among the 'not-saved,'
and the two-fold division of retribution could logi-
cally be maintained. (/3) A more lenient view
admitted the possibility of a second repentance
after post-baptismal sin, at least if the sin were
atoned for by penance. Soon after the year A.D.
100 we find this view prevalent (2 Clem. 7 ; Shep-
herd of Hermas : Vis. iii., Sim. vi., etc.). This
view, while rich in charity, surrendered the ideal
of a consistent Christian life, and is far removed
from the logical simplicity of primitive Christian
eschatology. A further application of the idea of
' penance ' to the future life resulted in the doctrine
or purgatory, whereby the primitive two-fold divi-
sion of the other world becomes three-fold. (For
the beginnings of the doctrine of purgatory, see
Shepherd of Hermas : Vis. iii. 7 ; Clem. Alex.
Strom, vi. 14 ; and some of the Christian apoca-

(/) The influence of Jewish apocalyptic. We have
already referred in general terms to this influence
under ' the Jewish background of ideas ' (see above,
I. 2), and its full results will come before us at a
later stage, under II. At this point, however, it is
worth noting that a deliberate imitation of the
Jewish apocalypses in writings not themselves
apocalyptic marks the decline of the Judseo-Chris-
tian type of eschatology. Jude and 2 Peter are the
most notable instances in the NT. Although the
language is at first sight that of primitive Chris-
tianity, there is a real difference. Instead of the
bold outlines of the good tidings concerning Jesus
the Messiah, we find a mass of detailed revelations
about angels, and fallen stars, and cosmic convul-
sions (Jude 8 ' 18 , 2 P 2 4 " 11 3 5 ' 13 ), such as the Jewish
apocalyptists delighted to describe, but which had
ceased tx> attract the first generation of Christians,
because of the all-absorbing interest of the ' good
tidings.' The general tone of these Epistles is also
far more pessimistic than that of the earliest
Christian preaching, and reflects the position of
men conscious of a reaction after a great spiritual
revival (Jude Sf - 17t , 2 P 2 lf - 3 1 ' 8 ). This again agrees
with the normal characteristics of Jewish apoca-
lyptic. It should be noted also that Jude ** is a
direct quotation from Enoch i. 9.

A still later stage in the decline of the primitive
Judaeo-Christian eschatology under apocalyptic

influence is seen in Pajiias, where the apocalyptic
details have become simply puerile, and the old
virility and strong moral associations of eschatology
have practically vanished (see, e.g., the quotation
from Papias in Iren. adv. Hcer. V. xxxiii. 3 f . ).

(2) Results of the decline. A number of causes,
some of which we have briefly considered above,
slowly but surely modified the primitive doctrine
of the Last Things, as preached in Judseo-Christian
circles. The expectation of an immediate Return
of the Messiah, which had been its main inspira-
tion, died away; and nothing replaced it. The
result was that this type of eschatology ceased
to be a living force in the Christian Church.
Where it was elaborated by apocalyptic details, it
continued for a time (as we shall see in the case of
the Christian apocalypses) to enjoy some measure
of popular favour; or again, where it was inter-
preted and re-stated by master-minds, such as St.
Paul and St. John, its abiding value was revealed,
and has never ceased to be recognized by thoughtful
minds. But in its original form it was not fitted
to survive, and so, unless it was transformed, it
slowly expired.

So far, we have been considering what appears
to have been the ' normal ' type of early Christian
eschatology ; and we have seen that the ideas and
phraseology of the Jewish apocalypses often occur
in Christian literature which is not properly ' apo-
calyptic' in its literary form (e.g. Acts, 2 Peter,
etc. ). In these cases the apocalyptic influence may
be called indirect or incidental. But there are
other Christian writings in which the literary form
of Jewish apocalyptic is deliberately imitated in
detail ; and in these writings especially those of
later date we see a distinct modification of the
earliest type of Christian eschatology, such as we
have considered above.

1. The Revelation of St. John. (1) General
scheme of the book. This, the greatest, and per-
haps the earliest, of the Christian apocalypses,
contains such a wealth of material bearing upon
eschatology that a detailed treatment is here
impossible. If (as the majority of scholars hold)
the book belongs to the times of Nero, Vespasian,
or Domitian (c. A.D. 65-70, or 95), it is an ex-
tremely important witness to the history of early
Christian eschatology, whatever be the final
decision with regard to its authorship.

Various attempts have been made to dissect the
book into strata of different dates ; but, viewed as
a whole, the book conveys a strong impression of
literary unity. In particular, Avith regard to the
eschatology, the various parts resemble each other
in tone far more nearly than they resemble any
other known apocalypse. Also, the book, if re-
garded as a whole, offers an intelligible scheme :
(a) the Introduction (I 1 ' 8 ) ; (b) the letters to the
Seven Churches (! 9 -3 22 ), which show the immediate
purpose for which the author wrote the book ; (c)
the vision of the opening of the Sealed Book
(4 1 -11 19 ), which enforces the general message that
' the end is at hand ' (see below) ; (d) the vision of
the Fall of Rome (l'2 l -18**), which sets forth in
detail the particular element of the last great
crisis which for the moment seemed the most
important ; (e) the vision of the Last Judgment
(19 l -2Q 16 ) ; and (/) the vision of the new City of
God. These may be regarded as component parts
of one great apocalypse. It will be seen that they
form, broadly, an intelligible and progressive
narrative, on the lines of normal Jewish apocalyp-
tic ; and though it may be that in parts the visions
are 'concurrent rather than successive' ( Mac-
Cull och in ERE v. 387), there seems no sufficient
reason to postulate a ' literary patchwork.'

(2) The book as a type of apocalyptic literature.




The writer is steeped in apocalyptic thought and
language, to a greater extent than any other NT
writer. To the average modern reader the book
appears strange and unintelligible ; but to those
familiar with Jewish apocalyptic there is scarcely
a phrase altogether new or without parallel. From

Online LibraryJames HastingsDictionary of the apostolic church (Volume 1) → online text (page 115 of 234)