According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Refusing a Contemporary form of Paleo-Christianity, Part 2


The Shackles of Our Dreams


I can no longer follow a Paleo-Christianity anymore. A Christianity that has closed its bible and views God's living revelation as a static, dead thing. A rancorous Christian faith that has stopped up the Spirit of God's work in the world because they are seeking any-and-all forms of divine judgment and retribution upon mankind. Or has become a Christian faith that is closed-minded dogmaticly, even folklorish, because it doesn't know how to accommodate societal evolution and technology without feeling itself to be sinfully marginalized. It is a kind of Christian faith more dead, destructive, and full of despair than it is one of liveliness, relevancy, or willingness to bear the gospel into today's postmodern world without needing to subscribe to its old timey rants and predilections.

When writing and developing Relevancy22 over the years this was the fundamental question that kept facing me. And each time as I met this hurdle I simply wanted to ignore it. But over time this could not be done. As mentioned last week in the illustration of the U.S. Constitution as a living - and not dead, or static - societal document, continually shaping and being shaped by an evolving society model discovering with each succeeding era or generation the Constitution's import. So too the Bible is a living document that must evolve with our understanding, technologies, academic discoveries, and societal movement. If not, the bible becomes a dead and static document without relevance or import into our lives. Mostly, it becomes a legal thing where judgment is preached because today's paleo-Christians feel we aren't keeping to its 1950s or 1890s or 1760s or 1540s standards of creed and conduct. And in their despair they see much of society no longer listening to their kind of God, Jesus, bible, or theology. Knowing this they then want Jesus to return because, well, everything has "gone to hell" in their estimation and its time to fly away.

What a silly idea. Since when do paleo-Christians get to decide for the rest of us "who's in-and-who's-out?" Or, "who-and-what God and His Word is?" Or, "how we should live, believe, and think?" I, for one, think (if I use their own words and mindset) that this is "a subtle trick of the devil." Certainly its a lack of imagination about who God is and what He is doing in this, His lively creation, by-and-through His Spirit, and through those "Red Lettered Christians" dedicated to imagining a Christian faith uniquely applicable to their time and era. Which, folks, in this case, is a postmodern era. Not a Modern era. Nor Enlightened era. Nor Medieval. But Postmodern. And guess what? It's been around since the 1930s (sic, the Great Depression and the world's succeeding horrors of war inducing the death of the modern era in the 1940s to this present time). But, postmodernity is going away. Yep. Away. Say what?

Postmodernism is transitioning to another form. To something else. And it would behoove God's church to figure out how they wish to live relevantly in these succeeding temporal eras so they may leave the maximum level of gracious, loving witness to a world searching for answers. Yes, answers. With-or-without the church's input. So that if the paleo-church willingly excludes itself from any involvement, participation, or input, their witness will be moot. But not one of a pseudo-science as it is drawn to now. No. But a real science using today's academic standards. As example, insisting on a creationism while denying evolution, or building a $100 million Noah's Ark center and Bible Town near Cinncinati, isn't exactly what I call being faithful to God's revelation. Mostly its a refusal to update its old theology and doctrines because of "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" when they do (FUD - to use Microsoft's "modus operandi" in the formidable years of its operation).

So let's today abandon this "repent and let God return us to the day's of our glorious past" type of thinking. I'm all for repentance but let it start with the fact that we have been curmudgeoned Christian believers holding back the liveliness and import of God's evolving Person, Being, Spirit, and Revelation. Or that we have missed the import of His gracious mercy and love in our lives and the lives of people hearing only the out-datedness of today's modernized (aka, secularized) faiths using all the tools of music, TV/media/publishing, and outreach but breathing an old fashioned gospel that no longer is helpful. A gospel that hinders - or misses altogether - God's work across humanity. I think the church can do better than this. And it must if it is to have a voice again. One that is relevant, humble, and serving.

R.E. Slater
September 22, 2016


What the Christian faith should be - "An Open Faith"


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What the bible is NOT - "A Closed Canon"
(see article below)


Is the Biblical Canon Closed?
Paul Derengowski, ThM

Before answering the question, it is best to define just what it meant by the term “closed.” For there are those critics of biblical inerrancy who seem to think that God is still revealing himself through the written page, and that such is a necessity. Otherwise they further conclude that God is no longer actively communicating to humanity, and the Bible is nothing more than a static 1 document that is either limited or irrelevant to meets the needs of contemporary humanity. Therefore, what is meant by the term “closed” is merely that the Bible is complete. There are no more inspired documents that are to be included in the biblical canon, and there will not be in future. Such a declaration makes some religious and “spiritual” 2 zealots cringe, usually more out of hostility than anything, since such a pronouncement also immediately passes judgment upon the specious offerings of their favorite prophet or guru who have claimed to be an authoritative mouthpiece for God. Nevertheless, those hostilities put aside, there are a few very good reasons for believing that God no longer makes prophetic revelations of the canonical variety, and why what is currently seen in the biblical text known as the Bible is final. Those reasons are the coming of Jesus, the sending of the Spirit, the finalization of doctrine, the cessation of the apostolic office, and the tradition of the Christian Church.

The Coming of Jesus, as a reason to show that the biblical canon is closed, is explicitly seen in the comment to the Hebrews that, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:1-2). Here the writer is telling the reader not only how God communicated to mankind in the past, but how that communication came to a head in the person of Jesus himself. In fact, Greek grammarian A. T. Robertson points out that the contrast between the Old Testament prophets and Jesus is “sharp,” and that the revelation in Jesus is a “final and full revelation.” 3 Why? Because of the qualitative difference 4 between the person of Jesus and the prophets themselves, and their partial revelations that they gave in contrast to the complete revelation and fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan for mankind as expressed in the “Word made flesh, and dwelt among us” who was “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Since we know through the providential activity of God who recorded the events of the coming of Jesus, and how he completed the salvific requirements of God for the benefit of humanity, there is no longer any additional written revelation needed, nor necessary, to add to what Jesus has communicated.

The sending of the Spirit is clearly a revealed prophecy of Jesus found in John’s Gospel, and is another indication that subsequent written revelation has been suspended. Just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion he promised that upon his departure, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (Jn. 14:25). Jesus continued later by saying, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatsoever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (Jn. 16:13-14). Finally, we read in one of John’s epistles, “And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 Jn. 2:27). The point of all of these statements is that when the Holy Spirit came and set up residence in all those whom God chose to believe, the Spirit then set forth to carry out the ministry of teaching and informing the elect those things that Jesus said and did. As Morris points out, “He is not originating something radically new, but leading people in accordance with the teaching already given from the Father and the Son.” 5 That teaching is seen in the inspired writings given by the Father and the Son, which, once again, is a primary key in understanding the nature of divine revelation in written form. If it was not deemed “God-breathed,” then it was not from God.

The finalization of doctrine alludes to the fact that with the coming of Jesus Christ, that which is necessary for the building of “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6; Tit. 1:9; 2:1) is complete. That does not mean that an exhaustive and infinite understanding of the basic doctrines which comprise the Christian faith will be arrived at by anyone. What it means is that which God has provided through the divinely inspired revelation provided in the biblical text concerning the Bible, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Humanity, Sin, Salvation, the Church, Angels, and Last Things is complete and adequate in matters of faith and practice. Furthermore, it means that whatever subsequent “prophecies,” teachings and revelations that fail to echo biblical revelation on any particular doctrine, or in fact contradicts it, and causes division and strife among believing Christians is not from God, and is to be rejected. In fact, the apostle Paul warned about such activity when he wrote, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Rom. 16:17). John Stott comments that, “He [Paul] takes it for granted, even thus early in the church’s history, that there is a doctrinal and ethical norm which the Romans must follow, not contradict; it is preserved for us in the New Testament.” 6

The cessation of the apostolic office clearly indicates that the biblical canon is closed, simply because the apostles, and those whom they influenced, were the divinely appointed messengers selected to receive and write inspired Scripture. And with the passing of the last apostle from the earthly scene, written revelation has come to an end. Of course, there were those shortly after the days of the apostles who attempted to impose their writings on the church, usually pseudonymously, and there are those today who would like everyone to believe that they are genuine apostles, or that they are following those who have been called after the order of apostolic succession. Yet, such posturing is without credibility. For as Robinson explains, “In most of the approximately eighty cases in which the word ‘apostle’ occurs in the NT, it refers to the Twelve or to Paul. Their unique place is based upon the resurrected Jesus’ having appeared to them and having commissioned them to proclaim the gospel as the eschatological action of God in Christ.” 7 No one since that last genuine apostle left the earth in death has seen the risen Jesus, nor has anyone fulfilled the ministry of an apostle in the same manner as those who were apostles, in respect to writing inspired Scripture, or the performing of signs and wonders to validate their office. Typically, what has been seen by those claiming to be apostles, and are not, are egotistical boasts that either draw attention to themselves, and not the biblical Jesus, or to those with even bigger egos than they, who propagate doctrines and teachings that are clearly antithetical to those held by biblically orthodox Christians. Therefore, with the cessation of the apostolic office, we have another clear indication that the biblical canon is closed.

Finally, there is the tradition of the Christian Church. Now, by this it is simply meant that the standards and doctrines of the Church have been established and have been intact since the day that Jesus initially ordained it. 8 Of course, not every doctrine was fully developed in the beginning, but has grown with understanding as the Spirit moved human minds with divine illumination from the Scriptures to understand the infinite mind of God. It is because of this tradition, that if anyone outside the Church came along and claimed to have found some document that should be considered to be included in the biblical corpus, unless the teachings found within that document were consistent with what has already been taught for millennia, and supported and validated Scripture that has already been received as inspired, then the document was be rejected as spurious. Presently there have been some documents that seem to keep recycling themselves for canonical consideration, like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas. Yet because of their either strange teachings or fragmentary commentary, which leaves one to wonder just why anyone would consider them to be inspired in the first place, 9 they are consistently rejected as unequal to the biblical texts.

Therefore, the biblical canon is closed. Some have postulated that “Hypothetically the canon could be open,” 10 but given the preceding, that kind of speculation is extremely gracious, if not fleeting. Besides, given the general overall ignorance of the Bible by so many, if God did manage to pass along additional written revelation for humans to use as a guide to life, both spiritual and physical, then just what would God be hoping to accomplish? Obviously, since many humans are not willing to read what has already been written, then why would they necessarily be interested in anything else God had to say? Some might answer that contemporary revelation is fresh, exciting, and relevant to modern man, which implies that the living Word of God, given by the living God, is stale, boring, and irrelevant, further meaning that in order for God to communicate to man, He must communicate to him on his terms, and under his conditions, otherwise God’s effort at revealing Himself is at best impotent. Plainly, such notions are more of an indication of man dictating to God what God should be like, rather than humbly acknowledging what man is like, as God has already indicated, long ago, in the Scriptures, that such arrogant men ignore as stale, boring, and irrelevant. No, the biblical canon is closed because of Jesus’ coming, the sending of the Spirit, the finalization of doctrine, the cessation of the apostolic office, and the tradition of the Christian Church, and only a hardened skeptic of the Bible would disagree otherwise.

References

1 Old Testament scholar, Edward J. Young makes a poignant rebuttal regarding the charge of the biblical text being “static,” when he retorts, “Is it, however, static? As this word is used, it is used in a derogatory sense. Is the connotation of the word, however, always derogatory? If by ‘static’ we merely mean that the truth of the Bible does not change, then, of course, the Bible is a static revelation. There are times, however, when one may indeed be thankful that some things are static.” Thy Word Is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 222. I could not agree more. Can you just imagine that if the truth about God was not “static,” or, how about the person of Jesus? Not only would the Christian have no reason to believe anything the Bible had to say about anything, he could never know from one moment to the next whether or not what he was doing was God-honoring or the most heinous sin committed against God. Obviously, the whole “static” argument presented by those who either disdain the Bible, or find it personally dissatisfying and inadequate, is irrational from the outset.

2 I use “spiritual” in the sense of those hypocrites and double-minded persons who on the one hand want to develop and promote their own brand of “spirituality,” while on the other hand are devoid of the truth, because of their rejection of what God has not only revealed about Himself, but about the Book He has chosen to record that revelation. Much of this kind of hypocrisy is seen not only among avowed pagans and nature worshipers, but also among many so-called “Christians” involved in Postmodernism. They’re all “spiritual” alright; just in wrong way.

3 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), 5:334-35.

4 In commenting on Hebrews 1:2 Daniel Wallace argues that, “Although this should probably be translated “a Son” (there is no decent way to express this compactly in English), the force is clearly qualitative (though, of course, on the continuum it would be closer to the indefinite than the definite category). The point is that God, in his final revelation, has spoken to us in one who has the characteristics of a son. His credentials are vastly different from the credentials of the prophets (or from the angels, as the following context indicates).” Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 245.

5 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 621.

6 John Stott, Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 400.

7 W. C. Robinson, “Apostle,” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 1:193.

8 Absent from this definition are those things with allude to praxis and methodology, which some choose to confuse with doctrine in an attempt to show how divided the Christian body is. There is a difference, though, between the basic doctrines, and the diverse methods of Christian practice, as is seen in the various Christian denominations. Since this is a discussion about Bibliology, rather than Ecclesiology, further comments about faith and practice will be reserved.

9 One of my favorite statements stemming from the Gospel of Thomas is this one from Saying 113: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, because women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘Behold, I shall guide her so as to make her male, that she too may become a living spirit like you men. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels, trans. by Marvin W. Meyer (New York: Random House, 1984), 38.

10 Norm Geisler and William Nix make this statement, alluding to the possible theory that some first century book might be found, and then conclude, “But that is unlikely for two reasons: First, it is historically unlikely that such a new book intended for the faith and practice of all believers, but unknown to them for two thousand years, will suddenly come to light. Second, it isprovidentially improbable that God would have inspired but left unpreserved for two millennia what is necessary for the instruction of all generations.” Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible(Chicago: Moody, 1986), 218.


Refusing a Contemporary form of Paleo-Christianity, Part 1


The Shackles of Our Dreams


Words Fail. They truly do.

I have been listening to "The Gathering" today hoping my beloved gathering of brethren from the ranks of conservative evangelicals would speak better of God and His movement in this world then they are presently doing.

But they are not, and will not.

What I, and many others, see as God's blessing and mighty movement of the Spirit into sin and chaos they would reverse all God's works to declare them as sin and judge to be unholy.

Against the whirlwind of this entrenched mindset and these doggerel declarations many of God's "Red Letter Children" have labored long years to tell the story of the Living God in His Word through the eyes of Jesus amongst the peoples of the world.

Verily it can be said, "When untruth is believed as truth there can be no turning back unless all is abandoned." And for these conservative evangelics God loses if they loose faith and must admit to His mighty spiritual work which they now declare as unholy, unrighteous, and unfit.

Into this recriminating mindset awful words such as accomodation, marginalization, biblical chaos, postmodernism, biblical errancy, and etc, and etc, are used. Words they have no understanding of except that it tells them they must change. But change for this religious crowd is anathema to the truths they tell themselves.

And so I am amazed how much God has accomplished in our midst before a segment of the church refusing to see, hear, or tell of His glory. Or bow before His Almighty Love. Who worship a different God and a different Jesus than the very one many of us read in the bible.

And so my friends, I will go again with the mantra that God's love is the thing which humbles us to repentance. That Jesus is the hope that drives us to will and to work. Beyond that, it is up to God's children to search out who they will follow.

Humanly, it seems an impossible task with little consequence. But with God all things are possible. And if 8 days are being taken to consecrate all things back to God than a ninth day should be added. And a tenth. And an eleventh and twelveth until the murkiness lifts and the face of God is truly seen against the emptiness of the false shepherd's misleading words.

R.E. Slater
September 21, 2016





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Link to Contemporary Paleo-Christianity -


The Gathering's Statement for Consecration and Repentance -
http://thegathering2016.com/…/8-Days-of-Consecration-TheGat…


The Storm Clouds of Apostasy Are Gathering 2016 -
https://coercioncode.com/2016/06/12/the-storm-clouds-of-apostasy-are-gathering-2016/



Monday, September 12, 2016

Phillip J. Long - Discussion of 2 Baruch

2 Baruch and the Fall of Jerusalem
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/30/2-baruch-and-the-fall-of-jerusalem/

by Phillip J. Long
August 30, 2016

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch appears to have been written in the late first century, probably around A.D. 100. Like 4 Ezra, the book is a response to the recent fall of Jerusalem. Using the persona of Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch, the author of this book is answering a theological question, "Why has God allowed the Temple to be destroyed a second time? Has God cancelled his promises to his people? Is there any future for Israel?" Since it was written about the same time as the New Testament’s Revelation, it is one of the more significant Second Temple period apocalypses.

4 Ezra and 2 Baruch share many similarities, although the direction of the influence is hard to determine. Klijn is inclined to see 2 Baruch as dependent on 4 Ezra; he therefore dates the book to the first part of the second century (OTP 1:616-52). Collins argues for a date a bit earlier based on the fall of Jerusalem in the twenty-fifth year of king Jeconiah in the first verse of 2 Baruch. This is not historically accurate, so it is possible the author is referring to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, twenty-five years in the past (Apocalyptic Imagination, 212-3). The book was written in Palestine and most likely in Hebrew originally. The book is closely related to the rabbinic literature and seems to be exhorting diaspora Jews from the perspective of Palestinian Jews (OTP 1:617).

2 Baruch 1-4 forms an introduction to the book. The author takes on the guise of Baruch son of Neriah, the companion of Jeremiah. He is told by the Lord that all of the things which happened to the northern ten tribes will happen to the south as well. Jerusalem will fall and the people will be punished. Baruch agrees this punishment cannot be resisted, but asks the Lord what will happen after the city is destroyed. Are the promises of God ever to be fulfilled? The Lord’s answer is that a New Jerusalem has been built, but it is in Paradise.

In chapter 5-9 Baruch prepares for the Babylonian invasion. He tells the people what the Lord has told him and they sit in the valley of Kidron and fast until evening. The city is surrounded the next day (ch. 6). Baruch sees four angels at the corners of the city with burning torches. He sees the temple and the Holy of Holies, including the ephod, precious stone and other temple items. These buildings are swallowed up by the earth, then the angels put their torches to the city and destroyed its foundations. Babylon enters the city and plunders it and kill many people.

The word of the Lord comes to Baruch and he is command to tell Jeremiah to go to support the captives in Babylon. Baruch delivers a lengthy lament for the city in chapter 9, striking many themes found in later apocalyptic (“better never to have been born,” verse 6, for example.) He condemns Babylon although it is not as brutal as it might be. He asks how the Lord has borne the destruction of the city (chapter 11-12).

As Baruch weeps for fallen Jerusalem, the Lord will answer his questions through a series of visions.


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A Vision on Zion – 2 Baruch 13-21
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/31/a-vision-on-zion-2-baruch-13-21/

by Phillip J. Long
August 31, 2016

While standing on Mt. Zion, Baruch hears a voice from heaven. The Lord answers an objection Baruch raised in his lament (chapter 13). This is a dialogue between God and Baruch which deals with the problem of the destruction of temple (13-20). What good is it to follow God if he allows the Temple to be destroyed and the people judged so harshly? People may ask, “why has God brought this sort of destruction down on his people?” When these people wonder if such a retribution will come upon them, Baruch is to tell them that they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath down to the dregs. After hearing this, Baruch asks the Lord what benefit is there in being righteous if everyone will be punished by the Lord (chapter 14).

The Lord’s reply (chapter 15) is that it is true all will be judged, but the righteous will have a crown of great glory waiting for them as a reward for their great struggle. Baruch wonders if the few evil years of this life are enough to inherit an unmeasurable reward (chapter 16). The Lord’s reply (chapter 18) is that the Lord does not take account of years. Adam lived 930 years but it was no profit for him if he transgressed God’s commands. Moses lived 120 years, but it would profit him nothing if he had not been the “lamp which lighted a generation.” But Baruch objections that while Moses was a lamp, few followed his light (chapter 18).

In chapter 19), The Lord points out Moses who gave them the covenant and they were judged by that standard. How happy a person is while young does not really matter if at the end of his life he transgresses and is judged. The Lord’s point seems to be that there is still time for repentance near the “end of days” for the nation. Baruch is told to go and fast for seven days and the Lord will continue his revelation to Baruch (chapter 20).

Chapter 21 contains a prayer of Baruch in response to the dialogue of chapters 13-20. In verse 4-11 he calls out to the Lord as the creator God, the God who is sovereign and in control of his creation. He decrees things so minutely he knows how many raindrops will fall on a given head (cf. Mt. 10:30, the hairs on one’s head are numbered.) Verses 12-18 develop this theme of God’s knowledge acknowledge that God has preserved the life of those who have sinned so that they may be proved righteous. Men are changeable even if God is not and God takes the time to change men. In verses 19-25 Baruch asks how long it will be that the world will continue to be polluted by sin.

Finally, He asks for God to act to reveal his glory in the world and restore creation. The restoration in mind is Israel, but this restoration will mean salvation for all creation. This resonates with Revelation, at least in the sense that the final restoration is the return of the glory of God and a “new heavens and new earth.”


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The Anointed One Will Appear – 2 Baruch 22-34
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/01/the-anointed-one-will-appear-2-baruch-22-34/

by Phillip J. Long
September 1, 2016

After Baruch prays this, he sees heaven open and his strength returns and a second dialogue begins (chapter 22). This time the Lord questions Baruch – does someone start something they cannot finish? The obvious negative answer is supplied by Baruch and the Lord continues to ask Baruch why he is so disturbed (chapter 23). When Adam sinned death was decreed, but the days are coming when the books will be opened and the righteous will be proven to be righteous (chapter 24).

Baruch has acknowledged God’s control and ultimate foreknowledge, but he also admits man does not know the things God does. He asks to know what will happen so that he can instruct the people (24:3-4). God promises to preserve Baruch until the sign the Most High gives to the whole world at the end of days (chapter 25, cf. the “sign of the Son of Man” in Mt. 24:30). In those days great terror and tribulations will seize the earth and people will say that the Most High God has forgotten the earth; people will lose hope. Baruch asks how long the distress will last (chapter 26), and the Lord responds it will be divided into twelve parts (chapter 27), which are listed, but then the duration of the time is “weeks of seven weeks” (chapter 28). Kiljn says this is an unclear indication, although Baruch himself does not complain (OTP 1:620, note a). The time is obviously based on Daniel 12 and the other references to a time, times and a half a time as well as the “seventy weeks” prophecy (Dan. 9). Perhaps the translation from Hebrew into Syriac has obscured the reference. Perhaps the “twelve times” are to be taken as kingdoms or rulers (as in 4 Ezra, The Eagle Vision, 11:1-12:51).

When that time is accomplished, the Anointed One will appear and the whole world will be fruitful and prosperous (chapter 29). This is a very significant chapter since it clearly refers to the Messiah who will put an end to a period of suffering and introduce a period of peace and prosperity. This will be a time when the clouds “distill the dew of health” and the “treasury of manna will come down from on high.” The Anointed One appears in his glory (Mt 25:31f) and all those who “sleep in hope of him will rise” (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-17, 1 Cor. 15:51f) and the treasury of the souls will open up and huge multitudes of souls will appear (chapter 30).

This is a clear reference to the resurrection at the time of the Messiah, but it is not a resurrection to an eternal life in heaven, but rather a resurrection to a very real earthly life in a peaceful world ruled by the Anointed one. What is significant is description of those who are; they are those who “put their hope in him.” The people who are raised appear to be the Jews from the Old Testament period who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

Baruch reports his vision to the people (chapters 31-34) and encourages them to “sow into their minds the fruit of the law (32:1). The building of Zion will be shaken, destroyed and left desolate, but will be rebuilt again. The Mighty one will renew is creation (32:6). The people think Baruch is going away from them, but he reassures them he will remain and do what Jeremiah command him.


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The Consolation of Zion – 2 Baruch 35-44
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/02/the-consolation-of-zion-2-baruch-35-44/

by Phillip J. Long
September 2, 2016

Baruch goes to the ruins of the Holy of Holies and sits there weeping because “that of which we were proud has become dust” (chapter 35). He falls asleep and has a vision (chapter 36-37). In this vision he sees a forest surrounded by a high mountains and rugged rocks. A fountain appears in the forest and uproots the forest and even made the top of the mountain low. All which remained was a single cedar which was finally cast down. A vine arrives when the fountain is peaceful and tranquil, and finds the cedar.

The vine speaks to the tree and tells the fallen tree the forest was destroyed because of its sin. All the cedar ever did was wickedness, never goodness. The cedar is burned to ash while the vine grows and becomes a valley full of unfading flowers. He prays for enlightenment so that he can understand the vision (chapter 38) and the Lord answers him (chapters 39-40). Israel is a vine frequently, see Isaiah 5, for example. This imagery is used in the rabbinic literature, see Sipre Deut. §312 (on Deut 32:9) and W. G. Braude and I. Kapstein, Tanna debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981) 369. For both these references, see Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Dallas, Word, 2001), 220.

Zion is the forest and it will be destroyed and rebuilt after some time. It will then be destroyed again, four times in all. The last kingdom will be the harshest and will exalt itself above the cedars of Lebanon. After the last kingdom the Anointed One will come (the vine, in the vision). This is roughly parallel to the four kingdoms scheme of Daniel 2 and 7, although the writer here does not detail who the kingdoms are who will overtake Zion. The last ruler of the final kingdom will be captured and brought to Mount Zion where the Anointed One will convict him of his wicked deeds and kill him. The dominion of the Anointed One will “last forever until this world of corruption has ended” (40:3).

Baruch asks the Lord about the timing of the events of his vision (chapter 41). He is concerned because many in the nation have “cast away the law.” What will happen to those Jews who are not prepared for this judgment? The Lord’s response (chapter 42-43) concerns those who have “withdrawn” and “mingled with the nations.” The writer seems to have in mind both natural Jews and converts to Judaism who “mingle.” They will be considered as the mountains in the vision, who were “brought low,” and “corruption will take away those who belong to it.” Baruch reports this vision to the people (chapter 44-47).

He tells them the judgment on Jerusalem was just and fair and that the people ought to dedicate themselves to the Law (44:6-7). The ones who will inherit the peaceful time in the future are those who are prepared for it (44:13-14), they have “not withdrawn from mercy and they have preserved the truth of the Law. For the coming world will be given to these, but the habitation of the others will be in the fire” (44:15).

This vision and interpretation is remarkably important for New Testament studies since it clearly shows an expectation of a Messiah who will free Zion from the oppressive last kingdom and establish a peaceful kingdom on earth for a period of time. If this expectation persisted after the fall of Jerusalem when Baruch was written, it most likely was common a generation before when Jesus was active in Galilee. For at least some Jews in the twenties and thirties Rome was oppressive and they did look forward to an Anointed One who will deliver them. Many of the themes present in Baruch could go back at least to the turn of the era.

Since context of this vision the fall of Jerusalem on A.D. 70, the final enemy must be Rome. Jews living in the post-70 world would have longed for God to act justly and punish Rome for destroying the Temple. Baruch makes it clear that the punishment received was just and fair (the cedar in the vision), but also that a restoration of the Temple (and Jerusalem) is God’s plan.


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Zeal for the Lord and the Anointed One – 2 Baruch and the Law
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/03/zeal-for-the-lord-and-the-anointed-one-2-baruch-and-the-law/

by Phillip J. Long
September 3, 2016

In order to be prepared for this coming Anointed One and the judgment he brings, people ought to not despise God’s law and “mingle” with the nations. Here we have a reflection of the problem between Jews who sought to keep the Law, probably the Palestinian Jew, and those who made some modifications to the Law so that they could live outside the Land (the Diaspora). Those Jews who lived outside Israel had several “boundary markers” (food laws, circumcision, Sabbath and synagogue worship), but in many other ways they lived and worked alongside Gentiles. It is possible some of these activities were considered to be compromises by those who lived in the Land, compromises which ran the risk of judgment when Messiah comes. The primary example of this sort of belief is Rabbi Saul prior to the Damascus Road experience.

Paul does not merely claim to be a Pharisee – he modifies this claim with the words “according to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul was “zealous” to keep the law to the point that he was willing to persecute those that did not conform to the Law. For a Pharisee to say he was a zealous keeper of the Law, the Jewish listener in the first century may have thought of Judas Maccabees, the forefather of the Pharisees himself, and his zealous defense of things Jewish in the Revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 1 Maccabees 2:24-29, for example, when Mattahias sees the other Jews breaking the Law “he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred . . . he burned with zeal for the law.”

This zealousness took the form of an armed rebellion against the Seleucids and any who supported Hellinization in Israel. Zeal in the first century was, in the words of N. T. Wright, “something that you did with a knife” (What Saint Paul Really Said, 27). Along with Judas Maccabees, Phineas (Num 25:1-18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) are examples of Old Testament characters that burned with a zealous commitment to the Lord that expressed itself in a willingness to challenge the evil head-on, killing those that practiced idolatry themselves if need be. If the Jews were to be ready when the Anointed One comes, then the Law needs to be kept now. Zeal might very well express itself in a violent reaction against those on the fringes who were “mingling.”

This zeal for the law reflected in Baruch may play into the background of the book of Galatians and the controversy of Gentiles keeping the Law. As Paul began to move the church into fully Gentile regions (Galatia, in Acts 13, the “first” missionary journey), he taught that Gentiles did not have to keep the Law. We read in Acts 15 and Gal. 1-2 that some believers from the Pharisees disagreed with Paul and went to some of the churches Paul had founded, allegedly under the authority of James, and taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised. The issue is whether Gentiles who believe Jesus is the Messiah are converting to Judaism – if so, they must be circumcised and, as Paul fully recognizes, keep the whole Law. Why would Pharisees care what was happening in synagogues in Galatia?

It may have been the belief that those who “mingle with the nations” will be judged when the Messiah comes, as found in Baruch 42-43. After A.D. 70 this belief could have become even more dramatic since it appears God has in fact judged the Jews for unbelief. Separation from the growing Christian movement would have been critical.

In summary, Baruch represents a Judaism which believes God will send a Messiah at some time to overcome the Romans (the oppressive last kingdom) and establish a time of peace and prosperity in the Land. This Anointed One will judge on Mount Zion and punish all those who have persecuted, but also those who have not kept the Law and “mingled with the nations.”


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The Messianic Age – 2 Baruch 48-51
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/03/the-messianic-age-2-baruch-48-51/

by Phillip J. Long
September 3, 2016

Following the common structure of the book, Baruch waits seven days then prays again to the Lord (48:1-24). He acknowledges that God establishes times and commands things that will take place. God is eternal, but humans live short lives; therefore Baruch asks for protection for the people and preservation for the nation (the elect). They will keep the Law of God and they will not mingle with the nations as long as the Law supports the (23-24). The Lord responds to this prayer and answers some of these concerns (44:25-50). Nothing will be destroyed, the Lord says, unless it has acted wickedly.

Baruch himself is to be “taken up” and preserved out of the time which is coming (44:30-31). The last days are described as peaceful, people will not realize judgment is coming. This is similar to Jesus in the Olivet Discourse describing “those days” as the days of Noah, simply a peaceful normal time, the judgment comes suddenly (Matt 24:37, Luke 17:26). Another similar aspect to the teaching of Jesus here is that while the judgment as unexpected, it was not without warnings (Matt 24:6, 11, 24, for example). The people who are judged are simply unaware spiritually and cannot discern the “signs of the times.”

Baruch asks the Lord about the splendor of the coming days (chapter 49). The Lord’s response (chapters 50-51) is a description of the messianic age. The earth will give back the dead (50:2-4) who will live again and recognize each other (50:4). What is more, the righteous dead will be “greater than the angels.”

2 Baruch 51:12-14 "And the excellence of the righteous will then be greater than that of the angels. For the first will receive the last, those whom they expected; and the last, those of whom they had heard that they had gone away. For they have been saved from this world of affliction and have put down the burden of anguishes."

Those who despised the Law will be judged and go away to be tormented. Miracles will appear for the saved and the “extent of paradise will spread out before them.” This eschatological reversal is typical of Jesus’ parables; wheat is gathered up and stored in the barn but the weeds are gathered and thrown on the fire.


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A Vision of Many Waters – 2 Baruch 52-73
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/06/a-vision-of-many-waters-2-baruch-52-73/

by Phillip J. Long
September 6, 2016


Baruch asks a further question about those who face woe and suffering in that time (chapter 52). He falls asleep and has a vision of a cloud coming up from a great sea (chapter 53). The cloud flashes lightning and great water begins to pour out of it. The water alternates between black and bright, finally pouring out a great amount of black water. The lightning grows in intensity and finally occupies the whole world. When he awakes, he asks the Mighty One for an explanation of this dream (chapter 54).

Baruch knows the dream concerns those who are in sin and about to be judged. Verses 19-20 are curious because they teach that Adam is responsible for his own sin and each of us, when we sin, become our own Adam. This is a semi-Pelagian if not Pelagian view of the imputation of sin and quite different than the view of Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15:24, in Adam we all sin.

The dream is interpreted by the Lord as encompassing all of the history of Israel in the alternating waters (Chapters 55-74). The great cloud was the length of the days of his world.

  • The first black waters – Adam and the first sin (56:5-16).
  • The second bright waters – Abraham and his generation, but also the hope of the “world which will be renewed” (57).
  • The third black waters – the sins the nation committed in Egypt (58).
  • The fourth bright waters – the coming of Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, and Caleb (59). Moses is said to have been shown all sorts of the “mysteries” of God such as the weight of the winds, the number of the raindrops, the height of the air and the greatness of Paradise along with the worlds to come. This makes Moses into a prototype of the apocalyptic prophet.
  • The fifth black waters – the works of the Amorites, which polluted even Israel in those days (60).
  • The sixth bright waters – David and Solomon and the building of Zion (61).
  • The seventh black waters – The perversion of ideas in the rule of Jereboam (62).
  • The eighth bright waters – The righteousness and integrity of Hezekiah (63).
  • The ninth black waters – The sins of Manasseh (64-65).
  • The tenth bright waters – The purity of the generation of Josiah (66). On account of Josiah “precious glories have been created and prepared.”
  • The eleventh black waters – The disaster of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (67).
  • The twelfth bright waters – The world which is to come when Zion is rebuilt again and the nations will honor Zion, after the fall of many nations (68).

After the twelve waters, Baruch saw some “last black waters” which were blacker than all the others he had seen. These waters are a description of the days which are coming when the “world has ripened and the harvest of seed of the evil ones and the good ones has come . . .” (Chapters 69-72). It is a time when the poor will outnumber the rich, when the wise are silent that the fools speak, the impious will be exalted over the brave. There will be war; those who save themselves from war will die in an earthquake; those who save themselves from the earthquake will die in the fire; those who save themselves from the fire will die in the famine (70:8-9).


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Eternal Peace – 2 Baruch 73-76
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/06/eternal-peace-2-baruch-73-76/

by Phillip J. Long
September 6, 2016

After the dark days, Baruch saw a last “bright waters” which indicate there will be “eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” (Chapters 73-76). This is the messianic age when health will descend like dew and joy will encompass the earth. Wild animals will serve men and “asps and dragons” will subject themselves to a child. Those who work the fields will never tire because the produce will shoot out speedily.

Baruch responds to the vision and interpretation in prayer and worship (chapter 75) and he is instructed to wait forty days and he will depart from the earth (chapter 76). He assembles the people and explains to the (briefly) his vision and encourages them to hold to the law, since the reason Zion fell is the people forgot the law (chapter 77). The people understand this and request Baruch write a letter to the “brothers in Babylon” that they too may know this revelation from God. There is a little hint here of a difference between Jews in Jerusalem and Jews in the Diaspora. The Jerusalem Jews are concerned their brothers living far away keep the law and see their responsibility in ensuring the Jews in Babylon keep the Law correctly. Is this a hint at the problems between Palestine and Diaspora Jews in the pre-70 era discussed earlier?

Baruch writes a letter to the nine and a half tribes which are living in Babylon (chapters 78-87) explaining to them the Lord justly chastised the nation because they were unrighteous. He reports what happened when Nebuchadnezzar invaded the city (79) and his vision of the angels around the city who allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take Zion itself (80). He gives them some word of consolation as well, that the Mighty One is a God of Grace and has shown him the “mysteries of the times and the coming periods” (81).

He describes the coming time of justice for God’s people when everything will be put right and the nation will be avenged (82-83). God is fair in all of his judgments, for “if he judges us not according to the multitude of his grace, woe to all us who are born” (84:11). The youth of the world has passed away and the coming of the “times” is nearly here: the pitcher is full, the ship is near the harbor, etc. (85). When those days come he will purge the world of sin and destroy those who are polluted by sin (85:15).


[End of Baruch]


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Phillip J. Long - Discussion of 4 Ezra

Book Review: Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski, Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch (Part 2)
https://readingacts.com/2014/07/04/book-review-gabriele-boccaccini-and-jason-m-zurawski-interpreting-4-ezra-and-2-baruch-part-2/

by Phillip J. Long
July 4, 2014

Boccaccini, Gabriele and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00. Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001. (Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts, the first is here.)

Part three of the book collections five articles which deal with exegetical details of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Jason M. Zurawski discusses the passage in 4 Ezra the state of the present world is a consequence of Adam’s sin (“The Two Worlds and Adam’s Sin: The Problem of 4 Ezra 7:10-14”). In 4 Ezra 7:74 the author claims God is in control of all things via his initial, foreordained plan. But 7:10-14 seems to state the opposite, Adam’s sin resulted in hardship and evil in the world. Zurawski argues this “complication is more apparent than real” since it can be reconciled with the rest of the book by understanding that God made the world difficult in the first place and Adam was the first to fall into the traps of the world (105). In the book, Ezra thought the world was made only for Israel, but Uriel explains “this world was never intended as the inheritance of the righteous.” This stands in contrast to 2 Baruch, where the world was filled with toil and evil only after Adam’s sin.

Daniel M. Gurtner studies “Eschatological Rewards for the Righteous in Second Baruch.” Baruch’s readers live “between two worlds,” the present evil world where the Temple has been destroyed and the future Paradise that was created for Israel (114). The writer of 2 Baruch exhorts his readers to persevere through their present tribulation because they will receive divine blessing in the future. The specific blessings are “presented in familiar Second Temple terms” (111) such as afterlife and a world to time, a Paradise where there is no suffering, heavenly bliss and a heavenly Jerusalem, complete with a new temple.

In a related article, Jared Ludlow explores “Death and the Afterlife in 2 Baruch.” Because of the view of death in 2 Baruch, the book is an “exhortation to good works, a nondescript ethical liked which may have more in common with Jewish tradition than Christian” (116). After Adam’s sin, the realm of death was prepared (23:4) and after death a soul will face final judgment (books, scales, fire). The judgment is on the basis of the righteousness of the individual, and every secret thought will be exposed (89:3). The final state of the righteous is a crown of glory and a glorified transformation.

Basil Lourié contributes a technical article on the problem of “The Calendar Implied in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Two Modifications of the One Scheme.” After surveying the chronological notices in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra he concludes both books are using a 364-day calendar and both books conclude their revelation on Pentecost, the day Moses received the Law. The difference is that 2 Baruch begins his sequence on Wednesday, resulting in 31 interval days in the book (as in Jubilees), while 4 Ezra begins the year on Sunday, resulting in 33 interval days (as in 3 Baruch). Lourié suggests that if Rev 1:10 is an initial revelation on a Sunday and the series of sevens are taken as seven days, then the interval days in Revelation also work out to 31. This requires the three non-seven visions to be single days, and ignores the seven thunders in Rev 10:3. Since John is told to not write what the thunders said, Lourié’s scheme may have merit.

Finally in this section of the book, Carla Sulzbach focuses on Jerusalem in these books (“The Fate of Jerusalem in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: From Earth to Heaven and Back?”) Sulzbach observes that Baruch is in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, while Ezra is living in Babylon some thirty years later. This difference in perspective may affect the portrayal of the city as well as the eschatology of the books. In both books “Jerusalem has become cosmicized and elevated,” but this process was already underway in the later prophets (143). The city is developed upwardly, toward Heaven, and conflated with the Land and Temple. This is especially true in 4 Ezra 10, where the prophet encounters a mourning woman who is transformed into an eschatological Zion.

The final part of the book proposes to study 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch in their Social and Historical Settings. James Charlesworth’s article “4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Archaeology and Elusive Answers to Our Perennial Questions” has two related themes. First, he argues both authors could have written from the vicinity of Jerusalem between A.D. 70 and 135. There is evidence of a Jewish “large Jewish settlement” at Shu’afat which was occupied between the two revolts. The site has well-constructed mikvoth and five ink wells were found in the upper level of a building. At the very least this implies the site could have served as an administrative center and possibly other literary activity. His point is that Jerusalem was not depopulated nor were Jews banned from the city after A.D. 70., so it is at least possible these books were written within sight of the destruction of the city.

The second point he makes in this article is perhaps more controversial. Charlesworth argues 2 Baruch knew at least the pessimistic theology of 4 Ezra, if not the book itself. To support this view, he shows that the implied author of 4 Ezra did not have answers for the destruction of the Temple and did not even think a future messiah would provide much hope. The messiah in 4 Ezra rules for 400 years and then dies; Charlesworth takes this as an implicit rejection of the messianic hopes leading to the revolt. 2 Baruch, on the other hand, provides an answer. The fall of Jerusalem was a punishment for sin; therefore the message of the book is “keep the Torah.” Charlesworth recognizes this suggestion cannot be proven, but offers it as a matter for ongoing discussion.

Stephen Pfann’s fascinating article (“The Use of Cryptographic and Esoteric Scripts in Second Temple Judaism and the Surrounding Cultures”) begins with Ezra’s instructions to five scribes in 4 Ezra 14 as he dictated 94 books: the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible and 70 secret books, kept for the “wise among your people (14:26). Pfann sees this practice as similar to the use of Cryptic A script at Qumran and elsewhere. The article offers an overview of cryptography, but concludes that this script was used at Qumran for texts [and] esoteric documents reserved for the elite members of the community, possibly to be read alongside the Bible itself (194).

The last article in the collection seems to be outside the focus of the volume. In “Apocalyptic as Delusion: A Psychoanalytic Approach,” J. Harold Ellens offers an assessment of the psychology of apocalyptic movements in general, calling the “psychotic Jewish worldviews” (209). He moves quickly from Second Temple documents like 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch to modern “gurus” like Jim Jones and David Koresh, and even Adolf Hitler an examples of delusional and communal psychosis. Finally, he thinks Jesus’ apocalyptic thinking fits the [psychoanalytic reference encyclopedic] DSM IV criteria for delusion, including megalomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, especially in his belief he would return to judge the world (208). He concludes “it is clear that a generalized delusional ideation had pervaded an entire community of people in the Jesus Movement, in 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Qumran Community, the Maccabees, and the followers of Bar Kochba” (209). The collection of essays would have been just as valuable if this essay were left out.

Conclusion. The essays in this collection are an excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion of these two important Second Temple apocalypses.

NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


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A Christian Introduction to 4 Ezra
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/23/a-christian-introduction-to-4-ezra/

by Phillip J. Long
August 23, 2016

Because it was written about the same time as the book of Revelation, 4 Ezra is one of the more important apocalyptic books. The Jewish apocalypse (chapters 3-14) was probably written about A.D. 100 based on the opening verse which states the book was written thirty years after Jerusalem was destroyed. This verse claims to be the words of the main character in the story, Ezra, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Since the book discusses the problem of the fall of Jerusalem it is applicable to either A.D. 70 or 135.

Metzger finds it unlikely a Jewish book would find popularity in the post-Bar Kokhba world, so probably the central section was not written after even A.D. 120 (OTP 1:520. Charles 2:552 concurs with this date, although he tries to separate various sources in the text in order to date them earlier. Michael Stone dates the book to the last decade of the first century, see “Esdras, Second Book of,” in ABD 2:611-614).

The Christian framework was added in the second half of the third century. Collins states there is a “consensus” the Jewish apocalypse was written in Palestine at the end of the first century while Metzger takes the reference to Babylon in 3:1 as Rome; the book is therefore the product of Diaspora Jews (Apocalyptic Imagination, 196).

Chapters 1-2 of 4 Ezra are a Christian composition known as either 2 Esdras or 5 Ezra. After a brief genealogical introduction (1:1-3) Ezra is called to prophetic ministry (1:4-11). Ezra is to declare to the people of Israel their sins. To do this, Ezra describes the Exodus (1:12-14), the wilderness journeys (1:15-20) and the conquest (1:21-23) and shows that God did great things for the people, but they responded by breaking the covenant.

God addresses the people through Ezra, wondering what he will do with his rebellious people (1:24-32). God declares that he will reject his people and no longer listen to their pleas (1:25) and drive them away like straw in the wind (1:22-37). God did send them leaders such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then the 12 Minor Prophets (listed in the order of the LXX). Israel is to be scattered and God has become as a widow (2:1-7).

After a short “woe” against Assyria which seems out of place, God says the Kingdom of Jerusalem will be taken away from Israel and given to “my people,” presumably Christians. God has rejected the nation of Israel as his people, and according to this text, he has turned to the gentiles. In 2:33-41 Ezra calls to the nations because Israel has rejected God: “O nations, await your true shepherd” (The editor of OTP inserts “Ezra turns to the Gentiles” as a section heading for 2:33-41, which seems a bit more than the text says).

Chapter 2:15-32 is an ethical section inserted between the sections on Israel’s rejection. Beginning in verse 20 there is a list of actions which are expected from the people of God. Isaiah and Jeremiah are described as the servants of God sent to help Ezra as he reminds his readers of the ethical demands required of them. Some of the ethical statements which following in verse 20 are in fact drawn from Isaiah 1:17 and Jeremiah 7: guard the rights of the widow and the orphan, clothe the naked, care for the injured and weak, protect the lame and the blind, protect the old and properly bury the dead. Burial of the dead is not a factor in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but it is an important issue to first century Judaism. That Second Temple Judaism considered proper burial important is seen in the apocryphal book of Tobit. One of the “good deeds” of Tobit is the burial of the dead, see 1:18-20, 2:3-8, 4:3-4; 6:15; 14:10-13.

There is a hint of resurrection in 2:16: “I will raise up the dead from their places and bring them out from their tombs.” Since it is followed by ethical commands, it is possible that some sort of spiritual resurrection is in mind here (the passing from death to life at the salvation, etc.) Coupled with the reference to the shepherd in 2:34, it is possible the writer has Ezekiel 34 and 37 in mind. There is a resurrection in 37:1-14 (the valley of dry bones) and the true shepherd in 34:1-19.

The Christian section draws to a close with a vision of a great multitude in Zion (2:42-48). This crowd received crowns and are given palm branches by the Son of God because they have confessed him in the world (2:47). This Son of God is described briefly as a young man of great stature, taller than the rest and more exalted as well.


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Ezra’s First Vision – 4 Ezra 3:1-5:20
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/23/ezras-first-vision-4-ezra-31-520/

by Phillip J. Long
August 23, 2016

Ezra’s first vision sets the stage for all that follows. He is troubled in his spirit over the fall of Jerusalem and calls out to the Lord in prayer asking about the justice of the destruction of the city (3:1-11). He reviews the history of Israel with a special emphasis on the promise of God (3:12-19) and frankly acknowledges the “evil heart” of the people and their disobedience (3:20-27). But Ezra wonders how Babylon could be allowed to survive and prosper while Israel is destroyed and her people taken captive (3:28-36). Surely Babylon is far worse that Israel? What nation in the whole world has kept the commands of God? In this complaint to the Lord, Ezra stands in the tradition of Job, who complained about his personal experience with evil, and Habakkuk, who asks very similarly about the justice of allowing Babylon to prevail over Israel.

After giving this “complaint,” the angel Uriel is sent to Ezra to discuss the problem over the next few chapters. Like Job and Habakkuk, the answers given are not exactly as expected and Ezra continues to probe and question the angel on the problem of God allowing evil to prosper in the world. Uriel begins by telling Ezra that he is arrogant to think he can understand God’s ways. He gives Ezra three “problems” which are impossible for a human to understand, not unlike God questioning Job on Job 38-41. Ezra’s response is to fall on his face. He says it would be better if humans were never born rather than to have come into the world to live in ungodliness, suffer, and not to understand why.

Uriel tells Ezra a parable (4:13-21): the sea tries to take the territory of the forest, and the forest the territory of the sea. Uriel asks Ezra which is more likely to succeed in their plan. Ezra correctly responds both have foolish plans, neither can take the other’s territory. Uriel points out that as a human Ezra might remember his place and not try to understand the things of heaven.

Ezra makes a second complaint to the angel in 4:22-25. He asks why God has allowed Israel to become a reproach before the gentiles. It is as if the covenant no longer exists! Uriel responds much as the Lord did in Habakkuk 2 – have some patience! “If you live long enough,” Uriel says, “you will see the end of the age” (4:46-32). The seeds of ungodliness have already been sown, it will not be long the threshing floor is filled. Ezra asks how long it will be until the end of the age (4:33-43). Uriel’s response is as evasive as his previous ones – go and ask a pregnant woman if after nine months she can hold the child in a bit longer. His point is simply that there is a time which has been appointed and it will surely come.

Hades is like a womb, he says, and once the birth pangs begin, there is no escaping the birth. The time of the birth is more or less fixed and there are signs which point to the soon-ness of the birth. Once started, these birth pains cannot be stopped. The imagery of the end of days as “birth pangs” seems common in the apocalyptic; Jesus makes use of this image in Matthew 24:8. Ezra attempts a second time to know how long it will be until the final days, and once again Uriel answers with imagery which suggests a time is ordained and nothing can stop it (4:44-52).

Finally in 5:1-13 Uriel gives Ezra a series of “signs” which will accompany the end of the age. Those who dwell on the earth will be seized with great terror and people will fall away from true faith. Unrighteousness will increase and the land of Israel will be a waste and trodden under. In verses 4-5 there are a few of the typical cosmological signs: the sun shines at night, the moon during the day; blood will drip from wood and stones will speak. Other natural oddities will occur – birds will fly away and the Dead Sea will give fish. Menstruating women will give birth to monsters and chaos will reign.

Ezra awakens from this vision and fasts for seven days, mourning and weeping because of what the angel had shown him (5:14-20). Some of these “signs” are found in the biblical material, but in most cases the apocalyptic in the New Testament are quite sedate in comparison. The end of the age will be chaos and is described in terms of the natural order run amok, but the writers tend to hold back on the gory details as we have them here in 4 Ezra.


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Ezra’s Second Vision – 4 Ezra 5:21-6:34
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/24/ezras-second-vision-4-ezra-521-634/

by Phillip J. Long
August 24, 2016

After seven days of fast, Ezra returns to the Lord in prayer (5:21-30) He reminds the Lord that out of all of the forest he has chosen a special vine which he planted in Zion, from all the cities of the world he has chosen Jerusalem. Why then has the Lord dishonored his people? Does he now hate Israel and Zion? Uriel once again is sent Ezra to respond to his complaints (5:31-40).

The first response to Ezra’s complaint is once again to ask him “imponderable” questions which God alone knows. Wait long enough, Uriel says, and you see the goal of the suffering. Ezra accepts this, but continues his complaint: what will we do while we wait (5:41-55)? The answer once again lies in the natural order of creation. Things happen because that is the way they have been planned.

Ezra then asks about the end of the age: How will the Lord visit creation (5:56)? This is answered in chapter 6. First, the plan was set before time (6:1-6). All of history has been divided by key events, for example Esau is the end of one age while Jacob is the beginning of the next (6:7-10). Oddly enough, this is proven by the fact that Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel with his hand. The heel is the end of a man while the hand is the beginning of a man.

Rather than expand on this “division of ages” concept, Ezra asks for more signs of the end of the age (6:11-28). In this case Uriel describes the period after Zion’s humiliation is over. Infants will speak with a mature voice, women will give birth to premature children of three or four months and they will live and dance. Sown places will suddenly appear unsown and storehouses suddenly empty, a trumpet will sound and all will be terrified and the whole world will be stilled. At that time people who have been taken up without experiencing death will return (presumably Enoch and Elijah are in mind here). All of the earth’s inhabitants will have a changed spirit and evil will be blotted out.

Once again Ezra is physically overcome by this vision and he must wait another seven days of prayer and fasting before his third vision (6:29-34). Uriel exhorts him to believe what he has seen and not be quick to “think vain thoughts,” a commentary on the questions he has asked of the Lord so far.


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Ezra’s Third Vision – 4 Ezra 6:35-9:25
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/25/ezras-third-vision-4-ezra-635-925/

by Phillip J. Long
August 25, 2016

After seven days of fasting, Ezra is still troubled in his spirit and once again brings a complaint before the Lord. He reviews creation (6:38-54) before asking his real question – if Israel really is God’s favorite people out of all those descended from Adam, how is it that the other nations domineer and devour her (6:55-59)?

Uriel once again comes to Ezra and gives him another parable (7:1-25). This time a city is in the middle of a plain, but the entrance to the city is very narrow so that only one man may walk along the path and dangers are on either side. If a man is given the city as an inheritance, how can the man take possession of it without passing through the dangers? The angel makes the analogy clear. Israel is in sin because of Adam and therefore all her entrances are narrow and filled with danger. Israel is coming into her inheritance shortly, but to get into that city they must pass through the “narrow gate” fraught with dangers.

Uriel does not pause for another question from Ezra this time but rather moves right into the “signs” section of the vision (7:26-44). A time will come when a city appears and Israel will be delivered from the dangers of this world. “My son the Messiah” will appear and people will rejoice with him for 400 years (v. 28). Translations of this verse shows considerable variation in this title (OTP 1:537, note e). The Armenian has “the Messiah of God,” Georgian has “the elect my Messiah,” while the Latin has “my son Jesus.”

After that time he will die (v. 29) and the world will return to primeval silence. After seven days the world will be roused and all corruptible will perish. The dead will be raised to life and the Most High will be seated on the seat of judgment in order to pass judgment. The unrighteous will go down into the “furnace of hell” while the righteous into the “paradise of delight.”

This part of the vision is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, there is an indication of a temporary kingdom after the coming of the Messiah. This is not quite like Rev. 20 and the thousand-year kingdom (in 4 Ezra this kingdom only lasts four hundred years), but at least there is an expectation here of a gap between the coming of Messiah and the eternal state during which time the messiah will rule in peace on earth. Secondly, the term Messiah is used for the coming deliverer. This single Messiah will reveal himself and rescue the people from the dangers of the present age. Third, the major difference is that the Messiah dies at the end of the temporary kingdom. This expectation does not seem to be found in the New Testament at all. The description of the judgment at the end of the temporary kingdom sounds much more like the judgment in Mt. 25:31-46, although Revelation has a “complete” judgment at the end of the thousand years as well (Rev. 20:11-15, the “lake of fire” sounds much like the “furnace of hell” here in 4 Ezra).

Ezra praised God because of this revelation, but expresses some fear that there will not be many who are judged worthy at this final judgment (7:45-61). Uriel agrees, just as precious stones are precious because they are rare, so too the righteous is precious because they are so few. In 7:54-57 there is a superficial parallel to 1 Cor 3:10-14 in that a man builds on his foundation either precious things or worthless things. In 4 Ezra the earth is said to produce wither precious or worthless things as well. The point of these two passages are quite different, as are the catalog of worthless things. Ezra once again laments on behalf of the human race since so many of them are born into a world to be tormented then judged unworthy (7:62-74).

Uriel responds the state of humanity is Adam’s fault, the judgment is fair and just (contra 1 Enoch 31). Ezra then asks the angel about the place of the dead and the sorts of things which await the unrighteous dead (7:75-101). Uriel will describe this to him, but first he admonishes him to not be associated with those who are tormented. Ezra is told he has a “treasure of works laid up with the Most High” which will not be shown until the final judgment. This “storehouse of works” and the later questions about praying for those in torment are obvious hooks to later Catholic theology. It is odd, therefore, that these sections do not appear in the Latin version of 4 Ezra. Verses 36-105 are missing. Uriel gives the seven ways the unrighteous put themselves in torment (verses 81-87) and the seven ways the righteous can enter into paradise (88-99). Essentially those who serve the Lord in this life are rewarded, if not, they are tormented.

After seeing these things Ezra asks if the righteous will be allowed to intercede on behalf of the tormented (7:102-105). The Day of Judgment, Ezra is told, is decisive. No one will pray for another after the Day of Judgment and everyone will bear their own righteousness or unrighteousness. Ezra wonders about this, since Abraham was allowed to intercede on behalf of Sodom (7:106-111; The Latin text resumes at verse 36, after the strong negative answer on prayers for the dead in verse 105). He mentions the prayers of Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah and Hezekiah, all of whom prayed to the Lord on behalf of others and were heard. Uriel’s answer involves the difference between this age and the age to come. This age is weak, therefore the strong can pray for the weak with some effect. The coming age, however, is an age of glory and perfect righteousness (7:112-115). No one will be able to have mercy on the one who is judged in the coming age. Ezra once again laments over the seeming futility of mankind’s existence, but Uriel explains that the world is fair (7:116-131). Uriel quotes Moses – choose life that you may live!

Ezra then implores the Lord on the basis of his attributes (7:132-8:3). He lists seven divine attributes such as mercy, gracious, bountifulness, etc. If God is this good, how can he judge people so harshly? Uriel’s response is to repeat the parable of the earth. From the earth come many clay pots which are nothing but dust, but only a few pieces of gold. “Many have been created, but few will be saved” (verse 3, a similar line to Mt. 22:14, “many are called but few are chosen” but with a completely different application).

Ezra tries to implore the Lord on the basis of creation once again (8:4-36). The point of this long prayer is that God’s creation is good and well-ordered. Why then would God, who is good and righteous, destroy those who have taught his law the same way he destroys other “beasts?” This question comes back to the problem of the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezra is told that it is true that God does not care so much for the unrighteous as he rejoices in the righteous (8:37-40). Ultimately, whatever a farmer sows will grow and give fruit (8:41). Ezra tries to shift the blame back to God: if the crop does not come in, it is because the rains did not come. He therefore begs God to spare the people and have mercy on creation (8:42-45). The Lord responds to this accusation that while Ezra is righteous, he does not love creation more than God. Ultimately everything will be judged fairly; evil will be done away with and the righteous will enter into paradise (8:46-62). Judgment is in fact drawing near, a fact which is only revealed to a few.

As in the earlier visions, last part of this vision is a description of the signs which will precede the end of the age (8:63-9:13). As before, there will be earthquakes and political chaos, showing that everything the Lord has declared from the beginning will be shown to be true. The fate of the wicked is described one more time in 9:14-25. Ezra compares the wicked to the righteous as a wave is to a drop of water. The Lord compares this to wheat on the threshing floor, more is burned than is used for food. “Let the multitude perish which has been born in vain, but let my grape and my plant be saved, because with much labor I have perfected them” (verse 22). Ezra is sent into a field to contemplate this answer and the Lord gives him a series of dreams.


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Ezra’s Fifth Vision – 4 Ezra 11:1-12:51 (The Eagle Vision)
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/26/ezras-fifth-vision-111-1251-the-eagle-vision/

by Phillip J. Long
August 26, 2016

Ezra’s second dream in the field involves an eagle with twelve wings and three heads (11:1-35). The heads and the wings mutate in various ways throughout the dream, some becoming dominant while others wither and become puny. Ezra hears a voice from the body of the eagle rather than from one of the mouths. As Ezra watches this eagle, a creature like a lion appeared and addressed the eagle (11:36-46). The lion-creature says the eagle is the last of the four beasts which remain (probably referring to Daniel 7). The eagle has judged the earth, but not with truth, therefore it will be judged by the Most High. As the lion is speaking, the eagle’s heads disappears and the body of the eagle burns up and the earth is terrified (12:1-3).

Ezra is perplexed and asks the Lord for an interpretation of this vision (12:4-9). The Lord speaks to Ezra and confirms the eagle is the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision (12:10-39). The wings are twelve kings which will reign over it, and the three heads are the final three kings which will arise in the final days. One will be poisoned while the other two die by the sword. These are probably to be taken as Roman emperors, although which is to be the start of the sequence is always a problem (Julius, Augustus, etc.) and if the three minor rulers are to be included in the sequence (Cf. Revelation 18 where there are a series of ten kings). The lion is the Messiah (12:32, cf. Rev. 5:5), who comes at the end of days from the line of David. He will denounce the final beast and deliver the remnant of the people of the Lord and make them joyful in the end on the Day of Judgment.

Since Ezra has been gone from the people from some time, the people make a search for him. When they discover him the field, they ask him how they have offended him (12:40-45). Ezra tells them to take courage because the Most High has not forgotten them in their struggle. He has been praying to the Lord on behalf of the desolation of Zion and will stay in the field another seven days (12:46-51).

Given the predominant imagery of an eagle, this vision seems to make the final empire in Daniel’s vision the Romans and describes the Messiah as overcoming the Romans and judging them for their ungodliness. The identity of the four kingdoms in Daniel is a debated subject, many scholars take the fourth empire to be Greece, especially in the light of chapter 11 and the predictions of Antiochus IV Epiphanies and Seleucid meddling in the politics of Palestine. Others take the fourth empire as Rome, arguing Rome is by far the most powerful and dominate of world empires. Collins (OTP 1:550 note b) considers 4 Ezra a re-interpretation of Daniel, applying the fourth beast to Rome; I would be inclined to see 4 Ezra as confirming the fact Daniel’s fourth beast is Rome.

This prophecy was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem by a Jew who desired to comfort other Jewish readers. God is aware of the evil of Rome, the fall has been predicted long ago by Daniel. Eventually the Messiah will come to deliver the Jews from the oppression of Rome. It is possible this hope existed well before A.D. 70, especially during the ministry of Jesus. We know there were a few small scale rebellions in the early part of the first century (Judas the Galilean in A.D. 6, for example) as well as several false messiahs.

4 Ezra represents a messianic hope for delivery from Rome some 70 years after the time of Jesus, but it may reflect a more long standing hope for deliverance. It was well known that after the fall of Jerusalem there were three generations, about 70 years, before the Temple was rebuilt. 4 Ezra seems to represent the thinking of people living in the “three generations” between A.D. 70 and the messianic fervor of A.D. 135. If there was an expectation for the Messiah even after the fall of Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Jews (Pharisees and disciples both) misunderstood Jesus as messiah. Certainly Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, but the method for establishing the kingdom was not exactly what they may have had in mind.


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Ezra’s Sixth Vision – 4 Ezra 13:1-58 (The Man from the Sea)
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/27/ezras-sixth-vision-4-ezra-131-58-the-man-from-the-sea/

by Phillip J. Long
August 27, 2016

After another seven days, Ezra experiences another vision (13:1-13.) A great wind stirs the sea and Ezra sees a figure of a man flying with the clouds, surrounded by a great multitude. The mountains melt like wax before him. A huge multitude has gathers to make war against him, but they are destroyed by flaming fire from his mouth. This man then came down from the mountain and called his people to him; some were joyful but others were sorrowful; some came bound while others brought offerings.

Ezra is perplexed by the vision and prays for an interpretation (13:14-20). The Lord responds by explaining that the world will make war city against city and all of the signs described before will come to pass. The man will come and the multitudes will gather to make war against him, but he will stand on top of Mt. Zion and judge the nations (13:21-39).

This man is called “my son” (verse 37). The people who gather to the man are the Jews, even the “lost” ten tribes (13:40-45). The man who is coming will destroy the nations while preserving the people of God (13:46-50).

Ezra asks why the man was coming from the heart of the sea (13:51)? The reason is that the sea is a great mystery, nor one can know when “my son” will come (13:52-58, cf. Mt. 24:36, 42, no one knows when the Son of Man will come, but one can know the “signs,” Mt. 24:32-35.) Ezra leaves the field and gives God great glory because he controls the times and governs whatever comes to pass.


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Ezra’s Seventh Vision – 4 Ezra 14:1-48
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/29/ezras-seventh-vision-4-ezra-141-48/

by Phillip J. Long
August 29, 2016

Ezra has his final vision three days later while sitting under an oak (14:1-18). The Lord calls to him and tells him to store up all of the visions he has received because the ages are growing old and the time of the end is drawing near. History has been divided into twelve parts, and nine of these parts are already past as well as half of the tenth part. The eagle of the last vision is “already hastening to come.”

Ezra the requests the Lord allow him to rewrite the scripture so the present generation will know what has happened (14:19-26). The Law was burned along with the Temple, therefore the people need new copies given to them by the Lord. The Lord allows this, but some of the books are kept secret (14:26). He announces his intention to rewrite the scripture to the people (14:27-36), and for forty days he goes into a field along with five scribes.

He is given a drink by an angel which will give him complete understanding and total recall as he dictates all day long. After forty days ninety-four books were created: the twenty-four canonical books and the seventy “hidden” books (14:37-48). This can be taken as a reference to an Old Testament canon since the 24 books are obviously the books of the Hebrew Bible. If 4 Ezra is dated to the end of the first century, then we have at least some indication that the canon was fixed by that date (for the author of 4 Ezra, at least!)


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The New Testament and 4 Ezra
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/30/the-new-testament-and-4-ezra/

by Phillip J. Long
August 30, 2016

The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra deals with the problem of the Jews in the post-70 world. Has God abandoned his people? This is extremely important for New Testament studies since the “Jewish problem” arises in nearly every context. The New Testament passage which deals with this problem in the most detail is Romans 9-11. While Paul reaches a similar conclusion, he does so in a non-apocalyptic manner. Paul is obviously writing well before the fall of Jerusalem, so this is not the “crisis” which has caused Paul to ask about the fate of the nation of Israel. In Paul’s case the “crisis” is the resurrection of Jesus in general and more specifically his own calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles which raises the question of what happens to the Jews in the new era of “church.”

Paul deals with the problem much differently than4 Ezra. Rather than question God’s fairness or badger God with questions about his management of the universe, Paul grounds his understanding of Israel in the election of the nation to be the people of God and in the unalterable promises of God (9:1-21). Even there, Paul is willing to accept that God makes some things for destruction, as objects of his wrath. But Israel is not by nature an object of wrath, although they have “experienced a hardening in part” (9:30, 11:25). Romans 10 makes clear it is God’s desire for Israel to be saved, they are not cut off from God and a remnant of Israel will be saved in the future. Romans 11:1 cannot be clearer: God has not rejected his people, and eventually “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).

Paul is writing in the pre-A.D. 70 world. Israel still exists as a political reality, Jerusalem and the Temple still stand. 4 Ezra is on the other side of the terrible destruction of Jerusalem asking a legitimate question – does God still care for Israel? This question may be at the heart of the closest parallel in the New Testament to 4 Ezra, the Book of Revelation.

While Revelation never states the question in quite the same way 4 Ezra does, the fate of Israel in the post-A.D. 70 world is near the center of the theology of the book. That Israel will continue to suffer and pass through torment is a given in the book; the nation will ultimately be tested to the point of death. At the last moment, the Messiah will appear and vindicate his people and establish them in peace and safety in Jerusalem (and later the New Jerusalem) with a restored temple and renewed worship. Revelation demonstrates, like 4 Ezra, that God has a plan to set things right in the future for the nation of Israel.

Another text which deals with the problem of Israel in the period after the fall of Jerusalem may be the book of Hebrews. This book deals with the theological problems caused by a belief in Jesus as Messiah, especially the sacrificial system in the light of the death and resurrection. The sacrifices are no longer necessary for a Jew to approach God since Jesus has given access to all through his blood. The temple and Jerusalem are therefore no longer needed. This is argued in non-eschatologically and would have appealed to Jews in the Diaspora.


[End of 4 Ezra]