Geerhardus Vos


The two overtowering final events in the drama of eschatology are the Resurrection and the Judgment. As we shall presently see they are the points where the rivers of history issue into the ocean. There are numerous subsidiary streams, but, regarded from the standpoint of the ultimate basin as a whole, these are but minor affluents whose waters do not reach the sea except by way of the two principal outlets. That of the latter there are two, and only two, is due to the inherently religious, and partly remedial character of the process of which eschatology is the consummation. The Judgment is, of course, the inevitable summing up of a world-process that has fallen subject to the moral abnormalcy of sin; the Resurrection, after a parallel manner, serves for restoring what has become the prey of decadence and death. Where both purposes have been accomplished, their accomplishment makes ipso facto provision for whatever else in detail is disordered in the present age. Only in regard to the resurrection an additional factor must be taken into account. What pertains to it cannot be exhaustively deduced from the remedial necessity created by sin and death. For the eschatological process is intended not only to put man back at the point where he stood before the invasion of sin and death, but to carry him higher to a plane of life, not attained before the probation, nor, so far as we can see, attainable without it.

This double-faced aspect of the final issues of history and redemption is in itself conceivable without a specifically-Messianic complexion. Many a time in the Old Testament the conclusion of things, both by way of judgment and of transformation, is connected with the epiphany of Jehovah without Messianic assistance. In fact the characterization of the great double event as a “coming” of the Messianic figure is very rare in the Old Testament. Even at the first opening of New Testament revelation in the disclosures made to the family of John the Baptist, and subsequently through the latter himself, the other mode of representation, that of the Lord’s (God’s) coming still maintains itself. In the teaching of Jesus and particularly with Paul, the terminology undergoes a deep change in this respect. While the description of the end-crisis as a signal interposition of God is never entirely in abeyance, we may say that on the whole it gives way to that of the coming of Christ. This is highly significant, because the term “coming” had in certain connections become practically a technical term for eschatological eventuation, just as we are accustomed to speak of the “parousia” meaning without explanation that of Jesus. Now this whole complex was bodily shifted from Jehovah-God to the Messianic circle of thought. The great and uniformly expected “coming” is henceforth a coming of the Messiah. Perhaps no more sweeping and in its effects more momentous transfer of a fundamental Old Testament concept and its reincarnation, as it were, in the New Testament frame of thought than this can be imagined.1 It should not be forgotten, of course, that the transference was facilitated by the attribution of the Kyrios-title to Jesus, which made it almost unavoidable to identify the “coming” of Jehovah-Kurios with the advent of the Messiah. Nevertheless the significance of the phenomenon remains. It lies not so much in the frequency of the association of Jesus with the eschatological crisis, but rather in the simultaneous disappearance of more or less similar eschatological terms once connected with God.

First we deal with the Pauline use of the term “parousia.” This occurs of Christ in the following passages: 1 Cor. xv. 23; 1 Thess. ii. 19; iii. 13; iv. 15; v. 23; 2 Thess. ii. 1, 8, (9). Being originally an appellative, in course of time the word tended to become a proper noun, the advent of Jesus at the end to such an extent monopolized its usage that other connections were lost sight of. This had for its further result, that in the later stage no determinative Genitive was required any longer, “the parousia” being in Christian parlance referable to one event only, and therefore not in need of closer specification. But such was not the original employment of the word; the specific degenitivized use lies beyond the New Testament and the early Christian period. In the Pauline Epistles there are half a dozen passages where the Apostle speaks of his own parousia or of that of his own fellow-workers in the Gospel, in each case, of course, with the necessary personal determination: 1 Cor. xvi. 17 (of Stephanas); 2 Cor. vii. 6, 7 (of Titus); x. 10 (of the body of Paul); Phil. i. 26; ii. 12 (of Paul). It is true, even in such cases the word carries a certain stress of solemnity or importance, due to the consequences associated with the arrival of the person in `question. Of the advent of the Messiah “parousia” does not occur in the Jewish literature. With an approach to eschatological meaning it appears in “The Testaments of the XII Patriarchs,” where Test. Jud. xxiii. 3 we read of “the parousia of the God of Righteousness,” which certainly sounds as if a degree of affinity between it and the eschatological manner of speech had begun to be felt.2 In its secular as well as in its religious-eschatological use the word expresses the two closely connected ideas of arrival and presence. Parousia signifies “becoming present” and “being present” for a longer or shorter period. Somewhat of an analogy to this is furnished by the double sense of the English word “visit.” It has been surmised that in parousia the static significance was the original one, out of which the other developed. This, however, is not certain. In the New Testament the idea of occurrence, arrival, plainly stand in the foreground.3 Of chief importance to note is the absence of the notion “again” from the word considered by itself. The noun means “arrival,” not “return.”4 It cannot correctly be rendered by “second coming.” When the Christians spoke of the parousia of their Lord, they were, of course, aware and mindful that the event spoken of was in point of fact a second arrival, duplicating in a certain respect that of the incarnation. Still there did not develop out of this consciousness the phrase “second parousia.” That this did not happen is only explainable from the intensively prospective outlook of the early Church. So many things and such absolutely-consummating things had become associated with the parousia of the Messiah, that only the catastrophe of the last days seemed capable of attracting and retaining the word for itself. This undoubtedly differs from the gravitation of present-day Christianity towards the historical life of Jesus in the past. The New Testament believer felt that while the Messiah had entered the world and been present in it, nevertheless the epochal coming, the one fully worthy of that name, the actual parousia of the Lord, belonged to the future. While the centering of Christian contemplation upon the nativity is both justified and understandable, yet it is more in the line of doctrinal perspective than in the line of instinctive, immediate apprehension of things.5 Paul in this respect occupies the same standpoint as Peter and James, whilst in the Synoptics, if not the term “parousia,” at least a past “coming” is predicated of Jesus, and that in words spoken by Jesus Himself.

The parousia taken as an event is with Paul catastrophic. Of a development within the limits of the concept, or a duplication or triplication of the event, there is nowhere any trace. It is a point of eventuation, not a series of successive events. About the question, whether it ushers in the “millennium” or the eternal state, nothing can, of course, be decided by this in itself. Only, if it should be found to refer to an “interregnum,” then this by stress of usage would be apt so closely to bind it to the chiliastic complex of hope, as to dim the eternity-prospect beyond. It designates the momentous event, and consequently that which it opens up must needs carry a supreme, absolute weight to the religious consciousness. To conceive of Paul as focusing his mind on any phase of relative consummation, and as tying up to this the term “parousia,” inevitably would involve his relegating the eternal things to a rank of secondary importance. It would have meant a repetition, or perhaps a continuation, of the Judaistic scheme of thought.6 Whether the evidence bears out the conclusion here anticipated (and in a certain sense “prejudiced”) the subsequent discussion of the chiliasm-problem in Paul’s eschatology will have to determine. A chiliasm-parousia tends to make for a chiliasm-complexion of the final state as a whole. And this would be worse than the Judaism of 4 Ezra and the Ap. of Baruch. What appears there as a compromise between the temporal and transcendental strands would with Paul have become a principial appraisal of the former above the latter. The vista of the transcendental world of heaven would have become all but effaced by the concrete shapes moving in the temporal foreground.

A second term descriptive with Paul of the eschatological coming of Christ is the term “revelation,” apokalupsis. This occurs 2 Thess.1.7; 1 Cor. 1, 7; iii. 13; (Rom. ii. 5; viii. 18). The idea of a “revelation” of the Messiah is older than Christianity. It did not first grow out of the belief of the present hidden life of Jesus in heaven which began with his withdrawal at the ascension and will come to an end through an open reappearance in the last day. The older eschatology had already learned to conceive of a twofold sense of this revealing. In some cases the conception moves entirely within the terrestrial sphere, both the hiding and the unveiling (revelation) taking place on earth, whatever place or time of existence might be further put back of that The belief existed in certain circles that the Messiah, after his birth into this lower world, would for some time be kept hidden in some unknown place on earth, and that not until the appointed moment He would leave this hiding-place, and show Himself in public to the people, to perform his specific task, cp. I Ap. Bar. xxix. 3; xxx. I; 4 Ezr. vii. 28; Test. Lev. 18.7 An instance of his Jewish belief is recorded in Jno. vii. 27: “When the Christ comes, no one knows whence He is,” although the idea thus suggested is in no wise countenanced by Jesus or the Evangelist. Apart from this the Scriptural passages are all framed on the principle of a direct translation from the heavenly into the earthly regions, so as to impart to “apocalypsis” a technical (theological) sense, applied frequently to the transfer, or coming down, of great things, from the supernal to the terrestrial sphere. In this sense we meet with it already in the vision of Dan. vii. which depicts one like unto a son of man (== man) as coming with the clouds of heaven, words which certainly assume a previous existence, although giving as yet no information, how far the preexistence was understood to reach back in time or into eternity. This general background, however, of a revelation from heaven, could not but assume a quite different complexion through becoming correlated with the visible disappearance of Jesus into heaven, and thus coupled with the promise of a likewise visible movement in the opposite direction, viz, his appearance in the future. That, rather than the incarnation, now become his “revelation” par excellence.8

The flavor attaching to the term “apocalypsis” differs somewhat from that carried by the term “parousia.” The latter concerns believers chiefly, the former the enemies of God’s people, though in neither case exclusively so. In 2 Thess. i. 7, 8 the militant revelation is described in the following terms: “At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” To believers the appearance of Christ will partake of the character of a “revelation,” inasmuch, as his glory has not been visibly disclosed to them before. The idea is in all passages plainly implied, that Jesus’ eschatological revelation will bear the features of a strictly momentary, miraculous act. While things preceding and preparing for it do not, of course, lack all gradual and orderly unfolding, yet the event itself is catastrophic in the absolute sense, nay this very idea of suddenness and unexpectedness seems to he intimately associated with the word. Hence of the “Anomos” of 2 Thess. ii. 3, 6, 8 an apokalupsis is predicted; many forces may after a hidden, mysterious manner work towards the ripeness of the time for his activity, none the less he is to be revealed “in his time.”

A third term designating Christ’s advent is ha hamera 1 Thess. v. 4; 2 Cor. iii. 13; (Heb. x. 25). This is found in various forms, according to the complements added to it. In Paul’s writings the following of these enlarged designations occur:

  • ha hamera tou Kuriou, 1 Thess. v. 2; 2 Thess. 2; 1 Cor. v. 5 (Acts ii. 20; iii. 10)
  • hamera tou Kuriou hamon 1 Cor. i. 8;
  • ha hamera tou Kuriou Jasou, 2 Cor. i. 14;
  • ha hamera Jasou Christou, Phil. i. 6;
  • ha hamera Christou, Phil. i. 10; ii, 16;

The first of these forms is a rendering of the O.T. phrase “the day of Jehovah.” Hence, in regard to some passages there is doubt, whether “the Lord” in it be meant as the Greek translation “Lord” = “Adonai” = “Jehovah,” or signifies the Lord Jesus. Where the name “Jesus” is found in apposition, or the pronoun “our” is appended, there can be, of course, no doubt but Christ is meant. Absolutely certain of this we cannot be, when the title simply reads “the Lord.”

As to the import and bearing of the word “day,” various theories are being held, of none of which absolute certainty can be affirmed. Some think the origin lies in the conception of Jehovah as a victorious warrior, who has his day in which He will be the center of the entire scene of battle and victory, the day thus being monopolized by Him and filled with the revelation of his glory. There are certain contexts in Paul which favor this association. According to 1 Thess. v. 2; ii. 8 the day brings with it destruction for the enemies of God’s people. The O.T. usage is to a large extent in accord with this: Am. v. 18; Hos. i: 11; Isa. ii. 12; x. 3; xiii. 6, 13; xxxiv. 8; Jer. xlvi. 10; Ez. vii. 19; xiii. 5; xxx. 3; Joel i. 15; ii. 1, 11, 31; iii. 14; Ob. 15; Zeph. i. 14, 15; ii. 2, 3; Mal. iv. 5.9

Others think that the source of the idea must be sought in the terminology of judgment in the forensic sense. A judge or a court have their day on which they are in session. That such usage was not unfamiliar to Paul may be seen from Cor. iv. 3: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of any man’s day.”10 The idea of a judgment-day is plainly associated with the phrase “day of the Lord,” wherever Paul by means of the idea urges the practice of holiness: Rom. ii. 16; 1 Cor. ii. 13; Phil. i. 6, 10; ii. 16. It should be remembered, however, that the punitive-realistic and the purely-forensic conceptions cannot in all cases be cleanly separated, as little as this can be done in the Old Testament.11

In a couple of passages Paul seems to have colored the word “day” forming part of the phrase with the (not-purely chronological), but likewise physical-pictorial association of the element of “light.” “Light” belongs to the day as its characteristic, the opposite of the darkness that pertains to the night. Hence “the day of the Lord” can be visualized as a day of deliverance, joy and blessedness. There is perhaps no figure more pregnant in its religious associations than the figure of “light.” In the sphere of the emotions (no less than in that of the intellect for knowledge) it is made to render service as a physical analogon for spiritual rejoicing. The two main passages inviting to this, as at least a partial interpretation interwoven with the preceding usage, are Rom. xiii. 11-14 and 1 Thess. v. 1-8. According to the former the world-night is a time of wickedness, characterized, as the nighttime in the pagan world usually is, by such things as revelling, drunkenness, chambering, wantonness, strife, jealousy, because the publicity inseparated from daylight holds these and other things under restraint. vs. 13. Moreover, for the wicked as well as the good, the night is the period of sleep, vs. 2. Of this world-night the Apostle further affirms the nearness of the end: it is far spent; the emergency, therefore, demands watchfulness (“waking out of sleep”) and abstinence from all forms of pagan immorality, through the consciousness of the imminence of the crisis: it is high time; salvation, eschatological salvation, is relatively at hand.12 Believers must put on the “armor of light,” vs. 12. Besides the usual warning attached to the thought of the approaching moment of the judgment, there is here an allusion to the ushering in of the future state as a state of light, and salvation, a day in the literal (not merely chronological) sense; the day has become a qualitative conception, by reason of its association with light; the word has received ethico-religious import bono sensu, it is a day and not a night. And, through its contrast with “the night which is far spent,” it has also ceased to be the mere marking of a point in the eschatological process; this day so quickly to ensue is quantitatively stretched out to a period of extended duration. As the night had a course of which a “being far spent” could be predicated, so the day has its extension and means more, to speak in terms of the same figure, than the break of day, or the morning.

In 1 Thess. v. 1-8 the contrast is in the first place one between the ominous surprise which the arrival of the day of the Lord involves for the wicked when it arrives as a thief in the night, or as travail comes upon a woman with child. Up to the third verse, it will be observed, the contrast of light-darkness is still absent. In vss. 4-8, however, this element enters. On the whole it is utilized to stress the contrast between the sobriety of the day and wantonness of the night; likewise between the heedlessness of the wicked and the watchful preparedness of believers. Still the statement in vs. 5: “Ye are all sons of the light and sons of the day” reminds of the same allusion observable in Rom. xiii. Throughout the terminology of the two passages is strikingly the same. The occurrence of “light” as a soteric term in other connections likewise adds force to the understanding here; cp. Eph. v. 8, 9, 13; Col. i. 12. Even in the O.T., there are points of contact, for the association of darkness, on the one hand, and light, on the other hand, with judgment and salvation. If one were to follow this lead, the proper paraphrase for “day of Jehovah” in the passages cited would be “the light-reign (day) of Jehovah” as well as “the dawn introducing it.”13

A remarkable feature about these several terms is their detachment from the precedents, attendants and subsequents of the crisis they describe. They mark the mere event to come; of further eschatological speculation they are void. The Apostle handles the theme in a large, one might almost say abstract, manner. Yet, this is not due to the terms themselves, which are fully capable of a rich filling-up with solid concrete material. The cause will have to be sought in the constructive, history-building role eschatology had come to play in the mind of Paul. In view of the outstanding summit the detailed and scattered features on the slopes of the mountain have, while not entirely effaced, at least lost their sharpness of contour. While this may less satisfy the interest of eschatological curiosity, it for this very reason greatly contributes to the outstanding of the chief structural elevations. The transparency of the atmosphere secures for the latter a clear vision of their unique importance.

It would be a mistake, however, to infer from this that for the Apostle the eschatological crisis bears no fixed organic relation to the preceding historical process. The very scheme of the two successive worlds renders it unthinkable that at any arbitrarily chosen point the world to come should supersede the world that is. The phrase plaroma tou chronou Gal. iv. 4, implies an orderly unrolling of the preceding stages of world-history towards a fixed end. It is true, this statement refers to what we call “the first coming” of Christ, but we must not forget that the whole drama enclosed between the two “comings” is so much a unit for Paul, that orderly progression towards the close being characteristic of the former coming, a similar approach could not possibly be absent from the climacteric termination of the whole. But also in certain concrete ways the Apostle has set definite limits to the continuance of the present aeon on its course, and thereby at the same time fixed the point of arrival for the world to come.14 In Rom. viii. 19-23 the final stage appears as a painful birth-process: “The whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.” A clear analogy to this is furnished by the Jewish theology, where it speaks of the “cheblei-hammashiah,” “the birth-woes of the Messiah.” While this explicitly refers only to the arrival of the Messiah himself, it undoubtedly carries with it the idea of great changes and new conditions to be ushered in by his momentous appearance. Still, a difference exists in this regard, that Paul has divested the idea of its limited form of expression, and made it expressive of the entire foregoing world-process as characterized by the universal prevalence of sin: “The creature was made subject to vanity”; it suffers from the bondage of corruption in an all-inclusive sense; it waits in eager expectation for the liberating end. That the ktisis the creature is meant here in distinction from man, the context clearly shows; particularly the words “itself” and “ourselves also” (vss. 21, 23) preclude all doubt concerning this. How this grandiose conception was filled out in detail, and whether it involves the belief of a progressive, and in course of time accelerated, corruption of nature cannot with certainty be determined, although this idea would fit well into the general scheme of Paul’s thought. It should be noticed, however, that the representation reflects a genuinely sympathetic feeling towards the lot of subhuman nature. Paul is sometimes charged (in distinction from Jesus) with a lack of sensibility towards the natural, subhuman world, but here at least with a certain tenderness he sympathizes with the pitiable lot of the lower creation. Whether there lies back of this mere personification, or whether perhaps, as some would believe, it betrays the ascription of a degree of consciousness to the animal and vegetable, or even the astral, world, is a question at last worth considering. The terms used certainly are strong: the creature manifests an apokaradokia for the manifestation of the sons of God. The contrast between willingness and unwillingness is introduced to describe the tenor of the creature’s subjection. The creation follows in this not its own natural bent but finds itself implicated in the woeful destinies of mankind. In this fact lies, on the other hand, also the reason for its ultimate deliverance, which on account of such origin must coincide with the removal of the bondage of man to corruption and his endowment with the glorious liberty of the coming age. One almost gets the impression, as though this remarkable piece of the philosophy of nature were introduced as a foil to the willfully wicked self-surrender of man to his enslavement by sin. It is scarcely subject to doubt that the participle hupotaxas does refer to man, not to God. The strain of pessimism in Paul with regard to the world in its sub-redemptive state is plainly traceable here. It is, however, no more absolute pessimism than is the Apostle’s estimate of the ethico-religious condition of unredeemed mankind. The gloom of the one, no less than that of the other, is in anticipation dispersed by the assurance of the glorious deliverance at the end. The redemptive optimism lies deeper and by far outweighs the pessimism of the sense of sin and corruption, cp. Rom. viii. 18.

More particularly relating to social conditions in the circle of believers is the enestosa anagka spoken of in 1 Cor. vii. 26, in view of which the Apostle inclines towards dissuading such as are single from entrance upon the state of marriage. The phrase in itself has no eschatological color; nevertheless, in view of the context evidently requires to be understood in that light. The average troubles connected with married life as such can scarcely be referred to. Nor is justice done to the language by thinking of marital troubles made more complex and burdensome for Christians through impending persecution. A quite particular aggravation of the distress referred to must have stood before the Apostle’s mind according to the closing words of vs. 28: “Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh, and I would spare you.” In the decisiveness of these words “shall have trouble”, the eschatological note clearly makes itself heard. A quite special tribulation is imminent. Explicitly this is affirmed by the opening clause of vs. 29: “The time is short.” The manner in which this statement is introduced by: “This I say, brethren,” shows that the expectation of the nearness of the end carries the emphasis. But the words “the time is short” certainly cannot have the rather banal sense, that it is no longer worthwhile to marry. The shortness or rather “contractedness” of the time serves simply as a reminder of the belief that the parousia may not be far distant, and that from the parousia all sorts of worldly distress are inseparable. Thus understood the idea of the present “anangke” and the statement “the time is short” fit perfectly into each other. But there appears in the context still a third motive pointing to the same conclusion. The counsel takes in view other relationships and occupations, vss. 30, 31 : they that weep should be as though they wept not, and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not, and they that buy as though they possessed not, and they that use this world, as not abusing it. And the reason for all this is given in vs. 31 : “the fashion of this world passes away.” But here again the readers are immediately reminded of the fact that the relevancy of the advice, so far from resting on a purely chronological opinion as to the nearness of the event, derives its main force from the state of mind in which the Christian ought to contemplate the end and make ready for it. The underlying idea is none other than that the times preceding the parousia require a unique concentration of the minds of believers upon the Lord and the manner in which they may best please Him. The last days are to be days of undivided and most assiduous interest in the Lord and the unparalleled mode in which He may soon come to reveal Himself: “He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” There is difference also in regard to this between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” vss. 32-34.15

A further datum making the time of the parousia dependent on certain future developments is furnished by Rom. ix. 11-15; 25-32. Here Paul outlines in broad strokes the course determined for the extension of the Gospel to those to be saved through its effect. This outline has the peculiarity that it names not only the bare facts, but to some extent adds a psychological and soteric explanation, so that one might call it a philosophy of the history of the church in the widest sense. The close connection between it and eschatology lies in two statements: vs. 15, where the result of the “proslampsis” i.e., the receiving back of the unbelieving majority of the Jews into favor brings with itself what is called “life from the dead.” The climacteric nature of the event to be expected as the issue of the unfolding ways of God forbids to tone down this phrase to the purely-metaphorical, making it fall within the terms of mere spiritual revival. “Life from the dead” must refer to the resurrection specifically so named, and so understood it presupposes the beginning of the closing act of the eschatological drama. The second statement, leading to the same conclusion, is found in vss. 25 and 26: “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness (plaroma) of the Gentiles be come in and so (houtos) all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn ungodliness away from Jacob.” In this last statement, it is true, the immediate supervention of the eschatological crisis upon the preceding events is not directly affirmed, but it is clearly enough implied in this that the twofold great purpose of the Gospel-preaching will have at that point been attained, the bringing in of the fulness of both Gentiles and Jews. The motive effecting this stupendous reversal in the attitude towards the Gospel on the part of the Jews is described by Paul as a “parazaloun,” or, in the passive, “parazalousthai.” In vs. 14 Paul applies the principle involved even to the scattering results of his own Apostolic missionary activity among the Jews. There the “parazeloon” includes the indirect aim: “if by any means I may provoke to jealousy my flesh (the Jews), and so save some of them.” This subsidiary purpose the Apostle pursues alongside of and through the opportunities offered him in his evangelizing of the Gentiles, vss. 13, 14: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am (specifically) the Apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office (even so far as primarily it extends to the Gentiles), if by any means I may save some of them (the Jews).” Nevertheless, such conversions remain for the present but sporadic examples, though at bottom expressive of a divine principle intended to work itself out on the largest of scales at the predetermined point in the future. And this is intimated in vs. 11: “Have they (the Jews) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid, but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them (the Jews) to jealousy.” The “parazeloun” of x. 19 in a quotation from Deut. xxxii. 21, is of a somewhat different nature, for its proximate effect is “parorgizoun,” “to provoke to anger.” Paul, however, may have looked upon the anger aroused in the hearts of the Jews through the marvellous success of the Gentile mission as a sort of negative preparation for the “parazelousthai” in the nobler sense. It can only lead to confusion not to distinguish between the single conversions spoken of in such statements and this comprehensive eschatological recovering of the unbelieving Jews. The “pleroma” held in prospect for them stands in contrast to the “hattama and “paraptoma of vs. 12. Both words, taken together with the question of vs. 11, leave no doubt but the general, national apostasy of Israel is referred to, and consequently the recovery, from this must bear the same collective interpretation. Just as the “riches of the world,” and the “riches of the Gentiles” take the pagan world in its organic, collective sense, so the other term in the antithesis requires the same understanding. It need scarcely be added, that “collective” is not identical with a “universalistically”-conceived extension of the two effects to all single men on either side. If it were, then the curious question could not have been so simply passed by as to what in Paul’s view had become, or was to become, of the individuals who had died away or were to die away in the intervening time between the setting in of the hardening of Israel and the end. It is precisely characteristic of the passage that it abstains from the consideration, far more the solution, of such problems, and speaks in ethnic terms. Only with this in mind can we take the events as tending more or less directly to the eschatological consummation.16 The phrase “porosis apo merous,” “hardening in part,” p. 25, bears strong witness to the necessity of the collective exegesis. On the other hand, a frank recognition of this state of facts ought not to be exploited, as it often is, in the interest of a total denial of the Pauline doctrine of sovereign election as an integral factor in the salvation of individuals. The evidence of Paul’s firm belief in that and the supreme importance it hears for the whole construction of his soteriology and eschatology is superabundant. Even if Rom. ix-xi were entirely left out of account this would still hold absolutely true. The trouble arises from too much mechanical exegesis expended on these particular chapters without penetrating into the inner core of the doctrine and from over-hasty disregard of the numerous statements where this core comes into view. Nor should it be overlooked that even in the very opening up of the problem as regards Israel in the present in Ch. ix several times an individualistic turn is given to the idea of election. Apart from its national application the principial significance of the doctrine in soterics shines through everywhere in the argument. The Apostle was not led first from the ethnic employment of the idea to the introduction of it in individual cases. It is from certain theological standpoints convenient to assert this, but the opposite order of emergence as between the two is just as conceivable. Paul, we believe, came to the discussion of this problem, the unbelief of the greater part of Israel, as antecedently a predestinarian; he was not first made a predestinarian through his weighing of that problem. There is abundant evidence of his application of the principle of predestination or election before the writing of Romans. Cp. i Thess. i. 4; 1 Cor. i. To say that Paul revolved or further worked out the problem in his mind does not imply that for this reason it ceased to be for him an object of divine revelation, lost divine sanction. On the contrary, in Ch. ix. 2 he explicitly affirms that at least avowal of the one aspect of it there mentioned (the presence of great sorrow in his heart) was made “in Christ,” that is, with the concurrent witness-bearing of the Holy Ghost in his consciousness.

Still another statement implying a gradual and fixed approach towards the goal of the Parousia is found in 1 Cor. xv. 24, 25. Here it is declared that before the arrival of “the end” (tó telos), Christ must have previously put down all “rule” (archa) and “authority” (exousia) and “power” (dunamis); that Christ’s reign of conquest must last until He shall have put all enemies under his feet; further that “the last enemy” to be destroyed is “death.” Plainly there is affirmed in these words a progressive subjugation of enemies leading up to the consummation. The fact that death is named “the last” points to the resurrection. All this, however, moves in the super-terrestrial sphere of the world of spirits, so that it can scarcely be counted among the prognostics of the approaching crisis; it consists of happenings unobservable by men. There is further involved the somewhat complicated question, as to where the beginning of the conquests named should chronologically be placed: does it belong from beginning to end of the “millennium,” as postulated by some on the ground of this and other passages appearing as a fixed element in Paul’s eschatology? Or does it form part of the present period, in which case it would date from Christ’s resurrection and be conceived by the Apostle as going on at that very moment so as to cover the entire period between the resurrection and the final parousia of the Lord. So far as the plausibility or implausibility of such a “chiliastic” exegesis is concerned, we shall revert to that aspect of the question in its proper place, when the presence or non-presence of a millennarian strand of thought in Paul’s teaching comes under review.

Still another problem, although of less direct bearing on the question in hand, concerns the exact nature of the enemies spoken of. Are the words used abstract designations for certain types of movements hostile to God and Christ, or do they refer to concrete demonic powers? As concerns the other terms (“rules,” “authorities,” “powers”) the general demonological statements in other passages of the Epistles put beyond doubt, that concrete beings, or groups of such, are meant. It is somewhat more difficult to assume this for “death,” although Jewish analogies for even that are not lacking. Certainly in Rom. v. 12-21 “death” is highly personalized, but so are “sin” and “life.” In the Apocalypse, especially death appears in vivid concreteness, and the juxtaposition of death with the other powers speaks in favor of an analogous interpretation in all four cases. The phrase “all enemies” (vs. 25) opens still farther, but scarcely more definite, prospects.17 At any rate this much is sure, that the Apostle assumes an incessant, uninterrupted pressing on of the soteric movement towards its absolute conclusion determined in the divine plan. The end stands in fixed relation towards what precedes it. Be the compass of time within which all things occur longer or shorter, the simple fact of the designation of “death” as the “last enemy proves that a well-ordered succession is contemplated.

To the foregoing may be added a couple of passages from the Pastoral Epistles. As is well known, these Epistles lay strong stress upon the invasion of the churches by godless, depraved elements, and draw, on the whole, a dismal picture of the condition of things, both morally and religiously, at their time of writing. In itself, it would have been easy to bring these symptoms of decadence into connection with the near approach of the eschatological crisis. As a matter of fact, we actually observe such a connection dwelt upon in John’s First Epistle. In the Pastorals, on the other hand, such an inference is drawn only twice: 1 Tim. iv. 1 and 2 Tim. iii. 1. “In later times (en usterois kairois) some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” This forecast is introduced by: “the Spirit says expressly” (ratos “in so many words”), a form of statement indicating that the low appraisal put upon the character of the times was by no means the opinion of single, pessimistically inclined, persons, but a piece of actual prophetic revelation once expressed with great emphasis. The other statement (iii. 1 of the Second Epistle reads: “But know this that in the last days (en hamerais) grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof.” The enumeration resembles to some extent the catalogues of forms of sin found in the earlier Pauline Epistles.18 The vices and excesses of sin there rehearsed lack, however (with the exception of Col. iii. 5-8), the explicit reference to the semi-eschatological character of the times, and this is precisely what is present here in the Pastorals. It would be a mistake to assume that Paul in these later Epistles represents that sort of thing as still lying entirely in the future. The enumeration is followed in 2 Tim. iii. 5 by the injunction “From these turn away.” It is a matter of present concern and eminent importance.


  1. In the O.T. “coming” of God in the eschatological sense: Ps. 1. 3; lxxx. 2; lix. 20; Zech. xiv. 5; Mal. iii. 1; iv. 6; of the Messiah’s advent: Gen. xlix. 20; Num. xxiv. 17 (“shall rise”); Dan. vii. 13; for the N.T. cp. Matt. xxiv. 3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Cor. xv. 23; 1 Thess. ii. 19; iii. 13; iv. 15; V. 23; 2 Thess. ii. 1, 8 (vs. 9 of “the Man of Sin”) Jas. v. 7, 8; 1 Pet. iii. 12 (of God); 2 Pet. i. 16; iii. 4, 12 (of “the day of God”). To these must be added the references to “the day of the Lord,” so far as with certainty they mean by “Lord” Christ: Rom. xiii. 12; 1 Cor. 1, 8; iii. 13; v. 5; 2 Cor. 1, 14; Phil. i. 6, 20; ii. 16; 1 Thess. v. 2 (4); v. 5, 8; 2 Thess. 2; 2 Tim. i. 18; iv. 8; 1 Pet. iii. 10. The term “epiphaneia” likewise ought to be taken into account, because of its O.T. frequency with regard to Jehovah; it occurs connected with Jesus’ future coming in 2 Thess. ii. 8 (joined to parousia) ; 1 Tim. vi. 14; 2 Tim. i. 10; iv. 1, 8; Tit. ii. 13; finally “apokalupsis” likewise comes under consideration as an example of transference from the O.T.: 1 Cor. i. 7; 2 Thess. i. 7; 1 Pet. i. 7, 13; iv. 53.

    Cp. for the pervasiveness of the idea of “coming” in biblical eschatology, Sellin, Der alttestamentliche Prophetismus, p. 181.
  2. Occurrences in extra-biblical Greek: Soph. El. 1104; Eur. Alc. 209; in the later period: Pol. 23, 10, 14; Dion Hal. I, 45, 4; Thuc. i, 128, 2. In the Greek O.T. Neh. ii. 6 (variant reading poréia) ; Jud. x. i8; 2 Macc. viii. 12; xv. 21; 3 Macc. iii. 17.
  3. How close the two lie together can be estimated from the fact that the coming is not for bringing other things, but has for its chief purpose the bringing by the Lord of Himself to his own; cp. 1 Thess. iv. 17. On the background of the “parousia” lies the “apousia”; this naturally tends towards making the static sense a subject of attention; in the passages where the parousia of others is spoken of, the comforting note of abiding presence, at least for a time, is distinctly co-audible; cp. 1 Cor. xvi. 17; 2 Cor. viii. 6, 7; Phil. i. 26; ii. 12.
  4. The English rendering is in regard to the point of time less explicit than the German “Zukunft” and the Dutch “toekomst,” both of which are compound nouns in which the element of futurity is co-expressed. The English lacks such a word and has to content itself with “coming,” which, to be sure, is a more correct rendering of “parousia.” The futurity of the event can be supplied through joining the auxiliary to the Verb: 1 Cor. xv. 23.
  5. The fact stated should not be exploited to deny the Messianic complexion or consciousness of our Lord’s earthly life. The joint-occurrence in Paul of the two ideas “has come” and “will come” proves that the one point of view need not exclude the other.
  6. A difference is observable here between the terminology in regard to the parousia and the kingdom. The latter is duplicable; it comes in installments; so in the Gospels, where the present and the eschatological kingdom are clearly distinguished. Nevertheless this has not led to any duplication of the “parousia” of the Christ. The latter is one and indivisible. The nearest that (in terminology of the kingdom) comes to a twofold advent is such a saying as John xiv. 3, but the parousia-idea is foreign to the Johannine writings with the exceptions of 1 John ii. 28, where the word refers to the end and excludes a preliminary occurrence no less than in Paul. Cp. further Heb, ix. 27, 28,
  7. The above statement does not, of course, exclude, that in the Apocalyptic writings (and sometimes in the same books), most transcendental representations of the Messianic introduction into the earthly world occur side by side with the other. Cp. the writings above cited.
  8. In the First Epistle of Peter, where the idea of the hidden invisible existence of Jesus and his salvation in heaven is stressed, the eschatological usage of “revelation” is likewise in evidence; cp. i. 13; v. 4. In i. 20 the word is phaneroun instead of apokaluptein. This passage is a striking proof for the eternal actual preexistence of Christ. “Foreknown before the ages” and “manifested in these last times” yields an impossible contrast, unless “foreknown” be given the pregnant sense of “eternally beloved as an existing being.”
  9. 9 Isa. ix. 4 has been quoted as furnishing an analogy through the phrase “the day of Midian”; cp. W. Robertson Smith, Prophets of Israel, p. 397. The comparison is not exact, because Midian, after whom the day is named, appears in it as the conquered, not as the victor, as Jesus does in the interpretation suggested in “the day of Jehovah.” Wellhausen calls attention to the Arabic phrase “the day of some tribe” for the day of its great victory.
  10. Cf. Acts xix. 38, agopaioi” (i.e., hamerai) are being held; it `was easy for the adjective to drop out of the phrase.
  11. “The “visitation” in Isa. x. 3 is a visitation for judgment; in the same ominous sense the word occurs in Pet. ii. 12; Jude 6.
  12. Grossheide, De Verwachting der Toekomst van Jesus Christus, would apply vs. 29: “The time is short” to the nearness of death for individuals, and reveals in general a tendency to remove the strong sub-eschatological consciousness from the record through unrealistic exegesis. To confine ourselves to Paul, he interprets Phil. iv. 5 “The Lord is near,” of the Lord’s omnipresence. In Rom. xiii. 11 “now is salvation nearer” he puts upon “salvation” the otherwise quite permissible but here impossible sense of “the sum total of what the Christian obtains through faith, while of “nearer” he gives no satisfactory explanation. These and some other passages are grouped together under the heading, “Scripture passages wrongly brought into connection with our subject” (the Parousia). For the other class (where the Parousia is actually involved) he quotes from Paul, 1 Cor. vii. 29; xv. 51; 1 Thess. iv. 15, 17; 2 Thess: ii. 1ff. The treatise is exceedingly valuable on account of the detailed lists inserted with each passage of previous, or contemporary, writers and their various views on the exegesis at issue. It deals, of course, not with Paul’s statements alone.
  13. In Amos v. 18 the prophet warns the wicked, that “the day of Jehovah” is darkness and not light. Evidently it had been considered by the people largely in the latter aspect, for they are said to “desire” it. Cp. on this passage and the O.T. usage of the phrase in general, Gressman, Der Ursprung der Israelitisch-jüdischen Eschatologie, pp. 141-159.
  14. The word odines technically “birth-throes,” does not occur in our passage; it is used by Paul figuratively of the destruction coming upon the wicked at the arrival of the day of the Lord, 1 Thess. v. 3. Being likewise found in our Lord’s eschatological discourse, Mark xiii. 8; Matt. xxiv. 8, it would seem to have acquired its specific association with the pains of childbirth previously. In itself it can denote any violent pain, Ps. xviii. 5ff., but the eschatological reference, both in the saying of Jesus and here is not subject to doubt. The ktisis here in Romans seems to be the lower ktisis, whereas according to the Gospel-prophecy also astral bodies are involved. The usage goes back in general, and here with Paul in particular, to the curse upon the soil pronounced in the account of the fall. That Paul looked upon his own time as exhibiting an extreme intensity of the curse, and a correspondingly strong aspiration of nature towards deliverance, is not capable of proof. The thing dates from the beginning; cp. “until now” in vs. 22.
  15. The form of marriage in use among the Dutch Churches generalizes the idea of affliction as connected with marriage, so as to detach it from the eschatological background it has in our passage: “Inasmuch as ordinarily those that are married are subject to manifold adversities and crosses on account of sin,” etc.
  16. Pas Israel could, of course, when taken by itself, mean the joint-body of the people of God composed of Jews and Gentiles by race. Whether it can bear this meaning in the surrounding context is a different question. This we feel bound to deny.

    As to “houtos” in the clause at the beginning of vs. 26, “And houtos all Israel shall be saved,” this is sometimes rendered by “then” owing to the (involuntary) injection of chronological progression into the passage. When translated “thus,” it cannot signify aught else than “in the working out of the principle stated,” “after this manner”; cp. Zahn, Komm. N.T., Römer, p. 523, note 66, who paraphrases, with appeal to Acts xvii. 33; xx. 11; xxviii. 17, “not until after this has happened”; this paraphrase of Zahn does introduce the time-element, through its “not until,” but only retrospectively. As observed above, the close sequence between the conversion of Israel and the end is suspended on the words “life from the dead.” Whether this consummation is to be construed chiliastically, or otherwise, is not indicated by our passage. To the question of “Chiliasm” as present or not present in the Pauline Eschatology as a whole we shall have to revert afterwards.

    That the things foretold will happen in or to the then present generation is not affirmed by the Apostle. Some have even thought that the possibility of this not being so is indicated by the (intended) omission of the pronoun “auton” after the noun “proslampsin in xi. 15. On this view the certainty of the national “receiving” is the only thing affirmed. A whole generation, or more, might intervene, and still the statement would lose none of its literal fulfillment, when the epoch-making event took place. The causal significance of the latter for the coming of “life from the dead” would not be impaired by the chronological interval.
  17. Cp. O. Everling, Die Paulinische Angelologie und Daemono logic, 1888.
  18. Cp. Rom. i. 29-32; iii. 10-18; 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10; Gal. v. 19-21.


Geerhardus Vos may rightly be called “the father of Reformed biblical theology.” After accepting the professorship to the newly created chair of biblical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, he served that institution for 39 years until his retirement in 1932 at the age of 70. During that time Dr. Vos achieved the reputation of a theologian whose biblical insight is without equal. The full impact of his exegetical labor is only now being realized, well beyond his own time.

Emphasizing the historical character of biblical revelation, Vos was able to clarify the pervasive meaning of Scripture by bringing into view its basic structure. Far from an array of isolated proof-texts, the Bible was, for Vos, an organism — its rich diversity was seen to give unanimous expression of its redemptive message.

This article is taken from Dr. Vos's book, The Pauline Eschatology, Chapter IV (Eerdman's: Grand Rapids, 1930)

 Discuss this article and other topics in our Discussion Board

Return to the Home Page

Go to Calvinism and the Reformed Faith