Time for another long one....
I have pointed out
how the "ambiguous oracle" is characterized specifically as a timed prediction in Josephus (κατὰ τὸν καιρὸν ἐκεῖνον, "at that season"), in Tacitus (eo ipso tempore
, "at that very time"), and in Suetonius (eo tempore
, "at that time"). I have also argued
that this "ambiguous oracle" derived from Daniel and was not a mere invention by the historians.
Already on its face it is clear how the generational prophecy ("this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place") would fit in with the ambiguous oracle: any
prediction timing the eras and epochs up until a certain point in time will necessarily entail that, after generations of humans have not lived to see that point in time, one particular generation will be alive when it takes place.
But this connection becomes less abstract and very concrete as we consult the book of Daniel itself and its spiritual heirs:
Daniel 12.4: 4 "But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the season of consummation [LXX ἕως καιροῦ συντελείας]; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase."
Daniel 12.13: 13 "But as for you, go your way to the end [LXX ἔτι γάρ εἰσιν ἡμέραι καὶ ὧραι εἰς ἀναπλήρωσιν συντελείας, 'for there are yet days and hours unto the fulfillment of the consummation']; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the consummation of days [εἰς συντέλειαν ἡμερῶν]."
A similar concept appears in 1 Enoch:
1 Enoch 1.2: And he took up his parable and said, "Enoch a righteous man, whose eyes were opened by God, saw the vision of the Holy One in the heavens, which the angels showed me, and from them I heard everything, and from them I understood as I saw, but not for this generation, but for a remote one which is for to come [καὶ οὐκ εἰς τὴν νῦν γενεὰν διενοούμην, ἀλλὰ ἐπὶ πόρρω οὖσαν ἐγὼ λαλῶ]."
That "remote generation" is called "the last generation" at Qumran:
1Q14, fragments 17-18, lines 1-6: 1 [...in you]r [midst;] you shall turn away, [but not escape; and whoever] 2 [escapes, I will turn over to the sword. You shall sow and not] reap, yo[u shall tread olives] 3 [and not anoint yourself, tread grapes and no]t drink [w]ine. [The laws of Omri] are [kept] 4 [and all the procedures of the House of Ahab; you beha]ve according to their counsels; t[hus I shall destroy you] 5 [and hand over its inhabitants to insult. Its interpretation] concerns the [l]ast generation [דור] [....]
1QpHab, column 2, lines 5-10a: 5 Likewise: ~ The interpretation of the word [concerns the trai]tors in the last 6 days. They are violator[s of the coven]ant who will not believe 7 when they hear all that is going [to happen t]o the final generation, from the mouth of 8 the Priest whom God has placed wi[thin the Commun]ity, to foretell the fulfilment of all 9 the words of his servants, the prophets, [by] means of whom God has declared 10a all that is going to happen to his people Is[rael].
1QpHab, column 7, lines 1-5a: And God told Habakkuk to write what was going to happen to 2 <to> the last generation, but he did not let him know the consummation of the era. 3 ~ And as for what he says: «So that /may run/ the one who reads it.» 4 Its interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God has made known 5 all the mysteries of the words of his servants, the prophets.
4Q166, column 1, lines 8b-11: 8b [Its interpretation: with madness,] blindness and confusion 9 [of heart he has stricken them ...] and the era of their disloyalty not 10 [... for] they are the generation of the visitation 11 [...] from those who [upho]ld the [cov]enant.
4Q177, column 2, lines14b-16: 14b [The interpretation of the word concerns the last] days when against th[em] will rally 15 [...] a just people, but the wicked, the demented and the simple[ton ...] ... the men who serve God [...] 16 [... who have cir]cumcised the foreskin of their he[art in] the l[ast] generation [... and al]l that belongs to them, he will pronounce unclean and n[ot ....]
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls there is also a fragment (4Q176a) which may be a part of a particular section of the book of Jubilees, including mention of a final generation; I present the text from Jubilees for convenience:
Jubilees 23.11-17: 11 And all the generations which shall arise from this time until the day of the great judgment shall grow old quickly, before they complete two jubilees, and their knowledge shall forsake them by reason of their old age Land all their knowledge shall vanish away]. 12 And in those days, if a man live a jubilee and a half of years, they shall say regarding him: "He has lived long, and the greater part of his days are pain and sorrow and tribulation, and there is no peace. 13 For calamity follows on calamity, and wound on wound, and tribulation on tribulation, and evil tidings on evil tidings, and illness on illness, and all evil judgments such as these, one with another, illness and overthrow, and snow and frost and ice, and fever, and chills, and torpor, and famine, and death, and sword, and captivity, and all kinds of calamities and pains." 14 And all these shall come on an evil generation, which transgresses on the earth: their works are uncleanness and fornication, and pollution and abominations. 15 Then they shall say: "The days of the forefathers were many (even), unto a thousand years, and were good; but behold, the days of our life, if a man has lived many, are three score years and ten, and, if he is strong, four score years, and those evil, and there is no peace in the days of this evil generation." 16 And in that generation the sons shall convict their fathers and their elders of sin and unrighteousness, and of the words of their mouth and the great wickednesses which they perpetrate, and concerning their forsaking the covenant which the Lord made between them and Him, that they should observe and do all His commandments and His ordinances and all His laws, without departing either to the right hand or the left. 17 For all have done evil, and every mouth speaks iniquity and all their works are an uncleanness and an abomination, and all their ways are pollution, uncleanness and destruction.
This procession of texts, from Daniel through 1 Enoch to Jubilees and the Dead Sea Scrolls, sets up a scenario wherein there are yet "days and hours" (Daniel 12.13) or many "generations" (Jubilees 23.11) to fulfill before a "remote generation" (1 Enoch 1.2), the "last generation" (Qumran), finally witnesses the end of days, which will include a great tribulation, a resurrection, and the final judgment.
Now, Josephus points out what we already knew about Daniel: to wit, Daniel was the only scriptural prophet who gave a timetable for the fulfillment of his prophecies, the only one who "determined the season" (καιρὸν ὥριζεν, Antiquities
10.11.7 §266-267). So all that it would take for the rebels described by Josephus to apply the "ambiguous oracle" to themselves is the news that they
were the people who belonged to the last generation. Such news would surely have to resemble the following announcement to some extent:
Mark 1.14-15: 14 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The season has been fulfilled [πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς], and the kingdom of God is at hand [καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεου]; repent and believe in the gospel."
In its broader context, the meaning of this announcement is crystal clear: this is the last generation
I am not claiming that Jesus is the one who gave the rebels their rationale. I am not even claiming that Jesus uttered those words. My claim is that the "ambiguous oracle," derived from the only scriptural prophet to give a timetable, and this announcement that "the season has been fulfilled" are of a piece. They are the same prediction
(no matter who or how many made it): the time has come, and this is the consummation of days.
It is this arrival of the last generation that invests many passages in the gospels with their meaning:
Matthew 10.23: 23 "But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes."
Matthew 12.41-42: 41 "The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South shall rise up with this generation at the judgment and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here."
Luke 11.30-32: 30 "For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here."
Matthew 16.28: 28 "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
Mark 9.1: 1 And Jesus was saying to them, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."
Luke 9.27: 27 "But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."
Matthew 23.34-36: 34 "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation."
Luke 11/49-50: 49 "For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.'"
Matthew 24.34-35: 34 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Mark 13.30-31: 30 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."
Luke 21.32-33: 32 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."
Matthew 26.63-64: 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." 64 Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Mark 14.61-62: 61 But He kept silent, and made no answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."
Luke 22.67-69: 67 "If You are the Christ, tell us." But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe; 68 and if I ask a question, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God."
John 21.21-23: 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" 22 Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"
Acts 2.15-21: 15 "For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 17 'And it shall be in the last days [ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις],' God says, 'That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even upon My bond slaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. 21 And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"
Paul, at least so far as he has been preserved in the epistles, agrees that Jesus coming on the scene in some way marked the beginning of the end, so to speak:
Romans 5.6: 6 For while we were still helpless, in due season [κατὰ καιρὸν], Christ died for the ungodly.
1 Corinthians 15.20: 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits [ἀπαρχὴ] of those who are asleep.
Galatians 4.4-5: 4 But when the fullness of the time [τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου] came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
For Paul, in fact, Jesus's resurrection was the first instance (the "first fruits") of the general resurrection from the dead. His conviction that the arrival of Jesus (in whatever form we may imagine it) marked the beginning of the end is what explains why he seems to have thought that he himself was living in the end times:
1 Corinthians 4.9: 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all [ἐσχάτους], as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
1 Corinthians 7.29-31: 29 But this I say, brethren, the season has been shortened [ὁ καιρὸς συνεσταλμένος ἐστίν], so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the scheme of this world is passing away [παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου].
1 Corinthians 10.11: 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages [τὰ τέλη τῶν αἰώνων] have come.
1 Corinthians 15.51-52: 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
2 Corinthians 4.13-14: 13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, therefore also we speak; 14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.
1 Thessalonians 4.13-18: 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 5.23: 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Other early Christian epistolary authors agree with Paul that they are living in the last days:
Hebrews 1.1-2: 1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days [ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
Hebrews 9.26: 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages [ἐπὶ συντελείᾳ τῶν αἰώνων] He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
James 5.3: 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days [ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις] that you have stored up your treasure!
James 5.7-9: 7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the advent of the Lord is at hand [ἡ παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου ἤγγικεν]. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
1 Peter 1.3-5: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last season [ἐν καιρῷ ἐσχάτῳ].
1 Peter 1.10-13: 10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or what season [ποῖον καιρὸν] the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1.20-21: 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times [ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων] for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
1 Peter 4.7: 7 But the end of all things is at hand [πάντων δὲ τὸ τέλος ἤγγικεν]; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
1 John 2.8: 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away [ἡ σκοτία παράγεται], and the true light is already shining.
1 John 2.17-18: 17 And the world is passing away [ὁ κόσμος παράγεται], and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour [ἐσχάτη ὥρα]; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour [ἐσχάτη ὥρα].
1 Clement 23.5-24.1: 23.5 In truth, his plan will come to completion quickly and suddenly, as even the scripture testifies, when it says, "He will come quickly and not delay. And suddenly the Lord will come to his temple, he who is holy, the one you await." 24.1 We should consider, loved ones, how the Master continuously shows us the future resurrection that is about to occur [τὴν μέλλουσαν ἀνάστασιν ἔσεσθαι], of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first fruit by raising him from the dead.
1 Clement 42.1-5: 1 The apostles were given the gospel for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. 2 Thus Christ came from God and the apostles from Christ. Both things happened, then, in an orderly way according to the will of God. 3 When, therefore, the apostles received his commands and were fully convinced through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and persuaded by the word of God, they went forth proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come [τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ μέλλειν ἔρχεσθαι], brimming with confidence through the Holy Spirit. 4 And as they preached throughout the countryside and in the cities, they appointed the first fruits of their ministries as bishops and deacons of those who were about to believe, testing them by the Spirit. 5 And this was no recent development. For indeed, bishops and deacons had been mentioned in writings long before. For thus the scripture says in one place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith."
1 Clement 50.3: 3 All the generations [αἱ γενεαὶ πᾶσαι] from Adam till today have passed away, but those perfected in love through the gracious gift of God have a place among the godly. And they will be made manifest [οἳ φανερωθήσονται] when the kingdom of Christ appears.
Barnabas 4.3-5: 3 The final stumbling block is at hand [τὸ τέλειον σκάνδαλον ἤγγικεν], about which it has been written, just as Enoch says: "For this reason the Master shortened the seasons and the days, that his beloved may hurry and arrive at his inheritance." 4 For also the prophet says, "Ten kingdoms will rule the earth and a small king will rise up afterwards; he will humble three of the kings at one time." 5 So too Daniel speaks about the same thing: "I saw the fourth beast, wicked and strong, and worse than all the beasts of the sea, and I saw how ten horns rose up from him, and from them a small horn as an offshoot; and I saw how he humbled three of the great horns at one time."
Barnabas 21.3: 3 The day is near [ἐγγὺς ἡ ἡμέρα] when all things will perish, along with the wicked one. The Lord is near, as is his reward.
So too John the Revelator:
Revelation 1.1-3: 1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His slaves which things must shortly take place [ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει]; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Revelation 22.10: 10 And he said to me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the season is at hand [ὁ καιρὸς γὰρ ἐγγύς ἐστιν]."
There is one other text which seems to lie on a cusp of sorts:
Jude 1.17: 17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand [τῶν ῥημάτων τῶν προειρημένων] by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, "In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.
It is not stated here that the apostles are all dead now, but it may be implied that the heyday of their teaching and preaching is over and must now be remembered rather than heard or seen. Furthermore, they predicted the last days, and we are now in the last days, facing the kinds of people the apostles predicted would arise at that time. I am still trying to place Jude properly in the overall scheme of things, but so far it seems to me that it is conceptually
(not necessarily chronologically, but that is possible) just a step later than the other epistles on this score.
Back to the point, though. The "consummation" of the ages, the "last days," the focus on "this generation," the dissuasion from sealing up the book, the notion that not everybody now living would be dead before the resurrection: all of these themes hearken back to Daniel and those texts which depend upon Daniel. It is abundantly clear that somebody, at some point, birthed the thought that the time of consummation foretold by Daniel was happening, that the last generation of humans before the end was now already born. This simple realization or assertion is what lies behind both the ambiguous oracle and Christian eschatological beliefs.
Now, 1 John 2.17-18 actually asserts both that "antichrist is coming" and that "even now many antichrists have arisen" (refer also to 1 John 2.22; 4.3; 2 John 1.7). This way of putting it makes it sound as if a proper antichrist is going to come, but that before he does there were always going to be other antichrists leading up to him in a crescendo of wickedness. The fact that these other antichrists are already scampering around leads our author to believe that the proper one is on his way soon. I do think that this antichrist figure expected by John ties in with the following figures from Christian lore:
Didache 16.3-8: 3 For in the last days [ἐν γὰρ ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις] false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; 4 for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and he shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. 5 Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. 6 And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first the sign of an extension in heaven; then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and third the resurrection of the dead — 7 yet not of all, but as it is said: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him." 8 Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.
2 Thessalonians 2.1-17: 1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
Because the Didache here does not insist that the last days are already present, I wish to set that timing element in the Didache aside for the time being. What I notice, apart from that, is how compatible the expectation of the deceiver of the world or the man of sin/lawlessness or the antichrist is with the knowledge that one is living in the last generation. Daniel had already predicted a tribulation greater than anything that had gone before during that future period of time (and notice how the Didache picks up on this theme and applies it to the deceiver); so, once one realizes that one is part of the last generation, one ought to be on the lookout for the onset of that tribulation.
Two of the gospels take this idea even further:
Mark 13.14-23: 14 But when you see the abomination of desolation standing [τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως ἑστηκότα] where it should not be — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 And let him who is on the housetop not go down, or enter in, to get anything out of his house; 16 and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. 17 But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, and never shall. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or, 'Behold, He is there,' do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
Matthew 24.15-25: 15 Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation [τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως] which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing [ἑστὸς] in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! 20 But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath; 21 for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. 22 And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance.
"I have told you in advance." That is the logical outcome of the generational prophecy. To announce that the final generation is here and now is to presume at least some knowledge of what is going to happen: before the generation dies out, the end will come; before the end comes, the greatest tribulation of all time will be upon us; and many other predictions found in the scriptures which have not been fulfilled yet will be fulfilled (hence the statements by some of our Christian authors to the effect that "the end of all things" is upon us).
That the man of sin/lawlessness, the world deceiver, and the antichrist are related to the above synoptic passages is supported by a grammatical peculiarity in Mark (which Matthew apparently fixes): the participle ἑστηκότα ("standing") is masculine, but it is modifying the neuter noun βδέλυγμα ("abomination"), suggesting that the abomination is in some way a person or related to a person; I suggest that this person is, in fact, the same eschatological figure expected by (pseudo-)Paul, the Didache, and John (not to mention by the John of the Revelation, who has both a beast and a false prophet to fulfill these roles).
However that may be, though, my main point is that this timetable of events — including a tribulation and the appearance of an evil eschatological figure and (in Revelation) the seals and trumpets and the like and (in the synoptic apocalypse) a set of disasters including famines and wars (and rumors of wars) — is perfectly compatible with the generational prophecy. The uniting theme is knowledge
: it is made known
to the perceptive reader what is going to happen. "I have told you in advance."
But now contrast that presumption of knowledge with the flat denial of it:
Mark 13.33: 33 "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the season [ὁ καιρός] is."
These are Jesus' words on Olivet. But wait; I thought that Jesus had already told us what season it was, so to speak:
Mark 1.14-15: 14 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The season has been fulfilled [πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς], and the kingdom of God is at hand [καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεου]; repent and believe in the gospel."
How can we not know the season when the season has been fulfilled and the kingdom is at hand?
I am sure that these statements can be harmonized. I am not
sure that they ought
to be harmonized.
But there are entire veins of this sort of denial of eschatological knowledge all over the same texts we have already perused:
Acts 1.7: 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons [χρόνους ἢ καιροὺς] which the Father has fixed by His own authority."
1 Thessalonians 5.1-2: 1 Now as to the times and the seasons [τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν], brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
Didache 16.1-2: 1 Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes. 2 But often shall you come together, seeking the things which befit your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made perfect in the last season [ἐν τῷ ἐσχάτῳ καιρῷ].
2 Clement 12.1-2: For this reason, we should await the kingdom of God with love and righteousness every hour [καθ᾽ ὣραν], since we do not know the day when God will appear [οὐκ οἴδαμεν τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς ἐπιφανείας τοῦ θεου]. 2 For when the Lord himself was asked by someone when his kingdom would come, he said, "When the two are one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female is neither male nor female."
There are rather many more, and they are often followed by admonitions both to watch and to behave in a godly manner. Furthermore, there are texts which speak of the last days as if they still lay in the future:
1 Timothy 6.13-15: 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing [μέχρι τῆς ἐπιφανείας] of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about in its own seasons [καιροῖς ἰδίοις] — He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.
2 Timothy 3.1: 1 But realize this, that in the last days [ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις] difficult times will come.
2 Timothy 4.1-2: 1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season, out of season [εὐκαίρως ἀκαίρως]; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.
Such a perspective is certainly possible early (as at Qumran, where the Habakkuk scroll speaks of the "last generation" as a future group of people and does not seem to specify a time frame). But in this case, since these letters are written in the name of Paul, it seems far more likely to me that their perspective is late: the apostles are all dead now, and nothing really happened. So we are back to dealing with the ongoing seasons and looking forward
to the last days.
As for 1 Thessalonians 5.1-2, I do think that 1 Thessalonians is a genuinely Pauline letter, but I also think that it bears interpolations from a later perspective, and that 5.1-11 is one of those interpolations. This current survey is part of my reason for suspecting this: while 4.13-18 belongs firmly to the viewpoint that the resurrection is near, 5.1-11 asserts that nobody can know the times or seasons, comparing the coming to a thief in the night.
That image of the thief finds expression in another epistle written from a late perspective:
2 Peter 3.3-16: 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation, just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things difficult to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the scriptures, to their own destruction.
In a context all about the seeming delay of the coming, this author points to Paul's epistles as both (A) speaking to this very topic, "the patience of the Lord," and (B) containing things which are "difficult to understand." Well, quite! Paul wrote in expectation of the end of all things either within his own lifetime (1 Thessalonians 4.15; 1 Corinthians 15.51) or within the lifetimes of the recipients of his epistles (1 Thessalonians 5.23; 2 Corinthians 4.14); Paul wrote that "the season has been shortened" (1 Corinthians 7.29), and that "the ends of the ages" have come (1 Corinthians 10.11). It is easy to see how, the further in the past the death of Paul and all his converts became, the more "difficult" his words would become, as well. So pseudo-Peter here reassures us that we are simply misreading the good apostle when we come across such passages and wonder why the Lord has still not come. In truth, the day will come like a thief, which is exactly what 1 Thessalonians 5.2-4 says; in other words, the above passage from 2 Peter gives us the exact motive for somebody to have interpolated 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11 right after the earnest expectations of 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, not to mention some of the very same words, as well.
Another consideration, which I will touch upon just briefly here, is that I also tend to think that 1 Thessalonians 2.14-16 is probably an interpolation, a position which I know is quite popular on this forum. But 1 Thessalonians 2.14-16 has more in common with the gospel of Matthew than with any other text of which I am aware, and so does 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11. I believe that somebody dredged the first Thessalonian epistle through some Matthean material before it reached us in its current form.
My point in all of this is that our Christian sources bear two very distinct kinds of eschatological material, some of it side by side in some texts. The first type of material asserts that the end of the ages
, the last generation, is at hand
; this type may also give a list of signs of increasing force leading up to the final consummation; this type is also of a piece with the "ambiguous oracle" discussed by Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius. The second type of material modifies that assertion
in some way. It may assert instead that nobody can know the time, or it may look forward to the "last days" instead of admitting their present currency, or it may employ other strategies: anything
to avoid the obvious conclusion that Jesus and the apostles falsely assumed and predicted the end of all things within their lifetimes. I have traced some of these strategies through the church fathers elsewhere
My ongoing suggestion is that somebody or some group of people calculated, from Daniel, that the predicted end was at hand during century I. This calculation led to intense expectations, written all over our early Christian literature and in the comments by Josephus concerning the rebels defending Jerusalem, that the consummation was right around the corner. Those expectations were partially realized (in the fall of Jerusalem; in fact, however
that war came out, it would have played into certain predictions), but not fully (no resurrection, no gathering of the elect, no judgment of the wicked). So modifications were made, expectations managed, and it was this diverse effort to mute the generational prophecy that led to the two very different kinds of eschatological material present in our extant texts.