Paul and the End

N.T. Wright recognizes that the message of imminent judgment is central to the mission and ministry of Jesus (cf. Jesus and the Victory of God). He insists too that Paul is aware of Jesus’ prophecy and that Paul’s mission is shaped by the looming catastrophe.

This from Paul in Fresh Perspective (56):

“there are some passages in Paul which are often taken to refer to [the] final apocalypse, but which Paul probably did not intend that way. When he speaks of God’s wrath coming ‘at last’ upon the inhabitants of Judaea (1 Thessalonians 2.16) he is probably not thinking of the great moment he describes in chapter 4, but of an interim judgment, warned of by Jesus himself, on the city and the people that had rejected their Messiah. Indeed, when he grieves over his fellow Jews in Romans 9-11, I think part at least of that grief is conditioned by his awareness that they are living under the shadow of impending national disaster. Likewise, when he writes in 2 Thessalonians that the young church should not be worried if they get a letter saying that the Day of the Lord has arrived, it is clear that he cannot be referring to anything of the same order as the renewal of creation in Romans 8 or the royal presence of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4 or 1 Corinthians 15 – still less to the end of the space0time universe, which the Thessalonians themselves presumably would have noticed.”

Paul is, in short, aware “that early tradition included solemn warnings from Jesus himself about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.”

Wright speculates that this “is why Paul felt a sense of urgency in his mission to the Gentile world, which has commonly been thought of as a feature of his apocalyptic-style theology. It was not that he had to save as many people as he could, a quick representative sample,. before the ultimate end of all things. It was that he had to plant stable Jew-plus-Gentile churches on Gentile soil before the event occurred which would make Jews blame the Christians for letting the side down, and which would invite Gentiles to sneer at Jews for having lost their home and capital city.” Paul’s apocalyptic theology was “rooted within, and referr[ed] to, actual historical events.”

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