St. Paul’s Eschatological
Msgr. Felix Shabi
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November 26 2008
A- What is Eschatology? B- Biblical Eschatology
C- Paul’s Eschatology D- Eschatology in
C- St. Paul’s Eschatology
As we saw earlier, the OT eschatology will arrive in the
future, it will come “late,” until the end of times. St.
Paul, being a Jew himself, believed in that late coming,
but because of his conversion on the way to Damascus,
and his personal experience with the Lord, he believed
that the second coming will be “soon.” Paul’s thinking
is similar to the Jewish “apocalyptic tradition” (200BC
– AD 200) that believed God will punish wicked people
and wicked spirits at the end of times.
When Israel’s moral corruption resulted in their defeat
and captivity by the neighboring nations, the prophetic
writers proclaimed a final day of judgment. The day of
Yahweh, when God will rule over his people and the
enemies will be uprooted, and when the messianic
deliverer will arise out of the line of David:
“And when your time comes and you rest with
your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you,
sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm”
(2 Sam 7:12).
Paul’s theological thinking developed through time. The
first issue that Paul discussed in his letters was: a)
the question of the church of Thessalonica about the
second coming of Christ. The first Christians were
strongly expecting it to be very soon. They were
expecting the Lord to come even in their gatherings
while they where “braking the bread.” That was an
occasion for Paul himself to meditate more on the
meaning of the “second coming.” When this coming became
“late,” Paul started to get even more involved in the
mystery of Christ. b) He acknowledged that the
resurrection of Christ from the dead is the first
step to understanding the second coming. Thus, his
letters were written to explain the meaning of
resurrection. c) Paul continued to explain furthermore
the death of Christ and its significance in
redeeming sins. At the end, Paul focused on: d)
Understanding the person of Christ as the Son of God
who took flesh. In our study we will be focusing
only on the first part: the second coming of the Lord.
1 – Christ’s Second Coming:
The second coming is the last step within the mystery of
Jesus Christ, while the resurrection is the first step.
Early Christians were waiting for the second coming as
Jesus himself promised (Jn 14: 18-19), as well as the
two angels when he was ascending into heaven (Acts
1:11), until the whole Christian life was built on this
When Christ delayed and did not come “yet,”
questions arose, and even doubts, until Paul was obliged
to explain the “second coming status” to the church of
Thessalonica. Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians
are among the earliest writings of the NT, and you see
the influence of this issue filling them. Before
studying Paul’s theological thinking, we have to
consider: a) the words and expressions that Paul used,
b) some important texts, c) his theology on the second
The words and expressions that Paul used in describing
the second coming are so important because each one has
special meaning. Paul took these terms from Hebrew or
Hellenistic world, he “baptized them,” to refer to and
express the coming of Christ. Choosing certain words by
Paul tells us about the content of his theological
thinking. Paul used five words in referring to the
(Presence, Entrance): was a word that described the
glorious entrance of the kings and emperors to their
cities, in an enormous and popular celebration, after
conquering in the war. The authorities used to make new
coins (coining) in memory of this glorious event. On the
other hand, according to the religious practice in
Greece, the word “Parousia” was a reference to the
presence or appearance of gods. Paul used this word
especially in his letters: 1& 2 Thes, and 1, 2 Cor, -as
we said- in his early letters. He used also the meaning
of “presence” as in 2 Cor 10:10, Phil 2:12. And used it
in the meaning of “entrance” as in 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor
(Revelation, Declaration): this word belongs to the
“Apocalyptic Tradition,” and we see it also in the books
of Daniel and Revelation. The meaning refers to whatever
is hidden and secret that will be unveiled and declared;
Paul used it in 1 Cor 1:7; Rom 8:18. Thus, the second
coming is the revelation of Christ’s mystery.
(Appearance): the word refers to God’s appearance to
Ibrahim, Moses and some Prophets in his glory and might.
Paul used it in 2 Thes 2:8, and it comes also in his
“Pastoral Letters” (sent to the church pastors) where
the second coming is connected with the Incarnation,
like in 1 Tm 6:14; 2 Tm 4:1, 8; Ti 2:13.
(End of Times): is a special expression for the
description of the end of the world and times. Paul gave
a Christian dimension to it. Realizing that the end of
times does not mean only the end of the world, but the
beginning of the realization of God’s will in Jesus
Christ. Through his incarnation, death, resurrection,
ascension, descent of the Holy Spirit on the believers:
all these events together are signs for the end of times
preparing for the final and last event to happen that is
the second coming (see 2 Thes 1:7; 1 Cor 1:7, Acts
(Day): is the “Day of Yahweh” in the OT, it is an
expression used by the prophets to describe God’s wrath
and judgment (Am 5:18; Is 2:12-22), the eternal kingdom
for the good ones, and the judgment for the evil ones (Zec
14:11-15; Jl 3:14-21). Paul uses this expression as “the
day of the Lord” (1 Thes 5:2; 2 Thes 2:2) or “the day of
the Lord Jesus” (Phil 1:6, 10) referring to the second
three essential texts that expand in describing the
1- (1 Thes 4: 13-18) the Dead and Living at the Second
doubting the resurrection of the dead.
Apocalyptic and Hellenistic. The
describes the voice of the angel, the trumpet, clouds,
descent of Christ from heaven, and resurrection from the
dead. The Hellenistic
is reflected in the procession, quick
joy, crowning, and dignity. All these images are
symbolic and not materialistic.
the appearance of the Christ as Lord, and the necessity
of depending on Christian belief in the death and
resurrection of Christ, in order to believe in the
resurrection of the dead, and depending on the word of
God that the dead will anticipate the living in rising
first from the dead, and then will join the Lord first
on that day.
2- (2 Thes 1:7-12, 2: 1-12) The Law, Community Prayer,
Women in the Community
the persecution of Christians and the obstacles in front
of the evangelization i.e. against Christ and God; then
the influence of the apocalyptic tradition in regard of
the verdict and last judgment: (Is 66:4-16; 2:6-22;
11:1-8 see the prophecy of Jesus in regard of the
destruction of Jerusalem and the end of times).
the delay of the second coming. Paul suggests that this
delay will allow the spreading of the Gospel (Mt 24:14;
Rv 11:7); this is the top priority of Christ’s victory.
3- (1 Cor 15: 20-28, 51-57) Resurrection of the Dead,
the Corinthians were under the influence of some Greek
imaginations, so they doubted the resurrection of the
dead. The second coming is the victory over death. The
resurrection of Christ is the first act of victory over
all the powers, the second act for his victory is the
belief in the resurrection of the dead, and the third
act is the submission of whole humanity to Christ and
Christ to the Father, so it will be declared for all.
Paul uses two different Jewish expressions to describe
Jesus in the second coming. The first is “Son of Man”
which comes from the apocalyptic tradition. The second
is the “Messiah” which is a nationalistic name. The NT
preferred the “Son of Man” to the nationalistic one
“Messiah,” because in Christianity there was a Messianic
Eschatological group who was waiting for the second
c- Theology of the second coming:
now we can identify some important theological ideas in
Paul’s thinking in regard to the second coming. We will
be focusing our study on the person of Christ himself
and the influence of his second coming on the faithful.
Christ’s Victory: we saw that the most important
words describing the second coming of Christ were: joy
and victory - “Parousia;” declaration and revelation of
what was hidden - “Apocalypsis;” the appearance - “Epifania;”
the end of times - “Eschatologia;” and the last judgment
In the general understanding, the concept of the second
coming refers automatically to the idea of the judgment
at the end of times, when Christ will come again to
judge the living and the dead. Nevertheless, we have
seen the meaning of joy and victory accompanying
Christ’s appearance, declaring his glory. This is a
richness in the concept and content of the second
What does the victory of Christ mean? In Christian
theology, resurrection is the first step that leads to
this victory, and the last one is the second coming.
Christ in his death and resurrection conquered the law
and the sin, because both are against him. The third
enemy that Christ will conquer in the eschatology will
be death (1 Cor 15).
Paul expands in describing this victory over the powers
(authorities, positions, lords… these powers are two
different things. First, adversary powers, that resist
and fight the Christians and their evangelization for
the gospel, in the period between the resurrection and
the second coming (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 2:8, 5:5; 2 Cor
2:11, … ); second, cosmic powers, that will reconcile
together, depending on the event of death-resurrection
of Christ (Eph 1:20-21, Col 1:16-20, 2:10). With either
one, the triumphant Christ in his resurrection gives
these powers a bit of space or authority -for a while-
until his coming, considering them as defeated from now,
actually from the day of resurrection, and they will be
defeated finally at his second coming, though their
power is very limited and weak even now.
Paul describing this victory of Christ uses various
terms and names to describe Christ:
* Lord, KURIOS:
the lordship will be seen and declared at the end. It
started with the resurrection (1 Cor 9:1, 2 Cor 4:14,
Rom 4:42), it is ready from now, and it is working
already, so that Christ will be the Lord of the living
and the dead: “For this
is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be
Lord of both the dead and the living.”
* Glory, DOXA: “and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had
known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of
(1 Cor 2:8), (2 Cor 3:18, Col 3:4)
* King, BASILEUS: “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to
the kingdom of his beloved Son”
(Col 1:13, Eph 5:5).
“On the right hand of the father”: (Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20)
then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”
The second coming’s
influence on the believers:
the whole creation is groaning for the glory that
will be revealed for the sons of God (Rom 8: 18-25).
Now the material facts are just an image for the
spiritual ones, they where given already, but they will
be unveiled and completed fully at the second coming,
such as: the knowledge of God, receiving the Holy Spirit
as a pledge for the inheritance, and the heavenly truths
(Rom 8; 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5, Eph 1:14).
Early Christianity was waiting for the
second coming to be soon, which we notice
in 1 & 2 Thes, in the light of the Resurrection and
Pentecost. Some Christians did not even go to work
because of this waiting, because the coming of the Lord
is close (2 Thes 3:6). Paul advises to correct these
situations although he also believed in the “soon”
we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up
together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the
air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord”
(1 Thes 4:17; Rome 13:11).
For this reason he was crying out calling people to stay
awake because that day will come like a thief:
you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord
will come like a thief at night”
(1 Thes 5:2).
When this coming delayed,
Paul’s advice became more in the direction of doing good
deeds: “So then, while we have the opportunity, let
us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to
the family of the faith”
to keep the commandments, so that the believer will
become a son of light (Eph 5:8), and to bear
difficulties and pain (1 Cor 4:8-13). Along with all
these, his call was still the same: “Marana-Tha” (come o
Lord) (1 Cor 16:22, 7:29,31; Phil 4:5; Rom 8). The
Christ still, although his second coming delayed, is
living already in glory.
2- Sample: (1 Cor) Corinthians Eschatological Journey:
the letter was written from Ephesus (today’s Turkey)
around A.D. 56, during Paul’s third journey, as a
preparation to his visit to Corinth. The city (in
today’s Greece) was a commercial center on the
Mediterranean Sea, was visited by tourists who enjoyed
life there and visited the pagan shrines. It was a
cosmopolitan city. Paul established Christianity there,
but he left the city and ran because of its shameless
immorality. After five years of Christianity in this
city, the church was facing real problems of unity,
vices, and faith apostasy. Paul was informed about the
situation by some delegates who reached him from the
part of a lady called Chloe (1:11, 11:18). Paul answers
each case and censures their immorality, calling them
back to Christian doctrine.
In this letter we see the Corinthians thinking as if
they have reached their
although they were still alive! Thus, Paul describes
eschatology as a reward and judgment. At the beginning
of his letter he wishes that Corinthians will be ready
for Christ’s coming without blame (1:7-8) and he
concludes the letter with a declaration about the
parousia in relation to the judgment (16: 21-22).
It seems that they used to judge Paul himself and other
leaders and brothers as well. Paul
prohibits them from judging
anyone in this life, he reminds them that they
themselves will judge the angels in the future
“eschatologia” (6:3) but they will be judged also on the
day of the Lord (6: 13). Some of their social practices
were rebuked by Paul, especially what was connected with
the “Lord’s Supper.” For Paul the men committing vices
where considered out of the Christian community, and God
will judge them (5: 8-13), the same as Satan who is
living outside the kingdom of heaven, here in this
In 1 Cor 15, Paul reveals the misconception of the
Corinthians regarding the
resurrection of the body
(15:12, 35). Maybe because of their Hellenistic
background, the body was not considered so important.
This misunderstanding came to their mentality, thinking
the body will not take part in the new life or in the
future resurrection (6: 13-14). This reflects their
unclear idea about
and then our resurrection in the eschatology. Paul adds
also that the kingdom of God will not reach us, until
after we realize and submit all powers to Christ.
Paul speaks ironically with the Corinthians because they
thought as if they were living the eschatology in their
life, because of their spirituality and wisdom (1: 18-
3:3). Paul affirms that the
kingdom of God
will not arrive because of wisdom of words, but because
of God’s power (4: 20). At this moment every enemy of
God will be submitted and brought to Jesus feet (15:
Problems & Vices:
The Corinthian congregation was accused of spilling over
into their autonomy
(1:12), their pride (2:15-3:1, 5:2), indifference toward
food and body (6:13), preoccupation with Christian
liberty (10:23). For them the coming of the
spirit was a sign for the coming kingdom. Since the
Spirit belonged to the eschatological age, the abundance
of spiritual manifestations they experienced meant to
them that the kingdom was now fully realized!
was at the center of the Corinthians misconception.
Because of their congregation’s enthusiasm and
participation in the sacraments, they thought they were
spiritually mature, while Paul told them just the
Talking with “tongues of
angels” (13:1) suggests two things: a strong
sense of enthusiasm
and realizing of the
eschatological status among the strong.
If some congregation members believed they were doing
so, that means they were convinced they where already
living in a heavenly state. In response to this serious
misconception, Paul applies a method of incompletion
between “now” and “then”
for the future perfection (13:8-12).
In terms of the apocalyptic age, again the Corinthians
thought that the “not
yet” is already a reality. Thus Paul in this
letter emphasizes repeatedly on the “not yet” to correct
their misconception of eschatological theology.
In 1 Cor 13, Paul tries to address the Corinthians a
central theme. Love is what they have to work on and
operate with instead of
their spiritual gifts or vices!
He address them their immaturity in associating it with
their enthusiasm (13:1) and eschatology (13:7) which are
related to all other things (pride, selfishness,
immorality, arrogance, liturgical abuse…etc).
D- Eschatology in the Chaldean Liturgy
In the Chaldean liturgy we recognize easily the
important terms that refers to: eschatology, death,
eternal life, resurrection of the dead, new life, and
glory…etc. That could be noticed in our funeral prayers,
and evening prayers, first of all on “Sunday evening
prayer.” Why we give this importance for all these
“eschatological” terms? Because of our history, our
church suffered a lot of long persecutions; she had to
look for something painless while living the difficulty.
Calling on the “God of living and the dead” to come in
her aid. Writing prayers and poems in memory of
thousands of martyrs, all that let her call for the use
of the eschatological expressions. One liturgical season
(among other 12) is called “season of Elijah,” its focus
is on the eschatological dimension: (Sample from the
Basilica Hymn of the 2nd Sunday):
For the day of the Lord is great and very fearful
I have been considering your judgment seat, O Christ, and
all my limbs have been shaking in fear. Who will be my
help before your judgment seat who is from my race -
from humanity? All my friends and dear ones will stand
and look upon me from far away. O Just Judge, according
to the greatness of your mercy, have pity on me, O
Compassionate One, and not, O Lord, according to the
many debts I have incurred.
We are not ashamed, O Lord, of your cross, because of the
great power hidden within it. If pagans and Jews mock
your preaching, they cannot ever eradicate the truth.
Lo, both of them together cry out for your
righteousness: the Jews are scattered, and the teaching
of the pagans is abolished. Behold, they witness
together that great, O Lord, is your power!
ܚܕܒܫܒܐ ܕܬܪܝܢ ܕܐܠܝܐ
ܒܟܘܼܪܣܲܝ ܕܝܼܢܵܟܼ ܪܢܹܝܬܼ ܡܫܝܼܚܵܐ.
ܘܲܒܕܸܚܠܵܐ ܘܙܲܘܥܵܐ ܗܘ̤ܵܘ ܟܠܗܘܿܢ ܗܲܕܵܡܲܝ̈.
ܡܲܢܘܼ ܩܖܵܡ ܒܹܝܡ ܕܝܼܠܵܟܼ ܢܸܗܘܸܐ ܒܥܘܼܖܪܵܢܝ.
ܡ̣ܢ ܓܸܢܣܵܐ ܘܡ̣ܢ ܐ̄ܢܵܫܘܼܬܼܵܐ.
ܪ̈ܵܚܡܲܝ ܟܠܗܘܿܢ ܥܲܡ ܩܲܪ̈ܝܼܒܲܝ ܡ̣ܢ ܪܘܼܚܩܵܐ
ܢܩܘܼܡܘܼܢ ܘܲܢܚܘܼܪܘܼܢ ܒܝܼ.
ܕܲܝܵܢܵܐ ܟܹܐܢܵܐ ܐܲܝܟܼ ܣܘܿܓܼܵܐܐ ܕܪ̈ܲܚܡܲܝܟ
ܘܠܵܐ ܡܵܪܝ ܐܲܝܟܼ ܣܘܿܓܼܵܐܐ ܕܚܲܘ̈ܒܹܐ
ܕܲܨܠܝܼܒܼܵܐ؛ ܠܵܐ ܒܵܗܬܝܼܢܲܢ ܝܑܼܫܘܿܥ
ܡܸܛܠ ܚܲܝܠܵܟܼ ܪܲܒܵܐ ܕܲܟܣܸܐ ܒܹܗ.
ܐܸܢ ܚܲܢܦܹ̈ܐ ܘܲܝܗܘܼ̈ܖܵܝܹܐ ܡܒܲܙܚܝܼܢ ܒܵܗ̇
ܐܸܠܵܐ ܠܲܡܒܲܛܵܠܘܼ ܫܪܵܪܵܐ ܡܬܼܘܿܡ ܠܵܐ
ܬܪ̈ܲܝܗܘܿܢ ܓܹܝܪ ܫܲܘܝܵܐܝܼܬܼ.
ܗܵܐ ܩܵܥܹܝܢ ܥܲܠ ܙܵܟܼܘܼܬܼܵܟܼ.
ܝܗ̄ܘܼܖܵܝܹ̈ܐ ܗܵܐ ܐܸܬܼܒܲܕܲܪܘ.
ܘܝܘܼܠܦܵܢܵܐ ܕܚܲܢ̈ܦܹܐ ܐܸܫܬܪܝܼ.
ܘܗܵܐ ܣܵܗܕܝܼܢ ܐܲܟܲܚ̄ܖ.
ܕܪܲܒܘܼ ܚܲܝܠܵܟܼ ܡܵܪܝܵܐ.