Eschatology in Hebrews
By Charles Geisler
Several basic premises still appear to be unknown to Bible students about the epistle to the Hebrews (such as author, place of origin, etc.; this scribe believes there may be an argument for Apollos’ being the author as there is an argument for Paul), but this should not deter readers from seeing the encouragement and promises found in this letter. It is a “word of beseeching” (tou logou tees parakleeseoos) as in 13:22, and it surely did motivate those firstfruits then to show their faithfulness to the new and living way of Christ over Judaism. A “key” word as noted by many commentators is “better” (compare 8:6, kreittonos diatheekees), generally speaking, but there is a major part brought out in the writing concerning “good things” which were “about to come” in that first-century genea or generation (note 1:14; 2:5; 6:5; 9:11; 10:1; 10:27; 11:20; 13:14).
Scholarship in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries appeared to be so much more enamored with a supposed neo-Platonism between a “real world” and a “world of phenomena” that it did not see any room to speak for eschatology in this epistle as compared to the Alexandrian philosophical orientation scholars, who bent heavily on the emphasis of “last things” in the same. Thus, many scholars in looking into the Hebrews epistle either ignored the eschatology they saw or tried to explain it away somehow. But the early twentieth century saw a somewhat refreshing book come out in the Century Bible series in which the Hebrew epistle saw a commentator by the name of A. S. Peake begin his introductory material on the teaching of Hebrews, “the subject of the epistle is `the world to come’ [ii.5] (Edinburgh: T.C.& E.C. Jack, 1921, p. 16). Compare this to Westcott’s commentary on same having to entry for “eschatology” and only two entries for “hope.” We suggest that commentators may see only what they want to see in the Bible or in any specific writings therein, and this is something we must all guard against. But in recent times there has been more attention paid, rightly so, to the eschatology in Hebrews. There is much to learn about fulfillment, prophecy, promises, and the blessings of the new heaven and new earth if we do.
A brief overview is in order here, then later we shall get into a few particulars which show up in the epistle. Within the first two verses we see very early ep’ eschatou toon heemeroon, “in last of the days,” or “in the last days,” referring to how God had communicated to the author and others through His Son Jesus Christ. We believe the reference here is not to the Christian age as to “last days.” Indeed, if the Christian age is tantamount to the Kingdom of God and Christ and the latter was to be forever and ever, then it follows that the Christian age was and is to be forever and ever, and thus there could be no “last days” in something to be forever and ever. (Check Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 11:15; “and he (Christ) shall reign into the ages of the ages,” aioonas toon aioonoon. If Christ was to reign, it would be in His kingdom; but if His kingdom had “last days,” so would His reigning, but this would plainly contradict what the Bible says). Thus, we believe it is correct to interpret Hebrews 1:2a as referring to God speaking through Christ in the “last days” of the Judaic “world” or “age” (compare Hebrews 2:5; 6:5, e.g.). .
In chapter two, verse five, we have, “for not to angels subjected he the about to come inhabited (earth), about which we speak.” Oikoumeneen is accusative singular of oikoumenee, “the habitable earth, world,” which was about to come in the Hebrew epistle at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. This “habitable world or earth” was the new earth which Jesus promised in His Beatitudes would be inherited by the meek (Matthew 5:5). By metonomy, however, the reference is to, we believe, the inherent blessings/rewards of that new earth, not the inheritance of the new earth itself (see how Jesus promised that the Father would give the “little flock” the kingdom, but really implied that the blessings of the kingdom would be theirs because the kingdom always would be God’s and Christ’s, Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 11:15; et al). There were two “habitable earths” during the first-century generation of transition at the time of the writing of the letters and epistles; one was about to come as in this Hebrews 2;5, and the other was the Jewish “habitable earth” which was about to experience an hour of trial (see the comparison in Revelation 3:9,10, between the words concerning the church in Philadelphia and words in reference to the synagogue of Satan or “the ones dwelling on the earth,” 3:10b; all scripture references are translations by this writer from Nestle’s 23rd Greek edition of the New Testament).
Concerning the “sabbath rest” in chapter four, the conclusion was that there was remaining (ara apoleipetai) a Sabbath rest for God’s people, the “remaining” implying that another “temporary” rest that had been going on would no longer remain in the end time of Bible prophecy. Compare the prophecy in Hebrews 12 of the shaken things (toon saleiomenoon) being removed as contrasting the (literally) “not-being-shaken” things remaining (verse 27). Further, the recipients of the Hebrew epistle in their initial tasting, sharing, and enlightenment pointed toward the “about to come age” (mellontos aioonos, Hebrews 6:1-6). The “about to come” salvation of Hebrews 1:14 would be found in the “about to come” age or world, the new Jerusalem. They were to have full assurance “unto the end” (achri telous), i.e., the end of that first “body of this death” (Romans 7:24) or “evil age” (Galatians 1:4). Through faith and patience they would inherit (they were “inheriting” at the time of the writing of Hebrews as the participle shows in Hebrews 6 :11,12–kleeronomountoon) the blessings of the new things, the good things (Hebrews 10:1; Revelation 21:7).
The priestly office in 62 AD was “being changed” according to 7:12 as we would consider the present passive participle metatithemenees . The present would indicate that the “change” or literally “transporting” of the priesthood was in process at about 62 AD. The high priests were still daily ministering and offering the same sacrifices at this same time, so Judaism had not ceased to exist–the fashion of the Jewish age was passing away in that generation, but at 62 AD had not passed away yet! (1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17; compare Hebrews 12:28, “receiving a kingdom,” not received!)
There is the promise of eternal inheritance in 9:15b (compare again 6:12) concerning heavenly things (antitypes) as compared to the types, the “figures of the true things” (antitupa toon aleethinoon, 9:23ff.). Death and judgment are set in 9:27, and since Christ, having been offered to bear the sins of many, lives, He would appear (ophtheesetai) a second [time] without sin to them who would be expecting Him (auton apekdechomenois) for salvation (9:28). The salvation they would inherit was connected with Christ’s return. The saints were about to inherit salvation in 1:14. The law was a shadow of the about-to-come good things of 10:1 (mellontoon agathoon). Salvation was promised at the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 21:28-32). Thus, we have so far Christ’s second revelation, salvation, judgment, inheritance, good things, a remaining sabbath rest, and we have barely touched the hem of the garment in Hebrews on these things! But notice: all these things were “about to be,” there would be no long wait, but in a little while, Christ would come and He would not delay (Hebrews 10:37). They would not be of those who would withdraw into destruction (hupostolees eis apooleian, 10:39), but of faith to the possession of the soul (39b; compare Jesus’ words in the context of the end of the Jewish age, “in your patience you will gain your souls,” Luke 21:19).
The Old Testament faithful had not obtained the blessings of the promise God made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), “God having forseen something better concerning us, in order that not without us they should be perfected” (Hebrews 11:39,40). God’s whole “creation” would be complete, perfect, at the return of Christ from heaven (Romans 8:18-23, e.g.). They had then approached Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, had been enrolled in the heavens (apogegrammenoon en ouranois), and so they were not to refuse Him who warned them of the shaken things being removed so the not-shaken things would remain (12:22ff.). They were receiving an unshakable kingdom (basileian asaleutos), so in light of that fact, they were to have grace, through which they could serve God pleasingly, and this with devoutness and awe (eulabeias kai deous, 12:28, 29). They no longer had a continuing city, but they anticipated the about-to-come city they sought (13:14). John saw it come down out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). Paul said it was the mother of saints (Galatians 4:26). It was and is the “capital” of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15,16). We have skipped some things in this great epistle; maybe another time we can go deeper into the great, good, eternal blessings revealed in promise from the book of Hebrews.
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