“The beginning of another world”: Apocalyptic expectations of re-creation (End 1.9)

An expectation of a perfect place or kingdom in which the righteous would live an eternal, blissful life is central to the apocalyptic worldview, as I have discussed in previous posts on apocalypticism. Sometimes this expectation of God’s future kingdom developed out of concrete expectations of a restored Israel as expressed by prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Prophets like Jeremiah or Ezekiel looked forward to a literal return of exiles and the re-establishment of an Israel under God’s rule in the land that God had given to them. In these cases the apocalyptic visionary of later years looked forward to a quite down-to-earth, though perfect, kingdom that God would establish when the nations recognized Israel’s God and the powers of evil were wiped out. The apocalypse of Daniel, for instance, speaks of four kingdoms (Babylonia, Persia, Media, Hellenistic) that will fall and the establishment of God’s kingdom under the direction of the warrior figure like a human being (the archangel Michael): “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever — forever and ever” (7:18).

Sometimes, however, the final blissful existence is conceived not as a return to physical Israel completely purified forever, but rather as a re-creation. I was just now reading the Epistle of Barnabas in connection with a tutorial and came across that author’s allegorical interpretation of the true meaning of Sabbath. According to this late-first-century (anti-Jewish) follower of Jesus, the six days of creation in Genesis were six thousand years, at which time “everything will be brought to an end” (15.4). The seventh day of rest would follow on the “Son’s” destruction of lawlessness and judgment of the ungodly (15.5). Finally, the author speaks of the true, final “Sabbath” when God would create an “eighth day, which is the beginning of another world” (15.8).

The author of the Jewish apocalypse known as 4 Ezra (2 Esdras 3-14 in your Apocrypha) likewise spoke of God’s final kingdom in terms of re-creation. This writing, like The Epistle of Barnabas, was written in the wake of the Romans’ destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (which happened in 70 CE). The author of 4 Ezra speaks of two ages, the present one and the one to come, when “evil shall be blotted out” (6:27). Most interesting here is how he expresses what will happen in the end times, when God’s anointed brings to completion the present age:

For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left. And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it. . . (7:28-32 [RSV]).

Here in a Christian writing and a Jewish apocalypse we are witnessing similar conceptions of re-creation, on the model of Genesis, at the end of the age.