The Epistles: Doctrinal Explanations
Contextually (with all the aforementioned in consideration), when moving from the Gospels to the Book of Acts and panning from there to the Book of Romans, one is compelled to leave off one’s fascination with the work of God among the Jews and begin a new fascination with God’s work among the Gentiles, not knowing whereunto this work shall grow! In the providence of God, Paul pens the full implication of Acts 28:25-28 in Romans 11. In fact, each Epistle bears the torch of divine light on the subject, speaking to and addressing matters pertaining to Jews and Gentiles alike, even though the Jews were generally reprobate. Dominating questions borne upon the mind of an astute leaner of the Bible in the 1st century needed to be answered, and God gave answers. Questions like, how does salvation even exist among the Gentiles? For, redemption in time past had almost always been salvation and redemption through Covenants and promises to the Jews and for the Jews. So, how has it become salvation to the Gentiles? My reader, the Epistles provide the doctrinal answers.
God is able to save the Gentiles by turning them into Jews! In a real, spiritual, and lawful way – by the inhabiting presence of Jesus Christ the Righteous! – the Gentiles become Jews and hereby the very same Covenants originally intended for and spoken to the Jews are saving the Gentiles! Therefore, the Gentile Church Age marks the beginning of what God will do to the Gentiles in fulfillment of what He said about the Jews. However, the Epistles speak relatively little about prophecy and the Last Days. Consequentially, perverse men of past generations have doubted the inspiration of the Book of Revelation. Moreover, in modern times, widely accepted doctrines have been imagined from an imbalanced study of scripture pertaining to things of the Last Days as they relate to the Gentiles, the Jews, the Rapture, and the Tribulation. Woefully, the Devil pitted the Jews against the Gentiles in the 1st century and, likewise, interpreters of eschatology are at odds on the purpose of God concerning the Gentiles and the Jews to the confoundment of vital doctrines.
Not only was the mystery of the Gentile Church Age unforeseen by the apostles, they couldn’t tell when, how, and in what way God’s work among the Gentiles would be completed and how this relates to the final fulfillment of what God will do exclusively with the Jews. In other words, they longed to know when, how, and why God would eventually turn from the Gentiles back to the Jews in fulfillment of the restoration promises and prophecies spoken of old (Rom. 11). Even so, all of this begs for the unveiling of all mysteries in a prophetic masterpiece that acts as a reconciler of divergent views and opinions. My reader, the Book of Revelation is the masterful reconciler! And, with the writing of the last Epistle of the New Testament, the Epistle of Jude, the spiritual condition of the Gentile Church was overwhelmingly backslidden! This isn’t surprising, is it?
For, Jesus didn’t only foretell the desolation of Jerusalem and the consequential scattering of the Jews when prophesying during His earthly ministry. Amidst these prophecies and elsewhere, Christ foretold the eventual backsliding and general apostasy of the Gentile Church Age in no uncertain terms (Matt. 24:1-25:46, Lk. 17:22-37, 21:1-38) just like Moses foretold the backsliding and general apostasy of the Jews (Deut. 31:24-32:44)! Remember? Moreover, this clearly pronounced foresight of Christ pertaining to the falling away of the Gentile Church is resoundingly confirmed by the apostles in almost every instance where the phrase “the Last Days” or one like it is used in the Epistles (2 Tim. 3:1-13, 2 Pet. 3:1-18, & 1 Jn. 2:15-19, James 5:1-20); not to mention how Paul explicitly stated, “that Day shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thess. 2:3). “Whereby we know that it is the Last Time”, John said (1 Jn. 2:18).
Further emphasizing this, Paul and Peter wrote Epistles just before their martyrdoms and both have the same pronounced foresight. 2 Timothy, written shortly before Paul’s death (2 Tim. 1:16, 2:9, 4:13) in around 64 A.D., is emphatic in declaring how terribly backslidden things had become (“…all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” – 2 Tim. 1:15,) and will become among the Gentile Churches (“in the Last Days perilous times shall come” – 2 Tim. 3:1) insomuch that Paul was concerned for Timothy (2 Tim. 1:8). 2 Peter, written shortly before Peter’s death (2 Pet. 1:12-15) in around 66 A.D., echoes Paul’s description of rampant apostasy (2 Pet. 1:1-2:22) and, in turn, reckons upon how this implies the near return of Christ and the End of the World (2 Pet. 3:1-18). The Epistle of Jude, likely written in around 66 A.D., and as the latest and last Epistle, is a fitting example of how certainly the early Christians were already expecting an imminent falling away preceding the End of the World. Jude wrote, saying,
“But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the Last Time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.” – Jude 1:17-18
Jude’s Epistle bears witness to circumstances that mirror Extra-Biblical Church History in that John was the last remaining apostle and he was far removed from the scene, having been banished on the Island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9). Even so, consider the circumstance of the 1st century Church. My reader, think of yourself as one among the number of the remnant of believers in those days. Consider what impact the death of all the apostles, and especially Peter and Paul, had upon the Christians as a whole; and, considering that their death transpired some 4 to 6 years before the 70 A.D. judgment of God, imagine it! Think of how the Christians would have felt when they saw the madness and depravity of Nero conducting an imperially supervised persecution of Christians from 64 A.D. to 68 A.D. until, at last, beginning in 68 A.D., lo and behold they “see Jerusalem compassed with armies” exactly as was foretold by Christ in Luke 21:20 – the specified event that Jesus said would precede the 2nd Coming of Christ and the End of the World as described in Luke 21:25-28!
Furthermore, and without coincidence, history tells us that Paul and Peter died in Rome around the same time; and, hereby, they effectively foreshadowed the ministries of two men who will torment Babylon more than any other prophet or apostle before them. I speak of the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11:3-4), the Two Anointed Ones (Zech. 4:14), who will in like manner die at the hand of Spiritual Babylon in the future (Rev. 11:7-10). Howbeit, Paul and Peter didn’t have the privilege of reading the Book of Revelation. Nor can we be certain that they even knew of the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11). The Book of Revelation was written long after their death and, for that matter, some 2 decades after 70 A.D. As is commonly acknowledged and easily observable, it is apparent that the apostles were expecting the 2nd Coming of Christ to be imminent. Can you blame them? Or, rather, should you blame them? This expectation isn’t a cause for snickering.
Rightfully so, and soberly, the gaze of the Epistles was one of upward expectation! And, they weren’t mistaken or misled in their belief, nor is the Holy Writ of the Cannon errant in this witness! All things considered, my reader: with the completion of Acts, in 63 A.D., the death of Paul and Peter, in 64 A.D. & 68 A.D., the writing of the last and final Epistle (except Jude), in 66 A.D., and all this transpiring amidst the unprecedented and barbaric onslaught of Nero’s imperial persecution of Christians, from 64 A.D. to 68 A.D., and with the Roman Armies making war in Judea, slaughtering the Jews, and encircling Jerusalem for a siege (beginning in 68 A.D. under Nero and finishing in 70 A.D. under Vespasian), the witness of prophecy directs the eyes of the reader to what’s next – namely, the 2nd Coming of Christ & the End of the World! This is the next event on the prophetic calendar, according to Matthew 24, Luke 21 [23:27-31], & Mark 13! Justifiably so, the 1st century saints felt that they were on the brink of – if not lunging into – the End of the World!
Albeit, 70 A.D. came and went. The next step on the prophetic calendar that was pointedly specified didn’t manifest. The full intent of “the abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15), who is a person (2 Thess. 2:4), wasn’t fulfilled in the 70 A.D. destruction of the Temple. Rome, who wasted Israel and sacked Jerusalem, worshipped the Roman Ensign placed on the Eastern Gate of the Temple before destroying the holy places of the God of Israel, but this is a modest display of what will ultimately manifest in the abomination that makes desolation (“all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him” – Rev. 13:8). Moreover, at the passing of 2 decades, even though periods of persecution flared up in greater or lesser degrees during the rule of subsequent Roman Emperors (Nero (54-68) – Galba (68-69) – Otho (69-69) – Vitellius (69-69), Vespasian (69-79) – Titus (79-81) – Domitian (81-96) – Nerva (96-98) – Trajan (98-117)), the foretold circumstances were nonexistent in that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and the Jews were scattered. Of course, this left the early Christians wondering.
The 1st century saints were plunged into the throes of what appeared to be an unstoppable sequence of prophetic fulfillments that put them on the brink of the End of the World, and it didn’t happen. The passing of two decades put the saints in wonder concerning how the prophecies of Christ can or would be fulfilled seeing that the Jews would have to be regathered, Jerusalem restored, and the Temple rebuilt. Moreover, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews, one is compelled to wonder what Christ is doing among the Gentiles, in what manner the Kingdom of God is presently manifested and to what end, and how this ultimately relates to the Jews. After all, the Lord has been in Covenant with the Jews for thousands of years; and now …the Gentiles? The Epistles are mostly silent on these issues from an eschatological perspective, and yet the expectation of Christ’s return and the End of the World is so pervasive throughout the letters! Realistically, how could anyone know the answer to such questions except a prophet is ordained of God to speak the otherwise unknowable answers?