Eternal Hope – Part 26

Eternal Hope – Part 26

Eternal Hope
Part 26


I fear that this series on Eternal Hope has become too esoteric and tedious for many of you to whom I send this letter. I find the question dealing with the origin of God’s revealing His promise of an eternal hope to the individual intriguing. God’s promise of heaven to the individual believer plays such a central role in our lives, why did He wait so long before recording it in Scripture? And why, since we see evidences of it appearing in the literature between the closing of the Old Testa­ment and the beginning of the New Testament, did He tie it to a work’s right­eousness rather than a gift of His grace? It is my prayer that you will not only think on this with me but cull from this study important ramifications for our lives today.


Sheol is used in the Old Testament as the abode of the dead. Frequently, this state of the dead is called “sleep.” For example: “’But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying-place.’ And he said: ‘I will do as thou hast said.’”[1] “And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Behold, thou art about to sleep[2] with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them.”[3] “And why dost Thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? For now shall I lie down in the dust; and Thou wilt seek me, but I shall not be.”[4] The word “lie” also means “sleep.” “With their poison I will prepare their feast, and I will make them drunken, that they may be convulsed, and sleep a perpetual (olam) sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD … And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, her governors and her deputies, and her mighty men; and they shall sleep a perpetual (olam) sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts.”[5] Jeremiah calls it a “perpetual” or “eternal sleep.”

In the post-Exilic prophets it appears that the righteous must abide in Sheol (apart from God?) until the Messianic Kingdom. Later Sheol is replaced by the doctrine of Paradise or heaven. Because the hope of the individual and nation are so completely intertwined, the individual does not experience the fulfillment of the promise until God inaugurates the Messianic kingdom. This takes place after Daniel’s seventy weeks. [6]

The author of Ethiopic Enoch (1 Enoch) acknowledges the injustice of the wicked sinning with impunity, but argues that God records their evil for the Day of Judg­ment. “And now fear not, ye righteous, when ye see the sinners growing strong and prospering in their ways: be not companions with them, but keep afar from their violence; for ye shall become companions of the hosts of heaven. And, although ye sinners say: ‘All our sins shall not be searched out and be written down,’ nevertheless they shall write down all your sins every day. And now I show unto you that light and darkness, day and night, see all your sins.”[7] These evil people will be slain in Sheol. “Woe to you who spread evil to your neighbors; for you shall be slain in Sheol.”[8] Note that Sheol is now considered the same as hell. Those sent there can never escape. “And how they have died in prosperity and in wealth, and have not seen tribulation or murder in their life; and they have died in honor, and judgment has not been executed on them during their life. Know ye, that their souls will be made to descend into Sheol and they shall be wretched in their great tribulation. And into darkness and chains and a burning flame where there is grievous judgment shall your spirits enter; and the great judgment shall be for all the generations of the world. Woe to you, for ye shall have no peace.”[9]


This work, written toward the end of the power of John Hyrcanus[10] (c. 109 BC), sees the Maccabean dynasty, which by this time had reached its zenith, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic promises. Hyrcanus combined the three offices of prophet, priest, and king, and thus the Pharisaic party recognized him as the actual Messiah.[11] The Messianic Psalm 110 says, “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek.’”[12] You will remember that the author of Hebrews quotes this to prove that Christ came to function as our high priest. The Pharisees reasoned the same way in declaring John Hyrcanus the Anointed One, or Messiah.

The author of Jubilees taught that there was no hope for the Gentiles: God had placed them under angelic guardians with the object of accomplishing their destruction (xv.31). Moreover, the Jew who intermarried with them should be put to death, and the man who gave his daughter in marriage to a Gentile should be stoned with stones (xxx.7-17). How different the spirit of the author of the Testaments. A true son of the large-hearted O.T. proph­ets, he proclaims the salvation of the Gentiles. The promised time has come.

The kingdom is already established, and all the Gentiles will be saved through Israel. In the Judgement the conduct of the best heathen will form the norm according to which Israel shall be judged.[13]

Levi plays a special role in this work: “For to Levi the Lord gave the sovereignty… There­fore I command you to hearken to Levi, because he shall know the law of the Lord, and shall give ordinances for judgment and sacrifice for all Israel until the completion of the times of anointed,[14] the High Priest whom the Lord hath declared… he shall bless Israel; and specially Judah, because him hath the Lord chosen to rule over all the peoples. And worship we his Seed, because He shall die for us in wars visible and invisible, and shall be among you an everlasting king.”[15]

The angel reveals to Levi the seven heavens and their meanings: “Hear, then, concerning the seven heavens. The lowest is for this cause more gloomy, in that it is near all the iniquities of men. The second hath fire, snow, ice, ready for the day of the ordinance of the Lord…in it are all the spirits of the retributions for vengeance on the wicked. In the third are the hosts of the armies which are ordained for the Day of Judgment, to work vengeance on the spirits of deceit and of Beliar. And the heavens up to the fourth above these are holy, for in the highest of all dwelleth the Great Glory, in the holy of holies, far above all holiness. In the heaven next to it are the angels of the presence of the Lord, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the ignorances of the righteous;[16] …in the heaven below this are the angels who bear the answers to the angels of the presence of the Lord. And in the heaven next to this are thrones, dominions, in which hymns are ever offered to God. Therefore, whenever the Lord looketh upon us, all of us are shaken; yea, the heavens, and the earth, and the abysses, are shaken at the presence of His majesty; but the sons of men, regarding not these things, sin, and provoke the Most High.”[17]

The prophet Daniel predicts a period of sixty-nine weeks, followed by a week of tribulation, after which the Lord establishes His kingdom. After making reference to the “seventy weeks” Levi is told of the Judgment of the Lord: “And after their punishment shall have come from the Lord, then will the Lord raise up to the priesthood a new Priest, to whom all the words of the Lord shall be revealed; and He shall execute a judgment of truth upon the earth, in the fullness of days…He shall be magnified in the world until His ascen­sion. He shall shine forth as the sun in the earth, and shall drive away all darkness from the world under heaven, and there shall be peace in all the earth. The heavens shall rejoice in His days, and the earth shall be glad, and the clouds shall be joyful, and the knowledge of the Lord shall be poured forth upon the earth, as the water of seas… And in His priesthood shall all sin come to an end, and the lawless shall rest from evil, and the just shall rest in Him. And He shall open the gates of paradise… and He shall give to His saints to eat from the tree of life, and the spirit of holiness shall be on them. And Beliar[18] shall be bound by Him…And the Lord shall rejoice in His children, and the Lord shall be well pleased in His beloved forever.”[19]

According to Benjamin, there will be a general resurrection: “Then shall ye see Enoch, Noah, and Shem, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, arising on the right hand in glad­ness. Then shall we also arise, each one over our tribe, worshipping the King of heaven, who appeared upon the earth in the form of a man of humility. And as many as believed on Him on the earth shall rejoice with Him; and then shall all men arise, some unto glory and some unto shame. And the Lord shall judge Israel first, even for the wrong they did unto Him; for when He appeared as a deliverer, God in the flesh, they believed Him not. And then shall He judge all the Gentiles, as many as believed Him not when He appeared upon earth.”[20]


The major issue in dispute in the scholarly literature remains whether The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs is a Jewish document with light Christian editing (which is removable with judicious redaction criticism) or a Christian document that has heavily reworked various Jewish sources. Credible scholars can be sited for both positions. “Cave placed the composition of the Testaments about a.d.192, but concedes a much earlier origin to the first portion of the work… He is a Christian awakening to the real purport of the Old-Testament Scriptures, and anxious to lead rather than drive his brethren after the flesh to the discovery of Him ‘concerning whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write:’ not a ‘Judaizing Christian,’ as Cave imagined, but the reverse, -a Christianizing Jew… The author of this book was anxious to show that the twelve patriarchs were twelve believers in the Paschal Lamb, and that they died in Christian penitence and faith.”[21] This scholar argues that the purpose of this Jewish author was the conversion to Christianity of his countrymen and thus employs the names of the patriarchs as a vehicle for winning their descendents to Christ. Strong support for this position can be seen in the Testament of Judah: “And I saw that from Judah was born a virgin wearing a linen garment, and from her was born a lamb, and on his left hand there was, as it were, a lion: and all the beasts rushed against him, and the lamb overcame them, and destroyed them, and trod them under foot.”[22]

By way of contrast, R. H. Charles dates this work, in part, in the latter half of the second century BC, and the rest in the first century BC.[23] He believes this book to be the work of a Pharisee, writing during the reign of John Hyrcanus I (2nd century BC). Only Pharisaism survived the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), and we find no trace of this book in the life of Judaism after the cessation of the Jewish state. The reference to Christian themes probably places its origin in the 2nd century AD.

Thus, we see that whether the author’s intent is to Christianize Jews or to promote messianic Judaism, the literature that exists between the closing of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament presents to its readers a promise of heaven and a detailed eternal hope not present in the Old Testament. Even in Levi hope links more with works’ righteousness than with God’s grace.

In Christ,


[1] Genesis 47:30, JPS
[2] Other translations use the word “lie.”
[3] Deuteronomy 31:16, JPS
[4] Job 7:21, JPS
[5] Jeremiah 51:39, 57, JPS
[6] Cf. Daniel 9:21-27
[7] Ethiopic Enoch 104:6-9
[8] Ethiopic Enoch 99:11
[9] Ethiopic Enoch 103: 6-8
[10] “John succeeded his father both as prince and high priest, and his long reign displayed all the characteristics of the true Maccabees… Hyrcanus threw off the Syrian yoke and began a war of conquest. In a quick campaign he conquered the trans-Jordanic territory, destroyed Samaria and its temple and devastated the land of Idumaea, whose people were now embodied in the Jewish commonwealth by an enforced circumcision. By an embassy, the third in the Asmonean history, he made an alliance with Rome… After a reign of nearly three decades he died in peace, envied for three things–the possession of the supreme power in Israel, the possession of the high-priesthood and the gift of prophecy.” ISBE
[11] Op Cit. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. II, page 282
[12] Psalm 110:4 JPS
[13] Op Cit. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. II, page 294
[14] Anointed in the Greek is Cristou/ which we translate Christ.
[15] Reuben 6:7-12
[16] The angels make propitiation, rather than Messiah, and then only for “the ignorance of the righteous.”
[17] Levi 3:1-10
[18] Another word for Satan.
[19] Levi 18:1-14
[20] Benjamin 10:6-9
[21] Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, editors Ante-Nicene Fathers, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1951, Vol. VIII, pp. 3-5.
[22] Judah
[23] Op cit, Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, p. 193