Eternal Hope – Part 27

Eternal Hope – Part 27

Eternal Hope
Part 27


Summarizing what we find in the strictly Jewish and pre-Christian Apocalypses: “With these writers the doctrine of the Last Things is always brought into close relationship to that of the Messiah. His coming is the signal for the end of the world, the last judgment, the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous.”[1] Up to this point I have found no hint in the Old Testament, Apocry­pha, and Pseudepigrapha (with the exception of David’s statement: “How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!”[2]) that suggests people may relate to God on the basis of grace.


Charles reasons that it was written in the first century AD.[3] Similar in many ways to Baruch, 4 Ezra nevertheless represented a Christian worldview while Baruch a Jewish worldview. 4 Ezra contains a great deal of Apocalyptic material: The book opens much like Habakkuk, asking the question, how can Israel’s continuous affliction be reconciled with God’s justice?

First note that Ezra pictures a God who cares little for the human race as such but does commit Himself to the righteous. Those granted an eternal hope are few in number; the vast majority are alienated from God and condemned: “For whereas you have said that the righteous are not many but few, while the ungodly abound, hear the explanation for this. ‘If you have just a few precious stones, will you add to them lead and clay?’ I said, ‘Lord, how could that be?’ And he said to me, ‘Not only that, but ask the earth and she will tell you; defer to her, and she will declare it to you. Say to her, ‘You produce gold and silver and brass, and also iron and lead and clay; but silver is more abundant than gold, and brass than silver, and iron than brass, and lead than iron, and clay than lead.’ Judge therefore which things are precious and desirable, those that are abun­dant or those that are rare?’ I said, ‘O sovereign Lord, what is plentiful is of less worth, for what is more rare is more precious.’ He answered me and said, ‘Weigh within yourself what you have thought, for he who has what is hard to get rejoices more than he who has what is plentiful. So also will be the judgment which I have promised; for I will rejoice over the few who shall be saved, because it is they who have made my glory to prevail now, and through them my name has now been honored. And I will not grieve over the multitude of those who perish; for it is they who are now like a mist, and are similar to a flame and smoke — they are set on fire and burn hotly, and are extinguished.’ I replied and said, ‘O earth, what have you brought forth, if the mind is made out of the dust like the other created things! For it would have been better if the dust itself had not been born, so that the mind might not have been made from it.”[4] I again note we find no hint of God’s grace in salvation; their works determine people’s eternal destiny.

Similar to the Apocalyptic passages found in Matthew 24-25 and Revela­tion, God interprets a dream of Ezra as follows: “This is the interpretation of the vision: As for your seeing a man come up from the heart of the sea, this is he whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left. And as for your seeing wind and fire and a storm coming out of his mouth, and as for his not holding a spear or weapon of war, yet destroying the onrushing multitude which came to conquer him, this is the interpretation: Behold, the days are coming when the Most High will deliver those who are on the earth. And bewil­derment of mind shall come over those who dwell on the earth. And they shall plan to make war against one another, city against city, place against place, people against people, and kingdom against kingdom. And when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea. And when all the nations hear his voice, every man shall leave his own land and the warfare that they have against one another; and an innumer­able multitude shall be gathered together, as you saw, desiring to come and conquer him. But he shall stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people, prepared and built, as you saw the mountain carved out without hands.”[5]

Paralleling Paul’s teaching on the resurrection at the return of Christ, 4 Ezra says, “At that time friends shall make war on friends like enemies, and the earth and those who inhabit it shall be terrified, and the springs of the fountains shall stand still, so that for three hours they shall not flow. ‘And it shall be that whoever remains after all that I have foretold to you shall himself be saved and shall see my salvation and the end of my world. And they shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death; and the heart of the earth’s inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit. For evil shall be blotted out, and deceit shall be quenched; faithful­ness shall flourish, and corruption shall be overcome, and the truth, which has been so long without fruit, shall be revealed.’”[6]

Messiah returns to rule 400 years, the time that Israel was held captive in Egypt:[7] “For behold, the time will come, when the signs which I have foretold to you will come to pass, that the city which now is not seen shall appear, and the land which now is hidden shall be disclosed. And every one who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders. 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,[8] 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, and the dust those who dwell silently in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them.”[9]

Evidently, Ezra believed in two resurrections, the first in anticipation of Messiah’s reign and the second after His death at the judgment. Ezra describes the judg­ment as follows: “And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgment, and compassion shall pass away, and patience shall be withdrawn; but only judgment shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong. And recompense shall follow, and the reward shall be manifested; righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighte­ous deeds shall not sleep. Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the para­dise of delight. Then the Most High will say to the nations that have been raised from the dead, ‘Look now, and understand whom you have denied, whom you have not served, whose commandments you have despised! Look on this side and on that; here are delight and rest, and there are fire and torments!’ Thus he will speak to them on the day of judgment — a day that has no sun or moon or stars, or cloud or thunder or lightning or wind or water or air, or darkness or evening or morning, or summer or spring or heat or winter or frost or cold or hail or rain or dew, or noon or night, or dawn or shining or brightness or light, but only the splendor of the glory of the Most High, by which all shall see what has been determined for them. For it will last for about a week of years. This is my judgment and its prescribed order; and to you alone have I shown these things.”[10]

Although in many ways similar to 2 Baruch, it differs in its close relationship to Christianity; much of it is eschatological, covering a number of subjects found in Daniel and Revelation. As a result, it was warmly received in the church. Much of the eschatological material borrows from Scripture, while at the same time being fantastic. For example, the author describes the last days: “Now concerning the signs: behold, the days are coming when those who dwell on earth shall be seized with great terror, and the way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith. And unrighteousness shall be increased beyond what you yourself see, and beyond what you heard of formerly. And the land which you now see ruling shall be waste and untrodden, and men shall see it desolate. But if the Most High grants that you live, you shall see it thrown into confusion after the third period; and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night, and the moon during the day. Blood shall drip from wood, and the stone shall utter its voice; the peoples shall be troubled, and the stars shall fall. And one shall reign whom those who dwell on earth do not expect, and the birds shall fly away together; and the sea of Sodom shall cast up fish; and one whom the many do not know shall make his voice heard by night, and all shall hear his voice. There shall be chaos also in many places, and fire shall often break out, and the wild beasts shall roam beyond their haunts, and menstruous women shall bring forth monsters. And salt waters shall be found in the sweet, and all friends shall conquer one another; then shall reason hide itself, and wisdom shall withdraw into its chamber, and it shall be sought by many but shall not be found, and unrighteousness and unrestraint shall increase on earth. And one country shall ask its neighbor, ‘Has righteousness, or any one who does right, passed through you?’ And it will answer, ‘No.’ And at that time men shall hope but not obtain; they shall labor but their ways shall not prosper. These are the signs which I am permitted to tell you, and if you pray again, and weep as you do now, and fast for seven days, you shall hear yet greater things than these… Behold, the days are coming, and it shall be that when I draw near to visit the inhabitants of the earth, and when I require from the doers of iniquity the penalty of their iniquity, and when the humiliation of Zion is complete, and when the seal is placed upon the age which is about to pass away, then I will show these signs: the books shall be opened before the firmament, and all shall see it together. Infants a year old shall speak with their voices, and women with child shall give birth to premature children at three and four months, and these shall live and dance. Sown places shall suddenly appear unsown, and full store­houses shall suddenly be found to be empty; and the trumpet shall sound aloud, and when all hear it, they shall suddenly be terrified. At that time friends shall make war on friends like enemies, and the earth and those who inhabit it shall be terrified, and the springs of the fountains shall stand still, so that for three hours they shall not flow.”[11]

Following these calamities, God saves a remnant: “And it shall be that who­ever remains after all that I have foretold to you shall himself be saved and shall see my salvation and the end of my world. And they shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death; and the heart of the earth’s inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit. For evil shall be blotted out, and deceit shall be quenched; faithfulness shall flourish, and corruption shall be overcome, and the truth, which has been so long without fruit, shall be revealed.”[12]

Next the author explains that Israel had to experience a history of tribula­tion to prepare her restoration: “’If now that city is given to a man for an inheritance, how will the heir receive his inheritance unless he passes through the danger set before him?’ I said, ‘He cannot, lord.’ And he said to me, ‘So also is Israel’s portion. For I made the world for their sake, and when Adam transgressed my statutes, what had been made was judged. And so the entrances of this world were made narrow and sorrowful and toilsome; they are few and evil, full of dangers and involved in great hardships. But the entrances of the greater world are broad and safe, and really yield the fruit of immortal­ity. Therefore unless the living pass through the difficult and vain experiences, they can never receive those things that have been reserved for them.’”[13] In an interesting passage, Ezra refers to original sin, the product of Adam’s transgression. In the New Testament only Paul discusses this.[14] Because Paul alone, of all biblical writers, calls attention to the imputed sin of Adam, it seems best to conclude that 4 Ezra was written after the Pauline epistles.

As in other literature of this genre, the author(s) conclude that only righteous people gain admittance to heaven, and they are few in number. I cannot find the author making mention of a person relating to God by grace.

In Christ,


[1] Op cit, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, page 178
[2] NAS Psalm 32:2
[3] Op cit, Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, page 552
[4] 4 Ezra 7:51-63
[5] 4 Ezra 13:25-36
[6] 4 Ezra 6:24-28
[7] Comparing their captivity in Egypt with Psalm 90 (the prayer of Moses) verse 15, the writer concludes that the restoration of Messiah will last 400 years.
[8] Note: Ezra makes no mention of Christ dying for people’s sin, even though he ostensibly wrote in the first century AD.
[9] 4 Ezra 7:26-32
[10] 4 Ezra 7:33-44
[11] 4 Ezra 5:1-13, 6:18-24
[12] 4 Ezra 6:25-28
[13] 4 Ezra 7:9-14
[14] 4 Ezra 7:118: “O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.” Cf. Romans 5, I Corinthians 15