Meyer, the End of Days, and the Righteous One

Ben F. Meyer, on the early church’s understanding of the implications of Jesus’s resurrection:

“[Their] strictly eschatological understanding of resurrection was, of course, distinct from the idea of the revivification of the dead as met with in the Elijah and Elisha cycles or other miracle-stories. For there the terminus ad quem of the eschatological resurrection of the dead was ‘the age to come.’ Here lay the uniqueness of the resurrection of Christ: it was a step into the future. We can begin to understand the thrust of the paschal experience of the disciples only to the extent that we can grasp how the earliest church understood its already given participation in the future, i.e., today’s share in ‘the bread of tomorrow’: in forgiveness (as a proleptic realization of acquittal at the judgment), in charism (proleptic realization of the outpouring of the Spirit in the reign of God)–both of which were bound up with baptism–and, finally, in the eucharist (proleptic realization of the eschatological banquet). With respect to the risen Christ himself, the post paschal community evidences no stage of consciousness in which the exaltation of Jesus was lacking or his lordship still future. Regarded from the outset as the supreme eschatological event, the resurrection threw sudden light on the immediate past and future. As for the past, the crucified Jesus was vindicated as ho dikaios, the Righteous One; as for the future, the goal of Israel’s salvation history was on the point of attainment, for Jesus was already installed in glory as the Lord and Saviour to come. Those who called on his name were accordingly the first fruits of messianic Israel, destined for acquittal at the outbreak of the judgment. The resurrection was their clarion-call, for it grounded their hopes.” (The Aims of Jesus [San Jose: Pickwick Publications, 2002], 68, emphasis added.)

I love this paragraph, because it sums up the gospel so vividly. The early church believed that the end-time promises of God had rushed forward into their present, sounding the victory of God. Even as the Christians still lived in a world in which YHWH God of Israel was clearly not exercising his complete authority, they knew that he was the world’s true Lord, that he had been revealed in Jesus, and that he had won–even though he had not yet won.

Richard Hays discusses Paul’s use of Habakkuk’s “the Righteous One,” in an essay in The Conversion of the Imagination. Traditionally, Rom 1:17 has been read:

“For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (NASB)
δικαιοσυνη γαρ θεου εν αυτω αποκαλυπτεται εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν καθως γεγραπται ο δε δικαιος εκ πιστεως ζησεται.

The NASB’s reading makes it sound like the gospel is about living a righteous life (“living by faith”). Hays uses 1QpHab to argue for “Righteous One” as a title, and that Paul’s use of Habakkuk 2:4b as predicting the resurrection of Jesus: “But he who by faith is righteous shall live.” The gospel is about the revelation of God’s righteousness (faithfulness to his promises) “from faith”–Jesus–“to faith”–those who believe in Jesus. The gospel vindicates Jesus as the Righteous One (cf 1:4), proves God’s future faithfulness to his promises, and means that the benefits that came to Jesus, i.e., resurrection, will come to all who believe in him.

The resurrection affects our entire present, which, as Meyer says, is “proleptic”: we anticipate God’s future in our present, because it’s already here.

There you go, Harold: that’s some real New Testament eschatology.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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