FOR a right understanding of what the Gospels teach concerning the "last things" it is indispensable that the antecedents upon which that teaching was, in the first instance, based should be studied. Eschatology, like so many other things, went through a process of development before it assumed that form which the Gospels have made so familiar to us. No developed growth can be satisfactorily studied without knowing something about its earlier processes of formation and the conditions under which development took place. And, therefore, if we wish to understand what the Gospels teach concerning the "end of the world," the first requisite is that we should have some idea of that earlier
teaching upon which it is based. Where is this earlier teaching to be found? Firstly, in the Old Testament; secondly, and chiefly, in the Apocalyptic literature; and thirdly, though in a much less degree, in Rabbinical literature, wherein are re-echoed so many of the popular conceptions on this subject which were current in our Lord's day. It is the main object of the following pages to offer to the general reader some insight into what these three classes of literature have to say upon the subject under consideration.
In order to show in the clearest manner the character of these antecedents, it has been thought well to give a goodly number of quotations from each class of literature. This seemed the more necessary because the connection between the Gospel Eschatology and that which preceded it cannot be adequately realised unless the ipsissima verba of each are placed side by side and compared; but it is very tedious to be constantly
interrupting the reading by turning up references, and therefore to have these quoted in full before one will, it is hoped, be found to be a considerable convenience. In the case of the Apocalyptic and Rabbinical literatures it seemed doubly necessary to give quotations, and not merely references, because many of the editions of the works belonging to those two classes of literature are, owing to their expense, unavailable for those who have not the use of a good theological library.
But while the purpose of this book is, in the main, to present in popular form an outline of the antecedents of Christ's doctrine of the "last things," it is impossible to remain altogether silent upon some topics which inevitably suggest themselves. When it is found, for example, that there is substantial identity in a number of essential points between the Eschatology of the Gospel and its antecedents, many people will be inclined
to wonder whether there is anything at all original and specific in the Gospel teaching on the subject. Therefore it has been attempted here to indicate certain crucial points on which there is a fundamental difference between the Gospel teaching and its antecedents.
Further, another question which arises is as to why it was that Christ based so much of His eschatological teaching, both as regards thought and form, on what had preceded; the attempt is made to answer this question as well.
The whole subject of Eschatology is of vast area; it ramifies to an amazing extent, and it is full of perplexing problems. Of these latter the most critical one is undoubtedly the question as to how far the Eschatology of the Gospels actually represents, on the one hand, the teaching of our Lord, and, on the other, the belief of the early Church. Many people will be inclined to say that
this is a preliminary which ought to be dealt with before the subject itself is taken in hand. But the writer has deliberately and of set purpose avoided this thorny subject here, and for several reasons. In the first place, his main object, for the present, has been to examine the antecedents; in the second, the task of attempting to differentiate between the sources of the Gospels is not one to place before general readers; it would necessarily take up a great deal of space, it would involve much diversion from the main subject in hand, and it is quite certain that final conclusions cannot be reached until scholars have expended a great deal more labour upon the problems involved. A third reason is that, in any case, the Gospels are so saturated with Eschatology that even if a great deal of it were eliminated the kernel would remain, and this, as will be seen in the two last chapters of the book, is what really counts.
At the same time the writer is fully aware
that it is only a corner of the subject which is touched upon here; indeed, it is little more than an introduction to one department of the subject that has been attempted.
But, as already hinted, the following pages are not intended for scholars; they are written, in the first place, for the large number of clergy whose manifold parochial duties make it impossible for them to find the requisite time for investigating the subject at first hand themselves, and who, nevertheless, desire to have, in succinct form, an outline of some of the main elements of Eschatology as they existed in pre-Christian times. So that, although very far from exhaustive, the material here offered may, it is hoped, be useful to many of the clergy. In the second place, the writer has had in mind that large and increasing body of lay men and women who are deeply interested in the theological thought of the day, and who may desire to have some insight into one of the various New Testament
problems which are exercising the minds of scholars at the present time.
The writer feels it incumbent upon him to take this opportunity of expressing his indebtedness and gratitude to the Rev. Professor Charles for his invaluable editions of Apocalyptic writings; without his published texts and translations, with their suggestive notes, workers in this field of study would be placed at a great disadvantage.
The writer desires also to express his sincere thanks to the Rev. Cyril W. Emmet for his assistance in correcting the proof-sheets.
W. O. E. O.
HATCH END, Advent 1908.