On the eschatological assumption of Paul’s pastoral letters.
In contrast to the more overt eschatological discussions contained within Paul’s epistolary writing, the Pastoral Epistles are unique in that they do not outright manifest any eschatological doctrine, per se. Instead, latent within the Pastorals is an undercurrent of eschatological hope which though, perhaps, less announced is nonetheless stirring. The ministerial contexts of Timothy and Titus lent themselves to stern but loving doctrinal treatises on the inherent necessities of pastoral ministry. It is somewhat odd, then, that Paul seemingly fails to address perhaps the most common congregational inquiries concerning the End Times when preparing his “sons in the faith” to adequately stand for the faith. But in lieu of an articulated eschatology one might find in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, for instance, the eschatological insistence in the Pastoral Epistles is largely assumed. “It certainly cannot be said,” Ben Witherington avers, “that future eschatology is lacking in these latest of the Paulines.”1
The eschatological assumption of Paul’s pastoral letters is most noticeably seen in his affirmation of the enduring sovereignty of Christ Jesus. The “eternal, immortal, invisible” King of kings is none other than the carpenter from Galilee who suffered a criminal’s death in order to accomplish the salvation of sinners. (1 Tm 1:15–17) Jesus’s identity, then, is not only Redeemer but also “Sovereign Epoch-maker,” as Scottish churchman Patrick Fairbairn terms it; the One “who arranges everything pertaining to them beforehand, according to the counsel of His own will, and controls whatever takes place, so as to subordinate it to His design.”2 Timothy and Titus were imbued with the eschatological hope that the living, risen Savior and “only Sovereign” will bring about his own purposes in his own time. (1 Tm 6:12–16) Such eschatological certainty is rooted in the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension of the “living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tm 3:15–16; 4:10) “It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, above all,” L. J. Kreitzer maintains, “which conditions and determines Paul’s eschatological teaching for it is in the resurrection that the inauguration of the eschaton has truly taken place, the new order begun.”3 The ecclesiological confidence in the first appearing gives rise to the faithful expectation of the second appearing. (2 Tm 1:10–12; Ti 2:13) Witherington continues:
Salvation is, for Paul, essentially an eschatological concept, by which I mean that he believes it only truly happens at the end of human history when the Messiah reappears. But the beginning of the eschatological age entailed only the beginnings of what salvation meant, and so for Paul, salvation has a present and a future dimension, or if he is thinking about the matter christological, it has past, present and future dimensions. Christians have been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, they are being saved by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within, and they hope for eternal life, which comes in the future when they are fully conformed to the image of Jesus in the body as well and inwardly.4
Paul’s assertions and affirmations of Jesus Christ’s universal imperial authority undoubtedly brought untold resolve and dignity to the offices in which Timothy and Titus were employed. (2 Tm 1:7; 4:6–8) In that sense, then, “it could be argued,” Dr. Andreas Köstenberger writes, “that here ecclesiology — the church — and eschatology converge.” Though, perhaps, less doctrinal, the eschatological assumption of the Pastoral Epistles is therein recognized as exceptionally devotional. Eternal life is not only the anticipatory future but is also “the present portion of all believers,” H. A. Ironside declares.5 Timothy’s, Titus’s, and, likewise, the church’s contemporary faithfulness is concretized in the conviction of the imminence of Christ Jesus’s “eternal glory.” (2 Tm 2:8–10; 4:1, 18) The mooring of all ministerial fidelity, sacrifice, and confidence rests upon the living Lord and King, “who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tm 1:10) The Pastoral Epistles are, therefore, beaming with the eschatological hope with which believers of all ages approach the Final Analysis in faith that is fixed upon the astonishing fact of the gospel that God himself is the sinner’s Savior.
Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1–2 Timothy and 1–3 John (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 144.
Patrick Fairbairn, The Pastoral Epistles: The Greek Text and Translation with Introduction, Expository Notes, and Dissertations (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874), 101.
L. J. Kreitzer, “Eschatology,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 255.
H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the First and Second Epistles of Timothy (New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1951), 147.