It’s time for another fill-in-the-blank entry. Our Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary is beginning the book of 2 Esdras tomorrow, and this is one of those books that are not typically well known. So let’s take a look at this, one of the most obscure of the Ecclesiastical Books.
The book of 2 Esdras is vastly different from 1 Esdras. Whereas the latter is largely a historical document with potential legendary material, this book details some very lengthy visions attributed to Ezra, later in his life. Much of it is apocalyptic, even referencing some of the prophecies of Daniel and noting their advancement in the past few decades. Many scholars today assert that parts of this book are so new that they were actually written by Christians. Whatever the case, the weaving together of Old Testament apocalyptic prophetic writing with some very Christ-centered imagery makes it a unique offering among the Ecclesiastical Books. Both this book and 1 Esdras, however, suffer from a number of hiccups in their historical accuracy and chronology, betraying the immense likelihood that neither were written by same Ezra, but more likely just in his name.
In particular, the visions of 2 Esdras delve into the “four empires” imagery that pops up throughout the book of Daniel, even consciously referencing Daniel at one point. The angel guiding “Ezra” in this book indicates that the fourth empire is already upon them, and the Savior therefore is coming very soon. Normal Christian interpretation of the four-empire scheme typically posits the Greeks as the third and the Romans as the fourth. This indicates that either Ezra’s angel got it drastically wrong (because he was around before even the Greeks invaded) or this vision involves someone different from the Ezra known in the Hebrew scriptures. The latter is the only reasonable solution.
Despite these problems of historical accuracy and setting, the spiritual content of these visions are interesting and useful. Perhaps not so useful for theology and doctrine as such, but then again, that exactly what the Ecclesiastical Books are not received for in our church anyway! Instead, the insights here into an anticipation-of-Christ mentality provide us with a beautiful picture of longing and hope for the providence and victory of God. And, on top of that, it contributes to the rich world of apocalyptic imagery that went into the writing and style of the book of Revelation, so this book is helpful background in the course of getting accustomed to this most elusive of writing styles.
You may also find my video introduction to the Ecclesiastical Books useful, if only briefly dealing with this particular book.