If you’re using our Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary, you’ll be coming across this gem today from 2 Esdras 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, 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.

In the first paragraph, the Messiah is said to live for 400 years, and in the second the Messiah is said to be dead for seven days.  Are these just bad predictions?  No, this is apocalyptic writing.  This literary genre is meant to read like an epic tale, not like a dry history book of the future.  400 years of life and 7 days of death depict the grand importance of the life and death of the Messiah both by using dramatically large numbers and by using symbolically significant numbers.  People make this kind of mistake with the writings of the Bible all too often, trying to line up Daniel’s “weeks of years” and Revelation’s “thousand years” with chronological history – apocalyptic writings such as these are not meant to be understood in such shallow and mundane terms.

It’s also fascinating to note how the language here anticipates New Testament language quite vividly.  The world “shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish.”  This is very much like what St. Paul would write to the Corinthians.  In the death of Christ, we who are united with Him also die; and in the resurrection of Christ, we who are united with Him also arise.  We put off that which is perishable (sin) and put on that which is imperishable (the righteousness of Christ).

I have written more of this vision from 2 Esdras 7 (the above is just a sample), so if you’re interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to give this article a read: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/the-gospel-in-apocalyptic-vision/

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