by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 2 Paragraph # 3 Study # 4 July 27, 2014 Dayton, Texas
16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
1901 ASV Translation:
16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
I. The Divine Reaction.
A. The wrath arrived.
1. In what sense has "the wrath upon them already arrived"?
a. In the first place, what is the nature of "the wrath"?
1) The other two references to "wrath" in this letter are references to the coming time of Great Vengeance upon the world wherein God will "repay" the wicked for their actions toward others (1:10 and 5:9). It is a powerful expression of "Justice" from which all who believe have been delivered. Jesus has delivered us from "the coming wrath" (1:10) and "salvation" is specifically an escape from the appointment to wrath (5:8-9). In a very real sense, the "Hope" of the believer centers upon the coming of the Jesus Whose primary characteristic involves the action He took to give us this escape. However, there is no sense in our text that this time of Great Vengeance has arrived upon the Jews, except preliminarily. Assuming Paul's eschatology, he clearly understood that the events that lie between Daniel's 69th week and his 70th week were total "mystery" in the Old Testament, but that "Messiah would be cut off and have nothing" after the 69th week had passed clearly indicates that God has suspended the majority of His "favor" that rested upon the Jews for hundreds of years. In a sense, it is "wrath" to "suspend" grace and mercy.
2) Romans 9:22 may have the answer. This "answer" depends upon how we understand Paul's use of "telos" in his sentence, but if we understand it in its "typical" sense, what he has in mind is the Plan of God. God has always had a plan in mind to reveal Himself and His ways. This plan included the Jewish rebellion and His intention to turn away from them for a time. There is little more "wrathful" than to close one's heart off to mercy toward another so that they will endure "wrath".
b. If this text had been written after A.D. 70 we would pretty much automatically assume that the destruction of the nation was in Paul's mind. However, this is a good bit before that time so that we must look elsewhere for his meaning. Since nothing particularly "notable" as "wrath" had happened overtly, we are cast upon our understanding of the overall plan of God for meaning. Pentecost of A.D. 33 is the most likely "event" that marked God's "wrath" against a long-term adversary: God was through with the nation as a nation for the next two millennia. Putting His plans to fulfill His covenant to Abraham in "land" terms on hold is an expression of wrath that has arrived.
2. The issue of "arrived".
a. Paul casts it in simple past historical terms. It "arrived".
b. The term is used to refer to "coming to an established goal" (Romans 9:31 and Philippians3:16).
c. Whatever Paul had in mind, "it arrived".
3. Why does Paul insert this comment here?
a. The persecuted need to understand the consequences those are facing who have done the persecuting.
b. Enduring must be encouraged and revealing the "end" is the best way to do that.
B. The intent is "unto an end".
1. The translators' choice is "to the uttermost", but is this Paul's meaning?
a. In the first place, there are 41 texts in the New Testament that contain this term and the translators of the Authorized Version rendered it "uttermost" just this once. This is always "suspect" because it is a major deviation from the norm.
b. In the second place, "to the uttermost" indicates a rather massive and final reality, neither of which is true of God's dealings with the Jews at this point in history.
2. It is more than likely that Paul had God's greater plan in mind and is declaring that the "arrival" of the wrath has always been in it. It was unto an "end", as a goal of God, that this "wrath" has been imposed. It is an intermediate outcome of legal theology that God turns away His face of mercy from those who refuse to reject it.
a. The word telos has this primary meaning: "an objective sought".
b. Paul's use fits the text in that "persecution" always brings up the "Why?" question and the apostle simply says that the "wrath" that has arrived upon the Jews fits into the ultimate objectives of God in His dealings both with those who believe Him and those who do not.
c. The Jews had carelessly developed an intricate system of legal self-righteousness in a subtle union with the adversary of God and had, as a consequence, developed a very large sense of privilege and impunity. This was a part of God's plan, but it was also a clear setting for God's resistance to the proud (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5).