Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 10 “Purifying Fire, Selective Resurrection, and God’s Coming” pp. 619-690, part 1.
Milavec recalls that in Didache 11:7 the speech of a prophet was to go without judgment (Milavec 2003, 622). Prophetic speech can be misinterpreted. Milavec uses as an example statements which emphasize the imminent return of God and could discourage the community from a work ethic. Without judging the prophets there could be unwanted outcomes. As he often does, Milavec speaks of the situation in terms of ways the community could exercise authority and control over the prophets. In his analysis, Milavec will use Didache 16 and the end-time scenario to probe into the relationship betwen the community and the prophets.
Understanding of prophetic writing should be informed by the genre of the writing. Milavec observes that in Jewish and Christian texts, a reference to the “last days” generally indicates the time of God’s new order beginning rather than the end of the world. According to Milavec, prophetic eschatology “understood the failure of Israel to resist her enemies as due to the fact that God had ceased to protect Israel as a result of her faithlessness” (Milavec 2003, 623). The hope is that God would begin to rescue Israel as he had in the past. By the third century B.C., however, a more apocalyptic eschatology was emerging. Now God would not only rescue his people, but he would bring utter destruction upon the world in doing so. Milavec notes tand illustrates scholarly work which views the events of the last days as more severe or less severe (Milavec 2003, 624).
Didache 16 provides us with a synopsis of the time of God’s coming. In this symopsis, Milavec finds multiple purposes. First, God’s coming is soon but not necessarily immediate (Milavec 2003, 624). Second, people should not expect to be engaged in heroic acts of spirituality. Rather, they would have an ordinary sort of holiness (Milavec 2003, 625). They were not superheroes, but regular Christians. Third, the community should be wary of false prophets who would lead them astray. There was no call to be swayed by deceivers.
Milavec notes that in 1 Thessalonians the apostle Paul told people to expect the Lord’s coming. However, in 2 Thessalonians, some had decided the Lord’s coming was already under way. Their expectation was more urgent than reality would require (Milavec 2003, 625). It was wrong to say the Day of the Lord was already present. It was merely coming (Milavec 2003, 626). Milavec theorizes that in the earliest time after the resurrection the expectation was that the Lord would come at any moment. However, as some years passed, the idea of signs of his coming developed as the urgent expectation decreased (Milavec 2003, 628). The text of Didache 161-3 suggests this slightly later expectation of the Lord’s coming.
To evaluate the idea of an immediate expectation of the Lord’s return, Milavec turns his attention to William Miller. In the 1840s Miller calculated that the Lord would return on March 21, 1843 (Milavec 2003, 628). When it didn’t happen, he fixed a date later in the year. Tnthusiasm grew as did anxiety about facing God’s judgment (Milavec 2003, 629). Since that time there have been numerous movements focused on the imminent coming of the Lord. Some have resulted in suicide/murder pacts. In contrast to this radicalism, Milavec finds in Didache 16 a commitment to doing good for the rest of one’s life, but fully expecting the Lord could interrupt it all by ushering in the end of time (Milavec 2003, 632).