Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth…

The saints will judge the world and angels. But when?

Daniel Kirk wrote a piece recently about Christians “being greater than angels”, looking at Paul’s enigmatic remarks in 1 Corinthians 6:1-3 about the saints judging not only the world but also angels. It’s a short piece, and the focus is mainly anthropological: an “idealized humanity” will judge the world; a “redeemed humanity occupies a higher place in the cosmic order than angels”. But what about the eschatology of this passage? What about the when?

I reckon—following Conzelmann, Strobel, Fee, Thiselton, and others—that the statement “the saints will judge the world” has its background in (the other) Daniel’s vision of a judgment that is given in favour of the persecuted saints of the Most High following the destruction of the fourth pagan empire (Dan. 7:22 LXX), when they will also receive authority to rule over the nations:

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. (Dan. 7:27)

The same thought is found in Wisdom 3:7-8, which is also clearly dependent on (the other) Daniel (cf. Dan. 12:3-4). The righteous who are persecuted by the impious, who suffer as a “sacrificial whole burnt offering” (3:6), will be preserved by God and vindicated:

And in the time of their visitation they will shine out, and as sparks through the stubble, they will run about. They will judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will be king over them for ever.

Similarly, in the Qumran writings: at a time of eschatological crisis unrighteous Israel will be punished by Rome; the righteous elect will suffer, but they will be given the “power to pass judgment on the Gentiles”:

This passage (Hab. 1:12-13a) means that God will not exterminate his people through the Gentiles; on the contrary, He will give the power to pass judgment on the Gentiles to his chosen, and it is at their rebuke that all the wicked of His people shall be condemned. The chosen are those who have observed His commandments in the time of their distress, for that is what it means when it says, “eyes too pure to see evil”…. (1QpHab 5.3-7)

This is the apocalyptic narrative on which Paul draws. The people of God are threatened by the Gentiles, notably Rome. Unrighteous Israel will be punished by the Gentiles. In the course of this eschatological crisis the “saints”—a righteous elect—will suffer, but Jesus will come and deliver them and they will be given authority to judge and rule over the nations with him.

Historically speaking, I think it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the saints of the Most High, who suffered and were vindicated in Christ, came to rule over the nations at the conversion of the empire. Eusebius will later record the words of Bishop Dionysius, who spoke of the divine martyrs who are seated with Christ, who are “sharers in his kingdom, partakers of his judgment and judges with him” (Eusebius, Church History, 6.42.5).

The NETS translation of Daniel 7:21-22 LXX sums it up rather well:

And I was observing that horn preparing for war against the holy ones and routing them until the ancient of days came, and he gave the verdict for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time was given, and the holy ones gained possession of the seat of empire.

The thought that the saints will judge angels is much more difficult to pin down, lacking any real parallel in the Old Testament, in Jewish literature of the second temple period, or in the New Testament (the closest we get is 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). But there is no reason to think that it does not belong to the same eschatological judgment of the nations. 1 Enoch 69:26-29 places the judgment of the angels that have misled humanity in the context of the enthronement of the Son of Man. My guess is that Paul is thinking of angelic powers that deceived the nations into opposing YHWH and his people. They are naturally judged along with the aggressive pagan empire.


Walter Wink’s analysis of the Powers seems to make a lot of sense here.

I don’t have his book to hand. Would you care to elaborate? I noticed that Thiselton finds the principalities and powers language all rather confusing. I’m not sure I have a great deal to add myself. Is there a Stoic background?

Psalm 149 gives the honour of judgment - the binding of the kings - to those who are in the mercy of the covenant. I assume that means they will judge with the same mercy with which they were judged in covenant. I think this is the same ‘concept’ as judging angels. 

Bob, Psalm 149 certainly belongs to the same core biblical narrative which has in view the eventual rule of a righteous Israel over the Gentiles. I’ve written elsewhere that I think this is really what the Bible is all about—how the people of the God of Abraham, the living and true creator God, come to rule over the nations. Part of the emerging realization, however, is that this will come about at a time of historical crisis and through the suffering of the righteous—through martyrdom. Judgment of the angels (behind the hostile nations?) is part of this narrative, though how it was understood remains unclear.

Andrew - your link takes me to a strange place. But leaving that aside, two questions: who decides who the ‘people of the God of Abraham’ are? and what is the nature of/when is the ‘crisis’?

Quick answers:

1. who: all who fear Yhwh (including Israel, Aaron etc Psalm 115:10 ff) I.e. the Psalms are as universal as is Acts 10:35 (Peter’s comment on all who fear God.)

2. when: what’s wrong with now? citing here Romans 8:13b to get to the crisis through the death of Jesus by the Spirit. This is a necessary move as a means to the end of knowing mercy sufficiently to be able to build community that will exercise it.

Romans 8 is leading to the priestly result expressed in Romans 12:1 (present your bodies a living sacrifice). Compare Psalm 50:15, 23 (the sacrifice of thanksgiving).  

Not everyone easily agrees with my answer to 1. And 2. Now is a complex problem - lots of distractions! But the answers are tightly connected.  I think this is Good News.

As far as I can tell, the link takes you where I intended it to, though you may well regard that as a strange place.

1. I think I’m one of those who disagree with you here. Psalm 115 contrasts the nations which worship idols with faithful Israel, not with everyone who fears God; and I would argue that in Acts 10 those pious Gentiles who are found to be acceptable to God are not part of the covenant people—that comes later in the story when they receive the Spirit.

2. And here. I argue in The Future of the People of God that in Romans Paul is defining a community of eschatological transformation, not generic church—a community that is called to present itself as a living sacrifice, to suffer as Christ suffered, for the sake of the future life of the people of God beyond the eschatological crisis of the early centuries.

But not everyone agrees with me on these points.

The link is a great collection of one liners. This next link seems more relevant: http://www.postost.net/node/157 - anyway, the idea of future is a strange place for me. I seem too busy in the present (even though I am ‘retired’). Something engages me continuously - when I am ‘awake’ and even in sleep (Psalm 3.6). 

Psalm 115 is one of many that can be read inclusively. Those  who learn and live in the fear of Yhwh are noted in 2.11, 5.8, 15.4, 19.10, 22.24-26, 25.12-14, and so on up the steps 128.1 right to the courts 135.20 and to the end 145.19, 147.7. Even in the great alphabetic adoration, 119.74 and 79 anticipate aspects of John 17.  I think I will index that theme in my book on the psalms.

I agree that nations can be idolatrous. But that still begs the question of ‘who is the people of the God of Abraham’. Obviously, Israel and the house of Aaron are specific at the time of writing the psalm, but who is  Israel, the house of Aaron and all who fear Yhvh (to stick with the sequence in this psalm) 500 years later and in the present given the history. For Paul, not all Israel is Israel (Rom 9:6). Yet all Israel is to be saved. I warmed to Nanos use of the ingathering as a metaphor, but ingathering can still leave things out in the minds of the human striving for a reductionist single sentence :)

Your suggestion that Romans 12:1 applies to the first centuries is reasonable, but why limit it to a particular time?  Actually your suggestion is already working in me suggesting that the cost of building the merciful community must be borne by those who have entered the Holy Place. But it is borne in faith in the present engagement, not by program planning. The work is not theirs except in their obedience. So the hearts of mariner and Ninevite are prepared for offering and the ‘call’ by God, not by Jonah.

I have not considered these kinds of questions in a book length format. I am only a student of the psalms and a few of the other writings - and that only for 6 serious years. So I cannot and do not respond from any other ‘position’.

Sorry about the verse numbers - they are all wrong for your auto links since my numbering is from the Hebrew.