Apocalyptic Apologetics: The Function of Eschatological Warnings in Second-Century Apologetics

Two second-century apologies—the First Apology of Justin as well as the Apology of Aristides—end with eschatological warnings. Aristides declares that, if Christian faith is rejected, his readers should anticipate the judgment of Jesus upon the whole race of humanity (17). Justin’s First Apology similarly warns that his readers will not escape the coming judgment (68). Similar admonitions may be found in other second- and third-century writings, such as Clement’s Protrepticus, that are purported to be addressed to pagans. These eschatological warnings seem to have been intended, at some level, to function apologetically. However, much of the verbiage utilized in these warnings would not have been meaningful to those outside the Christian faith, suggesting that the intended readership of the warnings was not pagan but Christian.

If the warnings themselves would not have been meaningful to the purported audience, however, what was the apologetical function of these eschatological warnings? Close examination of these texts leads to at least four conclusions: (1) The language used in these warnings substantiates the widespread recognition that the primary recipients of these apologies were not pagan emperors but persecuted Christians. (2) These warnings function as negatively stated affirmations of the blessedness of Christians. (3) Most importantly, anticipation of future judgment for persecutors and future blessing for believers was an important means of forming the early Christian habitus that has been overlooked in recent examinations of the nature of the Christian community in the second century. Shared anticipation of future judgment and blessing was a crucial component in the shaping of a shared identity among early Christians.

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