I am currently working my way through 1 Enoch, a non-canonical book (save in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) that greatly influenced the writers of the New Testament. It appeals to my interest in the intertestamental period, a time when the nation of Israel underwent significant changes in culture and governance. This period of flux and development prepared the world to receive the Gospel: the transmission of Jewish ideas in formats intelligible to Gentile cultures was crucial to the work of the Apostles.
Among these ideas was the apocalyptic vision, a view of the world that divided time into “this age” and “the age to come”. This age is characterised by the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked, while the age to come will witness the vindication of the elect and the condemnation of the ungodly. Hope lies at the centre of this message, but also a grim realism, consonant with the wisdom literature found in the Tanakh and Deuterocanon.
Both man and the spiritual world are at fault for the present state of the world in the apocalyptist’s vision. Man rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, while the spiritual beings left their proper abode and copulated with human women, to whom they gave spiritual secrets that continue to be employed by their demonic offspring, the spirits of the Nephilim, whose bodies were destroyed by the Flood and warfare (e.g. the conquest of Canaan, which destroyed a post-deluge generation of giants, as the Israelites cousins in Edom had done).
This age will see a final battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light, before the Son of Man executes the Last Judgment. Drawing on 1 Enoch and other sources, John the Revelator tells us that the imprisoned Watchers will be released from Tartarus to inflict suffering on humanity before they face their own judgment, at which they will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 9 and 19-20). The demonic spirits currently at large in the world will finally be removed and the righteous will have the peace and prosperity they have longed for.
Amidst these various cataclysms and judgments is the restoration of Israel. 1 Enoch was most likely written by a variety of authors during the intertestamental period (mostly 2nd century BC). For these authors, the restoration of Israel had not occurred. Although the Jews were back in their land, not all of them were, there being a great diaspora. Secondly, the land of Israel itself was subject to foreign rulers. The kingdom had not been restored: Messiah ben David had not yet appeared. The Jews of Jesus’ day had disagreements over precisely who the Messiah would be, but two things are noteworthy. 1 Enoch presents the Messiah as a spiritual figure, no mere man; the “two powers in heaven” doctrine was not declared heresy by the Rabbinic leadership until the second century AD, and this was likely in response to Christianity, not as an organic development of Judaism. Second Temple Judaism was, by and large, very comfortable with the two powers doctrine, so far as we can tell from the sources.
Apocalyptic thinking is ubiquitous in the New Testament; it is not confined to Revelation. Although most churches do not consider 1 Enoch to be canon, that decision is, in a sense, irrelevant (especially in light of the widespread acceptance of 1 Enoch by the Early Church). The fact is, 1 Enoch is alluded to, or its doctrines used, throughout the New Testament – not merely in Jude. To the extent that the NT accepts Enochic material, vel sim, it provides us with an important matrix of ideas for understanding the problem of evil and the hope we have in the coming of Jesus.