One of the most notable characteristics of the New Testament and of all early Christianity in its relation to the existing political system was the doctrine of obedience to the constituted authorities. That a man like St. Paul should advocate submission to a man like Nero seems like the negation of elementary morality. The reasons for this attitude are many. In this paper we are concerned only with one of them--but possibly the most important one. The submissiveness of the early Christians to tyranny and despotism was not due primarily to impotence nor yet to excessive mildness of disposition. Many emperors before Constantine were deposed and slain by political groups smaller and feebler than the Christians. St. Paul and St. Ignatius, to go no farther, were not by nature pacifists. It would be difficult to find a book of a more militant tone than the Revelation of St. John. The main reason for the political non-resistance of the early Christians is to be sought in their philosophy; their views of the world. These views were of a very special and very peculiar kind. They were in large part either directly inherited from Jewish thought or adapted from it. While they are in some respects inconsistent with one another, they have a common element. They are all catastrophic. In all of them the catastrophe is more or less immediately imminent.
The Old Testament Prophets taught the establishment, in the indefinite future, of an eternal Messianic kingdom on this present earth. For a long time this hope was cherished by every Jew. But some time before the beginning of the First Century B.C. a change took place. The old conception was abandoned, slowly indeed, but at last absolutely. In its place arose a belief which developed into Chiliasm or Millenarianism. Perhaps the first clear statement of this new idea is to be found in the book known as I Enoch. In this work which dates from 104-95 B.C., the Messianic kingdom is for the first time conceived of as of temporary duration. The resurrection and final judgment which in the preceding form of belief were the prelude to the everlasting Messianic kingdom on earth, are now transposed to the end of the transitory, early kingdom of the Messiah. This temporary earthly kingdom is no longer the final abode of the risen righteous. They are to enjoy a blessed immortality in the eternal heaven.
In the Parables 94-64 B.C. we find certain other elements. This writer holds to the eternal Messianic kingdom but the scene of this kingdom is not the earth as at present existing but a new heaven and a new earth. The Messiah is no longer a mere man but a supernatural being. Four titles characteristic of the New Testament are for the first time applied to him: "The Christ," "The Righteous One," "The Elect One," "The Son of Man." He executes judgment on man and enjoys universal dominion. The resurrection is not of the old body but of a body of glory and light, of an angelic nature, in short a spiritual body, though the specific word spiritual is not used.