The Unknown Unknown

This is our pastor’s article for the June, 2019 edition of our newsletter. In this, he delves into some (some!) of the New Testament’s use of the little-known book of 1 Enoch.

Some speak of “known knowns,” things of which we are aware and also understand.  For others, they talk of “known unknowns,” what we know we don’t know.  Last, is the “unknown unknowns,” something we fail to recognize because we don’t even realize it exists. 

Perhaps, this describes many today regarding the New Testament’s use of “1 Enoch.”  Of all people the Bible mentions, God only takes Elijah and Enoch to heaven without them first dying.  First, Enoch “walked with God”; after which, “God took him” (Genesis 5:24).  Jewish tradition claims Enoch passed down part of this divine revelation, which others later compiled into the book of 1 Enoch.  The contents of 1 Enoch now became part of one’s expected, religious knowledge.

Still, we forgot this knowledge centuries ago, becoming part of our “unknown unknowns.”  For the Church never took 1 Enoch to be Scripture, and so, after a few centuries, people stopped reading it.  Here’s when we began to miss how the New-Testament writers used this book and what they expected us to glean from its contents.

1 Enoch and Jesus as the Son of Man

Let’s consider the times Jesus called Himself “the Son of Man” (some 78 times!).  Now, if we’re astute, we’ll link back Daniel. 

The night visions continued:

Behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven.  He approached the Ancient One, and they brought him before him, where he received dominion, glory, and kingship.  Now, all nations, peoples, and tongues will serve him.  For everlasting is his rule, which will never end, and his kingdom will never be destroyed.  [Daniel 7:13-14]

What we may not realize is what the term the “Son of Man” entails, derives more from 1 Enoch than Daniel.  Only when we are acquainted with 1 Enoch can we understand whom Jesus claimed to be and why so many Jewish leaders became furious with Him.

The early chapters of 1 Enoch portray the Son of Man as God’s agent of judgment—a role ascribed to God.  So, when Jesus said He is the “Son of Man,” He declares Himself as being more than human but also God, proved by His divine roles and functions.

From 1 Enoch, latch on to what the “Son of Man” and the Holy Spirit will do on the Last Day.

The righteous and the chosen will be saved on that day, and they will never again behold the faces of the sinners and the unrighteous.  The Lord of Spirits will abide over them [the righteous] and, with the Son of Man, they will eat, and they will lie down and arise, forever and always.  The righteous and chosen, now raised from the earth, will no longer cast down their faces because they will be wearing the garment of glory.  Yes, this will be your garment—the garment of life from the Lord of Spirits.  These garments will not wear out, and your glory will not fade in the presence of the Lord of Spirits.  [1 Enoch 62:13-16]

Ignorant of 1 Enoch, we miss what the title means, which reveals to us who Jesus is and what He will do.

Christ’s Descent into Hell

Part of what motivated me to write this article is what we are studying in Sunday School from 1 Peter.  Peter also expects us to be aware of the contents of 1 Enoch, in particular when he wrote:

For Christ also suffered for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  To bring you to God, He suffered death in His body but became alive in the Spirit.  In him [the Spirit], he [Christ] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.  These spirits disobeyed long ago…  [1 Peter 3:18-20]

Earlier, I thought Jesus’ proclamation to the spirits in prison took place after He died, but before He rose from the tomb.  A careful reading of the text, however, doesn’t allow this.  The sequence of the verse is as follows: First, Jesus dies; next, the Spirit raises Him and, only after, “alive in the Spirit,” does He announce His victory to the spirits in prison.  This is something the resurrected Christ does, which leaves no doubt this proclamation is part of His exaltation over death.

So, who are those “spirits” in prison?  Now, we might think they are the souls of humans who died.  Not so, for these are the angels who first rebelled against God with Satan.  The New Testament almost always uses “spirits” to refer to, not people, but supernatural beings (Hebrews 1:14; 12:9; Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), including malevolent ones (Mark 1:23, 26, 27; 3:11; 5:2, 8). 

What you won’t find is any Old-Testament reference for this.  What does exist for us from Judaism is 1 Enoch, which isn’t Scripture, but still needed to understand Peter’s epistle.

To another place I traveled, more terrible than before, where I surveyed a massive fire, burning, and blazing.  A narrow cleft resided within, extending to the abyss, full of giant, flaming columns descending into the deep.  Neither the measure nor the magnitude could I perceive or estimate. 

“How horrifying is this place and too fearful to explore,” I gasped!

So, Uriel, one of the holy angels with me, spoke.  “Do not be so alarmed and shaken at this appalling sight and painful place, Enoch.  For this is a prison for the angels.  Here they are confined forever.” [1 Enoch 21:7-10]

Familiar with 1 Enoch, we realize “the spirits in prison” are not the spirits of the unbelieving dead but the fallen angels.  Now, this lets us grasp what Jesus’ proclamation meant: What appeared to be His defeat, His death, turned out to be His victory! 

So, what does Peter do with this truth?  Well, in the next couple of verses, he writes about how Jesus chooses to deliver His cross-won and resurrected victory to us: 1 Peter 3:20-21.

Together, we’ll learn more on this in Sunday School.  Amen.

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