NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Lesson XIV)
Verse 12: The night is almost finished. The day is almost here. So we should stop doing whatever we do when its dark. We should prepare ourselves to fight evil with the weapons that belong out in the light.
When some read this warning by Paul to his Roman brethren, many think that by saying that the night is almost finished, he was implying that Jesus would return during his lifetime. But here is what we must all remember. God’s signal for His Son to return to collect all believers to go with Him to the place He has prepared for them is not based on man’s timetable, but the Father’s. And since there is no passage of time in God’s eternal present, to Him these past 2000 years have been nothing more than the blink of an eye. Not only that, but it has been the constant hope of every generation of believers that they would be the ones who would be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye and join Him in the air. That’s why they have remained faithful up to the end.
If this is Paul’s breathless anticipation for the return of Christ, his suggestion that the long night of anticipation is just about over reminds us of what Solomon said: “Before the morning comes and the shadows flee, return, my love. Be like a gazelle or a young deer on the mountains of Bether.1”2 And speaking of when someone expected arrives on a mountain, we think of what is said about our Lord’s final return to set up His kingdom here on earth: “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, in front of Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives will be divided in two.”3 But is that what Paul was talking about here? Could it be that he was talking about each person’s life here on earth represented as a day? So for them, it was their day that was coming to an end.
In response to Paul’s imagery of light against darkness, early church scholars have their views and understanding of the Apostle’s words. Origen contends that this may be understood in both a universal and in a specific sense. In the first instance, the light is dawning everywhere, and the reign of darkness over the world is rapidly coming to an end. In the second instance, if we have Christ in our hearts He gives us light. Therefore, if the knowledge of the Gospel we receive drives away our ignorance, and if we turn away from worldly involvement and do what is right, we are in the light and are walking as though it was already day.4
And Bishop Diodore sees it this way: The “day” refers to the time we still have in this life in which we must let our light shine for all the world to see God’s love and kindness. The “night” is when we let our light go out and it is no longer possible to see the goodness and generosity of God’s love. That will cause us to lie in darkness as though we are asleep and lose all opportunity to do the will of God for our lives in blessing others.5 But Ambrosiaster gives a different view. For him, “night” means the old man, who is renewed through baptism. Paul says that the old man has passed away as the night and that the day is near, namely, the Son of Righteousness, by whose light the truth appears to us so that we may know what to do. Before, we were in the dark, being ignorant of Christ. But when we learned of Him the light rose on us and we passed from the false to the truth. The “darkness” refers to immorality, which occurs when we give in to worldly temptations. But to “put on the armor of light”6 is to do good deeds and acts of devotion.7
This is in line with what Paul calls things people do that God despises as “works of darkness.” Job has a good characterization of those who commit such evil deeds: “There are those who rebel against the light — they don’t know its ways or stay in its paths. The murderer rises with the light to kill the poor and needy; while at night he is like a thief. The eye of the adulterer too waits for twilight; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me’; but [to be sure], he covers his face. When it’s dark, they break into houses; in the daytime, they stay out of sight. [None of them] know the light. For to all of them deep darkness is like morning, for the terrors of deep darkness are familiar to them.”8 If this was going on in Job’s day, should we be surprised that it is still going on today?
No wonder then that Paul wrote the Ephesians and told them: “Have nothing to do with the bad things done in darkness. Instead, show that these things are wrong. It is a shame even to talk about these things done in secret.”9 And to the Thessalonians, Paul had this to say: “You are children of the light and of the day. We are not of darkness or of night.”10 Even the Apostle John quoted what he heard Jesus say on this subject that the children of light should not want to live in darkness: “What we heard Him tell us we are passing it on to you. God is light. There is no darkness in Him. If we say we are joined together with Him but live in darkness, we are telling a lie. We are not living the truth. If we live in the light as He is in the light, we share what we have in God with each other. And the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, makes our lives clean from all sin.”11
This is why Paul wrote the Ephesians and gave them these instructions: “Our fight is not with people. It is against the leaders and the powers and the spirits of darkness in this world. It is against the demon world that works in the heavens. Because of this, put on all the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will be able to stand in that sinful day. When it is all over, you will still be standing.”12 And to the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “Because we are men of the day, let us keep our minds awake. Let us cover our chests with faith and love. Let us cover our heads with the hope of being saved. God planned to save us from the punishment of sin through our Lord Jesus Christ. He did not plan for us to suffer from His anger. He died for us so that, dead or alive, we will be with Him. So comfort each other and make each other strong as you are already doing.”13 Even though Paul was experienced in reading Hebrew writings, he was also familiar with Greek writing as well. So there is no reason why he may not have come across the words of Greek philosopher Antisthenes (440-365 BC) who made the statement: “Wisdom is secure, and virtue an armor which cannot be taken away.”14
Early church preacher Chrysostom looks at the “day” as a call for us to get ready for the battle. Do not be afraid at the thought of bearing arms. It is a heavy and distasteful duty when we have to bear a visible suit of armor, but in this case, it is desirable and worth it. For the arms we are called to bear are those of the light!15 And Augustine believes that Paul is issuing a warning to believers. The night is symbolic of how many years have passed since Christ came to share the good news of salvation. So how much closer are we now to His return when our work here on earth will be done. So “day” is a reference to His return. This is especially important when we realize how much closer we are now to the end!16
Then Pelagius sees this: Paul likens knowledge to the day and ignorance to the night, in accordance with what Hosea says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”17 So let us end our involvement in works done only in the dark and put on the armor of light, that is, works of light.18 And Theodore adds that by “day” Paul means the time since the coming of Christ, for His appearing has made it much easier to tell the difference between good and evil. “Night” refers to the time before His coming.19 To which we add the thoughts of Theodoret: “Night” refers to the time of ignorance before Christ came, whereas “day” refers to the time after the Lord came.20
Martin Luther has an enlightening comment here. He finds it interesting that the Apostle Paul places “light” and “darkness,” “works” and “armor” in contrast to one another. But Luther says that it is no wonder. For the life of the new Law (– the new spiritual life in Christ) – means war and warfare, and for this, we need armor21.22 John Calvin sees it from a different perspective. For him, the sum of what Paul says is that just as we can conclude that at the first light of dawn the day is upon us and the sun will soon rise, so we ought to look forward to the coming of Christ.23 Calvin goes on to say that we should not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with the thick darkness of ignorance as unbelievers are. They have no spark of new life. But the hope of the resurrection is the light that sustains us in our faith.
John Bengel says that Paul seems to be speaking to someone just waking up, who doesn’t realize that daybreak is about to occur. For someone who is wide awake, they know what time it is, but for a person just coming out of sleep isn’t sure how late it is. That’s why they must be informed that it’s time to get up, the day is dawning, it’s time to get ready and go to work. And that’s exactly what Paul is doing.24 As to shaking off the works of darkness that Paul speaks about, Bengel attributes that to the things done while people are spiritually asleep.25 That’s why when they wake up, they should take off their night clothes and put on their armor and be ready to go out and fight for what is right.
Adam Clarke understands that what Paul is saying when he said, “The night is far spent,” was that the days of the Gentiles living in the darkness of ignorance as to who God really is, was coming to an end. Clarke then gives us this paraphrase: “The night is far spent – heathenish darkness is nearly at an end. The day is at hand – the full manifestation of the Son of Righteousness, in the illumination of the whole Gentile world, approaches rapidly.” Clarke explains that the manifestation of the Messiah is regularly termed by the ancient Jews as “yom” (day) – the day of the Messiah. It suggests that to this coming of the Messiah, the world lay in the darkness of ignorance. So for Clarke, casting off the works of darkness means getting rid of the beliefs and practices of the unconverted.26
1 There is no such mountain identified in Israel as “Bether.” It is a Hebrew term that means “separation” or “dividing.”
2 Song of Solomon 2:17
3 Zechariah 14:4
4 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Diodore: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Romans 13:12
7 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Job 24:13-17
9 Ephesians 5:11-12
10 1 Thessalonians 5:5
11 1 John 1:5-7; See 2:8-11
12 Ephesians 6:12-13
13 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11
14 Antisthenes: quoted in Wisdom, Wit and Whims of Distinguished Ancient Philosophers, by Joseph Banvard, Published by Heldon, Lamport & Blakeman, New York, 1855, p. 28
15 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 24
16 Augustine: Letter 77
17 Hosea 4:5-6
18 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Cf. Ephesians 6:10-20
22 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 190
23 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
24 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 349
25 Cf. Galatians 5:19
26 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 261