A Commentary by John Stott
The precise point of continuity between verses 8-10 and 11-14 is not certain. *And do this*, the apostle begins, referring presumably to the commandments to love our neighbours and to refrain from harming them (8-10), and also perhaps alluding to the instructions to submit to the state and pay our taxes. But why should we *do this*? Why should we obey? Paul’s purpose in this last paragraph of Romans 13 (11-14) seems to be to lay an eschatological foundation for Christian conduct. He has already told us not to ‘conform any longer to the pattern of this world’ (12:1). Now he urges us to remember what the time is, and then to live appropriately.
1). Understanding the time (11-12a)
One of the features of the technological society is that we are the slaves of time. We all wear watches and keep careful track of the passing time. But it is more important to know God’s time, especially the *kairos, the present time* (11a), the existential moment of opportunity and decision. The Bible divides history into ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’, and the New Testament authors are clear that the age to come or the kingdom of God was inaugurated by Jesus. So at present the two ages overlap. We are waiting expectantly for the parousia, when the old age will finally disappear, the period of overlap will end and the new age of God’s kingdom will be consummated. Paul makes three time references, which assume this background understanding.
First, *the hour has come* (literally, ‘is already’) *for you to wake up from your slumber* (11b). The time for sleep has passed. It is now time to wake up and get up.
Secondly, this is *because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed* (11c). ‘Salvation’ is a comprehensive term (e.g. 1:16), embracing our past (justification), present (sanctification) and future (glorification). In this verse clearly our future and final salvation is in mind (8:24), what Paul has earlier depicted in terms of the freedom of glory, our final adoption as God’s children, and the redemption of our bodies (8:21-23). This inheritance is nearer now than ‘when we were converted’ (JBP). Every day brings it closer.
Thirdly, *the night* (the old age of darkness) is well advanced (literally), so that it *is nearly over; the day* (when Christ returns) *is almost here*, on the threshold (12a). Many readers conclude that Paul was mistaken, since the night drags on, and still the day, although it dawned at Christ’s coming, has not yet experienced the fulness of the sunrise at his return. But this is an unnecessary judgment. First, it is antecedently unlikely that Paul pronounced the end to be imminent, because Jesus had said he did not know the time (Mk.13:32), because the apostles echoed this (1 Thess,5:1f.; cf. Acts 1:6f.), and because they knew that worldwide evangelization (Mk.13:10), the restoration of Israel (11:12ff.) and the apostasy (2 Thess.2:1ff.) must all precede the final denouement. Secondly, what the apostles did know was that the kingdom of God came with Jesus, that the decisive salvation events which established it (his death, resurrection, exaltation and gift of the Spirit) had already taken place, and that God had nothing on his calendar before the parousia. It would be the next and culminating event. So they were, and we are , living in ‘the last days’ (E.g. Acts 2:17; 1 Cor.10:11). It is in this sense that Christ is coming ‘soon’ (16:20; Rev.22:7, 12, 20). We must be watchful and alert, because we do not know the time (Mk.13:35f.).
Here, then, are the apostles three time references. The time is already here for us to wake up (11a); now our salvation is nearer than it was (11b); and the night has nearly given place to the day (12a). It is the familiar tension between the ‘now already’ of Christ’s first coming and the ‘not yet’ of his second.