2 Esdras

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise noted, all citations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

2 Esdras is called by various names: 4 Esdras, Latin Ezra, the Apocalypse of Ezra. Still others call the various parts of 2 Esdras by different (confusing!) titles, as can be seen below:

2 Esdras 1-2

5 Ezra Later Christian additions (possibly as late as the third century AD)
2 Esdras 3-14 4 Ezra (or the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra)

Written at the end of the first century AD

2 Esdras 15-16

6 Ezra




We do not know who wrote this book. Metzger believes it was written aby an “unknown Jew.”[1] It was probably originally written in Aramaic, but translated into Greek.


The body of the book is most likely dated to the end of the first century AD—though the introduction (chs. 1-2) and the conclusion (chs. 15-16) were added by Christian authors in the second and third century AD, according to Metzger.[2]


This is book was written in the apocalyptic genre. DeSilva writes, “Fourth Ezra falls squarely within the genre of apocalypse.”[3]

Important content in this book

(Chapter 1) The book claims to be a prophecy of Ezra (v.1). Through Ezra, God recounts his care and provisions for the people of Israel. Then he tells the people:

“What shall I do to you, O Jacob? You, Judah, would not obey me. I will turn to other nations and will give them my name, so that they may keep my statutes” (v.24).

“I will give your houses to a people that will come, who without having heard me will believe. Those to whom I have shown no signs will do what I have commanded” (v.35).

This section quotes several NT passages (e.g. Mt. 23:37). Scholars believe chapters 1-2 were written by Christians to show how God had rejected the Jewish people in favor of the Church.

(Chapter 2)

“When you find any who are dead, commit them to the grave and mark it, and I will give you the first place in my resurrection” (2:23).

He explicitly mentions, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world” (2:47).

(Chapter 3) Ezra recounts the history of Creation, Fall, the Flood, and Abraham.

“It gave you Adam, a lifeless body? Yet he was the creation of your hands, and you breathed into him the breath of life, and he was made alive in your presence” (3:5).

“You may indeed find individuals who have kept your commandments, but nations you will not find” (3:36).

(Chapter 4) Similar language with Revelation 6.

(Chapter 5) Picture of the future declining morally.

Ezra is wrestling with why God would send his people into Exile (v.28).

“Are you greatly disturbed in mind over Israel? Or do you love him more than his Maker does?” (5:33)

God argues (much like in the book of Job) that Ezra is too finite to understand his judgments.

(Chapter 6)

“Children a year old shall speak with their voices, and pregnant women shall give birth to premature children at three and four months, and these shall live and leap about” (6:21).

“The trumpet shall sound aloud, and when all hear it, they shall suddenly be terrified” (6:23).

He gives commentary on the creation account of Genesis 1.

“Over these you placed Adam, as ruler over all the works that you had made; and from him we have all come, the people whom you have chosen” (6:54).

(Chapter 7)

“For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. 29 After those years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. 30 Then the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings, so that no one shall be left. 31 After seven days the world that is not yet awake shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. 32 The earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who rest there in silence; and the chambers shall give up the souls that have been committed to them” (7:28-32).

The King James Version is even more explicit, basing its translation off of the Latin manuscripts: “For my son Jesus shall be revealed with those that be with him, and they that remain shall rejoice within four hundred years. After these years shall my son Christ die, and all men that have life” (7:28-29 KJV).

God gives “Ezra” an illustration about jewels being sparse, and that’s why they’re so valuable. So too, there are only a few righteous saved, but this is because this makes them more valuable to God compared to the unrighteous.

“I will not grieve over the great number of those who perish; for it is they who are now like a mist, and are similar to a flame and smoke—they are set on fire and burn hotly, and are extinguished” (7:61).

(Chapter 8)

“I tell you a parable, Ezra. Just as, when you ask the earth, it will tell you that it provides a large amount of clay from which earthenware is made, but only a little dust from which gold comes, so is the course of the present world. Many have been created, but only a few shall be saved” (8:2-3).

(Chapter 9)

(Chapter 10) “Ezra” sees a woman, who represents the city of Jerusalem or Zion (v.44).

(Chapter 11) He sees a vision of an apocalyptic eagle (somewhat similar to Dan. 7; cf. 2 Esdras 12:11).

(Chapter 12) God interprets this vision for “Ezra.”

He believes that the Messiah will conquer this fourth kingdom in the end days (12:32).

(Chapter 13) He sees a vision of a man coming up out of the sea. The world combines to battle this man. This man is interpreted to be God’s “Son” who brings judgment on the world (vv.32ff).

(Chapter 14) He restores the Scriptures.

(Chapter 15) God calls down more judgment on the nations.

(Chapter 16)

“Just as a pregnant woman, in the ninth month when the time of her delivery draws near, has great pains around her womb for two or three hours beforehand, but when the child comes forth from the womb, there will not be a moment’s delay, so the calamities will not delay in coming upon the earth, and the world will groan, and pains will seize it on every side” (16:38-39).

“Sinners must not say that they have not sinned; for God will burn coals of fire on the head of everyone who says, “I have not sinned before God and his glory’” (16:53).

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 22.

[2] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 22.

[3] David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 332.