The Didache ends with an apocalyptic section that maps out prophetic events that culminate in the return of Messiah and the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom.

Scholars refer to this chapter as the “little apocalypse.” It instructs the faithful to remain steadfast in the Way of Life and warns that many will fall away. It reinforces all the teaching of the previous chapters and provides a fitting conclusion to this introductory work for new Gentile believers.

Remain in the Way of Life

Be vigilant for your life—do not let your lamps be snuffed out, and do not let your loins be ungirded— but be ready, for you do not know the hour in which our Lord is coming. (Didache 16.1)

While at first glance this chapter appears to be merely predicting future events surrounding Yeshua’s second coming, the material highlights the urgency that disciples must continue daily walking in the Way of Life and avoiding the Way of Death. The little apocalypse makes several allusions to previous material in the Didache. The word “complete,” which appeared in 10.5 and in its adjective form (teleios) in 1.4 and 6.2, now shows up again in 16.2, its early and late appearances acting as bookends. We also find a connection to earlier parts of the book with the emphasis on “life” in 16.1, which is a repeated theme of the entire work. Both terms are related to walking in righteous actions. Jonathan Reed writes:

[Chapter 16] heightens fear of the Way of Death. It also refers back to the section on ritual prescriptions (chapters 7-9) through encouragement of followers to meet frequently (16.2). And the warning in 16.3 about the increase of false prophets in the last days renders the section of the “church order” even more urgent. [1]

The ethics and lifestyle of the Didache’s first fifteen chapters are reinforced by the idea that the coming Parousia brings reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked.

An apocalyptic ending at the conclusion of an ethical treatise is a frequent pattern in Jewish literature, particularly in material addressing new converts. Scholars speculate that “Jewish proselyte catechisms originally ended with such an eschatological warning.” [2] For example, we find in the Talmud at the end of instructions for new proselytes:

He is told, “Be it known to you that the world to come was made only for the righteous, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity or too much suffering.” (b.Yevamot 47a-b)

All things we have said unto you we have said only to increase your reward. (Gerim 1:5 [60a])

The rabbis sought to inculcate in the new converts steadfast loyalty and dedication to the Torah on the basis that judgment and recompense were sure to come. The new initiates needed to know that it was not the treasures of this world for which they toiled but life in the kingdom of heaven.

Kingdom Living

Likewise, new disciples needed to have a clear vision of the kingdom for which they labored and hoped. It was important that new believers gain a balanced perspective on the end times. They needed to understand the calamitous events that were coming so that their faith would not be compromised. They needed to realize the sober responsibility of continuing to walk in the paths of discipleship and according to the revelation of the Torah despite persecution, adversity, and the end of the world. The Apostle Paul writes:

Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

While believers were to be watchful, ready for the kingdom always, they needed to be warned not to get caught up in worrying about eschatology. The many itinerant prophets that traveled through the community might indicate a tendency among the early believers to have been swept away in apocalyptic speculation. To counter this, “the framers of the Didache managed to safeguard the values of the community and to counter misleading or dangerous visions of the future by putting forward a step-by-step unfolding of the last days bent on harnessing the enthusiasm of all concerned.” [3]


The little apocalypse of Didache 16 was meant to keep the priorities of the community in order. It “served to instill that while Messiah’s return was close, it was not yet, instill that everyday holiness is what matters, and that one should continually be aware of false prophets.” [4]

  1. Jonathan Reed, “The Hebrew Epic and the Didache,” in The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History & Transmission (ed. Jefford; New York, NY: Brill, 1995), 224.
  2. Jonathan A. Draper, “The Holy Vine of David Made Known to the Gentiles through God’s Servant Jesus: ‘Christian Judaism’ in the Didache,” in Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts (ed. Matt Jackson-McCabe; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2007), 274.
  3. Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50‒70 C.E. (New York, NY: Newman, 2003), 622.
  4. Ibid., 624-625.