The Fourth Book of Ezra is an extra-biblical Jewish text. It was not written by the biblical prophet Ezra, but by some Jewish writer living towards the end of the first century CE in the name of Ezra. Still, the text is a beautiful witness of Jewish spiritual thinking from that era. It is introspective, philosophical, and at the same time very apocalyptic in nature, often resembling the visions of John’s Revelation. Though only the Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian and Arabic translations of 4 Ezra have survived Jewish thought and first-century theology are clearly discernable in the text. The greater part of this particular excerpt I am quoting is missing from most Latin manuscripts, probably because speaks of not interceding for the dead (not in harmony with common Catholic practice). In this excerpt, Ezra questions the angel why intercession for those about to be judged by God is useless. The angel insists that judgment is the end and mercy is for the living. Once someone is dead, payers for their condition are superfluous. Compare this thinking to Jesus’ parable of “rich mand and Lazarus” (Luke 16) and other places like Mark 10:28-31, Mark 12:18-37, Mat 13:36-43.
“ Now, concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone forth from the Most High that a man shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. And if it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, and who have despised his Law, and who have hated those who fear God—such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, ever grieving and sad, in seven ways. The first way, because they have scorned the Law of the Most High. The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance that they may live. The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High. The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days. The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet. The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will pass over into torments. The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High before whom they sinned while they were alive, and before whom they are to be judged in the last times…
I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, show further to me, your servant, whether on the day of judgment the righteous will be able to intercede for the ungodly or to entreat the Most High for them, fathers for sons or sons for parents, brothers for brothers, relatives for their kinsmen, or friends for those who are most dear.”
He answered me and said, “Since you have found favor in my sight, I will show you this also. The day of judgment is decisive and displays to all the seal of truth. Just as now a father does not send his son, or a son his father, or a master his servant, or a friend his dearest friend, to be ill or sleep or eat or be healed in his stead, so no one shall ever pray for another on that day, neither shall anyone lay a burden on another; for then everyone shall bear his own righteousness or unrighteousness.”
36 I answered and said, “How then do we find that first Abraham prayed for the people of Sodom, and Moses for our fathers who sinned in the desert, 37and Joshua after him for Israel in the days of Achan, 38and Samuel in the days of Saul, and David for the plague, and Solomon for those in the sanctuary, 39 and Elijah for those who received the rain, and for the one who was dead, that he might live, 40and Hezekiah for the people in the days of Sennacherib, and many others prayed for many? 41If therefore the righteous have prayed for the ungodly now, when corruption has increased and unrighteousness has multiplied, why will it not be so then as well?”
42He answered me and said, “This present world is not the end; the full glory does not abide in it; therefore those who were strong prayed for the weak. 43But the day of judgment will be the end of this age and the beginning of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away, 44sinful indulgence has come to an end, unbelief has been cut off, and righteousness has increased and truth has appeared. 45Therefore no one will then be able to have mercy on him who has been condemned in the judgment, or to harm him who is victorious.” (4 Ezra 7. 102-115, quoted from Charlesworth edition)