One of the most significant events to have happened in world history is one of the least known and least understood. It was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecies in both the Old and New Testaments. It is spoken of and anticipated throughout the New Testament and is a major subject in the New Testament, yet most contemporary Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation, know very little of it! Why is that? And what event am I referring to? First, the event was the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. We’ll discuss its’ significance and reasons for such widespread ignorance of its’ importance in the paragraphs to follow.
The ancient Jews believed there were two ages, eons, or eras: the age of the Mosaic Covenant and the age of Messiah, the Messianic Kingdom. They used the terms “this age” and “the age to come” to identify those eras. The coming of Jesus, the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies, occurred during the Old Covenant era. As Paul said in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law…” His birth, His life, His ministry, His crucifixion and resurrection, His ascension, all occurred during what the Jews called “this age”. It was the inauguration of “the age to come”, the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus proclaimed in His preaching that the Kingdom of God was “at hand”, “has come near to you”, is “in your midst”, and “has come upon you”. In short, the Kingdom of God is wherever the King is, it is His Presence.
Under the Mosaic Covenant, membership was through bloodline, direct, blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was a major tenet of Old Covenant Judaism. The priesthood was limited to the blood descendants of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The coming of Jesus and the Messianic Kingdom was going to blow up the entire Judaistic system. No longer was identification with God going to be by physical bloodline, but by faith in Jesus as the Promised Messiah and Savior of the whole world. His Kingdom was going to open the door of the Kingdom to all people everywhere, regardless of race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, male or female, slave or free man, Jew or Gentile. It was a revolutionary concept, a concept that the first-century Jewish leadership adamantly opposed!
When John the Baptist appeared to “prepare the way of the Lord” and was preaching in the district around the Jordan River, in Matthew 3:7-10, he proclaimed: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’” Several key points in this passage: first, “the wrath to come” is the prophesied coming destruction of Jerusalem; second, bloodline has nothing to do with standing before God; third, this apocalyptic judgment had already begun, “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees…”
Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish leadership was equally as caustic as John the Baptist’s. There are dozens of examples, but I’ll limit it to just two. First, in John 8, Jesus takes on the Jewish leadership and makes clear that their bloodline has nothing to do with their standing before God, which was blasphemous to the Jews. It is my favorite chapter in the entire Bible. In it, Jesus declares to the Jewish leadership, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” (v. 19) These are the religious leaders of first-century Judaism and Jesus says to them, “You don’t know the Father.” It gets even more intense in verses 37-44:
“‘I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.’ 39 They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.’ They said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.’ 42 Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The Jews claimed that they were the blood descendants of Abraham and Jesus counters that “if you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.” What were the deeds of Abraham that distinguished him from the first-century Jewish leaders? Further down in John 8, Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad.” The Jews responded, “You’re not even fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And in one of Jesus’ most powerful Messianic declarations, He replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I Am.” (v. 56-58) He applied to Himself the name of the voice that spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I Am. Not only was Jesus the Promised Messiah, He was God. The Jews’ response? They picked up stones to stone Him. (v. 59)
One other passage where Jesus attacks the apostate first-century Jewish leaders is Matthew 23. It’s one of the most explosive exchanges in the entire Bible! Jesus rips the scribes and Pharisees challenging their arrogance and treachery against the people. In one verse He says, “You travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (v. 15) This comment falls in what has been termed “the eight woes” – incendiary proclamations of coming judgment upon the apostate nation. He continues in verses 29-36:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? 34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
In this passage Jesus identifies one of the major reasons judgment was going to come against Jerusalem and its’ apostate leadership – the shedding of the blood of the prophets, the shedding of innocent blood. Their murderous ways would come to the ultimate conclusion in the murder of Jesus and the subsequent persecution of His apostles and followers, so Jesus issues a challenge: “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.” (v. 32) In other words, “Go ahead and complete what you are going to do!” And within a few weeks of this excoriating rebuke, Jesus was crucified. The result would be a coming judgment upon them – “so that upon YOU may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom YOU murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon THIS generation.” It is a prophetic announcement of judgment, the same judgment as in the Olivet Discourse, the same judgment as in the parable of the landowner, the “Holy City” and its Temple were going to be destroyed and it would happen in the lifetime of those responsible for crucifying Jesus.
The rest of the New Testament covers the transition period between “this age” and “the age to come”, a transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. That transition would be characterized as the “end times”, “the end of the ages”, “this present world” and would be filled with intense persecution described in apocalyptic terms. Jesus warned His disciples that following His crucifixion they were going to face intense persecution at the hands of their Jewish brothers. In Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse, found in Luke 21, Jesus speaks of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, saying that “there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” He follows this description of the coming destruction with the following warning in verses 12-19:
“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 ‘It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.16 But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all because of My name. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
So before the destruction of Jerusalem, in 70 A.D., these first followers of Jesus were going to face intense persecution at the hands of the Jews and Judaizers. They were going to be beaten, flogged, imprisoned, betrayed by friends and family, and some would even be put to death. This was the great tribulation. Many would fall away from the faith because they caved in to the pressure that would be exerted upon them. Only those who endured to the end would be saved.
To fully put this into perspective we have to understand the people that comprise the New Testament. As I see and understand it, there were six groups of people spoken of or written to: 1) Jews who rejected Jesus as the Promised Messiah; 2) Jews who embraced Him as the Promised Messiah but believed that it was necessary to continue the practice of Judaism (Judaizers); 3) Jews who embraced Him as the Promised Messiah and followed the teachings of Paul that the practice of Judaism was not only unnecessary, but was in opposition to faith in Jesus; 4) Gentiles who recognized Jesus as the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world, and followed the teachings of Paul; 5) Gentiles who recognized Jesus as the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world, but were influenced by the Judaizers and believe that it was also necessary to follow the practice of Judaism (and they became Judaizers as well); 6) Gentiles who would not embrace the message of salvation through faith in Jesus as the Promised One, the Savior of the whole world.
The intense persecution that came against the first-century followers of Jesus was at the hands of the Jews who rejected Jesus and the Judaizers who believed that it was necessary to continue the practice of Judaism in addition to faith in Jesus. The destruction of Jerusalem was final validation that the Old Covenant and the practice of Judaism had come to conclusion. There no longer was a Temple, a priesthood, a sacrificial system; the elements of Judaism, the entire ritual system including bloodline requirement, circumcision, observance of dietary laws, Sabbath days, feast days, and ceremonial washings, were no longer relevant in the worship of God. The Old Covenant, the ministry of condemnation and death, that for the forty years between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the 70 A.D. destruction and had been fading away, had now, in one day, disappeared. The glory of the resurrected Messiah and His Kingdom had superseded the glory of the Old Covenant and was now the only covenant standing between God and man. The writer of Hebrews, just a few short years prior to 70 A.D. wrote in Hebrews 8:13, “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” On the date of Tisha B’ Av (Hebrew calendar date) of 70 A.D., the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. The Old Covenant officially came to an end and “the sons of the kingdom” were cast out (Matthew 8:12), and “the kingdom of God” was taken away from the apostates and given to “a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matthew 21:43)
There is much more that could be discussed about the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and I will do so in upcoming articles. But why is such an important event, a major theme within the New Testament, known about and understood by so few Christians? To embrace the significance of the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and everything both Old and New Testaments attach to it is to dismantle all Futurist eschatologies! To dismantle all Futurist eschatologies is to acknowledge that there is no present-day prophetic significance of the nation of Israel. Before you jump on me and proclaim that statement as anti-Semitic, all of the promises God made to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah. Gentiles, through faith in Jesus, are grafted in to “the rich root of the olive tree” (Romans 11:17) and both groups, Jews and Gentiles of faith in Jesus the Messiah, are made “into one new man” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple were the promised judgment spoken of throughout the Old and New Testaments of the apostates of Israel. Simultaneously it was the salvation of the righteous remnant of Israel. Sadly, world history since the first century is filled with hatred, strife, and murder over religious beliefs. Different sects of Christianity have persecuted each other; Catholics and Protestants have persecuted each other; Protestants have persecuted other Protestants; Christians have persecuted Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, and all of those groups have persecuted Christians and each other. No hatred or violence is a reflection of the true teachings of Jesus.
God has never and will never force Himself upon anyone – all people everywhere should be free to worship according to their beliefs without fear of violence against them. The Gospel of the Kingdom knows no end and over the course of time and history it will expand and contract, it will not be stopped, but it will never resort to violence to force conversion. As the household of faith in Jesus walks in love toward all people, even toward those who are not like us or those who do not like us, even toward those who may persecute us, the love of God ultimately conquers the hearts of people everywhere.
There is no special group of people on the earth, all have equal standing at the foot of the cross. God does not love any one nation, race, or language more than any other – the door of the Kingdom is open to all who wish to enter. As Jesus said, the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) That IS the Kingdom.