Christ Coming in Vengeance Against His Enemies
The Bible is not a history book. Although certainly historical, its intentions are not to describe and document the events of human history, but rather to describe the relationship of mankind to God over time in order to show the need for salvation and proclaim the method to obtain it.
When we read the Bible, however, we are reading about real events which took place within the structure and fabric of actual human history. Glimpses of that history are found throughout the scriptures and we see a mosaic of what life was like during these ancient times, but we cannot develop a full picture of history from the Bible. In the New Testament, we are given a partial picture of what life was like in one of the tributary nations (Judea) under the Roman Empire, but we are not given a general history of the Romans or the Jews. The writers intentions were aimed at another, more important task.
We must not, however, make the mistake of reading the Bible as if it were a story unto itself without regarding the political, military, economic, and human environment in which the events of the Bible took place. In other words, we cannot remove the Bible from the true human history of which it was a real part.
God, of course, has often been an active force in human affairs. This is one aspect of history that is documented in the scriptures. In the earliest times, God was directly involved with his people, appearing and speaking in tangible forms that men could see and hear. Later, he would appear or speak only to select persons who would act as a liaison between God and his people. During the times of the Old Testament prophets, we find God dealing with human events still, but doing so in an indirect way.
As Gods chosen people, the Hebrew nation is the focus of the Old Testament. On more than a few occasions, the people of Israel would so sin that God would become angered and would punish them. A secular historian looking back at those times would see Israel attacked and overrun by the armies of some neighboring kingdom such as Assyria or Medo-Persia. There was nothing unusual about that at the time; these nation-states, large and small, were constantly interacting with brutal wars and the enslavement of whole populations.
What is interesting from a Biblical standpoint is that we see the manner in which God used these seemingly autonomous pagan human armies as tools to punish his wayward people. The Old Testament prophets would give their people warning straight from God that a great destruction was approaching because of their continued sin. This event was always referred to as a great day of the Lord and God, speaking through his prophet, would say how he intended to punish them. For instance, in Amos 5:18, the prophet speaks of the coming doom of the north kingdom of Israel. In verse 27, God says:
Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus.
Beyond Damascus meant to Assyria that is, God would cause the brutal Assyrian nation to successfully attack and carry off into captivity the people of Israel, which is, of course, what happened.
So, we see how God used human, historical events to interact with his people. His involvement was direct in terms of cause and effect, but indirect in terms of the method he used to bring about his will. The events caused directly by the hand of God would appear to the pagan world as normal events of human history. Only those aware of the prophecies would know the true nature of these wars.
This concept of God using pagan human armies to indirectly accomplish his prophesied purposes is crucial to understanding the prophecies of the New Testament.
In the New Testament, the focus, so long tuned to the people living under the Law of Moses, shifts sharply to the new Kingdom, the new Law, and the new King, Jesus Christ. Here was the beginning of a new people chosen of God, composed of those who accepted Jesus as their savior. This fledgling church had many enemies.
The Jews and the Christians both lived under the thumb of Roman rule. Pagan Rome did not understand or have any desire to condone the upstart Christians any more than they did the Jews. Rome would have been happy to see this Christianity cult die out as so many others had. The Romans dealings with the Christians were not of the same scale, though, as their relations with the Jews. Even though many horrible (and important) persecutions of Christians took place at their hands (especially after the great fire in Rome in A.D. 64), this new Jewish sect was a small matter in the overall Roman world view.
The Jewish view of this new group was quite another matter. Christianity may not have represented an obvious threat to mighty Rome, but to the political/religious leaders of Judea the followers of the Nazarene were seen as very dangerous indeed. This upstart group had proclaimed the man Jesus as the Messiah and set up a system of religious beliefs and activities outside the Jewish system they had so long held sacred. This, they simply could not tolerate. This new Christianity and its followers must be denounced as blasphemous and stamped out in any way possible.
Thus, persecutions began against the followers of Christ from the very beginning. After the resurrection of Christ, things became truly perilous for the disciples as the Jewish leaders realized that the death of Jesus was only the beginning of Christianity and not the end as they had intended. As the congregations spread and grew, the danger to members was growing as well.
The Jews were the most powerful threat and present danger to the Church of Christ during its first years. Judaism was the soil from which Christ sprang, but in their rejection of him, the Jews became the Churchs greatest enemy. It is very important to realize that if left unchecked, the tradition-bound and corrupt Jewish system would most certainly have restrained and destroyed the fledgling Church. It was a mismatch of size and worldly political power that could have easily overwhelmed them. The Sanhedrin was powerful and represented a very large number of people and a way of life centuries old. The newborn Christian Church was small and, due to its nature, would not fight with fist and sword or build up its numbers through political trickery and murder. It would seem a hopeless situation for the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Other religious sects had come and gone. This one would surely succumb to the heavy foot of Jewish orthodoxy as well.
In his letter to the Gentile Roman congregation, Paul indicates that the Jewish nation was caused to have a blindness in part (Romans 11:25) in respect to Christ, and in verse 28 he states:
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account....
The danger was indeed real, but there was, of course, a vital difference with this sect: Jesus of Nazareth was who he claimed to be the Son of God. He was the Jewish Messiah and he had come to fulfill the old Law of Moses the Jews were living under (Matthew 5:17) and establish a new Law for the new Kingdom that he was here to begin.
Certainly, Christ knew what kinds of tribulations his people would suffer under the followers of the old Jewish system. He warned them of it in his own prophecies. There were, however, other prophecies such as the one recorded in Luke 1:70-74:
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets...that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us....that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear.
Jesus was not going to let his people be destroyed by any enemy. God had promised that his people would be delivered from their enemies.
It may be difficult for some to switch mental gears after studying the Old Testament and begin to see the Jewish system as an enemy of God instead of Gods chosen vessel among mankind. It was, of course, the Jews in their rejection of Jesus Christ who placed themselves outside of Gods favor. Those who would not heed the pleas of the apostles and disciples and accept Jesus as their savior were placing themselves in the camp of the enemy. Those who would not believe in Christ could have no tolerance of those fellow brothers who left Judaism for this new way.
Christ did not destroy or tear up the Law of Moses, he ended it. He came to fulfill the Old Law and establish a new one. Just as we might pass a new civil law that takes the place of an old one, thus making the old one no longer valid, God took away the authority or legality of the old Law of Moses and gave authority to Christ to establish a replacement. This was the new Law of Christ the law of righteousness, love, and forgiveness. It was this change in authorized religious law that left those who could not see or accept it on the other side of the fence from God.
In Romans 10:21, Paul quotes Isaiah concerning how God considered the Jewish people at this time:
Concerning Israel he says, All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.
So, Christ knew that his people would be persecuted by the old Jewish authorities, and he had promised to save his people from their enemies. His Church, his Kingdom would not be cut down in its youth. The Church was his Bride (Revelation 21:2,9) and he would remove the enemies from her path, and he would be victorious over all adversaries including even death itself.
This is the subject of the many references to an appearing of Christ throughout the New Testament that we have not already studied. Christ promised to remove the persecuting Jewish system and people out of the Churchs way so his people could serve him without fear. Never again would his people be in danger of total annihilation.
Christ did indeed come against these enemies and they were totally destroyed and taken out of the way completely. This great event is talked about, prophesied, and looked forward to throughout the New Testament writings, as we shall discover, but it is not described in them. It was an event that happened after the scriptures were written!
A casual Bible reader can read over and over again of the prophesied event, but cannot find this great God-directed destruction portrayed in the Bible as a historical event. The story of the crucifixion, the story of Paul and his travels, the stories of Peter and the others all are told as real history, but this greatly anticipated incident is simply not in the book! To that casual reader, there would be a sense of something left undone, as if reading a story book up to the last chapter and finding the chapter missing or unwritten.
Not finding this prophesied event, the reader is naturally drawn to speculate on some other method to form the fulfillment of the prophecies. The simplest and most emotionally satisfying way to interpret these things is that the prophecies are even now unfulfilled, and the strange scenes and symbols of the prophecies must portend events of the end of our universe.
A more careful Bible reader, having no knowledge of the history of these times, would read the prophecies of the New Testament and realize the connection in form and style to the Hebrew prophecies of old. He would realize that the New Testament prophecies refer to the impending doom of the old Jewish nationstate and, wishing to know if such an event truly happened, would consult other historical books and accounts of those times to see if such a thing actually occurred.
One of the most important non-Biblical sources he would turn to is the history written by Flavius Josephus. Josephus was not a Christian, but a Jew who witnessed the events just after the time of the Bible writings. He wrote a history of the Jewish nation similar to the Old Testament histories, and he wrote another famous volume about a great war that occurred between the Jews and the Roman Empire (of which Judea was a tributary nation). This war occurred between the years A.D. 6673, just after the times in which the New Testament was written and within the lifetimes of most of the people who made up the first Church.
The story that can be found in Josephus Wars of the Jews has profound meaning to the Christian, for it gives an accurate account of the final fulfillment of New Testament prophecy. In great detail, this follower of the Old Law documented the terrible destruction of his nation. No such national eradication had previously happened to a Roman tributary, for no other nation had been so rebellious and obstinate. The Jews believed that God was going to magically rescue them at the last moment from the Roman armies. They thought the Messiah would be a great warrior who would come to rule with an iron rod that took the form of physical armies and a literal earthly Kingdom, centered, naturally, in Jerusalem.
This belief was one reason these same Jews had dismissed Jesus Christ as the Messiah, for Jesus did not match their expectations of a mighty warrior-king. His talk of spiritual things was not what they had in mind. In fact, many of the followers of Jesus also believed he would establish himself as an earthly ruler.
When the Romans came to make war on the rebellious Jews, then, it was an extreme and all encompassing event that left hundreds of thousands of Jews dead and many tens of thousands taken away from Palestine into slavery. The end result was a nation that simply ceased to exist.
In a brief synopsis, let us outline the events of this war as Josephus tells it.
In the year 66 AD, the Roman Procurator of Judea, named Florus, demanded some of the gold kept for
religious purposes in the Jewish Temple treasury. Rebellion had been brewing for a long time, but this event so outraged the Jews that open uprising against the Romans broke out. The Roman Caesar, Nero, sent his
general, Vespasian, to put down the rebellion. It was the beginning of a long and devastating war with Rome.
The Roman armies invaded Judea, conquering villages and cities as they marched south toward Jerusalem.
They eventually besieged the capital city, which had been packed with people for the Passover and with refugees from the other towns. After the Romans built a huge earthen wall around the entire city, no one could escape.
Fanatic Jewish Zealots were divided amongst themselves and fought each other as much as they did the Romans. After some of the feuding Jews set fire to their own grain supplies, a horrible famine set in. The famine was devastating, causing the city to fall much faster than it otherwise would have. Bands of crazed Zealots ranged the city like packs of madmen. As the situation slowly became intolerable, some of the besieged people even resorted to cannibalism of their own children to survive. Bodies piled up in the streets and houses because no one had the strength or place to bury them all.
In less than four years from the time it began, Jerusalem succumbed to the Roman legions. In August of the year A.D. 70, the long siege ended and the city and the country fell. The Romans looted the great Temple of Herod and set fire to it. They killed the High Priest and his possible successors, ending the priestly line. They caused the Jewish sacrifices to cease. They killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and took many tens of thousands off to other lands as captive slaves. The great City of Jerusalem, once the dwelling place of God and center for his chosen people, was razed to the ground. It was now a place of desolation, no one lived there for many, many years to come.
Although this was certainly an epic event in secular history, to the Christian this event has obvious and important religious meaning. The important aspect of this destruction was the elimination of those people who had the power and the intention to kill all Christian believers. These people were those who had rejected Christ, killed him, and had continued to reject the Gospel message for some 40 years.
Now, the Jewish state and the ways of the old Jewish religion (sacrifices at the Temple, High Priest,Sanhedrin, etc.) were utterly wiped out. Biblical Judaism was dead, indeed. This system could never and has never been revived.
Here, then, is an event that occurred shortly after the time when the New Testament was written which matches the prophecies in the same way that the Old Testament prophecies were realized.
Certainly in these events, the Jews were taken out of the way of the people of Christ, just as the prophecies had predicted. However, the prophecies all speak of Christ coming to do this work Christ coming, taking vengeance on all who threaten his Church. Are not the events of A.D. 70 merely the secular history of the times? This,after all, was the Roman army vs. the people of Judea a tributary state in revolt.
The student of the Bible should have no trouble understanding that this event is no different in form than many other events in the history of God and his people. Here again we see Gods people, the Jews, sinning against God as they had so often done in the past. This time, however, it was their last chance. Always in the past, God had forgiven them and returned them to Palestine and Jerusalem after captivity and desolation. Now, however, the Law was finished. Those who refused to accept Christ would not be saved from the destruction to come.
This destruction was caused by God himself, but it happened through the use of pagan human armies, just as he had done it many times before. This time, the final time, God used the Roman army as his tool. He used them as he used the Assyrians, the Medes, and others before. It was no less Gods action because he used this method rather than some supernatural event.
Always, these events were prophesied in advance. Look at Matthew 24:29-30, where Jesus prophecies this final destruction of Judea:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Even when we realize that this type of language is nonliteral and filled with symbols, it is still hard when we read this to completely put aside the notion of a physical man Jesus literally flying through the atmosphere with a cataclysmic purpose and power. We know, however, that this type of language has been used many times before in the Old Testament and that the sun did not go out then and the literal stars stayed put, and God came against the subjects of the prophecies, not physically, but spiritually in the actions of other human beings.
The interval of time involved in this prophecy is of interest. If the prophecy has to do with things that have not yet occurred, then Jesus made an error in his prophecy! In Matthew 24:34, after Jesus has given all the signs of the coming destruction and just following the above quoted passage containing his prophecy of the son of man coming, we read:
Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.
This, too, is plain and straightforward, but many have found it confusing because it demands a second coming within that living generation of disciples. To rationalize this apparent conflict, many (including a footnote in the NIV) would have the word generation to mean not a physical generation, but rather to refer to the entire race (as it were to say the generation of Christians). The Greek words simply do not bear this out. The word Jesus used here is genea implying a literal generation. If Jesus had wanted to give the other idea, he would have used the word genos as Peter did (1 Peter 2:9) in reference to the Church, where the word does mean race, or kind. Jesus meant exactly what it sounds like that literal living generation of disciples, some standing here (as he put it earlier), would experience these prophesied events. When we understand the subject of the prophecy to be the destruction of the old Jewish religious state, there remains no need for word games to make it make perfect sense. They did indeed see it happen less than 40 years later.
This is the way all such prophecies in the Old Testament were carried out. Every time a day of the Lord or day of visitation was prophesied, the fulfillment of the prophecy occurred within the lifetimes of the people who heard the prophet. These prophecies were meant to be of practical use, not just some indecipherable symbols for the end of the universe. If the people who heard the prophet did not live long enough to witness the fulfillment, then the prophecies were useless and pointless to them.
This is why in Matthew 24:33, Jesus tells them:
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Those very disciples who heard his prophetic words would be witnesses to the great events of A.D. 70.
Before we begin to look at the specific verses that deal with the appearance of Christ in vengeance against the enemies, there is one other question that might occur to the careful student. Why the 40 year delay between the establishment of the Kingdom on the day of Pentecost and the destruction of the Jewish adversary?
Some who have seen this have mistakenly asserted that the Kingdom of God was not totally established on Pentecost and had to grow a little before it was truly ready. Such rationalization cannot be supported with the many scriptures that prove that the Kingdom was completely established by the events of the crucifixion, resurrection, and the empowering of the apostles on Pentecost. Why, then did God allow the church to suffer the tribulations from the Jews for those forty years?
When the Jews rejected Christ as the Messiah, they immediately ceased to be Gods holy and chosen people. When the great veil of the Temple was ripped from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51) it was a literal sign of a spiritual event: God was withdrawing his authorization from the Temple, the Old Law of Moses, and the Jewish people. They were cut off from God entirely. Only those individuals who repented and became Christians regained a place in Gods family.
Why then did not God simply cause the destruction of Jerusalem to commence then and there after the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and day of Pentecost rather than cause his people to suffer at the hands of the enemy for so long? Is this an indication that the events of the Roman invasion were not controlled by God? Of course, the answer is no. There was a very logical and important reason for the interval: God is a loving God and does not wish to see any of his children perish. In 2 Peter 3:9, we read:
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
The charge Jesus spoke to his apostles and disciples was to preach the good news to everyone, but to preach it at first only to the Jews. Those that would accept the new law of Christ would be regenerated back into Gods family. Titus 3:5:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration....
and Matthew 19:28:
And Jesus said unto them ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
This process of regeneration was for Jews only, for the Gentile was never a part of Gods holy, chosen people and could, therefore, never be re-generated. It was, of course, made possible for even the Gentile to become a Christian after the household of Cornelius was added (Acts 10).
God desires that all his people, all humankind in fact, should have the opportunity to be saved and become part of Gods own spiritual family. He gave the Jews a Messiah, and when they rejected him, God gave them warning after warning of the coming destruction, and also a very long period of time in which they could learn of their sin against him, repent, and be saved. Many would be saved, but as always, many would harden their hearts and not accept the new Kingdom. They would perish in the coming cataclysmic events. They would not be saved in either flesh or spirit.
Because of Gods generous will to allow time for the regeneration of the Jews, he set aside the 40 year period and placed within the visions of his holy prophets this period of time to be fulfilled. It was a requirement, then, that this time occur and that the things that were prophesied would indeed come to pass, as Jesus said (Matthew 5:18):
till all these things be fulfilled
With this general background, let us begin to examine all remaining references in the New Testament to a coming, appearance, or revelation of Jesus Christ that has not already been discussed. The purpose of this study is to show that all these remaining passages refer to the events that we have been studying here the final destruction and removal of Judaism and the people who were following it contrary to Gods will and not to any event yet future for us today.
The approach we will take to these verses will be one of examining the historical events of first century Palestine to see if they are sufficient to explain or interpret each reference to an appearing of Christ. If a particular scripture can be so explained, then there is no reason for us to try to force that verses prophecy into our future, no matter how many people tell us these things are yet to come and no matter how long such views have been held. Common sense and observation tell us where and when these things were fulfilled and what the symbols meant. If a particular verse cannot be shown to belong to the first century events, then the question of unfulfilled prophecies remains open to the many wide speculations we see made today.
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