Chapter 10   Judge

Several of my first disciples were from Bethsaida (John 1:44). Through their influence many others were baptized (John 4:1) from that city and the nearby city of Chorazin to the west of the Jordan, and just north of Capernaum where I lived (Matthew 4:12-13). This was the focus of my ministry in Galilee, and in all three cities they knew of hundreds of people who were wonderfully healed and delivered from various forms of possession (Matthew 11:20).

After a period of rapid growth and great excitement I sensed increasing disdain and downright hostility. Business was good as several major trade routes converged on the area. The buildings dedicated to the god of money dwarfed the little synagogues (Matthew 6:24). There is no need to describe the horrendous sex trade in children and other enormities.

One day in the synagogue near my home in Capernaum I was reading the scroll of the prophet Amos, and a phrase caught my eye. "They abhor the one who speaks the truth" (Amos 5:10). Perhaps that explained why people had turned against me? And the reason was obvious "You trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain . . . you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate" (Amos 5:11-12). That was exactly what was going on in the three prosperous cities where I lived and had my main ministry. Even some of my baptized disciples had believed only for a while and others got "choked by the cares and riches and pleasure of life" (Luke 8:13-14). What would be the outcome?

In the prophets it was clear that gross immorality and injustice might take over for a time, but eventually there would be a "day of the Lord" (Amos 5:18, 20, 8:9). An annual visit to bribe mammon (the god of money) in Jerusalem could not ward off the inevitable wrath that was coming. The Lord had said "I hate, I despise your feast days, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream" (Amos 5:21-24).

After the next synagogue service I preached in the Capernaum market square. "Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, in the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades (Sheol, the abode of the dead)". You can imagine what a stir that caused in the area.

As I continued my personal reading of the prophetic writings, I realized that it was not just the tri-city where I lived that was in danger of destruction. Our capital city of Jerusalem was also on a disaster course. It had happened once before as the prophet Joel had predicted. "Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes" (Joel 1:15). A warning needed to be given while there was still time for the city to clean up its act. "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near" (Joel 1:1). But they continued as if nothing could happen to them. In that very generation the Babylonian general came and took the city. He "burned the house of the Lord, the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down" (2 Kings 25:9).

What interested me was that the prophet Joel had used very vivid imagery to describe this destruction of Jerusalem six hundred years before. As in the message of Amos, it was called a day of the Lord (Joel 1:15, 2:1, 11). And there would be terrible portents. "The heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining" (Joel 2:10). I wondered what this meant till I found that Isaiah had used exactly the same poetic language in the oracle concerning Babylon (Isaiah 13:1). Their "day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger to make the earth a desolation" (Isaiah 13:9). "For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light . . . Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place" (Isaiah 13:10, 13). I saw at once that the sun was a metaphor for the emperor, the moon was his queen, and the stars were the generals, civil servants, and great merchants of the city of Babylon.

The picture kept running through my mind as I wondered how and why our holy city of Jerusalem was again in danger of being devastated? The reasons for the impending wrath were quite different from the greed, immorality and gross injustice of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jerusalem was at the heart of Jewish religion, and the Pharisee and Sadducees had joined forces to plan for my death. I was upsetting their traditions and undermining their authority. There was also the fact that the religious establishment of Jerusalem was soon to be replaced by my church in every country of the world.

The Holy Spirit had kept trying to remind our nation that the third part of the original promise to Abraham was that "in you all families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). That was an essential part of our title deeds. My mother often sang to me Simeon's prophetic song when he took me in his arms at my circumcision. "My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32). She had thought that meant Israel would be glorified through me. I would be the light that people of all nations were dimly groping for (Acts 17:26-27). It did mean that, but not in the way she imagined.

I have told you the story of how the woman from Phoenicia persuaded me to see beyond my own nation (Mark 7:26). When a Roman army Captain came to me with astonishing faith for the healing of his servant, (Matthew 8:5-10), I predicted that "many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:11).

But I knew it would not be in my lifetime. And I had warned my disciples again and again back in Galilee I would first have to "undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33). Obviously I would not be recognized as a light for the nations, as my mother hoped, until after my own Jewish people got me executed. And events were moving very rapidly.

When I was next in Jerusalem I gave a parable prophecy as I was teaching in the temple courts.

"There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one , killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' So they seized him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"

The astonishing thing was the answer to my question that the delegation of priests and elders (Matthew 21:23) themselves gave me. "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time" (Matthew 21:41). They had given the obvious meaning. And they deserved what was coming. The religious establishment of Jerusalem would be decimated and gentile churches would take over the task of fulfilling our mandate to all nations.

As I was talking over this upsetting idea with my heavenly Father, he said "Have you forgotten why the Spirit took you into those forty days of temptation in the cave of Engedi? You are not just a son of God but the Son of God Before you took birth among the Jewish people you reigned as the Lord King Messiah who kept coming to intervene among the nations.

I could see that, but there were some awesome implications. If I was the Lord King Messiah that the prophets had spoken of, then I was also the Lord of every "day of the Lord" in human history. And that meant that if the temple and religious establishment of Jerusalem were going to be decimated, I would do the decimating. Though I had no intention of condemning individuals (John 3:17), the Father had appointed me to be the judge among nations, including my own people.

As I had warned the Pharisees, this was due to happen in their own lifetime (Matthew 23:36), at the most within say 40 years. Obviously I needed to prepare my closest disciples for these terrible events.

As we were leaving the temple, which was still under construction (John 2:20), they were admiring the latest additions. I told them I would come and destroy the building. "Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1-2). They were obviously horrified, and we walked in silence across the Kidron valley on our way back to Bethany, the home of Martha and Mary, where we were staying (Mark 11:11, John 12:1-2).

When we were half way up the Mount of Olives we sat down and looked back as the afternoon sun was highlighting the temple on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2, 2 Chronicles 3:1, 21:16-26). When they were sure we were alone, they said "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). I warned them that many would come claiming to be the Messiah. There would be rumors of Roman armies approaching. And news of famines and earthquakes in various places. But those would just be like the early birthpangs of a woman in labor (Matthew 24:1-8). They would also suffer ruthless persecution. Meanwhile the good news would be proclaimed throughout the Roman world (Matthew 24:9-14).

When Roman legions set up their standards around the city my disciples should leave Judea immediately (Matthew 24:15-20). There would be a terrible siege, and false Messiahs would claim to have come to save them (Matthew 24:22-26). But my coming would be as sudden as lightning across the sky (Matthew 24:27). Then I quoted exactly the language Isaiah had used to describe the fall of Babylon. "The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken" (Matthew 24:29). And when the city fell they would know it was me reigning as the Son of God, the Judge among nations (Matthew 24:30).

My coming to topple the city would result in my messengers taking the good news to the ends of the earth (Matthew 24:31, see 8:11). And all this would happen in their lifetime (Matthew 24:34). It would be like Noah going into the ark before the flood came (Matthew 24:37), but the actual end would be as unexpected as a thief breaking into a house as the occupants were asleep (Matthew 24:43). I could see Matthew had written THE END at the top of a new page in his papyrus codex, and he was still writing down the details two hours later.

I told them they had better learn what Matthew had written off by heart so when this happened they would not be taken by surprise. Then as the Passover moon was coming up I told them the parable of the servants waiting for their master (Matthew 24:44-51), the story of the young women who agreed to have lamps ready for the wedding (Matthew 25:1-12), and the servants who were given five, and two, and one talent to trade (Matthew 25:14-30).

That night over supper in the home of Martha and Mary they wanted to know on what basis the Messiah evaluated and judged one nation compared with another. So I told the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46). We dropped off to sleep exhausted from a very long teaching session. But I was glad I had prepared them for what would happen when I eventually came to judge the city. But that would not be for another thirty or forty years. And there was always a possibility of repentance, as had happened under the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-10). Meanwhile Passover was approaching, and that night things looked very ominous.

Historical Note:  By our calendar Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea in AD 30 (a probable date). After Pentecost many Jewish men and women were baptized, and became the leaders of the new churches throughout the world (Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:7, 9:31). These Jews were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:25-36). The influx of Greek and Roman people came later (Acts 15:12) through a converted Rabbi named Paul.

The Messiah actually waited 40 years before he came to judge the city. After a terrible siege Titus and his Roman legions took Jerusalem in AD 70. The temple was destroyed and the city razed to the ground. The huge foundation stones of the west side of the temple mount remained, and were called "the Wailing Wall." After the second exile of 1878 years, Jews who had not followed the Messiah fought their way back to Jerusalem in 1948. The Messiah has not told us what will happen next, but Paul wrote that "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1Corinthians 15:26).

Chapter 11 .....