Chapter 17 Comings

In the week before my crucifixion I had warned my disciples that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (Mark 13:1-2). I also specified that this would happen within their lifetime. "This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place" (Mark 13:30, see Messiah chapter 11). Moses had given them a normal life expectancy of 70 years (Psalm 90:10), so when Peter turned sixty he realized that both the destruction of the city and his own end must be approaching. My words about the toppling of the city were etched on his mind. "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down" (Mark 13:2).

That temple was still standing, but everybody knew that the Romans had already decided to take the city. I had compared the fall of the city to the toppling of Babylon. "In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (Mark 13:24 quoting Isaiah 13:10, 13). For Isaiah the sun was the Babylonian emperor, the moon was the queen, the stars were the generals and high dignitaries of the state, and the whole power structure of the empire was shaken.

In Peter's day Jerusalem was under the power of Rome, and did not have political power. But it had huge a huge religious importance for the Jewish people. The end of Jerusalem would terminate the power of the high priest, the Sanhedrin, the rabbi theologians, the Sadducees and their Pharisee opponents. And it would threaten the very existence of the Jewish nation. And I had told him that the work of my kingdom would then be carried out by other nations (Matthew 21:43, 23:35-38). The wonderful growth and planting of new churches all over the world is another story, but it would take many libraries of books to write it.

Peter also remembered my words that there would be a first going out of the good news before the city was surrounded (Matthew 24:14, Mark 13:10). That had already happened through Paul and Barnabas and other apostles. After the destruction of the city I had spoken of a much more extensive growth of my church in all directions (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27). And Peter could see that my church was being readied for that outreach to the whole world (Matthew 8:11). There was also mounting opposition from the Jewish authorities who had rejected me, and the beginning of persecution here and there by the Roman authorities (Mark 13:9).

When the original eye witnesses died how would people know what had happened? So Peter decided he would dictate to Mark as much as he could remember of what I had said and done. Then when Matthew, my converted Mafia tax collector apostle, saw the scroll that Mark had written, he decided to use it as a framework for the Codex (book of parchment leaves) that he had in mind. It would include the collection of my sayings, which he had taken down verbatim as I was teaching. But he made a significant addition to Mark's account of what I had said about the fall of Jerusalem. "The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30). The toppling of Jerusalem would be the sign for all Jewish people that I had come to intervene as Messiah in the same way as I had toppled Babylon.

The 'tribes of the earth' of course did not refer to every primitive tribe in the dark jungles of the world, but to the twelve tribes of Jews scattered in the diaspora (the dispersion). In a hundred cities across the ancient world they would quickly get the news of the fall of Jerusalem, and they would mourn the end of their capital city, their homeland, their temple, and the heart of their religious institutions. When would they ever get back to celebrate Passover there? I warned them that would not be for a long time. "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). As Paul explained, "a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25)

Nearly thirty years after my crucifixion and resurrection Paul found himself in prison in Caesarea (Acts 23:31-35). The Roman authorities could not decide what to do about his case (Acts 25:25-27). While he was there for two years (Acts 24:27), unable to continue his missionary work, Paul sent his companion Dr. Luke to talk to my mother Mary, and find out what he could about my early life. He wanted Luke to write a Codex which would appeal to the Gentile converts who were flocking in to the churches. Paul also wanted information which would help determine when the destruction of the temple might occur. Luke was able to learn from one of my eye-witness apostles (Acts 1:21-22) that my warning about escaping from the doom of Jerusalem (Mark 13:14-16) referred to a time when the city would be surrounded by Roman armies (Luke 21:20).

There were continually rumors of an attack on the rebellious Jews of Jerusalem, but by the time Paul arrived in Rome he found the emperor Nero occupied with the sumptuous rebuilding of his capital city. He did not even bother to set a date to hear Paul's case. So while my apostle was imprisoned in his own hired house (Acts 28:16) he was free to meet with the leaders of the Jewish community (Acts 28:17). Representatives of my church had welcomed him when he was arriving (Acts 28:14-15), but he decided not to endanger my followers in Rome by being too closely identified with them.

During those first two years of imprisonment (Acts 28:30) Paul was accompanied by two faithful companions, Aristarchus of Macedonia (Acts 19:29) and Luke the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14). They had traveled with him from the imprisonment in Caesarea all the way to Rome (Acts 27:2, see Luke's "we" passages from Acts 27:1-8). I was glad to see that when Mark arrived (Colossians 4:10) Paul had long since forgotten his previous anger (Acts 15:37-40).

Paul had never visited the church in Colossae, which was an outgrowth of his work in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). But when Epaphras, the leader of the church there (Colossians 1:7-8) came to Rome with bad news of a gnostic heresy (Colossians 2:8-23) Paul wrote a letter with a wonderful grasp of who I am (Colossians 1:13-20). I was delighted to be able to add it to letters I was collecting for use in my churches all over the world.

Paul sent the letter by the hand of a converted run away slave named Onesimus. Paul's covering letter, asking Philemon to welcome back his slave as a fellow member of that church (Philemon 1-2, 8-17, Colossians 4:9), touched me to the core. The salvation and restoration of that slave alone would alone have made my death and resurrection worthwhile. I wish you could see all the other slaves who joined Onesimus in that new Exodus all over the Mediterranean world.

Another letter that I was proud to add to my collection was Paul's astonishing letter to the Ephesian church. It was also delivered by Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7) twinned with the letter to Laodicea, which was a copy of his letter addressed to the church in Ephesus. And Paul asked both churches to copy and read each other's letter (Colossians 4:16, Ephesians 6:21). And of course that was being done with Paul's other letters (see the covering letter with a copy of the previous letter to Rome, Romans 16:1-23) as everybody knew that ruthless persecution was imminent.

Though Paul was in prison (Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 4:3), many had come to believe in me among Nero's soldiers and imperial retinue (Philippians 1:12-14).And that did not please the emperor. Luke had wanted to record all that, and the outcome of the trial, but Paul asked Luke to finish off his book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:30-31) while the going was good, and take it personally back to be copied in Asia Minor

Luke also took Paul's letter to the Jewish people. You can see that Paul left it anonymous to avoid incriminating himself if it was intercepted, and he put "from Italy" to avoid naming Nero's Rome (Hebrews 13:24. In the first four centuries the Epistle to the Hebrews was universally viewed as Pauline, and those who question Paul's authorship offer no plausible alternative. It was probably dictated to Dr. Luke, who wrote in excellent Greek).

The letter began by declaring that I am the Messiah Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-13.). The Holy Spirit was able to show Paul that as a result of my sufferings on earth, I had become fully human and could feel in my body the temptations and pain of ordinary people on earth (Hebrews 2:1-18). It was therefore important for Jewish people not to harden their hearts, and miss entering the rest of my Messianic reign (Hebrews 3:1-4:13).

Paul also saw that the temple would soon be destroyed, as I had predicted (Mark 13:1-2, 30). That would mark the end of the ancient Jewish priesthood and their sacrificial system. He announced to Jewish people everywhere that I am the High Priest and the very center of the sacrificial worship of heaven (Hebrews 4:14-8:3). That means that the work of priests offering animal sacrifice in temples throughout the world is only a pale shadow pointing towards the heavenly realities (Hebrews 8:4-9:26).

Seven hundred years before through the prophets I had spoken of "a new covenant" (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And now by my death and resurrection I had made the old covenant obsolete. And Paul concluded that "What is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear" (Hebrews 8:13, 10:25).

Paul went on to explain that in the period of terrible tribulation that would come before the toppling of Jerusalem and its temple (see Mark 13:19-20) it was important for my disciples to "consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25). Notice how he used the word 'Day' (see I Corinthians 1:8, 3:12) as shorthand for the term 'Day of the Lord' that the prophets had used to describe any period when I came in to intervene among the nations (Isaiah 13:6,9, Joel 2:31, Amos 5:18, see Isaiah 7:18, 20, 21, 23, 10:20, 11:10, 11, Zechariah 12:6, 9, 13:1-2, 4).

The letter then has a masterly description of how faith has never been a decision to obey this or that rule on earth, but always a direction of faith in me as the reigning Lord King Messiah, Son of God, who intervenes in nations when their time has come (Hebrews 11:1-12:2).

Though my brother James had not believed in me as the Messiah before my resurrection (John 7:5, 1 Corinthians 15:7), he soon became the leader of my Hebrew speaking Jewish disciples in Jerusalem. He had studied what Mark and Matthew had written, and was convinced I would be coming to deal with the city where he served. The problem was that some were saying that my intervention had been so long delayed, it might not happen at all. Others were trying to explain that my Day had already occurred (1 Thessalonians 2:2). That is why James wrote "Be patient, therefore, beloved until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient, for the coming of the Lord is near" (James 5:7). I was impressed at his insight. It is not easy to make such an astonishing claim for one's own brother, even if he is the Messiah!

When Peter heard that Paul was still under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30), he decided to go and stand by this great veteran of my church. By the time he arrived things were looking ugly for Jewish people throughout the empire. There was sporadic persecution in many cities. So he wrote a letter to the Jewish people of "Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythynia" (all regions of what is now western Turkey, 1 Peter 1:1). It was also written from Rome (1 Peter 5:13 - Babylon is a code word for the capital city) and the fiery tribulation had already begun. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing in Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12, see 1:6). Rather than be apprehensive about the present persecution and the imminent end of their holy city of Jerusalem, they should rejoice in my reign as Messiah. And he added a note to encourage the church elders in their difficult task, "When the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away" (1 Peter 5:4).

The appearing of the "chief shepherd" did not happen as soon as Peter imagined. In a second letter Peter referred to "scoffers" who were saying "Where is the promise of his coming" (2 Peter 3:3-4). And he illustrated the delay from the story of the flood (2 Peter 3:5-6). But this present Day of God would come as a sudden fiery end of the old Jewish institutions of Jerusalem (2 Peter 3:2-7, 10-13. Some commentators take this literally as a final atomic destruction of the whole world, but Peter is using the term "Day of the Lord" with the prophetic imagery of a fiery end or holocaust. See Psalms 18:7-8, 21:9, 50:3, 78:21, 97:1-3, Isaiah 30:30, 66:15, Jeremiah 4:4, 15:14, 17:14, Amos 1:4, 7, 12, 14, 2:2, 5, 5:6). In that letter Peter admitted he found some of Paul's ideas in the letter to the Hebrews a bit hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-17). But it was wonderful to see their love and respect for one another.

The fiery destruction that swept the Jewish world actually began in Rome. With a view to his grandiose building plans Nero had fires set to clear the old buildings, and three quarters of the city went up in flames (19 July 64 AD). When people were furious he tried to cover his tracks by blaming and rounding up the Christians and had thousands of them killed with horrific cruelty (as recorded in Tacitus, Annals 15:38-44) . Among them were Peter and Paul who added their blood to what would soon become the seed of my growing church.

The opposition to Nero's tyranny mounted rapidly. The next year hundreds of leading Roman citizens were killed in a failed coup (AD 65). When Jews rebelled in the area of Jerusalem Nero sent his legions for a final solution, and every city went up in flames all the way from Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum in the north (Matthew 11:20-24) to the very gates of Jerusalem. As I had warned them, those who believed my words escaped from the city into the hills (Luke 21:20-22).

When Nero committed suicide (AD 68) there was a brief reprieve, but the city eventually fell after a terrible siege (AD 70, as described in Josephus). Six hundred thousand of the inhabitants were killed or taken off into slavery, and the confusion and cruel carnage of those days was indescribable.

You may wonder why I have gone over the details of those terrible years before I intervened to destroy the temple and the city which I loved. One reason was that many would forget that I had acted so decisively within the lifetime of my hearers (Matthew 23:36, 24:34). They would keep thinking that my coming was delayed and still in the future. And misguided people would make predictions based on events in their own day without knowing that everything I had said was fulfilled exactly as I had prophesied in that first generation.

Even more important is the fact that my first Day of the Lord intervention after my ascension would illustrate the principles that explain every one of my comings in the revolutions and turning points of every nation. The Holy Spirit always has prophets who foresee dangers for a proud city or ruthless nation. As I told my disciples in a parable, I am the Judge of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). But I am patient and I give people time to amend their ways. In some cases I could change my decision (as in Jonah 3:6-10). Usually there is a period of mounting confusion before my coming (Mark 13:5-8). It is a time when false prophets abound (Mark 13:21-23). But when the end comes it happens unexpectedly and very suddenly (Luke 12:39-40).

You may also wonder why I am so ruthless in allowing the cruel death of so many as these events unfold? I can only answer by explaining that way back we decided to make humans in our image (Genesis 1:26-27). That required death as a transition to move them from life on earth to our heaven. You get shocked when large numbers of people die in a disaster, but from my point of view each person's death is important and has its own significance. And for each one I come in their personal Day of the Lord, and I am there to welcome them home. But I also feel for the continuing pain of those who are bereaved. And no one should ever treat that lightly.

I will leave to the historians the task of interpreting these principles in the events of their own past and present national situations. When my disciples had asked about my coming, I pointed out that as the Lord King Messiah, the eternal Son of God, I had often come at key points in their history. I came to walk with their first parents in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). I came down to terminate the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:5, 8). I came to individuals like Abraham in the Sumerian city of Ur (Genesis 12:1). And again when Lot separated himself to the east (Genesis 13:14), and on other occasions (Genesis 15:1, 18, 17:1, 22, 18:1, see 1 Samuel 3:10). But I also came to deal with other nations and cities and civilizations (Genesis 18:21, Exodus 13:3, Psalm 18:9, 80:2, 96:13, 144:5). The prophets described my comings as a "Day of the Lord" (Isaiah 13:6, 9, 19:1, 22:5, 24:21, 31:4, 40:10, Jeremiah 46:10, etc.)

When a city or empire or people is destroyed you should not imagine that they are all bad and go to burn in hell. The decline and fall of an empire is due to the influence of some terribly evil individuals, but most people are just taken in by their controlling influence. A person may suffer very bad consequences on earth, but his or her heart may be looking to me as their world is coming to an end.

So I want you to know that I am the one who keeps coming again and again in the history of nations. Each catastrophe that occurs looks like a terrible disaster. But every one of my interventions also results in wrongs being put right, justice being done, vindication for the oppressed (see Psalm 17:2, 37:6, 103:6, 135:14) people freed from bondage and all sorts of new joys and freedoms . The old order ends but I am always doing something new. "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:12-13).

When will all this end? My servant Paul got it right when he wrote "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). There will of course be a final end of your universe when I decide our purposes have been completed (1 Corinthians 15:24), and I bring in "the new heavens and the new earth" (Revelation 21:1).

But meanwhile expect all sorts of wonderful things to open up. But if you are puzzled and cannot figure out what I am doing, you can always ask me. Unlike the rulers of earthly nations, any one of my servants anywhere has a right to come into my presence any hour of the day or the darkest night.