By Graham Keelan
*This is the second of a two-part series. To view the first part, please click here
Six years before Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, the prophet Ezekiel had watched the glory of the Lord leaving the temple in His chariot-throne and disappearing over the Mount of Olives. But the Lord had promised to return and bring with him the scattered exiles, to return the land to its former glory: A land like the Garden of Eden. What’s more, this vision of this New Jerusalem was beyond comparing with that of the old one.
The belief in national deliverance then was foremost in Jewish minds when Yeshua came preaching his peculiar brand of Judaism. It was not the Judaism they had learned or were expecting. It was not the Judaism that they understood was destined to rule in the hearts and minds of men the world over. He spoke in obscure parables, “re-interpreted” the Law, and “profaned” the Sabbath. Furthermore, it appears no one could understand his movement except those within his inner circle. It was, in the end, an exclusive sort of Judaism. Following the precepts of Moses alone would not be enough to afford entry into his kingdom, the true Kingdom of Israel, a kingdom of substance not types, of refulgent light not obscure shadows. And yet those in the ruling elite who did get Yeshua’s message declared no interest in it. Quite the opposite in fact. Furthermore, add to all this that he expended his days performing miracles unheard throughout their history – exorcising devils, healing the sick, feeding the masses, raising the dead – and you can see why, for many Jews, Yeshua was a contradiction: “When the Messiah comes will he do more works than this man?”, they asked themselves. It was a question which tore their communities asunder. Nevertheless, for some, even though the miracles he performed for three years were all well and good, and his life and teaching beyond reproach, it could still never be allowed to get in the way of national deliverance and the reordering of the world. This was the issue which defined their times. In fact, after the three years Yeshua had spent assiduously unveiling the mysteries of the kingdom, even those who followed him closely were still primarily taken up with this one salient concern: ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ The assumptions in this question, like those asked of him on the mountain a few days before His death, were rooted in Jewish consciousness, in the belief of their election in the Divine purpose. They were assumptions Yeshua was still addressing in the forty days before his ascension.
To the Jews, the destruction of the temple presaged the end of the age. It was an apocalyptic vision drawn primarily from the prophetic dreams of Daniel and other Old Testament prophets: That Jerusalem would be subjected to violations and destruction for 490 years. The last seven years of this though would be the most decisive. During this time a vile and wicked Gentile king would arise to desecrate the temple, destroy the city and eradicate God’s people. However, a messiah, or deliverer, would arise who, together with the heavenly armies under the command of their angelic prince, Michael, would overthrow the hordes of the wicked forces arrayed against them and deliver Jerusalem once and for all from the hands of the infidels. Then with the temple and sacrifices restored an eternal reign of peace and righteousness would commence under a new covenant when the Gentile nations the world over abandon their gods of stone and wood and bring their treasures to worship the only true God at Jerusalem. This was the Jewish vision: The end of the age of Gentile oppression and idolatry.
For this reason, the temple in Jerusalem was the centre of Jewish religious, political and social life. Whilst it remained the city was protected and her people safe. Only God could allow his temple to be destroyed and that was never going to happen again. Sure, Judea was currently under Roman occupation but this was just a temporary setback. The Lord, upon reviving his affection for the covenant people, would send the Messiah to rid Abraham’s sacred land of the infernal Gentile abomination. Any talk of destroying the temple, therefore, was anathema, treachery even. This is what the Romans would like to do if they could get away with it. For the preacher of this perfidy it was dangerous. Blasphemy – for that is what it was – was a charge which automatically carried the death penalty. Furthermore, to walk into the temple brandishing a scourge causing mayhem showed scant regard for the descendants of Aaron and the Law of Moses, for the customs of temple-life, which had sustained the generations and, most importantly, contempt for the God who visited them in the room behind the curtain. But this is exactly what Yeshua did! Also, for some, it seems, they could have no truck with a man whose mantra was ‘render to Caesar’. How could anyone who acquiesced to the brutal Roman tax system ever deliver them from the equally brutal Legions who were sustained by it? They longed for the year of the messianic Jubilee as foretold by the prophets when Caesar would be vanquished and his Babylonian whore stripped naked. No wonder then they preferred Barabbas, the revolutionary outcast from Galilee who promised so much. The ceremony would have to wait.
Sadly, then, the Jerusalem to which Yeshua came failed to recognize the day of her visitation. Her leaders had actively opposed him and within three and a half years of his mission they had delivered him up to crucifixion at the hands of their Gentile oppressors. As a consequence she would spend her final years drowning in a sea of deception, destruction and death, a demise over which her Messiah had wept. It was a miserable end to what had been a promising future when God had first pledged himself to her whom he had given his name. What was left was a city completely destroyed, a people crushed and scattered, a dead Messiah. But all was not lost. Four decades before this most terrible turn of events a rumour had begun to circulate in Jerusalem, wild and intoxicating stuff: The carpenter-cum-messiah from Galilee who they had so readily dismissed and so conveniently and quickly condemned had been seen, alive, apparently, by his followers three days after they had placed his tortured body in a tomb. What’s more, they claimed that they had seen him ascend in a cloud just like Elijah, and that he was now ruling from God’s throne in Heaven. Some of the prominent leaders of this new sect even claimed to have had visions of the place, urging that from the ashes of the old city a new one would emerge. The wedding was still on!
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.”
He has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy
For your ruin is vast as the sea.
“Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?”
Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night
for the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater…
In our watching we watched for a nation which could not save.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners.
The crown has fallen from our head, for Mount Zion lies desolate, jackals prowl over it.
Restore us to yourself, O Lord that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old – unless you have utterly rejected us. (Jeremiah)
Graham is a guest-lecturer at Carmel Bible College, Bristol, UK
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