We continue without our examination of the doctrine of Blood Atonement and the last days. Be sure to read the previous installments in which I demonstrate how pervasive the doctrine of the avenging of the blood of the martyrs is for understanding eschatology.
Let me summarize my examination of these Old Testament texts.
Number one – They foretold the eschatological consummation, not a typological fulfillment. They foretold the end-of-the-millennium resurrection, the parousia, the destruction of Satan.
In every one of these texts, Israel, Old Covenant Israel after the flesh, is the persecuting power, not a foreign Gentile power. And it is Israel, therefore, that is guilty of shedding all this innocent blood.
Furthermore, vindication is posited in Israel’s last days when Yahweh would judge Israel for her internecine guilt, when He would no longer have mercy on the people that he created.
Notice something very important. Jesus’ teaching on martyr vindication definitively confirms this analysis. Standing in the temple in Matthew 23, delivering the seventh of seven woes on Jerusalem and Israel, Jesus said,
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you build the tombs of the prophets and you adorn the monuments of the righteous, and you say, if we had been alive in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets; therefore, you are witnesses against yourselves that you were the sons of those who murdered the prophets, fill up then the measure of your father’s guilt. Therefore, behold, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men and scribes, some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you slew between the temple and the altar.” Now notice, “Assuredly,” amen lego humin, “assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
But, this is not all that Jesus had to say about martyr vindication. During his ministry, martyr vindication was, in fact, a major theme. In Matthew 21, he told the parable of the vineyard, and servants sent to the gather of the harvest, the servants were persecuted, and the master sent out his armies, if you will, and he came and miserably destroyed those evil men.
Matthew 22 – A man made a great wedding feast for his son. He sent out the servants to call those who had been invited. They were mistreated and killed. The master sent out his armies, destroyed those wicked men and burned their city.
Luke 13:33-34 – Jesus, being warned not to go to Jerusalem because Herod would kill him, said, It is not possible that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem.”
In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the importunate widow who cried out for vengeance, ekdikeesis, which is the key word for martyr vindication. And Jesus poses the question, “Will not God avenge his servants who cry out to him day and night?” Mattill said some time ago, “It’s impossible to read Revelation 6:9f, without hearing the echo of Luke 18.” And I agree with that assessment. (A. J. Mattill, Luke and the Last Things, (Dillsboro, NC; Western North Carolina Press, 1979), 94).
Notice that Jesus said, “Assuredly I say to you He will avenge them speedily – Greek term, en tachei. En tachei never – let me emphasize this– en tachei never emphasizes rapidity of action as opposed to imminence of occurrence. Never in some seven occurrences in the New Testament. Thus, Jesus affirmed the objectively imminent vindication of the martyrs, at his coming.
With Jesus’ emphatic teaching on martyr vindication echoing in our hearts and minds therefore, notice what Paul says as he wrote to the Thessalonica church being persecuted for their faith. He said to them, “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who are troubling you and to give to you who are being troubled, rest (anesis) when the Lord is revealed from heaven…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of the Lord. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
You might ask yourself, who is the only people who ever dwelt in the presence of the Lord, but would be cast out for persecuting the true seed? It’s a relevant question.
I want you to notice some firm facts. Jesus said the Jews would persecute his followers, his apostles and prophets, filling up the measure of their sin, and, filling up the measure of suffering on the part of his followers. Judgment would fall on the Jews in the first century. Paul said Christ was about to come in judgment of, “those who are troubling you.” That was the Jews. Go back to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. Who was, through that persecution, filling up the measure of their sin by persecuting the Christians? It was undeniably Old Covenant Israel. And note that they were persecuting Jesus’ apostles and prophets, just like Jesus said in Matthew 23.
Now watch. Clearly, Jesus could not give the Thessalonian church relief from their then ongoing persecution, if the Thessalonians would not be alive at the time of Christ’s coming. You cannot give somebody relief from something at your coming if they are not enduring that at the time of your coming. It’s impossible.
2 Thessalonians 1 is about the fulfillment of Matthew 23. And, I suggest, as many of these men agree, by the way, Jesus did come in judgment of Israel for persecuting Christ and the “True Seed” in AD70 in vindication of all of the blood of all of the martyrs shed on the earth.
Remember that Paul said his gospel was nothing but the hope of Israel found in the law and the prophets. And Paul’s promise of martyr vindication and judgment of the persecutors in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 is a direct citation, a direct quote, of the Septuagint of Isaiah 2:19, which predicted what? The last days, Day-of-the-Lord judgment of Jerusalem for her blood guilt, just like Isaiah 26 and 27 predicted the vindication at the end-of-the-millennium resurrection when God would destroy the persecuting city, the altar and the people that he had created.
Now notice this. The Old Testament foretold that Israel would fill the measure of her blood guilt in her last days, as we have seen. In Matthew 23, the measure of Israel’s sin and the martyrs’ suffering was to be filled in the first century in the killing of Jesus’ apostles and prophets.
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul said Israel was filling up the measure of her sin by killing the apostles and prophets.
Now watch this. In 1 Corinthians 4:9, a text that has perplexed scholars for forever, Paul said, “I think that God has set forth us, the apostles last of all, as men condemned to death.”
Johanne Munck said, Paul was an ego-maniac, or he was crazy. (Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, (Richmond; John Knox, 1959), 38+.)
No, Paul was not crazy. He understood Jesus’ prediction that the measure of eschatological suffering had to be filled up in that generation, just as he said in Colossians 1:24 says, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” You mean to tell me Jesus didn’t suffer enough? No, Jesus suffered enough, but there was a measure of sin and suffering to be filled up.
Notice this. Revelation perfectly carries through all of these motifs. The measure of sin and suffering is a central theme of the book of Revelation that was to be filled. How? By the killing of the apostles and prophets of Jesus. This is the “rest of the dead” of Revelation 20. I suggest to you that this definitively delimits the end of the millennium to the first century.
Now our Old Testament texts posited vindication at the judgment of Israel in her last days. Likewise, Jesus emphatically posited vindication for his generation and the judgment of Jerusalem. I suggest that Matthew 23 is normative and paradigmatic. Paul agreed with Matthew 23.
To suggest, therefore, that the end-of-the-millennium resurrection, the filling up of the measure of sin and the martyr vindication, is yet future, it is necessary to divorce Revelation 20 from all prior discussions of the vindication of the martyrs. I find no justification for that. Jesus’ “this generation” delimits all of the “at hand” and “a little while” statements; it means we can’t take “a little while” in some vague, nebulous elastic, plastic sense of, “Well, that’s God’s time and not ours.” No, it’s Jesus’ “this generation.” (See my Who Is This Babylon? for one of the fullest discussions of the temporal statements of imminence to be found. In this study, I examine all of the major arguments that are offered to negate the objective imminence of the “at hand” statements, and show them to be untenable. Biblically, when God communicated time words, those words were used in a concrete, objective sense. (Don K. Preston, Who Is This Babylon?, (Ardmore, Ok., JaDon Management Inc., 2007).
Look very carefully.
Jesus said Old Covenant Jerusalem killed the prophets, they would kill him, they would kill his apostles and prophets. In fact, in Jerusalem was to be found all of the blood shed on the earth in killing the apostles and prophets. That would fill up the measure of sin, and Israel would be judged in his generation.
What did Paul say in 1 Thessalonians 2? It was Jerusalem that had killed the prophets in the past, and they had now killed Jesus. They were killing Jesus’ apostles and prophets. In doing so, they were filling up the measure of their sin. Judgment was about to fall. The language of 1 Thessalonians 2:16 is very graphic.
Now notice Revelation. Babylon, the harlot – and by the way, in a great new book, Steven Temple points out that in the Bible, a harlot is not simply an immoral woman. It is a wife who has broken a covenant bond, a covenant relationship. (Steven Temple, Who Was The Mother of Harlots Drunk With the Blood of the Saints? (Ardmore, Ok., JaDon Management Inc.2012). See also Sebastian Smolarz, Covenant and the Metaphor of Divine Marriage in Biblical Thought, (Eugene, Or.; Wipf and Stock, 2011). That excludes literal Babylon in Iraq. It excludes Rome. It excludes the Roman Catholic church.
Babylon the harlot had done what? She had killed the Old Testament prophets (Revelation 16:6). It is where the Lord was slain. And, she had killed the apostles and prophets of Jesus: “And in her was found all the blood shed on the earth,” a direct echo of Matthew 23. And, of course, judgment was near.
I suggest, therefore; that to identify Babylon as Rome, as does Beale, (Beale identifies “Babylon” as Rome, the pagan powers that persecuted (persecutes) the faithful, and even throws in Old Covenant Jerusalem. (Greg Beale, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids; Paternoster, 1999), 884+), or “the present evil age” as Strimple does, (Robert Strimple in, Three Views of The Millennium and Beyond, Stanley Grundy series editor, Darrel Bock, general editor. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1999)271) one must divorce John from Jesus and Paul. Babylon was Jerusalem. I highly recommend Kenneth Gentry’s book, Before Jerusalem Fell (Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, (Fountain Inn, SC; Victorious Hope Publishing, 1998), and my, Who Is This Babylon? for more on that.