Was the Announcement of the Destruction of Jerusalem The “Good News of the Kingdom”?
How Was that Good News?
Be sure to read the first installment of this series. Jesus said that the proclamation of the coming destruction of Jerusalem was to be preached into all the world, as a witness to the nations, then comes the end. And, as we noted in the first installment, he called that coming judgment “this gospel of the kingdom.” Jesus called the fall of Jerusalem “this gospel” this “good news!” This is really quite stunning, and raises the question, how could the fall of Jerusalem.
Jesus would go ahead to describe the coming period as the greatest tribulation ever:
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
Dispensationalists appeal to this text to deny that Jesus was talking about the Jewish War. They point to WWII and the Holocaust, pointing out that in WWII over 30 million people perished. They ask, wasn’t that worse than the Jewish War? Well, they fail to see why Jesus could call the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as the greatest tribulation ever.
Kenneth Gentry correct assesses the meaning of Jesus’ words:
In regard to Matthew 24:21 and the great tribulation, Gentry says, “I would argue: first, the covenantal significance of the loss of the temple stands as the most dramatic redemptive-historical outcome of the Jewish War.” (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, (Draper, VA; Apologetics Group, 2009), 347).
In the events of AD 70, the Old Covenant world of Israel came to an end. The Lord’s exclusive covenant relationship with Israel (Amos 3:3f) was terminated. Nothing like this had ever happened; nothing like this will ever happen again! The New Covenant world of Christ that came into full bloom with the dissolution of the Old is eternal. It has no end!
The reality is that the Jewish War was a “good news / bad news” reality. For the New World to come in, the Old World had to pass away. This is why through scripture, when describing the Day of the Lord, the writers speak of it on the one had as a Day to be dreaded (Amos 5:18f) and yet, it would be the Day of Salvation! See my book, Elijah Has Already Come: A Solution to Romans 11:25-27 for a full discussion of this. It is fascinating that so many commentators fail to see that both salvation and judgment come at the same time.
For instance, Kenneth Gentry quoted Thomas Ice in their formal written debate on the Great Tribulation. Ice said:
“A key factor in favor of futurism and literal interpretation is that even if one takes the symbolical approach to the text, the fact that Israel is rescued–not judged–in the Olivet Discourse (except Luke 21:20-24) is unavoidable and thus, a fatal blow to preterism” (Thomas Ice, Great Tribulation Debate, (Kenneth L. Gentry and Thomas Ice, The Great Tribulation Past or Future?, (Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Publications, 1999), 192).
Ice clearly believes that it is an either / or situation but, this is patently false. The Day of the Lord was to be, for the righteous, vindication and salvation. It was to be, for the wicked, the time of destruction– see Matthew 25:31f. To be honest, it is somewhat astounding the so many commentators hold to an “either / or” concept. But, back to the idea that the destruction of Jerusalem was to be “good news.” What was there, in addition to being the time of the destruction of the persecuting power, that was “good news”?
The “good news” was that the nascent body of Christ would be identified as the true people of God.
In the first century, one of the burning, key issues became Who are the true children of God? Who are the true descendants of Abraham?
Jesus had identified his followers as his “brothers and sisters”– his true family (Matthew 12:49-50). That meant that “family” was no longer by blood line and race, but through obedience! This was shattering!
In Acts 3:22-233f, Peter, standing in front of that hostile audience of Jews, had this to say about the necessity of acceptance and obedience Jesus as the Savior:
“For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”
What was Peter doing? He was identifying the True Israel – the true “the people” as those who accepted Jesus! But notice that he warned his audience that those who refused to accept Jesus: “And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” The language here is graphic– “utter destruction” awaited those who rejected Jesus as Messiah!
Those rejecting Jesus would be “utterly destroyed” – which of course happened in AD 70 – but, on the other side of the coin, it meant that with the destruction of the Old People, the True People of God were revealed. The ‘sons of God were manifested” just as Paul predicted in Romans 8:19: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”
What was “creation” longing for? It was waiting for “the manifestation (apocalypsis- the revealing) of the sons of God.” In the mind-set of the ancient world, nothing could have more clearly manifested the identity of the True Israel than the destruction of the very symbol of the Old World, the City and the Temple.
That manifestation of the true sons of God is discussed in 2 Thessalonians 1, a passage that is grossly misapplied to the future.
The church at Thessalonica was being persecuted by the “synagogue of Satan” (Acts 17). But, Paul promised that suffering church that their persecutors would soon have the tables turned on 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, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” (2 Thessalonians 1:6f). The persecuted would be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” Those once in the Presence of the Lord would be cast out! That can only refer to Old Covenant Israel–and no one else.
And, what would be a subsequent and consequent “result” of that coming against the persecutors, other than their judgment? It would be the glorification of Jesus, the vindication of the saints, and thus, the manifestation of the church as the True People of God (see verse 10).
Revelation carries this theme also. Jesus commended the church at Philadelphia for their faithfulness. He said, “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”
Here is the manifestation of the sons of God! Here is the vindication of the saints!
David Chilton noted the irony of Revelation 3: “Those who falsely claim to be Jews are really in the position of the persecuting heathen; (he takes note of Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 60, DKP) and they will be forced to acknowledge the covenantal status of the Church as the inheritor of the promises to Abraham and Moses. The Church is the true Israel.” (David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, (Ft. Worth; Dominion Press, 1987), 128).
And so, throughout the NT we find the promise of the coming vindication of the saints as the True Israel, the True People of God. And that “identification” was to be revealed in the judgment of the persecuting power of the Old People. In covenantal terms, nothing could be more devastating, more revealing, more graphic, and nothing more confirmatory than the destruction of Jerusalem.
For 40 years the early church stated that they were the True Israel because the Messiah had come, and they had accepted him. They were persecuted for that faith, because the historical people of God, Israel by blood, refused to believe that an accursed “man of Galilee” was their anticipated Messiah. But, their brethren repeatedly told them, they preached the message into all the world, that the Old Way was coming to an end. They pointed to Jesus’ prediction in the Olivet Discourse. And when that predicted destruction was so dramatically, undeniably fulfilled, the church was vindicated, glorified, manifested as the “sons of God.
The early church pointed to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction repeatedly in their polemics against the Jews and in their evangelistic work among the pagans. And that message was incredibly effective. So much so that Julian the Apostate, fourth century Roman emperor, who had been raised as a Christian, realizing the evangelistic effectiveness of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, determined to rebuild the temple. He believed that by rebuilding the temple that it would strip the church of one of her most powerful evidences for proving the identify of Jesus. But, his efforts, in spite of the fact that he had the wealth and power of the Roman empire behind him, failed. (See Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire, (New York, Random House, Vol. I), 774f).
One of the great tragedies of the modern Christian church is that it has lost, sometimes on purpose, but, mostly through neglect, the power of the message of “this good news of the kingdom.” The end of the Old Covenant age, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, has been relegated to “local and insignificant” status. After all, as several public debate opponents have said to me, “Why would anyone in Thessalonica, or Athens, or Corinth care about the destruction of a troublemaking Jewish city? Well, as I have countered, why would those same people possibly be interested in the crucifixion of just another Jewish rabble rousing, condemned by both Jewish and Roman courts?
I suggest that is high time- and past- to recover the power of the gospel of the kingdom of the end of the Old Covenant world. That event was the manifestation of the sons of God, and irrefutable, undeniable vindication of Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus himself pointed to that event as the sign of his presence– the sign that he is King of kings and Lord of lords (Matthew 24:30). It is time that the modern church begins once again to proclaim that message of victory, of vindication, of identification, of glorification. That truly is good news! More to come!