Anno Domini 70
January 15, 2017
This all sounds like end-of-the-world stuff. But it’s not. Jesus is not talking about the end of the world or about his second coming. He is talking about the end of Israel - the end of her special relationship with God.
Israel came to an end because she sinned against God and turned away from him. Her relationship with God ended in the year 70 AD. This is after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension. This is after everything that happened in the book of Acts. So what happened in 70 AD? That year the Roman Empire destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple. It was a crucial event in history. It was the end of Israel’s sinful relationship with God. And it went exactly as Jesus said it would.
Imagine the temple left in ruin, its stones broken and scattered on the ground. Imagine an entire city burned to the ground. Picture a sky darkened by smoke and ash. And picture many people suffering and dying. This destruction came as a consequence of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. They crucified him and humiliated him. And so their end had come.
But that was 70 AD. If you rewind about forty years from 70 AD, then you get to today’s Scripture text. Jesus told his disciples that Israel’s end would come, and he told them the signs that would help them know it was time. The signs were persecution, war, earthquakes, famines, pestilences (diseases) and terrors. All of these things happened. Stephen was persecuted and stoned to death. The early churches had to deal with false christs. Paul and others were jailed and stood before government officials. There were earthquakes and international war and terrible hunger and diseases. All these signs came true. And then Israel fell in 70 AD.
But notice how Christ shepherds his people. Jesus told his disciples what to expect because he loved them. He prepared them and gave them encouragement. They were going to face scary things. And they were going to see the end of Israel with their very own eyes. But the Lord said that he would be with them. He promised that he would give them the words to say when faced with synagogues and prisons and kings and governors. He promised them endurance and eternal life. He said, “You will be delivered up even by family members, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Those were his words. Jesus also told them to flee when Jerusalem was destroyed. He told them to stay alert and to be prayerful, to straighten up and to raise their heads. He told them not be worldly. And, last but not least, he told them that his words were true. He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This is Christ shepherding his people.
Look at how wonderful Jesus is! What a loving shepherd! Hear his comforting words of assurance. Feel his strong protection over his disciples. In the midst of Israel’s bad ending, Jesus’s disciples could look forward to a good ending. Simply put, Jesus took care of his people. Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
But Jesus is not just a loving shepherd. He is also a mighty avenger. Remember: why was Jerusalem destroyed? It was destroyed because Israel rejected Christ. The Jewish people made him suffer unjustly. And they crucified him. This is called humiliation. They thought that Jesus was not the Messiah. But his resurrection and ascension meant that they were wrong. And his destruction of Jerusalem meant that they would pay.
Praise be to Jesus for his vengeance on the wicked. The bad guys suffer his judgment. Those who reject him do not survive his power and glory.
But Jesus is not just a mighty avenger. He is also an exalted king. He told his disciples that the powers of the heavens will be shaken and that they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. That cloud talk is about his exaltation. It’s language that comes from the book of Daniel. Jesus ascended and sat at the right hand of God the Father. This means that Jesus has full authority and total power and absolute glory and unstoppable honor. This is his exaltation as a king.
Praise be to Jesus Christ! He is exalted! All power and honor and glory belongs to him! He is the exalted king of kings and lord of lords! Let us bow down before him and worship and love the king!
Let us get back to the end of Israel. Many Christians don’t think it’s a big deal. 70 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple - who cares? What does it have to do with me? The answer is shocking: if you are a Gentile (a person who is not Jewish by blood), then Israel’s end means everything to you.
In Romans 9-11, Paul tells us that Israel’s end was God’s plan. In fact, God hardened Israel’s heart (like how he hardened Pharaoh’s heart) so that her relationship with him would end. Israel’s end had a reason. Her relationship with God ended so that other people - the Gentiles - would on a wide scale be able to have a relationship with him. This is shocking and leaves us who are Gentiles silent.
Imagine an olive tree with branches. Israel is the branches. But God cuts off the branches of Israel because they reject Christ. Then imagine God taking branches from another tree, a different tree, and attaching them to the olive tree. Those other branches are the Gentiles. That’s us. This is the picture that Paul gives in Romans. God ordained that Israel would reject Christ and be destroyed so that salvation would come in fullness to the Gentiles. And so the sad tragedy of Israel had a mysterious and humbling purpose: to bring salvation to the whole world.
Paul tells us to think about it. We should note the severity of God toward those who have fallen. We should note God’s kindness and grace toward us. Let us be humbled and in awe of God’s grace. Let us not take our salvation for granted.
Instead, let us worship God and be in awe as Paul was. He put it like this: “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how unfathomable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
I will now close. Remember this: Jesus wept for Jerusalem. He wept for the souls of those who would reject him and suffer in hell. Jesus wept for them. So did the Apostle Paul. And so should we. Brothers and sisters, let us be heartbroken and weep for the lost. Don’t look down on non-believers. We are no better than them. But we do have a better future and a better king. Let us weep because people do not acknowledge Christ’s exaltation. They want their own exaltation. This is a tragedy. Let us be compelled to pray and evangelize for Jesus. Let’s do this as a church. We are living in the last chapter of history. Time is running out and Jesus is coming back soon. We don’t know when. But we know that there will be no sign or warning. Jesus will one day come suddenly and swiftly. So let us weep for the lost and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.