- WARNING: Desperation of the elite: “And many false prophets will arise and will deceive many” (Mt 24:11). In the case of the fall of national Israel, there were those religious leaders in the society as there were in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah. They cry out “Peace! Peace!” However, there was no peace. In other words, deceived religious leaders who are participating in the social and financial benefits of the collapsing society have no desire that their profits come to an end. This was the social and economic situation among the Jews at the time of the end of Israel.
James wrote about three years before the fall of Jerusalem. He wrote to a Jewish audience, specifically in reference to the rich Sadducean Jews among whom many Jewish disciples were exploited. As he wrote concerning the rich Sadduceans of national Israel throughout the Jewish diaspora (Js 1:2), he reminded them that they were about to lose all they had.
“Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded. And their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days” (Js 5:1-3).
The rich Sadducean Jews had “despised the poor” (Js 2:6). They had exploited the poor farmers for their own benefit (Js 5:4). Therefore, the judgment of God was coming upon them in the consummation of the economy in which they had reaped their wealth.
The judgment about which both Jesus and James wrote was not something that was going to transpire over two thousand years after both prophets spoke their words of judgment. James comforted his Jewish readers in A.D. 67 with the words: “You [faithful disciples] also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near” (Js 5:8). This was the coming of the Lord in time in judgment on unbelieving Israel. The judgment was near. James’ readers in A.D. 67 could be comforted by these words because relief from their exploitation by the rich Sadducean Jews was near. It was the same coming in judgment that brought relief to the poor among the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of Amos.
- WARNING: Willful violation of covenant laws: “Lawlessness will abound” (Mt 24:12). In a society that forsakes social norms by which relationships are controlled, “law abiding citizens” become rare, and oppressed. In a liberal society that seeks to be free from the restrictions of law, the people become a law unto themselves (See Jr 10:23). When Divine law is rejected, society seeks to establish its own moral standards of conduct, and thus, in relation to the law of God, they become lawless.
The audience of Jesus in reference to the prophecy of Matthew 24 was specifically the Jews. There was certainly lawlessness in the society of the Jewish insurrectionists as they rose up against the Roman Empire. It was this lawlessness that eventually led to the destruction of national Israel. But in view of what James prophesied, there was great lawlessness among the Jews themselves concerning the Sinai law. For example, James mentioned lawlessness in reference to the exploitation of the poor farmers by the rich Sadducean elite: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who have mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out against you” (Js 5:4). This lawlessness among the Jews themselves led to the rise of the rich Sadducean elite who exploited the poor. The times for the consummation of national Israel in the last half of the first century were the same as the final years of both the northern kingdom of Israel in 722/21 B.C. and the southern kingdom in 586 B.C.
[More Matthew 24 warnings in next post.]