B. Key Contexts:
In this study it has been our purpose to select key texts of Scripture to study in their historical context. We have done this in order to discover God’s revelation concerning “in time,” as well as “end of time” judgments. Everything that God brings to an end in time is a promise, or certainty, that He will do the same at the end of time.
In studying judgment subjects in the Bible, we have discovered that several things influenced the writers and readers in the historical setting in which God brought things to a conclusion. Understanding these historical settings has helped us to understand the inspired letters of the New Testament that were written to the first readers who experienced social chaos in history when God brought dispensations to a close. The following circumstances that greatly influenced both the writing and the fulfillment of prophecy helps us better understand that finalities are yet to come:
1. The Jewish persecution of the church continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This persecution not only influenced the evangelization of the first century world, but it also influenced the content of the letters that were written to the early disciples.
We must not underestimate the influence of this persecution that was unleashed on the early disciples as they went from city to city preaching the gospel of the messiahship of the Son of God. The persecution of the early disciples is illustrated by what Paul said of his own life before he responded to the gospel: “I persecuted this Way [the church] to the death, binding and delivering both men and women into prisons” (At 22:4). In Paul’s case, he, the persecutor, went from persecuting to being the persecuted.
Embedded in the thinking of the early persecuted Christians was the hope that God would always deliver the church as a whole, though some individual saints would succumb to death as a result of the persecution. Nevertheless, God gave the church as a whole encouragement to endure through hard times of persecution. For example, John encouraged the saints of the church of Smyrna who were bearing the persecution of the state of Rome:
“Do not fear those things that you will suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested. And you will have tribulations ten days. Be faith unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10).
2. The imminent end of national Israel was prophesied by Jesus and fulfilled in the first century. As the early evangelists went forth, the imminent end of national Israel was on their minds and in their message. It was the fullness of time and all prophecies in reference to the purpose for which God establish a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai were coming to fulfillment. After His resurrection, and immediately before His ascension and coronation, Jesus reminded His disciples the following:
“These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, concerning Me” (Lk 24:44).
One of these prophecies concerning Jesus was His coronation and reign from the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords. On the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, Peter proclaimed that this prophecy was fulfilled, for Jesus was reigning as King on David’s throne at the time Peter and the apostles spoke on that day (See At 2:25-33). The fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Jesus’ kingdom reign meant the end of the kings of national Israel on earth. It thus meant the end of national Israel. The apostles took this same message into all the world of the Jews to whom they went to proclaim the gospel. They prepared their fellow Jews for the finality of national Israel. Though they did not know the time of the end, they knew and preached that the was coming.
The early evangelists also took the message of Jesus that was recorded in Matthew 24. Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 was an encouragement to those who suffered from the persecution of the Jews. The persecuted saints knew that God would eventually bring down judgment on national Israel because of Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.
The end of Israel would also be a sign to the Jews that God had fulfilled His purpose for calling the nation into a special covenant relationship. The purpose for Israel was to preserve a segment of society through which the incarnate Son of God could be introduced into the world. But once the Son came, and completed the atoning sacrifice, then there was no more the need for a special nation of people as Israel. The social vehicle through whom the Savior was introduced into the world passed away.
The Jews only recourse when God completed His purpose through Israel, therefore, was to turn to Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. There was no salvation in Jewish nationalism. They had to accept Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who came into the world to establish a new covenant with everyone who would obey the gospel (See Hb 10:5-10).
Because many Bible students have historically failed to understand the prophesied purpose and end of national Israel in the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the incarnation of the Son of God, they have failed to do justice to the historical events that surround the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan of redemption in Jesus Christ.
Because of this, some Bible students would do well to be cautious about referring to those books that do not emphasize the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The destruction of Jerusalem and national Israel was a major historical event in the history of the world, and particularly in the lives of the Jews.
Those were times in which God intended to terminate forever the nation of Israel through the establishment of a new covenant of grace. Since most of the early Christians were Jews, we would expect that the New Testament would contain many references, both directly and indirectly, that refer to the finalization of Israel. These are the contexts that need further study, especially in these times when the religious world seems to be burdened with a host of prognosticators with their end-of-times prophecies.
3. State persecution by the Roman government would rise in the first century from the personal obsessions of Nero, Caesar of Rome. By the end of the first century, this persecution would become dominant through other Caesars of the Roman Empire. State persecution in the latter part of the first century would be a major force of evil against the preaching of the gospel throughout the Roman controlled world. In particular, the book of Revelation was written to give comfort to Christians who suffered from state persecution that began the latter part of the first century but extended into the second.
God would eventually bring judgment upon the Roman state for her persecution of the flock of God. The early Christians, therefore, were given comfort in the fact that state persecution would not continue against the church throughout the centuries to come.
[Next in series: July 7]