Thomas Thayer: Why do the New Testament writers so frequently speak of the destruction of Jerusalem?

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Why, indeed, should the destruction of Jerusalem be regarded as of such immense moment, that Christ and his apostles should be continually speaking of it, especially when we consider the nature, and object, and solemn importance of the cause in which they were engaged?


Why do the New Testament writers so frequently speak of the destruction of Jerusalem?

By Rev. Thomas B. Thayer
Printed in Analysis and Confutation of Miller’s Theory of the End of the World
1840


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It has long been a matter of surprise that so many passages of the New Testament are applied to the destruction of Jerusalem ; and not a few have seriously and honestly questioned whether there is anything in the history of this event and its consequences, to justify such applications. The charge is often advanced, that every passage which speaks of punishment, or judgment, every threatening and denunciation, is immediately, when difficult of explanation on any other ground, referred to the overthrow of the Jews, and the destruction of their city and temple. In view of this supposed proceeding, the question is put,—Do you think the destruction of Jerusalem an event of sufficient importance to call for such frequent mention as it receives, if your expositions be correct ? Do you not candidly think that more ‘is said on this subject than we have reason to expect would be said in writings of so strictly religious a character as those of the New Testament ? Why, indeed, should the destruction of Jerusalem be regarded as of such immense moment, that Christ and his apostles should be continually speaking of it, especially when we consider the nature, and object, and solemn importance of the cause in which they were engaged? Is it reasonable to suppose, when they had before them the mighty work of evangelizing and saving the world, that they would so very often step aside to talk of an event of so little consequence compared with this? These are certainly questions which those differently from us in our view of scriptural interpretation in reference to this subject, have an undoubted right to ask, and to which we are under obligations to return candid and respectful answers. It will be the object of this article, as far as practicable, to furnish such answers, after two or three preliminary remarks.

First : We do not apply every passage to the destruction of Jerusalem, which contains anything of threatened punishment or judgment. It is granted that we o so apply very many portions of Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, which other Christian believers refer to events and circumstances of the spirit-world ; but in no case is such application made, unless authorized by the context, phraseology, or accompanying facts. . ,

Second: Although, according to,the interpretation in review, the destruction of Jerusalem is often spoken of by the New Testament writers, yet it will be .found, upon examination, that they have not mentioned it’ more frequently than have the Old Testament writers the destruction of Babylon, and of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the desolations of Egypt, Idumea, &c. The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and some of the minor prophets, abound in allusions to these events; nor do they allude to them only, but large portions of their prophecies are wholly made up of terrific descriptions of the overthrow and ruin which were coming upon these places. We would call the reader’s attention to this point. The objection is, that it is unreasonable to suppose that the New Testament writers would have made such  constant mention of the destruction of Jerusalem as they must have done, if our application of these passages be correct: the event does not seem of sufficient importance. If there be any force in the objection, and the difficulty be a real one, it lies with equal weight against the Old Testament prophecies named, and we shall be obliged to give a new interpretation to them, on the ground that the events to which they refer are not of sufficient consequence to justify such constant and repeated mention. And it is a fact worthy of notice, which every one will discover on examination, that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, with all the passages that we apply to it, is not even then spoken of, the half so many times as the first destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, the desolation of Babylon, Idumea, &c.

Third: It is to be remembered that there are four Gospels, three of .which are records of the same history, and therefore repeat the same facts. The parallel passages are not therefore to be regarded as separate examples of the mention of this event; for, in so doing, we should swell the number three times above its true value. The Epistles are written by different authors, who would therefore multiply the allusions beyond what they would be, if these letters were written by one author, and addressed to the same person or persons. A similar remark may be made of Paul’s Epistles. Writing to different churches on nearly the same subjects, he would he very likely to make the same references and introduce the same illustrations. He would allude to this judgment in exhorting and warning,r the Romans ; and, writing to the Corinthians, Ephesians, &c., he would naturally fall into the same allusions in his exhortations to them. A remarkable illustration of this repetition of references to the same judgment may be found by comparing 2 Pet. ii. 4-10, with Jude 5-10. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that, in speaking and writing at different times to different people, there should be a repetition of references and allusions to the event under consideration.

Fourth : It should be observed that the objection before us assumes that all the passages applied by us to the destruction of Jerusalem,refer to it simply and only as the destruction of a city and its temple, independent of the consequences which followed from it. But this is too narrow a view of the. subject. It is not to be considered, like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as a solitary and insulated event, beginning and ending in itself; but as one whose important results were to be extended far and wide, and Whose influences, in other respects, were to he felt far down the march of coming time. And it will be found that it is on this ground—the consequences growing out of this event, and not the mere destruction of the city—that a majority, perhaps, of the expressions having allusion to it, are to be interpreted and understood .

We shall now proceed to set forth some facts which may serve to aid in furnishing an answer to the inquiry,—Why do the Saviour and his apostles speak so frequently of the destruction of Jerusalem?

1. The great spiritual privileges enjoyed by the Jews, and the tremendous judgments which were to fall on them in the destruction of their city and temple, for the abuse of these, would naturally lead to frequent allusion in the way of comparison and exhortation. Jerusalem was the chosen city of God, or, in other words, the city of his chosen people,-——a people who had been for ages entrusted with his holy oracles, and to whom he had especially revealed himself as the true and only God. They were, and had been for a long series of ages, the only repositories of divine truth, while other nations had gone astray like lost sheep. For them God had raised up holy men as leaders and teachers, who, by the stupendous miracles which he enabled them to perform, astonished and confounded their enemies. Prophet after prophet came to them, and, as with the voice of Jehovah, delivered unto them his promises and warnings; and brought them out of their errors and darkness, and the miserable degradation to which their rebellious and sinful conduct had reduced them, and. pointed out to them the way of righteousness and peace. And, lastly, he had sent unto them first his son Jesus, the promised Messiah, that they might hearken unto him, and enter into his kingdom. Great and continued as were these favors, they had proved themselves unworthy and ungrateful. Their leaders they refused to obey, their prophets they killed, their wise men they stoned, and Jesus they crucified ! And, now, the day of judgment and retribution was at hand. They who had been so blessed, were now to be cast out of the kingdom into outer darkness ; the city that had been chosen, the temple that had been favored, to use their own strong language, with the very presence of God—over these the besom of destruction was to sweep, until not one stone should be left upon another; and the wretched people were to be scattered like chaff to the winds of heaven.

Here then is one reason why the sacred writers regarded the destruction of Jerusalem as an event of great interest, and would be likely to allude frequently to it.  It was a tremendous change for a people who had been thus highly blessed of God, to be utterly cast off; for a city that had been, as it were, exalted to heaven, to be to us fearfully thrust down to hell. It was an event which might well occupy their thoughts, and to which we might expect them often to refer in their exhortations to others, as proof that righteousness and fidelity alone can secure the continued favor and protection of God.

2. An important consequence following the destruction of Jerusalem, was the abolition of the old or Mosaic dispensation, and the establishment of the gospel, or new dispensation ; which is another reason why the New Testament writers should frequently allude to this event. It is a fact of considerable moment, and one which should be kept in mind in reading the Scriptures, that the reign of Christ. or the gospel dispensation, commenced, not with his birth, nor when he entered upon his public ministry, but when the Mosaic age closed and the law dispensation was abolished; and this did not take place until the destruction of the city and temple, and the consequent breaking up of the daily sacrifice and ceremonial worship. Then the Christian age was to open, then Christ was to come in his kingdom, and the gospel was to be established in the earth. Now, an event which was to be followed with consequences so important to his followers, and of such immense interest to the world, would most assuredly occupy many of their thoughts, and it is almost a matter of necessity that they should speak of it and write of it frequently. It could not well have been otherwise; for, if Christ and his apostles were constituted like other men, they could not have been indifferent or silent in regard to an event fraught with such mighty consequences.

Let us have an illustration. Suppose the‘ Protestants of Italy, and other Catholic countries of Europe, should receive positive assurance, and that from a divinely commissioned person, that before the present generation shall pass away, the city of Rome will be utterly destroyed. and in connexion with, and consequent upon, this, the Catholic religion and the authority of the Pope will be entirely and forever abolished. and the Protestant faith established as the religion of Heaven. What would be the conduct of the Protestants in such a case? Would they be wholly silent in regard to the overthrow of Rome, and the important results depending upon it, or would they be likely continually to speak of it and write of it? But one answer can be given to these questions. Another illustration nearer to our own feelings, will help us to understand the situation of Christ and his disciples more directly and clearly. Suppose we were informed, on the same authority, that during the lifetime of some now on earth, the various systems of false doctrines which pervade our land will be completely overthrown, and abolished, and our own holy faith set up with power, and with the acknowledged approbation .of Heaven; and all this to be announced by some signal judgment upon the followers of these false doctrines, which judgment itself is to be the agent in this great and wonderful revolution ; the question to be asked is, Should we say much concerning this event? Should we speak of it in our discourses, and mention it in our letters? Most certainly we should; in all our conversation we should make mention of it; we should enlarge upon it in our sermons and addresses; and whenever we wrote to a friend, we should find place to speak of it, however foreign from it might be the subject on which we were writing. But if the letter or epistle were expressly a religious one, treating of the doctrines and the prospects of our faith, how often should we speak of it, how often allude to that foretold event which was to bring about this glorious revolution, closing the age of error, and opening the reign of truth ! And if our letters should afterward he collected together, would any one, reading them and knowing the circumstances, be surprised at the number of allusions to this event ? Certainly, not; but he would be very much surprised if he did not find it so,—if he did not find frequent allusions to an event so deeply affecting the interests of our cause.

The case of the New Testament writers, in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem, was precisely similar to these supposed cases, saving only that, from their circumstances, it must have had for them a deeper and more intense interest. That event was to end the Jewish age, to abolish the Jewish church and dispensation, and upon their ruins to erect the kingdom and church of Christ, the glorious temple of Christianity.  Hence, with a peculiar emphasis, the Saviour and his apostles speak of this great change; and it were strange indeed if they did not. Some few examples in illustration of this, will now be given. After describing the signs which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, the Saviour proceeds: “When ye see these things come to pass. know ye that the kingdom of God is high at hand. Verily I say unto you, this generation s all not pass away till all be fulfilled,” Luke xxi, 31, 32.— The parable of the sheep and goats is an example‘: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory,” &c. He then proceeds to describe the casting out of his enemies the Jews, and the establishment of his followers in the gospel kingdom. To the former he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels;” and to the latter, “ Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for on from the foundation of the world.” All this—the sitting upon his throne, or the setting up of his kingdom or religion, the punishing of his enemies, and the inheriting of the kingdom by his followers,—was to take place when he should come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him; and when this took place, is seen in the following: “ The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works.— Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Matt. xvi. 27, 28. These passages need no comment; they are plain allusions to the judgment coining upon the Jews, and, in connexion with this, to the establishment of the gospel kingdom, and the prosperity of its subjects. See also the parable of the Tares of the field, where the Saviour sets forth the same truth: that in the end of that world, or at the close of that age or dispensation, viz. that of the law, his enemies would be destroyed, and then his followers would “ shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father;” Matt. xiii. 36—43. i. e. in the gospel kingdom, as its public and successful preachers.

3. Another reason why the New Testament writers attach so much importance to, and so often speak of, the destruction of Jerusalem, is the fact that it was to terminate the violent persecutions which the followers of Christ were suffering at the hands of the Jews. It is not necessary that we should proceed at length to show that the Jews were the most bitter and untiring enemies of the first Christians ; every one, who is at all conversant with the gospel-histories and the Acts of the Apostles, has already learned this fact. In this view, then, we see at once that the followers of Christ would certainly look forward to the destruction of Jerusalem with no small anxiety ; not merely because it was the destruction of the city, but because it was to take from their enemies the power of doing them farther injury. The overthrow of their city and temple was to be followed by the overthrow of all their power and influence ; they were, as Christ ad predicted, to be given to the devouring famine, to the sword, and to captivity; their country was to be made a desolation, and oppression and suffering were to be their future inheritance. This event, therefore, was to the Christians one of the deepest personal interest; it was to bring them deliverance from their cruel persecutors, who were to be scattered as chaff to the winds of heaven. It was to them a d :y of salvation and freedom, in which they would be permitted once more to breathe the air of heaven unmolested. Surely, then, there was every reason why they should often speak of an event fraught with such important consequences to them; and we should expect that, when laboring and sinking under the oppressions and persecutions of the Jews, the apostles would encourage their brethren with the promise of deliverance, would often allude to that judgment which was to fall in ruin upon their enemies, while it brought to them rest and peace.

Let us again resort to illustration. The story of unhappy Poland, the wicked oppressions and cruel sufferings heaped upon her children, are known the world over. Suppose they could be assured that in five, or in ten years from this time, the empire and power of their oppressors would be utterly and irretrievably overthrown, and themselves consequently delivered from their iron grasp, redeemed from their merciless bondage, and restored, the slave to liberty and the exile to his country——suppose they could be assured of this; would not the mention of it be on every tongue every day, and almost every hour? And would they not encourage each other to bear awhile longer, seeing that the day of wrath to their tyrants, and freedom to themselves, was at hand? It would indeed be so; their allusions to this coming judgment would be innumerable; and where is the wonder, then, that the poor persecuted Christians should often speak of the destruction of Jerusalem,which was an event of precisely this character, bringing ruin to their oppressors and deliverance to themselves?    T.B.T.