TEMPLE DESTRUCTION AND FINAL JUDGMENT (1)

PMW 2018-080 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The destruction of the temple in AD 70 not only points to the judgment of God on Israel, but also pictures the judgment of God on the world at the Last Day. We can see this in many ways, one of which is by understanding the temple structure itself — and how it’s meaning pictures the future end of the world.

As noted in previous articles on this site, I am currently working on a commentary on Matt. 21–25 (see conclusion of article below). This section forms a discrete literary unit in Matthew’s Gospel in which we find the Olivet Discourse as its climax. In this commentary I will be demonstrating that the Discourse opens with a prophecy of judgment against the Temple in AD 70, which ends the old covenant era, but then shifts to the Final Judgment of the world, which ends the new covenant era (and history itself). Those who limit all prophecy-fulfillment to AD 70 effectively promote a Jesus who is a Jewish sage, not realizing the fullness of his ministry and the significance of the Olivet Discourse. [1]

In this three-article series I will very briefly offer an interesting insight into the fact that the temple’s judgment not only serves as a judgment on Israel, but also pictures the final judgment upon all nations. But before I do that, I must note the biblical structure of redemptive-history.

Two-stage schema of history

We should understand that Matthew’s Gospel (and other NT writings) presents a two-stage schema of history. And as Bible-believing Christians we should note the appropriateness of dividing all of history into two eras: Before Christ and Anno Domini ( “in the year of our Lord”). [2] This is clearly expressed by Heb. 1:1–2: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2a). And is expected in Matt. 11:11–12.

Consequently, we must distinguish the former days from the latter days. The former days are the days of redemptive preparation and prophetic expectation for the coming of the kingdom of God. The latter days are the days of prophetic fulfillment and redemptive conclusion in the establishing and spreading of the kingdom of God on earth (Mark 1:15). Our current redemptive-historical era, then, is known as “the last days” (Isa. 2:2–4; Mic. 4:1; Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; 2 Pet. 3:3). And as appropriate to a period known as “the last days,” we should expect a “Last Day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48).


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This two-part, macro scheme of history lies behind Christ’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse. This climactic discourse in his teaching ministry deals with Israel’s judgment at the conclusion of the former days, the old covenant era (Matt. 24:4–34). It then shifts to the world’s judgment at the Last Day, the conclusion of the historical new covenant era (Matt. 25:31–46). The shift is made at Matt. 24:36 (which I will abundantly argue in my commentary on Matt. 21–25).

The rationale of Final Judgment

But another unfortunate error of some interpreters involves the rationale of the Final Judgment pictured in Matt. 25:31–46. They trip over Jesus’ teaching, when he says:

“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Matt. 25:37–40).

Despite popular opinion, this does not focus on general moral behavior or social engagement. That is, it is not establishing the standard of judgment as social concern that operates by giving aid to the needy (vv. 35–36). Though these are certainly Christian values, they are not the contextual point of the Final Judgment scene presented here. I will briefly consider the flow of Matthew as I prepare to look at the temple’s destruction as being a pointer to the destruction of the world at the Final Judgment (which I will get to in my next article).

In Matt. 10:5 and 15:24 Jesus specifically limits the focus of his earthly ministry to the Jews in Palestine, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” forbidding his disciples to “go in the way of the Gentiles.” But then at the end of his ministry, he radically redirects his outreach program when he establishes his global mission through his Great Commission: “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Of course, Jesus is not trying one plan, then another, as a hit-or-miss operation. Rather, this two-step understanding is per Old Testament prophetic expectation and is thus his ultimate plan all along.

The Final Judgment in Matt. 25 focuses its particular attention on the long-range, ongoing program of the gospel message through the new covenant. Jesus’ standard of evaluation (Matt. 25:37–40, see above) focuses on how the nations will receive Jesus’ missionaries in history. Note:

First, Jesus’ focus. For Jesus’ current purpose, the Final Judgment as presented here expressly focuses on the Gentiles (plural Gk. ethnoi). Thus, the Greek ethnoi in Matt. 25:31 refers to “Gentiles.” In the Septuagint (LXX) ethnoi is commonly applied to the people outside of Israel, people not descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For example, we see this Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Exo. 23:27; 33:16; Deut. 7:6–7; Psa. 2:1; Psa. 9:17, 19; 22:27; 110:6; Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:2; Jer. 46:28; etc., etc. [3] This is true in the New Testament, as well (Matt. 4:15; 10:5, 18; Mark 10:33, 42; 13:10; Luke 3:32; 21:24; etc.).


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Second, Jesus’ people. In the Final Judgment scene, the reference to “these brothers [Gk. adelphoi] of mine” (Matt. 25:40) speaks of Christians, not generically to unbelievers in the world among the “family of man.” In fact, Matthew’s Gospel speaks of spiritual “brothers” as the Christian community (rather than simply to biological brothers in the nuclear family). Emphatic examples of this derive from Jesus’ own words (Matt. 12:48–50; 23:8; 28:10; cp. 18:15, 21, 35). This prevails in other contexts as well (e.g., John 20:17; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–12).

More particularly though, this reference to “brothers” in Matt. 25:40 focuses specifically on Christian missionaries. These are the ones sent out with the gospel message, as a number of commentators note. [4] The rationale for this understanding is:

(1) The hunger, thirst, poverty, imprisonment, and so forth speak of the persecution of believers, the danger of missionary endeavor, which Jesus warns his disciples about (Matt. 10:9–11, 23, 28; Mark 6:9; 13:9–13; 1 Cor. 4:11–12; 2 Cor. 6:4–5; 11:232–27).

(2) Jesus teaches that those who reject the message of the gospel, which they proclaim, will be subject to hell (Luke 10:10–15), as Matt. 25:41, 46 makes clear. After all, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40; cp. Luke 10:16; Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14).

(3) The Gentile mission assumed in Matt. 25 parallels in important respects the earlier Jewish mission. Here in Matt. 25 Jesus is explicating the Final Judgment. We can compare his standard of judgment here with the similar expectations in the Jewish mission (Matt. 10:14–15; cp. 23:34–36). Thus, both the Jews and the Gentiles will be judged for their response to the Christian message and their reception of the Christian messengers bringing that message.

Thus, in all of this Matthew’s Gospel operates from a two-stage schema of history: the Jewish era and the Gentile era (though in each one there will be some of the opposite group involved). For the Jewish message of Christ, he comes to Israel then he judges Israel for rejecting him (the AD 70 judgment, Matt. 24:2–34). For the message to the Gentiles, he sends out messengers to them, then judges those who reject them and their message (Matt. 24:36–25:46).

So now we are finally ready to consider the temple itself, and how it points to the Final Judgment. Stay tuned! My next article will focus on this.


Notes
1. I would note, however, that applying the entirety of the Olivet Discourse to AD 70 is not a matter of heresy. Heresy comes through false theology, denying the fundamentals of the faith. One can have an erroneous understanding of a particular discourse in Scripture, while affirming evangelical doctrine in other texts. Evangelicals who hold that the Olivet Discourse speaks only of AD 70 will affirm the future, physical resurrection of the dead, the Second Coming of Christ, the Final Judgment, and the transformation of the earth for the eternal order. They just do not see any of that in this particular discourse.

2. The historical framing of history in this manner is a source of great annoyance to secularists who believe all of reality is the result of exploding nothingness, which caused our highly-ordered, mathematically-precise Universe. When writing for secular publishers (and some “Christian” ones!), references to B.C. and A.D. are edited to become B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era). Thinking they have swept the matter under the rug, all one has to do is ask: When does the Common Era begin? And why is it the beginning of a calendrical new era? They still have to reckon with the fact of Christ and his impact on history. This is much like feminists who refuse to take their husband’s last name, only to be left with their father’s last name!

3. Note that I have given the LXX references according to our current Christian Bible order. The LXX often has a different order. So if you have a copy of the Septuagint, you will have to adjust the references accordingly.

4. For instance, see Robert Gundry, Matthew, 567; Ulrich Luz, Matthew, 3:280. Grant Osborne, Matthew, p. 934. Blomberg, Matthew, 378. Keener, Matthew, 605.


JESUS, MATTHEW, AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.

I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry, so that I may continue this work: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!

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One thought on “TEMPLE DESTRUCTION AND FINAL JUDGMENT (1)

  1. Chris Wolschlag October 5, 2018 at 6:08 am

    Great post! I am so excited about the Mt 21-25 commentary! Thank you for striving to be such a exegetical light on a hill!

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