Ancient synagoguePMW 2021-074 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In Rev 11:2 we find an important clue to the meaning of the message of Revelation. In this passage we learn that the outer court of the temple is to be cast out. The external court represents the external husk of ancient Judaism, as viewed over against the true essence of Israel. John is here reflecting on Christ’s words in Luke 21:24.

In my last blog article I began a consideration of the significance of the word “cast out” as it applies to the temple’s rejection in AD 70. This is the second installment, highlighting another concept lying behind the image.

Excommunication in Scripture
Scripture employs ekballō for excommunication from one’s faith community (e.g., 3Jn 10). “‘Casting outside’ can also have the nuance of God’s true people who are rejected and persecuted by the unbelieving world” (G. K. Beale). This is important for John in that the Jews are constantly “casting out” Christians either from their synagogues or their cities, as we see in the case of Jesus (Lk 4:29), Stephen (Ac 7:58), and Paul (Ac 13:50). A key issue in Rev is the persecution of believers by the Jews. G. Milligan rightly sees it as “excommunication from the synagogue is in the Seer’s mind,” though he wrongly applies it to “the faithless members of the Christian Church.”

Before Jerusalem FellBefore Jerusalem Fell BOOK
(by Ken Gentry)

Doctoral dissertation defending a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation’s writing. Thoroughly covers internal evidence from Revelation, external evidence from history, and objections to the early date by scholars.

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Significantly, the clearest, most detailed, historical example of synagogue excommunication appears in John’s Gospel. There the parents of the blind man whom Jesus heals (Jn 9:1–7) fear (ephobounto) being “put out of the synagogue” (aposunagōgos, v 22). After the Jews confront the man himself, “they put him out” (exabalon auton exō, Jn 9:34–35). John mentions this danger also in Jn 12:42–43 and 16:2, though employing the other, uniquely NT term, aposunagōgos. In 16:2 they believe they are doing God a spiritual service (latreian). Latreia is used of tabernacle/temple service, making it appropriate for our concerns in showing the temple’s judgment (Ro 9:4; Heb 9:1, 6).

Excommunication is particularly significant in that in those days the whole culture and all social relations are governed by ecclesiastical membership. In biblical terms an excommunicant is one who is formally cast outside the boundaries of God’s covenantal love; he is “cut off” from God’s people (Ge 17:14; Lev 7:20; Nu 15:30). Thus, when Jesus speaks of Christian disciplinary procedures within the church, he points out the end result that the excommunicant will “be to you as a Gentile” (Mt 18:17). In 1Co 5:5 Paul speaks of excommunication as delivering one to Satan (showing a conceptual relation to and a reverse image of exorcism). Such ecclesiastical action leads to shunning from one’s community (cf. 2Th 3:14; 1Co 5:2, 13). The problem is quite unlike our modern ecclesiastical anemia where excommunication (if practiced at all) is diluted: excommunicants can simply go to the church next door if they so choose (which would be especially attractive if the new church had a bigger gymnasium).

In fact, excommunication is such a serious matter in ancient Judaism that it can — and often does — involve persecution. “The demise of Jewish membership in the Christian church was hastened by punishment and persecution of Christian Jews within the synagogue, eventually followed by expulsion from the synagogue” (DLNTD). This ecclesiastical exclusion not only involves social ostracizing from family and friends (Mt 10:21, 34-39) but outside the borders of Israel it legally endangers the individual in that “expulsion from the synagogue deprived Christians of the shelter of Judaism and left them vulnerable to the Romans” (C. Setzer). Jesus warns his disciples that in their ministry to Israel they will be dragged before the sunedria (legal courts) and/scourged in the synagogues (Mt 10:16-18). But he promises this persecution will be cut short by his judgment coming against Israel: “But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes” (Mt 10:23; cp. Rev 1:7; 3:9, 11).Book of Revelation Made Easy

The Book of Revelation Made Easy
(by Ken Gentry)

Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting. Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.|

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As indicated above, ekballō is used in contexts where people are removed from their homes and social settings. In that exodus imagery is a recurring phenomenon in Rev, it may be significant that in the OT we read of Pharaoh “casting out [ekbalein, LXX]” (Ex 6:1; 11:1; 12:33) the Jews from his “house,” the “house of slavery” (Ex 13:3, 14; 20:2; Dt 5:6; 7:8). Interestingly, the LXX uses this term of the expulsion of the Canaanites from their land and homes as the result of the exodus: “The Lord will drive out [ekbalei] all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you” (Dt 11:23; cp. Ex 23:28-31; 33:2; 34:11; Dt 11:23; 33:27; Jos 24:12, 18; Jdg 6:9; 1Ch 17:21). The Jews are given “houses” and “cities” they did not build (Dt 6:10-11; 19:1; Jos 24:13). But God warns Israel that she herself will be “cast out” from the land if she disobeys him: “The Lord uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast [exebalen] them into another land, as it is this day” (LXX Dt 29:28; 2Ki 17:20; Jer 7:15; 52:3). In Rev 11:2 the casting out of the temple itself represents Israel’s being cast off God’s property for her disobedience.

Temple Cleansing

Significantly, at both the beginning (Jn 2:15) and end (Mt 21:12 //) of his ministry, Jesus “cast out” (ekballō) Jews from the temple. In both contexts we have clear allusions to the temple’s coming destruction: After cleansing the temple in Jn 2:15 Jesus publicly declares: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). He is speaking of his body (v 21), of course, but commentators widely agree that this also includes a warning of the temple’s eventual demise. In fact, his statement is surely a double entendre, so that “the spiritual destruction of Israel’s temple occurred decisively at Jesus’ death and resurrection, and its physical demise came finally in AD 70” (Beale).

In the context of his later cleansing in Mt 21:12, he curses the fig tree (vv 19–20) as an enacted parable alluding to Israel’s lack of fruit and her coming demise. Then, Jesus immediately explains that “if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen (v 21). Since Mount Zion is the location of the temple (Jer 50:28; Mic 3:12), a number of commentators see this also as indicating the temple’s destruction: “The evident proverbial nature of the saying should not disguise the fact that someone speaking of ‘this mountain’ being cast into the sea, in the context of a dramatic action of judgment in the Temple, would inevitably be heard to refer to Mount Zion” (N. T. Wright).

Jesus’ Parable

Jesus also employs the term ekballō in a parable forewarning the Jews of the coming destruction of the temple. This occurs because they “cast out” (exebalon auton exō) the “heir” (Christ) from the “vineyard” (Israel), even though he was the vineyard owner’s (God’s) son (Mk 12:8; Mt 21:37, 39). Jesus points out the consequences of their action: “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others” (Mk 12:9). This occurs when the Romans “tread under foot the holy city” (Rev 11:2b) after it is “cast out” (11:2a). The “Jerusalem below” is in bondage and will be “cast out” (ekbale, Gal 4:30; cp. Philo, Cher 1:3:9).

Because of their lack of covenant faith (Mt 8:10; cp. Ge 15:6; Heb 4:12) the Jews are being “cast out” of God’s kingdom while the Gentiles are entering in: “Many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness [ekblēthēsantai eis to skotos to exōteron]; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 8:11-12).

Stay tuned! I continue this study in my next blog.

Click on the following images for more information on these studies:

Beast ID

Before Jerusalem Fell

He Shall Have Dominion

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