The Importance of First Century History
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1983
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, July 2009
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One of the major weaknesses that people have today in trying to understand the New Testament revelation is the lack of awareness of the historical environment in which events took place. The fact is the New Testament was written to people who lived in an historical environment and it simply was not necessary to report every historical event that caused people to act and react the way that they did. This was because they were living at that time and they knew very well what was going on in their own land.
Since the readers of the Gospels and the epistles knew the historical environment in which they lived, they did not need to be informed about it all the time. Certainly we have the Book of Acts which is a book of history itself, but it only gives us a skeleton of understanding. It is a very particular history. When Luke wrote the Book of Acts he was only interested in two or three major points, things to prove, to teach. It is a very particular type of history though it is an accurate one. He did not reveal all of the details of what was happening in that 30 year period covered in the Book of Acts.
Luke was giving a skeleton of events pertaining to the understanding of New Testament doctrine. He succeeded very well. We today are usually not aware of what was occurring in the world when the New Testament was written. We know a little bit. We have been taught maybe in high school or perhaps in college, but many of us are not aware of just what prompted the people of that time to do what they did. What was it that made the apostle Paul write to the Galatians at a particular time, or to the Romans, or to Philemon, or for the apostles to write the Gospels themselves? We need to know the history of the times to give insight as to why the apostles and others were prompted to their actions.
It is no wonder we have difficulty in properly appraising what the New Testament itself is trying to tell us because we are not aware of the times, even scholars are not, but we need to appraise as best as we possibly can what was happening when the New Testament books were written and then I think we can have a better comprehension of what the New Testament itself is all about.
I want to put some historical flesh on part of that skeleton of events in the Book of Acts so we can understand exactly what was going on at the time. You will be amazed how important events in the New Testament can be made plainer once this approach is adopted. In other words, let us see what was happening at the time the New Testament books were written. To start off, I shall give a principle, and it is one that anyone who has studied the New Testament even superficially ought to be aware of, but it is important so far as an introduction is concerned in this matter of the importance of history in New Testament times.
In the 1st century when Christ came on the scene along with John the Baptist there was a general expectation that the Messianic kingdom was going to emerge on earth in that generation, in that century. It was well believed, not only in Jewish circles, but even in Gentile circles. The Roman poet Virgil writes in his Eclogues about an expectation of a great golden age that was to emerge in that generation in which he lived, in the last part of the 1st century BC. We find certainly in Jewish literature a great expectation in Judea with the belief that something traumatic and epochal was going to happen at that time. 1
When John the Baptist came along, the people asked him who he was. Was he the Elijah to appear before the emergence of the Kingdom of God? Was he the Messiah, the Christ? Was he the great prophet prophesied by Moses? They were all in a feeling of anticipation for this coming Kingdom (John 1:19–25).
When Christ began to preach He went around just like John the Baptist saying “Repent you for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). “At hand” means close in time. Throughout the Gospels we find people, even the apostles, are feeling that it will not be very long before it is on the earth. It was certainly going to be after Christ’s teaching.
They did not exactly know when He was going to die at first. Even after He died and was resurrected from the dead they still were not certain of the times, but they thought it could not last much longer (Luke 21:7). Christ told Peter that he was going to die as an older man. John, who leaned on His breast at the last supper, was apparently going to “tarry till I come” (John 21:22–23). Jesus said “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).
They felt that it would go on maybe 10, 20, or 30 years because Peter was around age 30 when he started his ministry at Pentecost. Give him another 30 years he would be an old man from that culture’s point of view, then he could be killed. They knew Peter was going to die because Jesus said so.
There was a general anticipation that the Kingdom of God was near at hand. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:9 to the 12 tribes in the dispersion that he had some interesting things to tell them. It reflects the belief that all of the Old Testament prophecies, which were canonized by that time, having been written over a 1500 year period, were written specifically for the people living at that time:
“… the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets [all the prophets from Samuel] have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you. Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
Unto whom [the prophets back then] it was revealed, that not unto themselves [those prophets], but unto us [witnesses of Christ’s sufferings] they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost [Spirit] sent down from heaven; which things the angels [as well as the prophets of old] desire to look into.”
1 Peter 1:9–12
Peter is clearly telling his reading audience that of all the prophecies in the Old Testament, even the ones uttered by the prophets themselves, they did not realize the significance of what they were saying in some cases. They knew what they were saying, but they did not know the manner or the time when these things would take place. They “searched diligently” to find out, and even the angels were searching diligently. This shows that angels themselves do not have perfect knowledge. They also desire to find out about salvation.
But notice, Peter said “unto you” (those people living in his day some 1900 years ago) have all these things come to pass — for you. The apostle Paul said virtually the same thing in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. There he looked on all of the teaching of the Old Testament that did not specifically pertain to the time of Moses, but particularly the prophecies. Paul felt that they were all garnered together in the Old Testament and put into the hands of the apostles and those of the 1st century, for them at that time, because the end of the age was coming at that time. That was their expectation. They were wrong.
They were wrong as far as the end of the age was concerned. There may have been an end of an age in one way, but the Kingdom of God did not emerge as they thought it would with Christ Jesus coming, ruling in Jerusalem, and the whole world coming under the Kingdom of God. That did not appear then, but they thought it would. The apostle Paul at first shared that enthusiasm, talking to the Corinthian Gentile ekklesia:
“I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea [the Red Sea]; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:1–4
Here is Paul putting Christ even back into the period of the Exodus to make a link between Christ’s own time and the time in Moses’ day.
“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.”
1 Corinthians 10:5–6
Paul then shows what happened in the wilderness. It was an example for people living in the 1st century, when they expected the end time to occur:
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [to us]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [eons, ages] are come.”
1 Corinthians 10:11
Paul said the ends of the ages have come unto us, meaning his contemporaries. In the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews it says clearly that Christ came at the end of an age, “last days” (Hebrews 1:2). They believed they were living in that time. Paul throughout 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians (all the early epistles of Paul) were written in anticipation of the soon coming of the Kingdom of God on earth: “we who are alive and remain ...” Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17. I do not have to belabor the subject and I could give other Scriptures. If they believed that all these Old Testament prophecies were for them at that time, and the prophecies did not happen, then all the prophecies still must be fulfilled future to us today relative to the emergence of the Kingdom of God. There are many prophecies in Isaiah that never took place, even to our present day. They were not fulfilled in the 1st century either.
Do you know what the apostles said? If the Kingdom of God is coming within 10 years, 20 years, or at best 30 years, just giving a ballpark figure, then all of these prophecies in Isaiah will have to take place. All of those prophecies in Ezekiel will have to take place. All those in Daniel will have to take place. That makes perfectly good sense, if that was the end of the age.
The Jews in the 1st century looked around and saw all of those prophecies of Isaiah about Babylon. They looked and saw a small remnant of Babylon on the Euphrates still in existence, and they said I wonder who that Babylon is, since this all has to be fulfilled? Some said, well, Babylon is Rome, since it is the only big empire on earth today politically. So they made that identification and said all the prophecies about Babylon have to be fulfilled, and they will be about Rome.
The Jews also read the prophecies about Edom in the end of the age like Isaiah chapter 35, how the great judgment day will be held in the land of Edom, and how all the nations will be gathered together. They knew where the land of Edom was, yet they said if all of this will take place in our generation, what about that desert land down there in Edom? It could not possibly be there, so they also identified Rome with Edom (just as they identified Rome with Babylon). I can show from non-biblical literature of the 1st century that Rome was considered to be Edom, because at that time Edom was not a great power as Isaiah indicated. Therefore Edom could only be reflected in Rome. They called Romans by the name Edomites, and believed that the Roman Caesars were descended from ancient Edomites. They were not. 2
If you must force prophecy into a particular time, and you look around to this or that geographical location, if you do not see things in evidence, and the prophecies must take place, you look elsewhere! 3 We are all prone to force the Scriptures into an environment compatible to our own generation if we feel that our generation is the one to experience the end time. See the point?
Clearly, in the 1st century the apostles and the Jews shared this anticipation and believed that the soon coming of God’s Kingdom on this earth was evident. They had no doubt about it. Here were the apostles Peter, Paul, and others saying that all of these prophecies of the Old Testament have been written for you, and have been handed over to you, all right, get ready to see them happen.
With that understanding you can begin to realize the psychological motives that prompted the people of the 1st century to do the things that they did. This is very important for us to realize. If we do, then we can understand some of the reasons Paul taught what he did, and why others said the things they did. They were in great anticipation of the soon coming of the Kingdom of God on this earth.
Peter was so thrilled with anticipation of this on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ that he got up to speak to all the Jews gathered from around Mediterranean and Babylonian world. He preached to them and everyone understood in their own language. This was a miracle and everyone recognized it. Here is what Peter said in Acts:
“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, ‘You men of Judaea, and all you that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these [the apostles speaking in foreign languages] are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.’”
Notice verse 16. He did not say “this is like Joel’s prophecy,” but he said “this is Joel’s prophecy.” He said this event represents the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.
Some can say that it was not quite fulfilled the way that Peter thought at that time, so if that is the case we will not believe Peter in other things. That is a person’s privilege if he or she wishes that, but the Bible writers do not hide anything. They just tell the truth the way it was. Peter fully expected that this was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. When you read it, ask yourself almost 2,000 years later if it was completely fulfilled at that time. I think the answer is “no,” but will it be fulfilled? Yes. It will be fulfilled just at the end of the age just prior to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth and in association with the establishment of that kingdom.
Since the apostle Peter believed most vigorously after seeing Christ resurrected from the dead and Him teaching them for some 40 days after His resurrection, that He was indeed the Messiah, and knowing that it was not going to be long, by all of His statements (you know “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled”), Peter was of the firm conviction that what was occurring was the introduction of the end of the age. Peter said let us look forward to a period of trauma and difficulty, and the time of Jacob’s trouble as prophesied in the Scripture, great problems with the Temple, and the abomination of desolation being set up. All of that is in the prophecies. It had not yet been fulfilled. Even Christ Himself said it was going to take place. After all these difficulties, then would come the great Kingdom of God on earth. That was what Peter was expecting. So He says to the assembled Jews:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.’”
Of course, that “notable day” is the introduction of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
“‘And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ [ending the quote from Joel 2:28–32].
You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know. …”
He then begins to teach about Christ, that He is the one God has ordained to introduce these events leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Clearly Peter is saying in the ears of those men of Israel, those Jews in Jerusalem, that these are the last days (verse 16)! He had reasons for saying that. Here was a visible demonstration (Acts 2:3) of the power of God amongst these Jews, the speaking in various languages, not the type of tongues done in secret or in closets like sometimes the apostle Paul was talking about (1 Corinthians 14:28). Here were the apostles speaking and these individuals heard them speak in their own language. This was clearly a miracle.
Besides, Peter was saying that this was an “earnest” of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel because “all flesh” at that Pentecost day did not receive the Spirit of God. Peter knew that, but he felt this was the introduction of the prophecy of Joel. “This is that,” he said. These are “the last days.” Peter had other reasons for saying that:
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.”
What happened between the hour of noon and 3 o’clock on the afternoon Christ was crucified? Darkness prevailed over the whole land (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; and Luke 23:44). Everyone in Jerusalem witnessed that darkness. Such events were convincing the apostle Peter and the others that the end times had come. They felt they were in the birth-pang period of the introduction of the Kingdom of God here on this earth. Peter came right out and told the people this was the beginning of the prophecy of Joel being fulfilled, and these are the last days.
So convinced were these Jews listening from around the world that 3,000 were converted that one day (Acts 2:41), then later it was increased to 5,000 (Acts 4:4). These were intelligent people. They must have been convinced about what Peter was saying. There was a major powerful event in association with this that gave Peter almost a captive audience. That was this: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There were too many witnesses around able to prove that. These 3,000 and later 5,000 people were convinced.
The time when Christ was crucified, resurrected, and Pentecost day took place in 30 AD. Therefore, the teaching of Christianity in Jerusalem started with a powerful punch. Note this about the 3,000 and shortly after 5,000, these numbers only counted the men. They did not count the women and children, so you should double that number to bring them in also.
These thousands of Jews stayed long after Pentecost to listen to the apostles. They came from all over the world, and there was a need to take up a collection to feed them all. They only came to Jerusalem to be there a short time, and then go home. They did not bring enough money to stay for a long time. That was why they had to have collections (Acts 4:32–37). There was no communism going on, it was just that the new converts did not bring enough money for an extended stay. They wanted to stay to learn more about Jesus Christ and these end times that had been introduced to the world. Peter and the rest of the apostles began to tell them.
These people went back to Rome, back to Parthia, back to Asia Minor, and they took this message to other Jews in the synagogues about the things that were happening in Jerusalem, and with great enthusiasm.
The entire Jewish community believed that the 70th week of Daniel was about to be fulfilled, the times were near. Even Roman prophecies suggested that. Tacitus and Suetonius, both Roman historians, said that amongst the Jews there was a great expectation that in that generation the Kingdom of God would come on earth and that one of the Jews’ own race would be ruler over all the earth. There was great anticipation throughout the whole world that the end times were near.
This is putting a little flesh on the skeleton. I am belaboring it for a reason because the narrative I will give you now, which happened in history, can only be appreciated when it is understood and taken into account within this type of “eschatological” environment permeating the world at that time and particularly in Palestine. Here was Christ Jesus resurrected from the dead — a powerful event — which the apostles were manifesting as a reality by their actions.
Jews by the thousands were coming to knowledge of Christ at that time in 30 AD. Just imagine what happened in 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35 AD. People began to get more intense on these things. It began to burgeon, no question about it. Even Josephus the Jewish historian later on talked about great quantities of people who went over to John the Baptist (Antiquities of the Jews 18:116–119), and John was pointing to Jesus Christ. John said He was the man they should look to. All types of people were convinced that Christianity was true.
Remember, at first the apostles were not going away from circumcision. They were still going to the Temple. They would not even talk to a Gentile until later (Acts 8:26–40 and chapter 10). This is most important. There is a statement in Eusebius that he quotes from an early source indicating that our Lord Himself said that no one of the apostles should leave Jerusalem for 12 years. By that it was meant that they could go Samaria and places like that, but the headquarters was to be in Jerusalem, and they were only to preach to Jews. They never thought for a minute that a Gentile should be preached to at that time. When the Gentiles finally came in later it was one of the most traumatic affairs of the ekklesia, and one of the biggest difficulties and controversies. 4
For the first 12 years the apostles were teaching in Jerusalem, around Judea, Samaria, and places like that (Acts 8:1). Only the Jews who had come to Jerusalem and then gone to other areas were carrying the message. No Gentiles. When we consider 12 years, it includes the year 30 AD and this takes us to 41 AD.
The year 41 AD was a time when the Gentiles from that time forward began to get knowledge of the truth. This is bringing in a bit of history from Eusebius, but I have no reason to doubt it at all.
Consider AD 41. That is 12 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ if you include 30 AD as year one, as you should do. As you come to AD 41 you will find, although it is difficult to date absolutely, that Peter’s discourse with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 no doubt took place at this time because no one would go to a Gentile before this time. 5 It looks like that is the case.
AD 41 is a very crucial date and I will show you why that is the case. Remember, if this was the introduction of the End Times, we should rehearse briefly the Olivet Prophecy of Christ because His disciples asked Him when the Temple would be destroyed, when Jerusalem would be destroyed, because they recognized that this would take place (Matthew 24:1–3). Then He began to rehearse various events in sequence, and then he comes to verse 15:
“When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso reads, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: …”
Great tribulation will appear, and immediately after the tribulation of those days (verse 29) shall the sun be darkened, the powers of heaven shall be shaken and then (verse 30) shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn for Him, and He comes, of course, in all great glory and that is the Kingdom of God coming on the earth.
Preceding the event of the coming of the Kingdom is a cardinal point in the Book of Daniel that everybody at the time thought was going to happen. It is called the abomination of desolation.” It is here in Matthew, and also in Mark 13:14 and Luke 21:20. You cannot read much of Daniel without seeing an emphasis on the abomination of desolation, both in the 11th chapter and in the crucial 9th chapter where Daniel gives a 490 year period, a 70 weeks prophecy. They felt that the last week of 7 years, in the midst of it the true sacrifices would be taken away and this abomination would be put in the Holy Place (Matthew 14:15).
Christ put this event in the future from when He made this statement on the Mount of Olives, two days before He was crucified. He made it in 30 AD. At Pentecost, after His crucifixion and resurrection, the apostles were thinking that Joel’s prophecies were coming to pass because the End Times were being introduced. They thought they had about 30 years. “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” They thought the things Jesus described were going to happen and the abomination of desolation was going to be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem. That was their expectation, and if you were living at the time, I think you would have shared in their feelings. This expectation was not just amongst Christians; it was amongst Jews in general. It even spilled over into the consciousness of Gentiles as well.
This abomination of desolation, what was it? No one knows exactly. Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of the Syrians came to Jerusalem in 168 BC, desecrated the Temple, and set up an altar to Baal Shaamim, the sun god, in the great altar in the Temple. That could have been a type of the abomination of desolation. Some kind of idolatrous act or object would be put into the Temple. Paul even speaks in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4 about a man even sitting in there. In person or what? Perhaps it means in person, as Paul talks about him being in the inner sanctuary, in the Holy of Holies.
In the Book of Revelation it speaks about a man who will be proclaimed and worshipped as a god. That goes along with what Paul was saying, and it agrees with what Daniel was talking about in the 11th chapter of Daniel, all associated with the Holy Temple. If this is the case, and clearly it goes along that line, something will happen with the Holy Temple, and it will be some kind of idolatrous worship. Man, an object, something, will be in there, but they knew this much: it has to happen before the introduction of the Kingdom of God on this earth. Clearly they felt they were in the last days.
Now if that is the case, just imagine what you would have been watching for, if you were associated with Peter. Talking to those 3,000 and later 5,000, and maybe 10,000 or 20,000, you would be telling them to watch for things, because the end is upon us and we are living in this generation right now. That is reflected throughout the earlier part of the New Testament.
Up to 41 AD the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. In this crucial period of 40 to 41 AD something remarkable happened 11 years (12 if we include 30 AD) after the preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Twelve years is a long time for the teachings of Christianity to percolate throughout the world. With the enthusiasm shown by the apostles at first, it went like wildfire. After Stephen was persecuted and killed a great peace came on the ekklesia for a long time after. They were persecuted at first by Paul (his name was Saul), but after that initial phase things calmed down. A great plethora of people were coming to a knowledge of Christ. The more numbers they had, the more the Jewish leaders began to back off. 6
The Book of Acts shows that Christianity had a phenomenal growth in those first 12 years in Jerusalem. That is the only conclusion you can come to. In fact, the status of James, as the brother of our Lord, because of his Davidic connection through Joseph and Mary, and as the head of the Jerusalem ekklesia, even Josephus and others mentioned how powerful he was amongst the Jewish community because he was one who stayed with the Law (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:200). He was not interested in getting rid of the law or the Temple or anything like that. He was not telling Jews not to be circumcised. He was a good Jew but a Christian Jew. That is the James that we have in the Bible. They had no reason to go against him in many ways except that he believed in Christ, which was different.
By the way I am not prompting myself by saying that as late as Acts chapter 21, which brings us down to 56 AD, 26 years after 30 AD, we find Paul going to Jerusalem to see James and the other apostles. James says, beginning in Acts 21:20, that there are tens of thousands of Jews who believe, and they have heard that you [Paul] were speaking against this Temple, and taking people [Gentiles] into the Temple, etc. James said, Paul, I want you to go in and prove that you are not doing that. So Paul takes four men, and they go perform the rituals in the Temple to show that he had not been doing that. This was 56 AD, so it shows clearly in Acts that there was a great amount of evangelical fervor amongst the Jews in Palestine and in other places for Christianity and that thousands were coming over to it. We have got to get that in our minds.
With that understanding I want to come back to 41 AD because it is most important. It is something that is not recorded in the Book of Acts. In fact, people have wondered why there is a silence on this event, because the event I am going to give you now was one of the most profound that took place in the 1st century. Luke does not even mention it. Historians have scratched their heads regarding this event. Most pastors do not remember it, even if they have read about it.
People living at the time, however, and particularly in Judea, would have remembered this profoundly frightening event, because in that environment of eschatological expectation it meant that something is up. Living in Palestine you would have thought the end of the age was right on the horizon. The event was recorded in two primary sources, and it is there for everybody to read, and they have been around for generations. One source is Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived at the end of the 1st century. He gives the fullest record of the events that took place in the late autumn of 40 AD and into the early winter of 41 AD. Read what Josephus says within the environment that I have built up so far, which is clearly a biblical and historical one, and you will see the great emphasis that was placed on this event by the Jews. It was also recorded by a man who participated in the event at the time, named Philo of Alexandria. The accounts are virtually identical except for a few little divergences here and there, but those differences are inconsequential.
This situation began in the summertime of 40 AD. That was when they caught wind of what was happening in the world. The Palestinian world at that time was under the rule of Rome, Italy, the capital of the empire. In Rome was the ruler man called the Caesar, in 40–41 AD and for about 3 years the Caesar was the Emperor Gaius. His other name was Caligula. Even if we have not studied history, many of us have heard the name Caligula, usually associated with great evil. He started off his administration very well in 37 AD at the death of Tiberius. Not long after he began to show his true colors. The only conclusion that historians at the time could come to after he got into power was that the man became psychologically disturbed. In other words he became insane. When you are the Emperor of Rome you get away with lots of things. You do not get impeached. The only way to impeach a Roman Emperor was to assassinate him. Caligula was assassinated on January 24th in 41 AD.
When he was killed the Jews gave a sigh of relief. Lots of other people did also. This madman did something in 40 AD that I have often wondered why in the world Luke did not include it in the Book of Acts. I think there is a reason he did not mention what was happening in the Spring of 40 AD in Palestine. It was the most traumatic period in the history of Judaism since the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, up until Titus (later a Roman Emperor himself) destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. 7
Gaius did something that scared the living daylights — literally — out of every Jew in the world at the time. Every one of them. He had been upset with the Jewish people over events that took place in Egypt, particularly in Alexandria where Greeks and Jews there were fighting over the issue of Roman citizenship. 8 There were severe problems. Some of the Jews decided to go up to Rome and Philo, who I mentioned earlier, was amongst them to put the matter before Gaius Caesar so he could hear the reasoning of their case and allow the Jews to carry on with their traditions in Alexandria. There were many Jews there, about one third of the total population of at least one million. They traveled to Rome in 40 AD.
When they arrived they found Gaius not too keen about listening to them. They found him downright angry. Remember, this was about 3 years after Gaius came to the throne. He was a madman. He wanted to be proclaimed a god. Many were proclaiming him a god throughout the Roman Empire as was customary at the time. He came to the Jews and said: why is it that of all the people on earth you Jews are the only ones who do not honor me with divinity? All other nations under me have set up idols and altars to me. Everywhere throughout the land they have given me obeisance.
They said, sire, it is against our ancestral laws to do this. They told him how the great and powerful Augustus Caesar allowed them all amenities. Tiberius Caesar did not like the Jews very much but he did not interfere with their religious practices. The Jews showed him all types of decrees and ordinances and orders of the past Caesars and the Senate of Rome showing that they could carry on their religious worship as they wished. As long as they paid their taxes, everything would be all right.
Gaius said, I am afraid that is not good enough. I will tell you what you shall do. To bring all you Jews under the governance of me, head of the Roman Empire, I will order that a colossal statue of me in the guise of Zeus shall be made and put in the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem! So Caligula gave the order that the statue be built and placed as he commanded.
Imagine the consternation that would have caused to the people living in Judea, to Jews scattered throughout the whole Roman Empire, and let us not forget the Jews living over in Babylon and Parthia and in other areas scattered around the world. Once this knowledge got out that the Emperor of Rome was going to force the Jews to put a statue in the Holy of Holies, the reaction was one of horror. God says even the high priest cannot go in there except once a year, and that on the Day of Atonement with great solemnity.
Here was Caligula wanting to put a great statue of himself in the midst of the Holy of Holies. He could not figure any other way to get accolades of the Jews.
At that time there was a king of Judea on the throne. He was visiting Rome when all this began to come out. He was a grandson of Herod the Great and he is mentioned in the Bible in Acts chapter 12. He was Herod Agrippa I. He was on the throne at the time. During the time of Tiberius Caesar, Agrippa, who was a Prince of the Jews living in Rome, was kind of dissolute and Tiberius did not like him. He did everything he could to put Agrippa down. But when Caligula came to the throne (they had been friends as children) he put Agrippa in the highest position and finally gave the kingdom of Judea to him as practically a reinstatement of his grandfather’s kingdom. He told him to go to Jerusalem and to rule there.
It happened that Agrippa was in Rome at that time. Philo describes the event when the information got out about Caligula’s intention regarding the statue. Agrippa was in Rome. He had been summoned to the palace. 9 This was close to the time Philo’s delegation was there. They were still great friends. In fact when Caligula came into Agrippa’s presence he told Agrippa how their friendship had developed and how everything Agrippa had was because of what Gaius had done for him. That was true. Gaius had given Agrippa everything he had, even to a restoration of his grandfather’s domain.
Then Caligula said to him, you know, your people are the only ones who are not giving me proper obeisance. I will tell you what I will do. The only way I can bring your people under my control, and I want you to help me in this, is to build a great statue and put it in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Imagine King Agrippa hearing this. Though he was a descendant of Herod, part Idumean and part Jewish, he knew the temperament of his own people in Jerusalem. He was very familiar with the prophecies. He also knew what the environment was, as well as the expectation of the Jews at the time. When Agrippa was told that by Caligula, Philo said Agrippa began to quiver and tremble, and immediately he fell down at Gaius’ feet and went into a coma. Agrippa’s servants came and took him out. Agrippa was so upset at what he had heard that it took him a day and a half to come out of his coma.
When he finally came out of it, he found himself amongst his own people in his own home, and he relapsed again a little bit. He said, what in the world was this man doing? Imagine though, all of this happening and the news beginning to spread around the world in Jewish society. In fact, Philo was on the way to Rome at the time and was met about half way down the coast of Italy by a man running toward Philo’s delegation. The man was a Jew and he says, do you know what Gaius is going to do? They said no, what will he do? It took him a long, long time of gasping and of crying and of wailing, and moaning. They said, come on man tell us what he is going to do. He tried again and he could not do it. He tried again and he still could not do it. He finally got it out, “He’s going to put his statue in the Holy of Holies!”
We can smile at that, but the Jews at the time looked at that quite differently. Just think, even the Christian Jews in Palestine would have been horrified. They had the Lord’s own teaching that there was going to be an abomination of desolation put up in the Holy Place. It was coming to pass!
Gaius gave orders to the Roman governor of the province of Syria, under which Agrippa’s kingdom was subservient. He said, Petronius, I want you to use every force necessary to accomplish this. If they not do this by voluntary methods, then you shall use the armed forces to secure this. Petronius immediately got the armed forces together leaving just enough on the Euphrates border to protect the Roman Empire from the Parthians. He took three legions. 10 That was a lot of soldiers and he started south from Antioch, Syria.
He came to a city called Ptolemais that we call Acco today, which is associated with Galilee just north of Haifa Bay, a port city. Here were these three legions and by now the knowledge of what was going to happen had gotten out all over the world. Here was Petronius leading these legions and going to receive delegations from the Jews so they could have this statue made and put in the Holy of Holies.
Here is what both Philo and Josephus said happened. The Jews were so upset, as you can imagine that they left off their agricultural pursuits. It was now getting into the autumn, according to Josephus’ account, and they were not going to sow any crops; they were not going to do anything. It goes on to say that they were so upset that men, women, and children began to leave their homes from all over Judea and Galilee. Philo said they left the cities, the villages, and even the homes empty in most cases, except for caretakers, and they all journeyed in unison to Ptolemais which was on the coast just north of Haifa Bay. It says that thousands and thousands and thousands of them came with their children in their arms, and they came to where Petronius was with the three legions.
They came up and the delegations said to Petronius please do not do this. They said, if you do it, you are going to have to kill every one of us before you do it. That means men, women, and children. Petronius had knowledge of the Jewish way of life, but now he was seeing it demonstrated. They were there in the thousands and leaving the land empty of people, gathering around Ptolemais in the autumn of 40 AD. Petronius could hardly believe it.
He said listen, if I were the Emperor myself I would listen and I would agree with you. It is kind of silly, but I am not the Emperor. I am his governor and I will carry out what I must carry out. So we will either put the idol in the Temple peacefully or I will use the armed forces to put it in. No amount of begging could change his mind.
The Jews were just wailing all over, not only in Palestine, but in Alexandria, in Rome itself, all over Asia Minor. What in the world is happening? The End Times must be upon us! Remember, the Christian Jews were in on this too. There were many Christians in Palestine at this autumn of 40 AD. They likely also left off their crops. They were appealing to Petronius not to do this dastardly act.
It did not convince Petronius. He found out that there were people coming from even Syria and from the other side of the Jordan River so he decided to move some of his troops into Tiberius on the west-southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. When he got there he found another group of Jews who had come from other sections and had left their countries and villages, coming en masse, and the whole area was just covered with Jews coming around Tiberius, all begging Petronius not to do what he was ordered.
When he got to the city of Tiberius he received several of the delegations again and they told him this is what we are going to do. The Jews said (paraphrasing), “We are not going to fight against you. We will allow God to fight for us, but before you do this you are going to have to kill every one of us.” Some of the delegation said, “… and you can start right now by killing us!” They tore their tunics aside and said, “Kill us, and it will be an example of what everyone else will do, man, woman, and child.” They meant business.
Petronius, once he saw that, he said I must do something about this whole matter. He finally agreed. He said, all right, I have an excuse. I will say that the statue really needs great refinements to show the great dignity of Caligula. It needed extra time. I will write to Caligula, but I tell you Jews one thing (and I am paraphrasing), I am putting my head on the block, and not only mine but the lives of all of my generals and associates with me here. I know Caligula. He is my lord. I am to obey him. Even this is insubordination, but I will do it because I do not want to see a mass slaughter in this land. Clearly that was what would happen.
The Jews liked what Petronius said. The interesting thing about it is, and Josephus makes a point out of this, Petronius wrote the letter on the same day. He gave it into the hands of a messenger under guard to take to Rome. Something then happened that was most remarkable. They had been in drought the whole year. They hardly had any rain at all, it was said. It was in the late autumn time and they had not had any rain for their crops that they were going to sow.
As soon as Petronius signed that document and sent the messenger on his way, I mean within hours, out of the west there began to be a cloud. Really. The clouds formed and got bigger, and bigger, and it was not a short time that rains began to come all over the land. Josephus mentions this and discusses it. Petronius himself and his generals were so amazed, they had been under drought for a long, long time, and now rains were coming down all over in great blessing as soon as he signed that document.
The Jews came to Petronius and said, you are going to live. We are doing God’s will. God is behind this. Josephus notes that even Petronius himself said this is a great miracle! His generals said it was. And the generals who were reluctant to go along with it finally said: this is divinity at work. They then called the messenger back, and put in the message that even God Himself is on their side because of this great rain of blessing that came. Petronius sent off the message. He said, I know what is going to happen. It will mean my life if Caligula does not see reason on this because this is insubordination.
What occurred was this. In Rome King Agrippa finally did get his senses back. After his ordeal of the coma was over, Agrippa managed to go to Caligula who said to him, I will give you anything you want in the world because we are great friends. Agrippa said, Gaius, there is only one thing I ask. I do not ask for riches. I do not ask for more glory. I have had enough of that already. I do not want anything else. Let me be as I am, but I ask one favor of you. This was in an audience of all types of people at the time.
Agrippa said, please withdraw your order to put your statue in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Gaius Caligula was dumbstruck by that, so the record shows. He was angry but he looked around at all the people there and he had already made his promise. Gaius finally said, “I will not put the statue in the Temple in Jerusalem.” Apparently this decision was made near the very same time as the rains came. Of course, this was in Rome and no one knew about the rain.
Soon after that came the letter from Petronius. When Gaius, being the madman that he was, having already agreed to Agrippa that he would not put the statue in the Temple, when he read about the delay that Petronius, his own general and governor, was putting into effect he got so angry at Petronius, that Gaius summoned his secretary. Caligula wrote to tell Petronius what was going to happen because of his insubordination. “Even though I changed my mind because of what Agrippa said, it was not for you Petronius to take it upon himself to disobey my command. Because of this insubordination you must take your own life, and you will know who is your lord and master.” Gaius then sent the message off to Petronius.
Carrying that document saying that Petronius had to kill himself, the messengers boarded a ship and started out. It was wintertime and they usually do not go on ships in the Mediterranean winter, but this was an urgent message. The storms that year were terrible. Because the storms were so bad it took them 3 months before they could give the message to Petronius for him to take his own life. It took 3 months for that message to get there, but through the land route came another message that got to Petronius in 27 days, the record shows, before the message came for him to take his own life. That message said, on the 24th of January 41 AD by our reckoning, Gaius Caesar was assassinated.
He received the message that Caligula was dead 27 days before the order of his own death. When he received the order that he was to take his own life, he no longer had to do so. The Jews said that it was God in action. It must have been. That little cloud came from a clear blue sky when Petronius made his decision. I have no reason to doubt it. Almost immediately the clouds began to gather up and great rains fell throughout the whole land of blessing. Even Petronius and his generals were convinced this was God’s grace on them that He was going to protect them, and Petronius was saved. It is most remarkable.
So a great holocaust was averted at the last minute. Just imagine what Christian Jews (or any Jew for that matter) would have thought about an abomination of desolation that was going to be set up. They would have thought this was clearly near the end, would you not have thought so? Well, the great rains came.
Ezekiel chapter 34 was being preached amongst the Jews as having a fulfillment at that time. That chapter speaks about the emergence of the Kingdom of God on this earth. Just before that happens God will bring in His people from around the world and bring them back to Jerusalem and to Israel. Clearly the apostles and even the Jews themselves must have been reading Ezekiel chapter 34. It was a prime prophetic Scripture in the Old Testament (and it has not yet been fulfilled in our day).
I will not go through this at length, but in verses 1 through 6 there is a condemnation of the shepherds of Israel for not binding up the diseased or healing those who are sick and scattering the people because they have no shepherd. Read Ezekiel 34:1–6. In fact it carries right on through the rest of the chapter. In verse 11 it begins to say that a shepherd should seek out the flock and seek those which are scattered. Remember what Christ Jesus said when He was on earth, that He was going to seek and save that which was lost? Look at Matthew 9:36, 18:12–13; Luke 15:4–6, 19:10; John 10:16.
It goes on to say that the shepherd really should be seeking out those which are lost. Then it comes down to Ezekiel 34:23. It is most interesting because I can imagine that the apostles and others would have read and applied Ezekiel chapter 34 in expectation of the soon coming of God, to the events that took place in late 40 to early 41 AD. It says: “And I will set up one shepherd over them …” Christian Jews would have known how to interpret that.
“And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I YHWH will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I YHWH have spoken it. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.
And I will make them [the scattered of Israel] and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing. And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land … And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them;
Thus shall they know that I YHWH their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord YHWH. And you my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, says the Lord YHWH.”
Ezekiel 34:23–28, 30–31
Chapter 35 is about the great judgment in the land of Edom which introduces the Kingdom of God on earth. If you put Ezekiel chapters 34 and 35 in the environment of what happened with Petronius, and those clouds coming up like in the days of Elijah after a long drought (1 Kings chapters 17 and 18), and clearly the Jews thought they were seeing prophecy in action! When you get the whole of the nation coming to Petronius, the great crowds coming up, the showers of blessing, you can see the connection with Ezekiel.
Now let us get to something in the New Testament. This all took place in the autumn of 40 AD, up to the winter of early 41 AD. This was one of the most difficult times in the history of Judaism and it was averted at the last moment. Yet these events are not so much as hinted at in the Book of Acts, as though for some reason or other it was not important to mention. Yet it was important; it was very important in the history of the world and in the history of the Jews. There is no question about that, but nothing in Acts would even suggest this crisis ever happened.
Now I want to show you something. There is a reference made by the apostle Paul that would take you right back to this exact time and immediately after it happened, when the whole thing was averted and the Temple was finally left intact. There is something mentioned by the apostle Paul that leads you right to that time. It is in 2 Corinthians chapter 12. This section starts in chapter 11 where Paul is defending himself to the Corinthians who were Gentiles, because several Jewish “apostles” as they called themselves, “false apostles, deceitful workers” Paul called them (2 Corinthians 11:13), were trying to undercut the ministry of the apostle Paul. He shows in chapter 11 that he himself had been in many periods of great persecution:
“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep [the ocean].”
2 Corinthians 11:24–25
Then he goes on to speak about other perils and how he was rescued from Damascus (in verse 32), but come down to 2 Corinthians 12:1. He is talking about all that he had done for the Corinthians and that these people who were calling themselves Hebrews were giving a false gospel to them. Paul considered it a false gospel. Look at chapter 12 verse 1. He abandons talking about all the persecution he had undergone:
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, …”
2 Corinthians 12:1–2
He does not say “above fifteen.” If it was above fifteen it would be fifteen plus. But he said “above fourteen” which means fourteen plus. So the time it happened was above fourteen years by a few months.
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago [just after], (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.”
2 Corinthians 12:2
The third heaven is paradise as we will see. “And I knew such a man …” Paul is talking of himself, but he puts it in the third person because the spiritual man is more important than the physical man on this earth. He is really talking about himself. “And I knew such a man,” and then he repeats this:
“… (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) How that he was caught up into paradise.”
2 Corinthians 12:3–4
Paradise. That means Eden. That does not mean the Eden here on earth, but the Eden up there. The Temple that was here on earth was a symbol of the Garden of Eden and its environment. Or put it this way: the Temple on earth in Jerusalem (where Caligula wanted to put his statue) was a physical representation of God’s throne in heaven. Just as there were three compartments to the Temple,  the outer court where the altar of burnt offering was,  the inner court where the priests went and the altar of incense was.
 The last section was inside the holy curtain itself into the inner sanctum, the naos, the Holy of Holies. In there was the Mercy Seat which represented the throne of the Almighty God and the cherubim with their wings outstretched over it. The rod of Aaron and also the pot of manna, along with the ark of the covenant were also there in the Holy of Holies. Three Compartments. You get the idea that this third heaven is the place where God is, called paradise, or the real Eden, and all these things in the Temple on earth were merely a physical reflection of what was up there in heaven. 11 You can carry on with the symbolism completely, and was Paul brought not into the physical Temple in Jerusalem, but taken into the third heaven itself called “paradise.”
“How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
2 Corinthians 12:4
Paul was unable to tell people at that time what he heard in the third heaven. He could not tell them, but he heard something. This was a type of language, a spiritual language which God communicated to the apostle Paul, and he was fully aware of what it was, but he said it is not lawful for him to utter. This happened a bit more than fourteen years ago, he said. This was in the true Temple in heaven.
Then he begins to talk here about the infirmities that afflicted him: “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities”(2 Corinthians 12:5). This is most important and I want to make a point. These infirmities, how long had they been with Paul, since he was a child? No. You will find that they began when he started to have that thorn in the flesh. I think it was a great affliction that God put upon him that came when the great revelations were given to him. Look at verse 6:
“For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he sees me to be, or that he hears of me.”
2 Corinthians 12:6
Paul was exalted. He had been taken to the third heaven. God will bring Paul right down. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Now go back to verse 12:1: “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord,” which happened just “above fourteen years ago” (verse 2). During that event he was taken to the third heaven into the throne of God Himself to hear words that no other man had heard … most remarkable:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure [note the repetition].”
2 Corinthians 12:7
That happened at the time just above fourteen years ago, when he received this great revelation of being taken into the true Temple of God, not on earth, but in heaven:
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice [three times], that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you [that is what God said]: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; you have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.”
2 Corinthians 12:8–11
The Corinthians were going over to the teachings of the apostles from Jerusalem. Paul had to defend himself from those teachings, whether good or bad; he has to defend himself. Finally he makes mention of this outstanding event that he was well aware of. He knew it was fourteen years plus a few months, he was so aware of it. He was conscious of it in his mind all the time. He knew when it was. He appeals to that (paraphrasing): “When I was taken into the third heaven and there is where I saw things that were very profound to me. From that time forward a thorn in the flesh was given to me and I have had it ever since. It keeps me humble.”
When was Second Corinthians written? Now it can almost certainly be dated because of then understanding of the Sabbatical years, to the last part of 55 AD. He wrote from Macedonia, probably from Philippi, if you read the whole epistle. There is hardly any doubt about it (2 Corinthians 13:14). It was just before he went to Corinth to winter in 55 to 56 AD. This was written in the autumn of 55 AD.
If you go back 14 years plus a little, you come to early 41 AD probably just after Caligula was thwarted from his plan to corrupt, pollute, and destroy that Holy Temple and it was averted at the last moment. Isn’t it interesting that it happened then? Consider what was happening in all the cities and villages; the homes of Palestine were emptied of people. They were not tending their crops, and all were coming to meet Petronius and his army in late 40 AD. These events certainly must have had a traumatic effect upon a devout man like the apostle Paul. He was reared at the feet of Gamaliel, a well-known rabbinic teacher (Acts 22:3). What effect do you think it would have had on Peter, John, and the rest of them?
They saw that cloud begin to come up out of the clear blue sky. It came over the land and copious rain, showers of blessing, so that even Petronius and his generals said God was on their side. So we will now tell Caligula that we will delay things. Only at the last moment do we find that Petronius even escaped with his own life. The Jews loved Petronius from that day forward, thinking that the Romans were on their side.
All this happened from 40 AD to early 41 AD. Right after was when Paul saw this great vision. I cannot help but think that Paul was greatly impressed by what was occurring, and what the rest of the apostles were saying: God can protect His own great Temple. That is true. Even Petronius himself told that to the Jews. He said, why are you asking me? I do not know. I am just a Roman governor. If your God is strong enough (as Josephus relates) He will protect His own Temple, and He did.
Here is the point. If God protected His own Temple in a miraculous way, and I have no doubt that it took place. After all, Elijah in a time of drought said “let the rains come” and a little cloud about the size of the hand appeared in the west. Soon it was raining all over, back some 900 years before (1 Kings chapters 17 and 18). It happened again, and in a time of drought. It so convinced Petronius and his generals that they were willing to go along with it. That meant that God could protect His Temple.
Do you know what that would do to most Jews and even Christian Jews? They would say we know that God is in the Temple now. 12 It is Jerusalem, Jerusalem. This is all happening about 12 years after the crucifixion of Christ and after Pentecost. Ezekiel 34:26–31 says the ingathering of Israel would appear to take place soon after the great showers would come. Maybe I am adding something into this, but the people at that time would have been reading Ezekiel, and Isaiah, and the other prophecies for signs of this nature.
The rest of the apostles were saying, now we know God is in the Temple and He will protect His Temple. Maybe a little later the abomination of desolation will be put there, but now God is showing great blessings upon the true Shepherd. Christianity from that time forward began to grow even more. The apostles must have been saying we should look to the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who has now protected us and to the great Temple. Jews everywhere were saying similar things as well, without reference to Christ.
At that very moment of enthusiasm for God in protecting His temple (which He did do), Paul was taken to the third heaven. He heard things there that he says were “unspeakable.” Paul writes in the context of all these “apostles” and people coming from Jerusalem telling you Corinthians wrong things. Paul says, I am defending my apostleship and I am telling you what the truth is. He told the Galatians that there are some from Jerusalem that were perverting the Gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6–9).
I cannot help but believe that the apostle Paul, when he was taken to the third heaven, was given a message in the wake of this attempted holocaust that was averted when all of the Jews, and even Christian Jews, were going over to an understanding that God can protect His Temple. From that time forward what did the apostle Paul begin to preach after this understanding? He was not denigrating God’s Temple. He would have been the first one to admit that a great miracle had taken place, but he heard some things in the third heaven, did he not? What takes precedence over that?
All I know is that when you study the epistles of Paul written after this time, he is saying that God “dwells not in Temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48, 17:24). From that time forward they were putting too much attention on the Temple. If I were a Jew living at the time my thinking would have been, I am going to get on the side of God, if he can protect His Temple, which He did. I am going to hold on to that Temple. They did indeed start to hold on to that Temple. Even the Christian Jews got caught up in it. Circumcision, stay with that. Stay with the Temple. Stay with all these things.
The apostle Paul in that very year, probably a month or two after these great events, wondering in consternation about all this, was taken into the third heaven to receive one of the greatest visions and revelations ever given to man. From that time forward the apostle Paul began to understand that the Gentiles were going to come in, no doubt, to the truth. That was going to upset Jews.
It was not but a short time later, probably in the summer of 41 AD that the apostle Peter was called to teach Cornelius who was none other than a Roman centurion at Caesarea. Why would an officer in the hated Roman military be giving alms to Jews and worshipping the God of Abraham? Well, if the Roman governor himself and his Roman generals from Antioch of Syria said, at jeopardy of their lives, that God almighty is in this people, the Jews, how do you think Cornelius would have looked at what was happening? He began to worship God almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Peter was sent to Cornelius. He and his family wanted to be baptized, and Peter could hardly believe it.
Do you see how strong Peter was in all of this, now that this magnificent miracle had taken place, when the entire Jewish nation was involved in it, and a great catastrophe was averted? If you would say a Gentile could be converted and perform Jewish religious actions without being circumcised, it would have taken a lot of convincing, because God had just vindicated His Temple and the ritual of Moses — clearly!
Paul had his great vision, however, and Peter had to be shown a vision three times by this sheet coming down from heaven, and he could not believe it. When he finally baptized Cornelius, Peter went up to Jerusalem and told the other apostles. It is all in Acts 11:1–18. Luke saw such significance in this that he repeated in chapter 11 word for word, in boring laborious repetition what Peter experienced at Cornelius’ place in Caesarea by the sea and what he rehearsed up at Jerusalem. Do you know why Luke put it in two times? He did it so it would be drummed into people’s minds.
You know, the Jews could hardly believe what Peter told them. Finally the Christian Jews acknowledge the obvious truth: “Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). Even then they said that Gentiles must be circumcised. That was when the arguments started. Okay, let them come in but they have to be circumcised and be Jews just like us because God has dedicated His Temple already. In no way are we going to go against that Temple and the Mosaic ritual. After all, when the Kingdom of God comes on earth, all the sacrifices will begin again (temporarily) in the Temple. Sabbaths are going to be kept. Holy Days are going to be kept. The Gentiles should do all of this.
The apostle Paul from that time forward said NO! He was putting himself in the midst of those true apostles of Christ, granted, who were now steadfastly assured that God was sticking with His Temple and the Mosaic rituals. To be Christians and to be close to Moses was still perfectly all right. Paul went against the grain, and step by step as he taught the Galatians, the Macedonians, the Corinthians, the Romans, the Ephesians, and all the Gentiles. He finally got to the place some 15 years later of telling the Ephesians that the middle wall of the Temple in Jerusalem is now broken down (Ephesians 2:14). That was about the last of it. Everything that Paul did was in a sense to tear down that physical Temple that everyone was putting their arms around.
In a nutshell, we know from history what happened in 66 AD. God through a series of 7 miracles recorded in Josephus show that clearly and plainly He was abandoning that Temple. He abandoned it on Pentecost Day in 66 AD. When God abandoned the Temple, the rest of the Christian Jews began to say, you know, maybe Paul was right after all. He was not against the physical Temple at all. Paul was against people depending upon the physical things. 13 That event in which God was clearly involved in 40–41 AD with the great rains coming, it was too much for the Jewish Christians in Palestine. It put them back into an entrenched practice of Mosaic law with Christ Jesus coming in as the Great Shepherd of Ezekiel.
Paul saw something far greater. That is why he was taken into the third heaven, and was shown how all the people on earth might become the sons and daughters of God. That Temple had to be broken down, and Paul did it step by step by divine revelation. We find that in the Book of Ephesians.
What happened was that God Himself came and He had man destroy that Temple, lock, stock, and barrel, and the city of Jerusalem just as Christ said it would. When the whole thing was in ruins, the Jewish Christians finally looked up and Christ did not come back when they thought. They said that Paul was right after all. What he found out in that third heaven was now speakable. Then they understood. The apostle John wrote his gospel and there he recorded what Christ said to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–42). Remember that woman asked, where should we worship, in Gerizim or in Jerusalem? Christ replied:
“But the hour comes, and now is [at the time John wrote his gospel], when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.”
He said that God would want people NOT to worship Him in Gerizim OR in Jerusalem, but “in spirit and in truth.” They finally had to learn that it is not the physical things you should hold on to, though they should be respected. God can show His miracles and mercy and judgment and goodness through those things, but we must look on the spiritual. That is what Paul was told when he went into the third heaven.
L. Martin, 1983
Edited by David Sielaff, July 2009
|Timeline of Events|
30 AD, Spring — Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven occur. The apostles receive God’s Spirit at Pentecost.
37 AD — Flaccus, the Roman Prefect of Egypt, foments mob attacks on Jews in and forcibly places images of Caesar (Caligula) in Jewish synagogues in the city of Alexandria. News of this sacrilege reported to all Jews. Jews respond peacefully.
40 AD, Autumn — Emperor Caligula (Gaius Caesar) orders the Jews and Petronius, the Roman Governor of Syria, to erect a statue of Caesar as a god inside the Holy of Holies. Jews from all over Judea meet Petronius and his troops, respond peacefully, and are willing to sacrifice their lives. Petronius writes his letter to Caligula. Restoring rains miraculously come.
King Agrippa I dissuades Caligula who cancels the statue order. Caligula received Petronius letter and orders Petronius to commit suicide. Petronius and the Jews wait for the answer.
41 AD, Winter — Caligula is assassinated January 24, 41 AD. Petronius receives Caligula’s letter demanding suicide after being notified of Caligula’s death.
The apostle Paul experiences the vision mentioned in 2 Corinthians chapter 12.
41 AD, Summer — Peter has his vision to go to Cornelius the Roman Centurion.
41–42 AD, Autumn to Autumn — This was a Sabbatical Year.
55 AD, Autumn — Paul writes 2 Corinthians from Macedonia telling about his vision in 41 AD.
66 AD, Spring — Roman rebellion begins in Judea and Samaria.
70 AD, Autumn — Temple and city of Jerusalem destroyed. Jewish government disbanded.
1 Dr. Martin’s 1979 article “The Expectation of Christ's Second Coming in Apostolic Times” at http://www.askelm.com/prophecy/p790201.htm gives information about 63 AD being a significant crisis time. DWS
3 How many of us have experienced that today? When you put a date, say 1972, or any other date, 1975, as a capstone date beyond which you cannot go, you must crowd all of the prophecies into that period just prior to it, and if you cannot find someone in ancient Assyria, then you will have to create someone, somewhere, and you look at Germany and you say, well, Assyria must be Germany. Look at this nation there, Israel must be great at the end of the age, but you must find that, so 1972 or 1975 and I know that Israel is not great, but Israel of the prophecies is the United States of America, or it is this or that. ELM
4 See Dr. Martin’s presentation “Development of New Doctrine” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d090501.htm. Christian tradition about apostles remaining in Jerusalem for 12 years is in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.18.13. To be sure the apostles knew that the Gospel was to go to the world (Matthew 24:14, 26:13; Mark 14:9, 16:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4), but not yet. DWS
5 The Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–38) was likely an exception. Philip was told to meet with him. See footnote above. DWS
6 While the ekklesia was scattered after the death of Stephen, the apostles remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), later the ekklesia was quite public and many thousands belonged (Acts 21:20). DWS
7 There were other times. Antiochus Epiphanes was important too, as was Pompey of Rome in 63 BC when he walked into the Temple, but he did not put any idol or anything in that Temple. ELM
8 The Roman governor of Egypt by the name of Flaccus sided with the Greeks against the Jews. To placate the Greeks he came up with the idea of putting a statue of Caesar in every synagogue in Alexandria. Then the riots really started. This dispute was adjudicated and Flaccus was put to death. The story is told in Philo’s work Against Flaccus presented with introduction and commentary at http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book36.html. DWS
9 An abbreviated account can be found in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, chapters 4–5, available online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250102.htm. The full is found in two ancient authors, in Philo’s short book On the Embassy to Gaius at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Embassy_to_Gaius and in Josephus’ account in Antiquities of the Jews 18.265–309. Read the Whiston translation, Book 18, Chapter 8 at http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/ant18.html. All accessed June 2009. DWS
10 One record says he took half the army. There were four legions there. It could have been either 2 or 3, but Josephus says in one record 3 legions. ELM (Petronius certainly had several thousand auxiliary troops from allied nations. DWS)
12 God’s miraculous protection of His Temple reinforced their belief that it was important to God. That belief continued for many Jews up to and during the war against Rome beginning in 66 AD. That resulted in the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem and the Jewish nation in 70 AD. DWS
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