The Need for a New Testament
There can be no proper understanding of the New Testament canon (its development, formation and design) unless one factor is kept plainly in mind. The apostles never thought that a New Testament was necessary to present to people of future until they finally realized that Christ was not returning to earth in their generation. Indeed, there is not the slightest hint in the Book of Acts (which closed its account in early 61 C.E.) that any of the books written by the apostles in the first thirty years of Christianity was destined to be placed into a canon of scripture. Why formulate a New Testament for posterity when Christ was expected to be on earth in a few short years? Such action would have seemed thoroughly unnecessary and irrelevant.
However, when the apostles finally realized that Christ was not returning in the 1st century, it then became their major task to select and to write several books which could secure the truths of Christianity until Christ would actually return. They had the example of Ezra the priest who in the 5th century before Christ canonized the twenty-two books of the Old Testament as a divine body of sacred writings for the Jewish people.
Actually, the close of the Book of Acts marks an important point in the history of the New Testament canon. During the historical period covered by that book the apostles were expecting Christ’s second advent, and the closer they got to 61 C.E. the more intense was their anticipation. As a matter of fact, when the Book of Hebrews was written in the early part of 61 C.E., the expectancy was at its apex. 1 In Hebrews 10:37 the Greek actually indicates that Christ’s advent would occur in “a very little while” (Hebrews 10:37). But the epistles written two or three years after 61 C.E. make a sudden shift of emphasis. From then on, Paul abandons the theme of Christ’s imminent advent and concentrates on matters which show a long period of time awaiting the Christian community before Christ’s advent would occur. The year 62/63 C.E. seems to have been the year of decision for the apostles (at least for the apostle Paul) in finally deciding that Christ would not return in the 1st century. This change of opinion may have come with the martyrdom of James during the Passover of 62 C.E.
James, the leader of the Jerusalem Christians, was thrown over the precipitous east wall of the Temple into the Kidron valley. The fall itself failed to kill him and he was finally stoned to death. Just before his execution, he told the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem that Christ “is about to come in the clouds of heaven.” 2 There can be little doubt that the glorious advent of Christ was expected to occur very shortly.
The martyrdom of James must have had a profound effect on Jewish Christians because he was even a recognized figure among the Jewish community for his justice and righteous behavior. His contemporaries gave him the title: “the Sadec” (the righteous one). So respected was he by almost all parties in Jerusalem that it is said he was like a righteous high priest and able to enter the Holy of Holies. 3 Whether one wishes to believe all the traditions about James is not important in our present discussion, but it appears probable that his violent death may have represented a major epochal event to the early Christians.
The autumn of 62 C.E. (six months after the death of James) was also significant regarding the return of Christ for another reason. This period commenced the sabbatical year for all Palestinian Jews. 4 To Jews, the sabbatical years were important prophetic indicators. Daniel predicted that there were to be exactly 70 sabbatical cycles of 7 years until the Kingdom of God would arrive on earth. He divided those 490 years into one period of 49 years (7 times 7 sabbatical cycles), another of 434 years (62 times 7 sabbatical cycles), and a final 7 year period that was divided into two sections of 3½ years each. These last 7 years of Daniel were thought by people of the 1st century to embrace a period of great trouble on Israel, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. The conclusion to that final 7 years was expected to witness the advent of the Messianic Kingdom of God destined to take control over all Gentile realms in the world.
Since the Book of Hebrews and James (the Christian head of Jerusalem) were expressing an imminence to Christ’s return from heaven, the new sabbatical cycle of 7 years, which commenced in the autumn of 63 C.E. and ended in 70 C.E., must have been reckoned by the Jews as significant. We know this to be the case because Josephus said the Jews went to war with the Romans in 66 C.E. (not long before the middle of that sabbatical period), and the people persisted in that war against all odds because they were trusting in the fulfillment of a divine oracle in their holy scriptures. 5 There can hardly be a doubt that Josephus was referring to the chronological prophecies found in the Book of Daniel.
This may have been the reason that at the beginning of the sabbatical year of 62/63 C.E. Josephus said that a man by the name of Joshua ben Ananias began a 7 years and 5 months verbal prophecy against the inhabitants of Jerusalem which ended with the destruction of the city and the Temple in 70 C.E. 6 Josephus reckoned the start of this man’s prophecy as being so important that he said it represented the official commencement of God’s warnings to the Jews that Jerusalem and the Temple would soon be destroyed.
Even though a great deal of significance must have been attached by the Jews to the end of the sabbatical year and the start of a new sabbatical period of 7 years in the autumn of 63 C.E., 7 there was, however, a problem with the prophetic statements of Daniel. Josephus himself admitted that the chronological statements in Daniel were very obscure and capable of a host of interpretations. For example, the Seventy Weeks’ prophecy began its 490 years with a command to rebuild Jerusalem. But which “command” was this?
There were other unknown factors associated with the prophecy. People wondered if there were any chronological gaps existing between the three main divisions of the Seventy Weeks’ Prophecy? In the prophecy itself the wording of the Hebrew shows that its three sections were to be “cut out” of historical time between the going forth of the command to rebuild Jerusalem and the arrival of the Messiah (Daniel 9:24).
This could indicate that some gaps of time might be expected between the prophetic time indications within the three sections. Such a gap may have been imagined as existing for the years of the Maccabean (Hasmonean) rulers at Jerusalem (when Jews had their own sovereignty over Judaea), or there may have been other “gaps” to consider in the 2nd and 1st centuries before Christ.
And besides the problems with so-called “gaps,” how many days did the particular years of Daniel’s prophecy consist? Were they to be reckoned as normal year lengths of 365 1/4 days? But maybe Daniel intended a 354-day lunar year, or perhaps an ideal 360-day prophetic year. No one in the 1st century knew for sure just what Daniel meant, and the various interpretations could cause several differences in the accumulative number of days, weeks, months, and even years for the fulfillment of the prophecy.
There were even more obscurities to the prediction than those mentioned above. When Daniel mentioned that the prophecy would see the emergence of “the Messiah,” did he mean the anointed son of David, perhaps an ordained priest, or some prophet? Even if the proper “Messiah” could be correctly picked, there were other ambiguities that gave problems:
The truth is, there was not any proven standard of prophetic interpretation in the 1st century that could give anyone a certain conviction regarding the meaning of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. Because of these variables, the prophecy (and all others of the Old Testament) remained enigmatic both to Christians and Jews. And this is why Josephus called the “oracle” of the soon coming of the Kingdom of God “an obscure prophecy.”
In spite of this, it was commonly believed in the 1st century that the prophetical/chronological factors of Daniel were on the verge of fulfillment sometime within the latter half of that century. And the sabbatical period of 7 years which began in the autumn of 63 C.E. and lasted until the autumn of 70 C.E. was a time when a great deal of Messianic expectation began to be rife in Jerusalem and throughout Judaism. It appeared to the Jews that the “Babylonian (Gentile)” system of government was about to terminate. 8
It must be remembered that the use of numbers (and the symbols behind them) played an important part in the interpretation of prophecy in the 1st century. The number 666 is associated, in the Book of Revelation, with the reign of the world ruler who will have ten nations under his power in the last generation before the Kingdom of God appears on earth (Revelation 13:18). The Babylonian writer Berosus believed that world history itself was governed by cycles of 60, 600, and 3600 years (Fragment 4). And the Bible shows that the number 6 (Or its multiples) has symbolic teaching to it. When Nebuchadnezzar (the head of gold) set up a large idol in Babylon, its dimensions were 60 cubits high and 6 broad (Daniel 3:1). This, of itself, may appear insignificant, but if one figures the numerical value of the Hebrew letters that make up the description of that idol, it comes to 4662 (which is exactly 7 times 666). 9 Conversely, Daniel and his three friends who refused to bow down before that idol found their names adding up to 888:
Daniel (95), Hananiah (120), Mishael (381), Azariah (292) (Daniel 2:17). In the Greek the name Jesus also added up to 888. The numbers 7 and 8 had to do with completion and righteousness, but 6 was almost always connected with man and his evil ways, 10 and the man of sin who will be the antichrist at the end of the age has the number 666.
It no doubt appeared significant to the apostles and most Jews who lived in the 1st century that Nebuchadnezzar (the head of gold in Daniel’s prophecy) began his first year of rule in 604 B.C.E. according to the received chronology. When one adds 666 years to that date, the start of the sabbatical cycle in 63 C.E. is reached. Had this been the only prophetic indication concerning 63 C.E., scant attention would have been given to the outcome. But when one adds 66 years to 604 B.C.E., the year 538 B.C.E. became evident. This happened to be the first year of Cyrus over Babylon who began the “silver portion” of Nebuchadnezzar’s image.
And remarkably, when one adds 600 years to 538 B.C.E., again the year 63 C.E. is reached. This fact may have given the Jews even more interest in 63 C.E. as a cardinal date in the interpretation of prophetic history, because Josephus made the definite statement that 600 years was looked on by the Jews (and others in the world) as an astronomical and historical cycle of time called “The Great Year.” 11 There is little question that Josephus obtained his information from Berosus, the Babylonian astronomer who lived in the 5th century B.C.E. It was no doubt believed that the 600 year period from the start of the “silver portion” of the Babylonian image was important, and this worked out to 63 C.E. as a concluding date.
That did not end the prophetic symbolism of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. There was prophesied to be a third world empire and it was represented by the “brass portion.” This was to commence with a he-goat from the west pushing at the “silver portion” in the east. It was believed by prophetic interpreters in the 1st century that this represented Alexander the Great who started to conquer the Persian Empire with his victory at the Battle of Granicus in 334 B.C.E. And lo and behold, 396 years forward from that date again reaches to 63 C.E.
But what is important with the span of 396 years? This period happens to occupy a space of 6 times 66 years. This fact no doubt appeared too significant to be coincidental. It seemed to signify that the years which commenced the gold, silver, and brass portions of Nebuchadnezzar’s image 12; all had the numbers 6, 60, 66, 600, and 666 focusing on the year 63 C.E. Josephus refused to give any prophetic details regarding the arrival of the “iron portion” of the image which he no doubt equated with Rome, 13 but there must have been a host of chronological interpretations on this matter simply because there were several important periods of time when Rome interfered with the Jews in Judaea from the time of the Maccabees onward.
The Christians, however, had an even more profound reason for expecting that a change in world history was about to occur in 63 C.E. This was because of the “Immanuel Prophecy” found in Isaiah chapter 7 through chapter 12. The apostles identified the virgin birth of Immanuel (as translated by the Greek Septuagint Version) with the virgin birth of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14). But what commentators often overlook is the fact that a 65-year period was destined to be associated with Immanuel in order for Him to overthrow the Syrians and the people of Ephraim and to bring in the Messianic kingdom described in Isaiah 11 and 12. Since Jesus was born in 3 B.C., 14 that period of 65 years would also have terminated in 63 C.E.
Let us pay attention to this year 63 C.E. for a moment. We will then be able to observe an important point regarding the end-time as conceived by the early Christians — and especially by the apostle Paul. If one will survey Paul’s letters written BEFORE 63 C.E., they present a prophetic anticipation for the soon occurrence of all the Old Testament prophecies leading up to the second advent of Christ, but as soon as 63 C.E. passes (and the expected prophecies did not materialize as Paul first thought), he thoroughly abandoned the concept of Christ’s soon appearance and he put the Second Advent into the future. The key year even for Paul was the sabbatical year which ended in 63 C.E. There are important indications to show this.
When the apostle Peter delivered his first sermon to the Jews after Christ’s resurrection he quoted a prophecy from Joel and said “the last days” were then upon the people of Israel (Acts 2:17). From that time forward the apostles continued to teach that they were at the end of an age. In the Book of Hebrews the mid-1st century was being called:
And in his early epistles Paul indicated he (and many of his readers) would still be alive at Christ’s second advent (1 Corinthians 15:50–52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15).
It was felt in the middle of the 1st century that the conclusion of the world system was very near. The majority of Jews (and even the Gentiles) were persuaded by this conviction. As early as 49 C.E., Jews in Rome were expelled from the capital because of tumults caused by Chrestus, a Messianic pretender. 15 In 54 C.E., the first year of Nero, 16 Josephus said that so many false Christs began to appear among the Jews in Judaea that hardly a day went by that the Roman procurator did not put some of them to death. 17 The start of Nero’s reign over Rome was looked on auspiciously by many Jews. He was the “sixth emperor” and even in the Book of Revelation the apostle John was inspired to write that,
“there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is [the sixth was then looked upon as existing in the world], and the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a short space”
The Messianic kingdom was expected to arrive not long after the ‘sixth king” whom many interpreted to be Nero. This is why at the beginning of Nero’s reign there was a great deal of prophetic expectation in Palestine. Lots of political upstarts claiming to be the Messiah came on the scene.
Christ had prophesied that such imposters would arise who would lead people into the desert where their new “Moses” (the Christ) would lead the Jews to victory over the Romans. Christ told His disciples: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, ‘Behold he is in the desert’ ... believe it not” (Matthew 24:26). This very thing began to occur in 54 C.E., during the first year of Nero. Josephus said:
“Imposters and deceivers called upon the mob to follow them into the desert. For they said that they would show them unmistakable wonders and signs that would be conducted in precise agreement with God’s will. Many people were in fact persuaded to follow them and they paid for their folly.”
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8.6 ¶168
At this time arose the Egyptian false Christ. He led some 30,000 people to the Mount of Olives and/or the desert, proclaiming that He would cause the walls of Jerusalem to be destroyed. Though Felix the Roman procurator was able to rout the people under him, the Egyptian himself escaped, and about two years later the Roman authorities thought the apostle Paul might be that Egyptian renegade. 18
These disturbances broke out because of the Messianic expectations of the Jews at the time. But when the sabbatical year of 62/63 C.E. passed, the anticipation grew even stronger. The excitement was so intense by 64 C.E. that when Rome was destroyed by fire on July 19th, the blame was placed on those expecting the arrival of the “New Age of the Messiah. Christians were especially singled out for censure. Indeed, Nero near this very time was even advised by his astrologers to move his capital from Rome to Jerusalem because they said that sovereignty over the world was destined to arise in Judaea at that period (Suetonius, Nero 40). 19 Both the Roman historians Tacitus (History V.13) 20 and Suetonius (Vespasian 4) 21 mentioned the general feeling of people throughout the Roman Empire that the expected world empire from Jerusalem would soon emerge.
All Christians shared this expectation because Christ Himself seemed to indicate He would return within one generation from His crucifixion in 30 C.E. We will see in a moment that most people of the time considered a “generation” to be 40 years in length. This meant that Christ would definitely set up His world government within 40 years after His crucifixion, that is, before the year 70 C.E. This is why the apostle Paul expected that all the prophecies of the Old Testament would be fulfilled upon that generation — “upon whom the ends of the age are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Christ had even made the statement that judgments upon evil people from the time of Abel (at the very start of Genesis) to the close of the Old Testament period, would have their accumulated force unleashed on that generation which existed in the 1st century. “Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon THIS GENERATION” (Matthew 23:35–36).
Assertions such as these prompted the apostles to accept the conclusion that all the Old Testament prophecies, uttered over the last 1500 years, which pertained to the “end-time” — whether against Egypt, Assyria, Edom, Tyre, Babylon, Israel, etc. — would find their fulfillment in their time.
The Book of Revelation adopted this style of interpretation. It assembled numerous prophecies from all parts of the Old Testament (disregarding the different time periods or peoples to whom the prophecies were first given) and it began in a typical manner to focus their combined fulfillment into a single generation. Revelation simply placed the diverse prophecies altogether into a seven years period (divided into two halves) — which the Book of Daniel had done earlier — and placed their fulfillment in “the Lord’s day” at the end of the age (Revelation 1:10).
At first, John, the author, considered this collection of prophecies, with new ones revealed to him, were “things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1). So quickly were they expected (apparently) that it appeared as though the ones who crucified Christ would still be alive to witness the Second Advent (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 26:64).
The apostle Paul in all his epistles written before 63 C.E. spoke about the imminence of all end-time prophetic events and that many of his readers would be alive to observe the second advent (1 Corinthians 15:51–52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17). Paul’s early beliefs were solidly anchored in the conviction that “the time is short ... the fashion of this world passes away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31).
At the time Paul wrote First Corinthians (55 C.E.), he even discouraged people from getting married. It was not that he was against marriage of itself, but the present distress which was then on the Corinthian Christians, plus the anticipated great trouble that was soon to develop in the world because of the end-time events, made Paul suggest the single state (and not marriage) for the Christian people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:2–32). In the Book of Romans, written about a year later, he said:
“Now is it high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed, the night is far spent, and the day is at hand.”
So certain was Paul of the soon arrival of God’s kingdom that he told the Romans that “Satan would be crushed under their feet very soon” (Romans 16:20). The apostle James also told his readers it was “the last days” and that they should be patient “unto the coming of the Lord ... for the coming of the Lord draws nigh” (James 5:3, 7–8). The apostle John was no less urgent in his appeal that the end of the age was near:
“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”
1 John 2:18
The return of Christ in that generation of 40 years that succeeded the resurrection of Christ seemed an assured thing because even Christ himself was thought to teach it. “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). Christ told His apostles that they (back at that time) should watch for these prophesied events “for you know not what hour your Lord does come” (verse 42). All the contexts in which Christ instructed His apostles about prophetic matters suggest that many of the apostles would certainly be alive to behold them. Christ had also stated to some of them that they would not die before they would view the revelation of the Kingdom of God as coming to earth.
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
Though the apostles knew that an exact knowledge of the prophetic chronology was not to be given to them (Acts 1:6–7), they were at first convinced that the Second Advent would occur in their lifetimes. They even had some good clues as to its occurrence. The apostle Peter had been told that he would die an old man before Christ’s return (John 21:18–19), but that John would “tarry until I come.” It became the belief of many disciples that Christ would return before John would reach extreme old age (but after Peter’s death). This made people feel that John would continue to live until Christ’s advent (John 21:21–23).
These teachings gave a confidence that Christ’s second advent would occur within that generation, but not before Peter would reach old age. It was easy to figure that a generation of time represented a 40-year period. This belief was supported by the fact that Peter at his baptism must have been about the same age as Christ (30 years of age). If one added 40 years to Peter’s 30 years (so that he might reach “old age”) then the ideal 70 years mentioned in Psalm 90:10 would be accomplished. This would indicate that Peter would be martyred a little before 70 C.E., but that John would still be alive (a while after Peter’s death) to witness the Second Advent in person. So, they came to believe that a single generation of time for all end-time prophecies to be fulfilled would have been within 40 years of Christ’s resurrection.
There was even scriptural authority that a generation represented a span of 40 years. The Book of Hebrews recorded: “Your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation” (Hebrews 3:9–10).
The fact that 40 years was ‘one generation” in prophetic interpretation was a well-established belief. The number 40 itself was normally attached to the symbol of trial, punishment, or a span of time associated with special human experiences. There are numerous examples to show this:
Even important periods associated with human life had the number 40 associated with them. The human gestation period, for example, is normally 40 weeks — and in biblical parlance this was considered 40 weeks of trial on women. A boy baby was purified 40 days after his birth (Leviticus 12:3–4) and 80 days (2 times 40) for a female (verse 5). While a human became of spiritual age at 30 years (Numbers 4:3; Luke 3:23), the person was ideally given a further 40 years of trial (or experience) in adult life (30 plus 40 years equaling the ideal 70 years of Psalm 90:10).
Joseph, however, being reckoned the firstborn of Jacob was given a double blessing, and this included among other things a double period of full, adult life. He lived to be 110 years of age (30 plus two 40 year periods). Joshua also attained to the same 110 years of life (Genesis 50:22; Joshua 24:29). Moses, on the other hand, was even more blessed and lived 120 years (3 times 40). The ancients considered it no accident that Moses was not only selected for his historic role at 40 years of age, but he also led the children of Israel Out of Egypt at 80 (2 times 40) and died at 120 (3 times 40).
In fact, the 40 years’ period of the Exodus became the standard number of years for reckoning a generation. This is found in important historical time periods mentioned in the Bible. The time from the Exodus to the building of the Temple in Solomon’s reign was understood as being 480 years (12 times 40, 1 Kings 6:1). David and Solomon were considered having ruled for 40 years each (2 Samuel 5:4; I Kings 11:42). Even King Saul was given 40 years (Acts 13:21) though his exact period of Saul’s reign is difficult to determine in the Old Testament. And recall that the Exodus period itself was exactly 40 years, which the Book of Hebrews called “that generation” (Hebrews 3:9–10). In short, it became common to acknowledge any generation, ideally, as being 40 years in length.
“Forty years represented a generation, and thus the number 40 became a round number for a full period, a complete epoch.”
Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels 22
As a matter of fact, the Jewish authorities in the 40 years between Christ’s crucifixion in 30 C.E. to 70 C.E. were given some marvelous signs from God to show that Christ’s teaching about the coming destruction of the Temple would indeed take place. It is easy to see a preoccupation that the apostles (and other Christians) must have had regarding the 40 years period after Christ’s resurrection. When Christ delivered the Olivet Prophecy in 30 C.E. about the destruction of Jerusalem, He said it would occur in “that generation.” And remarkably, the catastrophe did in fact happen in 70 C.E. — exactly 40 years later.
There were four miraculous signs in particular that the apostles and the Jewish people witnessed in the 40 years before the destruction of the Temple; and the historical accuracy of these four signs is recorded in both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. This shows that the knowledge of these four special signs was well recognized by the Jewish authorities in the period when the Talmuds were compiled. It is now time that all of us who desire to know the history of Palestine in the 1st century be made aware of those outstanding warning signs. Not only is this knowledge important for Christians, but it is equally significant for all the Jewish people today. What were those four signs?
First, note what the Jerusalem Talmud has to say on this matter:
“Forty years before the destruction of the Temple [starting in 30 C.E.] the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open. Said Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai to the Temple, ‘O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars’ (Zechariah 11:1).”
Sotah 6:3 23
Let us now look at what the Babylonian Talmud has to say (quoted from the Soncino Version).
“Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel would open by themselves, until Yohanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekel, Hekel, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars”
Yoma 39b 24
The four signs are precisely the same in both Talmuds, and both state that the signs began in the year 30 C.E. (which is the very year in which Christ died on the tree of crucifixion). As explained in my book Secrets of Golgotha, I showed another important historical event which happened to the Jewish nation that occurred in that same year. Let me record it again in this book.
“Forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin was banished [from the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple] and sat in the Trading Station [also in the Temple, but east of its former location].”
Shabbath 15a 25
As I explained in my book Secrets of Golgotha, the move of the official Sanhedrin from the Chamber of Hewn Stones near the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Temple could be accounted for by the falling stonework that was over the entrance to the Hekel (the Holy Place) which supported the curtain that tore in two at the time of the crucifixion. Something must have happened to that vaulted structure called the Chamber of Hewn Stones that rendered it unfit for the Sanhedrin to enter from 30 C.E. onward. The earthquake at the crucifixion could well have caused the damage. No other explanation that is discernible in the historical records makes sense. This would mean that the last trial ever held in that prestigious and beautiful building on the Temple mount was that of Jesus.
And with that event which occurred exactly forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, there began a series of important signs that the Temple and its ritualistic system were destined to come to an end. The apostles would have been well aware of these signs, as were the Jewish people in Judaea. Indeed, the signs were looked on as being most important to the Jewish authorities.
The four signs involving the Temple were interpreted by Yohanan ben Zakkai as being warnings that the Temple was to be destroyed. This witness of Yohanan is significant because he lived both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. He was the most important person in the Jewish hierarchy during the period after the destruction in 70 C.E. He was no less than the head of the new seat of Jewish government established after 70 C.E. at Jabneh (Jamnia) about thirty miles west of Jerusalem. His witness and interpretation is paramount to justify the reliability of the occurrences of these four signs.
We all must notice one thing. Yohanan ben Zakkai (and all the later rabbis for the next 400 years) maintained that these four signs in the Temple were given by God to denote the coming destruction of the Temple, not that the people had gone over to “Christianity” or some other reason. While the four signs commenced precisely with 30 C.E. when Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead, none of the signs was associated by Yohanan ben Zakkai or the later rabbis as “disapproval” from God because of the arrival of Christianity.
There was no “displeasure” on God’s part with the vast numbers of Jewish people who had gone over to a belief in Christ Jesus in the thirty-three years (up to 63 C.E.) following the crucifixion. James stated that “tens of thousands” of Jews then believed the Gospel (Acts 21:20 Greek). Indeed, it was because the vast majority of those Jewish Christians turned away from the faith of (and in) Jesus that Peter and Jude wrote their epistles of warning to the Jews (Second Peter and Jude) that their erroneous actions would lead the nation into becoming as desolate as were Sodom and Gomorrah. 26
The truth is, just two days before His crucifixion Jesus foretold that Jerusalem and the Temple were destined to be destroyed (Matthew 24:1–3). He also told the authorities that He himself was the new Temple and that He (being that new Temple) would be raised from the dead after three days (John 2:19–21). All Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus were looking for the destruction of the physical Temple that existed in Jerusalem, and Yohanan ben Zakkai (who lived at the time of the apostles, and afterward) also knew that God was prophesying the destruction of the Temple by the four major signs that were given at the time. Let us now look closely at what those signs were.
The Babylonian Talmud lists the first sign as being that in which “the lot ‘for the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand” (Yoma 39b). What was meant by this? The Holy Scriptures speak about this ceremony (Leviticus 6:5–34). On the Day of Atonement two identical goats were brought before the High Priest and lots were cast over them. 27 The priest would put his right hand into a receptacle containing the two stones and without looking down, select a stone with his right hand and place it over the right hand goat. The Babylonian Talmud says that in the previous two hundred years the stone would be sometimes white and sometimes black as most people would have expected, that is, a random selection each year would bring up the black stone as often as the white. But beginning in 30 C.E. — the very year in which Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of the Temple, and the very year of his death and resurrection — the right hand of the High Priest selected the black stone every time for forty straight years!
The odds of a black stone coming up forty times in a row are almost astronomical in scope. And, according to Pascal’s Table of Binominal Coefficients, 28 the numerical chances of this happening under normal circumstances would be one chance in 1,099,511,627,776.
But the Jewish records show this rare phenomenon occurred with regular consistency for forty straight years!
The apostles would have been well aware of this occurrence and with each year passing with the same consistency of the black stone coming up in the High Priest’s hand, they would have been amazed with this phenomenon. Some Jewish authorities at the time (and certainly later) were also impressed.
That still does not conclude the matter. Both Talmuds also report another sign from eyewitness accounts that boggles the imagination. Beginning in 30 C.E., the very year of Jesus’ crucifixion, the western light of the Menorah, which is the Hebrew name for the seven-branched lampstand in the Holy Place, went out for the same period of forty years. This Menorah was positioned with its seven lamps facing north.
The western lamp was that which was next to the Holy of Holies and it was the most important for that reason. In fact, we are told in the Talmud that at dusk the lamps that were unlit in the daytime (the middle four lamps remained unlit, while the two eastern lamps normally stayed lit during the day) were to be reignited from the flames of the western lamp (which was a lamp that was supposed to stay lit all the time — it was like the “eternal” flame that we see today in some national monuments). Josephus, citing an earlier historian, said that on the Temple Menorah there was a flame that was supposed to be kept lit night and day. 29
This “western lamp” was to be kept lit at all times. For that reason, the priests kept extra reservoirs of olive oil and other implements in ready supply to make sure that the western lamp — under all circumstances — would stay lit. But what happened in the forty years from the very year Christ said the physical Temple would be destroyed, and in the very year that Christ became a new, resurrected “temple” for the Jewish people and for the entire world? Every night for forty years the western lamp went out — and this was in spite of the priests each evening preparing in a special way the western lamp so that it would remain constantly burning all night!
Now, using the chances, according to Pascal’s Table of Binominal Coefficients (which shows only one chance in 1,099,511,627,776 for a black stone to come up in the right hand for forty occasions), imagine what the odds would be for the western lamp (that was supposed to be the “eternal” flame for the nation) to go out each of the 365 days of a year for forty years? The odds of that happening are so astronomical that even mathematicians would stagger at trying to show a normal decimal answer like that given in Pascal’s pyramidical illustration.
But that is still not all. For forty straight years (during that single generation following Christ’s crucifixion) the crimson strap never changed its color to white as it had often done in the previous two hundred years. This is a ceremony not mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, but it was associated with the Day of Atonement from at least the time of Simon the Righteous, an honorable and upright High Priest who lived in the 3rd century B.C.E. It was noticed that on the Day of Atonement, when Simon would go into the Holy of Holies, that a crimson-colored thread that he had in association with his person miraculously turned white for the forty years he was priest and that the ‘lot of the Lord’ always came up in his right hand (Yoma 39b). It appears that this positive indication in both ceremonies (with the “white” constantly in evidence in the time of Simon the Righteous) became a pattern for future signs to the Jewish people in showing God’s appraisal of the Temple and its rituals. They came to believe these signs showed God’s pleasure or displeasure with their activities. This is because of a special sign given in the year of Simon the Righteous’ death that showed what the “white” and the “black” indications were intended to mean. Note how the Jewish rabbis came to understand these things.
“Our Rabbis taught: in the year in which Simon the Righteous died, he foretold them that he would die. They said: ‘Whence do you know that?’ He replied: ‘On every Day of Atonement an old man, dressed in white, wrapped in white, would join me, entering the Holy of Holies and leaving it with me, but today [on that final Day of Atonement that Simon performed his high priestly duties] I was joined by an old man, dressed in black, wrapped in black, who entered, but did not leave, with me.’ After the festival of Tabernacles he [Simon the Righteous] was sick for seven days and then died.”
Yoma 39b, underlines and words in brackets are mine
From that moment on, the priests began to notice that the “lot for the Lord” which was the ceremony ordained in the Old Testament would come up randomly, one time white and one time black. But that was not all. The crimson thread would sometimes also turn white and at other times it would remain its crimson color. This procedure prompted the Jewish rabbis to interpret that if the crimson thread turned white, then God approved of the Day of Atonement rituals every year and Israel could then be assured that they were forgiven their sins as the Holy Scriptures stated. Thus, these traditional rites of the crimson colored thread and the biblical ceremony of the “black” and “white” stones were established as official signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure.
But note this. With the year 30 C.E., the crimson thread never turned white again and the white stone never came up in the right hand of the high priest (for the period of forty years) from the time of Christ’s crucifixion until the complete destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
Yet there is even more to relate from the historical records of the early rabbis. During that same period of forty years, the doors of the Hekel 30 were found to be opening of their own accord at night during the time the Temple was off limits to the ordinary people. Both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds state that this opening of the Hekel doors was something that happened throughout the whole period of forty years! And recall that the fact of these signs was vouched for by no less than Yohanan ben Zakkai (the top rabbi after the fall of Jerusalem). He was an eyewitness to all the things that had happened in the Temple in those forty years before its destruction.
By reckoning all these four signs together (with their multiplied occurrences) as being mere coincidences and that they happened in a natural and normal way is entering the realm of patent absurdity. The odds of those things occurring by chance are so astronomical that to express the odds in a linear decimal fashion would stretch the limits of human terms to reckon it. But that these four signs were directly from God (and that their wonderful consistency of action was showing the coming destruction of the Temple that Jesus foretold) is something that made sense to the early rabbis who lived from the time of the Temple’s destruction and for almost four hundred years afterward. The apostles would also have been knowledgeable of these matters. In my estimation, those remarkable signs to the Jewish people came through the direct intervention of God. To believe they happened by chance is absurd.
The recognition of that 40 years’ period as playing a significant part in the thinking of the apostles is also most essential in understanding the background to the New Testament canonization. Those 40 years were partitioned prophetically into several distinct and critical periods. The main two periods were represented by a single 33 year span to accomplish the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world in accordance with the command in Matthew 28:19. This evangelization of the world was to be fulfilled before the Abomination of Desolation would be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem. The second period was that of 7 years, which dovetailed with Daniel’s last sabbatical period of 7 years’ duration which was to occur just before the Kingdom of God would come to earth.
And note this. With the generation of 40 years from Christ’s resurrection ending in 70 C.E., then 7 years before that date brings us once again to the crucial year of 63 C.E. for the beginning countdown to the end. By 63 C.E. the world was expected to be evangelized. And indeed, the apostles by 63 C.E. believed that they had completely given the Gospel message “to the world” as commanded by Christ in Matthew 28:19. The meaning of the word “world” has to be interpreted in the manner the apostles perceived it in the 1st century.
That “world” only included the parts of the globe to which they had been commissioned to preach. It should be noted that Paul in the Book of Colossians confidently stated that “all creation that is under heaven” had by then received the Gospel — and this was accomplished in the sixth decade of the 1st century (Colossians 1:23). He also told the Romans that the Gospel message had been manifested “to all the nations according to the command of the everlasting God” (Romans 16:26). In the concluding years of Paul’s ministry he acknowledged that the nations of the world had truly received the Gospel of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).
To the apostle Paul, this preaching to all the nations assigned to the apostles back in the 1st century signified that Christ’s prophecy that “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14) had been fulfilled. The apostles also thought that immediately on the heels of their final preaching assignments to people in the world, then the Abomination of Desolation would be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem to satisfy the teaching of Christ in Matthew 24:14 and 15.
Thus, the apostles looked on the single generation of 40 years that followed the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as the last generation before the Second Advent. And numerous signs were given in the Temple that apparently backed up the interpretation. The 40 years’ period was believed to represent a two-part time period: one a span of 33 years for evangelizing the world, then followed by 7 years for the last sabbatical period of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks to occur (Daniel 9:24ff).
This last 7 years was prophesied to be divided into two sections of 3 and 1/2 years each (“a time, times, and half a time”; 42 months, or 1260 days). During the middle of that period the Abomination of Desolation was expected to be set up (Daniel 9:27); and at the end of it Michael, the archangel, would stand up to defend Israel at the time of their greatest peril (Daniel 12:1). So it looked very possible that the year 63 C.E. (in the autumn of the year) would start the final scenario of prophetic events leading up to the second advent of Christ.
Thus, the year 63 C.E. became crucial to the apostles and early Christians in the interpretation of prophecy. Indeed, it looks like the Book of Revelation (as we will show later) was first written (its first draft) around 56 C.E. or shortly thereafter. That book centered on a seven-year period, which was divided into two divisions that those who read it thought, would no doubt commence with the autumn of 63 C.E. and that Christ would be back on earth by 70 C.E.
The only problem was: the prophecies the apostles and the Jewish people expected to be fulfilled did not happen at the time they thought. Indeed, here we are in the 20th century and they still have not occurred. The fact is, they are reserved for “the generation” that sees the essential prophecies begin to take place.
“When you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation [the one that sees the prophecies begin to take place] shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
Christ had told them that even the apostles of that time were not to know the times or the seasons that the Father had put in his own power (Acts 1:6–7).
Once the year 63 C.E. passed without the expected events starting to happen, the apostle Paul began to adjust his thinking on prophetic chronology. This fact can be clearly shown if one pays attention to the teaching in the books of Paul written after 63 C.E. While as late as 61 C.E. we can read in the Book of Hebrews the superlative statement that the second advent was to occur in “a very little while” (Hebrews 10:37), in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (written about 64 C.E.) he had changed his mind completely.
With the writing of First Timothy some prime alterations took place in the apostle Paul’s approach to the Second Advent. We find that he had abandoned all hopes that Christ would return in that generation. In First Timothy he even began to encourage widows to get married and hear children (1 Timothy 5:14). This is quite the reverse of what he recommended in 1 Corinthians 7:25–35 when he expected the soon appearing of the prophesied events to precede the Second Advent. In no way was he recommending marriage back at that time. But when he wrote his first letter to Timothy, times had changed. He was now informing Timothy that in later periods many people would depart from the faith and begin to prohibit marriage (1 Timothy 4:1–4). His former attitude to marriage was revoked after 63 C.E. because he was now encouraging it for younger widows.
He also instructed Timothy in a non-crisis way about the manner of selecting elders and deacons for future periods (1 Timothy 3:1). He commanded him to ordain no one suddenly (1 Timothy 5:22) but to take time to test any person wishing to be an elder (1 Timothy 3:10). He also gave specific commands regarding the method for the caring of widows in the congregation. All of these instructions clearly show that there was no longer any urgency concerning the Second Advent in Paul’s mind.
Timothy now expected to build up the organization of Christians by performing pastoral functions and instructing others in them. Paul also commanded that prayers be made for kings and rulers so that Christians might continue to lead a quite and peaceable life (1 Timothy 2:1–2). And though Paul seemed to hint that Timothy in the future might possibly live to witness Christ’s return (1 Timothy 6:14), he hastily pointed out that Christ would actually appear “in his own appointed times” (1 Timothy 6:15) — not at a date expected by individual Christians.
Paul continued this theme in his second letter to Timothy (about 66/67 C.E.). “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1) and in the future evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13). “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3). Paul was also assured that he would not be alive at the Second Advent. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous, will give me at that day” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Much the same is found in Paul’s letter to Titus (written near 63 C.E.). He instructed Titus to ordain elders in the cities of Crete so that the congregation might continue to grow and receive the true doctrines of Christ (Titus 1:5–9). There was no appeal to Titus, or the people of Crete, to prepare for the immediate end as was evident in most of the epistles of Paul up to 63 C.E.
We should also look at the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. These letters were written at a time when Paul was in prison (Ephesians 4:20; Colossians 4:3,18). In fact, Paul plainly taught the Ephesians that young Christian men of that time should plan to get married (Ephesians 5:31). This advice, of course, entailed having children and rearing them to adulthood. Paul even promised that if the children obeyed their parents they would then enjoy a long and natural life on earth (Ephesians 6:1–3). 31
It also ought to be mentioned that the information in the First and Second epistles of Peter display the same dichotomy of belief. In his first epistle he informs his readers that these are “the last times” (1 Peter 1:20) and that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7). He spoke of “the fiery trial which is to try you” (1 Peter 4:12) and that “the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God” (verse 17). These latter two verses seem to indicate strongly that the great persecution which Christ prophesied to occur on Christians just before the Second Advent is what Peter had in mind.
But then notice the drastic change in Peter’s second epistle. As a matter of fact, the theme is so different that many scholars cannot believe the same man wrote both epistles. There is, however, no difficulty in accepting the letters as coming from the apostle Peter. After all, they record that both came from “Simon Peter” and he even mentioned he wrote the first epistle (2 Peter 3:1).
What happened was a change in prophetic understanding regarding the time when the Second Advent would actually come to pass. Peter then referred to “the last days” as being in the future and that there would be people complaining that Christ has delayed His coming. “Where is the promise of His coming,” they will be saying (2 Peter 3:4).
Peter even had to explain why the expected Second Advent in the 1st century did not materialize.
“Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his coming.”
2 Peter 3:8–9
In the non-biblical book of First Clement, written in the last decade of the 1st century, the author makes a reference to this portion of Second Peter:
“Let not the scripture refer to us which mentions how wretched are the double-minded, those who harbor doubts in their souls and say: ‘We have heard these things even in our father’s time, and yet we have grown old, and none of these things have happened to us.’”
1 Clement 23:3
This attitude was reminiscent of Christ’s own teaching that there would be people who will say: “My lord delays his coming” (Matthew 24:48). He followed up this statement with the parable of the Ten Virgins which taught that no one would know the precise time of Christ’s return (Matthew 25:1–13).
There is an important point to make in this teaching about the “delay.” It shows that many people were setting particular dates (even a year, a month, or a day) for the Second Advent. After all, no one could ever claim that Christ “delays his coming” unless he was persuaded that a certain time must have been selected by some authorities for the event, and the time passed without incident. Without doubt, even the apostles themselves were setting dates in the middle of the 1st century. The crucial year for the apostle Paul was at or near 63 C.E. The other apostles may have selected this year or perhaps by 67 C.E. when the middle of Daniel’s seventh sabbatical cycle would be reached. Of course, none of us can be absolutely sure of the exact date for their expectancy, but it can be known that up to 61 C.E. the apostle Paul anticipated the soon coming of Christ, and after 63 C.E. he abandoned the hope.
What did this do with the teachings of the first draft of the Book of Revelation if it were written just a few years be fore 63 C.E.? It would have brought the authority of John into question (and even that of Christianity itself because the Book of Revelation was purported to have been given by Christ Jesus himself). We will have more to say on this in future chapters.
But what did Peter do once the year 63 C.E. passed without the expected end-time events occurring? He made an about-face in his teaching concerning the time of the end and Christ’s return. This is when he began to talk about a day with the Lord is as a thousand years. He may then have realized that at least another 2000 years lay in front of him before that generation prior to the Second Advent could occur. The knowledge of this fact would have prompted him (as well as John and Paul) to begin a selection of important apostolic writings to comprise a canon of the New Testament. These official books were to be the standard guide for Christian teaching “until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your heads” (2 Peter 1:19).
We now need to ask ourselves what happened in 63 C.E. (and thereabouts) which caused the apostles to abandon their hope in the return of Christ in their generation? This question will be considered in the next chapter. Suffice it to say now that none of the apostles thought of producing a New Testament canon as a supplement to the Old while they were expecting the soon return of Christ. Why form a book of instruction for the future when Christ would be back on earth in all His glory in a few years, or even months?
Once it was recognized that a considerable lapse of time was going to intervene before the actual end-time could begin, there then began to be a stepped-up activity among the apostles to develop an authorized collection of books and letters which could officially maintain a standard text of Christian doctrine for all future generations.
2 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.23.
3 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.23.
4 Ben Zion Wacholder, “The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Period,” in Hebrew Union College Annual, 44(1973), pp. 153–196. See the discussion regarding Sabbatical year cycles in Jack Finegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, Revised Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998), pp. 116–126.
5 Josephus, Wars of the Jews VI.5,4 ¶312.
6 Josephus, Wars of the Jews VI.5,3 ¶¶300–309.
7 It looks like they considered that particular sabbatical period to have been the last 7 years of Daniel’s prophecy.
8 It is interesting that 63 C.E. (when the sabbatical cycle began) was exactly 666 years from 604 B.C.E. (the first year of King Nebuchadnezzar of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, mentioned as the head of gold in the second chapter of Daniel if one uses the received chronology).
9 E.W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance, 4th ed. (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd., 1921), p.28. See also http://philologos.org/__eb-nis/13666.htm#666 (search for “4662”).
10 Note that Adam, the first man, was created at the end of the sixth day.
11 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.3,9 ¶106.
12 This gave what was considered a prophetic history of world empires from Babylon to the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
13 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews X.11.6 ¶276.
14 See my book The Star that Astonished the World, 2nd ed. (Portland, OR: ASK, 1996) for proof.
15 C. Tranquillus Suetonius, Claudius XXV, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, in J.C. Rolfe, ed., Suetonius, 2 Vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann, and New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914). Read the translation at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/suet-claudius-rolfe.html.
16 Nero was the sixth emperor of the Romans as counted by the Jews because they considered Julius Caesar as the first prophetic ruler of the “iron kingdom.”
17 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8.5 ¶¶160–161.
18 Acts 21:38; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8.6 ¶¶169–172.
22 James Hastings, Hastings Dictionary of Christ & the Gospels, vol. 2 (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1906–08), p. 250.
23 The translation is that of Jacob Neusner from his book Yerushalmi Tractate Shabbat. Chapters Eleven through Twenty-Four. And the Structure of Yerushalmi Shabbat in the series The Talmud of the Land of Israel. An Academic Commentary to the Second, Third, and Fourth Divisions for USF Academic Commentary Series. II.B (Scholars Press Atlanta, 1998–1999): pp. 156–157. Underlines and words in brackets are mine.
24 Bold letters are mine, but the words in brackets and italics are part of the Soncino text.
25 The translation is that of Jacob Neusner from his book Yerushalmi Tractate Shabbat. Chapters Eleven through Twenty-Four. And the Structure of Yerushalmi Shabbat in the series The Talmud of the Land of Israel. An Academic Commentary to the Second, Third, and Fourth Divisions for USF Academic Commentary Series. II.B (Scholars Press Atlanta, 1998–1999): pp. 156–157. Underlines and words in brackets are mine.
26 I will have more information on this matter later in this book.
27 One source says the lots were in the form of a white and black stone — the white stone was “for the Lord” and the black was “for the Scapegoat.”
28 This is a table of odds first devised by the French scientist Pascal who lived from 1623 to 1662 C.E. in which he showed odds in a pyramid style.
29 Josephus, Against Apion 1:22; and also see Tam. 3,9; 6,1; Sifra, Emor 13,7; Sif Num. 59; Yoma 33a; etc.)
30 These were doors behind the Temple curtain that tore in two at Christ’s precise time of death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:46).
31 We will see later that the books of Ephesians and Colossians were written after 63 C.E.
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