The Need for a New Testament
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. 1 In 54 C.E., the first year of Nero, 2 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. 3 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. 4
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). 5 Both the Roman historians Tacitus (History V.13) 6 and Suetonius (Vespasian 4) 7 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 8
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 9
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 10
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 11
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. 12
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.
1 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.
2 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.”
3 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8.5 ¶¶160–161.
4 Acts 21:38; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XX.8.6 ¶¶169–172.
8 James Hastings, Hastings Dictionary of Christ & the Gospels, vol. 2 (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1906–08), p. 250.
9 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.
10 Bold letters are mine, but the words in brackets and italics are part of the Soncino text.
11 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.
12 I will have more information on this matter later in this book.
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