In the mind of the Jews, Jerusalem was the literal center of the universe. What they believed to be “Isaac’s Rock” on the temple mount (Moriah), they considered the foundation stone of the world.1 Their “mental and spiritual horizon was bounded by Palestine.”2Indeed, it was not only Jews who regarded Jerusalem and the temple as the spiritual center of the inhabited earth: God fearing Gentiles and pagans alike sought favor from God (or the gods), within its walls or from its people.3 Hence the importance of bringing the old covenant age to a thundering close, a close that would not, could not be mistaken for anything other than the proof Jesus promised to produce concerning His claims to “Messiahship” and His divine “Sonship,” the one who would reign at God’s right hand (Matt. 24:30, 26:64). This is what happened with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. This event signaled the end the writers of the New Testament were most concerned with.4 In short the writers of the New Testament said the end was near because it was. The last days which the Bible emphasizes took place during the first century. They were the last days of the old covenant age, not the last days of human history directly preceding the second coming of Christ. The writers of the New Testament where not mistaken nor were they using language that said one thing but meant another. The end of the age was at hand and took place within a generation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This closure of one age and the fullness of another was manifest in the overthrow of the Jewish nation by the Romans and their allied armies.
To the Jewish mind of that time the end of Jerusalem and the temple was like the end of the world. (Imagine your feelings if the U.S.A. was brought to total and sudden ruin by foreign armies. It is very likely that you would describe it as the end of the world – as the end of your world at least.) Ezekiel’s almost frenzied prophesies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians are a case in point. Jeremiah’s expressions of deep pain recorded in the book of Lamentations are also typical. Yes, the “end of the world” had come in times past and it was about to take place again in the later part of the first century. This end was to be the final end of the old covenant way (Heb. 8:13). The world was in the last days of the old covenant age; Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and the tie to the Christian church would be severed. “It was particularly after the fall of Jerusalem that the Church (was) freed from its bondage to Judaism. This (was) so that it (would) become a truly universal Church.”5 As one author put it:
There is reason to believe that the true significance and grandeur of that great event are very little appreciated by many. The destruction of Jerusalem was not a mere thrilling incident in the drama of history, like the siege of Troy or the downfall of Cathage, closing a chapter in the annals of a state or people. It was an event that has no parallel in history. It was the outward and visible sign of a great epoch in the divine government of the world. It was the close of one dispensation and the commencement of another. It marked the inauguration of a new order of things. The Mosaic economy – which had been ushered in by the miracles of Egypt, the lightenings and thunderings of Sinai, and the glorious manifestations of Jehovah to Israel – after subsisting for more than fifteen centuries, was now abolished. The peculiar relation between the Most High and the covenant nation was dissolved. The Messianic kingdom …(t)he kingdom so long predicted, hoped for, prayed for, was now fully come.6
Without a doubt, the end of the age – the old covenant age – had come upon the world. It was that end that was occupying the minds of the New Testament writers because it was that end which was at hand. It was the end that took place within a generation of Christ’s death and resurrection. It was the end that forever changed the world. Is it any wonder they lived in constant expectation of that event? It was near at hand. Moreover it spelled the beginning of a “new heaven and a new earth” in Christ Jesus. There is no biblical evidence whatsoever to support the idea that the New Testament writers lived in expectation of the immanent physical second coming of Christ and the end of human history. They understood the second coming of Christ at the end of human history was in the distant future. The coming they looked forward to was the “coming” of Christ the King to judge apostate Israel.
1. Colin Cross, Who Was Jesus?, (1970; New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993), 49.
2. Alfred Edersheim, The Life And Times of Jesus The Messiah, (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.), 84.
3. Josephus, Wars, II:XVII:3, V:I:3, Against Apion, II:40. Philo, The Works Of Philo, trans., C. D. Yonge, (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), “Flaccus,” XII:170.
4. John Lightfoot, Commentary On The New Testament From The Talmud And Hebraica, 4 vols., (1859; Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 2:309-310, 320-321, 4:258.
5. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., “The Great Jubilee,” Dispensationalism in Transition, April 1992
6. J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Study of the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, (1887: Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, 1985), 546.