The Sack of Jerusalem in AD 70
In the comments on the previous post, I had to go after someone who made the old accusation that Saint Paul and the first century Church were gravely disappointed by the fact that Christ did not return in their lifetime, as Christ had promised.
Liberal scholars, beginning in the 17th century, but especially Germans in the 19th century began to promote the wrong belief that Christ was an eschatological and charismatic leader. Incorrectly, they claim that He was a pacifist, who nevertheless prophesied the judgment of God on Israel and Rome through His miraculous return. These heretics then say that the sudden crucifixion of Christ complicated this claim and so His followers had to scramble and create a new theology to justify His death. So then, these heretics claims that the disciples created the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ, who then became a “cosmic Christ” who would come again to judge the living and the dead. The Jesus legend, they say, expanded to epic proportions.
The common teaching of this false modernist theology is the belief that Jesus was a “failed charismatic prophet,” and that early Christian theology is an attempted response to patch up the failure.
Incidentally, “Modernism” is the heresy that denies the supernatural realm, and instead seeks to find natural explanations of supernatural claims. The most commonly heard example is this: “Jesus didn’t really multiply loaves and fishes. What really happened is that everyone brought their lunches and shared with those who didn’t bring a lunch. It was a ‘miracle’ of love that Christ provoked in their hearts.” If you’ve ever heard this sermon (I have), then you’ve experienced the condemned heresy of “modernism.”
So then, the fully robust modernist and heretical perspective on Christ holds the following narrative as the historical and naturalist account of what really happened. The following story is also behind the so-called “historical Jesus” movement:
- Christ was a charismatic prophet and Jewish reformer who appealed to the Messianic desires of first century Judaism
- Through political intrigue, this Jesus was unexpectedly crucified on Passover at the height of His popularity
- His devoted followers and supporters were disappointed by this reversal of fortune. Unable to deal with His sudden downfall, they created an alternate narrative that Jesus had “risen” and thus His prophecies of global peace, political revolution, and divine reconciliation still remained true but only in a spiritual sense.
- These first generation Christians, convinced of His resurrection, waited for His quick return, but it never happened. They were disillusioned and disappointed.
- The “institutional Church” was an ad hoc response to this crisis and organized the faithful into a religion that assumed the newly concocted theology of “resurrection.” The original hope for His parousia or “second coming” was downplayed by the Church and delayed indefinitely. The “Church,” not the “Second Coming” became primary for the next generation of Christians.
- This “institutional Church” became more and more hierarchical and hardened. The charismatic origins gave way to “sacraments” and “rules” until it was finally co-opted by Constantine and the Roman Empire as a new mechanism for imperial unity.
- This Roman imperial inteference led to what we know as “Roman Catholicism.”
This is the assumed “scholarly” account of the origins of Catholic Christianity.
So how do we Catholics cut through all this?
First, let’s examine the claim that Jesus would come again and judge Israel within the first century. This assertion is based on a wrong reading of Matthew 24 – often called the “little apocalypse.” Christ describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age. In this context He solemnly pronounces:
“Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.” (Matthew 24:34)
So then, modernist Bible scholars point at this verse and say, “Aha! You see. Christ was wrong. He said this would happen before ‘this generation’ shall pass away and He was flat wrong.”
But was He wrong? Of course not. He is the Son of God and beheld the beatific vision and experienced infused knowledge. Christ refers here specifically to the destruction of Jerusalem. When did the sack of Jerusalem happen? All historians unanimously agree that Jerusalem was sacked and the Jewish Temple thoroughly destroyed by the Romans under Titus in the year AD 70. The sack of Jerusalem is described by sacred and secular authors.
When did Jesus prophecy the destruction of Jerusalem? He did this in AD 33. In the Bible, a “generation” is forty years. So Jesus was perfectly accurate in his prophecy. Christ promised that “this generation shall not pass” before Jerusalem was destroyed, and behold it happened within the 40 year limit of His prophecy – in AD 70 (70 – 33 = 37 years).
Heretical biblical scholars do an injustice Sacred Scripture. The early Christians may have hoped for the Second Coming, but their prophetic expectation was that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed. In fact, history reveals that the earliest Christians left Jerusalem just before the Romans sacked the city. How did they know to leave? They simply obeyed the prophetic warning of Christ preserved in Matthew 24:
“When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand. Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains: And he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house.” (Matthew 24:15–17, D-R)
So when the Christians saw this, they left Jerusalem and went to the mountains. They were saved. The non-Christian Jews were slain by the Romans. The fact that Christians left Jerusalem shows that they interpreted this prophecy, not as an an end times prophecy, but as a prophecy uttered against Jerusalem particularly.
I hope this helps Catholics understand the Catholic perspective on Matthew 24 and equips them to answer the assumed “scholarly” position that Christ was a failed eschatological prophet, or even the claim that Saint Paul was “disappointed” by the “failed prophecy” of Christ. Lamentably, this false reading presumes the modernist error of naturalism and requires a shallow reading of Sacred Scripture.
ad Jesum per Mariam,
PS: Incidentally, all this is very important in understanding why the Catholic Church is “Roman,” and it is the topic of my third book. I’m finishing up the book right now and hope to have it back from editors by the end of summer. It discusses the significance of Jerusalem and Rome in Jewish prophecy and in the theology of the early Church. It will show that Christianity “being Roman” is a biblical mandated by the Old Testament, by Christ Himself, and by the New Testament.
Here are the first two volumes: One on the Old Testament origins of Catholicism (The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity) and the other on Saint Paul and Catholicism (The Catholic Perspective on Paul: Paul and the Origins of Catholic Christianity).