Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Apocalyptic? #11: What Happened to the Jewish Church in 70 A.D.? Rev. 1:4b-5a


4b Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.


(Revelation 1:4b-5a NIV)


Grace and peace
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Apostle Paul used this very greeting in each of his letters/epistles, but he used the Greek word for “peace (IRENE)” and coupled it with the word “grace (CHARIS).”  (Rom. 1:7, I Cor. 1:3, II Cor. 1:2, Gal. 1:3, Eph. 1:2, Phil. 1:2, Col. 1:2, I Thess. 1:1, II Thess. 1:2, I Tim. 1:2, II Tim. 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3.  Although some want to ascribe the authorship of Hebrews to Paul, Hebrews does NOT have this signature greeting. James does NOT have this signature greeting.  I Peter picks up and uses the greeting (1:2), as does II Peter (1:2).  NEITHER I John NOR III John employ the greeting, but II John (1:3) does.  Jude does NOT have this signature greeting, but now we see the greeting AGAIN in Revelation.  We know why Paul would use the greeting “Peace/Shalom.”  He is Jewish.  The common Hebrew greeting is Shalom.  Why does Paul use the twin greeting—Grace AND Peace?  Paul is being creative.  He is using a literary device that John the author of Revelation also uses:  paronomasia.  In layman’s terms, Paul is using a “pun.”  In Revelation 22:2, John reports that the tree of life produces twelve “fruits,” corresponding to the twelve months of the year.  It might appear that this “twelve” has nothing to do with Israel, except for the strange shift from "fruits" to "leaves" in John's statement:  "And the leaves of the tree (are) for the healing of the nations."  The Greek word for "leaves" is phulla.  There would appear to be a play on words, what classicists call paronomasia, if John had intended the word to be a pun on the word "tribes" (phulai).  In the Old Testament, the twelve tribes are presented as being capable of healing of the nations (Ezekiel 47:12, Genesis 12:1-3, 26:3-4)

Paul’s pun in his “grace and peace” greeting relates to how closely the words charis (meaning grace) and chaire (meaning rejoice) resemble each other when spoken aloud.  While Jews greet each other with the word shalom, pagan Greeks greeted each other with the word chaire (meaning Rejoice!)—similar to wishing someone in the 21st century: “Good Day!”  Charis (meaning grace) is a perfect greeting for Gentile Greek-speaking Christians.  All Christians know how important the theological concept of Grace is for Christians (especially, in Paul’s theology).  Paul is punning in substituting the Greek word charis for chaire.  Although he understands himself to be the apostle to the Gentiles, he actually reaches out to BOTH Jews and Gentiles.  Therefore, Paul begins each letter with a Jewish greeting (shalom) AND a Greek Christian greeting (charis).  He begins virtually every missionary visit to a city by teaching in the local synagogue—In Damascus, immediately following his conversion experience (Acts 9:20), in Salamis (Acts 13:5), in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14, 43), in Iconium (Acts 14:1), in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), in Berea (Acts 17:10), in Athens (Acts 17:17), in Corinth (Acts 18:4, 8), and in Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 19:8).

The stated conclusion of Paul’s joint missionary work with both Jews and Gentiles (centered in Ephesus) is phrased in Acts 19:10 (NIV): “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”  This would seem to confirm that the gospel had, by Paul’s time, probably spread to all seven of the churches in Asia mentioned in Revelation.

So, perhaps, that explains why Paul uses this twin greeting, but why did Peter, in I and II Peter, plus the writer of II John, plus John in Revelation use the twin greeting?  They picked it up from Paul, because it was such a good greeting!  Church historian S. G. F. Brandon posits that Paul had lost virtually all influence in the church-at-large by 70 A.D.  Brandon is wrong if John, writing in 69 A.D. uses Paul’s signature greeting.  Brandon is wrong, if Peter is the actual author of the two letters ascribed to him.  I Peter 5:12 (NIV) states: “12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly.”  Yes, that’s the same Silas who was the companion and amanuensis (one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts) of Paul.  Apparently, he is also now an amanuensis for Peter.  II Peter 3:15-16 (NIV) states: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  Incidentally, the epistle from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth that is attributed to Clement (although Clement’s name does not appear in the epistle) also uses Paul’s twin greeting.  Although that specific epistle is not canonical or inspired, it shows internal evidence of having been written before 70 A.D.  It mentions the temple as still existing.  Paul, of course, exerted influence on both the church at Rome and the church at Corinth.  Paul is mentioned positively in this epistle, so, Brandon’s point about the lost influence of Paul by 70 A.D. is somewhat shakier.  We will return to Brandon’s argument, in a moment.


from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  Paul almost always greets his audience by offering his wish for Grace and Peace FROM two individuals:  God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  John, writing in Revelation mentions the phrase “from Jesus Christ,” but instead of using the phrase “from God our Father,” he describes God in clear terminology: “from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come,” in other words, the eternal one. 

John will use the same literary device when introducing Jesus in each of the letters to the seven churches, beginning in Chapter 2.  He never mentions Jesus by name, there, but always uses attributes of Jesus, most of which he spells out in his vision of Jesus, later in this chapter.  Who the “seven spirits” are is a little more complicated, but will be dealt with, in a later post. 

The three attributes of Jesus are:

1. That he is the faithful witness.  Remember that the term “witness” is the term “martyr.” 

2. That he is the ruler of the kings of the earth (or: kings of the land).  This conceptualization is reminiscent of Psalm 2:

1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 

2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, 

3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” 

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 

5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 

6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” 

7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. 

8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 

9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” 


In Revelation 6:15, the kings of the earth are among those who hide from the great day of wrath.  This may be the wrath of God directed against the kings of the earth in Psalm 2:5. In Revelation 17:2 and in 18:3 and 9, the harlot Babylon commits porneia with the kings of the earth.  In Revelation 17:18, the harlot Babylon is the city which has "kingship" over the kings of the earth.  In Revelation 19:19, the kings of the earth assemble for war with the Messiah, after the harlot has been destroyed, and the beast is at that point thrown into the lake of fire.      

Acts 4 offers a Christianized version/interpretation of Psalm 2:

And the peoples [Gk. laoi] think vain things.  The kings of the earth and the rulers [Gk. archontês] were assembled on the same (day?) against the Lord and against his Christ.  For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the heathen and the peoples [Gk. laoi] of Israel were gathered together against your holy child, Jesus, whom you anointed. (Acts 4:25-27, emphases mine)

Acts connects the term "rulers" with the “kings.”  In Acts 4:5, the rulers were gathered along with the elders and scribes.  Specifically, verse 6 reports that this group included "Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of high-priestly family" (emphasis mine).  Peter addresses the group in verse 8 as "rulers [archontês] of the people [laos] and elders of Israel" (emphasis mine).  In this authoritative Christian exegesis, then, this Psalm is interpreted as a syncretistic alliance between the rulers of the people (the priestly family) and the kings of the earth (Herod and Pontius Pilate, specifically).    

The issue as to whether the term "earth" is to be taken as generally referring to the entire world or specifically as referring to Palestine is important.  The Jews most frequently refer to the “Land of Israel” as simply the “Land.”  The Hebrew word for “Land” is the same word translated “Earth.”  The only specific "kings of the earth" which are identified in the Acts 4 passage were Herod and Pilate, both of whom ruled over only the "land" of Israel, although they received their authority from Rome.  If Babylon is Jerusalem, the location of her porneia would appear to be in the "land" of Israel. Certainly, either interpretation--Palestine or Earth--is possible, as Charles acknowledges (Commentary, 1:289).

The earth/land is to be the focus of the seven last plagues in 16:1, so this is a very important interpretive issue.  If John is speaking of a destruction which comes upon the land of Israel, rather than the entire earth, it is easy to find historical referents in the Jewish war of 66-73 A.D.

3. That he is the firstborn from the dead.  (Firstborn can either be a chronological first or a logical first.  Perhaps, with Jesus, it is both.  There are, however, individuals such as Lazarus who were raised from the dead before Jesus’ resurrection, but his resurrection appears to be into a mortal body.  There is also the Matthew 27:50-53 (NIV) passage:

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Jesus also had the following conversation with the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43 (NIV):

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Theologians may wrangle over chronological timelines, but the point that Jesus is “logically” the firstborn from the dead is fairly secure.


Where is the Jewish Christian Church after 70 A.D.?


What, then, is the historical problem that Church historian S. G. F. Brandon tries to solve by positing that Paul had fallen out of favor with the church by 70 A.D.?  He states it clearly (pp. 9-10):

The Epistles of Paul clearly attest the position of the Church at Jerusalem as the Mother Church of the Christian Faith.  . . . The position of the Jerusalem church then being such, it is certainly remarkable that, except for a few minor documents . . . there has survived no important authentic writing of the leaders of this Church.  . . . The fact of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 brings us to a question . . . that of the almost complete silence maintained in the Christian documents, both within and without the New Testament canon, about this event.  . . . But far more amazing is the fact that, except for the few remarks of Hegesippus in the second century, Christian Literature contains no record of the fate of its Mother Church in this calamity.

Brandon’s book (The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church:  A Study of the Effects of the Jewish Overthrow of A.D. 70 on Christianity, 2nd ed.) offers, as a solution to this problem, an elaborate proposed explanation that Paul, who wrote the earliest Christian documents in existence, must have experienced a time during which he lost all influence on the church.  During that time (the decade before 70 A.D.), the Jerusalem Church, teaching a form of Christianity (posited by Brandon) that linked itself closely to the Temple-based religion of the Jews, taught all of the churches throughout the world (including Paul’s churches) that all Christians (including the Gentiles) should follow all of the Jewish laws.  Therefore, when Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D., all of the Jewish Christians were so shocked and disappointed at the destruction of the Temple that they all reverted (converted back) to Judaism.  That’s how he explains the disappearance of the Jerusalem (and, for that matter, the rest of the Jewish) church.  He is correct that Paul had struggled in his ministry with those he called Judaizers or the Circumcision, but he always appears to show honor and respect to James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter (whom he calls Cephas) and the other apostles in Jerusalem (and vice-versa), except for the one time he confronted Peter in Antioch because he thought Peter was disrespecting the Gentile Christians.  The conclusion that Pauline Christianity was in direct conflict with the Mother Church is not at all probable.

Of course, if I am correct that Revelation was written by a Jewish Christian in 69 A.D. and predicts the fall of Jerusalem, there clearly must be another, better answer.  What is that answer?  We shall pursue that answer as we continue to “dig in the right place.”

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