Much of Christendom has been going around in circles trying to predict Jesus’ “second coming” and the “rapture” of christians, which they think will happen some time in the future. I used to subscribe to this line of thought, having heard some well-meaning preachers teaching about the end times. But upon further studies (in the light of preterist views), I realised that when we try to interpret Jesus’ words based on our modern culture, we will unwittingly neglect the Jewish context in which Jesus spoke about His “coming on the clouds of heaven” as well as the audience to whom He was addressing during the first century AD. The following are some of my thoughts based on my recent studies on Jesus’ words concerning the Day of the Lord. (I’m still on a journey of discovery.)
Let’s start with Luke 23:30.
On His way to Calvary to be crucified, Jesus told the daughters of Jerusalem not to weep for Him, but for themselves and their children, because He knew that they would be going through the great tribulation in 66-70AD during the Roman siege of Jerusalem.
“But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains “Fall on us!” and to the hills “Cover us!” (Luke 23:28-30)
This quotation was repeated in Revelation 6:16-17, thereby showing us that the events taking place in the book of revelation is not some far-off futuristic event, but is referring to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70AD.
“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelations 6:16-17)
This event happened after the Lamb opened the sixth seal of the scroll.
It is interesting to note that during the destruction of the temple in 70AD, the people who were perishing actually exclaimed that they wanted to be hidden from Jesus’ face and His wrath – it may well imply that the unbelieving Jews who remained in Jerusalem during the Roman siege did see Jesus’ second coming! And they acknowledged that “the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Or they might have imagined His wrath because of their guilty conscience.)
The phrase “Who is able to stand?” sounds familiar. Remember in the book of Hebrews, we see a similar expression that warns the Hebrew christians not to depart from grace to go back to the law and making temple sacrifices, since Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is perfect and complete, once for all!
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (the promise of resurrection?) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (the Day of the Lord in 70AD)
“For if we sin wilfully (by departing from grace and going back to the law – the sin of unbelief) after we have received the knowledge of the truth (that Jesus’ sacrifice is all that we need), there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:23-31, words in parentheses are mine)
Who are “His people” that the Lord will judge? In the context of Hebrews, it is referring to the Jews. So, contrary to popular misconceptions taught in some christian circles, this “certain fearful expectation of judgment” is not referring to eternal hellfire judgment one day in the future, but it is referring to the 70AD destruction of the Jerusalem temple together with the unbelieving Jews, including the Pharisees, by the Roman army.
Remember Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees about the judgment to come, when He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!… How can you escape the condemnation of hell (gehenna)?… Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matthew 23:29-36)
So Jesus was warning the Pharisees about the temple destruction in 70AD. He wanted them to repent (change their mind) and believe in Him for righteousness, instead of depending on their own self-righteousness by the works of the law. Jesus was sorrowful for the Pharisees because they rejected Him, and therefore rejecting His divine protection and they would have to face the consequences for their choice – they would perish when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70AD.
“O Jerusalem Jerusalem the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 23:39)
Jesus foresaw that the unbelieving Jews would perish in 70AD during the Roman siege of Jerusalem – indeed, we learnt from historical records, such as those by Josephus the Jewish historian, that many Pharisees joined the Jewish Zealots in their revolt against the Roman rulers in the years leading up to AD70, and as a result, they eventually perished when the Romans attacked and destroyed Jerusalem in AD66-70.
This fulfilled what the Pharisees said during Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate when they rejected Jesus as their Messiah and instead proclaimed Caesar to be their king.
“And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.'” (Matthew 27:25)
These people’s proclamation became a self-fulfilling prophecy when they and their children eventually perished in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
Revelation 11:8 also testified that Jerusalem would be attacked and destroyed in AD70 – “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”
What is “the great city”? The context tells us that it is “where also our Lord was crucified.” It tells us that it is Jerusalem, who rejected Jesus as their Messiah.
Back to Hebrews 10, the apostle Paul was encouraging the Hebrew christians to persevere in their faith to believe Jesus’ sacrifice is all they ever need to be their Righteousness – “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.” (Hebrews 10:32-34)
The Hebrew christians were living in trying times, and Paul wrote to them some time in AD64, when the old covenant of law was becoming obsolete (and would end officially in AD70 when the temple would be destroyed).
The Hebrew christians were probably being persecuted by the legalistic Judaisers and maybe even the Romans who would make a spectacle of christians by throwing them into lion’s dens and plundering their goods, etc. It is interesting to note that the apostle Paul said the christians “have a better and enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.”
This means we all will get to go to heaven to be with the Lord forever (whether in spirit or in new resurrected physical body, this I am still learning more about).
Paul continued to write, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God (by believing in Jesus), you may receive the promise (of the hope of resurrection from the dead?): ‘For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the righteous shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him.'” (Hebrews 19:35-38)
So in the context of their time, Jesus would be coming in “a little while” – it was only six years before AD70, and Jesus would come to save their souls (their mind, will and emotions).
Paul then ended the chapter by reassuring the Hebrew christians “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:39)
It also appears from Revelations 14 that after the old covenant of law ended with the destruction of the temple in 70AD, people who live after 70AD will go straight to heaven to be with the Lord when they die.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, and their works follow them.” (Revelations 14:13)
“From now on” seem to imply from AD70 onwards – that includes our present generation in the 21st century!
And immediately after this verse, we see the appearing of Jesus being mentioned, so it does seem that Jesus appeared in AD70 after the temple was destroyed.
“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple (the heavenly temple? since the earthly temple was destroyed), crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for you to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.'” (Revelations 14:14-15)
This scenario seems to tie in with Jesus’ prophecy of His own coming in Matthew 24:30-31 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
The angels can refer to “human messengers” who are the preachers of the gospel of grace of Christ. So ever since AD70, we have been living in the new covenant age (also known as the new heavens and new earth), and evangelists and preachers have been going around the world to spread the gospel of grace and peace, and whoever believes on Him shall be saved from having a guilty conscience and ignorance of God’s love, knowing that they have been made righteous in Christ Jesus.