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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

God's Law (Part 10)

Many of the Jews had resented Roman interference in their affairs dating back to Pompey's intervention in a Jewish Civil war in the First Century BCE. It is certainly not exaggerating the case to say that they had resisted Roman rule since the province had been annexed into the empire. This tension between Jews and Romans had simmered and continued to build for many years. Eventually, many of the Jews abandoned all pretense of submission to Rome and broke out into open rebellion. This led to what the Jewish Virtual Library characterized as "one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish life." (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

In Book II of his Wars of the Jews, Josephus recounts the events leading up to the Great Revolt of the Jews against their Roman overlords (66-70 CE). In Book III, he opens with this statement: "When Nero was informed of the Romans' ill success in Judea, a concealed consternation and terror...fell upon him." (Chapter 1, Section 1) Continuing, he wrote: "And as he (Nero) was deliberating to whom he should commit the care of the East...and who might be best able to punish the Jews for their rebellion...he found no one but Vespasian equal to the task." (Section 2) Although the Jewish rebels could not see this at the time, these events not only doomed their rebellion to failure; but it also set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the destruction of their temple at Jerusalem and the permanent alteration of their religious practices. The emperor had chosen one of the ablest Roman generals of all times and had placed at his disposal more than enough forces to overwhelm his foes.

After a long campaign of marching from city to city to suppress the Jewish rebellion, the general was finally ready to deal with Jerusalem itself. Josephus wrote: "Now as Vespasian was returned to Caesarea, and was getting ready with all his army to march directly to Jerusalem, he was informed that Nero was dead." (Book 4, Chapter 9, Section 2) The political turmoil surrounding the emperor's death emboldened the general to throw his hat into the ring to become the next emperor. The soldiers under his command proclaimed Vespasian emperor (Chapter 10), and the old general then appointed his son Titus to take over the impending siege of Jerusalem (Chapter 11).

In Book V and Book VI of his Wars of the Jews, Josephus describes the hardships that the Jews endured as a result of Titus' siege of Jerusalem. Finally, at the conclusion of Book VI, he wrote: "And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian (70 CE) (Chapter 10, Section 1). He then opened Book VII with this ominous report: "Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury...Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple." (Chapter 1, Section 1) It would be hard to overstate the devastating effect these events had on the Jewish people and their religion. To say that they were "personae non gratae" within the Roman World doesn't seem to quite do justice to the reality of the miserable condition in which the Jewish survivors of this holocaust found themselves.

As it had been in the case of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the temple many years before, the Jews had to cope with the loss of the focal point for almost all of their religious activities. The Mosaic Law had commanded the Israelites to destroy all of the pagan places of worship within the Promised Land after they had taken possession of it (Deuteronomy 12:1-4). Instead, they were instructed to resort to "the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God..." (Deuteronomy 12:5-7). Continuing, we read: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee." (verses 13-14)

Time and space do not permit me to go through all of the many Scriptures that relate to the Law of the Central Sanctuary. For our purposes, suffice it to say that the Jews were commanded by the Mosaic Law to employ only one place of worship as the focus for all of their religious activities. There are also numerous scriptures that indicate that that place was the Temple at Jerusalem. I encourage my readers to take the time to thoroughly acquaint themselves with this concept if they are not already familiar with it. Notice that festival observance was always tied to this place. Indeed, proper festival observance was not possible without the temple at Jerusalem! Notice that Jesus Christ and his parents always attended the festivals at the temple in Jerusalem (and for you Worldwide Church of God folks - that includes ALL of the festivals, not just the Feast of Tabernacles). Do you grasp the import of this fact in relation to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple? Do you appreciate its implications for the proper observance of the Mosaic Law?

It will come as a shock to some folks to learn that almost all of the features connected with the proper observance of the Jewish religion (including the festivals or annual Sabbaths) ceased with the destruction of the Temple! Moreover, this meant the same thing for Jewish Christians that it did for regular Jews. The year 70 CE effectively ended any pretense of observing the Mosaic Law within what had become by that time a small minority within the Christian Community! Indeed, the persecution of Jews became so intense during this period that all Christians had a strong incentive to distance themselves from any connection to the Jewish religion.

In the final installment in this series, we will see how this interpretation of the history of the early Christian Church is confirmed by the writings of the men who followed Christ's apostles within that community. Was the hand of God in this decisive break with the Mosaic Law? Did subsequent developments relative to Christian attitudes toward the Mosaic Law reflect these new realities? Did these developments force Christians to finally develop a coherent response to the Law and return to the teachings of Christ on the subject? These are some of the questions that we will explore in that final installment.

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