If you’ve studied first century history, you’re probably familiar with the story about the followers of Christ who fled from Judea to Pella just before the Jewish-Roman War began in AD 66. The story of their flight was told by early church leaders including Eusebius (AD 263-339), Epiphanius (AD 315-403), and Remigius (AD 437-533) – and perhaps also by Josephus (Wars 2.14.2, 2.20.1). They obeyed the words of Jesus (Matthew 24:15-21, Mark 13:14-19, Luke 21:20-23) and were protected in the wilderness for 3.5 years (Revelation 12:14). See this post for more details on that story.
I think the story of what happened to those believers after the war is even better. Jeffrey Butz, professor of World Religions at Penn State University, documents in his book, “The Secret Legacy of Jesus” (2009), that many of them returned to Jerusalem and built a Christian meeting place where the Upper Room (Acts 1:12-14) had been (p. 146). According to Eusebius and Hegesippus (AD 110-180), the person who led them to Pella and then back to Jerusalem was Symeon the son of Clopas.
Who was Symeon? He was the first cousin of Jesus (John 19:25). He was also the second bishop of Jerusalem, who was appointed to that position when the first bishop, James (Acts 15:13), was martyred in AD 62 (Antiquities 20:9.1). Eusebius wrote the following about Symeon’s appointment:
“After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph” (Church History, Book III, Chapter 11).
Symeon is mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 as one of Christ’s brothers (and also referred to in I Corinthians 9:5). However, The Pulpit Commentary explains why he was believed to be Jesus’ cousin rather than His brother:
“Some have thought that these were literally brethren of our Lord, sons of Joseph and Mary… But, on the whole, the most probable opinion is that they were cousins of our Lord… There is evidence that there were four sons of Clopas and Mary, whose names were James, and Joses, and Simon (or Symeon), and Judas. Mary the wife of Clopas is mentioned by St. Matthew (Matthew 27:56) as the mother of James the less and of Joses. Jude describes himself (Jude 1:5) as the brother of James; and Simon, or Symeon, is mentioned in Eusebius as the son of Clopas. It must be remembered also that the word ἀδελφός, like the Hebrew word which it expresses, means not only ‘a brother,’ but generally ‘a near kinsman.’”
Symeon was the Bishop of Jerusalem until he was crucified in AD 107. He lived a long life, having been born about a decade before Christ. Hegesippus wrote this about Symeon’s death:
“Certain of these heretics brought accusation against Symeon, the son of Clopas, on the ground that he was a descendant of David and a Christian; and thus he suffered martyrdom, at the age of one hundred and twenty years, while Trajan was emperor and Atticus governor” (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Chapter 32).
Including Symeon, there were 14 bishops of the church in Jerusalem between the First Great Revolt (AD 66-73) and the Second Great Revolt (AD 132-135). That final revolt resulted in the leveling of Jerusalem, a new Roman city, the renaming of Judea, and all Jews being banished from the area. Those 14 Jewish bishops, along with their non-Jewish successors after AD 135, are listed here and also here.
THE FIRST CHRISTIAN BISHOPS OF JERUSALEM
1. James, kinsman of Jesus Christ +
11. Justus +
21. Gaius I
2. Symeon, kinsman of Jesus Christ +
12. Levi +
3. Justus +
13. Ephres +
23. Gaius II
4. Zacchaeus +
14. Joseph +
24. Julian II
34. Narcissus (repeated)
5. Tobias +
15. Judas +
6. Benjamin +
26. Maximus II *
7. John +
27. Antonius *
8. Matthias +
9. Phillip +
19. Maximus I
10. Seneca +
20. Julian I
+ Jewish descent
In AD 130, the Roman emperor, Hadrian, took notice of the church in Jerusalem when he visited the city. The Jewish historian, Gedaliah Alon, wrote the following about Hadrian’s visit:
“Another early Christian chronicler, Alexander the Monk, writing probably around the middle of the ninth century, says: ‘When (Hadrian) went to the Holy City and saw it in ruins, except for one small Christian church, he gave orders that the whole city be rebuilt, save for the temple. When the Jews heard of this they streamed thither from every direction, and before long the whole city was rebuilt’” (“The Jews in Their Land in the Talmudic Age [AD 70-640], 1980, p. 446; quoting from Alexander Monachus, De Inventione Sanctae Crucis, p. 87, III, 4044-4045, published in 1620).
Soon after his own visit to Jerusalem, Hadrian sent a representative to oversee “the work of building the city,” and this is what he witnessed:
“So Aquila [an envoy of Hadrian], while he was in Jerusalem, also saw the disciples of the disciples of the apostles flourishing in the faith and working great signs, healings, and other miracles. For they were such as had come back from the city of Pella to Jerusalem and were living there and teaching” (Epiphanius, 310-403 AD).
It’s encouraging to read that the top officials of Rome witnessed those early believers “flourishing in the faith.” Despite the upheaval of the Jewish-Roman War, life in Christ continued without interruption after Jerusalem fell in AD 70, even in the region where that tragic war took place. The body of believers in Pella, and later among the ruins of Jerusalem, is just one example of the growth of God’s kingdom beyond the record that we have in the New Testament. The following testimony was given by Eusebius concerning the legacy of those who immediately succeeded the apostles, and it’s a beautiful legacy:
“Among those that were celebrated at that time was Quadratus, who, report says, was renowned along with the daughters of Philip for his prophetical gifts. And there were many others besides these who were known in those days, and who occupied the first place among the successors of the apostles. And they also, being illustrious disciples of such great men, built up the foundations of the churches which had been laid by the apostles in every place, and preached the Gospel more and more widely and scattered the saving seeds of the kingdom of heaven far and near throughout the whole world” (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Chapter 37).
The kingdom which could be shaken was shaken and removed, but the kingdom “which cannot be shaken” remained (Hebrews 12:25-28). The Jerusalem below was cast out, but “the Jerusalem above” is the mother of us all (Galatians 4:21-31). God’s vineyard was indeed leased to “other vinedressers who will render to Him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:41). May we also be faithful in bearing spiritual fruit to the glory of God.
I recently came across an article on Jesus’ words about casting a mountain into the sea (Matthew 21:20-22, Mark 11:21-24), and I found it to be very good overall. The author, Don Walker, discusses how His followers in the first century AD did exactly that with the specific mountain that Jesus was talking about – Jerusalem / Israel / the old covenant system. This is confirmed in Revelation 8:3-4, 8-9.
It’s a brief article and I will include it in this post. In the second paragraph, Don discounts other applications of this passage, and I understand his point about the failure to first consider how Jesus’ listeners would have understood His words (audience relevance). However, Jesus Himself makes a secondary, greater application to what He said about casting the mountain into the sea, and I want to focus on that application in the final section of this post. A mountain was cast into the sea in the generation of Jesus and His disciples, and great victories can also take place in our generation. Here’s a simple outline for this post:
1. Don Walker’s Article 2. A Further Explanation of That Mountain Being Cast Into the Sea 3. A Prototype for More Victories
The failure of many scholars and Bible commentators to recognize the significance of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is evidenced through much of their interpretation of the New Testament. One clear case of this is found in Matthew 21:21-22 where Jesus says: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
This passage has been “fodder” for many sermons on “Mountain-Moving Faith.” I have heard sermons on “a mountain of debt,” “a mountain of worry,” “a mountain of problems,” “ a mountain of sickness,” on and on ad nauseam. Time and again this passage, along with Mark 11:23-24, becomes the “launching pad” for a “faith rocket” aimed in any direction we want it to go. This is a clear example of “a text taken out of context becoming a pretext for just about anything.” As an aside, having heard many of the so-called “faith preachers” expound on these verses about how they are to be taken “literally,” I have not, as of yet, heard of any one of them casting a “literal” mountain into the sea.
In order to properly interpret this passage we must note that Jesus did not say, “a mountain.” Jesus said, “this mountain,” which holds great hermeneutical importance. He is not speaking about “any mountain.” He is speaking about a specific one. The Greek language is quite clear on this point. There is a definite article following the word “oros” (meaning mountain). Without the definite article it would mean that this would be translated as “a mountain.” Obviously, “a mountain,” and “this mountain” makes a difference in how one interprets what Jesus was referring to.
What mountain was Jesus specifically speaking about? I believe Jesus’ Jewish disciples, steeped in the language of the Old Testament, knew exactly what Jesus was referring to in this instance, and which mountain was to ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea.’
Mountains in the Scriptures symbolize nations and people (Isa.41:14-16, Zech. 4:7). Exodus 15:17 tells us that God that would “plant” Israel “in the mountain of Thine inheritance.” Throughout the Old Testament the nation was spoken of as “Mount Zion” (example: Ps. 48:11, 74:2, 125:1; Isa. 8:18, 10:12, 24:23, 29:8; Joel 2:32). The disciples were well aware of this and understood the implication of Jesus’ words. In addition, William Telford in his book, The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree, states that the phrase “this mountain” was a standard expression among the Jewish people for the Temple Mount.
“This mountain” was understood, by the disciples, to be in reference to the nation of Israel which was directly related to the Temple. Coupled with this statement from Jesus, in the midst of His warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 20-25), is His cursing of an unfruitful fig tree, as a symbol of judgment upon Israel.
Jesus was not suddenly changing the topic away from the destruction of Jerusalem, but focusing in on the role of His followers to pray, in faith, for its destruction. Commenting on this passage in his book, Days of Vengeance, David Chilton writes:
“Jesus was instructing His disciples to pray imprecatory prayers, beseeching God to destroy Israel, to wither the fig tree, to cast the apostate mountain into the sea.”
In Revelation 8:8 we see the fulfillment of the prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:3-4), when we are told, “something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea.” This is also the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the judgment of Babylon, which Jerusalem had become, “a destroying mountain” on which God unleashed His wrath. The imagery of Revelation 8:8 parallels that of Jeremiah 51:25,42, which declares:
“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord, “and I will stretch out My hand against you, and roll you down from the crags and I will make you a burnt out mountain… The sea has come up over Babylon; she has been engulfed with its tumultous waves.”
The apostate mountain that is “cast into the sea” speaks symbolically of the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jewish people across the earth, into the “sea of humanity.” The mountain was not only “taken up” but also “cast into the sea” in the language of the Scriptures. It was, therefore, an actual fulfillment of the prayers of the saints who obeyed Christ’s instructions.
The “this mountain” that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 21:21 was replaced by “the great mountain” of Daniel 2:35. We see the replacement of the Harlot with the Bride, Israel with the Church, and Babylon (earthly Jerusalem) with the heavenly Jerusalem.
The failure of most Bible commentators to see the significance of the fall of Jerusalem “clouds” their interpretation of this and many other passages of Scripture. It has also hindered the Church of Jesus Christ from seeing the surpassing greatness of the New Covenant, which has made the old obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
2. A Further Explanation of That Mountain Being Cast Into the Sea
Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17).
In Revelation 6:9-11 John saw “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” crying out and asking God how soon He would judge and avenge their blood on those who were dwelling on the earth (or “in the land”). See also Luke 18:1-8 (the Parable of the Persistent Widow).
Centuries before it was prophesied that this blood would be avenged (Deuteronomy 32:43) upon “a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:5, 20; cf. Matthew 17:17) at Israel’s “latter end” (Deut. 32:28-29). Jesus also declared that His own generation would be held responsible and judged because of this righteous blood (Matthew 23:34-36). See also I Thessalonians 2:14-16.
As the seven angels prepared to blow the seven trumpets, John saw the following scene:
“Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the trumpets prepared themselves to sound” (Revelation 8:3-6).
It seems evident that the collective prayers of the saints were received by God and that the seven trumpets which followed were connected to those prayers. This is how John described the second trumpet:
“Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8-9).
As Don Walker pointed out, this calls to mind how Jerusalem and the Second Temple were burned and destroyed in 70 AD. It also calls to mind some of the battles that took place during the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). According to Josephus and other historians, more than 150,000 Jews were killed in Galilee and Judea, and around 1.1 million were killed in Jerusalem in 70 AD. At least 97,000 Jews were sold as slaves to different parts of the Roman Empire. Here’s how Josephus described one battle that took place in the Sea of Galilee:
“Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped” (Wars 3.10.9; also see Wars 3.9.3 for what happened near Joppa).
When we compare the literary structure of this verse in Revelation 8 to the literary structure of “the great city’s” downfall in Revelation 18, it’s even more clear that they are talking about the same thing (keep in mind that “the great city” was first identified as Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8):
“And the second angel sounded,
“And a strong angel
and something like agreat
took up a stone like agreat
‘Thus will Babylon thatgreat
mountain burning with fire
wasthrown into the sea…”
andthrew it into the sea,
will bethrown downwith violence
and it will not be found any longer.”
As the outpouring of judgment progresses in the book of Revelation, we see how God answers the cries of the martyrs:
Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due” (Revelation 16:4-6; see also Rev. 17:3-6).
“…Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” …And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:19-24).
“For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (Rev. 19:2).
In response to the prayers of the saints, that mountain was cast into the sea. “Mount Sinai” and “Jerusalem…in bondage with her children” were cast out, but the heavenly Jerusalem is free (Galatians 4:21-31) and God’s people have come to Mount Zion, the new covenant city of God (Hebrews 12:22-24).
3. A Prototype for More Victories
Are there grounds for seeing this as a prototype for other “mountains to be cast into the sea,” so to speak? I believe there are. After all, Jesus first caused a fig tree to wither and die as a prototype for how “this mountain” could be cast down (Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). After affirming that His disciples also would have the authority to tell that mountain to be cast into the sea, and that it would be done, Jesus said this:
“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).
“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24).
Here Jesus says to His disciples that just like they would be able to cast that mountain into the sea, they would also be able to see other victories take place and other strongholds fall. It wasn’t just the 12 disciples who prayed and declared the casting down of that mountain, but it was the saints as a whole.
Today we have an everlasting kingdom and dominion in our hands, but much of the body of Christ hardly realizes it:
“And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth… And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:35, 44).
“Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
“But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever… the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom… Then the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27).
“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
“…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever‘” (Revelation 11:15).
In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and this is not the only victory seen during the last 2000 years of Church history. What strongholds, what “mountains,” what barriers are facing the body of Christ in this generation? What is exalting itself against the knowledge of Christ in our world, in your nation, or in our communities at this time?
Is it ISIS / terrorism?
Is it wars in different parts of the world? Is it racism? Is it poverty? Is it government corruption?
Is it the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?
Is it the abortion epidemic? Is it something else?
Just as the first century saints cast down the mountain that opposed the people, plans, and purposes of God in their time, we can and should unite in prayer and declaration to do the same to “mountains” that exalt themselves against the kingdom of God at this point in history.
In March 2016 I had the privilege of speaking at an “end times” conference in Long Island, New York which was hosted by Pastor Michael Miano of Blue Point Bible Church. I wrote about that here and here. One of the other speakers, Apostle Johnny Ova, impacted me with his words about living worthy of the kingdom of God, praying and declaring life instead of death. and how the state of this world is a direct reflection of the strength of the Church. At one point, he expressed dismay at the words of some Christians who are complaining about ISIS and Islam and even wishing death upon Muslims around the world. He said:
“Do you know what I want to see? I want to see everyone of them get saved and give their lives to Christ. That’s what I want to see. To me that would be an unbelievable miracle. Imagine that – a revival in ISIS, that no one wants to kill them anymore; all ISIS wants to give God praise now. To me that would cause shock waves throughout the whole entire world. Why aren’t we praying for that? If we would pray as much as we complain, we would see some genuine change in this world.”
Amen. Johnny’s entire message (26 minutes) can be seen here. This is a clip of the part (21:25 – 23:55) that impacted me the most:
Let’s be people who realize the power of the kingdom that we possess, and work and pray together to cast down mountains even as that mountain was cast down long ago.
On Sunday, May 22nd, I had the privilege of presenting a message in a conference call for those who believe in, or want to know more about, preterism (fulfilled eschatology). I titled my message, “Living Worthy of What the Old Testament Prophets Foretold about this New Covenant Age.” My message lasted 25 minutes and was followed by a time of discussion. Here’s the audio of my message, along with a written transcript of my notes. If you listen or read this message, you’ll see that the prophets had a vision of peace, and I’d love to especially hear your thoughts about that theme:
One thing I’ve heard from people who are skeptical of preterism is that, if everything is fulfilled, there must be nothing left for God’s people today. So I want to talk about some of those things that we do have in this new covenant age, about the present realities, mandates, and destinies that God has for us. Yes, I’m fascinated by all the things that took place in the first century AD during the last days of the old covenant age, and their significance and how they fulfilled prophecy, but I’m also very interested in how the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles said we would be equipped for a glorious, expanding, forward-moving life in God’s kingdom and in His holy city, the new Jerusalem.
This is a very broad subject, so in this message I want to narrow the focus to the vision that the Old Testament prophets had about this age. I will only have time to cover some of it, of course. Before we dig into some great Scripture texts, I want to briefly set this up and talk about one reason why it’s important to study and teach about this vision of the Old Testament prophets, especially at this point in church history. We live during a time when some very strange filters have been laid over the teachings of the Old Testament prophets because premillennial and dispensationalist teachings have dominated in the Church for several generations.
One of the foundation stones of dispensationalism is the idea that this present church age is a surprising parenthesis in God’s long-term plan. Many dispensationalist leaders have taught that this age we live in was never foreseen by the Old Testament prophets. Instead they looked past our time, i.e. the last 2000 years, toward a future 1000-year period known as “the millennium” when Christ would return and finally begin to reign. Here are a few short quotes from some of these leaders:
“It has been illustrated how this whole age existed in the mind of God without having been revealed in the Old Testament.” [J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 137]
“Dispensationalists have regarded the present age as a parenthesis unexpected and without specific prediction in the Old Testament.” [J.F. Walvoord, Millennial Kingdom, 1959, p. 227]
“The first prediction relative to the true Church was uttered by Christ, being recorded in Matthew 16:18.” [L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), 4:374]
“The Church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament.” [Charles Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), p. 136]
Harry A. Ironside also taught that the Old Testament prophets saw two mountains ahead, which were the first and second comings of Christ. According to Ironside, the church age was in a large valley in between those mountains and the prophets were unable to see into it:
“It has often been pointed out by others, but is well worth repeating, that the Old Testament seer might be likened to a man standing on one of our Western plains looking off toward a great mountain range. Many miles before him is a vast mountain which for the moment fills all his vision. Clouds cover the top of it, so that it seems to pierce the heavens, but suddenly the clouds are lifted and in the blaze of the westering sun he sees another and higher peak beyond, covered with snow, which seems to shine in resplendent glory. What the man gazing upon this scene cannot see, however, is the valley or the lower ranges of mountains that come in between these two peaks. The one may be many miles beyond the other. In between may be lesser hills, valleys, rivers, villages and farms, but all of these are unseen by the man upon the plain.
Let us imagine a cross surmounting the first peak, and call this the vision of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and to die for our sins. Then imagine that the glory surrounding the second and higher peak takes the form of a crown of light, and think of it as indicating the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus to reign in power and glory over all this lower universe. Peter spoke of the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” These two mountains illustrate both. But now, in between them we have all the events of the present age of grace, and these could not be seen by the Old Testament prophets for it was not yet the will of God to make them known. These are the mysteries kept secret from the foundation of the world, which began to be made manifest by our Lord Jesus as He told of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; and then were more fully unfolded in the unique revelation of the mystery of the Church, the body of Christ, given to the Apostle Paul, and the unfolding of the mystery of iniquity and of Babylon the Great through Paul and John. Other mysteries there are linked with these, and nearly all of them have to do with what is going on between the First and Second Comings of our Lord.”
This teaching has robbed the body of Christ of a glorious blueprint for our present time, which was laid out in the Old Testament and further developed in the New Testament. This teaching says that God’s best plans, promises, and purposes are not for this present age, but for a future age when the superiority of the Jewish race is once again restored. It’s robbed the body of Christ of wonderful descriptions of our identity and also descriptions of how God invites us to partner with Him in seeing His peace, His government, and His justice expand throughout our world.
So let’s look at some of the passages that reveal the vision that the Old Testament prophets had of this present new covenant age. One major theme that we will see in their vision is the theme of God’s peace.
Daniel 7:14, 18, 21-22, 27
In Daniel 7, Daniel had a vision of Jesus ascending to His Father and receiving everlasting dominion, glory, and a kingdom. Then during the time of the fourth beast, the fourth kingdom that would persecute the saints, God would give the kingdom and dominion into the hands of His people:
“Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed… But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever… I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom… Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:14, 18, 21-22, 27).
Revelation 13:5-7 describes this same great persecution as the beast “making war with the saints” and overcoming them for 42 months. I believe this took place under an Israel/Zealot-led persecution from the fall of AD 66 to the spring of AD 70.
However, God ruled in favor of the body of Christ. Jesus took the kingdom and dominion that He received at His ascension and placed it into the hands of His people.
That’s a powerful picture of us partnering with Christ in expanding His kingdom, carrying His glory, and walking in His dominion.
All of Jesus’ parables about His kingdom expanding, growing, and impacting the world are true for us right now. Think of the mustard seed growing into a large tree and other images that Jesus presented.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
Jesus began to reign on the throne of David during the time of the apostles (Acts 2:29-36, Ephesians 1:20-23, Hebrews 1:3-13, Revelation 1:5).
One of His names is “Prince of Peace.” Micah 5:5 also says regarding Jesus, “And this One shall be peace.”
Isaiah prophesied that Christ’s government and peace would only increase, forever.
Isaiah also prophesied that this would happen because of God’s own zeal.
God invites us to partner with Him and to know our role in seeing His government and peace expand in this world.
Isaiah 65:17 – 66:13
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isaiah 65:17-18).
Isaiah goes on to describe New Jerusalem as a place with no weeping or crying, but where childbirth, physical death, planting, and building would still take place. Yet the labor of God’s people would not be in vain, and there would also be peace and reconciliation (“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together”), and no hurting or destruction in God’s holy mountain.
Names were very important in Scripture. Think about the name, “Jerusalem,” and its meaning. In its name we see “salem” and the closely-related word “shalom.” Jerusalem means “City of Peace.” When Isaiah looked forward to the New Jerusalem, he foresaw a new “city of peace.” We are the city of God, the city of peace.
The other part of Jerusalem’s name comes from the Hebrew word, “yara.” This word means “to shoot like an arrow, to throw, to pour, to flow, to teach, to inform, and to direct.”
Put those two parts together and we have a picture of shooting and pouring out God’s peace upon one another and into the darkest places of the world around us. Although I disagree with Sid Roth’s futurism and Zionism, his 2008 article “The Real Meaning of Jerusalem” has more valuable things to say on this.
We’re destined to live with peace in our hearts. The body of Christ is destined to be known as a community of peace, and we’re destined to see God’s peace touch and impact communities where we live and every part of the world where God’s people are.
As Isaiah continues to describe New Jerusalem, he says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem… that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory… Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream… And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:10-13).
Recall what David said in Psalm 122:6-7. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.’” That prayer has been answered, as God has created a new city of peace, the new covenant people of God.
When Jesus was talking with His disciples about going to His Father and leaving the Holy Spirit with them, He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
In the New Testament, the clearest descriptions of the New Jerusalem, God’s city of peace, can be seen in Galatians 4:21-31, Hebrews 12:18-29, Revelation 3:12, and Revelation 21:1-22:5.
“…Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The mountain of the Lord, New Jerusalem, was destined to attract all nations. It’s the place where the word of the Lord goes forth and people learn God’s ways.
Again we see an image of great peace.
The same vision is seen in Micah 4:1-3.
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
The author of Hebrews quotes from Haggai 2:6 when he writes about the soon-coming shaking and removal of those things related to Mount Sinai, i.e. the old covenant, and how the saints were about to receive a kingdom that couldn’t be shaken.
Notice that he did not include the phrase “it is a little while,” which Haggai used. That’s because it was just around the corner for the readers of Hebrews.
God again says that His new temple would be filled with glory, and that in His new temple He would give peace.
“I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. They shall be safe in their land; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hands of those who enslaved them…” (Ezekiel 34:23-27).
“David” is obviously Jesus here.
This vision speaks of fruitfulness, blessing, and again a covenant of peace.
Ezekiel 40-48, the final eight chapters of Ezekiel’s book, describe a new city and a new temple. We need some preterist commentaries on these eight chapters, by the way. In this long vision, Ezekiel seems to be looking at both  the restoration of Israel to the land after the Babylonian captivity of 586 BC and  Israel’s hope fulfilled as Jesus establishes the new covenant. This was the view of Philip Mauro in his 1923 book, “The Hope of Israel” (chapters 11-12). In Ezekiel 47, he describes the same healing waters and trees that John describes in Revelation 22:1-2.
“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east… And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. 4 Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed… 7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 8 Then he said to me: ‘This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes… Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.’”
In the city of God there is constant fruit-bearing, life, and healing. This healing and life IS for God’s people, but it’s also for the nations. Healing is to take place everywhere the river flows. This is our ongoing mandate and calling, and the Lord has fully equipped us.
Zechariah 14:8-9 says that, in the day that the Lord would be King over all the earth, living waters would flow from Jerusalem toward the east and toward the west, in both summer and winter.
Jesus said that rivers of living water would flow out of the hearts of everyone who believes in Him (John 7:37-38).
“For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed… O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children…” (Isaiah 54:10-13).
Here again we see there is a covenant of peace and great peace for the followers of the Lord in this age.
Paul quotes from this passage in his allegory of two covenants, two Jerusalems, and two women in Galatians 4:21-31.
This description of precious stones can also be found in John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:19-20.
“Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”
These words were spoken to Joshua, the son of the high priest in Zechariah’s day, but it was already made clear earlier in the book that Joshua was a type of a coming Branch, the Messiah.
Ephesians 2 says that Jesus is the chief cornerstone of God’s holy temple, which was made up of the one new man, Jews and Gentiles together, “thus making peace” (verse 15).
We see again that “the counsel of peace” marks the reign of Christ as King and Priest.
Peace is also one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and it’s one of the three attributes of God’s kingdom that Paul chose to highlight in Romans 14:17.
Zechariah 8 goes on to give a great description of the coming New Jerusalem.
If time allowed, we could also dig into Isaiah 49, Isaiah 60-61, Amos 9, Zephaniah 3, and a number of other prophecies. As another note about God’s peace, recall that when Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist prophesied about His nephew, Jesus, he echoed Isaiah 60 when he said, “…the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
Do you want to further study this subject of the vision of the Old Testament prophets for this present age? One study strategy is to look up the passages that premillennialists say are about a future millennium period. Those passages have been arbitrarily tied to Revelation 20 and John’s vision of the 1000 years, as though John alluded to them in his vision. He did not actually. Those passages from the Old Testament, though, are rich with details and blueprints for this present, never-ending age.
Let’s be the peacemakers that Jesus called us to be in the Sermon on the Mount, and partner with Him in His reign to see the never-ending increase of His government and peace.
The last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) have shown various ways that the world is getting better. This is the third and concluding post, again with plenty of charts and statistics. The following information was made public by Joshua Greeson at his Facebook (Author) page during the week of April 4-8, 2016. Joshua is the author of the book, “God’s Will is Always Healing.”
“The World is Getting Better Week” Scripture of the Day: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15)!!!” This is Truth, like it or not! So we should expect to see it happen more and more. Let’s make it a point to watch for it!#theworldisgettingbetter
His Kingdom has proven—and will continue to prove—to be EVER-INCREASING, growing, spreading and advancing in the earth. May the mustard seed grow into a MASSIVE tree where many find shelter. May the stone become a mountain that fills the WHOLE EARTH. May the leaven of the Kingdom leaven the WHOLE LUMP. May ALL the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. May His glory COVER the earth as the waters cover the sea (How much of the sea do the waters cover exactly? ALL!). May the WORLD for whom Jesus died indeed experience this great salvation—in every sense of the word. Joy, peace, and an enduring hope for the future to you all. #theworldisgettingbetterPass it on!
I want to briefly backtrack to the “Religion” category of good news for a minute. This one is another great example of the “Limited LOCATION” perspective and how it can skew our view of the world. Here’s a graph that shows two different statistics on it. The pink line shows the decreasing percentage of Christians in “first world” nations, while the blue line shows the increasing percentage of Christians in “third world” (developing) nations.
So what’s the good news here? Roughly 80% of the world’s population is considered “third world,” and are projected for continually increasing conversion to Christianity… and who knows how steeply that increase will actually continue? Sure we hit a little dip in the industrialized nations; but don’t worry—the WHOLE EARTH is FILLED with the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3; Numbers 14:21)!!! #theworldisgettingbetter
Here are a couple more death stats today (I know, sorry… but they’re good). Here’s the United States’ statistics for Homicide Deaths and Rape from 1970-2010. Yep—yet again—they’re going DOWN! Look at how much it’s improved just in ONE GENERATION. Come on, get happy!#theworldisgettingbetter
Here again, we have the chance to see what happens when we broaden our “Limited TIMESPAN” perspective. If you thought the U.S. statistics showing the decrease in homicide from the last 40 years were encouraging, look at it for the last 310 years! Holy smoke! So when you hear about the “good ol’ days”—don’t fall for it! They weren’t as “good” as people make them out to be! They just had “Limited INFORMATION!” …and the best days are still ahead!
Here we see Western Europe’s Homicide Death rate going DOWN. The top one is combined, then the bottom one breaks it out for some individual nations. I don’t have any stats for the non-western world. I’m willing to bet that they’re improving right along with the rest of the world, though, due to some other correlated statistics…#theworldisgettingbetter
In 2010 a fellow by the name of William Tapley made a name for himself with his eccentric tune, “Doom and Gloom.” Tapley calls himself the “Third Eagle of the Apocalypse” and “Co-Prophet of the End Times.” In his video he seemed happy about the doom and gloom he believed was soon to come:
Fortunately, “Third Eagle” is way off base when it comes to this world’s destiny. See Isaiah 60, for example, to realize just how opposite Isaiah’s outlook was concerning the new covenant age we live in. There is no end to the increase of Jesus’ government and peace (Isaiah 9:7).
This post is the first of a 3-part series showing various ways that this world is improving. The following information was made public by Joshua Greeson at his Facebook (Author) page during the week of April 4-8, 2016. Joshua is the author of the book, “God’s Will is Always Healing.” As you will see, this series features a lot of charts:
Good morning! Welcome to “The World is Getting Better Week” here on the page. I know that most American Christians would disagree with the statement, “the world is getting better.” However, that won’t stop me from proclaiming what I believe to be true.
They could quote some Scriptures that they interpret and apply one way, and I could do the same. We can all quote Scriptures to corroborate our beliefs. I’ll share just a few of those Scriptures in very brief form during the week. But the bottom line is that the Kingdom of God (wherever God’s will is being done) is always GROWING, INCREASING and ADVANCING. Soon, it will have affected EVERYTHING in the world.
It might seem on the surface that the world is getting worse. Why? Our view is generally based on limited INFORMATION, limited LOCATION and limited TIMESPAN. But if we’re not judging from our own subjective experience–but are actually examining facts and statistics—we see quite a different picture! If you like statistics, graphs and charts, you’re going to love this week. If you don’t—you might have a change of heart before this week is out!
This week we’ll be looking at a few charts and facts that demonstrate some of the effects of Kingdom “leaven” on the “lump” we call planet earth. Prepare to be challenged some—or perhaps pleasantly surprised—and to have a more optimistic outlook on the future! Blessings!#theworldisgettingbetter
This is an awesome website for checking out all kinds of great statistics on Human Progress. It covers many different areas of life—it’s pretty thorough. Check it out and play around with the interactive graphs:www.humanprogress.org
Today I heard the song, “Total Praise” written byRichard Smallwoodin my mind when I was trying to figure out what to post. My favorite part of the song is that it exclaims that God is the strength of our lives. If you are reading this, you may currently be in a state of weakness. You may be weak with sickness, depression, hopelessness, ignorance, confusion, fear, etc.
What to Do When We Feel Weak In these weak moments, it’s important to remember that your strength comes from the power and might of God and Him alone. This is of course an unpleasant state to be in, but it is the perfect place for God to use you and show His power (2 Corinthians 12:10). You must meditate on the strength of God instead of focusing on your state of weakness in order to fight the inward battle of the mind and soul. The following scriptures are powerful verses that you can think on today whenever you are filled with despair:
In the midst of a lot of negative news in the media comes a wonderful story of two siblings, thought to be dead, reunited with their family 10 years after the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia that killed about 275,000 people. One sibling was found alive about three weeks ago, as this August 8th Washington Post article describes:
Jamaliah Jannah, left, gives a hug to daughter Raudhatul Jannah on Thursday after being reunited in Meulaboh, Aceh, northern Sumatra, Indonesia. (EPA/Achwa Nussa)
Raudhatul Jannah was just 4 years old when the catastrophic tsunami swept into her Indonesian town and swept out with her in tow.
She had been holding onto her parents as they floated on a plank of wood when the tsunami hit her home, according toDeutsche Presse-Agentur International. But Raudhatul and her then 7-year-old brother, Arif Pratama Rangkuti, slipped from their father’s grasp. The family never saw the two children again until Wednesday when Raudhatul, now 14, was reunited with her family.
“My heart beat so fast when I saw her. I hugged her, and she hugged me back and felt so comfortable in my arms,” said Jamaliah Jannah, Raudhatul’s mother, in an interview withAgence France-Presse.
Young Raudhatul had been swept onto a remote island, when she was found by a fisherman who returned her to the mainland. For the next 10 years, that fisherman’s mother raised her by the name of Wenni, according to AFP.
Then one day in June, Raudhatul’s uncle saw a young girl who looked like his missing niece. He asked around and learned that she had been found on Banyak Island after the tsunami.
“My husband and I are very happy we have found her,” her mother told DPA. “This is a miracle from God.”
The couple’s other missing child would be about 17 years old now, and they believe that, like his sister, he may still be alive.
“We will look for him on Banyak Island because we believe he is still alive,” Jamaliah Jannah said according to DPA.
If he did live, Raudhatul’s older brother would be among the luckiest. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 275,000 peopleaccording to the U.S. Geological Survey, making it the deadliest tsunami since the Renaissance Age.
Raudhatul, now 14, speaks on the phone after being reunited with her family in Indonesia. (EPA/Achwa Nussa)
Arif Pratama Rangkuti and his younger sister, Raudhatul Jannah, were swept from their parents’ arms on Dec. 26, 2004, in the massive Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people across Southeast Asia.
Yet hope came again in June of this year, when an uncle saw a girl who looked similar to Jannah in a nearby village. Further inquiry revealed the girl, who had been rescued by a fisherman after the tsunami and had lived with his mother ever since, was indeed the lost daughter. What’s more, the girl — now 14 years old — said Arif was likely alive, as the two had been briefly stranded together on a nearby island…
Jannah’s emotional reunion with the family unleashed a large amount of media attention, which the family says led to the discovery of their son, who Voice of America reports had been living as a street orphan in Payakumbuh, an Indonesian provincesome 560 miles away from the family homein Aceh.
The entire family, together again:
Septi Rangkuti (2nd L) holds one of his sons, Jumadi Rangkuti, next to his wife, Jamaliah (top R), and daughter, Raudhatul Jannah (L), after being reunited with his missing son, Arif Pratama Rangkuti (lower R), in Payakumbuh town on Sumatra island on Aug. 19, 2014.
According to Agence France-Press,a couple in Payakumbuh contacted the familyafter seeing a photo of Arif as a young boy on the news, believing a homeless teenager they let sleep in their internet cafe bore a strong resemblance to him.
When the cafe owner showed the boy, known only as “Ucok,” a picture of Jamaliah, reports the Bangkok Post, he exclaimed, “That’s mother!” He was unable to recall her full name, but did remember the woman went by “Liah.”
It’s unclear how Arif and his sister became separated after their initial rescue by the fisherman. According to the AFP, it’s believed thefisherman didn’t have the resourcesto provide for two more children and decided to keep Jannah.
I remember well the day all this unfolded in 2004. I was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the time with three other guys on the 12th floor of a high rise apartment. We felt the earthquake and went outside until given the all-clear to go back inside. Kuala Lumpur was too far inland to be in danger of a tsunami, but 68 Malaysians died in the northwest part of the country due to the tsunami. That’s a large number, but it’s only about 2/100 of 1% of the total number of victims claimed by that tragedy. The story above is a welcome bright spot in the midst of all the loss.
My friend, Rick, was living in Malaysia at the time and is still there. He visited Aceh, Indonesia shortly after the earthquake and tsunami took place, and went back again recently. Here are some “before and after” pictures he shared on Facebook:
Following this introduction is a neat story by David Collins from Auckland, New Zealand which I would classify as part Biblical and part realistic fiction. Titled “Sarah of Jerusalem,” this story is told from the perspective of Sarah, a grandmother living with her daughter and her family in Jerusalem two years before the city was destroyed by the Romans. It explores how believers in Jesus at that time may have resisted efforts by Judaizers to bring them back under the law of Moses, how they may have reacted to the book of Revelation and the book of Hebrews, how they may have been affected by the murder of Peter and Paul, etc. Following this story are a few of my own notes, indicated by numbers in red.
Sarah lives in a small apartment in Jerusalem. The year is 68 AD.  She is the oldest of three generations of her family crammed into the small space in the middle of this bustling city. Many baby girls of her generation bore the name, Sarah – a reflection of the love they all had for Abraham’s wife from whom their beloved nation had been born a good 2000 years earlier.
Sarah was the mother of Tom, who also lived in the apartment with his wife Ruth and their twin daughters. Sarah’s husband had not been seen for thirty years – it was assumed he had not survived after a gang of thugs had broken into their home all that time ago … a proud Pharisee named Saul had led this unruly band – they especially relished breaking in as the believers – disciples of the Nazarene – sang their hymns together. Dragging Sarah’s young husband away, along with other men-folk from the group … Sarah could still remember Saul’s mocking laughter, even though she had long ago forgiven these men and happily immersed herself in the life of the community of believers, and her little family.
For thirty years, Sarah had been rebuilding her life – but it had been far from easy. In the mayhem of those early years of faith, large numbers of her friends had fled Jerusalem for the towns and cities that surrounded the eastern Mediterranean. In those days the Christ community numbered close to 20,000 devotees, but was radically reduced to just a few thousand by the effect of Saul’s persecution against them.
But making new friends was not hard for Sarah – they needed one another, they loved one another and through all the trials shared laughter, song and many a good meal together. They never ceased to wonder at how Jesus healed the sick among them – their fellowship was simple, yet full of the wonder of His presence. And then there was that report that Saul himself had met Jesus on the Damascus road – and had been baptised a believer, but had not been heard from since – a most curious business.
Despite the conversion of Saul, the persecution from the Temple rulers and their gangs of zealots continued. Many of Sarah’s friends, along with many of the community leaders, found that they could lessen the threat to their lives and livelihoods by reintroducing some of the Temple practices into their lives – circumcision, observing the holy days of the Old Covenant and abstaining from certain foods. It wasn’t long before some of their preachers were demanding this of them, and telling them that true salvation couldn’t really be enjoyed without these observances. 
This disturbed Sarah greatly, the message of the Christ had been so liberating for her – the rituals of the Temple had been just that – lifeless forms, but when she heard of the free grace of God and the love and freedom of which Jesus had spoken – and then the miracle of miracles of his resurrection and ascension to heaven … well Sarah, Tom and Ruth held firm to the simple things that had brought them freedom and refused to bow to the pressure from the Temple and the compromise that had infiltrated the Jesus community.
If all that wasn’t enough, everyone in the region were finding it hard to make ends meet. The farms surrounding Jerusalem were not doing well, it was dry and crops were failing – this had effected everyone’s livelihoods, and those who started with little were now barely able to feed their families. Without a hubby, Sarah was struggling. 
There would be three times in Sarah’s life that a knock on her apartment door would change everything. The first was hardly a knock, more the brutish force of Saul and his gang bursting in on their worship. The second was completely different – this time it was in the midst of the famine, and the visitor had come from one of the servers in their faith community.  She told Sarah how Saul, now named Paul, had turned up in Jerusalem bringing with him money and treasures from the northern gentile churches. This was a great relief to all in Jerusalem who were in hardship  – but, Paul had also passed on a list of addresses where he asked that special favour be shown in supplying their needs. Sarah’s little apartment was on the list, as were all the homes where 20 years earlier Paul had once entered with murderous intent.
The leaders in Jerusalem were full of gratitude and good news that they shared with Paul – thousands in Jerusalem have believed in the Lord, However, they are all zealous for the law of Moses. Paul was known to have stood firmly against these Jerusalem zealots who had insisted that old Jewish laws be adhered to by the Christ communities wherever they were – he was in hostile territory and a clash was looming. 
Sarah, her family and a growing number of her friends were now Paul’s strongest supporters – they were not about to surrender the unconditional love, the grace and freedom they had experienced. Some of Paul’s writings had filtered into the city, and now there was a stark choice in Jerusalem: be part of a free, but persecuted, community of Christ; or join the drift back to the Temple for safety’s sake.
During this time, bands of Jewish militants had launched random attacks on garrisons of the Roman occupation. The deranged Roman emperor, Nero, was looking for an excuse to move against everything that threatened his rule. In 64 AD a massive fire destroyed large parts of Rome and Nero, seizing the opportunity, unleashed a cruel and massive campaign against the communities of Christ all over his Empire – after all wasn’t this Jesus a Jew? They must be responsible for the fire. There was every reason why the believers started calling Caesar Nero, The Beast. 
Three years later – well 67 AD seemed like the worst year of Sarah’s life. Now 59 years of age, she is more grateful than ever for the loving support of Tom and Ruth and their girls, plus that of her believing friends in Jerusalem – but this was the year that Sarah learned that the Roman’s had murdered the beloved Peter and her spiritual hero, Paul the apostle of grace. Both murders needing the help of the authorities in Jerusalem. On top of that John, whom they called the apostle of love, had been exiled to a prison island , and now 60,000 Roman troops are marching through Judea, killing as they go, headed for Jerusalem.
In the New Year there’s a knock on the apartment door – this was number three. She opened the door to a true brother in Christ, one who was doing the rounds of the believer’s homes in Jerusalem. He had with him three scrolls of parchment. Sarah was not alone that evening, some twenty of her believing neighbours would cram every corner of her house, often five times a week – they jokingly called it their “New Covenant love nest.”
The first parchment was read aloud in the room. It had come from the beloved John – a vastly ranging account of visions and picture scenes and images – the violence and turmoil portrayed looked a lot like the world they were living in, but by the time the visitor had read the final paragraphs, Sarah’s apartment had filled with praise and shouts of victory at what was told. There was Jesus, there was His New Covenant Bride, there were the nations walking in the precious light of the Lamb of God. 
The second parchment contained none of the mystery of the first. It was a letter to them, and to all the Jews who had put their trust in the Messiah and in Him alone. The letter had come from a friend, an apostle they loved and respected greatly. Don’t throw away your confidence in Jesus, the letter urged, don’t forsake gathering together as you do … we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, run with endurance the race God has set before you … keep your eyes on Jesus, who because of the joy awaiting him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 
Soon there’s a room full of people holding and hugging one another – speaking with true affection to one another – encouraging and praying over one another. There’s tears aplenty, but all of them of pure beauty.
The third parchment was at least ten years old, and looked like a copy of a copy of a copy. It had originally been written by the old tax collector from Galilee who had become a disciple of Jesus. It was Matthew’s whole story of Jesus’ life and the things he’d heard Jesus say. Sarah’s visitor went straight to the middle of the scroll, and when he finally locates the bit he wants to read them, begins:
Jesus, as a good farmer, has planted good seed in his field … people who love the King and love his Kingdom. But an enemy has also been at work, sowing false seed, tares among the wheat, people working for another kingdom – one of bondage and wickedness. This enemy is the devil. But this mixture in the field is coming to an end; at harvest time there will be a furnace of fire into which these tares, these offenders will be burned. They will wail and gnash their teeth as they are thrown from God’s field. Then those whose righteousness is by grace alone will shine forth … they’ll come out of the shadows and shine as bright as the sun in the Kingdom of their loving Father. 
With that, the small crowd in Sarah’s apartment grew silent as they pondered what lay ahead of them. The Roman troops were now spreading out around the city, the well tested strategy of conquer by siege was beginning to form.
An old man started to speak; as a Jew he’d been taught to memorise the Torah from a boy: “They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you.”
The mood in the room was becoming decidedly somber until Sarah’s visitor, the bearer of the three parchment scrolls spoke up. “Dear friends, I’ve come to show you that none of what has happened or is about to happened has escaped the understanding of our Lord, nor that of his servants who have written these things. Jesus has always known that your faith would be tested that the enemies of His grace would seek to trample it out. But as far as he is concerned, their opposition is soon coming to an end, as is the old law with which they have sought to bind you.”
And then looking directly at Sarah, her two grand daughters in her lap, he says, it won’t be long now, Sarah, and it’s your time to shine without the shadow of the Judaizers, the Pharisees, the Temple rulers to hinder you. Somehow, dear ones, you’ll escape all this and will then be free to live in the ever advancing Kingdom of the Son. Sarah, all of you, get ready to leave this city – God will make a way – and get ready to shine as the sun.
As they returned to their homes, there was hardly one of them that wasn’t wondering how the rest of this would play out … and they wondered what it was going to be like for people in every generation to come, all over the earth, to live fully new creation lives in the grace – and grace alone – of their loving God.
 Sarah and her family are followers of Christ. My understanding is that the believers fled from Jerusalem about 3.5 years before Jerusalem fell, which would have been late 66 AD/early 67 AD. See these posts (one, two, andthree) for a timeline and details on these and other events from this time period.
 See Acts 8:1-3.
 See Acts 2:46.
 See Acts 15, Galatians 1-6, Colossians 2:11-23, etc.
According to Tertullian (160 – 220 AD), it was Nero who banished John to the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. Nero banished John after first attempting to boil him alive in oil.