The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 5


This is the fifth post in a 6-part series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006. The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). The second post examined how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The third post looked at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi).  The fourth post examined what Jesus and Hebrews 7 said about tithing, along with an overview of tithing in history. This post will discuss different ways that the law of Moses is viewed today (including a closer look at the book of Galatians), followed by an analysis of tithing in light of Christ having fulfilled the law.  My references will be included in the final post.

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D. Ways of Viewing the Law of Moses Today

How should present-day believers approach the Law of Moses, and the Old Testament as a whole? Although the New Testament is clear that Christ’s followers are no longer “under the law” (e.g. Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 3:25; Hebrews 7:18, 8:13), it’s also clear that the entire Old Testament is inspired by God, and is profitable in many ways to us today (II Timothy 3:16-17, I Corinthians 10:1-12). In fact, much of the New Testament is made up of references to the Old Testament, including references to the law of Moses. We have much to learn by studying the Law of Moses and every other part of the Old Testament.

Walter Kaiser, who has authored a number of books on the Old Testament, says that although the Law came “as a host of specific enactments distinctively relevant to particular times, persons, and places” (1987, p. 155), this “was not meant to prejudice its universal usefulness” (p. 172-3). He affirms that we can derive principles from the Law, but not irresponsibly, or by searching for “hidden meaning.” He says that “this search for principles or axioms must not be imposed as a grid over Scripture; Scripture itself must supply them” (p. 157).

Kaiser (1998) notes that there are two different views generally held by Christians on the relevance of Old Testament Law. The first view says that [1] we are required to obey Old Testament commands if they are specifically repeated in the New Testament, but whatever is not repeated is now passé. The second view says [2] we are still required to obey Old Testament commands, unless the New Testament specifically says otherwise.

Jay Snell (1995), and pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) clearly prefer the second view when it comes to tithing, as can be seen in their statements:

“[U]nless the New Testament has plainly set it [tithing] aside, you New Testament people are grafted right into the Old Testament Abrahamic System. So not only is the tithe, the offering and the first fruits offering not set aside, you are grafted right smack into the middle of all three of them…” (Carter and Clark). “And unless the cross sets aside something from the Old Testament, we are part and parcel of it. The cross has never set aside the tithe, the offerings and the law of the First Fruits Offering. We are in it” (Jay Snell, 1995, p. 36-37, emphasis added).

That’s an amazing statement, in light of the book of Hebrews explicitly teaching that the law, the old covenant, and the sacrifices have become obsolete. Carter and Clark (2006) have a similar view. They teach that the tithing laws did not need to be repeated in the New Testament because they were already well established in the Old Testament. Their stance is that unless “one can find a clear command not to tithe, one should never assume tithing has been done away.

Charles Ryrie clearly prefers the first view. On page 105 of his book Basic Theology, he said:

“Now the Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Timothy 4:4), some old ones (Romans 13:9), and some revised ones… All of the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. Specific Mosaic commands which are part of the Christian code appear there not as a continuation of part of the Mosaic Law…but as specifically incorporated into that [Christian] code, and as such they are binding on believers today. A particular law that was part of the Mosaic code is done away; that same law, if part of the law of Christ, is binding” (David Yeubanks, 2006, emphasis added).

Kaiser (1998) points out that two of the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, held opposing views. Luther’s view seemed to reflect the first view above, while Calvin more or less held the second. Luther once wrote, “There is one answer that can be made to all attempts to cite passages from the Old Testament to support [monastic vows]. ‘Do you Christians want to be Jews?’ Prove your case from the New Testament. The Old Testament has been set aside through Christ and is no longer binding.” On another occasion, he wrote,

“The Law is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel… [Exodus 20:2] makes it clear that even the ten commandments do not apply to us… The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver-unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.”

Calvin took an almost opposite stance. Referring to Deuteronomy 32:46-47, he said, “We are not to refer solely to one age David’s statement that the life of a righteous man is a continual meditation upon the law [Psalms 1:2], for it is just as applicable to every age, even to the end of the world.” In the same document, Calvin added,

“What Paul says, as to the abrogation of the Law [Gal 3:10] evidently applies not to the Law itself, but merely to its power of constraining the conscience. For the Law not only teaches, but also imperiously demands… We must be freed from the fetters of the law… Meanwhile…the law has lost none of its authority, but must always receive from us the same respect and obedience” (p. 68-69).

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (1993) note that there are more than 600 commandments in the Old Testament. They are contained within four Old Testament books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Fee and Stuart add that “the function of most Old Testament books is largely to illustrate and apply the Law found in the Pentateuch (p. 149). They then ask (p. 150), “If you are a Christian, are you expected to keep the Old Testament law? If you are expected to keep it, how can you possibly do so, since there is no longer any temple or central sanctuary on whose altar you can offer such things as the meat of animals (Lev. 1-5)?” Fee and Stuart conclude (p. 152):

“The Old Testament represents an old covenant, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep. Therefore we can hardly begin by assuming that the Old Covenant should automatically be binding upon us. We have to assume, in fact, that none of its stipulations (laws) are binding upon us unless they are renewed in the New Covenant. That is, unless an Old Testament law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God’s people (cf. Rom. 6:14-15).”

They also note that we can learn much about God by what we see in the laws that were given. For example, we can see that God loves slaves, and the regulations for slaves were far more compassionate than the treatment slaves received in the surrounding nations of that time (pp. 158-159).

I believe there is also much to be gleaned from the tithing laws. Foremost in my mind is that God showed great concern for the needy and the dependent. Those who tithed had a great responsibility toward orphans, widows, and strangers. When studying the tithing laws, we should be motivated to help the needy as well. The Law sought to ensure that those who ministered to the people, the priests and the Levites, were well taken care of. We should likewise be motivated to give generously to support those who genuinely serve the Body of Christ today.

The entire Old Testament is relevant to us today. This includes the Law, which contained “types and shadows” of the New Covenant God promised He would establish. Circumcision, for example, pointed to a future spiritual reality, being made a new creation (Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:15). So this obsolete regulation still illustrates how God cuts away the “flesh” from our hearts today, and this is worth studying and teaching.

The question is this: Are the ordinances of the Law of Moses binding in any way upon believers today, either to [1] govern behavior or [2] to attain some state of acceptance before God? Dwight Pentecost (1971) spoke well when he said, “For the Christian the Mosaic Law has revelatory value (2 Tim. 3:16-17) even though it does not have regulatory value, controlling our behavior” (p. 227).

John Wesley said, in his explanatory notes on Hebrews 7:18:

“For there is implied in this new and everlasting priesthood [the priesthood of Christ], and in the new dispensation connected therewith, a dis-annulling of the preceding commandment – An abrogation of the Mosaic law. For the weakness and unprofitableness thereof – For its insufficiency either to justify or to sanctify” (David Yeubanks, 2006).

There are many Scriptures in the New Testament which speak of our relation to the Law of Moses. Momentarily we’ll take a closer look at the Book of Galatians, but before doing so, consider this brief overview of some other relevant passages:

[A] Romans 6:13-15 (Sin doesn’t have dominion over us, because we are not under law. We are under grace, but we are not free to sin.)

[B] Romans 7:4-6 (We are dead to the law, which used to arouse “the passions of sins.” Now we are “delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by.”)

[C] Romans 7:7:12 (The law is holy, just, and good. But it brought death, because it revealed what sin is, and sin took the occasion to deceive and kill.)

[D] Romans 1:16-8:17 (This large passage discusses the Law at length.)

[E] Romans 10:4 (“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”)

[F] Romans 13:8-10 (“[He] who loves another has fulfilled the law.”)

[G] Ephesians 2:11-18 (The wall of division between Jews and Gentiles, “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” has been abolished. Both groups are reconciled as one in Christ.)

[H] Colossians 2:11-17 (The “handwriting of requirements that was written against us” has been “wiped out”, “taken out of the way”, and nailed to the cross. They were against God’s people in the sense that they condemned those – everyone – who didn’t keep them perfectly.)

[I] I Timothy 1:5-9 (Some wanted to be teachers of the law, but had strayed. The “law is good if one uses it lawfully.” The “law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless…”)

[J] Hebrews 9:8-10 (The gifts and sacrifices offered in the tabernacle were temporary, “fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of the reformation. But Christ came…”)

[K] Hebrews 10:1 (The law had a shadow of good things to come, but could not make anyone perfect.)

[L] James 2:8-11 (The law convicts people as transgressors. Breaking even one point of the law makes a person “guilty of all.”)

We can also add that Jesus and the apostles taught that we fulfill the Law by wholeheartedly loving God and those around us (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 6:2; James 2:8).

The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians

One of the main concerns in the book of Galatians is whether Gentiles who believe in Christ must also be subject to Mosaic Law. The example which Paul looked into the deepest was circumcision (2:3-14, 5:2-12, 6:12-15). He touched on both justification and sanctification in this epistle.

Paul began his epistle to the Galatians by warning them that they were turning from the grace of Christ to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). After relating how he had received the gospel, Paul spoke of false brethren “secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage)…” (2:4). Paul even firmly opposed Peter on the issue (2:11-21). Throughout the rest of the book, he warned against the danger of returning to any part of the Law for justification. If righteousness is said to come through the law, Paul warned, then Christ’s death was in vain (2:21).

The Galatians had “begun in the Spirit,” but then were attempting to be made perfect by the flesh (3:3). Here Paul touches on sanctification, the state of being increasingly set aside for God as holy (Strong, 2001). Like justification, this is also to take place in the lives of God’s people by the Spirit, not by the law.

Paul said that if anyone was “of the works of the law,” he was under a curse, because he couldn’t possibly keep the entire Law (3:10-11). Christ redeemed His people from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for them (3:13). As a result, the Gentiles are able to receive the blessing of Abraham through faith, which is the promised Holy Spirit (3:14). The law had been “added” only until Jesus came (3:19). It was a “tutor” to bring people to Christ, and now His followers “are no longer under a tutor,” but have been justified by faith in Him (3:24-25).

Paul compared those under the law to a child who, like a slave, is still “under guardians and tutors until the time appointed by the father” (4:1-3). Those who are redeemed “receive the adoption as sons” (4:4-7). The law brought bondage (4:3), but in spite of knowing God, the Galatians turned again to bondage (4:9). They were observing “days and months and seasons and years” (4:10), i.e. the annual feasts, etc., as an obligation. 

Galatians 5 begins with Paul exclaiming: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1). In his day, the Galatian believers were obligating themselves to be circumcised, which was indeed an obligation under the law of Moses. False teachers were evidently telling them that they still needed to be circumcised to receive the blessings of God in their lives.

Paul told them that because of their stance on that issue, they were then in debt to keep the entire law: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (5:2-3). In the next verse, he was even more severe, telling them that they had fallen from grace: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (5:4).

E. Tithing in Light of Christ Having Fulfilled the Law

I believe Paul would have said the same if the issue in Galatia had been tithing rather than circumcision. By this I don’t mean that all who claim to tithe today have fallen from grace, but this is the danger if we teach that tithing is necessary to be justified or sanctified before God.

Is this error taking place today? I believe it is. God’s people are not under a curse, as those who were under the Law were redeemed from the curse of the Law through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:10-14). By saying that those who do not tithe today are under the curse spoken of in Malachi, it’s implied that Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough to take it away. An additional effort on our part, i.e. tithing, is needed to obtain acceptance before God and remove the curse. I say this is implied, because tithe proponents normally don’t identify the curse of Malachi 3:9 (cf. Nehemiah 10:29) as the curse of the law.

Malachi 3 is probably cited more than any other passage to promote tithing today. It is often used to teach that those who fail to tithe are robbing God, and are cursed. Matthew Narramore (2004) sees this as ironic, because the opposite is actually true. He says, “[If] you put yourself back under the Law you will put yourself under the curse [according to Galatians 3:10].” The curse is not for those who were never under the Law, or for those who are justified by faith in Him (2:16) and are standing fast “in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (5:1).

“Tithing is based on theological premises that are inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the cross. The doctrine of tithing contradicts the most important aspects of the New Covenant and the believer’s new nature in Christ,” says Narramore in the introduction to his book. “The doctrine of tithing has been mindlessly taught and accepted for so long that some of the most outstanding Christian leaders do not recognize how it contradicts the very foundation of the gospel they are preaching.”

The question of whether Christians today are under grace or under the law is at the heart of the issue of tithing today. Narramore adds in chapter 4 of his book, “The New Testament scriptures make it plain that if you put yourself under any part of the Law then you are under the whole Law (James 2:10, Galatians 5:3).” Are some tithe teachers putting people under the Law?

Pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) give further insight into why they believe the tithing law is still required:

“The New Testament contains the same laws as the Old. Jesus did not do away with God’s Law. He expanded it. He said, “…That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees scrupulously tithed. Tithing is an act of worship. Jesus said, “…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). The comparison here is obvious. Caesar had his just dues coming and so does God! The only Bible example of God’s just dues is the tithe.”

It sounds like they believe we need to outperform the scribes and Pharisees in keeping the Law. Carter and Clark then add, “Paul went on to say in Galatians 6:7 that we reap what we sow. The implication is clear. Those who refuse to support His true work will reap little spiritual help. Without the help of God, man stands no chance of ever attaining eternal life.”

Here they come dangerously close to saying that unless we tithe, we have no hope of being granted eternal life. Jay Snell (1995), whose books are frequently sold on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, admits that this is exactly what he used to teach. He used to tell non-tithers that they were “next to going to hell, probably are anyhow.” He admits that formerly, as a Baptist teacher, he also put people under the Law when he told them they needed to tithe:

“You know I could tighten the screws down better and put a Gentile Christian under the Law better than any Baptist preacher you ever heard. But, when God began to show me other things, I got into the deeper things of God and…saw the seven blessings involved with [tithing].”

Now he motivates them to tithe with promises of great material blessings (p. 12). He believes he isn’t putting them under Law anymore, because he presents tithing as the deal that “Abraham got in on” before the Law was given (p. 13). He elaborates:

“It’s a fact that Jesus did away with the law. But it is also a fact that the Holy Ghost wrote it in our hearts now. The blessing part is still valid and we are included in that. Do it. Act on it. Move out upon it and see what comes your way. Failure to do so is a matter of neither acknowledging God as your Source nor honoring Him with your first fruits. If I act on the above, God is obligated, based on the Abrahamic Covenant, to see me through” (p. 37).

Despite his new tactics, Snell does still clearly teach that not tithing amounts to a crime. He says that failing to tithe means “spending God’s money” while “trying to justify it” (p. 37)—no small accusation. Snell may not “tighten the screws down” as hard as he once did, but, sadly, it’s hard to conclude that he has put aside the error of the Galatians. While trying to refute the idea that poverty is associated with righteousness, Snell actually taught the opposite. He believes that obtaining wealth helps him to be righteous before God:

“I am not convinced we have to be “flat busted” to be a “good” Christian. I can be a much better Christian if I have a decent car that runs good, wear decent looking clothes, live in a decent looking house, and have enough money in my pocket to take my wife to the restaurant after church if I want to. Now I can just be right with God a whole lot quicker and easier with things like that” (p. 56, emphasis added).

Matthew Narramore (2004) says,

“Most of the erroneous teaching on tithing comes from one thing; people are trying to apply Old Covenant principles to life in Christ and the two don’t mix. Paul had his biggest problem with people who were trying to fit the New Covenant believers into an obsolete way of living. The same problem continues today. People who teach tithing say they are not promoting the Law. However, the only instructions on tithing that came from God came through the Law to people who were under the Law. That was the only group of people he ever instructed to tithe” (Chap. 7).

David Yeubanks (2006) quotes from another source on why tithing was not taught in the New Testament by Jesus or any of His followers, including Paul:

[1] The silence of the NT writers, particularly Paul, regarding the present validity of the tithe can be explained only on the ground that the dispensation of grace has no more place for a law of tithing than it has for a law on circumcision (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary of Theology).

[2] Tithing is not taught in the New Testament as an obligation for the Christian under grace… Because we are not under law, but under grace, Christian giving must not be made a matter of legalistic obligation, lest we fall into the error of Galatianism… (Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, p. 1152).

Some tithe proponents, while admitting that believers are not under the Law, point to the fact that Abraham and Jacob tithed before the Law was given. However, Abraham and Jacob were also circumcised prior to the Law. Moses’ wife even circumcised their son, just in time to prevent God from killing Moses for failing to do so (Exodus 4:24-26). This was before the Law was given. Abraham gave animal sacrifices before the Law said to do so. If tithing is required today because it appeared before the Law, then, to be consistent, circumcision and animal sacrifices should also be required today.

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas argued with some men who were telling the Gentile believers that they had to be “circumcised according to the custom of Moses” to be saved (15:1). Some believing Pharisees even told the Gentiles to “keep the law of Moses” (15:5). The Jerusalem Council took up this matter. Peter said they were testing God by “putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (15:10). He affirmed that all are saved by grace (15:11).

The consensus of the council was to advise the Gentiles to stay away from four things: [1] things polluted by idols [2] from sexual immorality [3] from things strangled [4] from blood (15:19-20, 22-29). Even this decree was circumstantial, as Paul later advocated freedom in the above areas, except for the area of sexual purity (e.g. Romans 14).

Soon after this council, believing Jews who were “zealous for the law” protested because the Gentiles were not being circumcised or taught “to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:20-21). The leaders of the Church once again affirmed that the Gentiles should “observe no such thing” and repeated their earlier decree (21:25). Paul and his companions did purify themselves according to the Law, but only in an unsuccessful attempt to make peace (21:23-36).

Why wasn’t tithing listed among those “necessary things” decreed by the Jerusalem Council? The answer is that tithing falls into the same category as circumcision and the other Mosaic commands which are not repeated in the New Testament. They are no longer necessary.

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Part 6, the final post of this series, will feature a study on New Testament giving, followed by a conclusion and references.

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

Sarah of Jerusalem (1st Century AD): A Story by David Collins


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. [1] 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 [2] – 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. [3] 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. [4]

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. [5]

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. [6] 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 [7] – 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. [8]

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. [9]

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 [10], 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. [11]

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. [12]

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. [13]

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.

[1] 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, and three) for a timeline and details on these and other events from this time period.

[2] See Acts 8:1-3.

[3] See Acts 2:46.

[4] See Acts 15, Galatians 1-6, Colossians 2:11-23, etc.

[5] See Matthew 24:7, Acts 11:28-30, Revelation 6:5-6.

[6] See Acts 6:1-7.

[7] See I Corinthians 16:1-4.

[8] See Acts 21:15-25.

[9] See Revelation 13:5-7 (and this post featuring evidence that Rev. 13 concerns Nero and Rome). 

[10] 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.

[11] This was the book of Revelation.

[12] This was the book of Hebrews.

[13] See Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

Sarah of Jerusalem