Over the last couple weeks, as I've preached on Acts 2 and James 5, I've had opportunity to talk about the judgment Jesus brought on unbelieving Judaism in 70 AD when the city of Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by Roman armies. This event is of great redemptive-historical significance, and while the entire New Testament had been completed before 70 AD, prophecies of and allusions to this great conflagration are all over the writings of the New Testament. Again and again, New Testament figures warn of a judgment that is near at hand and about to fall upon "this generation" of Jews who were then alive.
For example, the Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13, primarily concerns a judgment that will fall on that generation of Jews then living, and will result in not one stone of the temple building remaining on another. There are numerous references to a "near" or "soon" coming of Jesus in James, 1-2 Peter, Revelation, and so on, all of which refer to 70 AD. The whole book of Hebrews shows the destruction of the temple will mark the transition from old covenant to new covenant, and is warning Jewish Christians to resist pressures from their kinfolk to return to Jerusalem and fight what it is sure to be a losing battle in defense of the temple. Hebrews 8 says the old covenant is "obsolete" and is "ready to vanish away." While the judgment that came upon Jerusalem in 70 AD was indeed the "Great Tribulation" for those who had made an idol of their nation, temple, and city, it was good news for the church. It meant their primary persecutors at that point in history -- unbelieving Jewish leaders -- would no longer trouble them. It meant the church's identity as the new and true temple of God would be fully manifest. But there is a lingering question that needs to be addressed.

Some have wondered if this is an anti-Semitic message since we are talking about a judgment that falls on the Jewish people for crucifying Jesus and attacking his followers. Could this teaching lead to hatred of and persecution of the Jewish people today? The answer is a resounding NO! Let me provide three reasons:
  • The judgment itself is announced primarily by Jesus, who was Jewish, and his apostles who were also Jewish. The issue is not race per se, but their rebellion against God. They are not judged because of their ethnicity but because of their refusal to repent and trust the Messiah God sent them. The Jews were given plenty of opportunity to escape from the city before it was destroyed, and we know from the record of history that not a single Jewish Christian perished in the war with Rome. They heeded the warnings of Jesus and got out of the city when the time came. The judgment that Jesus and his apostles announced against unbelieving Israel in their day may be considered analogous to similar warnings of judgment that Isaiah and Jeremiah gave to the people in their day, announcing that the Assyrians and Babylonian would be used by God to bring his punishments against his own people. In all of these cases, Jews are warning fellow Jews. And remember, Jesus did not just announce the doom of the city; he wept over it (Matthew 23). And Paul did not just announce that God would come in judgment against Israel; he wished he could suffer the curse about to fall on his countrymen himself so they could be saved (Romans 9).  The judgment falls on first century Jews not on account of their race but on account of covenant justice.
  • The Jewish people had been chosen by God for a purpose but that purpose was always temporary. God blessed Abraham so he could be a blessing to the nations. God's purpose was always to bless all families of the earth through the family of Abraham (Genesis 12). While this had been foreshadowed in various ways under the old covenant, with the coming of the new covenant, the kingdom is finally and fully opened to the nations. Ethnic Jews are just as welcome as Gentiles, but the only way to share in God's salvation is by trusting in Jesus, who is the True Israel and the promised seed of Abraham. All the promises of God are "yes and amen" in him. God intends for his church to be a glorious family, made up of all the families of the earth. In Christ, Jew and Gentile are united into one new humanity. This does not dissolve away non-sinful ethnic and cultural differences, obviously, but it does show us why so much of the New Testament is taken up with the issue of Jew/Gentiles integration in the church. The judgment that fell in 70 AD was not on Jews indiscriminately, but only on those Jews who rejected Jesus and clung to what was passing away. Those who had moved into the new covenant and new temple by faith in Christ were spared.
  • The Jews of today have no special covenant with God and therefore are under no special curse. The curses were fulfilled in the events of 70 AD. There is no place for anti-Semitism on the basis of past sins of the Jewish people because the covenant under which those curses operated expired in 70 AD when "this generation" was definitively judged. (Matthew 23-24) What we call the modern nation-state of Israel is just another geo-political nation in need of Jesus and obligated to submit to his Word. Anti-Semitism would not only violate our call to love our neighbor (as all racism does), it also fundamentally misunderstands the structure of redemptive-history.

Obviously, ethnic Jews have suffered ostracism and hatred frequently over the last 2000 years. But Christians should have nothing to do with that. Today's Jewish people are not special in either way -- they are not specially blessed simply because they are Jews, nor are they cursed because of what their ancestors have done. Instead, we must seek to reach them and disciple them, under the terms of the Great Commission. Today, the only categories that ultimately matter are not Jew and Gentile, but Christian and non-Christian. All those in Christ by faith are blessed, while all those outside of Christ are perishing in their sins. If you want to do more reading on this topic, I highly recommend this article by Jeff Meyers, which explains in detail how we should understand the promises God made to Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures and how we should view the "holy land" today. I've also done a more extensive study of Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24, entitled "Temple of Doom," which can be found here.