The Christian’s Heritage!

Heritage

Reading church history is not the usual pastime of most congregational members. It seems to be so distant, refers to names and places with which we are unfamiliar and seemingly lacks any relevance to 21st century church life. Over the next few months we will incorporate an article around defining moments in church history. Hopefully this will help us understand and appreciate that some of the truths which we take for granted were frequently achieved at great cost by those who first understood their import. We start with the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in AD70.


The Destruction of the Temple

The temple was the centerpiece of Jewish culture, worship and identity. It was the de-facto headquarters of the Pharisees and Sadducees and was the only place at which blood sacrifices could be made. It represented the heart and soul of Jewish culture and worship, and was the visible expression of why the Jews refused to bow to Caesar, for it represented the place where Jehovah met His people. In AD 66, Jewish exasperation and frustration with Roman rule, as well as Greek speaking settlers, merchants and officials who were frequently protected by Roman authorities, reached a boiling point. Greek-speaking people attacked a Jewish quarter in Caesarea about 80 kilometers north of Jerusalem. The Roman army stood by passively as Jewish people were cut down and slaughtered. The ensuing reaction in Jerusalem, following the news of the slaughter, was to rise up, attack and overrun the Roman garrison, and Roman rule was temporarily overthrown.

Caesar Nero then ordered disciplinary action by Vespian, a well-tested Roman General. In AD 70 the campaign against Jerusalem came to a head, now under the leadership of Titus. In September, with horrific circumstances prevailing in Jerusalem, Titus ransacked the city and purposefully destroyed the temple in the hope that it would abolish forever both the Jewish and Christian faiths. A small group of Jews escaped to Masada where they made a final stand before committing mass suicide rather than be taken prisoners by Rome. Whilst Judaism and Christianity were mutually hostile to each other, Titus reasoned that by destroying the temple, the roots of both faiths would die. Christianity had experienced some form of tolerance from Rome as it was regarded as a sect or offshoot of Judaism. The book of Acts is in many ways a carefully articulated treatise of how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the Jews were looking for – the promised Messiah.

The destruction of the temple greatly accelerated Christianity’s independence and separation from Judaism. The cessation of sacrifices, so integral to Jewish worship and life-style, undercut Jewish acts of worship and sacrifices for forgiveness. The destruction of the temple and subsequent scattering of the communities following the carnage in Jerusalem only served to underscore the sufficiency of the Cross, and the fact that once and for all, the entire price for our sins had been settled by the blood of Christ. Until the destruction of the temple, Christianity, not withstanding it was moving across the known world, was still essentially ‘Jewish’ Christianity. That changed forever with the temple gone and its advance into the Gentile world. In fact Rome would replace Jerusalem as the center of Christian communication, and Greek and Roman philosophy would be the problems to be encountered and challenged rather than just those of Jewish tradition (circumcision and law-keeping). As the well respected historian and Biblical scholar FF Bruce noted, “In the lands outside Palestine, the decade which ended with the year AD70 marked the close of the period when Christianity would be regarded as simply a variety of Judaism … henceforth the main stream of Christianity must make its independent way in the Gentile world.” Jesus promised, “I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, and so He has done and so He will!

Steve