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Transcript
Week 5: Seven Signs of the End
Central to expectations about the coming of the Messiah, were beliefs that there would be drastic
changes to the world. For some, the hope involved drastic political change where a Jewish king
would rule a Jewish kingdom which would be the most, or one of the most, powerful nations in
the world. Others imagined a complete destruction and recreation of the heavens and earth,
brought about by the power of God, and that God himself would come and visibly reign over his
people in the new creation.
The Synoptic Gospels all give extensive warnings and signs for the end of the age. Some of them
mention the end of the world in several places. The approach of John’s gospel is different. He is
focused on telling people Jesus was God’s son in every way his fertile mind could concoct. In
many places John talked of a time when the Father and son would be one, and all believers will
be with them, but he did not overtly include the apocalyptic fireworks of the other gospels. For
all four gospel writers, the resurrection was not the final act of the salvation saga, but it was the
ultimate sign of final victory achieved when Jesus returned from heaven in power and majesty to
judge and transform the world.
Day 1 – Destruction of Towns and Cities (Particularly Jerusalem)
During one trip to the temple the disciples remarked about how beautiful and impressive the
temple grounds and buildings were. Jesus’ reply was to state that all of it would be destroyed, not
a stone would be left standing. In 70 CE, after a Jewish rebellion caused by perceived abuses by
Roman authorities, several legions of Roman soldiers surrounded the city, laid siege to it,
eventually broke through the walls, and destroyed much of the city, including the temple. The
Romans were so fed up with the Jews fighting Roman authority that they forbade any Jew from
living in the city. This was a profound blow to the Jews who lost their political capitol and
religious center. Most of the Christians left Jerusalem before, during, or after the fall of
Jerusalem. The Romans eventually rebuilt the city in the Roman style and changed the name to
Aelia Capitolina. A temple and pagan shrines were set up on the site of the former Jewish
temple. Jerusalem remained a pagan city where Jews were not allowed for about 200 years, until
Emperor Constantine became a Christian. He and his mother changed the name back to
Jerusalem and they set up a variety of churches and basilicas at places they believed Jesus had
been, such as Golgotha and Jesus’ tomb.
Jerusalem has been the site of many battles, sieges and much destruction. Almost all the
prophesies contained in the Old Testament and New Testament predict the destruction of
Jerusalem and foretell its recreation as a heavenly, ideal city.
Read Matthew 24:1-2 and Psalms 74:1-11.
Have you witnessed situations of destruction? What feelings did it generate?
Many cities were destroyed during WWII, such as Berlin and Hiroshima. How did that
destruction change the people and communities in those parts of the world?
Those who have been through tornados or hurricanes may have experienced what it is like to lose
everything. Have you ever lost something very important to you?
Many towns and cities in Syria and Iraq have been destroyed in recent years. How has it affected
the people in those situations? How do you imagine early Christians viewed the destruction of
Jerusalem?
People have fled from cities like Aleppo and Mosul, and tried to move to other parts of the
world. Do you imagine the destruction of Jerusalem would have had a similar affect on the
people there?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)
Day 2 – Mass Deception
Jesus was not the only person claiming to be the Messiah. The limited records show he was
unique in his interpretation of the messianic role, focusing more on faith, care for the poor and
needy, love, justice, and mercy, rather than political gain, armed conflict, and material
prosperity. Many Jews expected and hoped for a messianic figure like King David – a warrior,
priest, politician – who would re-create Israel as a strong, wealthy, secure, faith-based nation.
In 66 CE, a man named Menahem joined the rebellion against the Romans. He and a group of
like-minded men stormed the fortress at Masada and took the Roman weapons and armor stored
there. Menahem’s followers referred to him as the “King of the Jews,” and some claimed he was
the Messiah who would run the Romans out of Palestine. The group attacked the Romans in
Jerusalem and executed the high priest. In the battle that followed Menahem was killed.
In 67 CE, Josephus was leading a rebellion against the Romans at Sepphoris when Vespasian,
the Roman general, arrived and routed the Jewish rebels. Josephus eventually surrendered to the
Romans. In hopes of avoiding a painful death, Josephus claimed he knew that Vespasian would
be emperor, replacing Nero. Josephus said that Vespasian, a Roman, was the Messiah! He based
his claim, no doubt partly on desperation, and partly on Numbers 24:17, which says, “A star will
come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” A comet was visible in 64CE and another in
69 CE - this was supposed to be the sign of a new king. Josephus claimed it was Vespasian’s star
signaling his reign as Messiah and emperor. Vespasian was intrigued and delayed Josephus’
execution. Eventually Josephus, the Jewish rebel, joined the Romans and was never executed.
Vespasian did become emperor in 70 CE.
In 132 CE, Simon Bar Kochba lead another rebellion against the Romans. Bar Kochba’s
followers referred to him as the “Son of the Star.” Bar Kochba referred to himself as, “The
Prince.” Many viewed him as the Messiah who would establish an independent Jewish state. He
managed to do this for up to two years in some parts of Judea, even minting coins with the star of
David and the temple stamped on them. After the 70 CE revolt, the Romans had destroyed
Jerusalem, then rebuilt a Roman city on top of the ruins, renamed the city “Aelia Capitolina,”
and built a large temple to Jupiter on the temple mount. Given this national and religious insult
and economic oppression, the area was ripe for rebellion. Eventually over six legions of Roman
soldiers came to put down the rebellion. As a result, many Jewish towns were destroyed,
thousands and thousands of Jews were killed, Jews were forbidden from living in the area, and
the official name of Judea was changed to Syria Palaestinia. Another result of this conflict was
that many Christians distanced themselves from the Jewish faith. As a result, Judaism and
Christianity became more separate.
The messianic claims show how much heated emotion and oppression there was in the area
during the first and second centuries. The Jews saw their religious practices disregarded and
insulted, their political hopes dashed, and their economic well-being threatened. They looked for
a strong leader to create a new, prosperous, secure, and holy kingdom. They were looking for a
Messiah. Jesus’ warning reflects how a number of men claimed the title of “Messiah.”
Read Matthew 24:4-6, Matthew 24:23-26, and Numbers 24:17-19.
How many times have you heard predictions about the end of the world?
Given the state of modern politics, the proliferation of fake, negative news, and interference by
other countries in the political process, how do you deal with these attempts at mass deception?
How do governments and corporations try to deceive the public? Why do they practice
deception?
Have you ever been personally deceived? How does it feel to have someone you trust lie to you?
Have you ever deceived anyone? How did you feel? Did they ever find out?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)
Day 3 – Famines and Earthquakes
Palestine and the entire eastern Mediterranean, is prone to earthquakes due to all the fault lines in
that region. The Dead Sea Rift is a series of faults that run all the way from Turkey, through
Palestine, then down to the Red Sea. Numerous earthquakes have affected towns and cities
mentioned in the Bible. Some of the towns in Asia Minor, where Paul started churches, were
destroyed by earthquakes. In 79 CE, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and wiped out the entire town of
Pompeii. It must have often felt like the entire fabric of the earth was unraveling. Early
Christians saw earthquakes as a sign that the end was near.
Before computers and satellites to predict weather patterns, before modern transportation
systems to transport goods quickly and efficiently, and before modern agricultural techniques to
produce more food, there were famines in many areas of the Roman Empire. Much of Rome’s
grain came from Egypt, so if there were storms on the Mediterranean or bad growing conditions
in Egypt, much of the empire could be affected. The Romans tried to deal swiftly with famine
conditions, because few things started riots and unrest quicker than a shortage of food. One of
the tactics the Roman armies used to subdue rebellious towns was to stop the supply of food so
as to destroy the crops and livestock in the area to starve the rebels into submission. This tactic
was certainly used against the Jews during the Jewish wars against Rome.
Read Matthew 24:7-8.
Have you ever been hungry? Have you ever fasted? How does your thinking change as you
become more and more hungry?
Why do you think famine is one of the elements often described during disasters?
Have you ever given up something for the season of Lent? How did it feel not to have a thing
you desired?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)
Day 4 - Persecutions
Being a Christian in the first century was not always an easy thing. At first it was the Jews who
persecuted Jesus and his followers. The story of Paul’s dramatic conversion shows there were
Jews who felt it was their duty to find, persecute, and kill Christians. After his conversion, the
opposition that Paul faced most often was from Jews who felt his teaching and preaching were
misguided and harmful. It was sometimes local synagogues that tried to punish and silence early
Christians as heretics. Because Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism there were occasions
where the high priest and high council, as a matter of religious discipline, ordered Christians to
be beaten, imprisoned, or killed. Paul likely got his orders to persecute Christians in this way.
Early Christians were surprised that Greeks and Romans were often more receptive to the
message of Jesus as the Messiah than the Jews who were supposed to be the main recipients of
the message.
The Jews persecuted the Christians due to religious disagreements. The Jews disagreed with the
idea of Jesus being the Messiah and felt that the message of salvation by grace and faith, rather
than observing the Jewish law, threatened the practice of Judaism. The Greeks occasionally
persecuted Christians due to economic and business disagreements. Christians disagreed with
idol worship, and the money made in and around pagan temples. The Romans occasionally
persecuted Christians due to political and civil disagreements. Christians would not sacrifice to
the emperor as a god and the Romans saw this as traitorous, rebellious, and unpatriotic.
In many cases Christians being imprisoned, beaten, threatened, and shunned was localized to
various towns. Christians were seen as being different, and humans have a way of feeling
threatened by those who are different. As a result, pagans and Jews expressed their fears and
worries by persecuting Christians. Contrary to some thinking, Roman persecutions of Christians
was relatively limited – say in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were killed
during the Jewish rebellion. It is recorded that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome
and had some killed as a result. The emperor Decius required people of the empire to have
certificates called “libelli” to prove that they had sacrificed to the Roman gods and/or emperor. If
they couldn’t produce a valid certificate, they might be imprisoned or killed. A black market
soon developed for forged certificates! The most wide-spread persecution of Christians occurred
under the emperor Diocletian. He banned Christian practice, imprisoned clergy and required
sacrifices to Roman gods. It is estimated that over 20,000 Christians died during this time.
Christians have been persecuted throughout history in Muslim countries, in Nazi Germany, in the
Soviet Union, in Communist China, in North Korea, and even by other Christians.
Read Matthew 24:9-13, Acts 6:8-15, and Acts 9:1-5.
Have you ever felt threatened because of your faith?
Have you ever felt that others didn’t accept you because of your faith?
How do you think early Christians kept their faith and supported each other in the face of
persecutions?
Do we support persecuted Christians enough today?
Why is it important to maintain religious freedoms in our country?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)
Day 5 – Wide-spread Preaching of the Gospel
Early Christians took the idea of sharing and spreading the gospel seriously. Tradition has it that
many of the first disciples travelled to tell people about Jesus. Peter travelled around Judea
starting and encouraging Christian communities, and he eventually ended up in Rome. Paul was
a very active and persuasive evangelist. He travelled all across Judea, Asia Minor, and Greece
preaching the gospel and starting churches. Like Peter, he ended up in Rome, hoping to travel to
Spain to spread the gospel even further. Early Christians believed they should tell others about
Jesus before the end of the world, so that everyone would have a chance to be saved.
The Bible has been translated into over 600 languages and dialects with more translations being
completed all the time. With television, radio, and the internet the gospel is spread more widely
than ever before.
Read Matthew 24:14, Matthew 28:16-20, and Romans 15:18-26.
How did you first hear about Jesus?
How do people learn about Jesus today?
Why do you think the message of Jesus still touches people’s lives?
How do you share the message of Jesus?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)
Day 6 – The Abomination of Desolation
In the Book of Daniel, three of the Jewish protagonists, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were
required to bow down to a golden statue set up by King Nebuchadnezzar. They refused and were
thrown in a blazing furnace. But, because of their faithfulness, God delivered them from the
flames and saved their lives. According to the story, even Nebuchadnezzar was amazed by their
deliverance and ended up praising God. This must have been a powerful story to those Jews
required to bow down to Greek and Roman gods and to the emperor.
The phrase “abomination that causes desolation” comes from the prophetic and apocalyptic
section of the Book of Daniel. Many scholars think it describes the time when the Greek king,
Antiochus IV Epiphanes, attempted to Hellenize the Jews. In 168 BCE, Antiochus IV was
stopped from attacking Egypt by a representative of Rome. As he headed northward he decided
to impose his will and culture on the Jews in and around Jerusalem. He outlawed the daily
sacrifices in the temple, the reading of the Torah, and the practice of circumcision. He looted the
temple, sacrificed a pig (an unclean animal to the Jews) on the altar, set up an idol of Zeus, and
initiated the veneration of the Greek gods Bacchus and Saturn. This caused open revolt, and tens
of thousands of Jews and Greeks died as a result of the ensuing conflict. Eventually the Jews
drove the Greeks out and achieved independence for a time until the Romans came and
intervened in a Jewish civil war. The idol of Zeus in the temple was thought to be the
“abomination of desolation.”
In 19 BCE King Herod began renovating and rebuilding the Jewish temple. He expanded the
structure and increased its’ ornamentation. The Jews were supportive and proud of this work
until Herod decided to put the image of a Roman eagle over the most important gate into the
temple grounds. This “graven image” caused such an uproar that plots soon formed to tear it
down. Herod soon identified the ones who had destroyed the eagle and had them burned alive at
his palace in Jericho. This event took place around 5 BCE, probably not long before the birth of
Christ.
In 40 CE, the Roman Emperor Caligula ordered that a statue of himself be placed in the Jewish
temple in Jerusalem. There were immediate unrest and protests as word of the order circulated.
The Roman governor of Syria and Jewish king, Agrippa, finally succeeded in talking Caligula
into rescinding the order and the statue was never installed in the temple.
Jerusalem and the temple were completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. In 130 CE,
Emperor Hadrian considered rebuilding Jerusalem, with the inclusion of some pagan temples.
After the Bar Kochba revolt between 132 – 135 CE, Hadrian was so outraged by the continued
Jewish rebellions that he changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, built a temple to
Jupiter on the temple mount, banned Jews from visiting the city except on one day a year, and
removed most vestiges of Jewish history from the site. The name officially remained Aelia
Capitolina until the Muslims took over the city in the seventh century. After the rebuilding of the
city it was mainly pagans and Christians who lived there.
All these examples are to indicate the level of passion that centered on Jerusalem and the temple.
It was often the center of disagreement, intrigue, conflict, and war. It is no wonder Jesus wept
over the city and predicted its’ destruction.
Read Matthew 24:15-16 and Daniel 9:25-27.
Why do you think the Jews were so often at odds with the kingdoms that occupied Judea?
How was the experience of the Jews that opposed the Greeks similar to the experience of the
Jews that opposed the Romans?
How do you think early Christians felt about the destruction of Jerusalem?
What offends your religious sensibilities?
What are you passionate about?
How do these “signs of the end” relate to the celebration of Easter and why do you think
Matthew (and Mark and Luke) include them in their gospels?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)
Day 7 – Heavenly Aberrations
Most people in the first century believed that there was a direct connection between what
happened in the skies and what happened on earth, like astrologists today. Comets, eclipses, the
alignment of the planets, and the colors of the moon were seen as heralding important events.
Josephus claims a comet, and/or star, appeared over Jerusalem during 66 CE and stayed there for
about a year. Matthew described how the star appeared over the place of Jesus’ birth. Matthew,
Mark, and Luke described how the sky turned dark when Jesus was on the cross, leading up to
his death. When Jesus died, Matthew said there was an earthquake. Matthew quotes from the
prophet Isaiah in warning that all creation, the heavens and the earth, will be affected by the last
cataclysmic events.
Read Matthew 24:29-31 and Isaiah 13:9-13.
Have you ever experienced a solar eclipse or an earthquake? How did the experience make you
feel?
Do you check your horoscope? How seriously do you take astrology?
How do you feel when you see something that is hard or impossible to explain? Do you feel
awe? Fear?
Say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (x7)