When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near… because these are days of vengeance. (Luke 21:20-23)
When prophesying about the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus referred to the days of vengeance. But whose vengeance was it? Why was it brought about? And what does it mean for us?
Many theologians say it was divine vengeance. Eusebius, the church historian, wrote that the Jews met “with destruction at the hands of divine justice.” John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, said the Jews experienced “wrath from God intolerable.”
It’s a shocking tune yet there are many who sing it. Following these two ancient writers, many theologians have added their voices to the chorus of condemnation. In fact, this notion of divine punishment is now so widely accepted, it even appears in some Bible translations:
This is the time when God will punish Jerusalem (Luke 21:22, NIrV)
Talk about adding to the Bible!
According to some theologians and Bible translators, days of vengeance means “days of God’s punishment of the Jews.” But God did not punish Jerusalem, the Romans did. God good, Romans bad. Sure, Jerusalem had heaped up its sins, but those sins were punished on the cross in AD30 and not in AD70.
On the cross, the Son of God did away with all sin, including the sins of those who put him there. So it is inconceivable that God punished the Jews. They certainly experienced days of vengeance, but it was not divine vengeance any more than the Nazi Holocaust was divine vengeance.
The Roman destruction of Israel unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism that has continued for 20 centuries. This evil is fueled, in part, by racist theology from Christians who ought to know better, such as Adam Clarke:
God visited and avenged the innocent blood of Christ upon the Jews and they continue to be monuments of his displeasure to the present day.
This anti-Semitic nonsense should be vigorously resisted by everyone, and especially those who follow Christ. Jesus did not slaughter the Jews. Nor did he slit their bellies looking for swallowed gems. If you must blame someone for these atrocities, blame the Romans.
When Jesus speaks of armies, vengeance, and wrath in Luke 21, he is referring to Roman armies, Roman vengeance and Roman wrath. It’s the “great distress” of a small nation being squashed by a vengeful empire.
These are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled… (Luke 21:22)
The “days of vengeance” phrase is a reference to the “things which are written.” Jesus is alluding to calamities foretold by the prophets.
Prophecies about Jerusalem’s fall
Centuries before it happened, the prophet Isaiah spoke of siege works and battle towers being raised against Jerusalem (Is 29:2-4). Long before some Roman put an eagle on a pole, Moses spoke of a besieging nation coming “as the eagle swoops down” (Deu 28:49-53). The coming siege would be so dire, said Moses, that parents would eat their children. Asaph said the blood would run like water (Ps 79:1-4), while Micah predicted that the city would become a heap of ruins (Mic 3:9-12).
All these prophecies were fulfilled in AD70.
The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming days of vengeance that would be inflicted by Israel’s enemies, but they also spoke of a coming day of vengeance, which is something else altogether.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Jesus began his ministry in a synagogue by reading these words (see Luke 4:18-19). However, Jesus did not quote the last part of the passage. He left off the bit about the day of God’s vengeance.
“Exactly. Jesus began his ministry to the Jews by preaching favor, but he ended in Luke 21 by declaring vengeance.”
Except the vengeance of Luke 21 is Roman vengeance, not divine vengeance. There is a difference.
Roman vengeance involves armies, wrath and great distress. In contrast, the divine vengeance Jesus spoke of brings liberty and freedom. One is bad news, the other is good news. Thus the days of manmade vengeance can be contrasted with the single day of divine vengeance,
Human versus divine vengeance. One is frightening, the other is good. We will take a closer look at these two types of vengeance in the next post.
Extracted from chapter 22 Paul’s new book AD70 and the End of the World.