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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Justice, justification, Jesus, Jerusalem, and the hell of fire

I was recommended Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just as preparatory reading for a sermon at Crossroads International Church in the Hague this coming weekend. It’s a compassionate, practical, carefully argued, and in some ways quite audacious exhortation to the conservative evangelical church—and from firmly within the conservative evangelical church—to recognise that practising social justice is an integral part of biblical teaching. “The most traditional formulation of evangelical doctrine,” Keller says, “rightly understood, should lead its proponents to a life of doing justice in the world.”

Given the theological starting point, it’s an excellent book, and we could leave it at that. But it seems to me that in places the scriptural substructure is rickety and on the verge of collapse. If it holds up long enough to enable Reformed Christians to take social justice seriously, all well and good. But in the long run I think that we are going to have to undertake some extensive renovations.

A case in point is the discussion about justification by faith. I’m using the Kindle version, so the page numbering may be inexact.

Much of the social justice material is found in the Old Testament, so Keller has to show that this is not all somehow transcended or abrogated when we get to the New Testament. Paul taught that we are justified not by works of the Law or works of righteousness but by faith in the saving power of Jesus’ death. That is the standard Reformed view. But Keller insists that it does not make good deeds irrelevant. On the contrary: “Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith” (99).

To back up this claim, he suggests considering the “alternatives to the doctrine of justification by faith”. Some people, for example, believe that “if human beings try hard enough to obey God they can be saved”—the old pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps doctrine of salvation.

Keller maintains that this option is ruled out by Jesus’ teaching about the Law in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-30). Salvation by works might be feasible if the bar is low enough, but in this passage, Keller argues, Jesus has “raised the bar infinitely” (100). Therefore, we can only be saved by grace. “Why can we never be saved by our own moral efforts? It is because the law of God is so magnificent, just, demanding that we could never fulfil it.”

But this propagandist reading only works if you put your face close up to the page and squint through half-closed eyes under low light. If you read it properly, it’s a plain distortion of Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus is speaking to his Jewish disciples as an eschatological community defined by the beatitudes. He tells them that he has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. He has come to fulfil them, which has something to do with a future moment when all will be accomplished:

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:18)

As Dick France points out in his commentary on Matthew, this is the language of eschatological fulfilment:

if we were right to understand the “fulfilling” of the law and the prophets in terms of a future situation to which the law pointed forward, this clause could be saying that the smallest details of the law would be valid only until the time of fulfillment arrived. This would be a natural understanding of “not … until …,” which seems to suggest a temporary situation.1

Until that moment of fulfilment, the Law stays firmly in place for those who wish to participate in the kingdom of heaven. Any disciple who relaxes one of the commandments “will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”. But whoever does them and teaches them “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven”. So Jesus sums up unequivocally:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:20)

Far from arguing that the disciples cannot keep the impossible standards of God’s law, he is teaching them to raise their game, to jump higher. They have to do what the scribes and Pharisees do and then some. They have to do better than the scribes and Pharisees.

But it is not an infinite leap from not committing murder to not getting angry. The demand imposed on the community is radical but it remains fully practicable. Jesus tells them what to do, and he expects them to do it.

The Jewish Law says, “Do not murder,” and the person who murders will be “liable to judgment”. But Jesus says that even the person who is angry with his brother will be “liable to judgment”; the person who insults his brother will be “liable to the council”; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be “liable to the Gehenna of fire”.

What Jesus is doing here is not so much making it an issue of the heart as bringing lesser or less destructive offences against the brother within the scope of judgment. Insulting a fellow Jew is still an action; and being angry has concrete effects: “in anger his master delivered him to the jailers”; the “king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matt. 18:34; 22:7).

Far from arguing that the disciples cannot keep the impossible standards of God’s law, he is teaching them to raise their game, to jump higher.

What Jesus expects his disciples to do when they remember that their brother has something against them is not throw their hands up in despair and say, “It’s impossible, I can’t do it! You’ve set the bar too high!” Rather, it is to go and be reconciled. They must do something—and not anything terribly difficult, frankly.

The same applies for the argument about adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). The Law says don’t commit adultery. But Jesus tells his disciples not to look at a woman with lustful intent. He does not expect them to exclaim, “Wow, you have set the bar infinitely high!” He expects them to do it. Otherwise they risk being thrown bodily into Gehenna. They will be carried along with the crowds on the broad road leading to destruction. Their house will be swept away when the eschatological storm comes.

What it comes down to, I think, is basically that Jesus does not want his disciples to be “hypocrites” like the scribes and Pharisees, who are scrupulous about tithing mint and dill and cummin but “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23)—and who, therefore, will not escape the “judgment of Gehenna” (23:33).

Jesus does not tell the scribes and Pharisees that they cannot save themselves by keeping the Law. On the contrary, he tells them to keep the Law and practice “justice and mercy and faithfulness”. “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

The question we then have to consider is: when did Jesus expect all things to be accomplished? My simple, historically meaningful answer is: at the the climax to the impending war against Rome. I’ll give a couple of broad reasons with some links to fill out the argument.

First, I have repeatedly argued here that the language of being thrown into Gehenna, into the valley of the Sons of Hinnom, alludes to Jeremiah’s shocking vision of the dead being thrown over the walls of Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege. The valley of Gehenna, regardless of whether rubbish was burned there, was a symbol not of a final judgment of the dead, and certainly not of conscious post mortem suffering, but of historical judgment on Israel.

Secondly, the statement that the Law will stay in force “until all is accomplished” (heōs an panta genētai) anticipates the saying in the later apocalyptic discourse: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (heōs an panta tauta genētai)” (Matt. 24:34). The Jewish Law will remain operative until the good news of the coming rule of God has been proclaimed to all nations of the Greek-Roman world, until the tribes of the earth see that the Son of Man has been glorified at the right hand of God, until the disciples are delivered from their sufferings and vindicated for their faithfulness—until the end of the age of second temple Judaism, in other words (cf. Matt. 24:1-3, 13-14, 29-31; 28:20).

So Jesus’ argument about the Law in this passage offers no direct support to the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith rather than by works. In fact, it appears to run quite contrary to the doctrine. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is shaping a radical community of Jewish followers which will demonstrate a standard of righteous higher than that of the scribes and Pharisees in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

It is a community of faith, certainly: they will have to trust that the narrow road of suffering will lead ultimately to life. But it is a fundamental narrative-historical error to confuse this situation with the controversy over “membership” that gave rise to Paul’s affirmations about justification and faith.

As for justifying the practice of social justice—well, we need the whole story for that.

  • 1. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (2007), 185-186.
Image of Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just

On Amazon (US):

Timothy Keller
Penguin Books (2012), Paperback, 272 pages, $16.00
Image of Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective

On Amazon:

Andrew Perriman
P.OST (), Kindle Edition, pages,

Comments

Andrew,

Good stuff! But, you did say…

Secondly, the statement that the Law will stay in force “until all is accomplished” (heōs an panta genētai) anticipates the saying in the later apocalyptic discourse: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (heōs an panta tauta genētai)” (Matt. 24:34). The Jewish Law will remain operative until the good news of the coming rule of God has been proclaimed to all nations of the Greek-Roman world, until the tribes of the earth see that the Son of Man has been glorified at the right hand of God, until the disciples are delivered from their sufferings and vindicated for their faithfulness—until the end of the age of second temple Judaism, in other words (cf. Matt. 24:1-3, 13-14, 29-31; 28:20).

You do realize that “Heaven and Earth” had to pass away prior, or along with, the Law passing away. The text, which you are dealing with did say:

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:18)

This gets us back to my previous post, which I haven’t had the time to respond to your response yet.

This kind of forces you to realize ( I hope) that Genesis 1 isn’t about the creation of the physical world or universe, which is turn means that Rev. 21-22 (since Rev’s 21:1 is the same Heaven and Earth as Genesis 1’s), isn’t about the physical world/universe. See John Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, and Tim Martin’s, Beyond Creation Science for a good start in dealing with this topic.

If not, then what “Heaven and Earth” passed with the Law in AD70, or with Rome’s demise?

If not, then what “Heaven and Earth” passed with the Law in AD70, or with Rome’s demise?

Heaven and earth did not pass away in AD 70. So there are three basic interpretive options:

1. Jesus meant the language literally but got it wrong. This is the historical-critical argument of Schweitzer, for example.

2. Jesus meant the language literally and never intended his saying to be connected to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the standard conservative position.

3. Jesus did not mean the language to be understood literally. As in Isaiah the renewal of heaven and earth is a metaphor for the renewal of Israel.

I think the third option is right, but it is not then a necessary corollary to that conclusion that the account of creation in Genesis and of new creation in Revelation are also metaphorical. Your argument, unless I have misunderstood it, is simply false.

The prophets spoke of the return from exile as a new exodus from Egypt. The New Testament in places speaks of the salvation of Israel in the first century as a new exodus. We do not infer from that that they understood the story in Exodus about Israel escaping from Egypt to be a fiction, an allegory for spiritual liberation.

If a journalist describes a political crisis in Europe as the Second World War breaking out all over again, she doesn’t mean that the war never happened, that it was just a metaphor.

In fact, the metaphor only really works because the object of comparison was a real event.

So it is entirely reasonable to suppose that Isaiah and Jesus believed that Genesis 1 describes the literal creation of the cosmos but used the language metaphorically to speak of the forgiveness and restoration of Israel.

I really don’t see what your problem is.

Andrew,

I agree with 95% of what you say. However, you’re blind to your attachment to the physical and it’s distorting your approach to many passages.

Heaven and earth did not pass away in AD 70.

Yes it did, or the Law did not pass in AD 70! You can’t get away from that fact Andrew. So, like you, option #3 has to be the correct interpretation. You already linked Matt 5:18 to Isaiah 65, and agreed they’re metaphorical concerning Israel. From there it isn’t hard to correlate Isaiah 65 to Rev. 21-22 (how you miss this I just can’t grasp. Seems every scholar out there connects Isa. 65 to Rev. 21-22) and 2 Peter 3:7, Heb. 12:26-29 (and others) - see Beyond Creation Science. From there one is forced back to Genesis 1, which must be metaphorical in some way too since Rev. 21’s Heaven and Earth are metaphorical in some sense. Walton argues it’s a Temple text, Martin argues it’s a Covenant creation text with Revelation being the destruction of that Covenant world leading to the creation of a new covenant world- a new Heaven and Earth. Either way, both demonstrate the complete failings that Genesis 1 is a physical account.

This is all connected and spills over into the NT’s language concerning the “creation” as well. There is a reason the Church/Israel is spoken of as a new creation. Because the NT writers understood Israel as YHWH’s creation in the first place, that it was in a state of futility, and that he would destroy that creation and give birth to a new one. Sure sounds like the book of Revelation to me.

One such passage concerning the creation that your fixation on the physical distorts is Romans 8.

Romans 8:19 – For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God

The physical world can’t long for something.

Romans 8:20 – For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope

Why and how would the physical world be subjected to futility? Not willingly? As if it could have made a choice? In hope? It can hope?

Romans 8:21 – that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption

Why would the physical world be subjected to corruption? That makes no sense at all. What does some rocks, dirt, or trees have to do with man’s sin?

Romans 8:22 – For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now

The whole creation? So something was added to creation? Wouldn’t just creation already mean everything? Groaning together? Together demonstrates more than one object. Childbirth? Childbirth is used in the OT in reference to Israel. Until now? This was in the first century. Seems that Paul understood its liberation was taking place then. Was the physical world liberated in Paul’s day or at Rome’s demise?

Romans 8:23 – And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons…

In verse 22 Paul had the “whole creation” groaning together and then in verse 23 differentiates himself out and says that he too, as a firstfruit, was groaning. Would not those who were the firstfruits be part of the “whole creation” in verse 22?

And you ask what is my problem? My problem is seeing Genesis 1, Revelation 21-22, Romans 8 and other passages as references to the physical universe, which just do not work, and as you point out, via your many blogs post, distort the narrative of the entire Bible.

-Rich

This simply doesn’t make sense to me. There is no literary or theological or historical reason why Israel should not have attempted to described the creation of the cosmos, the beginning of all things. Given the pervasive insistence in the Psalms and the Prophets especially that YHWH is different from the pagan gods precisely in the fact that he made all things, it would be surprising if Israel had not attempted to give an account of the creation of heaven and earth.

The fact that “new creation” elsewhere is a metaphor is neither here nor there. As I said in the earlier comment, other themes in scripture are used both literally and metaphorically.

I’m not persauded by the argument that Genesis 1 is a “temple text”, but even if it is, the point would only be that God created the world as a temple.

Andrew,

There is no literary or theological or historical reason why Israel should not have attempted to described the creation of the cosmos, the beginning of all things.

Maybe there is and maybe you just don’t understand it currently. It’s only now that many scholars are rethinking these things in lieu of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts which are only now becoming available for them to study. It’s only been in the last 10 years scholars, like Walton, have begun to understand what these texts mean in a ANE worldview and causing them to change their entire understanding. And they’re not in favor of a physical account. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in this area over that last four or five years and the scholarship out there working on these topics have really changed my Biblical worldview.

Given the pervasive insistence in the Psalms and the Prophets especially that YHWH is different from the pagan gods precisely in the fact that he made all things

I agree that in many of the Psalms the author argues in favor of YHWH as the creator of all things - although the argument isn’t that the pagan gods don’t exist rather that YHWH is superior to them. However, one issue that surfaces immediately is, what does it mean for the author to speak of “creating” all things? You assume it means the physical creation of matter. What if their argument comes from the perspective of a functional creation? These are the sort of new understandings scholars are beginning to realize. This is exactly something that Walton demonstrates. And of course this has ramifications when approaching many texts in the OT, such as Genesis 1.

it would be surprising if Israel had not attempted to give an account of the creation of heaven and earth.

Israel was giving an account of Heaven and Earth, just not a physical account. You are forcing questions upon the text that you want answered - the origins of the physical. Maybe that wasn’t their question.

I’m not persauded by the argument that Genesis 1 is a “temple text”.

So you’ve read Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One? Or, Martin’s book for that matter?

-Rich

Two comments on your commentary. If the Sermon on the Mount was in some way a preparation for AD 70, what would really be the relevance to that event of not getting angry with your brother or not looking lustfully at a woman? None at all, as far as I can see,

Also, Jesus spent time even in the Sermon on the Mount modifying and changing the law. Three examples. The law did not say ‘Love your enemy”. It encouraged the elimination of your enemies. The law did not encourage a man-centred interpretation of the Sabbath. The law did not in the slightest way say that all food was clean, as declared in Mark’s gospel, whenever the abrogation was written.

Any thoughts?

Some thoughts…

If the Sermon on the Mount was in some way a preparation for AD 70, what would really be the relevance to that event of not getting angry with your brother or not looking lustfully at a woman?

The point I made was that Jesus expected his disciples not to be hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees. If the leaders of Israel were to be condemned and destroyed because of their hypocrisy (cf. Matt. 23), it was obviously important that a renewed community of Israel should not be hypocritical.

Also, Jesus spent time even in the Sermon on the Mount modifying and changing the law.

There are difficulties here, but I don’t see that they affect my argument.

“And hate your enemy” is not part of the Law, but there are also passages in the Old Testament that advocate kindness towards enemies (eg. Exod. 23:4–5; cf. Prov. 24:17; 25:21). Jesus still calls his disciples to “perfection” and the practice of “righteousness” (Matt. 5:48; 6:1).

Jesus makes the Sabbath issue a matter of the interpretation of the Law, not its abolition: “Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” (Matt. 12:5).

The saying about all foods being clean is a redactional comment, as you seem to be aware (Mk. 7:19). Jesus’ teaching is again a reaction to the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 7:1-13).

Why would not being hypocritical save the disciples from the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?

On the other hand, it might save them from destruction at the final judgment.

I didn’t say that they would be saved by not being hypocritical. This is what I wrote:

If the leaders of Israel were to be condemned and destroyed because of their hypocrisy (cf. Matt. 23), it was obviously important that a renewed community of Israel should not be hypocritical.

The disciples would be saved by losing their lives for Jesus’ sake (Matt. 16:25) or by enduring to the end (Matt. 24:13). But obviously as they waited for the end, they were expected not to be hypocritical like the scribes and Pharisees.

It’s a bit like the woman caught in adultery. She was saved from a stoning by Jesus’ refusal to condemn her, but she was told not to sin again.

I’d have thought the opposite of being condemned and destroyed (as the Pharisees were to be for their hypocrisy) was to be saved, ie not to be condemned and destroyed. This may also, but not inevitably, have entailed literally losing life or enduring suffering “to the end” (meaning of “end” left undefined). The salvation here was not simply from any physical cause of death through persecution, or even from being thrown into the Hinnom valley (for which no mass burials have been found), but death beyond physical death: the death not just of body but soul (Matt 10:28). This is the death of those raised from the dead to be condemned (John 5:29), also described as ‘the second death’ (Revelation 2:11, 20:6,14, 21:8), but I wouldn’t want to be controversial.

I’d have thought the opposite of being condemned and destroyed (as the Pharisees were to be for their hypocrisy) was to be saved, ie not to be condemned and destroyed.

You’re still missing my point.

…or even from being thrown into the Hinnom valley (for which no mass burials have been found).

You should take that up with Josephus: “Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath” (War 5.12.3).

…but death beyond physical death: the death not just of body but soul (Matt 10:28)

I understand the passage a little differently, though I think resurrection is the key. Their persecutors can kill the body but not prevent God raising them from the dead. But God will destroy unrighteous Israel body and soul: there will be no resurrection for those who condemned in the coming judgment. Daniel 12:1-3 is in the background.

Just going back to the original post for which this is a response, you do say that if the disciples were guilty of looking at a woman lustfully, it would mean they were going along with the crowds on the broad way of destruction which led to Gehenna - supposedly the literal geographical valley of Hinnom into which, according to you and Josephus but not archaeology, the bodies of the dead were thrown after the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70.

You link this with the Pharisees, who are hypocritically scrupulous about minor matters, but ignore weightier matters of the law, and conclude that they will not escape the judgment of Gehenna (literal burial in the valley of Hinnom) because of their hypocrisy.

Salvation for the disciples was then the same as for the Pharisees – to avoid breaking the law in such a way as would otherwise lead to Gehenna. But what is Gehenna? The missing link in your logic is this: how would avoidance of hypocrisy, or obeying a broadened scope of the law, have any connection in itself with defeat and death through the Roman siege of Jerusalem? Or how would practise of hypocrisy in itself have any connection with that event?

The historical destruction of Jerusalem was a consequence of Jerusalem failing to recognise its king and messiah Jesus, and participation in a doomed revolt, in which nationalistic aspirations clouded better judgment, not least about Jesus’s warnings on how to respond to the event. It wasn’t a failure to adhere to a tightening of the law in the ways Jesus advocated which brought about Jerusalem’s destruction. That doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, Jesus’s warnings about the dangers of a post mortem Gehenna through a deepening of the significance of the moral law do make sense. Taken this way, Jesus provides a commentary on practices which not only break the law, but threaten to destroy the renewed humanity of those whom Jesus is calling to follow him. Contrary to what you say, some of the injunctions are very stringent. At what point does glancing at a woman become a lustful glance, thereby constituting adultery of the eyes? How do we in practice define porneia/ ‘marital unfaithfulness’ (of the husband) in assessing the possibility of remarriage for the female divorcee (which is what seems to be assumed in the Matthew passage. Mark is even starker – there are no concessions for divorce and remarriage for husband or wife).

The limitation of these injunctions until AD 70, taking that to be how you understand when “all is accomplished”, is nonsensical. Jesus was not simply spelling out the broader scope of the law, he was providing a commentary on the law itself. Usually this is assumed to mean he looked at the heart as well as the deed, but it’s not so simple, as the injunction against angry abuse (against your brother), shows. And again, I would say that he modifies the law itself, and does not simply reinterpret it.

The one or two verses you have provided from the OT which advocate love towards your enemy are significant, and chime with Matthew 5:43-44. But it remains the case that the OT as a whole advocates the killing of the enemies of Israel, and Psalm 139:21 is as clear as anywhere about the virtue of hating those who hate God, and counting them as “my enemies” who are worthy of slaughter. How would God slaughter them (v.19) if not at the hands of his chosen servants, as demonstrated throughout the OT?

Jesus also takes a view of the Sabbath which would have occurred to no reasonable person reading the Old Testament.

Mark 7:19 may be the work of a mythical redactor, but the whole gospel is an edited account of the life and death of Jesus, or one which promotes a particular point of view. History is littered with the failed attempts of critics to extract the work of later ‘redactors’ from a supposedly authentic original. Why not just assume that this really was what Jesus meant, and that the redactor, whenever he redacted, was reflecting correctly what Jesus intended? It seems clear enough from the context.

It makes far more sense to understand that what Jesus did with the law was in line with what we see in the letters. Jesus summed up the law as love of God and love of neighbour – Mark 12:29-31. Paul repeats this almost verbatim: Romans 13:8, 10, saying it is not obedience to the letter of the law which proves love, but love which fulfils the law (Romans 13:10). Galatians 5:14 repeats the same, adding that the Spirit produces the fruit of love against which there is no law (v.22-23). Love of neighbour is “the royal law” – James 2:8. According to Jesus, and the testimony of the letters, love relativizes even the law. This is exactly how Jesus went about things, and is where the Pharisees showed not only their hypocrisy (they didn’t even keep the law which they so strongly enjoined on others), but their refusal to recognise and acknowledge who God really was when Jesus showed them what he was like, and how the law was intended to function.

Jesus was showing what the law really meant, added to which we have the commentary of Paul and James, which demonstrates that Jesus was not reinforcing legalism (rewards and punishments for behaviour according to legal obedience), but pointing to a higher principle that governed even the law. It is therefore correct to say that only by the renewing work of the Spirit can the law be fulfilled (as Galatians shows), and the true fulfilment of the law be produced in those who have received the Spirit.

All this is a way of leading to the conclusion that the sermon on the mount and Jesus’s teaching were not simply an ‘interim ethic’, or a reinforcement of the Old Testament law for a temporary period. If that were so, it would inevitably lead to the question: what followed? If it is no longer the sermon on the mount, and the commentaries in the epistles, what else? There is no suggestion of this kind of disjunction. It also leads to the conclusion that Gehenna was not simply a way of alluding to a rerun of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and the mass burial of dead Jews in the valley of Hinnom. Rather, Jesus was introducing the new humanity, in himself and his followers, and the consequence of not living life on the principles of love was to oppose God himself. The fire of ‘salt’ which purifies the lives of the followers can become the fire of Gehenna which destroys the lives of those who live according to contrary principles (such as hatred of enemies) – Mark 9:42-49. This is not AD 70, but a broader danger and possibility.

The historical destruction of Jerusalem was a consequence of Jerusalem failing to recognise its king and messiah Jesus, and participation in a doomed revolt, in which nationalistic aspirations clouded better judgment, not least about Jesus’s warnings on how to respond to the event. It wasn’t a failure to adhere to a tightening of the law in the ways Jesus advocated which brought about Jerusalem’s destruction. That doesn’t make sense.

That’s an oversimplification. John the Baptist condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees for not bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. The wicked tenants are condemned for assaulting the servants and killing the son, but also for not giving the master the fruit of the vineyard. The vineyard is then given to new tenants who will “give him the fruits in their seasons”—not “who will believe in the son”. Matthew 23 tells the same story: the scribes and Pharisees are condemned and Jerusalem will be left desolate because of the accumulation of their hypocrisies.

So the basic story is this: the unrighteous leaders of Israel reject those whom God has sent to call them to repentance and righteous behaviour—the prophets, John the Baptist, and ultimately Jesus; having rejected this one last chance to repent, they must face the consequences of their wickedness, which will be the destruction of Jerusalem and temple, massive loss of life, and dispersion. They are condemned fundamentally for their failure to produce the fruit of righteousness.

Under these circumstances, it seems entirely reasonable for Jesus to insist that his followers do not exhibit the same hypocrisy as the scribes and Pharisees.

It makes excellent sense to me.

Well yes, John the Baptist warns the Pharisees of the wrath to come, but without defining exactly what that was. My case is reinforced by his reference to “the holy Spirit and with fire” - Matthew 3:11. It’s similar to Mark 9:49. The fire is coming for “everyone”. One side of the winnowing fork/fire is gathering into the barn/purifying - Matthew 12a/Mark 9:50. The other side of the fire consumes/destroys - Matthew 3:12b/Mark 9:48. As I read it, both passages have more in view than AD 70.

Matthew 23 does indeed talk about the kingdom of God being taken away from those for whom it was intended (the rulers of Israel) and being given “to a people bearing the fruit of it” - which includes, in the narrative, the Gentiles. The parallel isn’t exact with AD 70, as the vineyard isn’t destroyed, unlike Jerusalem/Israel. So it’s not a completely apt parallel with Matthew 23.

In Matthew 23, the warning to the Pharisees is “How will you escape being condemned to Gehenna?”. Jerusalem will be destroyed too. However, it’s a leap of interpretation to say that Gehenna is therefore the same as the destruction of Jerusalem. I think there is greater warrant, given the line of thought I have proposed, to say that Gehenna awaits those who reject Jesus and precisely because they reject the new humanity which he is introducing (see the comment). It’s cause and effect. There isn’t a third option. It’s the fire of God to renew and purify, or the same fire of God to destroy. The winnowing fork to gather, or the winnowing fork to destroy. The core issue is not survival, but renewal.

Leaving aside the question of Gehenna (apparently our viewpoints make excellent sense to ourselves, but not to each other), there is also the question of whether the law is to continue to be obeyed but in extended form until “all is accomplished” (in AD 70 to you).

My response to the Gehenna question overlapped with my response to this question. Was Jesus or Matthew really saying that the law would continue to be the rule, as it had been but reinforced, until AD 70? (I take that to be what you were saying).

I disagree, I hope not disagreeably. I think the issue raised very much more important questions of what Jesus was saying about the law, which the epistles (Romans, Galatians, James especially) reinforce. Love relativizes even the law, and this continues throughout the NT period (and there is no reason to think it does not continue today). The law, truly understood, can only be fulfilled by love. In the end, only God can supply this renewing love. On this, the NT speaks with one voice.