lamb-leftWhat the Bible Really Says by J. R. Hyland
From Humane Religion


In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was decimated by Roman troops, the Temple was razed and the Jewish people were without a national homeland for almost two thousand years.

Decades before it happened, Jesus predicted the destruction. He and his disciples were in Jerusalem for Passover and he had spent his days speaking to large crowds of pilgrims in the Temple precincts, near the Court of the Gentiles. This was an outer courtyard, filled with people coming and going to various other places within the massive walls that surrounded the Temple site.

The Gentiles who came to Jerusalem were much like tourists who visit the great Cathedrals of Europe because of their renown, rather than for religious reasons. The gates that gave entry to the Temple area were overlaid with gold and silver and led to embellished porticoes, beautiful courtyards and large buildings with dazzling white facades that reflected the brightness of the Palestinian sun. It had been built under the leadership of King Herod beginning in 19 B.C. and was a magnificent structure, twice the size of Solomon’s fabled Temple, which had been destroyed in 587 B.C.

Although Herod was hated by various factions of Jews, the Temple had become a source of great civic and religious pride; a fit dwelling place for the God it was built to serve. And like their fellow Jews, the Bible reports that the disciples of Jesus were awed by its grandeur. They were leaving the Temple area after a day of conflict and confrontation with the priests and Pharisees, the Sadducees and Scribes, who were publicly challenging the authority of Christ. But now the day’s controversies were over and as they traveled east to their lodgings, the disciples were reassured as they looked back at the Temple complex. After the turmoil of the day, the imposing complex with its façade of huge slabs of white stone, spoke of stability and continuity in a world of discord and strife.

As he was leaving the temple one of the disciples said to (Jesus), “Look at the size of those stones, Master! Look at the size of those buildings!”  And Jesus said to him, “You see these great buildings? Not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.”[1]

Two days before this incident, when he first arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus had made a similar statement. But at that time he was talking about the destruction of the entire city, not just the Temple.

As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, “Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all around you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you--and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!”[2]

Because both the city and the Temple were destroyed a few decades after the death of Christ, Bible commentators like to attribute his foresight to some kind of divine gift. But Jesus, himself, made it clear that those who were not blinded by their own agendas could make the same kind of connections between current causes and future effects.

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! you know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know who to interpret this present time?”[3]

The disciples of Jesus should not have been surprised by his predictions of destruction. Not only had it been an era of escalating and internecine violence among various Jewish factions, his closest followers were from Galilee, which had given birth to the Zealot Party. The Zealots wanted to purge their country of Romans, Greeks, Syrians and of fellow Jews who did not support their aggressive and violent tactics.

At the time of religious festivals, the Zealots centered their activities on Jerusalem. So did the would-be messianic leaders who were also there to recruit followers, form alliances and eliminate enemies. And although the popularity of such group had not yet reached the level of support they would later achieve, the story of Barabbas shows the burgeoning, popular support for the kind of violent nationalism that would even-tually lead to the loss of Jerusalem.

Barabbas was a Jewish prisoner who had been arrested and condemned to death for his part in a violent attack against the Roman occupiers. And the Gospels tell of a tradition in which the Roman authorities would release a Jewish prisoner in honor of Passover. It was Barabbas who was chosen over Jesus.

“Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had commit-ted murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.”[4]

Pilate, the Roman Governor, offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas to the crowd. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had brought charges against Christ, demanding punishment by the Roman authorities. Understandably, Pilate’s choice for amnesty was Jesus; he did not pose the kind of threat that Barabbas represented the threat of violence. Barabbas was an implacable enemy of Rome and, as such, posed a threat to the stability that was especially difficult to maintain during Passover when the city was overcrowded with pilgrims. And most of them bitterly resented the Roman occupiers.

Jesus had never advocated violence against Rome. He had, in fact, been telling his people to love their enemies. And just three days earlier, when he was teaching in the Temple, he told the people they were to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”[5]  Neither did he condemn the Jewish tax collectors. Although they were hated by their own people because they were acting as Roman agents, Christ had called one of them to be his disciple.[6]

But the religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their authority and charged that he was a subversive with messianic claims; someone whose kingly pretensions made him a threat to Roman rule.[7] Pilate didn’t believe them and saw Barabbas, not Jesus, as the threat, so he offered to have Jesus flogged and then released.

“You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion....(I) have found no basis for your charges against him...he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore I will punish him and then release him.” With one voice they cried out “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”[8]

The people, gathered outside the Palace, were becoming increasingly agitated because of Pilate’s resistance to freeing Barabbas. “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting...He released Barabbas. Be he had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.”[9]

The Gospels imply that it was at the instigation of the religious leaders that the mob chose pardon for a murderer like Barabbas. However, that claim ignores the human partisanship which applauds the violence of its own revolutionaries, calling them heroes, while outsiders call them murderers and terrorists.

The nationalism that unites people characterizes the history of every culture and in the time of Jesus, the history of the Hebrew people was preserved in the sacred scrolls. They provided a continuous, if selective, history of two thousand years that began with Abraham and Sarah, the founding parents of Judaism.

It was the record of a people who developed from a clan into a nation, with all the attendant myopia of the nationalism that accepts immorality as morality, vice as virtue, and warriors as God-led and inspired. But because he did not have his own agenda, Jesus could interpret historical events without such distortions and claimed that this enabled him to judge things as they actually were.[10]

All his countrymen knew the records contained in the sacred scrolls. It was a record of violence and wars that went all the way back to Joshua. But they also had the scrolls that preserved the oracles of the Latter Prophets of Israel who, from the 8th to the 6th century B.C. had warned their people to stop putting their faith in war, in wartime alliances and in the implements of war, instead of trusting in the justice of God.

An oracle of Isaiah condemned militarism: “Those who go to Egypt for help are doomed! They are relying on Egypt’s vast military strength- - -horses, chariots and soldiers. But they do not rely on the Lord, the holy God of Israel, or ask him for help!”[11]

This was not just a diatribe against an alliance with Egypt, which was sometimes regarded as an enemy, and sometimes as an ally. The prophet was denouncing the ungodliness of the violence and greed that could find a target anywhere, making enemies of allies and allies of enemies.

Isaiah said that war characterized a human race whose moral and spiritual development was blocked: a people who did not yet know the ways of peace. “Their deeds are evil deeds and acts of violence are in their hands. . .they are swift to shed innocent blood...the way of peace they do not know.”[12]

And the prophet Micah spoke of a time when people would evolve beyond their warrior mentality--beyond the violent and destructive ways in which they continued to make a hell out of the Paradise that God created for all of earth’s creatures.

“In days to come...They will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again. Everyone will live in peace among his own vineyards and fig trees and no one will make them afraid. The Lord Almighty has promised this.”[13]

Although most human beings affirm a desire to live in peace, in a world where no one will make them afraid, the Bible shows that they will not renounce war - - a renunciation upon which the promises of peace and prosperity are contingent. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, war continues to be regarded as the only realistic response to any group that seems to stand in the way of economic, national or territorial well being.

The celebration of war was rampant in biblical times: “Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”[14] Those who preserved the record of that Song of Celebration gloss over the fact that the violence which gave victory over outside enemies was also used by David against his own people. In a brutal civil war that was a struggle to rule over all twelve tribes of Israel, the fratricidal killing went on for several years. When it was over and the dissenters were dead, David was King.

His imperial ambitions led the pious, warrior-king to strike out north, south, east and west, killing people, capturing their lands and seizing the booty that became the economic foundation for what scholars call “The Golden Age of Israel”

That “Golden Age” only lasted seventy-five years and ended with another civil war between the tribes of Israel. But this time there was no reunification. What had been a united kingdom under David and Solomon became a new divided kingdom. The nation of Israel in the north and Judah in the south, were each ruled by their own king. Both kingdoms made alliances with and warred against other nations in the endless carnage that was the hallmark of ancient civilizations. It was during this time that the Latter Prophets intruded upon this sanctification of warfare.

Jesus said it was because they have not understood the message of Peace  that Jerusalem would once again be destroyed. It was the same kind of warning the Prophets had given before the first destruction of that city. Like Jesus, they had been able to discern the ‘signs of the times.’  Long before Jerusalem was razed to the ground in the sixth century B.C., they had warned that the destructiveness of war, by which a people sought power, wealth and territory, would bring about their own destruction.

Both Isaiah and Micah told their people that it was only by repudiating the violence of war and the weapons of war that they would enjoy an ongoing peace and prosperity.[15]

“(God) will teach us His ways...Nation will not left up sword against nation. And never again will they learn war...they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”[16]  Only when people stopped teaching their children the ways of war, could there be peace.

But for two hundred years the anti-war messages of prophets like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah were ignored. Instead, the people listened to the court priests and prophets, men who were trained in the ways of violent and aggressive status quo; religious leaders who supported the endless ambitions of the rich and powerful. Right up until the defeat of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the Prophet Jeremiah spoke out against the establishment priests and prophets. Like Jesus, Jeremiah was in revolt against the religious establishment. He said they were liars, self-deluded men whose support of the status quo was leading the people to disaster. And in the name of God, he pro-claimed:

“The (establishment) prophets follow an evil course and use their power unjustly. Both prophet and priest are godless. . .They strengthen the hands of evildoers so that no one turns from his wickedness...I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their messages; I did no speak to them, yet they have prophesied.”[17]

“The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people every-thing the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests and prophets and all the people seized him.”[18]

Just as the religious leaders of a later time arrested Jesus, who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, so the priests and prophets of Jeremiah’s time arrested him and demanded his death: “The priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, this man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city.”[19]

But unlike Jesus, Jeremiah escaped death; he lived to see the terrible destruction that took place when the Babylonians defeated his people. He lived to see his own oracles and those of the prophet Micah fulfilled:

“You rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort what is right; who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with wickedness. . .because of you, Zion will be like a plowed field. Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.”[20]

The Prophets of Peace, sent by God were ignored. And the bitter fate of a defeated nation was recorded by Jeremiah, who wrote that the dead and those exiled to foreign lands were the fortunate ones. The Book of Lamentations preserves a record of the horror of those days when the Babylonians defeated the Jewish people.

“(No one) believed that enemies and foes could enter the gates of Jerusalem. But it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the inequities of her priests...Our pursuers were swifter than eagles in the sky; they chased us over the mountains and lay in wait for us in the desert.”[21]

“Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine...With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food...”[22]

The Book of Lamentations reports that Jerusalem had been defeated because “The Lord has rejected all the warriors in (her) midst.”[23]

But in spite of the entreaties of Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah and in spite of the Book of Lamentations which detailed the horrific results of war and the warrior-cult, the people continued to support the false prophets who assured them that violence and aggression would bring victory, dominance and the blessings of God. And in the time of Christ, centuries after the Jewish people had been defeated by the Babylonians, they were once again being urged to violence, this time by the Zealots. They claimed that if the people took aggressive action against the Romans, God would enable them to slaughter their enemies and would restore Palestine to their rule. Instead, the Jewish people suffered a terrible defeat and were scattered among other nations for almost two thousand years.

Although the scriptures witness against the violence of war and the suffering it always brings, neither the oracles of the great prophets of Israel nor the teachings of Jesus have been enough to end it. In spite of the biblical record, it is the Peacemakers who are portrayed as being impractical, other-worldly men and the war-mongers are seen as practical and worldly-wise; in spite of the death and destruction they always bring to both their countrymen and their enemies.

Christ warned that “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”[24]  But for many centuries the history of Christianity has presented a near-continuous record of violence and warfare carried out in the name of Christ. The command that Jesus gave to “love your enemies” and the example he gave by going to his own death, rather than letting his followers use violence to save him, are ignored. Instead, men have maimed and murdered millions of people they said were enemies of God. And they do this in the name of Jesus.

[1]  Mark 13:1-2  JB

[2]  Luke 19:41-44   JB

[3]  Luke 12:54-56  NIV

[4]  Mark 15:5-6  NIV

[5]  Matthew 22:21  NAS

[6]  Matthew 9:9  NIV

[7]  Both Messiah and Christ meant only someone who had been anointed; but popular Jewish usage associated these terms with a descendant of David, who would rule as a king.

[8]  Luke 23:13-17 NIV

[9]  Matthew 27:24-26 NIV

[10] John 5:30  NIV

[11]  Isaiah 31:1  TEV

[12]  Isaiah 59:6-9  NIV

[13]  Micah 4:1, 3-4  TEV

[14]  In contemporary times, celebration of the death of enemies is less candid. Heroes are honored for flying many bombing missions, but no one brags about how many ere killed in those “missions.”

[15]  Isaiah prophesied to the people of Judah and Micah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

[16]  Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3  NIV

[17]  Jeremiah 23:10, 11, 14, 21  NIV

[18]  Jeremiah 26:7-8  NIV

[19]  Jeremiah 26:11  NIV

[20]  Jeremiah 26:17-18; Micah 3:9, 10, 12  NIV

[21]  Lamentations 4:12, 13, 19  NIV

[22]  Lamentations 4:9-10  NIV

[23]  Lamentations 1:15  NIV

[24]  Matthew 26:52  NIV

Go on to: Chapter 21 FAITH AND GOOD WORKS
Return to: What the Bible Really Says