Jerusalem's impending calamity
Apr 13, 2012
The fifth chapter of James begins by warning the rich men of the day against the impending judgment of Jerusalem. Their business practices, so often unlawful in the sight of God, were about to end in disaster. In those days, "the rich" was a term nearly synonymous with the religious leaders who were in power.
(1) Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. (2) Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. (3) Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
James again relied upon the Gospel of Matthew, quoting the words of Jesus in 6:19-21,
(19) Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. (21) for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Jesus had warned the people in Matthew 24 of the soon-coming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
(1) And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when one of His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. (2) And He answered and said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down."
Jesus also warned the believers to flee the city when they saw the signs of impending destruction (Matt. 24:16). We are not told the date of James' epistle, but he was martyred in 62 A.D., about four years before the start of the war which eventually destroyed the city and temple. Jesus' warnings may have been forgotten or even unknown to most of the people, but James himself knew them well and certainly reminded the Jerusalem church often. It was, after all, of great concern to him.
The warning of James to the rich in his day was not a call to poverty but a call to use wealth for the Kingdom of God before losing it in the coming disaster. In advocating humility, he showed the way to avoid this destruction, if it were possible. But his words went largely unheeded. The religious leaders continued in their old ways, thinking that God would never allow His temple to be destroyed or desecrated.
Yet Jesus had warned of the "abomination of desolation" in Matt. 24:15, and a historical precedent for this had already been seen in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated the temple in 168 B.C. Jesus' words showed that it would happen again. And we believe that a final fulfillment of the prophecy will occur in our time as well, in which the city will be utterly destroyed and never again be rebuilt (Jer. 19:11).
In the first century, it was commonly believed among the Christians that they had entered "the last days" (James 5:3). These were the "last days" of Jerusalem as they knew it. It also marked the end of the Passover Age and the start of the Pentecostal Age. In the broad sense, the entire Pentecostal Age was "the last days," but obviously, this has continued far longer than any of them had imagined.
Perhaps it was clear to them that Jerusalem had been given 40 years to repent since the ministry of Christ (30-33 A.D.). The fact that the final siege of Jerusalem began at Passover of 70 A.D. and ended with the fall of Masada at Passover of 73 proved this 40-year period. John the Baptist had been executed at Passover of 30, and Jesus had been crucified at Passover of 33.
However, it is unlikely that they could have foreseen the extended period of time that we can see from our present perspective. A second round of 40's occurred after a period of 40 Sabbath years when Rome was overthrown by Constantine (310-313). And again, we have monitored the 40 Jubilee cycles to 1990-1993. We then engaged in the Jubilee Prayer Campaign to bring about the final demise of the world system of Babylon and its illegitimate son, Jerusalem.
James continues in 4:4,
(4) Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth [i.e., "Lord of hosts"].
Was James really speaking of the rich withholding wages from those who labored in their grain fields? If we look ahead to verse 7, we find that God Himself was likened to a farmer waiting for the fruit of the ground. Christians were the laborers in God's field, as they testified of Jesus Christ in the "field" of Jerusalem and the rest of the world. Those in charge of God's vineyard were supposed to pay the laborers, but they had appropriated their wages to themselves and even usurped the vineyard for themselves (Matt. 21:38).
Hence, it is more likely that James was speaking symbolically. The rich religious leaders in Jerusalem had withheld the wages of the believers who labored to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom among them in Jerusalem. This had been done since the days of the prophets, who were God's "servants" in Jesus parable in Matt. 21. The Christians saw themselves as an extension of the prophets, as they too were abused and often beaten or killed for their witness.
James says that "the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." The use of this particular title is significant, for it means "Lord of hosts," i.e., the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of heaven. It is a warning to Jerusalem in particular of impending war. No doubt James had in mind another of Jesus' parables, recorded in Matt. 22:1-7. In this parable, they rejected the invitation to the wedding feast,
(6) and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. (7) But the King was enraged and sent His armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
This prophesied of the Roman armies coming to destroy Jerusalem. Jesus identified them as God's armies. James identified God as the Lord of hosts over those Roman armies. James continues,
(5) You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
This carries a double meaning. Psalm 44:22 says,
(22) But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
The true believers are brought like sheep to be slaughtered, even as Jesus Himself was so treated (Isaiah 53:7). Jeremiah was one of the mistreated prophets as well, saying in Jer. 11:19, "I was led like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter." As a result, Jeremiah prophesied of a second slaughter that would take place in 12:3, "Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter and set them apart for a day of carnage!"
In the first century, James witnessed the slaughter of the Lamb of God as well as the lamb-like followers of Christ. But he also understood the prophecy of the day of slaughter that was yet to come upon Jerusalem. He continues,
(6) You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
James was referring to "Jesus Christ the Righteous" (1 John 2:1). This was one of the titles of Christ Himself, used in the early church. In Acts 7:51, Stephen spoke of "the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become."
It is clear, then, that James was warning Jerusalem of its impending slaughter, after slaughtering the Righteous One.
Dr. Stephen Jones