Our new series of the “Cameos of the Kingdom” takes us back to the pressures, fears and hopes of an imaginary
young brother living in the shadow of AD 70. As the years approached that ominous date, so the pressures on our
early brethren increased. How they handled these pressures and the way their hope in the Kingdom gave them
strength are encouragements to us today as we live on the eve of an even greater event. The letters from our imaginary young brother living at Anathoth, Joseph ben Judas, have been edited by Brother Allan Archer.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Loving greetings across the centuries.
I want to tell you about what has been happening in Judea of late, for I’m sure that you will find it helpful to your situation in the closing days of the Gentiles.
Our brothers here in the little town of Anathoth, in the Judean Hills, think that our part of the world is about to be turned upside down. There is such unrest in the country by the Jews. Unrest is nothing unusual in Judea, especially since General Pompey was invited into Judea and then took over the kingdom from the Hasmoneans. But that was a century ago. The latest news is that the Jewish Patriots have driven Governor Florus away from Jerusalem and he has retreated to Caesarea and is gathering forces for an all-out revenge on Jerusalem.
There is no love lost among the Jews for Governor Florus. When law and order started to collapse, Emperor Nero tried to correct matters by sending a strict authoritarian as Governor. Florus’ reputation is “the hanger and flogger” and he has put down the slightest disturbance with utmost severity. His lust for power and wealth has led to open bribery and extortion.
The breaking point came when Florus sent to Jerusalem to withdraw money from the Treasury with a rather dubious claim that it was needed for public works. That request was of course resisted by the Jews. It was mocked by some carrying around baskets to collect coins “for poor Florus”. Florus advanced on the city and let his soldiers
loose on the crowds. Many Jews were trampled in the stampede for safety or killed by the soldiers. The next day the crowds attacked the Roman troops as they made their way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The crowds turned on the castle of Antonia, breaking down the Temple porticoes to prevent access from the castle to the Temple platform. Florus was so concerned about a full-scale uprising isolating him in Jerusalem, that he has withdrawn to Caesarea for the time-being.
In a way our ecclesia at Anathoth is very concerned about what might happen to us, but in another way we are pleased because we think that what is happening is the start of the wars which Jesus warned us about when he spoke on Mount Olivet to the disciples. He said: “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matt 24:6).
Jewish believers have suffered terribly since the days of Saul’s persecution. There has been such famine in Judea generally and poverty in Jerusalem, especially among the widows and fatherless. But the ecclesia in Anathoth has missed out on the extreme events in Jerusalem and really has been quite comfortable. I think that we are rather like you. Most of us in the ecclesia have good houses. Our family’s house has even been the meeting place for the Anathoth Ecclesia. Many of the brothers have good jobs, so I guess you could say that generally we are pretty comfortable. But I strongly suspect that this is all about to change!
That’s why I wanted to write to you. I know that you too are living in the last days and that one day soon you will need to leave all that you own, and I mean everything, when the angel calls you to judgment. That will really focus your minds, just as it has ours. When you are about to leave behind everything, what is left? The hope of the Kingdom is all that is enduring.
“That’s obvious”, you are probably saying. Yes, but just wait until it is about to be a reality. Then you really will see what is important. That is what is happening to us. Our elders have always impressed us with the fact that we must have before us a vision of the Kingdom, but I suppose when times were good we didn’t really make it quite as central to our lives as we should have. Now we see worldly disaster staring us in the face and we are absolutely sure that our elders are right.
And that is what I want to impress you with. Keep your lives in perspective—the coming of Christ could be at any time—and above all have in your mind glimpses of the reality of the Kingdom.
Before I tell you any more, I should tell you who I am and something about myself. My name is Joseph and my father and mother are Brother Judas and Sister Elizabeth. You have probably never heard of us, but our family members were early disciples. They have been in the Way since soon after Stephen’s stoning. You’ll remember that our (now) beloved Paul was then in full flight (as Saul) against the ecclesia and many were scattered from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. My parents had always been devout Jews and had heard stories about the resurrection of Jesus. But it was the power of the apostles’ reasoning from the Scriptures which caused them to be baptised.
Our ecclesia in Anathoth is quite large, for God has blessed the preaching work in our area. I’ll tell you something about our background when I write again, but for now let me conclude by telling you about a point raised at our Bible Class last week.
We were reflecting on the time, almost thirty years ago now, just before our ecclesia was formed. Stephen was serving the tables at Jerusalem, along with Philip and five others. Stephen saw very clearly, even more clearly than some of the twelve, how the Law was really completed in Christ and this infuriated the Jews. Many times in history God had worked outside the Jews and their law. The Jews had rejected Moses the lawgiver at his first appearance, just as the sons of Jacob had rejected Joseph at first. So they ought to think again about Jesus. They had rejected Jesus at his first coming and it just might be that history was repeating itself.
The most helpful part for us, with our present concerns, is the confidence which Stephen showed in the face of the raging opposition in the Sanhedrin. He was confident because he had a picture of the Kingdom. He saw the glory of God and the Lord Jesus standing at God’s right hand. David in Psalm 110 wrote of Jesus “sitting” at the right hand of God until his enemies would be made his footstool. Stephen saw Jesus standing, as if ready to return to deal with his enemies. That picture brought a rage of anger to the Jews, but gave serenity to Stephen because he was confident that it would be fulfilled. It was literally his vision of the Kingdom.
And that’s the great lesson for you and me. To all appearances, Stephen was destroyed by the stones of Jewish anger and the self-righteous Saul of Tarsus. But Stephen has a great future. Though our world is in turmoil, “the beginning of sorrows” Jesus called it, we stand confident with our vision of the Kingdom and the promise that “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt 24:13).
Your brother in the hope of the Kingdom,