Primarily, of course, the fault lay with the leaders of Israel, the blind leaders of the blind, who were leading the entire nation into the ditch (Matt. 15:14). Thus Jesus particularly directed His wrathful denunciations toward them (cf. Matt. 23). Yet He included the people as a whole in His condemnation as well, as we can see from the closing words of His last public message:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, "If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation (Matt. 23:29-36).
The sins of Israel, its rebellions and apostasies, had been accumulating for centuries, filling up to overflowing. The point of crisis was reached when the Son came. Their rejection of Him sealed their fate, and they were in turn rejected by God. The generation that crucified the Lord and persecuted His apostles was the true "terminal generation ." Israel, as the Covenant People, was to be destroyed, finally and irrevocably. They had received the final warning. Years later, shortly before the holocaust of a.d. 70 descended upon Israel, the Apostle Paul wrote that "the Jews . . . killed both the Lord and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost" (1 Thess. 2:14-16).
As a nation, Israel had become apostate, a spiritual harlot in rebellion against her Husband (cf. Ezek. 16). The fearful words of Hebrews 6:4-8 were literally applicable to the covenant nation, which had forfeited its birthright:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
The same multitude which welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with hosannas was screaming for His blood in less than a week. Like all slaves, their attitude was fickle; but ultimately, their attitude was summed up in another of Jesus' parables: "We will not have this Man to reign over us!" (Luke 19:14). The chief priests revealed the faith of the nation when they vehemently denied the lordship of Christ and affirmed, "We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:15).
So the covenant people inherited the Curse. They had waved their branches toward the Owner's Son when he entered their vineyard, seeming to welcome Him to His rightful property; but when He came closer and inspected the branches, He found no fruit - just leaves. In keeping with the pattern we have seen in our study of the Garden of Eden, Israel was ripe for becoming judged, disinherited, and cast out of the Vineyard.
But they had not only the examples of Eden, the Flood, Babel, and other historical judgments as warnings. God had specifically stated, through Moses, that the Curse would fall upon them if they apostatized from the true faith. We would do well to remind ourselves of the warnings of Deuteronomy 28, where God threatens the loss of family and possessions, becoming ravaged by numerous diseases, suffering from warfare and the oppression of a victorious pagan nation, turning to cannibalism on account of famine, being sold into slavery and scattered over the face of the earth:
And it shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.
Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. And among those nations you shall find no rest, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.
So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, "Would that it were evening!" And at evening you shall say, "Would that it were morning!" because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see (Deut. 28:63-67).
Because Israel committed the supreme act of covenant-breaking when she rejected Christ, Israel herself was rejected by God. The awesome curses pronounced by Jesus, Moses, and the prophets were fulfilled in the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, with the desolation of the Temple and the obliteration of the covenant nation in a.d. 70. (See Appendix B for Josephus' description of this event, and compare the curses listed in Deuteronomy 28.) As God had promised, the Kingdom was indeed established when Christ came. But instead of embracing and assimilating old Israel into its structure, the Kingdom came and ground Israel to powder. God's new Temple, the Church, was established as the old Temple was torn down and reduced to rubble.
And when He Who spake unto Moses, the Word of the Father, appeared in the end of the world, He also gave this commandment, saying, "But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" [Matt. 10:23]; and shortly after He says, "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth, let him understand); then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes" [Matt. 24:15]. Knowing these things, the Saints regulated their conduct accordingly.
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