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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 39. Effects of the Destruction of Jerusalem on the Christian Church.


The Christians of Jerusalem, remembering the Lord’s admonition, forsook the doomed city in good time and fled to the town of Pella in the Decapolis, beyond the Jordan, in the north of Peraea, where king Herod Agrippa II., before whom Paul once stood, opened to them a safe asylum. An old tradition says that a divine voice or angel revealed to their leaders the duty of flight.556556    In Eusebius, H. E., III. 5: κατά τινα χρησμὸν τοῖς αὐτόθι δοκίμοις δἰ ἀποκαλύψεως ἐκδοθέντα. Comp. Epiphanius, De pond. et meis. c. 15, and the warring of Christ, Matt. 24:15 sq. Eusebius puts the, flight to Pella before the war (πρὸ τοῦ πολέμου), four years before the destruction of Jerusalem. There, in the midst of a population chiefly Gentile, the church of the circumcision was reconstructed. Unfortunately, its history is hidden from us. But it never recovered its former importance. When Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Christian city, its bishop was raised to the dignity of one of the four patriarchs of the East, but it was a patriarchate of honor, not of power, and sank to a mere shadow after the Mohammedan invasion.

The awful catastrophe of the destruction of the Jewish theocracy must have produced the profoundest sensation among the Christians, of which we now, in the absence of all particular information respecting it, can hardly form a true conception.557557    It is alluded to in the Ep. of Barnabas, cap. 16. It was the greatest calamity of Judaism and a great benefit to Christianity; a refutation of the one, a vindication and emancipation of the other. It not only gave a mighty impulse to faith, but at the same time formed a proper epoch in the history of the relation between the two religious bodies. It separated them forever. It is true the apostle Paul had before now inwardly completed this separation by the Christian universality of his whole system of doctrine; but outwardly he had in various ways accommodated himself to Judaism, and had more than once religiously visited tile temple. He wished not to appear as a revolutionist, nor to anticipate the natural course of history, tile ways of Providence.558558    Comp. 1 Cor. 7:18 sqq.; Acts 21:26 sqq. But now the rupture was also outwardly consummated by the thunderbolt of divine omnipotence. God himself destroyed the house, in which he had thus far dwelt, in which Jesus had taught, in which the apostles had prayed; he rejected his peculiar people for their obstinate rejection of the Messiah; he demolished the whole fabric of the Mosaic theocracy, whose system of worship was, in its very nature, associated exclusively with the tabernacle at first and afterwards with the temple; but in so doing he cut the cords which had hitherto bound, and according to the law of organic development necessarily bound the infant church to the outward economy of the old covenant, and to Jerusalem as its centre. Henceforth the heathen could no longer look upon Christianity as a mere sect of Judaism, but must regard and treat it as a new, peculiar religion. The destruction of Jerusalem, therefore, marks that momentous crisis at which the Christian church as a whole burst forth forever from the chrysalis of Judaism, awoke to a sense of its maturity, and in government and worship at once took its independent stand before the world.559559    Dr. Richard Rothe (Die Anfänge der Christl. Kirche, p. 341 sqq.). Thiersch (p. 225), Ewald (VII. 26), Renan (L’Antechr., p. 545), and Lightfoot (Gal., p. 301) ascribe the same significance to the destruction of Jerusalem. Ewald says: "As by one great irrevocable stroke the Christian congregation was separated from the Jewish, to which it had heretofore clung as a new, vigorous offshoot to the root of the old tree and as the daughter to the mother." He also quotes the newly discovered letter of Serapion, written about 75, as showing the effect which the destruction of Jerusalem exerted on thoughtful minds. See above, p. 171.

This breaking away from hardened Judaism and its religious forms, however, involved no departure from the spirit of the Old Testament revelation. The church, on the contrary, entered into the inheritance of Israel. The Christians appeared as genuine Jews, as spiritual children of Abraham, who, following the inward current of the Mosaic religion, had found Him, who was the fulfilment of the law and the prophets; the perfect fruit of the old covenant and the living germ of the new; the beginning and the principle of a new moral creation.

It now only remained to complete the consolidation of the church in this altered state of things; to combine the premises in their results; to take up the conservative tendency of Peter and the progressive tendency of Paul, as embodied respectively in the Jewish-Christian and the Gentile-Christian churches, and to fuse them into a third and higher tendency in a permanent organism; to set forth alike the unity of the two Testaments in diversity, and their diversity in unity; and in this way to wind up the history of the apostolic church.

This was the work of John, the apostle of completion.



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