Why was St Luke so concerned with the guilt of Jerusalem ? The first reason is that Jerusalem represented the old, exclusive Israel, and if there was one aspect of Christianity which especially appealed to Luke, it was its universality, its apostolate to all the Gentiles. His stress on the historical drama of the rejection of Jesus and Paul in Jerusalem was intended to bring home this underlying theological truth. Furthermore, he was living amidst the controversies stirred up by the Judaizers and the prolonged crisis provoked by the growing split between the Christian Church and official Jewry. Luke is pointing out that the responsibility for this schism lies not with the Christian leaders but uniquely with the Jews. It is they who have consistently rejected the messengers of God, be they prophets, apostles or the Son of God himself, and hence it is not surprising if they now find themselves cut off from the new church and Holy People of God.
The real problem, however, was not to convict the Jewish non-Christian body of infidelity, but to convince the Jewish Christians of the decisiveness of the schism. Loyalty to Jesus required a departure from their old ways, and Luke wished to wean them from their psychological centredness on the earthly Jerusalem. Just how much Jerusalem meant for a pious Jew of that period it is difficult for us to imagine. Jerusalem was for him truly the centre of the world, as Mount Garizim was the world-centre for a Samaritan.It was where earth and heaven met, where Adam had been created, and where alone acceptable sacrifice could be offered to God. It was truly the holy city of God, the one place where God really dwelt with his chosen people, the centre of pilgrimage, the point to which one must direct one's prayers. All the deep religious sentiments of Jews for Jerusalem can be felt if one turns to read those psalms which speak of Sion, such as 124, 146, 147 and 121. Listen to the last of these:
Welcome sound, when I heard them saying, We will go into the Lord's house! Within thy courts, Jerusalem, our feet stand at last; Jerusalem, built as a city should be built that is one in fellowship. There the tribes meet, the Lord's own tribes, to give praise, as Israel is ever bound, to the Lord's name; there the thrones are set for judgement, thrones of authority over the house of David. Pray for all that brings Jerusalem peace! May all who love thee dwell at ease! Let there be peace within thy ramparts, ease in thy strongholds! For love of thy brethren and my familiar friends, peace is still my prayer for thee; remembering the house of the Lord our God, I long for thy happiness.
This intense love and devotion to Jerusalem and the temple was increased rather than diminished by the exile and the Dispersion. Parthians and Medes and Elamites, in Mesopotamia and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and Libya, Rome and Crete and Arabia, wherever they had settled, their hearts remained in Jerusalem, and there they streamed back on pilgrimage for the great feasts to renew their devotion in the courts of the temple. Of all songs of exile the most touching was written by Jews and of Jerusalem:
We sat down by the streams of Babylon and wept there, remembering Sion. Willow-trees grow there, and on these we hung up our harps when the men who took us prisoner cried out for a song. We must make sport for our enemies; A stave, there, from the music they sing at Sion! What, should we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? Jerusalem, if I forget thee, perish the skill of my right hand! Let my tongue stick fast to the roof of my mouth if I cease to remember thee, if I find in aught but Jerusalem the fountain-head of my content (Ps. 136:1-6).
That was how the Jew felt about the earthly Jerusalem, yearning for it with what was often, as in this psalm, far too human and natural a longing.The exile should have taught them to turn their thoughts on high,' Trust not in lying words, saying: the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord' (Jer. 7:4).
Through the psalms the piety of each generation of Jews for David's city was nourished, but with conversion to Christianity the old loves had to be rejected. Jerusalem could be no more the holy city, no more the centre of religious life for God's chosen people; it had become instead the perfidious and adulterous city that had rejected the Messiah for which it had waited so long. Christians at first hardly realized this and very naturally continued to frequent the temple; as a result they were little molested by the leaders of Jewry. Stephen seems to have been the first to see the incompatibility between Jesus and the temple. At once, like Jesus, he was denounced, and died Our Lord's first martyr. This event was decisive: the Church could not remain temple-centred, a sect in Israel. She was all or nothing. Peter, Paul and Luke followed where Stephen had led the way.
The old world-centre had been rejected and the new Church did not allow of any visible world-centre at all, neither Jerusalem nor Mount Garizim nor any Christian substitute. 'You will not go to this mountain, nor yet to Jerusalem, to worship the Father . . . the time is coming, nay, has already come, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth' (Jn. 4:21-3). The idea of world-centre was that of the place where earth met heaven, but now this idea is realized not in a place but in a person, the Lord Jesus, and the psychological centredness of the Christian must be on him and not on any place at all. There is a new Jerusalem not made by hands, and within it Jesus is the temple.
The psychological struggle which this state of affairs produced in the souls of sincere Christians was very real and very enduring. Their whole natural and supernatural world-view had been upset, and it was inevitably a painful process for them to discover over the years all the implications of their new allegiance. The issue, both psychological and theological, remained alive long after the apostolic age, and was still a source of dissension in the time of St Irenaeus; it was not tackled by all in the same way, and towards it we can distinguish a number of different attitudes, some orthodox, some not.
A first series may be described as Judaistic. Their most intolerant group might have justified their position with some words of Our Lord:' Heaven and earth must disappear sooner than one jot, one flourish disappear from the law' (Mt. 5 :18). All the old obligations of the law must continue to bind on Jew and Gentile alike. 'Some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees came forward and declared, They must be circumcised; we must call upon them to keep the law of Moses' (Acts 15:5).
A less extreme view held that, while the Gentile converts were not obliged by the Mosaic law, all the Jews were: an impossible solution which would have brought 'the middle wall of partition' (Eph. 2:14) straight down the centre of the Church whose founder's aim had been to pull the wall down.
These two views were soon seen to be inacceptable by the majority of Christians, Jew and Gentile alike, and the 'Council of Jerusalem' decreed that the Gentiles at least were not to be called upon to keep the law of Moses. Little by little the extreme Judaist Christians separated from the Church and became known as Ebionites. There were many other 'judaizers' who, without going outside the limits of orthodoxy, continued to practise circumcision and the whole law, and to centre their lives on the temple of Jerusalem. They probably felt that to keep the full law was at least the way of perfection, the surest road to sanctification.
Others, outside Jerusalem, who did not practise the full law, continued to be centred psychologically on the holy city; many maintained circumcision in order to avoid persecution from their Jewish neighbours. Another important reason for keeping the law was missionary. Orthodox Jews would be so offended by the sight of a Christian Jew openly disregarding the law, that their conversion would be rendered almost impossible; for this reason St Paul circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3). It was very difficult to know how far one should go here; it was the sort of 'adaptation' problem which Christian missionaries are always having to face. St Paul was very angry with St Peter for seeming to compromise at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-16), but others might have felt that on some occasions St Paul himself compromised beyond what was justifiable. What is important is to note that there were many questions at issue and a whole series of answers; an oversimplified division of Christians into judaizers and anti-judaizers can give a quite false picture of what was actually happening.
St Paul stood in the very middle of the battle. No one was more Jewish than he or more proud of Israel's past; no one was more concerned with the conversion of the Gentiles, or more aware that the whole economy of salvation had changed ivith the death of Christ: at bottom, observance of the law was a pointless thing; only faith in the Lord Jesus could justify. It was because the Jewish nation as a whole had refused this faith that they were now rejected, outside the true Israel; but his was only one act in the whole drama of salvation and must not be divorced from its context. Luke's theology of Jerusalem's rejection needs in fact to be seen within the larger whole of which St Paul spoke in chapters 9-11 of the epistle to the Romans. Here is his great conclusion:
I must not fail, brethren, to make this revelation known to you; or else you might have too good a conceit of yourselves. Blindness has fallen upon a part of Israel, but only until the tale of the Gentile nations is complete; then the whole of Israel will find salvation, as we read in scripture, A deliverer shall come from Sion, to rid Jacob of his unfaithfulness; and this shall be the fulfilment of my covenant with them, when I take away their sins. In the preaching of the gospel, God rejects them, to make room for you; but in his elective purpose he still welcomes them, for the sake of their fathers; God does not repent of the gifts he makes, or of the calls he issues. You were once rebels, until through their rebellion you obtained pardon; they are rebels now, obtaining pardon for you, only to be pardoned in their turn. Thus God has abandoned all men to their rebellion, only to include them all in his pardon (Rom. 11:25-32).
Only once does St Luke hint at this vaster perspective of the providence: 'Jerusalem will be trodden under the feet the Gentiles, until the time granted to the Gentile nations run out' (Lk. 21:24). For the rest, he is concerned with the point of most immediate relevance, 'through their rebellion you obtained pardon'. Speaking of the various solutions to the problem of Jewish-Christian relations, Mgr Cerfaux has remarked that 'one very simple formula declares that the people of God, which in the course of its history has always been unfaithful to its mission, places today the seal on its incredulity and is definitely rejected and condemned. It is Stephen's formula. It is not Paul's.'Slightly modified it could pass for Luke's. He was as fascinated as Paul by the mystery of Jerusalem and Israel—'the visible presence, and the covenant, and the giving of the law, and the Temple worship' (Rom. 9:4)—otherwise he would never have given us his first gospel chapters. But I doubt if he could also have written like Paul of 'the great sorrow, the continual anguish I feel in my heart' (Rom. 9:2) for the separation of the visible Israel from Christ.
For St Luke the essential facts were very simple, and it was of the utmost importance that every Christian should understand them aright. Jerusalem had rejected Our Lord, cornerstone of the new salvation. Therefore Jerusalem had been in its turn rejected and was no longer the centre of God's Church, which had turned instead to the conversion of the Gentiles.
Jerusalem was rejected, but not the Old Testament. Here lay the danger: to react against the judaizers to the point of abandoning the Church's whole Old Testament heritage. The author of the Letter of Barnabas, an anonymous little work written in Alexandria in the early second century, went far beyond holding that the temple was now a dead, rejected thing. For him it had never been pleasing to God at all, and therefore had no more than a symbolic value. Marcion, following the same road beyond the frontiers of the Great Church, developed a radical exegetical dualism which rejected the whole Old Testament dispensation. Consequently the great war of orthodoxy in the century following St Luke was two-fronted, with Ebionites to the 'right' and Marcionites to the 'left'; in this battle St Irenaeus was the greatest of orthodoxy's champions, fighting both against a continued temple centredness and against the rejection of the whole Old Testament: the Christian Church was the fulfilment of the Old Israel, but not its prolongation.
It is well to note that St Luke also stood squarely against both errors. If his chief preoccupation was to proclaim a gospel free from the shackles of the judaizers, his intensive use of the Jewish scriptures and his first gospel chapters show that he was very far from being a precursor of Marcion. However strongly he denounced Jerusalem, we know that he was only following on Our Lord's words and that Old Testament prophets like Jeremias had already spoken out just as fiercely. Far from being a rejection of the Old Testament, the denunciation of Jerusalem implied fidelity to its deepest teaching.
Victory over a Judaistic interpretation of Christianity was certainly rendered easier by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. The importance of this event for Christian history has not always been realized; if a cause of deep sorrow for most Christians, it was also a liberation from much of Judaism's oppressive influence, and it brought to an end the importance of the Church of Jerusalem. It was theologically important as the effective realization of Jesus' prophecies, the working out of the drama of Jesus and Jerusalem to the bitter end. A question of some importance for Lucan interpretation is whether Luke-Acts was written before or after this event, whether when Luke wrote about the temple it still existed or not, whether his ' Leave Jerusalem' was addressed to his fellow Christians when the city was still the proud, turbulent capital of Judaea or when it lay in ruins and the Judaeo-Christian world was having to re-orientate itself to a profoundly altered situation. Yet it is difficult to imagine that the outlook of Paul's Gentile friend and companion was radically altered by this event, and it is wise to follow the evidence which suggests that Luke wrote before A.D. 70 and even before St Paul's martyrdom. The prophecies of Jerusalem's destruction contained in the third gospel in no way require to have been written after the event, and to deny that the general character of St Luke's writings could belong to the earlier period is to deny that Paul could have existed at all.Doubtless the Fall of Jerusalem made the psychological break easier for many Christians of Jewish origin, and it may be said to have closed the first era of Church history, but it in no way altered the essential nature of the Church or the historical experiences of Our Lord and St Paul; it was from these, not from the Fall of Jerusalem, that Luke derived his theology.
Luke's 'Leave Jerusalem' expressed a common preoccupation of early Christian teachers. ' Not all those who are sprung from Israel are truly Israelites,' wrote St Paul (Rom. 9:6); 'I saw in my vision that holy city which is the new Jerusalem,' said St John, 'being sent down by God from heaven, all clothed in readiness, like a bride who has adorned herself to meet her husband' (Apoc. 21:2). Christians belong to a new Israel, with a new covenant, a new sacrifice, a new and invisible temple; they must not for ever be looking back regretfully on the schism, but must go out cheerfully from the old Jerusalem saying, with the author of Hebrews, 'Jesus suffered beyond the city gate. Let us, too, go out to him away from the camp, bearing the ignominy he bore; we have an everlasting city, but not here; our goal is the city that is one day to be' (Heb. 13:12-14). Let us, says St Luke, go like Stephen 'out of the city' that we too may witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 7:57).