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In Luke 12:4, 5 Jesus warned his friends about a coming destruction of Jerusalem and how they should avoid getting caught up in the judgment upon the city.
4 And I say to you, My friends [philois], do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear; fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell [Greek: gehenna]; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
This passage is usually taken out of its context and is easily misunderstood. It comes as a warning to avoid hypocrisy, “the leaven of the Pharisees,” which was soon to spread to the whole lump of dough—that is, the nation. That religious hypocrisy—claiming to follow the Father, but rejecting the Son—would soon cause them to persecute and even execute those who befriended the Son and supported His claim to the throne of David.
The nation itself was soon to reject Jesus and to crucify Him. God would give them forty years as a grace period in which they might repent, but in the end, judgment was to come upon Jerusalem at the hand of Rome. Their grace period was purchased by the intercession of Ezekiel many years earlier (Ez. 4:6). But yet Jesus prophesied of Jerusalem’s destruction in a parable in Matt. 22:1-7, portraying people refusing to accept the king’s invitation to the wedding feast and mistreating the messengers. Matt. 22:7 concludes with the king’s verdict:
7 But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
In this parable, the king is God Himself, the same One who sent out the invitation to the people. Thus, the Roman army was actually God’s army that He raised up to destroy Jerusalem in the same way that God previously had raised up the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem in Jer. 25:9.
It is important to recognize that both Babylon and Rome were God’s executioners of judgment upon Jerusalem. Those who do not recognize the sovereignty of God are liable to fight God’s agents. While thinking that they defend Jerusalem from God’s enemies, they actually become God’s enemies by fighting against God Himself.
Luke himself was well aware of these prophecies and also understood how the hypocrisy of the religious leaders had led them to mistreat and to kill Jesus’ disciples. Luke knew this also from Paul’s experience, for there is no doubt that they had discussed Paul’s former way of life as a persecutor. Gal. 1:13, 14 says,
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Paul was painfully aware of his earlier role in persecuting the church. Paul’s conversion shows how men may avoid the divine judgment upon Jerusalem, wherein the city was to be cast into gehenna, i.e., the valley of Ben-himmon. Jews and Christian Zionists today ought to follow Paul’s example. No Jew is bound by his genealogy and culture to follow this path to destruction.
Jesus warned His own disciples, that is, His “friends,” to be fearless in the face of persecution. Those who kill the body can do no more. Instead, fear God and His pending judgment upon Jerusalem, whereby not only were men killed, but also their bodies would be cast into the city dump in gehenna.
It is unfortunate that so many translations, including the NASB, equate gehenna with hades and render both words as “hell.” There is a clear distinction between these words. In my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law, I show that hades is the grave, while gehenna is specifically the prophetic place of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Thus, when Jesus spoke of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem on account of the hypocrisy of its religious leaders in rejecting Jesus as the Christ, He warns the people of gehenna, which can be avoided by anyone who fears God rather than man.
In a parallel passage, Matt. 10:28 also mentions this same warning.
28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].
As in Luke’s account, the context of this verse again is part of Jesus’ prophecy about persecution of the believers (Matt. 10:21, 22, 23) and about the uncovering of all that is hidden (Matt. 10:26). The wording of the verse above also distinguishes between “soul and body.”
The religious leaders, in persecuting the believers, can only kill the body, but they have no power over the soul. The soul consists of mind, will, and emotion, and therefore the soul represents a person’s thought life, including his beliefs, desires, and loyalties. Jesus distinguished between body and soul, however, not between soul and spirit. The distinction between soul and spirit was left for the apostle Paul in his epistles.
Jesus said that neither the body nor the soul were immortal, for God “is able to destroy both soul and body in gehenna.” Only the spirit is immortal, for at death the spirit returns to God (Eccl. 12:7). The soul itself, being mortal, dies with the body, but the religious leaders were said to be unable to kill the soul in some sense.
The term “soul” had an extended meaning that included all that a person was in his conscious life, his enjoyments, passions, aspirations, and beliefs. It is in this sense, that the religious leaders were “unable to kill the soul,” for they were unable to dissuade Jesus’ disciples from their passion toward Christ.
On the other hand, God (in Christ) has the authority to destroy the soul in gehenna. The “soul” in this case is used in the same sense. Those who are leavened by the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in Jerusalem and who support their position will be caught up in the destruction of the city. Not only will their bodies be killed, but also the aspirations and beliefs of their souls. In other words, their belief that Jerusalem is center of truth and the capital of the Kingdom of God will be shattered.
We see, then, that Jesus’ warning was primarily about not being influenced by the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees. Secondarily, the purpose of the warning was to prevent His “friends” from remaining loyal to Jerusalem in its rejection of Christ and ultimately in being caught up in their war with Rome.
Jesus made it clear later in Luke 21:20 that Jerusalem would be destroyed.
20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand.
In the next verses He told His disciples to leave the city, rather than support it in the war against Rome.
21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city, 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
What many today do not understand is that there is yet another destruction coming to Jerusalem which will be its final demise. Jer. 19:11 makes it clear that the prophetic “jar” will be smashed in gehenna as a vessel that cannot be repaired. Jerusalem was repaired after the Babylonian army destroyed it. It was repaired again after Rome destroyed it. Hence, Jeremiah’s prophecy still awaits fulfillment in the future.
For this reason, Jesus’ words apply not only to the disciples of the first century but also to us today. In fact, it specifically warns Christian Zionists today, both Jew and non-Jew, who may be living in Jerusalem (and the Israeli state in general). They would do well to heed Jesus’ warning, lest their loyalty to the earthly Jerusalem cause them to be caught up in its final destruction.
Paul expounds on the story of Hagar and Sarah, treating it as a biblical allegory (Gal. 4:24). He says that Hagar is the Old Covenant and Sarah is the New Covenant. He says further that Hagar is the earthly Jerusalem, but Sarah is the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25, 26).
He explains that even though we are all naturally attached to our mothers, we are to follow the Scriptural admonition in Gen. 21:10. In other words, as believers in Christ, we are expected to switch our loyalty to a new mother, that is, from Hagar to Sarah. Paul says in Gal. 4:30, 31,
30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
Jerusalem is “Hagar,” who can never bring forth the heir of God’s promises. Those who consider Jerusalem to be their “mother” and the capital of the Kingdom are claiming Hagar as their mother. These need to “cast out the bondwoman and her son, if they wish to become heirs of the promises, Paul says. Christian Zionists, who try to claim both Hagar and Sarah as their mothers, are being double minded, and the book of Galatians was written specifically to address that problem. No man can have two mothers.
Continued loyalty to mother-Jerusalem may bring pain and catastrophe when God Himself casts out the bondwoman and her children.