Lesson 19 of Series – Forty Years of the Messiah

The Historical Record

The Church historian, Eusebius, says: “After the Saviour’s passion, and the cries with which the Jewish mob clamoured for the reprieve of the bandit and murderer and begged that the Author of Life should be removed from them, disaster befell the entire nation. There is no need to add anything to the historical records. But it would be right to mention, too, certain facts which bring home the beneficence of all-gracious Providence, which for forty years after their crime against Christ delayed their destruction,” (Eusebius, 3.7.3).

The Biblical Record

There was indeed a space of time of 40 years, (as in Numbers 14:34), after the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, (about AD 30), to the destruction of the nation, (about AD 70). That this period of time was considered analogous to the 40-year wilderness experience is confirmed by Hebrews 3:7-4:11 and 1 Corinthians. 10:1-11. This was the period of time in which the gospel was preached throughout the Roman Empire to all the Jews, Colossians 1:23. This space of time, however, was not a “breach of promise” but was a demonstration of God’s mercy, as Eusebius says.

The Jewish Tradition

In fact, the ‘forty years of the Messiah’ was a tradition amongst the Jews, as attested in their writings. Lightfoot quotes R. Eliezer from Sanhedrin:

“The days of the Messiah are forty years, according as it is said, ‘Forty years…shall I be grieved with this generation.’ The Gloss is, ‘Because it is …(in the future tense) it is a sign the prophecy is concerning the time to come.’ It is ingenuously done, however, of these ‘Jews’, that they parallel that faithless generation that was in the days of the Messiah with that perverse and rebellious generation that had been in the wilderness: for they will, both of them prove a loathing and offence to God for the space of forty years. And as those forty years in the wilderness were numbered according to the forty days in which the land had been searching [Num. xiv.34]; so also may those forty years of the Messiah be numbered according to the forty days wherein he was conversant amongst mankind after his resurrection from the dead.”

The passage in Numbers 14 speaks of the long-suffering of God by waiting forty years while the doubting generation died. This is also referred to in Hebrews 3:7-19 and is applied to the contemporary audience: “Today!” There is a serious problem, however, with the interpretation that “God stopped the clock for a ‘time out’ which has not been called back in yet,” (after 2,000 years!) The forty years of God’s merciful patience with the fleshly nation, Israel, ended in 70 AD.

Next Lesson: The Pattern Fufilled

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