What does the judgement of the world have to do with the fall of Jerusalem in AD70?
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.Acts 17:30–31
This passage is one of the main texts people cite when asking how judgement of the world took place in AD70. Why would God command everyone everywhere to repent if He was only going to judge Israel? And what does the judgement of the world have to do with the destruction of the temple?
Let’s find out!
First, let’s look at the passage in question. This passage teaches that God was about to judge the world. Although my version doesn’t say it that way, there are plenty of reasons it should.
In The Elements of New Testament Greek, Nunn defines the Greek word μέλλω (mellō) “I am about to” (page 136). In the exercises on page 115, Nunn asks the student to translate Acts 17:31 (Exercise 35A:5). Here is how he translates it in the answer key:
“Now God commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent, because he has fixed a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness.”Nunn, H. P. V. Key to The Elements of New Testament Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.
Girdlestone, in Synonyms of the Old Testament, writes,
Occasionally there is reference to judicial administration. Thus, in Acts 17:31 it is said that God is about to judge the world in righteousness in the person of the Man whom He hath ordained; Matt. 19:28, ‘Ye … shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel;’ 1 Cor. 6:2, ‘The saints shall judge the world;’ 1 Cor. 6:3, ‘We shall judge angels.’Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Synonyms of the Old Testament: Their Bearing on Christian Doctrine. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998. Print.
In the footnotes of Carl R. Holladay’s commentary of Acts 17:31, he also recognizes the proper translation of this passage. He wrote the translation is literally
“a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness”Holladay, Carl R. Acts: A Commentary. First edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Print. The New Testament Library.
Finally, Young’s Literal Translation says,
because He did set a day in which He is about to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom He did ordain, having given assurance to all, having raised him out of the dead.’Acts 17:31
The point is, regardless of what we may think of the judgement Paul had in mind when speaking to the Athenians, it was about to happen.
But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”Acts 24:24–25
Another question that comes up when talking about the judgement concerns Felix. Why would Felix care about the fall of Jerusalem? What about that would frighten him?
First, his wife was Jewish as seen in verse 24. Second, Jerusalem fell under his province, so of course that would frighten him. Third, Young’s Literal Translation says he was afraid of “the judgement that is about to be.” So, Felix’s concern was about a judgement that would shortly affect his wife’s family and the province he would be over until AD60.
There is also a major point that comes up earlier in the trial. The attorney for the High Priest said, ““For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). The word “dissension” in this passage means insurrection. Mark and Luke use it to describe Barabbas in Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19, 25. They were accusing Paul of attempting to lead an insurrection against Rome. Part of their accusations included a lie that he attempted to desecrate the temple. It is is ironic that there were Jews living among the people, and possibly among the ancient church, that were planning to do the very thing they accused Paul of. This is the judgement of which Paul and Jesus spoke.
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.Luke 21:25–26
What some may not realize is that there was turmoil all over the Roman Empire during the late 60s. For example, in AD 69, after Nero’s suicide, four different leaders attempted to take the throne for themselves. Galba, Othos, Vitellius, and Vespasian engaged in a civil war. This led to the destruction of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
The “dismay among nations” and “the things which are coming upon the world” all fell under what Jesus said would be fulfilled within that generation (Luke 21:32).
Felix being frightened by Paul may just be a fulfillment of what Jesus said would come.
Judgement was coming, but it wouldn’t just bring trouble to Jerusalem. As Jesus said in Matthew 24, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:7).