Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Interpreting Old Testament law, coercion and violence through the lens of the cross (part 4)

The most important teaching we have on the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament comes from the Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount:
 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:17-20)
This teaching again shows the tension of the Christian interpreter of the Old Testament: Jesus is about to apparently repudiate significant parts of the Old Testament including its legalised coercion, death and violence yet he claims to be doing no such thing. The above disclaimer prefaces the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught:
‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:38-48)

So how does Jesus approach the issue? What does he actually say about it, and what does it all mean?

He did not come to abolish -- dissolve -- the Old Testament, but to fulfil -- to make complete, full, perfect, complete -- it.

To abolish is simply to discard and get rid of something, to make it null and void, cancelled. Jesus did not come to do this, even to the violence, coercion and death of the Old Testament. Instead, Jesus came to fill up the measure of violence, to make violence complete and full, to make the violence and retribution pass by taking it not only onto his mortal physical body on the cross, and also onto the immortal spiritual body of his martyred saints.

Yet he indeed did come to make pass the Old Testament law and its death and violence, however it was to be preserved in its entirety until heaven and earth disappeared.  But at the time when heaven and earth disappear everything is accomplished. The Old Testament, and the Old Covenant system would remain in force until heaven and earth disappeared, and the New Covenant fulfilled the Old Covenant promises, including obviously the new heaven and earth.

Filling up the measure of violence

The New Testament contains a considerable amount of teaching about the filling up of the measure of the violence of the Old Covenant people, and the storing up of wrath against them, and the pending judgement on Old Covenant Jerusalem. Indeed there is a considerable amount of reference to it in the Old Testament also, however we will start with the words of Jesus:

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. (Mat 23:29-38)
Here we see that Jesus taught that the measure of violence was in the process historically of being filled up, or fulfilled, specifically the violence of shedding the blood of the prophets, of Jesus himself, and the apostles of Jesus. That process, Jesus prophesied, would be filled up in his generation, and that the judgement avenging that righteous blood would come through the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple.

Paul also taught that Jerusalem (Judea) was filling up the measure of her sin by killing the prophets, Jesus, and his apostles, and that judgement was coming on them:
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thes 2:14-15)
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul explained further the connection between the sins of the persecutors (the Jews) and the resulting judgement on the persecutors, vindication of the persecuted, and relief for those then suffering the persecution:

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thes 1:4-10)
Note that Paul wrote that this coming against the Jewish persecutors was to provide relief to those then suffering was still not quite ready, in the early 50s, because the rebellion had not yet occurred:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 
The 'Great Revolt', also known as the rebellion, did not occur until 66, some 15 years later. However, Paul makes it clear that the forces that were ultimately going to cause the rebellion were already at work. The temple reference geographically locates the events foretold in Jerusalem. Paul and Peter taught that the restraint on the end was God's patience (see below).

In the letter to the Romans, Paul presents the same teaching:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism. (Rom 2:1-11)
In the context of Paul's letter to the Romans, he has opened with a rhetorical trap for the Jews: by condemning the sin of the Gentile world in chapter 1, he then addresses the Jewish comparative self-righteousness. In the opening section of chapter 2, therefore, Paul addresses primarily the Jew: first for the Jew, then the Gentile. It is the Jews who pass judgement on the Gentiles and who think they are to escape God's wrath because they have the law, yet Paul warns them they are storing up wrath against them for the day of God's wrath, and his righteous judgement will be revealed and Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done.

Jesus identified the time when he would render this judgement:
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Mat 16:27-28)
Peter refers to Paul's writing in connection with the judgement also:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Pet 3:15)
Paul also makes a reference to his own sufferings (primarily at the hands of the Jews) being to fill up what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, showing that he did not consider the suffering and death of Jesus Christ to be yet providing the complete fulfillment of the measure of violence and death necessary to accomplish fulfillment:
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Col 1:24)

The final place in the New Testament where we can see teaching about Jerusalem filling up the measure of violence is in the book of Revelation under the code name Babylon the great prostitute. However we can start in chapter 6:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig-tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’ (Rev 6:9-17)
In this part of the book of Revelation we see the judgement on the inhabitants of the 'earth' in the form of opening seals. Normally in the book of Revelation, the 'earth' refers to the land of Israel. Note also that the avenging of the blood of the martyrs was to be by way of the judgement of the inhabitants of the 'earth' -- and as we have seen above Jesus identified the responsible people as the Jews and the responsible city the city of Jerusalem. Note also that the martyrs are under the altar -- a reference to the temple in Jerusalem. However, they are told that they are awaiting until the 'full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.' What are they waiting for? For Jerusalem to fill up the measure of her violence, just as Jesus has prophesied.

When the judgement arrived the people would call for the mountains to fall on them. We are not in the dark about what this refers to because Jesus told us the city it related to and when it would happen:

Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then ‘“they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’    and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’” For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (Luke 23:28-31)

Now we move to the image of 'Babylon' the great prostitute:
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.’
Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earthI saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. (Rev 17:1-6)

This character can be identified by her improper relationship to the kings of the earth: she is is a prostitute, but one who turned from a covenant relationship with God into adultery with the world powers. She is dressed in the clothing of the Levitical priests, and she rides the beast which is the Roman Empire. She is responsible for the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And her cup of sin and violence is full, and she is drunk with blood.

John continues:

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: ‘Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come. ‘This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. (Rev 17:6-11)

Now we have the explanation of the woman. The beast is the Roman Empire, and the heads are the Emperors, the first Emperor being Augustus, the fifth, therefore, being Nero, who is fallen.The beast has hardly survived the fatal wound of Nero's suicide ('now is not' -- a reference to the unstable year of four emperors), yet it will survive and come back to strength ('yet will come'). So from this, we see that the woman rides on the Roman Empire and the time of writing is 68 A.D under the sixth Roman emperor Galba (see List of Roman Emperors).

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.’
The woman and the beast are in partnership to persecute the saints, as happened under Jewish influence of Nero.

The explanation of the vision continues:
Then the angel said to me, ‘The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.’ (Rev 17:15-18)
The Roman Empire will turn on Jerusalem and destroy her, which was completed in 70 A.D. The Woman's position as ruling over the 'kings of the earth' may refer to Jerusalem ruling over the kings/rulers of Israel (the 'earth' normally refers to Israel in the book of Revelation), or it could be hyperbole to describe Jerusalem as the senior partner in the relationship even though she was a vassal state, in regard to her role in instigating the persecution of Christians by Nero.

The book continues:

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
‘“Come out of her, my people,”
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;

for her sins are piled up to heaven,

    and God has remembered her crimes.
 Give back to her as she has given;
    pay her back double for what she has done.
    Pour her a double portion from her own cup.

Give her as much torment and grief

    as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
    “I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
    I will never mourn.”

Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:

    death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. (Rev 18:4-8)

Note that the instructions given to the saints is exactly the same as Jesus told his followers concerning leaving Jerusalem to avoid her judgement:
‘When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. (Luke 21:20-22) 
Note that the phrase that 'God remembered' in this context is hugely significant because it is the language of covenant: God was in covenant with Jerusalem and he remembered his covenant with her when he let her suffer the curses of the covenant following her filling up the measure of her breaches.

The language of judgement includes for not just the Old Testament prophets, but also the apostles and God's holy people:
‘Rejoice over her, you heavens!    Rejoice, you people of God!    Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.’
In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
    of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.’ (Rev 18:20,24)

The Old Testament contains a significant amount of material foretelling Israel's last days and her judgement in the last days, and the salvation of the remnant, and Jesus and the writers of the New Testament stated that their teachings of judgement against Jerusalem were 'the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written' and quoted Old Testament prophecies of the same when teaching on the topic.

For example, when Jesus quoted Hosea 10:8 to the women of Jerusalem, he did not just pick a random quote for the colourful language of people calling for the mountains to fall on them, rather it was a reference to the national judgement of God's people through a foreign power:
The high places of wickedness will be destroyed –
    it is the sin of Israel.
Thorns and thistles will grow up
    and cover their altars.
Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’
    and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’ 
‘Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, Israel,
    and there you have remained.
Will not war again overtake
    the evildoers in Gibeah? When I please, I will punish them;
    nations will be gathered against them
    to put them in bonds for their double sin. (Hos 10:8-10)
Even Moses prophesied that in her last days Israel would fill up the measure of her sin and become Sodom and that God would avenge the blood of his servants:

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
    you forgot the God who gave you birth.

The Lord saw this and rejected them

    because he was angered by his sons and daughters.
 ‘I will hide my face from them,’ he said,
    ‘and see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
    children who are unfaithful.

They made me jealous by what is no god

    and angered me with their worthless idols.
I will make them envious by those who are not a people;
    I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.

For a fire will be kindled by my wrath,

    one that burns down to the realm of the dead below.
It will devour the earth and its harvests
    and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
 ‘I will heap calamities on them
    and expend my arrows against them.
 I will send wasting famine against them,
    consuming pestilence and deadly plague;
I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts,
    the venom of vipers that glide in the dust.
 In the street the sword will make them childless;
    in their homes terror will reign.
The young men and young women will perish,
    the infants and those with grey hair.
 I said I would scatter them
    and erase their name from human memory,
 but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy,
    lest the adversary misunderstand
and say, “Our hand has triumphed;
    the Lord has not done all this.”’
 They are a nation without sense,
    there is no discernment in them.
 If only they were wise and would understand this
    and discern what their end will be!
 How could one man chase a thousand,
    or two put ten thousand to flight,
unless their Rock had sold them,
    unless the Lord had given them up?
 For their rock is not like our Rock,
    as even our enemies concede.
 Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom
    and from the fields of Gomorrah.
Their grapes are filled with poison,
    and their clusters with bitterness.
 Their wine is the venom of serpents,
    the deadly poison of cobras.
 ‘Have I not kept this in reserve
    and sealed it in my vaults?
 It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
    In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
    and their doom rushes upon them.’
 The Lord will vindicate his people
    and relent concerning his servants
when he sees their strength is gone
    and no one is left, slave or free.
 He will say: ‘Now where are their gods,
    the rock they took refuge in,
 the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices
    and drank the wine of their drink offerings?
Let them rise up to help you!
    Let them give you shelter!
 ‘See now that I myself am he!
    There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
    I have wounded and I will heal,
    and no one can deliver out of my hand.
 I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear:
    as surely as I live for ever,
 when I sharpen my flashing sword
    and my hand grasps it in judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
    and repay those who hate me.
 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
    while my sword devours flesh:
the blood of the slain and the captives,
    the heads of the enemy leaders.’
 Rejoice, you nations, with his people,
    for he will avenge the blood of his servants;
he will take vengeance on his enemies
    and make atonement for his land and people. (Deut 32:18-43)
A careful reading of the Song of Moses shows that, in Israel's last days:

  1. She would reject God and that there would be a perverse generation (a Jewish generation Jesus positively identified as his own)
  2. God would make her envious by those who were not a people, a passage Paul quotes as applying to the gospel going to the Gentiles in his day (Rom 10-11), and that his people would rejoice with the nations.
  3. That Israel would sin and that God would accumulate her sin in a vault, and reserve it for the day judgement when he would avenge the blood of his servants against his enemies by repaying Israel for her sin (which Jesus identified as happening in his generation with numerous emphatic time statements). 
So, both Old and New Testaments are in harmony about this: God's Old Covenant people were the ones filling up the measure of violence and blood, and that in her last days her cup would be full, and she would be repaid, fulfilling all the violence and blood of the Old Testament. There is no cancellation of the violence and blood, it is instead fully filled up and fulfilled, and passes as fulfilled and accomplished.

The Passing of Heaven and Earth 

The second part of the teaching of Jesus about the fulfillment of the Old Testament, including its violence, is the passing of heaven and earth, which is obviously also associated with the promise of the New Heaven and Earth.

Following the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem came down from heaven:
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Rev 21:1-4)
Note the close connection between the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem, and the coming of the New Jerusalem, and the passing of the heaven and the earth, which is the same thing as the 'old order of things.'

In the judgement of Jerusalem, the measure of violence and blood and death was filled up, and fully avenged. The victory over death is when sting of death is removed, but the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Cor 15:56). The term 'the law' Paul is referring to is the law of Moses, the Old Covenant 'ministry that bought death, engraved in letters on stone' (2 Cor 3:7).

Now the connection is with the judgement on Jerusalem, that would destroy her, and destroy her temple, and end the Old Covenant and its legal administration, is concerning the significance and meaning of the passing of heaven and earth in Mat 5:18. Although it is not immediately obvious that this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in A.D. 70, this is what is signified by the phrase.

In Matthew's account of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said:
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mat 24:34-35)
So Jesus promised all the things he has prophesied against Jerusalem would take place in his generation, and he equates the passing of Jerusalem and her temple as heaven and earth passing away -- in contrast to his own words which would endure.

Mark 13:30-31 and Luke 21:32-33 record the same time statement and the same heaven and earth passing wording in the same context.

The writer of Hebrews discusses the Old and the New Covenants in terms of the pending removal of the Old Covenant heaven and earth:

 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,  because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’  The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’ (Heb 12:18-29)
 The context of the discussion is clearly the Old Covenant and its pending removal by way of 'shaking' and the unshakable New Covenant kingdom that was being received. As the main topic of the book of Hebrews is about the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the following time statement shows what the shaking is referring to:

By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Heb 8:13)

Of course the disappearance of the heavens and the earth implies the arrival of the new heaven and earth prophesied by Isiah:

‘See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice for ever

    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.
 ‘Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
 They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
 They will not labour in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,’
says the Lord. (Is 65:17-25)

We should note the following points from Isiah's prophecy of the new heavens and new earth:

  1. In the New Heavens and New Earth there would still be death -- the language of the good times is hyperbolic and should not be taken literally
  2. The language of the New Heavens and the New Earth are Hebraic expressions of great political risings and fallings or changes - it refer to a new era, a new age (as, incidentally, are references to mountains being removed, thrown into the sea, made low, the falling of stars, darkening of the sun, moon to blood etc.).
The context of Isiah's prophesy is also very important, we have both the salvation of Jerusalem (v 18-19 above) the judgement unfaithful and unbelieving of Jerusalem:

‘But as for you who forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will fall in the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.’(Is 65:11-12)

Now this salvation of the remnant, and judgement of unfaithful and unbelieving Jerusalem is at the time when the salvation is extended out to the Gentiles also, even though Israel is rejecting the gospel:

‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
    I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
    I said, “Here am I, here am I.”
All day long I have held out my hands
    to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
    pursuing their own imaginations –
a people who continually provoke me
    to my very face (Is 65:1-3)

Of course Paul applies this prophesy to Israel of his day in Romans 10:20-21.

The timing of the destruction of the Old Covenant heaven and earth is also clear from Isiah: it is the time when Jerusalem would be judged for her and her ancestor's sins and slain, and God's people would be known by a new name:
‘See, it stands written before me;
    I will not keep silent but will pay back in full;
    I will pay it back into their laps –
both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,’
    says the Lord.
‘Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains
    and defied me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
    the full payment for their former deeds.’

‘But as for you who forsake the Lord
    and forget my holy mountain,
who spread a table for Fortune
    and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny,

I will destine you for the sword,

    and all of you will fall in the slaughter;
for I called but you did not answer,
    I spoke but you did not listen.
You did evil in my sight
    and chose what displeases me.’

 Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

‘My servants will eat,
    but you will go hungry;
my servants will drink,
    but you will go thirsty;
my servants will rejoice,
    but you will be put to shame.

My servants will sing

    out of the joy of their hearts,
but you will cry out
    from anguish of heart
    and wail in brokenness of spirit.

You will leave your name

    for my chosen ones to use in their curses;
the Sovereign Lord will put you to death,
    but to his servants he will give another name. (Is 65:6-7, 11-15)
Jesus stated that this new heaven and earth messianic feast time, where some go hungry and others get to eat, would be when the subjects of the kingdom would be cast out:
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 8:11-12)
If it is not clear above that the messianic new heaven and earth wedding banquet relates to judgement on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as to the timing and application, the parable of the wedding banquet makes it incontrovertible:
 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. ‘Then he sent some more servants and said,  “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” ‘But they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. (Mat 22:2-7)

So, in conclusion:
  • The violence, coercion and death of the Old Testament was filled up and finally avenged on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as per the teaching of Jesus and the history of that cataclysmic event.
  • When Jerusalem was seized and the temple was destroyed, the law, as a system, an order and covenant, passed away, and that is what Jesus and the New Testament writers referred to by the concept of heaven and earth passing away or being shaken.
  • The Old Testament violence and coercion and bloodshed has been fulfilled in Christ and his body - there is a new order of things with no death that has been instituted in place of the old. The power of legalised sin has been broken.