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The fifth chapter of James begins by warning the rich men of the day against the impending judgment of Jerusalem. Their business practices, so often unlawful in the sight of God, were about to end in disaster. In those days, “the rich” was a term nearly synonymous with the religious leaders who were in power.
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
James again relied upon the Gospel of Matthew, quoting the words of Jesus in Matt. 6:19-21,
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal, 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The warning of James to the rich in his day was not a call to poverty but a call to use wealth for the Kingdom of God before losing it in the coming disaster upon Jerusalem. In advocating humility, he showed the way to avoid this destruction, if it were possible. But his words went largely unheeded. The religious leaders continued in their old ways, thinking that God would never allow His temple to be destroyed or desecrated.
Jesus had warned the people in Matthew 24 of the soon-coming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
1 And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when one of His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Jesus also warned the believers to flee the city when they saw the signs of impending destruction (Matt. 24:16). We are not told the date of James' epistle, but it must have been written before his martyrdom in 62 A.D., about four years before the start of the war which eventually destroyed the city and temple. Jesus' warnings may have been forgotten or even unknown to most of the people, but James himself knew them well and certainly reminded the Jerusalem church often. It was, after all, of great concern to him.
Jeremiah had tried to warn the people many centuries earlier when God threatened to judge the city and nation for their refusal to obey His laws. In Jeremiah 19 the prophet was told to take an old earthen jar to the valley outside Jerusalem known as Ben-hinnom, where he was to prophesy and then smash the jar.
The jar, God said, represented Jerusalem. Jer. 19:10, 11 says,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired’;” and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial.
The people of Jerusalem did not believe Jeremiah, because they were trusting in the temple (Jer. 7:4). Surely God would not allow Himself to be humiliated by ungodly foreigners! But the prophet declared God’s verdict in Jer. 7:11,
11 “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the Lord.
This was the same verdict that Jesus quoted in Matt. 21:13, implying that the city would again be destroyed as in the days of Jeremiah. Yet after each of the two disasters, Jerusalem was later rebuilt. Hence, Jeremiah’s prophecy about the broken jar “which cannot again be repaired” has yet to be fulfilled in the final way.
Another disaster awaits Jerusalem in the future, when the destruction will be so complete that no one will be able to rebuild the city. Isaiah 29:5, 6 implies that the destruction will be nuclear. Perhaps the reason it will remain desolate will be on account of the nuclear fallout.
In the first century, it was commonly believed among the Christians that they had entered “the last days.” James 5:3 says, “It is the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” These were the “last days” of Jerusalem as they knew it.
Perhaps it was clear to them that Jerusalem had been given 40 years to repent since the ministry of Christ (30-33 A.D.). That 40-year grace period was bought and paid for by Ezekiel’s 40-day intercession in Ez. 4:6.
This grace period had two beginning points. First, it began when Herod killed John the Baptist at Passover of 30 A.D. Counting 40 years later brings us to Passover of 70 A.D., when the Romans surrounded Jerusalem and began the siege. Josephus tells us in Wars of the Jews, V, xiii, 7,
“No fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies, in the interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus, or Nisan, when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of the month Panemus, or Tamuz.”
The fourteenth of Nisan was preparation day for Passover, precisely 40 years after the Passover when John was beheaded. Matthew 14:1-11 tells the story of John’s martyrdom, and verse 12 says,
12 And his disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus. 13 And when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat.
The multitudes followed Him across the Sea of Galilee, and He then fed the 5,000. When we read John’s account of this, we are told specifically in John 6:4,
4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
Hence, we know that John was executed at Passover, about six months after Jesus’ baptism the previous Day of Atonement. From 30 to 70 A.D. was precisely 40 years to the day.
The second end point of the 40-year grace period began with Jesus’ crucifixion in 33 and ended with the fall of Masada in 73. Both events occurred at Passover, but 40 years apart.
After Jerusalem fell, some surviving members of a group known as the Sicarii took Masada and held it for three years. Josephus describes them in Antiquities of the Jews, XX, viii, 10,
“And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, [or sickles] as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay. They also came frequently upon villages belonging to their enemies, with their weapons, and plundered them, and set them on fire.”
After the destruction of Jerusalem, a group of Sicarii, led by Eleazar bin Jair, took Masada and fortified it to defend against the Romans. The Jewish Encyclopedia Online says of them,
“At the beginning of the war against the Romans, the Sicarii, with the help of other Zealots, gained secret access to Jerusalem, where they committed atrocious acts. Their leaders, including Menahem b. Jair, Eleazar b. Jair, and Bar Giora, were among the important figures of this war; and they held possession of the fortress of Masada until it was taken by the Romans.”
These Sicarii were the so-called “freedom fighters” of the Jewish war. They were, in fact, the terrorists of the day, who assassinated their fellow Jews who attempted to submit to Rome as Jeremiah had advised many centuries earlier. Jer. 27 says,
9 But as for you, do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who speak to you saying, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.” 10 For they prophesy a lie to you, in order to remove you far from your land; and I will drive you out, and you will perish… 13 Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, famine, and pestilence, as the Lord has spoken to that nation which will not serve the king of Babylon?
Rome was the fourth empire of the image of Babylon, seen in Daniel 2. God had given these empires authority over the earth, and Jeremiah told them that God had commanded them to submit to those authorities.
Many Jews, however, believed that God wanted them to be free, and so they formed armed gangs and revolted against Rome. These included the Zealots and the Sicarii. The Zealots murdered Romans, while the Sicarii went so far as to murder Jews who remained friendly with Rome or who advised against a revolt.
When the Roman army finally turned its attention to Masada, they built a ramp to the top of that plateau. They finished on the fourteenth day of the first month, which was the preparation day for Passover in 73 A.D. They stopped their work for the night and planned to assault Masada the following morning, which was the anniversary of Israel’s departure from Egypt under Moses.
That night Eleazar convinced the people to commit suicide. Ten men were picked to kill all of the others. The men were to lie down with their wives and children while one of the ten men cut their throats as if they were Passover lambs. Josephus tells us in Wars of the Jews, VII, ix, 1,
“So these people died with this intention, that they would not have so much as one soul among them all alive to be subject to the Romans. Yet was there an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children, who had concealed themselves in caverns under ground, and had carried water thither for their drink, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another. These others were nine hundred and sixty in number, the women and children being withal included in that computation. This calamitous slaughter was made on the fifteenth day of the month [Xanthicus] Nisan.”
They did not keep Passover the previous night, they killed no lambs, nor did they put the blood of the lamb on their door posts, for they were busy killing each other, as lambs to the slaughter, as if to fulfill the word of the Lord in Exodus 12:23,
23 For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two door posts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.
Keeping the feast in the Old Covenant manner would not have made a difference in their fate, of course, because the only way to keep the Passover after Jesus’ crucifixion was by faith in His blood. He was the true Lamb of God, as John himself had testified earlier in John 1:29. But John had been rejected, his testimony forgotten, and his identification of the true Lamb disregarded.
And so the second grace period ended, having begun with Jesus’ crucifixion as the Lamb of God, and ending with the slaughter of the little lambs at Masada 40 years later.
There are some who argue that the “last days” ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. Many of their points are well taken. There were signs in the heavens and in the temple itself. However, these were also prophetic types which prove a greater fulfillment yet to come, when Jerusalem is destroyed once again.
First, Jeremiah 19:11 says that Jerusalem will be destroyed in such a way that it will never again be repaired or rebuilt. After Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., it was rebuilt. We need not give a full history of the wars that have destroyed the city before or since. All we need to observe is that the city exists today (as of this writing). This proves that Jer. 19:11 has not been fulfilled for the last time. Jerusalem yet awaits a final destruction.
For this reason, James’ warning to the “rich men” of the city is yet pertinent to our generation of Babylonian bankers. Hence, it is something that ought to be of great concern to us, and we cannot simply affix those prophecies to a previous time.
Ezekiel’s 40-day intercession represented a 40-year grace period for Judah (Ez. 4:6). Using these same numbers, we can also observe a second round of prophecy after 40 Sabbath years. Hence, 40 x 7 years equals 280 years.
Using the same beginning dates (30 and 33 A.D.), we can see that 280 years later brings us to 310-313 A.D. The main event occurring during this time was Constantine’s overthrow of Rome and the beginnings of a “Christian Roman Empire.”
The Edict of Toleration was issued in 313, putting an end to the persecution of the Christians.
Yet I believe that we are in the midst of a final fulfillment of this “end time” prophecy. The biblical calendar system was built not only on Sabbath year cycles, but also upon Jubilee cycles. It took seven Sabbath year cycles to equal a Jubilee cycle, and the 50th year was known as the Year of Jubilee.
Forty Jubilee cycles is 49 x 40 years, or 1,960 years. Dating from Jesus’ crucifixion in 33 A.D., it brings us to the year 1993. Toward the end of 1993 we were led to begin the Jubilee Prayer Campaign to bring about the end of Mystery Babylon and to request the Divine Court for the authority to be transferred to the saints of the Most High—that is, the overcomers—according to the prophecy in Daniel 7:27,
27 Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.
We believe that we have arrived at this point in history, but it took 13 years of warfare (until Oct. 7, 2006) to fully win this battle. Within a year the cracks began to show in the financial system of Babylon, as we expected. The subprime mortgage crisis began in the summer of 2007, followed by the banking crisis in September of 2008.
As of this writing, we are still watching the collapse of Babylon, but that collapse itself is proof that authority in the earth has passed now into the hands of the overcomers.
James continues by giving us the reason why judgment was impending upon Jerusalem, Rome, and upon the Babylonian system in general. He writes in James 5:4,
4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth [i.e., “Lord of hosts”].
Was James really speaking of the rich withholding wages from those who labored in their grain fields? Not really. The real focus is upon the DEBT that the rich rulers of the world system owe, not only to the people of the earth, but to God Himself. For a more complete study of this, see my book, The Debt Note in Prophecy.
If we look ahead to verse 7, we find that God Himself was likened to a farmer waiting for the fruit of the ground. Christians were the laborers in God's field, as they testified of Jesus Christ in the “field” of Jerusalem and the rest of the world. Those in charge of God's vineyard were supposed to pay the laborers, but they had appropriated their wages to themselves and even usurped the vineyard for themselves (Matt. 21:38).
Hence, it is more likely that James was speaking symbolically. The rich religious leaders in Jerusalem had withheld the wages of the believers who labored to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom among them in Jerusalem. This had been done since the days of the prophets, who were God's “servants” in Jesus parable in Matt. 21. The Christians saw themselves as an extension of the prophets, as they too were abused and often beaten or killed for their witness.
James says that “the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” The use of this particular title is significant, for it means “Lord of hosts,” i.e., the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of heaven. It is a warning to Jerusalem in particular of impending war. No doubt James had in mind another of Jesus' parables, recorded in Matt. 22:1-7. In this parable, they rejected the invitation to the wedding feast,
6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. 7 But the King was enraged and sent His armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
This prophesied of the Roman armies coming to destroy Jerusalem. Jesus identified them as God's armies. James identified God as the Lord of hosts over those Roman armies. James continues,
5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
This carries a double meaning. Psalm 44:22 says,
22 But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
The true believers are brought like sheep to be slaughtered, even as Jesus Himself was so treated (Isaiah 53:7). Jeremiah was one of the mistreated prophets as well, saying in Jer. 11:19, “I was led like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” As a result, Jeremiah prophesied of a second slaughter that would take place in 12:3, “Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter and set them apart for a day of carnage!”
In the first century, James witnessed the slaughter of the Lamb of God as well as the lamb-like followers of Christ. But he also understood the prophecy of the day of slaughter that was yet to come upon Jerusalem. He continues,
6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
James was referring to “Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2:1). This was one of the titles of Christ Himself, used in the early church. In Acts 7:52, Stephen spoke of “the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.”
It is clear, then, that James was warning Jerusalem of its impending slaughter, after slaughtering the Righteous One. He did not live to see the slaughter of the innocents at Masada.