LEARNING ACTIVITY #32
The Biblical Significance of AD 70
The significance of the events leading up to and including AD 70 on Jewish history are scarcely known by the majority of Christians today. This is most unfortunate as these events are some of the most significant happenings that help us to understand the Bible.
During the time of Jesus of Nazareth the world power was Rome and Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, most of whom knew little or nothing about the Jewish religion and therefore resulted in demonstrations and rebellions by the Jewish people. During this time period there were three primary Jewish factions within the city of Jerusalem. One was led by John of Gischala. This man had been a general in the Jewish army. He hated Josephus and had predicted that Josephus would betray the Jews to the Romans. He had become the leader of the Zealots.
A second faction was led by Simon Bar Gioras. This man headed up the remnants of the army of Josephus. They numbered several thousand, but had degenerated into a band of looters.
The third group was under the leadership of Eleazer, son of Simon. Eleazer began as an ally of John of Gischala but broke away from him and directed his group in a more religious direction. His goal was to establish and maintain Judaism. It was one of these rebellions that brought about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but the way in which this came about is an interesting story.
In May of AD 66 the Roman governor of Judea, Gessius Florus, who was appointed governor by Nero, did a terrible thing. According to the Jewish historian Josephus 3,600 were slaughtered in the city by his military troops demanding that the inhabitants be submissive to his rule. This polarized the city residents into a peace party and a war party.
A priest named Eleazar forced the issue by insisting that no gift or sacrifices be accepted at the temple by foreigners. This ended a custom of demonstrating loyalty to the Roman emperor by offering Roman sacrifices in the temple.
Things became critical when a band of rebels attacked a garrison of about 600 Roman soldiers who agreed to surrender their weapons in exchange for free passage out of the city.
Cestus Gallus, who was the Roman governor of Syria, arrived from Antioch with a sizeable military force a month or so later. The rebels counter attacked this group pror to their arrival at Jerusalem killing 515 enemy and only losing 22 of their own group. The soldiers of Cestus continued on to Jerusalem and began to undermine the wall to the city and set fire to the gate to the temple, and then, suddenly stopped and withdrew. Josephus states that possibly Florus had bribed him to save face from a quick defeat by another Roman leader but there is no such proof.
During the retreat of Cestius to the Mediterranean coast they were followed by the rebel Jews and caused Cestius to lose 5,300 infantry, 480 cavalry, heavy artillery, catapults, battering rams and other siege machines.
“…recalled his soldiers from the place [Jerusalem], and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world.”
Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 19, Paragraph 7, Line 540.
With regard to slaughtering the men of Cestius during the retreat, Josephus writes, “while they [the Jews] had themselves lost a few only, but had slain of the Romans five thousand and three hundred footmen, and three hundred and eighty horsemen.”
Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 19, Paragraph 9, Line 555.
Speaking of the retreat by Cestius, Josephus states, “That therefore he [Cestius] might fly [retreat] the faster, he gave orders to cast away what might hinder his army’s march….left behind them their engines for sieges, and for throwing of stones, and a great part of the instruments of war.”
Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 19, Paragraph 8, Lines 546, 553.
This humiliating withdrawal by the Romans gave the Jews a false sense of being unconquerable. In addition, it helped to create an atmosphere of having “…Peace and safety…” (1 Thessalonians 5:3), before the destruction of the day of the Lord that was soon to come upon them suddenly (See the rest of 1 Thessalonians 5:3).
SECOND TIME: When news of Rome’s defeat at the hand of the Jews reached Nero, he was upset with the poor generalship of Cestius. The Roman empire could not tolerate so public a humiliation. Nero then ordered Vespasian, a veteran general, back to Jerusalem in the spring of AD 67 to crush the Jewish uprising and avenge Rome’s humiliation and the damage to its ruling prestige. Vespasian advanced into Galilee, a region north of Jerusalem. He conquered the major cities of Samaria and Idumaea and subdued the land. After his Galilean campaign in the north, he marched south and encamped around Jerusalem, but when word came of Nero’s death back in Rome, Vespasian delayed his plan for taking Jerusalem, withdrew his troops, and returned to Rome to become Emperor. Again, the Jews prevailed. At about this time Eusebius records that the Christians abandoned the city!
THIRD and FINAL TIME: Shortly before Passover in April, AD 70 (forty years or one generation after the crucifixion of Christ), Titus, the son of Vespasian, arrived with his legions at the northern outskirts of Jerusalem to finally put an end to the Jewish revolt and crush the insurrection. He had marched south through Galilee and set up three camps overlooking the city. During the final siege, those who sought to flee were either prevented from doing so, killed by the Jewish factions inside, or captured, tortured, and crucified by the Romans at the city wall so all could see. By this time it was too late to flee. All those inside the walls of the city were entrapped by Titus and his Roman legions. Josephus, a Jewish historian, details for us how the Romans encircled and built an embankment or rampart to breach the city walls, just as Jesus had foretold in Luke 19:43–44. Josephus further notes that five hundred or more were captured daily and that soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; so great was their number that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for their bodies (The War of the Jews, Book Five, Chapter Eleven, Line 451, Paragraph 1).
Titus began his assault on the city of Jerusalem around April of AD 70. Titus’ soldiers breached the third (outer) wall of Jerusalem on May 25th and captured the newer parts of the city. By June the siege had proceeded into the second wall area and the Jewish people had retreated behind the last wall protecting the city. The Fortress of Antonia was taken by Titus on July 22nd followed by the Romans setting fire to the gates of the Temple. The Temple itself was burned on August 10 AD 70, the exact day and month on which the first temple had been burned by the king of Babylon in 586 BC. It is ironic that the temple was burned on the same day of the same month that the Babylonians had previously burned the temple. Josephus makes record of this event:
“However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were now observed, as I said before, wherein the holy house was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.”
Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 4, Paragraph 8, Line 268.
The armies then burned the lower city, took Herod’s Palace and entered what was known as the Upper City around September 2nd. All Jewish resistance had been put down in the city on September 26, AD 70.
It is more than coincidental that sometime around AD 63 and prior to the arrival of the first army, the Apostle Peter announced that judgement was about to begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). John twice proclaimed that it was “the last time” (1 John 2:18). Even John the Baptist in AD 27 warned his generation in Luke 3:7 to flee from the coming wrath. There is no need to side-step or try to explain away these passages as they are quite clear when considered in the light of what took place in AD 70! Nor should we believe, as some in the church do, that we have been living in the “last time” for the past 2,000 years!
In addition, contrary to another popular end time notion, the king or invader from the north spoken of in Daniel eleven and Ezekiel thirty-eight and thirty-nine is not a modern day Russia or an Iraqi army invading from countries located north of Israel. Rather, it was the Roman army of that first century. In all three campaigns against the Jews, the Roman army came from the north and fought many battles as it systematically marched south to the city of Jerusalem. It is both historically and prophetically significant that the Romans chose to invade from the same direction from which Babylon invaded in 597 BC, just as Ezekiel and Daniel had prophesied.
According to Josephus, one point one million Jews were killed in the city of Jerusalem and 97,000 were taken into captivity during the destruction of the city (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 9, Paragraph 3, Line 420)!
Origenes of Alexander, writing on the significance of AD 70 states, “I challenge anyone to prove my statement untrue if I say that the entire Jewish nation was destroyed less than one whole generation later on account of these sufferings which they inflicted on Jesus. For it was, I believe, forty-two years from the time when they crucified Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem” (Contra Celsum, 198–199).
The Historical Works of Josephus
Rome & Jerusalem by Martin Goodman, Penguin Books, 2008.