The Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple
“There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down…This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Mt.24:2, 34).
The scripture above is one of the great eye opening prophecies of the Bible which, to my thinking, does not receive the kind of attention it should in the spiritual life of the believer. When properly understood this scripture opens the way to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and ultimately affects the knowledge of our relationship in God.
The temple that Jesus and the disciples were looking at the day that Jesus made the statement cited above was a great wonder in the world at that time. The stones that Jesus said would be “thrown down” during the “generation” of the disciples were magnificent and massive, the largest being about forty–six feet by fifteen feet by twenty-two feet and weighing in at four hundred fifteen tons (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, Chapter 11, Paragraph 3, Line 392)! This was indeed a colossal prophecy made by Jesus and must have been difficult for His disciples to comprehend, consequently, they could not resist asking Jesus, “when shall these things be…” (Mt.24:3). How and when was this temple reduced to nothing?
During the time that Jesus of Nazareth was engaged in His earthly ministry (33 – 33 1/2 AD, approximately), Rome was the dominant world power. Judea, at this time was ruled by Roman procurators most of whom knew little or nothing about the Jewish religion which resulted in continuous irritations to the Jews from the Romans. A group within the city of Jerusalem, known as the Zealots, were active at this time. The Zealots convinced the temple priests to discontinue the daily offerings for the emperor and the empire which was basically a rebellion against Rome.
When Rome heard of the uprising, she dispatched Roman military under the command of Cestius Gallus in 66 AD to put down the rebellion. After surrounding Jerusalem they began a siege of the city, but, after a short time, for no apparent reason, Cestius withdrew his troops and left in retreat. The Jews pursued the Romans killing many and capturing their abandoned war machinery. 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 Thess.5:3), before the destruction of the day of the Lord that was soon to suddenly come upon them (See also 1 Thess.5:3).
When the news of Rome’s defeat at the hand of the Jews reached the emperor Nero, he was upset with the poor performance of Cestius. Nero dispatched Vespasian, a veteran general, back to Jerusalem in 67 AD to crush the Jewish revolt and avenge Rome’s humiliation and the damage to its ruling prestige. Vespasian advanced into Galilee, the region north of Jerusalem. He conquered its major cities and subdued the land. After the Galilean campaign in the north he marched south and encamped around Jerusalem, but when word came of Nero’s death back in Rome, Vespasian abandoned his plan for taking Jerusalem, withdrew his troops, and returned home to become Emperor. Once again the Jews prevailed.
Shortly before Passover in April, 70 AD, Titus, the son of Vespasian arrived at Jerusalem with his legions at the northern outskirts 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. Initial efforts were made to persuade the Jews to surrender thereby preserving the city, but these failed.
Titus then encircled the city to prevent help from reaching the Jews and began his final siege. During this time those who attempted to flee were either prevented from doing so, killed by the Jewish factions inside the city, or captured by the Romans, tortured and crucified by the city wall so that all could see. An embankment or rampart was constructed just as Jesus had foretold in Luke 19:43, 44.
Titus’ soldiers breached the third (outer) wall of Jerusalem on May 25th and captured the newer portion of the city. By June the siege had progressed into the second wall area and the Jewish people retreated behind that last wall that protected 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. Against the desires of Titus, during the attack a soldier threw a firebrand through a window into one of the temple side chambers followed by a second firebrand being thrown into the Holy Place which set the sanctuary ablaze. The Royal Portico was also consumed by fire killing about 6,000 people who were seeking refuge there. All Jewish resistance had been quelled in the city on September 26, 70 AD. For those who are interested in such details, the Works of Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 6, will provide interesting reading. To read about the reliability of the writings of Josephus, click on Learning Activity 50.
According to Josephus, one point one million Jews were killed in the attack on the city and 97,000 were taken into captivity. Over the next three years the temple stones were dismantled and leveled to the ground which Josephus describes as, “it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.” Caesar gave orders to level everything with the exception of what we can still see today. Part of the wall was left standing to provide a camp for the soldiers and other parts to demonstrate to the world what kind of city it had been that the Roman valor had subdued.
War of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 1
To totally describe the implications of this historic event would require writing that far exceeds the intent of this position paper. I do feel it necessary to list just a few items that should be “food for much thought” in the mind of the Christian.
1. Josephus makes note that it was God, himself, that was behind the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple: “…are not both the city and the entire temple now full of dead bodies
of your countrymen? It is God therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which
is full of your pollutions.” Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 2, Line 110
2. The above historical event is the fulfillment of the prophecy
given by Jesus in Matthew 24:2, 34. A biblical “generation”
is defined in the Scriptures as a period encompassing
approximately forty years a number that is addressed in Learning Activity 34A. That “generation” clearly fits the time period of 30 AD to 70 AD as we have
seen in this position paper as the approximate time interval
between the prophecy and its fulfillment.
3. If we can agree to date the writing of 1 Peter to be in the
early 60’s AD, we can see it was more than coincidental that
prior to the arrival of the first Roman siege attempt that
Peter announced that judgment was about to begin at the
house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
4. John, in writing 1 John 2:18, proclaims twice in that verse that
“the last time [hour] had come. The word translated “time”
in the KJV should be translated “hour.”
5. Even John the Baptist in 27 AD asked his generation in Luke
3:7 who had warned them of the wrath that was to come?
6. Contrary to another 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 Russian or Iraqi army
invading from the north. Rather, it was the Roman army of
the first century in all three campaigns that came from the
north as it systematically marched south to the siege of the
city of Jerusalem!
It is our position that there is no need to sidestep or try to explain away these passages of scripture as they are quite clear when considered in the light of what took place in 70 AD!