The Pre-AD 70 Exodus from Jerusalem!
“Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains. Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day” (Mt. 24: 16–20).
As we studied Matthew 24 in Position Paper #1, we noted that Jesus gave His disciples a number of signs that would precede His return presence (parousia) back to earth after He had left it due to His resurrection and ascension. When the believing church had observed these signs start to appear the church was flatly told to “get out of town fast.” The Matthew text makes it obvious as to why Jesus had given this warning and command in the verse that followed: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Mt. 24:21). That verse was a one line description of what would be happening during the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
What historical records and documentation do we have that confirms the above portion of the Scriptures?
Early in the decade of AD 60–69, skirmishes began to break out between the Jews and the Romans. Wars and rumors of wars were rampant during that time period (See Position Paper #7). In AD 66, Roman military commanded by Cestius Gallus came to Jerusalem to put down a Jewish rebellion. After surrounding the city they began their siege. Then, for no apparent reason, Cestius withdrew his troops and left the area. The Jews pursued the Romans slaughtering many and capturing their abandoned war machinery. This fact of history has been recorded for us by the Jewish historian, Josephus, in his work entitled, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 19, Paragraph 7, Line 540.
This withdrawal gave the Jews a false sense of security and an atmosphere of “peace and safety.” These same words were used by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5: 1–4 which was written about AD 50. Notice in Paul’s writing that he states in verse four that “ye [the Thessalonians], brethren, are not in darkness, that that day [the day of judgment and destruction–see Learning Activity #37 and Learning Activity #47] should overtake you as a thief.” The reason Paul could make that statement is because the “brethren” had been instructed as to what the signs would be to warn them when the destruction was coming. Paul also says this in verse one of the same passage, “But of the time and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.” The coming presence of the Lord and the destruction of Jerusalem would come as a thief in the night to unbelievers, but not to believers! The believers would remember the “these things” that Jesus had told them. Although Jesus would have ascended to the Father by that time, He would have sent the Holy Spirit to bring the “these things” to memory as promised in John 14:26.
Dr. John Gill wrote in his work entitled, An Exposition of the New Testament, in 1809, “…it is remarked by several interpreters, and which Josephus takes notice of with surprise, that Cestius Gallus having advanced with his army to Jerusalem, and besieged it, on a sudden without any cause, raised the siege, and withdrew his army, when the city might have been easily taken; by which means a signal was made, and an opportunity given to the Christians, to make their escape: which they accordingly did, and went over the Jordan, as Eusebius [an early church father] says, to a place called Pella; so that when Titus [another Roman general] came a few months after, there was not a Christian in the city…” More on this later!
When the news of Rome’s defeat of Cestius at the hands of the Jews reached Nero [who was the emperor of Rome at that time] he was upset with Cestius’ poor generalship. Nero then ordered Vespasian, a veteran general, back to Jerusalem in AD 67 to crush the Jewish uprising and to avenge Rome’s humiliation and the damage to its ruling prestige by the Cestius incident.
Vespasian advanced into Galilee, a region north of Jerusalem. He conquered its major cities and subdued the land of that area. 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. Once again, the Jews had prevailed and the church was given additional time to leave the city, if they had not already left. The work of destroying Jerusalem was left to Titus, the son of Vespasian, who did so in AD 70 (See Learning Activity #44 on this web site).
The church was to flee Jerusalem when they saw the signs of the parousia (presence) of Christ and the coming destruction, and flee they did! The following historical account verifies this action.
“The city [Pella] earned its name in church history in AD 66 when Pella became a refuge for Christians who were fleeing Jerusalem because the Roman army was coming to quiet a Jewish revolution. Pella continued as a strong Christian city after that and hosted many monasteries throughout the prosperous Byzantine period.” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume Four, Page 672.
Eusebius, one of the early church fathers wrote: “The whole body, however, of the church of Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and His apostles finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evildoers from the earth.” Ecclesiastical History, 3:5:3.
Josephus also verifies the Christian departure from Jerusalem when he wrote, “After this calamity [referring to the retreat of Cestius Gallus from Jerusalem after the first Roman attack–See Learning Activity #32), had befallen Cestius, many of the most eminent of the Jews swam [left, departed] away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink.” Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 20, Paragraph 1, Line 556.
Thomas Newton (1754) writing in his work entitled, The Prophecy of Matthew 24, Dissertation XIX, states, “…all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem, and removed to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan: so that they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country, and we do not read any where that so much as one of them perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. Of such signal service was this caution of our Saviour to the believers.”
Pella was at that time a city in the Decapolis. In modern times it is known as Tabaqat Fahil. It is located in the foothills of the eastern slope of the Jordan Valley about 100 km to the northwest of Amman and about eighteen miles south of the Sea of Galilee. Pella flourished until the late Byzantine period when a decrease in the water supply, an invasion by the Persians, and an epidemic of bubonic plague resulted in a reversal of its growth. A devastating earthquake in CE 747 ended its long history as a city of major influence in the region.
It is clear from the Scriptures that Jesus had adequately taught on the subject of the signs that would precede the coming judgment and destruction of Jerusalem along with His “coming, presence,” and that this teaching had been spread to the Christian community so that they were well informed and watchful for these events. When the events began to unfold the Christians took note, left Jerusalem, thereby escaping the destruction that followed during the Roman siege and leveling of that great city, Jerusalem. As the city was being destroyed the Christians were safe and sound in the distant city of Pella!