Thursday, July 3, 2008

Destruction of Jerusalem

by Jack Van Deventer

Part 1

Apervasive theme in the New Testament is the anticipation of imminent divine judgment upon those who rejected the Messiah. The earliest reference to the looming devastation is John the Baptist's declaration to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matt. 3:7).

Jesus foretold of coming wrath in the parable of the vineyard, saying "Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to [those who murdered his son]?" (Luke 20:15). "He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others" (v. 16). Verse 20 continues, "And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people; for they knew He had spoken this parable against them."

Jesus pronounced condemnation and severe judgment upon the unbelieving Jews (Matthew 23). "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth . . ." (Matt. 23:31-35).

This theme continues throughout the whole New Testament. Jesus predicted the destruction of the magnificent temple saying that all the stones would be thrown down with not a single stone left upon another (Matt 24:2). Jesus warned "the days are coming" when adversity would be so great that people would beg the hills to fall upon them (Luke 23:28-30). At Pentecost, Peter warned of "blood and fire and vapor of smoke" (Acts 2:19). Paul advised against marriage "because of the present distress" (1 Cor. 7:26). The author of Hebrews warned his readers not to forsake fellowship "as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25) and made reference to "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" of God (10:27). As to the timing of these events, Jesus indicated that these destructive prophecies would occur within a generation (Matt 24:34). John warned that these events "must shortly take place" (Rev. 1:1) and that "the time is near" (Rev. 1:3).

These prophecies point to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of multiple armies under Roman command. Jerusalem was a formidable, walled city that offered protection from invading armies. In anticipation of widespread war, the people of Israel fled to Jerusalem for refuge. A lengthy siege took place, but within the walled city a civil war broke out among three factions of Jews. During the siege murder was rampant. The storehouses of grain were burned up by warring factions, food became scarce, and starvation affected the whole entrapped population.

The lack of food within Jerusalem brought out the height of evil within the city. People who were thought to have consumed food had their stomachs ripped open in search of food, dying loved ones were cannibalized, and there was even an account of a mother who murdered and ate her baby rather than starve.

Many of the Jews became so desperate for food during the siege that they tried to gather food outside the city walls, but going outside the walls was very risky business. Men knew that unless they could gather food their families would starve, but leaving meant the very real possibility that their wives and children would be slain by robbers inside the city. The Romans, however, set traps for those venturing outside the walls and captured 500 Jews per day and crucified them on the hills surrounding Jerusalem. Many others who tried to escape had their intestines ripped open by Roman soldiers who hoped to find gold and jewels that had been swallowed. There was no hope of escaping from the siege.

Outside the city the Romans used catapults to rain down rocks and darts upon the city. Rocks weighing 90 pounds could be hurled a distance of 1,200 feet into the city. According to Jewish historian Josephus, the tower watchmen tried to warn the city residents as stones flew their direction. When the watchmen saw a projectile hurling toward the city, they would shout "The Son Cometh!" It was almost as if the city residents expected to be judged for crucifying their Messiah.

What happened to the Christians trapped inside Jerusalem during this period? Jesus had forewarned His followers, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20-22). Church historian Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) records that the Christians escaped from Jerusalem either before the siege or during one of the brief lulls in the fighting. Those who rejected Christ chose to remain inside the city, believing it was safer.

In the next article, there will be more details of the fall of Jerusalem. In summary, an estimated 1.1 million Jews died in Jerusalem and another 97,000 were enslaved. The Jews, in rejecting Christ, had shouted to Pilate "Let Him be crucified!" When Pilate objected, they shouted all the more for Christ's crucifixion, saying "His blood be upon us and our children!" And so it was.

Part 2

Part 1 of this article detailed the New Testament prophecies anticipating severe judgment upon the Jews for murdering Christ. In calling for Jesus' death, the Jews had cried out, "Let Him be crucified! His blood be upon us and our children!" The subsequent divine judgment against the Jews was prolonged and widespread, culminating in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

The slaughter of the Jews began several years earlier at the hands of the Romans, armies under Roman control, and gentile groups. First century Jewish historian Josephus records many of the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. His accounts detail the rise of false prophets, treacheries, revolts, warfare, and murder. Here are some excerpts:

The Slaughter of the Jews

Jerusalem (June 3, 66 A.D.)--"So the [Roman] soldiers did not only plunder the place they were sent to, but forcing themselves into every house, they slew its [Jewish] inhabitants; so the citizens fled along the narrow lanes, and the soldiers slew those that they caught, and no method of plunder was omitted; they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified. Accordingly, the whole number of those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children (for they did not spare even the infants themselves), was about 3,600."

Cesarea (66 A.D.)--"Now the people of Cesarea had slain the Jews that were among them. . . . [I]n one hour's time above 20,000 Jews were killed, and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them to the galleys."

Scythopolis and other cities (66 A.D.)--"The people of Scythopolis watched their opportunity, and cut all [the Jews'] throats, some of them as they lay unguarded, and some as they lay asleep. The number that was slain was above 13,000, and then they plundered them of all they had." "Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them: those of Askelon slew 2,500, and those of Ptolemais 2,000, and put not a few in bonds; those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a greater number in prison."

Alexandria (66 A.D.)--These [Roman] soldiers rushed violently into that part of the city which was called Delta, where the Jewish people lived together [The Jews were] destroyed unmercifully; and this their destruction was complete, some being caught in the open field, and others forced into their houses, which houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 of them lay dead upon heaps. . . ."

Jotapata (July, 67 A.D.)--"[T]he Romans slew all the multitude that appeared openly; but on the following days they searched the hiding places, and fell upon those that were underground, and in the caverns, and went thus through every age, excepting the infants and the women, and of these there were gathered together as captives twelve hundred; and as for those that were slain at the taking of the city, and in the former fights, they were numbered to be 40,000.

The slaughter of the Jews continued for several years. Many of the Jews fled to Jerusalem for safety and the city was under siege for a long period.

Jerusalem and the Temple Destroyed

Josephus described in detail the attempts of the Jews to defend the temple, but in time the temple was filled not with the blood of sacrificial animals, but with the blood of the Jews themselves.

Josephus writes, "Now, round about the altar lay dead bodies heaped one upon another; as at the steps going up to it ran a great quantity of their blood, whither also the dead bodies that were slain above [the altar] fell down."

"While the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner. . . . "

"Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething-hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them."

In the end, the city was utterly destroyed. Over a million Jews were killed. As noted in Part 1 of this article, the New Testament is full of passages anticipating God's judgment upon those who killed His Son. Jesus Himself had predicted that a generation would not pass before the temple would be destroyed such that not one stone would be left upon another (Matt. 24:2). Although Josephus was not a Christian, he concluded "I cannot help but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire. . . . "