By Clint Springer
The temple in Jerusalem had been torn down and rebuilt twice, was full of splendor and riches, but Jesus plainly said it would be completely razzed. They wanted to know when?
Notice that these things concerned the apostles. They were living in troublesome times. A good commentary will tell of actual earthquakes, famines and such in those days (see Acts 11:27-30), but the two chapters of Matthew 24 and Luke 21 under consideration are specific to the tragedy named in our title.
When the Master was questioned about the kingdom, three catastrophic events came into focus: The crucifixion, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world (Luke 17:20-37). Terrible times were to come after the crucifixion, but certain distinctions will become clear as we re-view other chapters.
In the parable related by Luke (19:11-44) the noble-man is Jesus, but the coronation was foretold by Daniel (7:13, 14). However, those who rejected him were punished no doubt relating both to the devastation brought against Jerusalem as well as final judgment on all.
In such a study Matthew 24 is usually considered. In that text two questions were asked, the first relating to the time when one stone would not be left standing on another. The second is about the end of the world, a topic beyond the purview of present study. Verses 1-35 constitute the first division, and all was to take place before that generation passed away (v. 34). That overlaps with a study of Luke 21, the transition text of Matthew 24 being verse 36.
When studying Old Testament prophecy, it is important to remember that Jesus said the final “end” of Judaism (A.D. 70) was that which Daniel foretold. At that point in time, all Old Testament prophecy found fulfillment (Luke 21:22).
The disciples were to be persecuted and any church history book will tell about that. Still, they were to preach being divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. The terrible tragedy shortly to unfold related to God’s judgment against rebellious Israel. As has been al-ready stated, that catastrophe took place when the Romans besieged the city, desecrated the temple, and burned the whole metropolis.
The prophet Daniel called this event “the abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15). How bad was it? The great tribulation, Jesus said, was to be worse than anything before or after (Matt. 24:21). Those who try to make this relate to the end of the world, or some devastation yet to take place, need to remember that it pertained only to Judea and was to happen before that generation passed away.
Matthew 22:7 reads, “But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”
Matthew’s account said the gospel would be preached in all the world for a witness, and that happened ten or so years before the fulfillment came about (Col. 1:6; Rom. 10:18). Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are called apocalyptic language, exotic figures and symbols similar to the book of Revelation. Notice also that specific signs at that time were in contrast to normal times that will be characteristic of the end of the world. A “coming of the Lord” does not always demand a personal appearance, for Old Testament examples use similar language when in reality one nation was used to punish another.
Since words like “catastrophe” have been used to describe that which Jesus said was worse than anything that had ever happened, it is needful to get an insight into the events of A.D. 70. Most of the following notes are taken from the writings of Josephus, the renowned Jewish historian. He was present during the siege.
After the Jews rebelled, Vaspasian began his march to subdue the cities of Judea. When he was called back to Rome, his son Titus continued the campaign and besieged Jerusalem calling on them to surrender. There were al-ready seditions and civil war, three factions vying for control. There was fighting in and around the temple, it being “de-filed with murders” on every side.
Had the Jews been united, the Romans would have been hard pressed to capture the city due to the uneven terrain and three walls that encompassed most of it. A major factor was famine, for the factions burned several years’ worth of “corn” in their fighting.
Owing to the Feast of the Passover, there were great numbers in the city dead bodies, unburied, everywhere. Besides arrows, both sides fought with “engines” that hurled darts, rocks, and spears. The Romans engaged huge battering rams. The Romans build “banks” by cutting down all the trees; starvation set in; the strong began to take by force what little food the poor and weak possessed. As months passed, the situation became progressively worse. Some slipped outside the city searching for food, and those caught were tortured. Upwards to five hundred a day were crucified in plain sight of the wall, but the Jews would not surrender. Hordes of dead bodies were cast from a wall into a deep valley, where “thick putrefaction” made Titus draw back in horror.
Many who escaped or surrendered swallowed gold coins in an effort to get away with their savings. When this be-came known, multitudes were murdered and their intestines opened in search of the money. Josephus says that in one night two thousand were disemboweled as soldiers looked for gold.
151,880 corpses were brought out one gate; another re-ported 600,000. Inside the city, some rooms were stacked with bodies like racks of timber. Starvation became so severe, some began to search the dunghills for anything edible for bits of undigested grain. The “pestilential stench” became overwhelming.
On page 579, the historian tells a story so contemptible that it’s hard to believe. Sustained by reliable witnesses, the story is about a woman who slew her son, then roasted and used him for food. This was foretold by Moses when he wrote about the curses that would come upon Israel because of disobedience (Deut. 28:53).
The temple was looted, burned, stones overturned, and dead bodies were heaped upon one another. The Romans set up “ensigns” in the temple and offered sacrifices be-fore them. The whole city was then burned.
Being tired of slaughter, about 40,000 were allowed to go free, but the sound of body were made slaves, some sent to the Egyptian mines, others turned into gladiators.
Some of the final figures look like this: There were 2,700,000 in the city; 1,100,000 were slain during the whole siege; 97,000 were taken captive. This article only relates partially the atrocities perpetrated by both sides in that war. It lasted about seven months, and the words of Jesus were indeed fulfilled during that generation.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 20 p. 14-15
October 16, 1997