Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Great Tribulation and the Judgment on Jerusalem
From the days of Moses, through all the wars in which the Israelites were engaged, for a period of more than fifteen hundred years, no nation ever came to attack them at any of their religious festivals. But when this nation of Israel, which YEHOVAH God had chosen for Himself, to whom He gave the keeping of His law and the revelations of His will; this nation, for which He had wrought such wonders and deliverances, and over whom the shield of His protection had been spread, apostatized and rejected the promised Messiah, then the protective power of every promise was withheld and Great Tribulation fell upon the people.
by William Patton
"And Jesus went out, and departed from the Temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the Temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1, 2).
"And as he went out of the Temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Mark 13:1, 2).
"And as some spake of the Temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Luke 21:5, 6).
About fifteen hundred years before the Roman armies conquered Jerusalem, Moses uttered words of solemn warning:
"The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the ends of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young:...and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates until the high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst" (Deuteronomy 28:49-52).
Before the utterance of this warning, Moses had assured the people of Israel that rich and permanent blessings would be their portion, if they should hearken diligently to the voice of the LORD their God, to observe and to do all His commandments; then YEHOVAH God would set them on high above all nations of the earth, and bless them in all their relations. Obedience would make them a virtuous and reverential people, would be a perfect protection against their enemies and national sufferings, and secure to them the continued protection and favor of YEHOVAH God. Only one thing could stay the blessings, and draw upon them the manifestations of the Divine anger. This one thing was sin, habitual and persevering disobedience -- this made their wickedness to be corrupting and destructive. Other prophets threatened them with sword, famine, and pestilence; with slavery and the plowing up of their holy city like a field.
With a perfect knowledge of all the prophetic warnings, with an unerring estimate of the moral character of the nation, and with a full knowledge of the massiveness of the Temple, as well as the number and strength of the walls encircling the city, Yeshua the Messiah boldly uttered his most wonderful prediction. He seizes upon the destiny of a proud people, and fearlessly tells them of their certain and speedy overthrow. Although everything in the then political condition of the Judeans, as well as in the structure of the Temple and the city, forbad almost the possibility of the speedy fulfillment of this prophecy, still he fixed the time for its fulfillment as not distant, but near at hand, before that generation should pass (Matthew 24:34).
He staked all his claim to be the Messiah upon its perfect fulfillment: "Now I tell you before it come, that when it is come to pass ye may believe that I am he," that is, the promised Messiah. He not only uttered this prediction, but designated the signs which, with unerring certainty, would precede and foreshadow the coming doom.
The time when this prophecy was uttered. It was not until YEHOVAH God had borne with the Israelites with great long-suffering, not until He had exhausted all practicable means for their recovery, not until they had slain the prophets who were His messengers, not until they had despised and rejected the Redeemer, YEHOVAH's first-born Son, and had with murderous intent determined upon his death, and had thus filled up the cup of their iniquity, then, and not till then, did the Messiah with heart-felt lamentations pronounce the dread sentence:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house [Temple] is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:37-38).
"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19:41-44).
The Messiah wept, because he saw "the clouds of heaven gathering over it from every quarter, fraught with materials of destruction such as none but a Divine hand could collect." He saw "his own blood, by which he had graciously meant to wash away their guilt, calling with a voice not to be denied, for the ministers of justice to arm." He wept, for "he saw all things on earth and in heaven mustering and disposing for their doom." "He looked, and lo! the city was beleaguered and lost; Jerusalem lay bleeding at His feet; the treacherous nations had taken their prey; her dwellings of holiness were laid waste; and the sound of her expiring lament, drowning even the voice of justice itself, pierced His heart." He stood and wept over it. "Like the thunder-cloud, which, having discharged its bolt at the earth, weeps itself away, exhausting itself in the healing shower, which closes the rent it has made; so his pity commiserates and pours itself forth over those whom in the same breath he had felt himself called upon to sentence."
The Messiah had paid his last visit to the Temple, and with his disciples had left the city, and passed over the brook Kidron and up the slope of Olivet. Here, he sat down with Jerusalem and the Temple full in view; when the disciples asked him, "When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?" (Mark 13:4). They could not doubt his word, "there shall not be left one stone [of the Temple] upon another that shall not be thrown down;" but they were perplexed when they looked upon the massive walls, the towers and ramparts of the city, and the immense and solid buildings of the Temple. Here, where he had so recently wept, he made mention of the signs which were to precede, as well as the circumstances of misery which were to attend the destruction. This prediction was written and published to the Israelite world many years before its fulfillment. It is recorded by Matthew. Of this Gospel the Rev. Dr. Eadie says,
"It is supposed to have been written five years after Christ's ascension, or about the year 38 [actually, 36 -- Editor]. Some hold that it existed at a very early period both in the Hebrew and Greek languages" (Biblical Cyclopedia).
If this date be accepted as accurate, the prophecy was published and circulated in Palestine a full thirty years before its accomplishment. It was also recorded by both Mark and Luke, who wrote their Gospels fifteen years before the Roman armies besieged the sacred city. Mark, and Luke suffered martyrdom under Nero (as did Paul and Peter) and thus were dead before the destruction took place. The fact is evident that for many years prior to its fulfillment this remarkable prophecy was published in Palestine, and soon afterwards was diffused throughout the Diaspora.
The time of the fulfillment was fixed. When his disciples said, "Tell us when shall these things be?" he said, "The time draweth near." "This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled" (Luke 21:7, 32). He then names the specific signs which must precede, saying, "When ye shall see all these things [signs], know that it is near, even at the doors." When on his way to the crucifixion site on the Mount of Olives, he said to the great company of people and women who followed him bewailing and lamenting, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children; for behold the days are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave suck." He thus told them that they would be the witnesses, and some of them the participants of these miseries. Within the natural lifetime of some of those who heard him all that he had predicted would certainly come to pass.
It is a matter of devout gratitude that the principal witness for the fulfillment of this remarkable prophecy is Flavius Josephus, a trustworthy Judahite historian. He was born A.D. 37, and died A.D. 93, thus living through the whole of the siege. He was from his childhood intimately acquainted with the localities -- with the position, the walls, the towers, the bulwarks, and all the defenses of the city. Being a priest, of the sect of the Pharisees, he was familiar with the views and expectations of the Judahites.
He had a thorough knowledge of the Temple -- its extent, its various buildings, and their uses -- the massiveness of its structure, and its immense strength as a defensive fortress. Thus, as no other historian, he was competent intelligently to know and to record the facts. His advantages for knowing what took place were peculiar, for he was in the favor of Vespasian, the Roman emperor. He accompanied him during part of the war, and was present at the siege. He continued with the army when Titus took the command. He was employed in several important embassies, and strove by all proper means to save the city and his countrymen from ruin.
Soon after the destruction of the city and the Temple, he returned with Titus to Rome, and there published his history of the Judahite wars. In this is found the most minute and circumstantial account of the siege, and the destruction of the city and the Temple. This history was written virtually in the presence of the army of Titus, who had been with him on the spot, were personally acquainted with the localities, and were competent to detect any misstatements. This history supplies the most ample materials. Under the influence of patriotism he may have exaggerated some of his statements. Still, in no instance would he be tempted to understate the facts. It formed no part of his purpose to confirm the prediction made by the Messiah.
Yet in his account of the siege his testimony is ample that the Messiah's prediction was in every particular perfectly fulfilled. This is done, not by referring to the prophecy, or tracing out its accomplishment, but simply by a circumstantial record of the facts. He tells us who were the leaders, how the different factions arose, how the provisions, sufficient for a siege of three years, were destroyed, how the inhabitants were plundered, how the miseries of famine and pestilence, superadded to the war, intensified their sufferings, how the fightings by day and by night wore out the people, how the corridors and other structures, with the Temple, were burnt, despite all the efforts to save them, and how the city lay in ruins.
These, and many more incidents, fill up his history. As we gather them up, and place them in order alongside the multiplied and various items of the prediction, we notice how they fit into each other, the history answering to the prophecy.
Had such a history been written by a Christian, there would have been room for suspicion that friendly feelings gave a coloring to the facts. But when a Judahite, a priest, and a Pharisee writes the history of his own nation, and states the facts which confirm the prophecy, we cannot see how evidence of a more unquestionable character could be secured.
Concerning Josephus, Dr. Robinson makes the following statement:
"Having sketched the progress of the Roman conqueror in his advance to the very gates, and recounted his disposition for the siege, this writer stops short in his narration, in order to lay before his readers a topographical sketch of the city and Temple, as they then existed, before the tremendous overthrow to which they were soon subjected. This account is to us invaluable, and could not be supplied from any other sources" (Biblical Researches, vol. i, p. 409).
It is from the writings of this historian, whose knowledge was so ample and complete, and whose testimony is so free from suspicion, that we shall draw our narrative of the fulfillment of prophecy in the siege of Jerusalem.
The Causes of the War and the Safety of the Christians
"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the house-top not come down to take anything 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" (Matthew 24:15-20).
"But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls. And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:18-22).
The causes of the war which issued in the destruction of Jerusalem had been accumulating for a long time. The pride of the nation was deeply wounded by the presence in Judea and Jerusalem of a Roman governor, attended with a strong military force. They were restive also under the exaction of taxes levied upon them by the Romans. They doubted whether their submission, and their payment of taxes, was not unlawful for them, and whether the assertion of their independence was not a duty. Hence the question, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?" The influence of Pilate, who came to Judea as procurator A.D. 26, and continued twelve years, was not calculated to allay their irritation. He was a man of stern temperament, and careless of the peculiar characteristics of the people. By his utter disregard for their religious feelings he gave much offence, and frequently disturbed the repose of the country.
How the causes for revolt were thus intensified, a few facts may illustrate. When Pilate sent troops to winter at Jerusalem, he caused their ensigns, on which were the idolatrous images of the emperor, to be carried into the city. This no previous governor had allowed, through fear of exasperating the people, who regarded the presence of such idolatrous symbols as an insult to their religion. The ensigns, being covered, were brought in by night. Being discovered the next day, many of the Judahites hastened to Caesarea to entreat Pilate to withdraw them.
He kept them waiting five days and nights before his palace. On the sixth he sent for them, when he caused them to be surrounded by soldiers, and threatened them with instant death unless they returned home. Throwing themselves upon the ground, and baring their necks, they declared that they would sooner die than that the idolatrous standards should remain in the holy city, contrary to the law. Pilate, astonished at the firmness and determination of their resolution, and fearing the consequences of a revolt, gave an order for the standards to be brought back to Caesarea.
On another occasion a great tumult arose when Pilate made a demand upon the sacred treasury of the Temple to meet the expenses of an aqueduct to Jerusalem from a fountain twenty miles off. Many of the Judahites were then killed by disguised soldiers, who were sent by him among the crowd with daggers and bludgeons concealed under their garments.
When Pilate undertook the consecration of golden bucklers to Tiberius, in the palace of Herod, the Judahites were shocked and alarmed. Headed by their magistrates, and accompanied by the four sons of Herod, they entreated him not to persist in a matter so contrary to their law. Pilate was neither influenced by their entreaties, nor by the threats of complaining of him to the emperor.
A quick succession of unjust, tyrannical governors, who aimed at enriching themselves by all practicable means, greatly vexed the people, until it brought them to the very verge of despair. The cruel oppressions and the shameless rapacity of Gessius Florus, the procurator of Judea, kindled into a general blaze the fire which had long been smoldering. He was appointed by Nero, and was unquestionably the worst Roman governor the Judeans ever had. "There were no means at which he scrupled in order to fill his coffers." The robbers committed their depredations with impunity, so long as they gave him a portion. Thus life and property became so insecure that multitudes emigrated to foreign countries.
In the year A.D. 66, an edict from the emperor was received at Caesarea, by which the Greek and Syrian inhabitants were placed in the first rank of citizens above the Judahites, who had hitherto enjoyed that privilege. This was followed by gross insults from Greeks and Syrians upon the religion of the Judahites, producing commotions which were only quelled by the Roman arms. The Judahites withdrew their sacred books from the synagogue, and carried them to Narbata, two miles from Caesarea. When several of the principal Judahites came to lay their grievances before him, he threw them into prison.
This violent act produced a great sensation throughout Judea, and particularly in Jerusalem. At the same time he demanded seventeen talents from the treasury of the Temple. This raised a tumult in the city, and strong denunciations were uttered against the governor. Gessius Florus came in person to enforce his demand, and required that all who had spoken against him should be delivered to him. He would listen to no explanations, and in revenge gave his soldiers permission to plunder the upper market, which was on Mount Zion. They further pillaged many private houses, and slew their inhabitants. Many of the best citizens were scourged and crucified.
Next Florus attempted to enter the Temple with his soldiers. This the people resisted with such bravery that the Romans were compelled to retire into the royal castle on the so-called Temple Mount for safety. Having thus kindled the flame of rebellion he withdrew, sending information of the state of affairs to his superior Cestius Gallus, the prefect of Syria.
The war, which lasted five years, began A.D. 66, at Masada, a fortress near the Dead Sea, where a party of Judahite warriors surprised the Roman garrison, and put all the soldiers to the sword. Following this up, the leaders of the nation at Jerusalem openly threw off their allegiance, the priests refused to offer up the usual sacrifices for the prosperity of the emperor, and the popular party slew the Roman garrison. This produced a general insurrection.
The Judahites on the one side, and the Romans and Syrians on the other, in every town attacked each other with the greatest fury. The Judahites mustered in great numbers, pillaging and devastating the towns chiefly occupied by the Syrians on both sides of the Jordan. The Syrians in revenge massacred the Judahites whenever they fell into their hands. Thus the whole country streamed with blood. When Cestius Gallus, the prefect of Syria, heard of this general revolt, he marched with a strong army into Judea. He hastened towards Jerusalem, and surrounding the city, laid siege to it.
We must here glance for a moment at one circumstance which points out the time for the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel, uttered more than 500 years before. "After threescore and two weeks," says the prophet, "shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined" (Daniel 9:26). Of this the Messiah says, "'When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand)" (Mark 13:14). "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh" (Luke 21:20).
The "abomination of desolation" is a Hebrew expression, signifying "abominable, or hateful destroyer." Where Daniel uses the word abominations, the Messiah adds the word "desolation," because it was to make Jerusalem utterly desolate. As Luke in this connection speaks of the compassing of Jerusalem with armies, I think it clear that, by the abomination of desolation, the Messiah meant to designate the Roman armies. These were composed of soldiers who were idolaters. They carried in front of their legions ensigns or standards upon which were painted the images of eagles and of their emperors. These, Suetonius informs us, the Romans worshipped; whilst Tacitus calls them "the gods of war." Chrysostom says, "that every idol and every image of a man was by the Jews called an abomination."
An illustration is mentioned by Josephus: that "when Vitellius, the governor of Syria, was conducting his army through Judea, against Aretas, the king of the Arabians, the principal Jews, on account of their strong abhorrence of the ensigns of the soldiers, on which were eagles and the images of the emperors, earnestly entreated him to lead his army some other way, and that he greatly obliged them by complying with their request." In corroboration of the fact that the Romans worshipped these standards, Josephus adds, "that after the city was taken, the Romans brought their ensigns into the Temple, and placed them opposite the eastern gate, and sacrificed to them in that place."
The Roman armies are properly called the abomination of desolation, as desolation marked their advances through all the provinces and nations they had subdued, and as by them the holy city, and its more holy Temple, were to be utterly destroyed.
The besieging of Jerusalem by these armies is called the "standing where it ought not," and "standing in the holy place." The entire city, and all the land for several furlongs around it, was regarded as holy. The Messiah here particularly refers to the surrounding of the city by the armies of Cestius Gallus. They soon obtained full possession of Bezetha, or the new city, and were favorably situated for aggressive movements. Thus it would seem that the Christians, equally with the Judahites, were shut up in the city to certain destruction. This, which was the beginning of the days of vengeance, still was to be the signal for the safety of the Christians. They were admonished "to possess their souls in patience," -- "not to be troubled or terrified" -- "for all these things must first come to pass." They were assured that "not a hair of their head should perish," and that this besieging was the evidence that their deliverance was near.
To human vision this was the time of their extremity, but it was the time of YEHOVAH's opportunity. Connected with this siege by Cestius Gallus, we shall have occasion to consider the remarkable providence which demonstrates how certainly YEHOVAH God will overrule events so as to accomplish His purposes of mercy toward those of Israel who love and trust Him. Josephus states that if Cestius Gallus had assaulted the upper city (Zion), he could easily have taken it, and ended the war; but he adds, "for the wickedness of the people God suffered not the war to end at that time." For some reason -- which historians have not explained -- Cestius Gallus, instead of following up his victory by a resolute advance, withdrew his troops from the city to their encampment. This strange movement emboldened the Judahites; and being animated with the wildest enthusiasm and intense hatred, they seized their weapons, and rushed out with such impetuosity and numbers that they compelled the Romans to give way, and betake themselves to flight.
For three days they pursued the retreating army with great slaughter; they got possession of many engines of war, and large supplies. This enabled them to prolong the defense of the city. Agrippa, at the request of Cestius Gallus, sent ambassadors to entreat them to lay down their arms, promising forgiveness for all the past. Elated by their recent success, they rejected with scorn these overtures; they seized the ambassadors, slew one, and wounded the other. Such conduct was in opposition to the earnest counsel of the more respectable citizens, who formed a very powerful body. They clearly saw that such conduct would exasperate the emperor, and bring against them the whole Roman power. They were not mistaken. The Roman armies, in larger force, soon came, and unrelentingly went on with their work of conquest and ruin.
Flight of the Christians
Those who forget that YEHOVAH God holds in His hands the heart of kings and rulers, and through their instrumentality works out His own designs, are at a loss to account for the retreat of Cestius Gallus, the Roman general. But those who recognize YEHOVAH as the moral governor will understand this strange retreat when the city was ready to surrender. Such will remember that, more than thirty years before, the Messiah had said to his disciples, " When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains."
Before or during the siege the Christians could not safely flee. Had they attempted it they would have been destroyed, either by the Judahites within the city or by the Romans without. The only way of escape was for the general to raise the siege. This was done. The armed Judahites in great numbers rushed out, and pursued the retreating army. It was during this time, when the gates were thrown open, that the Christians found their only opportunity for leaving the city and fleeing to a place of safety.
The advice "in patience possess ye your souls," evidently denotes that the Christians were to watch for and seize upon the crisis the moment it should arrive. Also that their flight was to be with great suddenness, and with such haste as to forsake all worldly property. We notice the three specific items in this advice:
(1) All in Judea were to flee to the mountains. Judea was the southern portion of Palestine, including the tribes of Judah, Simeon, Dan, and Benjamin. Jerusalem was a little north of the center of this territory. This whole region, as well as Jerusalem, would feel the scourge of this war, and all its inhabitants be exposed to its fearful ravages. The mountains to which they were to flee are those of Perea, a mountainous region on the east side of the river Jordan, and considerably north of Jerusalem. This whole territory, including a part of Galilee, was under the government of Agrippa the Younger. As these countries remained obedient to the Roman power, and took no part in the rebellion, they were consequently not disturbed by the war. This, in itself, was a sufficient reason why the Christians should flee thither. In the midst of these mountains were deep secluded ravines and extensive caves, which would be places of refuge should persecution or other troubles invade this region.
What but Omniscience could thirty years ahead foretell, with such minute accuracy, the scenes of the war, and that the mountainous country would be at peace, whilst all around should be terribly convulsed, and that rapine should rage with horrors unparalleled? What but the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God would have preserved these mountains in peace, as a covert from the tempest and a shelter from the storm? Who but YEHOVAH God would have thus placed His Israelite saints on high, and made their defense the munitions of rocks?
(2) Their flight 'Was to be too sudden to admit of any delay, and hasty to permit the carrying anything away with them. "Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes!" (Matthew 24:17-18). Great emphasis is given to this advice when we remember that "the Jewish houses were flat-roofed, and commonly had two stairs, one within and the other without the house, by which they went up to the roof." Thus a continued terrace was formed from one end of the city to the other, and terminating at the gates. Dr. Shaw, in his Travels in the East, says, "the top of the house, which is always flat, is covered with strong plaster; upon these terraces several offices of the family are performed, such as the drying of linen and flax, the preparing of figs and raisins, where likewise they enjoy the cool refreshing breeze of the evening, converse with each other, and offer up their devotions....One may pass along the tops of the houses from one end of the city to the other without coming down into the street."
The counsel is that if any Christian should be on the housetop when the signal for flight should be given, he must speed his way with all possible dispatch. He must not tarry long enough to go down into the house to take any article, even the most necessary. And if any are in the fields, they must instantly leave the plow in the furrow, and take the nearest way to the mountains; they must not go back to take with them the outer garments laid aside when they commenced their work. But every man, just as he was, no matter where found, or in what business employed, must flee for his life, and consider himself fortunate if he can only escape; for the days of vengeance had come.
In this advice there was great wisdom as well as mercy. They were to seize upon the time when the Roman army was retreating, and when the multitudes of the armed Judahites, with their desperate leaders, were passing out of the city in hot and eager pursuit. To leave the city at this period would be easy, and would excite no suspicion. If they collected their valuable effects they would draw upon them the attention of the robbers, who would fall upon them. Besides, if thus burdened, it would have so retarded their flight as to prevent their escape before the return of the Judahites and the closing of the gates; for then the fierce ravages of war and pestilence and famine would commence.
(3) They were to pray that their flight might not be either in the winter, or on the Sabbath. "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day" (Matthew 24:20). Since the doom of Jerusalem was decreed and proclaimed, its preservation was no longer a proper subject of prayer. Thus said YEHOVAH God, "Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me: for I wiII not hear thee." "Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto Me for their trouble" (Jeremiah 11:14). Yes,
"though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth....Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity" (Jeremiah 15:1-2).
How terrible is the condition of that people when an intercessor may not stand up between YEHOVAH God and them -- when the voice of pleading and the incense of prayer is forbidden, and they are left to the retributions of incensed justice!
But it was proper for those who were to escape to plead for every mitigating circumstance. Hence that their flight might not be in the winter. Then the hardness of the season, the badness of the roads, the shortness of the days, the severity of the atmosphere, the scarcity of provisions, and the scantiness of clothing would greatly aggravate the miseries of their flight. The winter would cause great suffering to all, but especially to the aged, to the women, and the children. How continued would be their sufferings, if, after reaching the mountains, they should be compelled in their impoverished condition to dwell in the caverns and dens of the earth, as their only refuge from the rude blasts of winter.
Neither on the Sabbath day. If this refers to YEHOVAH's Sabbath, how wise and merciful the petition. For such was the adherence of the Judahites to its mere outward observance, whilst they violated its hallowed spirit, that if the Christians should flee on that day they would disobey YEHOVAH God and arouse the fierce jealousy of the Judahites, and involve themselves in serious delays, if not positive sufferings. Since the Christians also observed YEHOVAH's Sabbath, then here too there is mercy and wisdom in the prayer. The Messiah would not, if practicable, have its peace and sanctity disturbed even by such a work of necessity. Besides, many would linger in doubt -- many would fly doubting. Every way it would harass and perplex the conscientious, and that too at a time of such peculiar peril.
Here we must recall the fact that, when Cestius Gallus, the Roman general, had actually taken Bezetha, the new town, he precipitately withdrew his army. It will be well to notice here a few of the facts. When the new town was taken, the principal men were persuaded by Ananus to open the gates to him -- they actually invited him into the city, to settle the terms of the surrender. "But," says Josephus, "he overlooked this offer, partly out of his anger at the Jews, and partly because he did not thoroughly believe they were in earnest. Thus, when he had the city in his power, and could have ended the war in a single day, without any assignable reason, he suddenly raised the siege, and commenced a rapid retreat, in which a great portion of his army was slain, and large supplies of provisions and munitions of war fell into the hands of the Jews."
The gates of the city were opened, whilst the pursuit was continued for three days. Then the gates were again closed, and the most zealous and active preparations made for defense. Thus, in this most remarkable manner, three days were granted to the Christians in which to flee to the mountains. These were not wintry days. This defeat, says Josephus, took place on the Sabbath of the 8th day of the month Marchesvan, which corresponds with the latter part of our September and the early part of October. This was a lovely season of the year. The harvest of corn, and the gathering of grapes, pomegranates, and other fruits was completed. Thus available provisions were abundant.
That their flight was not on the Sabbath may be fairly gathered from the narrative of the historian; for he tells us that during the same siege, only a few days before the retreat of Cestius Gallus, "the Jews left the feast, and betook themselves to their arms without any consideration of the rest of the seventh day, although the Sabbath was the day for which they had the greatest regard." He notices this one occasion as peculiar. But when the defeat of Cestius Gallus is recorded as occurring on the 8th of Marchesvan, after a pursuit of three days, it is a given that the Sabbath was not on these days. The evidence, I think, is clear that their prayer, as advised by the Messiah, was heard and answered, and that their flight was neither in the winter nor on the Sabbath.
That they actually fled in haste is evident. Josephus says, "And now it was that a horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city as though it were to be taken immediately." Again, "Many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city as from a ship when it was going to sink." What language can be more expressive of haste? Still again he tells us, that when Titus was drawing his forces towards Jerusalem, "a great multitude fled from Jericho into the mountainous country for security." Jericho lay north and east from Jerusalem, and was directly in the way from the city to the mountains in Perea. It may be that many Christians who had fled from Jerusalem took up a temporary lodgment in Jericho, but on the approach of the army under Titus they fled directly to the mountains.
The historian Eusebius says, "The people of the church in Jerusalem being ordered by an oracle given to the faithful in that place, by revelation left the city, and dwelt in a city of Perea, the name of which is Pella." Epiphanius says that the Christians in Jerusalem were admonished of its destruction by an angel. It was during this critical interval of three days that the Christians made their escape. Bishop Newton remarks, "We do not read anywhere that so much as one of them perished in the destruction of Jerusalem." Certainly not when the Messiah promised, "Not a hair of your head shall perish."
"All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies" (Psalm 25:10). Well then has the psalmist said,
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty....He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon-day....Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the Most High, Thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee....For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" (Psalm 91:11).
And the apostle has said, "AIl things work together for good to them that love God." YEHOVAH God! how tender! how faithful is Your heart! Whom You love You love always, and as the apple of Your eye; and though earth and hell should combine their rage, and earth and heaven pass away, none shall be able to pluck those of Israel out of Your hand. They are safe, absolutely and for ever -- and only they.
The safety of those of Israel who put their confidence in YEHOVAH God is beautifully illustrated in all the circumstances attending the flight of the Christians from Jerusalem. The Messiah told them not to be terrified or troubled by all the strange and desolating events which should awaken alarm, and which threatened the certain destruction of the city. They must possess their souls in patience, and not prematurely attempt to escape the terrors of that day; no, not when they saw the Roman armies encamped around the city; no, not when the work of desolation had begun, and they saw the new city a heap of ruins, because YEHOVAH God would keep them, and at the proper time make the way plain and safe for their escape. Such was the confidence which the Christians reposed in this word of the Messiah that they strictly obeyed his directions.
We have seen how Cestius Gallus besieged the city, and had it in his power; but that, at an unexpected moment, and without any assignable reason, he raised the siege, and precipitately fled. Then the Judahites threw open the gates and rushed out, and for three days victoriously pursued. It was at this critical, this wholly unexpected opportunity of only three days that the Christians fled without danger either from the Romans or the Judahites. Immediately on the return of the Judahites the gates were closed. The sentinel was there at every gate holding his ceaseless, jealous vigils. Thus a way of escape was made for the Christians. Flushed by their success, the Judahites were emboldened in their determined resistance, and were shut in to the famine, the pestilence, and the sword -- to sufferings the most fearful and to deaths most strange and terrible.
Who can thoughtfully ponder the prediction and its fulfillment, and not feel that the hand of YEHOVAH God was in them, and that YEHOVAH does govern in all the affairs of men; a protection and a reward to all who serve, and a ruin to all those who follow their own hearts?
Even now I seem to hear the kind whispers of His love saying,
"Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over past. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain" (Isaiah 26:20-21).
Methinks I can now hear the swelling shouts of joyful gratitude bursting from the Christian bands as they again come forth from their hiding-places, singing, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof....The LORD of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46:1-3, 7).
But three days were given to the Christians to secure their safety by flight. Can there be any doubt that, if after all the instruction and admonition they had received, they had hesitated, doubted, lingered, and thus consumed the three days, that they too would have been shut in, and made to partake, as the reward of their unbelief, of the miseries and plagues which befell the unbelieving Judahites? YEHOVAH God had forewarned them and provided the way of escape. Can anyone doubt that, if they had lingered in order to secure some worldly interest, to finish some plan or work, or to secure treasures, that they would have miserably and foolishly lost their lives? True faith works promptly -- works with energy, and is ready for any sacrifices.
Is it not plain that unless the Christian Israelites, and such of the non-Christian Israelites as may have accompanied them, had made the matter of their escape the one present and absorbing interest, to which every other interest must instantly give way, that they could not have been saved from the impending ruin? And what does all this teach impenitent men, whose dangers are a thousand fold more terrible and threatening than those which gathered in massive clouds of blackness over Jerusalem? How many days has any man in which to escape? Who can fix the number? How many hours in which to escape? Who can certainly number them? Why do men linger? What plan, what work, what treasure-making detains them? What shall a man give in exchange for his life?
The Six Signs
"Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars....There shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places....Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another....And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold....And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world [of Israel] for a witness unto all nations [of Israel]; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place. (whoso readeth let him understand:) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains" (Matthew 24:4-16).
"And fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven" (Luke 21:11).
It will be noticed that the Messiah not only predicts the utter destruction of the Temple, but points out six specific signs which were to precede that event. He refers to the prophecy of Daniel, which was having its fulfillment in himself as the promised Messiah, and as also fixing the time of the destruction of the city in perfect harmony with his own prophetic words.
(1) The first sign: false Christs. Josephus calls Daniel the greatest of prophets, because he fixed the time of the fulfillment of his predictions.
"Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks....And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary" (Daniel 9:24-26).
In prophetic language a day stands for a year; (Leviticus 25:8; Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:5-6; Daniel 4:32, 34; Luke 13:32) and the seventy weeks determined would equal 490 years. The command to rebuild was in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia.
It is a well-authenticated fact that, guided by this and other accredited prophecies, learned men were expecting the appearance of the promised Messiah at the very time that the Messiah made his appearance: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king. behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him." Herod demanded of the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah should be born. "And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet" (Matthew 2:1-5).
Just here the testimony of Josephus is very explicit:
"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles [those of the northern 10 tribes]. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the Divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities, b. xviii. c, 3).
As the men then in authority expected a conquering king to deliver them from the Roman yoke, and to elevate their nation to the highest place; and as the Messiah made no pretensions to civil authority, but was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," he was therefore to them "as a root out of a dry ground," and "having no comeliness nor beauty that they should desire him," they rejected and crucified him. This expectation made it the more easy for false Christs to impose themselves upon the people of Israel. The fulfillment of this sign commenced soon after the crucifixion. Josephus makes mention that "Theudas, about twelve years after the death of Christ, being a sorcerer, deceived many. He persuaded a great multitude to bring their goods and follow him to the river Jordan, promising that he would divide the waters. Whilst on his way he and his followers were overtaken by the forces of Fadus and destroyed." This case is referred to by Gamaliel in Acts 5:36.
Josephus further tells us that about ten years after, when Felix was governor of Judea, these impostors drew great multitudes after them into the wilderness, promising to work great signs and wonders before them. He makes particular mention of the Egyptian prophet, who came to Jerusalem and persuaded the people to follow him to the Mount of Olives, declaring that from thence they should see the walls of Jerusalem fall. Felix sent his soldiers, slew many, and dispersed the rest. He informs us that, three years later, when Festus Portius was procurator, an impostor appeared who deceived great multitudes with promises of deliverance from the Roman oppression, if they would only follow him into the wilderness. But Festus sent forth his army and destroyed this impostor, with most of his company.
It is worthy of notice that the language employed by Josephus, in setting forth the claims and conduct of these impostors, is the very same which the Messiah used in the prediction that they would arise and "deceive many." "If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not" (Matthew 24:23-26). In view of this prophecy and the facts fulfilling it, how striking that saying of Yeshua the Messiah when he was rejected of the Judahites: "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive" (John 5:43).
(2) The second sign is wars and rumors of wars and commotions. Matthew 24:6-7; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9-11). By reason of the violent struggles among the competitors for the imperial throne, the whole Roman empire was thrown into the greatest commotion. The conflicts were sudden, frequent, and severe, and were attended with a vast expenditure of blood and treasure. It was literally a period of wars and rumors of wars, for no less than four emperors (Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) suffered violent deaths in the short space of eighteen months.
The very foundations of the civil structure were shaken when the Emperor Caligula commanded his statue to be placed in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Judahites, with unflinching steadfastness, refused to comply, and to every threat of invasion and destruction replied that they were ready to be slain rather than witness the setting up of this statue in the holy place. Being in constant expectation of assault, they were in such consternation, the historian informs us, that they neglected the tilling of their lands. The death of the emperor prevented the gathering storm from bursting upon them.
"Nation shall rise up against nation" (Matthew 24:7). This, says Grotius, means "that the Jews and the people of other nations, dwelling in the same cities, should kill one another." This was fulfilled at Caesarea, where the Jews and Syrians contended about the right of the city, and more than 20,000 Jews were slain, and the city entirely cleared of them. This exasperated the whole nation, and, forming themselves into companies, they burnt and plundered the cities and villages of the Syrians, and slaughtered great numbers of the inhabitants. The Syrians, in return, slaughtered great numbers of the Judahites, at Scythopolis, 13,000; at Ascalon, 2,500; at Damascus, 10,000; and at Alexandria, 50,000. So desperate was the hostility that Josephus says "every city was divided into two armies."
It is added, "kingdom against kingdom." This found its fulfillment in the wars of the tetrarchate and the provinces against one another; in the wars of the Judahites in Perea against the people of Philadelphia; in that of the Judahites and Galileans against the Samaritans, occasioned by the murder of some Galileans going to the Feast at Jerusalem; and especially in that of the Judahite rebellion against the Romans. The language of Josephus is, "There was not only sedition and civil war throughout Judea, but likewise in Italy: Otho and Vitellius contending for the empire."
It will be borne in mind that when the Messiah uttered his prediction the temple of Janus was shut, because there was peace all over the Roman empire. The wars which for ages had been waged had come to a close. The Roman legions were victorious, and Rome was the acknowledged mistress of the world. It would seem that the various kingdoms would seek repose, and not soon plunge again into the exhausting horrors of war. Contrary to these probabilities, wars, and rumors of wars, and dire commotions soon extensively prevailed.
(3) The third sign: famine and pestilence and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). During the reign of Claudius there was an extensive and distressing famine in Judea. It is spoken of in Acts 11:28. It was to relieve the saints at Jerusalem, suffering from this famine, that Paul urges the Christians to make contributions on their behalf. Suetonius and other writers refer to this famine. Josephus says that it was so severe at Jerusalem that many perished, and that Queen Helena sent to Alexandria and Cyprus, and bought a great quantity of corn and dried figs, and thus saved the lives of many of Israel.
Connected with the famine was pestilence. Scarcity and bad provision invariably produce some fatal sickness. But in this case the pestilence came first, and was aggravated by the famine and the want of attention to the sick and dying. Josephus writes: "Being assembled together from all parts to the feast of unleavened bread, presently, and on a sudden, they were environed with war. And first of all a plague fell among them, and immediately a famine worse than it. The dead lay unburied, and, the air becoming loaded with the exhalations from the putrid bodies, added great virulence to the pestilence."
The prediction says, "and earthquakes in divers places." History fully confirms this. Philostratus tells of an earthquake in Crete in the reign of Claudius. Also of earthquakes at Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, and Samos. Tacitus describes the great earthquake which happened at Rome in the days of Nero; also at Laodicea, at Hierapolis, and Colosse, which cities were overthrown. Seneca mentions that the celebrated city of Pompeii, in Campania, was almost demolished by an earthquake. Suetonius tells of another earthquake at Rome in the reign of Galba.
Josephus declares that in Judea there were terrible earthquakes and commotions. His language is peculiar and emphatic: "For by night there broke out a most dreadful tempest and violent strong winds, with the most vehement showers and continual lightning, and horrid thunderings and amazing concussions, and prodigious bellowings of the shaken earth; and it was manifest that the constitution of the universe was confounded for the destruction of man; and anyone might easily conjecture that these things portended no common calamity. All these convulsions of the solid earth," he adds, occurred "in rapid succession, and but a short time before the destruction of the sacred city."
(4) The fourth sign: "fearful sights and great signs from heaven" (Luke 21:11). In his preface to the Jewish Wars, Josephus says: "Nor shall I omit to mention how the Temple was burnt; the destruction also of the entire city, with the signs and wonders that went before it." Accordingly, in the fifth chapter of his sixth book, we have a full and circumstantial account of seven distinct prodigies which, he says, were indeed fearful and portending evil. He tells of a strange light at midnight:
"Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus (Nisan), and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright daytime, which lasted for half an hour...Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner court of the Temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the solid floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord, about the sixth hour of the night."
It was not without great difficulty that the captain of the Temple, with his men, were able again to shut the gate. He tells us that the vulgar interpreted this as a sign that YEHOVAH God would throw open the way of deliverance; whilst the learned understood it that "The security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies."
He tells of strange sights of chariots and armies in the heavens:
"A few days after the feast, on the twenty-first of the month Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared...for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding cities."
He tells us also of an unusual voice heard in the Temple:
"Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the Temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, 'Let us remove hence!' "
He records the solemn, oft-repeated, and singular warning of a man named Jesus:
"But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for everyone to make tabernacles to God in the Temple, and began on a sudden to cry aloud, 'A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!' This was his cry, as he went about by day and night, in all the lanes of the city.
"However, certain of the most eminent among the people had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did he not either say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him; but still he went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing that this was a kind of Divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator; where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet did he not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, 'Woe! woe to Jerusalem!'...
"During all the time that passed before the war began, he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, 'Woe! woe to Jerusalem!'...This cry of his was loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty….until the very time he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased. For as he was going round upon the wall he cried out with his utmost force, 'Woe! woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!' and just as he added at the last, 'Woe! woe to myself also!' there came a stone out of one of the [Roman] engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately."
"Thus," adds this historian, "the miserable people, persuaded by their deceivers, did not attend, nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolations; but, like men infuriated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them."
These incidents are narrated by Josephus with great simplicity, with the consciousness of their truth, and that they were matters of public notoriety. They are confirmed by other writers. Tacitus, the Roman historian, in speaking of the remarkable things which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, says, "Prodigies fell out, armies were seen to engage in different parts of the sky, glittering armies appeared, the temple shone by the sudden fire of the clouds, the doors of the temple were suddenly thrown wide open, a voice, more than human, was heard that the gods were departing, and at the same time a great motion as if departing."
(5) Fifth sign: the persecution of Christians and the apostasy of professed disciples. "But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations [of Israel]. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake" (Mark 13:9, 13).
"And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another....And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matthew 24:10, 12).
Under this general prediction, the Messiah specifies a series of particulars. He also points out the time of their fulfillment, saying, "Before all these;" that is, previously to and during the progress of the four preceding signs, "they shall lay hands on you, and persecute you." History records the fact that no small share of all their sufferings was in consequence of the pestilence, the famine, the earthquakes, and other calamities, which their enemies imagined were judgments sent upon them by the gods because of the existence of Christians among them. As the prediction is specific, so the fulfillment is specific.
It is written that "Saul of Tarsus," after consenting to the stoning of Stephen, "yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high-priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2). In his defense before Agrippa he said, "I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints [of Israel] did I shut up in prison....And being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities" (Acts 26:9-11).
When he became a Christian, the persecution turned against him. Its intensity and determined hostility is illustrated by the fact that forty persons bound themselves with an oath that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12).
The prediction is very specific. It says, "Delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons" (Luke 21:12). We have this answering record: "And as they [Peter and John] spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them....And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold [or prison] unto the next day....On the morrow, their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high-priest, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high-priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them [Peter and John] in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? [healing the lame man]....And commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:1-8).
When Peter and John continued to preach in the name of the Messiah, "the high-priest rose up, and all they that were with him, and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison" (Acts 5:17-18). Herod also "stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church," (Acts 12:1-4) for when he had apprehended Peter he put him in prison. Thus the disciples were delivered up to councils and to prisons.
Still more specific is the prediction; for it says, "And in the synagogues shall ye be beaten." The answering record is, When the high-priest, with the council, and all the senate of the children of Israel, were assembled in the synagogue, having "called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:40). Paul testifies: "I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed" (Acts 22:19). Here was the infliction of stripes in the house of YEHOVAH God. Of Paul and Silas it is recorded: "And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison" (Acts 16:23).
Paul's experience was, "in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned" (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). It is probable that when five times he received of the Judahites thirty-nine stripes, and thrice was beaten with rods, it was in the synagogues, as they found him there preaching in the name of the Messiah. (Each synagogue was a separate community, with its rulers (Mark 5:22). These could punish by beating (Matthew 10:17; Acts 26:11); or they could expel (John 9:34). The councils were local tribunals attached to the synagogue; their judges could punish by scourging (Acts 22:19)).
Another specification is: "Ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake" (Mark 13:9). It is a fact that James and Peter were both brought before Herod; that Paul pleaded before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, and finally before Nero at Rome. It was for the Messiah's sake that Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin. Herod apprehended Peter that he might please the Judahites. Festus declared unto Agrippa that Paul was charged by the Judahites with no crime, but "certain questions of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive" (Acts 25:19). Thus it was for the Messiah's name that they stood before rulers and kings.
Still another item in the prediction is that special wisdom was to be given the saints. "Settle therefore in your hearts not to meditate what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" (Luke 21:12-15). "For it is not ye that speak, but the holy spirit" (Mark 13:11). To this the record answers that when Peter and John stood arraigned before the Sanhedrim, they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and so spake that their accusers "could say nothing against it" (Acts 4:14). Again, when certain of the synagogue of the Libertines and Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputed with Stephen, who was full of the holy spirit, "they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake" (Acts 6:10).
Again, when Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment, Felix trembled. When he pleaded before Agrippa, narrated the manner of his conversion, and manifested his unyielding devotion to the Messiah, Agrippa cried out, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28). Thus their defense, and the spirit with which it was made, confounded their adversaries, and demonstrated their innocence, and the truth of the religion for which they suffered. It also so impressed multitudes that from persecutors they became the open and staunch friends of the Messiah. The apostle assured his fellow Israelite saints that the things which happened unto him had fallen out unto the furtherance of the Gospel; because many of the brethren, waxing confident by his bonds, became much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12, 14).
Another item of the prediction was that they were to be hated of all nations where the Israelites were in dispersion for the Messiah's sake (Matthew 24:9). That the apostles and primitive Christians were more hated and persecuted than any other religious sect is an evident fact of history, both sacred and profane. They were persecuted not because they opposed idolatry, for this the Judahites did, but simply because of the name of the Messiah. The Judahites united with the heathen in persecuting the Christians, so that "this sect was everywhere spoken against." Tertullian, speaking of the universality of this hostility, says, "It is a war against the very name."
All that was asked of the martyr, to save himself from death, was to renounce the name of the Messiah. When Nero set fire to Rome, he turned away the indignation of the people from himself by charging it upon the Christians. The heathen historian Tacitus says,
"But neither the emperor's donations, nor the atonements offered to the gods, could remove the scandal of this report, but it was still believed that the city had been burnt by his instigation. Nero, therefore, to put a stop to this rumor, charged the fact, and inflicted the severest punishment upon the Christians, as they were commonly called. Some who confessed themselves Christians were first apprehended, and a vast multitude afterwards upon their impeachment, who were condemned, not so much for burning the city, as for being the objects of universal hatred."
Tertullian informs us "that though a man was kind and honest, and possessed every human virtue, yet it was crime enough to cast him forth to popular fury if he was a Christian." How true to the prediction were the words of Paul: "For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men....We are made as the filth of the world, and are the off scouring of all things unto this day" (1 Corinthians 4:9, 13).
The apostasy of professed disciples is another part of this sign (Matthew 24:10; Mark 13:12; Luke 21:16). Four items are particularly mentioned:
Abounding iniquity. The moral character of the heathen was, as appears from Romans 1:23-32, low and degraded. Of the Judahites, Josephus remarks, "they abounded with all manner of iniquity, so that none was left undone. Yea, though one endeavoured to invent some new villainy, yet could he invent none that was not then practised." We learn from the Epistles that this iniquity extended even to the church itself (see especially 1 Corinthians 5; 11:21).
False prophets. These are not the same as the false Christs mentioned in the first sign -- these were false teachers. We know that Judaising teachers early entered the churches planted by Paul, and caused great trouble. He calls them "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ...which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts....And their word will eat as doth a canker, of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus, who overthrow the faith of some."
Many were to be offended, and the love of many to wax cold. Says the apostle John, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:19). "This thou knowest," says Paul, "that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes" (2 Timothy 1:15). Again, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." Again, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil; of whom be thou ware also." "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me" (2 Timothy 4:10, 14-16). A time of persecution is always a time of apostasy.
They were to betray one another unto death. This is one of the dreadful fruits of apostasy; for when a man through shame or fear denies the Messiah who died for him, and sunders the bonds which bind him to his Savior, he will also rupture all the ties of blood and relationship. Paul's experience says, "In perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren" (2 Corinthians 11:26). The historian Tacitus says that in the persecution under Nero,
"At first a few were laid hold of, who confessed; and by their evidence great multitudes were afterwards convicted....Their sufferings were heightened by mockery and derision. Some were enclosed in the skins of wild beasts, that they might be torn in pieces by the dogs; others were crucified; and others, being covered with inflammable matter, were lightened up as torches at the close of the day."
So great was the fear and dread that parents gave up their children, and children their parents to such cruel deaths. Such deliberately led forth their own child, or their aged father, or their own mother, saying, "This one is a Christian!" To cheer and encourage the suffering disciples, the Messiah assured them "he that shall endure to the end shall be saved." Both worlds are to be taken into the account. Eternal blessedness must be set over against temporary sufferings.
(6) The sixth sign: that the Gospel should be published among all nations (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10). This was the most incredible of all the signs. Every circumstance seemed, with stern emphasis, to forbid it. The Founder was a Judahite, despised of his own nation, and ignominiously put to death. His followers were few, and his apostles unlearned men. This religion did not claim a place among the other religions, but claimed to be the only true one. It called upon men to abandon their former modes or objects of worship. It made no appeals to worldly and selfish interests; it made no promises of ease and honor in this life, but required self-denial and daily cross-bearing -- the enduring of hardness, and the forsaking of every form of sin; it required that this new religion should be openly professed, and that by a heavenly life its truth should be commended to every man's conscience.
It made no appeal to arms, made no alliance with the state, but for its successful spread depended upon the preaching of this Gospel and the invisible agency of the holy spirit. Under these circumstances, to look for its rapid and wide diffusion, and that, too, when in the crucifixion of its Founder the enmity of the natural heart to it was illustrated, was indeed the most improbable of all the signs. Yet even this was so literally fulfilled that in a single generation it was preached in all the nations where the Israelites were in dispersion then known. We have two independent sources of evidence:
Sacred history. A few days after the ascension of the Messiah there were at Jerusalem one hundred and twenty disciples. And after, on the day of Pentecost, there were added to them three thousand souls. A few days after this, "the number of the men was about five thousand." It is written also "that multitudes of believers, both men and women, were added to the Lord;" "that the number of the disciples were multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith;" and that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
This rapid spread among the Judahites took place within two years from the crucifixion. The many strangers and foreigners, all Israelites, gathered at Jerusalem, and converted on the day of Pentecost, returning to their distant homes in the Diaspora, carried with them and made known the Gospel. In the course of seven years the Gospel was preached to the Israelites at Caesarea. The next year at Antioch, where, under the preaching of Barnabas, "much people were added to the Lord." When Herod died, it is written, "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied" (Acts 9:31).
When Paul was at Iconium, "a great multitude both of Jews and also Greeks believed." Sixteen years after the ascension, Paul found that the Israelite converts at Antioch, in Syria, and in Cilicia were "established in the faith and increasing in number daily."
In Thessalonica, "of the devout Greeks a great multitude believed." The very titles to the apostolical epistles show that the gospel had wonderfully spread. Paul wrote to the saints of Israel at Rome, Philippi, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Colosse, and Thessalonica. Peter directs his letter to the elect of Israel scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Paul renders thanks to YEHOVAH God because the faith of the Roman Christians "is spoken of throughout the whole world," and their "obedience is come abroad unto all men" (Romans 16:19).
Profane history. Tacitus, the Roman historian, says, "This pestilent superstition spread itself not only through Judea, but even into the city of Rome, and vast multitudes of Christians were seized and put to death by the emperor" (Nero). Clement, who was contemporary with Paul, when speaking of him, says, "He was a preacher both to the East and the West; he taught the whole world [of Israel] righteousness, and travelled as far as the utmost borders of the west." The record of Eusebius is "that the apostles preached the Gospel in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the ocean to the Britannic isles." Theodoret declares "that the apostles had induced every nation and kind of men to embrace the Gospel;" and among the converted nations he records particularly the Britons. The wonderful spread of this religion was all accomplished in about thirty years.
The testimony of Pliny the Younger, in his letter to the Emperor Trajan, though written a few years after the destruction of Jerusalem, demonstrates how rapid and extensive the publication of the Gospel must have been. We learn that during his pro-consulate in Pontus and Bithynia, the Christian Israelites abounded in these provinces; that information had been lodged against many on this account; and that he had made diligent inquiry, even by torture, into the nature of the charge against them; but could not discover any crime of which they were guilty besides an evil and excessive superstition.
He says "that he thought it necessary to consult the emperor especially on account of the great number of persons who are in danger of suffering: for many of all ages and of every rank, of both sexes, are accused and will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country." He adds, "the idol temples had been almost deserted, the sacred solemnities discontinued, and that the victims for sacrifice had met with but few purchasers."
Nothing but the unerring spirit of prophecy could so accurately have foretold so many and so improbable things as are contained in this prediction of the Messiah. A man well read in history and the principles of human nature may at times, with singular accuracy, forecast the general result of affairs then in progress; but it is beyond the reach of all human sagacity to foretell, in minute detail, what shall happen in the next thirty years. More especially is this impracticable if the events predicted were at the time improbable, and with causes then operating in the opposite direction.
Who but YEHOVAH God, in the Messiah, could have foreseen and predicted that when the true Christ was crucified, false Christs would arise? and that there would be wars, and rumors of wars, and commotions, with famine, and pestilence, and earthquakes, and fearful sights from heaven? and that the followers of the Messiah should everywhere be persecuted? Who but the Messiah would have dared to predict the rapid and extended spread of this unpopular religion, under persecutions the most fierce and protracted? Yet all these the Messiah did predict; and the honest conviction must be that he had the spirit of prophecy. This he claimed as the evidence of his mission; and when everything comes to pass exactly as he predicted, how can the evidence be resisted that he is what he claimed to be -- the first-born Son of YEHOVAH God, the true Messiah?
In the rapid and extended spread of Christianity we have the evidence of its truth and power. The testimony of both sacred and profane history agrees that, in thirty years from the death of the Messiah, his religion was published over the then known world that the Israelites in dispersion in habited. That a work effecting such radical revolutions in prejudice, sentiment, interest, and habit should be accomplished in so short a time, under the most favorable circumstances, would be amazing. But when it had to push its way through fire, and blood, and persecution, the conviction is firm that this religion is true and from YEHOVAH God. There is no parallel to this on the page of history. It stands alone, yet is it as certainly true and Divine as it is peculiar.
It cannot, then, be a matter of indifference whether or not men cordially receive this religion. It is the voice of YEHOVAH God that speaks in it. The Judahites would not receive this message from YEHOVAH God by His beloved Son; they rejected both the Messiah and his Gospel of peace; and how sad, how unspeakably sad the result! This great fact lifts up its warning voice to men of every generation, lest, with the accumulated light which blazes around them, they also reject YEHOVAH God, speaking by His Son. There is peril, fearful peril, in the habitual neglect of this Gospel. "How shall we [of Israel] escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost?" (Hebrews 2:3-4).
The Trench around the City
"For the days shall come upon thee that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side" (Luke 19:43).
When the report of the retreat of Cestius Gallus, with the loss of men, provisions, and engines of war, reached Rome, the emperor was greatly incensed. He determined to wipe out this disgrace, and promptly sent Vespasian, the ablest of all his generals, to Jerusalem, with an army of sixty thousand men. Vespasian commenced his operations in the spring of A.D. 67, by recovering the fortresses which lay in his way, which the Judahites had seized. These were held with the most desperate courage by the Judahites. At a place called Jotapata the Roman army was successfully opposed for forty-seven days. It was defended by Josephus, a priest of the Asmonean descent, whom the Judahites had appointed governor of Galilee. He was taken prisoner.
Being convinced of the hopelessness of the revolt, he gave up all opposition, and on various occasions endeavored to induce his countrymen to spare the further shedding of blood by returning to their allegiance, but without success. Having secured the personal friendship of Vespasian, and of Titus, his successor, he became the eye-witness and historian of the terrible overthrow of the city and the nation. Though the Judahites defended the remaining towns and fortresses with the most determined bravery, still the defeat of Cestius Gallus was fearfully avenged by the capture of the towns and the merciless slaughter of the inhabitants.
The winter and spring of A.D. 68-9 were spent in subduing Idumea and the regions south of Judea. Vespasian made no haste to approach Jerusalem, knowing that the Judahites were seriously divided into factions, who were wasting their strength and exhausting their resources by their bloody conflicts. He remarked to his generals that it was better to let the Judahites destroy one another. The events happening at Rome made it necessary for him to return there, when he soon became emperor. He committed the conduct of the war to his son Titus, who immediately pressed on, and began the siege of Jerusalem at the time of the feast of the Passover A.D. 70, when the city was densely crowded with Israelites from all parts of the country and the Diaspora. After a careful survey of the situation, he decided that to succeed he must surround the entire city with a wall.
That any general should deem it indispensable to build a wall or trench around this city could hardly have been expected. Such was the nature of the ground and of the surrounding country so precipitous and broken -- that to build this wall would not only be at the expense of almost inconceivable labor, but also an immense loss of life. The prediction that such a work would be undertaken and carried to completion was one not at all likely to be fulfilled. Josephus informs us that when the Romans had made several unsuccessful assaults upon the city, and had suffered considerable loss, Titus held a consultation with his generals:
"Those that were of the warmest tempers thought he should bring the whole army against the city, and storm the walls. But of those that were for a more cautious management, some were for raising their banks [platforms for their battering-rams] again. Others advised to let the banks alone, but to lie still before the city, to guard against the coming out of the Jews, and against their carrying provisions into the city, and so to leave the enemy to the famine....However, Titus did not think it fit for so great an army to lie entirely idle."
He also showed them
"how impracticable it was to cast up any more banks, for want of materials, and to guard against the Jews coming out still more impracticable; as also to encompass the whole city round with his army was not very easy, by reason of its magnitude and the difficulty of the situation, and on other accounts dangerous from the sallies which the Jews might make out of the city. For although they might guard the known passes out of the place, yet would the Jews, when they found themselves under the greatest distress, contrive secret passages out, as being well acquainted with all such places; and if any provisions were carried in by stealth, the siege would thereby be longer delayed. He also owned that he was afraid that the length of time thus to be spent would diminish the glory of his success. Therefore his opinion was that, if they aimed at quickness, joined with security, they must build a wall round about the whole city, which was, he thought, the only way to prevent the Jews from coming out, and that then they would either entirely despair of saving the city, and so surrender it up to him, or be still more easily conquered when the famine had further weakened them....
"But if anyone should think such a work to be too great, and not to be finished without much difficulty, he ought to consider that it is not fit for Romans to undertake any small work, and that none but God Himself could with ease accomplish any great thing whatever....So Titus gave order that the army should be distributed to their several shares of the work; and indeed there now came upon the soldiers a certain divine fury, so that they did not only part [divide] the whole wall that was to be built among them, nor did only one legion strive with another, but the lesser divisions of the army did the same, insomuch that each soldier was ambitious to please his officer....
"Now the length of the wall was forty furlongs, one only abated;" that is, about five miles. Connected with this wall "were thirteen places to keep garrisons in, and whose circumference put together amounted to ten furlongs;" that is, about one mile and a half -- making the length of this whole structure about six and one half miles. Josephus further tells us that this entire wall, with its ten towers, or places for garrisons, was completed in the short space of three days!
The word translated "trench" means a military palisade, or rampart, made from the earth thrown out of the ditch, and stuck with sharp stakes. The time spent is not incredible when we remember that it was not a stone wall, but an earthen structure, and that Titus employed the whole army of sixty thousand men. We learn from Nehemiah 6:15 that the stone wall, then built in troublous times, was completed in fifty-two days.
By means of the wall thus constructed, the city could be easily guarded by a small force, for what were sixty thousand Roman soldiers against the immense masses of the Judahites! It was so completely closed in on every side that no persons could escape out of it, and no provisions could be brought into it. The boldness of this project, and the suddenness with which it was executed, are very remarkable. It was done in three days, when, Josephus says, "many were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army." "This vast multitude," he adds, "was indeed collected out of remote places, but the entire nation was now shut up by fate as in a prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants, who by the law were required thrice a year to come to Jerusalem." By "entire nation" he means the males.
There is one fact connected with this transaction which is worthy of particular notice.
From the days of Moses, through all the wars in which the Israelites were engaged, for a period of more than fifteen hundred years, no nation ever came to attack them at any of their religious festivals. The days of their solemn convocations were days of peace; for "when a man's ways please the LORD, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." Through all these centuries the promise of YEHOVAH God was made sure: "Neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year" (Exodus 34:24).
But when this nation of Judah -- along with the House of Israel -- which YEHOVAH God had chosen for Himself, to whom He gave the keeping of His law and the revelations of His will; this nation, for which He had wrought such wonders and deliverances, and over whom the shield of His protection had been spread, apostatized and rejected Yeshua, the true Messiah, and declared to be the Son of God by miracles on earth and answering voices from heaven, then the protective power of every promise is withheld, then all restraints are taken off, and then the treacherous nation rushes upon them, and at the very time of their solemnities are erecting a strong wall, and shuts them up to miseries unparalleled, and to deaths the most fearful.
What awful preparation is here for the fulfillment of the remaining predictions, loaded as they are with vengeance and terror! The abomination of desolation is now firmly planted on holy ground. The Roman standards wave insultingly to the breeze. Their wall throws its arm around the doomed city, and shuts in her crowded people to famine and pestilence, to fire and sword. This is the predicted day of vengeance, when all the fearful things which YEHOVAH God hath written concerning this nation must be fulfilled in agony and blood; "for these be the days of vengeance, for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon the people."
-- Edited by John D. Keyser.
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!
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