Volume 9, Issue 4: Eschaton
The Destruction of Jerusalem-Pt. 1
Jack Van Deventer
Apervasive theme in the New Testament is the anticipation of imminent divine judgment upon those who rejected the Messiah. The earliest reference to the looming devastation is John the Baptist's declaration to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matt. 3:7).
Jesus foretold of coming wrath in the parable of the vineyard, saying "Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to [those who murdered his son]?" (Luke 20:15). "He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others" (v. 16). Verse 20 continues, "And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people; for they knew He had spoken this parable against them."
Jesus pronounced condemnation and severe judgment upon the unbelieving Jews (Matthew 23). "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth . . ." (Matt. 23:31-35).
This theme continues throughout the whole New Testament. Jesus predicted the destruction of the magnificent temple saying that all the stones would be thrown down with not a single stone left upon another (Matt 24:2). Jesus warned "the days are coming" when adversity would be so great that people would beg the hills to fall upon them (Luke 23:28-30). At Pentecost, Peter warned of "blood and fire and vapor of smoke" (Acts 2:19). Paul advised against marriage "because of the present distress" (1 Cor. 7:26). The author of Hebrews warned his readers not to forsake fellowship "as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25) and made reference to "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" of God (10:27). As to the timing of these events, Jesus indicated that these destructive prophecies would occur within a generation (Matt 24:34). John warned that these events "must shortly take place" (Rev. 1:1) and that "the time is near" (Rev. 1:3).
These prophecies point to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of multiple armies under Roman command. Jerusalem was a formidable, walled city that offered protection from invading armies. In anticipation of widespread war, the people of Israel fled to Jerusalem for refuge. A lengthy siege took place, but within the walled city a civil war broke out among three factions of Jews. During the siege murder was rampant. The storehouses of grain were burned up by warring factions, food became scarce, and starvation affected the whole entrapped population.
The lack of food within Jerusalem brought out the height of evil within the city. People who were thought to have consumed food had their stomachs ripped open in search of food, dying loved ones were cannibalized, and there was even an account of a mother who murdered and ate her baby rather than starve.
Many of the Jews became so desperate for food during the siege that they tried to gather food outside the city walls, but going outside the walls was very risky business. Men knew that unless they could gather food their families would starve, but leaving meant the very real possibility that their wives and children would be slain by robbers inside the city. The Romans, however, set traps for those venturing outside the walls and captured 500 Jews per day and crucified them on the hills surrounding Jerusalem. Many others who tried to escape had their intestines ripped open by Roman soldiers who hoped to find gold and jewels that had been swallowed. There was no hope of escaping from the siege.
Outside the city the Romans used catapults to rain down rocks and darts upon the city. Rocks weighing 90 pounds could be hurled a distance of 1,200 feet into the city. According to Jewish historian Josephus, the tower watchmen tried to warn the city residents as stones flew their direction. When the watchmen saw a projectile hurling toward the city, they would shout "The Son Cometh!" It was almost as if the city residents expected to be judged for crucifying their Messiah.
What happened to the Christians trapped inside Jerusalem during this period? Jesus had forewarned His followers, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20-22). Church historian Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) records that the Christians escaped from Jerusalem either before the siege or during one of the brief lulls in the fighting. Those who rejected Christ chose to remain inside the city, believing it was safer.
In the next article, there will be more details of the fall of Jerusalem. In summary, an estimated 1.1 million Jews died in Jerusalem and another 97,000 were enslaved. The Jews, in rejecting Christ, had shouted to Pilate "Let Him be crucified!" When Pilate objected, they shouted all the more for Christ's crucifixion, saying "His blood be upon us and our children!" And so it was.