Truth Taught- Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple
Last time we looked at the two questions the disciples asked Jesus as they left the Temple and were led to the Mount of Olives.
Matthew 24:1–2 (ESV)
24 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Matthew 24:3 (ESV)
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
We saw Jesus answering their first question dealing with the destruction of the Temple and the fall of the City of Jerusalem. We saw that these events had connected with them warnings from Jesus to not get sidetracked or deceived by others. He said there would be false christ, false teachers, various events such as wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines but that all those things will not be markers for the end of the Temple or the City. Don’t be deceived by someone who wants to tell you how bad things are and that surly this means the time is at hand.
Our Lord did say to His first century disciples that the Gospel going outside of Judea to extend out through the known world is one marker that the end is quickly approaching. Even yet the end would not be upon them. We saw that this took place through the ministry of the Apostles. The entire known world had the Gospel preached to it in the First Century which is in line with what Jesus declared concerning that current generation.
Matthew 24:34 (ESV)
34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
We also saw together that from the time Jesus spoke the words to the disciples and the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple was about 37 years or a generation as Jesus had said.
So, it was with the evangelization of the known world that things would start to move quickly.
After these things, in 66-68AD Emperor Vespasian conquered most of Palestine. During those days there was a brief interlude while Rome had its own Civil War. However, by 69AD the attacks began again. Jerusalem was weak and Rome quickly moved in to finish the job.
The emperor went back to Rome and sent his son Titus back to Jerusalem. Titus laid siege to the city and five months later the Temple and the City were destroyed in 70AD.
It was this terrible time that Jesus called tribulation and death.
Historians describe the punishment upon the Jews. It was the worst event in their history. It represented the death of Israel nationally! Though the holocaust involved larger numbers, the type of suffering inflicted at Jerusalem was unparalleled in history. The acute famine, the in-fighting, the cannibalism, the savagery, the crucifixions, were horrible beyond words.
Even Josephus commented that “the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews [at the destruction of Jerusalem], are not so considerable as they were” (Wars of the Jews, Preface, 4). The Jewish historian certainly was aware of numerous destructions prior to A.D. 70.
[The] tribulation to Israel [was] unparalleled in the terrible past of its history, and unequalled even in its bloody future. Nay, so dreadful would be the persecution, that, if Divine mercy had not interposed for the sake of the followers of Christ, the whole Jewish race that inhabited the land would have been swept away” (Edersheim 1947, 449).
The city walls while formerly serving as protection now became prison walls. Titus had cut off all food and water to the city. There was nothing to eat nor anything to drink. For Five months the horror continued. Jews who tried to escape were crucified. Accounts of children being eaten surfaced as the horror was written down. This is what Jesus spoke of when He mentioned tribulation and death.
These events are the woe judgements that Jesus pronounced on Jerusalem, Judaism, and the Temple.
Matthew 24:15–28 (ESV)
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
1. When Will These Things Be?
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
Jesus now tells His beloved disciples what the marker or sign will be that will signal the end of the city and the Temple…
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
With v. 15 we come to a critical juncture in the discourse. To this point Jesus has referred to general signs that would characterize the period preceding Israel’s collapse. Here in v. 15, though, he refers to one sign that unmistakably signals that the prophesied destruction is at hand. It would serve to alert the people of that generation as to the proximity of Jerusalem’s ruin. In response to the question, “When will these things be?” Jesus now answers “When you see . . .” (v. 15).
Abomination of Desolation is literally, the abomination that causes desolation. In the OT, “abomination” = an object of disgust, hatred, something that causes revulsion; an idolatrous offense or affront to the true worship of God.
Four places in the Book of Daniel we read this phrase, Abomination of Desolation or the Abomination that makes Desolate. In each case these phrases refer to the Babylonians (The King of the North) entering the Temple and restricting the normal worship of God and placing pagan symbols in the Temple. This is called the Abomination of Desolation.
The Abomination is the pagan symbol placed in the Temple. It makes the Temple desolate. God’s presence being replaced with pagan worship. When Jesus left the Temple, He said…
Matthew 23:38 (ESV)
38 See, your house is left to you desolate.
Jesus is speaking of an Abomination that is to come during His generation. The Daniel abomination was long past. Jesus tells His followers, there will be something like that take place in the Temple and when you see it, it’s time to flee the city.
Jesus is echoing let the reader understand Daniel 12:10 as Daniel states,
Daniel 12:10 (ESV)
10 Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.
Jesus warns His followers that when they see the Roman Army enter the city and place images of the Emperor in the Temple it is time to flee the city.
17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
We have already looked at various historians who make the claim about this event being the worst suffering the world has ever seen. Notice Matthew reports no nor ever will be. This is another reason to date these events at the fall of Jerusalem. This is an historical event that will be followed by other historical events that include suffering of humanity in the future so it cannot be the end of the age but the end of the Temple.
In Palestine during the winter, roads were practically impassible because of mud; harsh weather and cold temperatures would slow down one’s journey and make mountain hideaways unbearable.
On the Sabbath, gates would be closed; it would be difficult to obtain provisions (Jews prohibited anything more than a one-day’s journey on the Sabbath); buying and selling were not permitted; one travelling on a Sabbath would receive no assistance from the Jewish populace.
Tradition and History tell us that these instructions were in fact followed by Christians in Judea and Jerusalem. Some point to the fact that, in late 66 a.d., the Christian community, under the leadership of Symeon (a cousin of Jesus), withdrew to the village of Pella in Perea, a mountainous region east of the Sea of Galilee. History records that the commander Cestius inexplicably and without warning ordered his troops to withdraw. This gave the Jewish believers an opportunity to flee the city in accordance with Jesus’ advice (Lk. 21:21). According to Josephus, after Cestius’s siege and retreat the Jews left Jerusalem like swimmers from a sinking ship (Book 2, Ch. 20:1). By all accounts, no Christian died in the holocaust that engulfed Jerusalem shortly thereafter. William Whitson (1737), Josephus’s best-known English translator, writes:
“There may be another very important, and very providential, reason be here assigned for this strange and foolish retreat of Cestius; which, if Josephus had been now a Christian, he might probably have taken notice of also; and that is, the affording the Jewish Christians in the city an opportunity of calling to mind the prediction and caution given them by Christ about thirty-three years and a half before, that ‘when they should see the abomination of desolation’ [the idolatrous Roman armies, with the images of their idols in their ensigns, ready to lay Jerusalem desolate], ‘stand where it ought not;’ or, ‘in the holy place;’ or, ‘when they should see Jerusalem encompassed with armies,’ they should then ‘flee to the mountains.’ By complying with which those Jewish Christians fled to the mountains of Perea, and escaped of Cestius, this destruction” (Book 2, Ch. 19:6b).
2. Stand Firm, God is Sovereign
22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
Jesus gives His followers some words of comfort as He reminds them that the duration of this tribulation is completely in God’s hands not in Rome’s control.
Through God’s power, the Jews and their leaders will meet judgement but God’s people will endure through this event. Jesus tells His disciples that it is because of the elect, God will shorten this event.
Our Lord tells them that if anyone says…look here is the Messiah don’t believe them.
During days of intense persecution, one might be tempted to look for any sign that might offer some relief, whether it be someone claiming to be a leader that may offer false hope or someone that may even perform some sign. Don’t believe them.
No matter what anyone says about seeing the Christ returning or where He is located do not believe them.
3. Christ’s Return Will Be Unmistakable
27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
Verse 27 is a short-pointed preview taking the attention of the first Century disciples to the actual return of Christ. Jesus is telling them not to be deceived by someone’s so-called Messiah or if someone claims to be the Messiah. Because, Jesus tells them, when I return it will be unprecedented and everyone will know when it takes place.
He tells them that His return will be like a flash of lightening that shoots across the sky and everyone sees it. When Jesus returns no one will be able to miss it. There will not be a secret sign or some special knowledge. When Jesus returns that event will be seen by everyone.
Our Lord mentions this in order to differentiate between their current events and people who will claim to have either seen the Messiah or to actually be the Messiah. Don’t believe them because here is how it will actually happen…
Jesus recites a proverb to help His followers understand. They were to be watching…
28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
For the first century disciples, Jesus is telling them that just like you know something dead is around when you see the vultures gather, so to when you see the events begin to take place be ready to flee the city. Have your bugout bag ready.
Let’s look at the Jewish Historian, Josephus’ account. Remember, he was simply an historian. He was not a Christian. However, look how close his account is to what Jesus tells us would happen…
Josephus reports the activity of numerous false prophets who misled the people and contributed to their demise, again in fulfillment of the words of Jesus in Mt. 24:23-26. When the Romans finally penetrated the heart of the city the slaughter continued until the soldiers “grew weary of killing.” Josephus stated that the soldier
“went into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn and slew those whom they overtook without mercy, and set fire to the houses whither the Jews had fled, and burnt every soul in them . . . they ran everyone through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (Book 6, Ch. 8:5).
Almost 100,000 Jewish survivors were sold into slavery. Others were consigned to die in the gladiatorial exhibitions or were selected to be paraded in Titus’ triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. According to Josephus, more than 1,100,000 died during the siege of the city! The destruction was so complete that not one stone was left standing on another, even as Jesus had prophesied (Mt. 24:2). In fact, Josephus describes how “Caesar gave orders (after the siege) that they should now demolish the whole city and temple . . . (and) it was laid so completely even with the ground, by those who dug it up to the foundation that there was nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited” (Book 7, Ch. 1). Here is Josephus’ final verdict:
“The afflictions which befell the Jews were the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations . . . it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to those of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were” (Preface, 1 & 4, p. 427-28).
We too must be ready. We are not looking over the horizon for an attacking army. Jesus tells us to be ready for His return.
Matthew 24:42–44 (ESV)
42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Are you ready for our Lord’s return?
Matthew RT France
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