TITLE: THE FALL OF JERUSALEM
SUBJECT: ANCIENT HISTORY
AUTHOR: Mr. J. H. Smith
Jerusalem fell at the hands of the Romans just thirty‑three years after Jesus Christ made detailed predictions about its fall. This prophecy of Christ of the destruction of the sacred Jewish Temple and related events may be found recorded in the New Testament in great detail in Matthew, chapter 24; Mark, chapter 13; and Luke, chapter 21. Besides these direct prophecies, Christ mentioned the coming destruction of Jerusalem in several of his parables (which may be found in Matthew 22:7 and Luke 13:6‑9; Luke 20:9‑19; Luke 23:27‑30).
Christ spoke this prophecy more than thirty‑three years before the event began to take place. Matthew, who wrote the earliest of any of the Gospel writers, wrote his Gospel about 37 AD. This is thirty‑three years before the fulfillment began to take place. It is very significant that John, the only Gospel writer to write after the destruction of Jerusalem, does not mention a word of this prediction by Christ. Perhaps this was to avoid people living at the time criticizing him for writing prophecy after the events took place.
The predictions that Jesus Christ made about Jerusalem may be grouped into several categories for convenience in discussing them. These eight categories contain a total of at least thirty specific predictions, all of which came true. As each of the thirty predictions are discussed, the prediction will be numbered in parenthesis to enable you to quickly count for yourself just how many detailed predictions Jesus made.
The first group of predictions are about false messiahs. The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah, but that there would be many imitators who would falsely claim to be the messiah. The messiah or Christ is a person predicted to come in the Bible who will be the king of the Jews, a supernatural leader who will deliver them from their enemies, and. rule over the world with a kingdom that will bring peace and last a thousand years. But before Jesus Christ returns the second time to earth to rule this kingdom, many things are predicted in the Bible that will happen first.
Concerning false messiahs, Jesus predicted (1) that there would be false messiahs, (2) that they would be many in number, (3) that they would draw people to the desert, and secret chambers, and that (4) they would deceive many.
That these four predictions literally came true is clear from history. The historical details which fulfilled Christ’s predictions may be read in volume six of McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, a standard reference work to be found in large libraries. The article on “Messiahs, False,” states: “No less than twenty‑four such impostors have been enumerated as having appeared in different places and at different times; and even this does not exhaust the list.” The article continues with a six‑column discussion of these.
A second class of predictions Jesus Christ made about the fall of Jerusalem concerns several striking calamities. Christ predicted (5) that wars would take place. At the time Christ spoke, peace prevailed both among the Jews and the nations round about. Even when Caligula’s order to set up his statue in the temple provoked resistance, the Jews could not believe that war was imminent. And yet Josephus says, “the country was soon filled with violence…. The Jews rebelled against Rome, Italy was in convulsions and within two years four Roman emperors suffered death.
Christ foretold that there would be (6) famine, pestilence, and earthquakes. A famine of several years duration caused suffering in Judea, and there were many famines in Italy, pestilences in Babylon, and only five years before the fall of Jerusalem, in Rome. Earthquakes are recorded by Tacitus, Suetonius Philostratus; and Josephus speaks of them in Crete, Italy, Asia Minor, and a particularly extraordinary one in Judea.
Christ also foretold (7) fearful sights and great signs from heaven. Josephus affirms that just before the war, “a star resembling a sword stood over the city; and a comet for a whole year,” that a great light shone round the altar; that the massive Eastern gate which it took twenty men to move, opened of its own accord; that chariots and troops were seen in the clouds at sunset; that there was an earthquake and a supernatural voice at Pentecost; that a man named Jesus persisted in crying, “Woe to the city,” etc. Tacitus records many prodigies that signaled the coming ruin. The truth and reality of these signs, and their miraculous nature, cannot be fully confirmed now. It is enough that, whatever their nature and source, both Jews and Romans of the time were impressed with them as real and miraculous.
Some of the predictions Jesus made had to do with signs that would directly concern his own disciples and followers. He predicted that (8) his followers would suffer persecution. This has been abundantly fulfilled, beginning with the death of Steven, the first Christian martyr, followed by the persecutions of Christians by Saul of Tarsus, who later was converted to Christianity and became the great Apostle Paul. Peter and John were before councils and in prisons. Paul and Silas were imprisoned. Nero, a vain and cruel Roman ruler, blamed the Christians for an eight‑day fire in Rome (though there is reason to believe that he was himself responsible for the fire) and began a persecution which even Pagan pages blush to record. Nero drove his chariot to the imperial gardens between rows of Christian martyrs wrapped in their burning sheets of flame used, like lamp posts, for street lights to light his way.
Christ predicted that (9) there would be instances of mutual betrayal among his followers. Tacitus, a Roman historian, says at first those who were seized confessed their sect, and then by their indication a great multitude were convicted.
Lastly, concerning his followers, Christ predicted that (10) the Gospel was to be preached everywhere as a witness. In that ancient day, without the benefit of the printing press and modern means of communication like radio and television, the Gospel had already reached, before the fall of Jerusalem, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Ethiopia, India, Spain and Britain.
Christ’s prophecy contains several predictions which relate directly to the city of Jerusalem itself. He predicted (11) Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies, that (12) the eagles were to gather around Jerusalem like vultures around a dead carcass. The silver eagle was the insignia of the Roman army, and when the Roman army drew near, above every waving flag flashed the silver eagle. Destruction (13) was to come as “lightening shineth from east to west.” Jerusalem is near the sea coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It would be expected that armies would come from west to east, opposite of what Jesus predicted. But in fact, the Roman armies approached Jerusalem from Olivet on the east side of Jerusalem, and so did come from the east to the west in their attack.
Christ predicted that (14) “the abomination of desolation” would stand in the holy place, or sacred Temple. Three things happened which may each be considered a fulfillment of this prediction. First, the presence of the idolatrous Roman eagle standards in the city; second, an army of zealots and assassins invited by the Jews to defend them against the Romans who profaned the temple courts; third, a statue of the Roman emperor was set up by Pilate, and later by Hadrian, which greatly offended the Jews. You will recall that even the Ten Commandments forbid the use of any images.
Jesus predicted (15) that a trench and an embankment were to be made around the city. This seemed very unlikely. Nothing would be more wasteful of effort or useless. It had never been done before. The valleys already formed a natural trench. The hills that arose round the city formed a natural embankment. Yet Titus, against the counsel of his chief men, actually built a wall and trench five miles in circumference around the doomed capital. Josephus, the contemporary Jewish historian, writes of this, stating that “All hope of (the Jews) escaping was now cut off…together with their liberty of going out of the city.” Although the garrison inside the city was ten times the number of besiegers, still the city fell. Titus commented, “We have certainly had God for our helper in this war. It is God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications. For what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards throwing down such fortifications?”
Jesus predicted that (16) great tribulation was to mark the siege of the city. The attackers came at the Passover season, when nearly three million Jews are estimated to have been in the city. Before long the famine in the city became so severe that hunger drove men to eat sandals, leather girdles, and straw. A mother actually brought to maddened assassins, who were ready to kill in order to get food, her half‑devoured child, that she had baked—a literal fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:56, 57: “The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates.” Many hundreds of thousands of Jews perished in the siege and 130,000 were slain when the city capitulated, and 97,000 of the survivors were then sold into slavery. As Titus saw the dead thrown over the walls into the valleys, by hundreds and by thousands, he lifted his hands to heaven to protest before God that all this was not his doing. Josephus wrote that “No other city ever suffered such miseries, nor was ever a generation more fruitful in wickedness from the beginning of the world. It appears that the misfortunes of all men from the beginning of the world, if compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable.”
Jesus predicted that (17) the city was to be destroyed, and that in the process (18) it was to be leveled to the ground. Josephus tells us that three massive walls of great strength encompassed the city; and the garrison was ten times, in number, the besiegers. Think of laying such walls even with the ground! Yet this was done, except for a small portion preserved to shelter the Roman garrison, and as a specimen of the strength of the defenses which Roman power had laid low. Within the city itself the hope of finding hid treasure moved the Roman army to tear up the very ground, till sewers and aqueducts were uncovered. The Jews, harassed by bands of robbers, had buried their treasures all over the city. Terentius Rufus, who was in charge of the army that was left at Jerusalem, commanded that the temple area be plowed over, thus fulfilling not only the words of Christ, but also of Micah 3:12, “Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field.”
Jesus said (19) that the Temple was to be included in this awful destruction. Christ said, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate!” He further said, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” Humanly speaking, this prediction was very unlikely to be fulfilled. The Temple walls enclosed over nineteen acres; the east front rose to a height of one-sixth of a mile above the vale, and immense stones, some of them 65 feet long, eight feet wide and ten feet thick formed part of its massive structure. The Temple was beautiful and sacred, a monument of both art and worship. If vandals and barbarians, in the sack of Athens and Rome, would spare the Parthenon and Pantheon, how much more would it be expected that the Roman army would spare the Temple, of which it was said in proverb, “If you had not seen, you had seen nothing beautiful”? Add to these considerations that the Temple was built by Herod, a creature of Roman power and patronage. Consider also that Titus was mild, humane, and cultured, a commander who would not be likely to favor it, who in fact forbade such wanton destruction. The fires were once put out by his orders, but rekindled when his back was turned. Titus gave a command to spare the temple, but a soldier threw a torch into it, and the Temple was burned. The intense heat melted the gold, which ran down between the stones and down to the foundations. The greedy Romans literally tore the temple down stone by stone to recover the gold.
A fifth category of predictions Jesus made concerns the safety of his own disciples in the midst of these events. He declared (20) “There shall not an hair of your head perish.” That in the universal slaughter not one disciple should perish is a remarkable enough prediction. Add to this that Jesus predicted that (21) after the city was surrounded by armies the Christians would have a chance to escape. Josephus tells us: “Cestius Gallus, after beginning the siege, mysteriously withdrew, and without any reason in the world, and many embraced this opportunity to depart; a great multitude fled into the mountains.” At this crisis, as we learn from church historians of the first century, all the followers of Christ took refuge in the mountains of Pella, beyond Jordan, and there is no record of one single Christian perishing in the siege! As soon as the armies returned, the city was surrounded by a wall, and all hope of flight was now cut off.
A sixth group of prophecies Jesus made tell about the future history of the city and its people. An interesting fact about this group of predictions is that prophecy number 27 as we have been counting them has had its fulfillment in our own day! Jesus predicted (22) the doom of the Jews, (23) that they would fall by the edge of the sword, (24) and that they should be led captive into all nations. At this time the Jews are still scattered among many nations, and by some (such as Russia) are still virtually held captive. Of course now that Israel has once again become a nation, many Jews have returned to their native homeland. Jesus predicted (25) the doom of the city, and (26) the desolation wrought by the Gentiles. Jesus asserted (27) that Jerusalem was to be “trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Until our own day, after the victory of Israel in the 1967 six day war, Jerusalem has during all these intervening centuries been controlled not by Jews but by Gentiles (non‑Jews). But now Jerusalem is controlled by the Jews, showing that on the calendar of Biblical prophecy that the “times of the Gentiles” are now at their end. Jesus predicted that (28) the city of Jerusalem would continue to the time that the Jews would be reclaimed.
Christ’s prophecy contained a time element which (29) limited the opening act of this drama of the ages to the lifetime of the generation then living.
Lastly, Christ foretold these events (30) as a sovereign act of retributive justice, that these were days of vengeance (Luke 21:22) brought by God in punishment for unbelief and disobedience, even as Moses wrote and warned in prediction (Deuteronomy 28) long before.
There may be some who read these pages who are well acquainted with the details of Bible prophecies. Such persons will know that Bible prophecy operates under a law of double reference. This permits events predicted by the prophet to occur near his own day to confirm his truthfulness and inspiration as a prophet, yet these events are but a picture or type of a yet greater fulfillment in the future. So it is with Christ’s great prophecy about Jerusalem. Jesus said repeatedly (as John 13:19 and 14:29) that “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” There is yet a coming day when, just before His personal return in power and great glory, Jerusalem will undergo a great time of tribulation called in the Bible the time of Jacob’s trouble. Even now in our day the national alignments predicted in the Bible which will one day set themselves against Jerusalem are taking shape.
At the time of the onset of tribulation upon the city of Jerusalem there will be, according to Bible prophecy, a small group of Jews who, believing the Bible, heed its predictions and escape the horrors of the Great Tribulation under the wrathful rule of the Anti‑Christ by fleeing to a fascinating hideaway called Petra.
This prophecy by Jesus Christ of the fall of Jerusalem is a miracle of prediction unmatched—outside the Bible—in all literature. The chance that thirty specific prophecies could come true by sheer accident can be no greater than one chance in 1,073,741,824.