Scriptures

The Destruction Of Herod’s Temple

Introduction

The destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70 does not fall between the Testaments. However, it was constructed during that time. It was Herod’s masterpiece. Ignoring the death of Christ on the cross, historians consider the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem the most important event of the first century.

The Zealots were a party of Jewish patriots who were regarded as the spiritual children of the Maccabees. They first appeared in Galilee under the leadership of a man named Judas during the early years of Roman rule. They refused to pay taxes and considered it a sin to acknowledge any loyalty to Caesar. They considered God their only Ruler and Lord.

Simon, one of the apostles had evidently been a member of the Zealot party. Ultimately the Zealots succeeded in winning the bulk of the people over to their side in rebelling against Rome. This would eventually lead to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Nero being informed of rebellions in Palestine and especially Jerusalem sent his top general, Vespasian with an army of 60,000 to put down the rebellions. Vespasian opened a campaign in the year 67 from Syria in the north against stout resistance. He overran the area of Galilee. News arrived in 69 that Nero had committed suicide so Vespasian returned to Rome where he was proclaimed Emperor. He left his son Titus in command.

With an Army now of 80,000 Titus moved to Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives where he had a complete panoramic view of Jerusalem. From here he plotted how he would overthrow Jerusalem. In April of A.D. 70 following the Passover when Jerusalem was filled with Jews, he began the siege. Josephus, a Jew who had ruled over Galilee after surrendering offered his services to the Romans.

He accompanied Titus and served as an interpreter calling out to those on the walls beseeching them to surrender to the Romans. Several skirmishes took place outside the city walls as bands of Zealots rushed outside the city inflicting heavy losses on the Romans. This increased the courage and confidence of the Jews. Titus now completely encircled the city with his army and it was not long until famine set in cutting them off from any food supplies.

Famine in time brings on diseases thus thousands died daily. The stench from the unburied bodies filled the city. It must have been a horrible existence. Desperate bands of thieves ran rampant throughout the city stealing, plundering and murdering their own people the Jews.

In July of 70 the castle of Antonia was taken by the Romans at night. Since it was located next to the Temple this prepared the way for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. All sacrifices ceased July 17, as every hand was needed to defend the Temple. A thousand Jews who had crowded around the altar to fight were slaughtered. The Roman soldiers had to walk over piles of dead bodies to advance toward the Temple.

According to Josephus, Titus wanted to preserve the Temple because of its magnificent architecture and also as a trophy of victory, but it was set on fire by some of the Roman soldiers during the heavy fighting. Soon the entire structure was in a blaze illuminating the skies. It burned on the 10th of August, the same day of the year according to tradition that the first temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C.

Josephus writes that no one can conceive of a louder, a more terrible sound than arose from all sides during the burning of the temple. There was the shout of victory from the Roman soldiers mixed with the terrible shriek and wailing of the Jews. It was so loud that it echoed across the mountains surrounding Jerusalem reaching as far away as Peraea on the east of the Jordan River.

The misery itself was more terrible than the noise. The hill on which the temple stood was seething hot, and seemed enveloped to its very base in one sheet of flame. Blood flowed from the dead bodies. The ground was nowhere visible due to the large number of dead bodies.

The Romans planted their eagles (the Roman national symbol) on the ruins over against the eastern gate and offered their sacrifices to their own gods. Jerusalem was completely destroyed down to the very ground.

Historians say that this might not have happened but the division among the different Jewish sects was such that they were fighting among themselves before the Romans breached the walls. While Romans are besieging the city on the outside the Jews were waging civil war inside.

It is said one group deliberately burned the food supply, which could have sustained them for some time. A garrison of the 12th Roman Legion was left as an army of occupation. Josephus, who was not a Christian, believed it was all the divine judgment of God on the city. He wrote,

‘I will not hesitate to say what gives me pain: I believe that had the Romans delayed their punishment of these villains, the city would have been swallowed up by the earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or like Sodom, consumed with fire from heaven. For the generation which was in it was far more ungodly than the men on whom these punishments had in former times fallen. By their madness the whole nation came to be ruined.’

Even Titus the general is reported to have publicly declared that God, by a special providence, aided the Romans and drove the Jews from their impregnable strongholds. Someone has said Jerusalem could have gone down as the only city the Romans were unable to siege.

It was almost impregnable due to the steep cliffs and walls on the south, east and west sides of the city. Due to no cliff on the north side (level area), instead of one wall three walls had been constructed making it practically impregnable.

After the fall of the temple the battle raged on for a long time before the entire city was under complete control of the Romans. The number of Jews slain according to Josephus was one million, one hundred thousand. Thousands died of starvation and ninety-seven thousand were carried away captives.

The handsomest and strongest were selected to march in a triumphal procession in Rome. Many items of furniture removed from the temple before the fire were brought and placed in the newly built Temple of Peace in Rome.

Vespasian kept the purple vale and law for his own palace. What about the Christians who had been living in Jerusalem? First, they had exact knowledge and warning which the Lord had given in Matthew 24 / Mark 13 / Luke 21.

Also, they had the Book of Revelation, which warned of this destruction. As the Romans approached, they fled to the city of Pella on the eastern side of the Jordan River, which gave them safe asylum.

It is reliably reported no Christians perished in the destruction of Jerusalem as they fled when they realised the Romans were approaching the city. Never again would Jerusalem be the same. It would be many years before Jews would be permitted to return and live there.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Galatians 2:20

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