Can We Rely on Bible Prophecy?
LET us turn our attention back in time to the first century of our Common Era, when Nero was still emperor of the Roman Empire. The year is 66 C.E. The place is Jerusalem.
Historical records provide us fairly reliable information as to what actually happened there at that time. True, we do not have many details regarding any particular family that was then living in Jerusalem. Yet, from the information available, we can conclude with a degree of certainty what the attitude of some of the people was.
The following story is based on events that fulfilled a prophecy of Jesus Christ. As you will see in the footnotes, its basic facts are drawn from the Bible and other historical records. The family of Pashhur and Abigail is imaginary, but the way in which they reacted before the then prevailing crisis may well have been typical of a number of families living then.
AN IMPORTANT PROPHECY
The busy streets of Jerusalem swarm with crowds. Richly dressed priests push their way past common laborers in plain attire. The self-satisfied wealthy make their passage, attended by servants. Loud voices bargaining over merchandise in the numerous shops give evidence of the general prosperity. Amidst the crowd we see Pashhur, a merchant in fabrics. He is a convert from Judaism to Christianity. A disciple who had known Jesus Christ personally studied the Scriptures with him, leading to his becoming a Christian.
Pashhur had been only a youth when Jesus died thirty-three years earlier. Mainly, all he remembered was that Jesus was widely talked about, and was a very controversial figure. Only after examining the Scriptural evidence did Pashhur become convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah. As a resident of Jerusalem, Pashhur’s interest had been caught by Jesus’ prophecy about the city’s destruction. Referring to copies of the Scriptural scrolls written by Matthew and Luke as confirmation, the disciple who studied with Pashhur had explained:
“One day four of the apostles came to Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They wanted to know the sign that would tell them when Jerusalem’s destruction would be. However, they were also curious about Christ’s presence and the conclusion of the system of things. The answer that Jesus gave to their question dealt with more than the desolation, of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish system of things; he spoke about the conclusion of the entire world system.”*
With that the disciple quoted the following words of Jesus as they are recorded by the Christian disciple Luke:
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled. Woe to the pregnant women and the ones suckling a baby in those days! For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations.”*
A Deserved Fate
As far as Pashhur is concerned, Jerusalem deserves such a fate. Eyewitnesses had told him how the people had cried out for Jesus’ execution, saying: “Take him away! Take him away! Impale him!” And when the Roman governor asked: “Shall I impale your king?” it was the chief priests themselves who answered: “We have no king but Caesar.”* This murderous action of the religious leaders had disgusted Pashhur!
Many of Jesus’ followers had been treated similarly. More than twenty years after Jesus’ death, the apostle Paul was mobbed in Jerusalem.* And recently, James, Jesus’ half brother, and other faithful Christians had been stoned to death in Jerusalem.* As Pashhur makes his way home through the busy streets, he thinks: “The city has certainly lived up to its reputation!” Jesus’ words come back to him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her.”*
There is no question in Pashhur’s mind: Jerusalem does deserve what Jesus had foretold for her. “The days will come upon you,” Jesus said, “when your enemies will build around you a fortification with pointed stakes and will encircle you and distress you from every side, and they will dash you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave a stone upon a stone in you, because you did not discern the time of your being inspected.”*
“But when?” That question preoccupies Pashhur, particularly now that revolt against Roman occupation has broken out in Jerusalem.
Putting Off Its Coming
He and his family hope that the destruction will not come too soon. After years of hard work, their fabric business is beginning to show a good profit. Now that the children are older, his wife, Abigail, is working full time in the business. Besides, the children have become so involved in athletics and music that they are even thinking of making careers out of these activities.
“Ah,” Pashhur mutters to himself as he nears his house, “No matter how much it’s deserved, I can’t see how Jerusalem will be destroyed now.”
He pauses at the doorstep and looks toward the temple. It was just recently that the Roman armies had almost taken it. They had come to put down the revolt. But then their leader, Cestius Gallus, ordered his men to begin withdrawing.
“Who knows why?” Pashhur pondered. “Well, that does not matter now. I only know that thousands of the withdrawing Romans were killed.* What a victory for Jerusalem—and what a close call for us!”
Pashhur, consoled by this thought, breathes a sigh of relief and goes into the house. Some of his associates from the Christian congregation are already there. He greets them warmly, curious about why they have come.
“We must leave Jerusalem at once!” says the elder in the group.
“Why? It isn’t likely that Rome will send another army so soon after the last one’s defeat,” replies Pashhur with a degree of conviction in his voice.
“Jesus said that when we saw Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies we should flee to the mountains. Well, we’ve seen it. Now that the armies are gone we can flee.”
“I think the threat from the Romans is ended.”
“But, Pashhur, you’ve missed the point of what’s happened. The Roman armies have been maneuvered by Jehovah so that the Christians can escape from Jerusalem before the city is destroyed. Remember Jesus’ instructions, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.’”*
“Jesus did not mean right now,” Pashhur answers. “That time will come later. And when it does my family and I will leave Jerusalem.”
No amount of persuasion can convince Pashhur to take his family and travel with the other Christians to the region around Pella in the mountains of Gilead.* Numerous visits by his Christian brothers do not make him or his family see the necessity of leaving Jerusalem at a period when things are going so well for them materially. Besides, they have confidence in Jerusalem’s army.
When Pashhur says good-bye to the last of the Christians leaving Jerusalem he feels that they will return as soon as the situation settles down, and he will be magnanimous about it when they do; he won’t chide them.
During the years 67, 68 and 69 the situation does not stabilize in Jerusalem. It deteriorates. At last, warring Jewish factions prevent flight from the city. Worst of all, Pashhur and his family miss the spiritual association of their Christian friends who have fled across the Jordan River into the mountains of Gilead.
The Prophecy Fulfilled
The spring of 70 C.E. brings an altogether different source of terror. The Roman armies return under the command of the new emperor’s own son, Titus, and surround Jerusalem. For miles around they cut down the trees, make pointed stakes of them and build a solid palisade around the city. Escape is now impossible!*
The fear-filled days under siege pass, one by one. Pashhur’s store of food runs out. Pitiless hunger strikes his household. Outside, unrestrained soldiers loot what food they can find. So as not to add to Pashhur’s already constant worry, Abigail does not mention her hunger, but neither she nor her husband can hide their anguish from each other.
One day, as the famine bears down ever more heavily, an unusual commotion brings Pashhur out to investigate. When he comes back Abigail quickly discerns he has seen something dreadful. “Mary, the daughter of Eleazer from Bethezub has eaten her infant son, he explains.* “It is happening again the same as in Jeremiah’s day. We, too, shall perish, Abigail.”*
Jerusalem does not suffer long. By the summer of 70 C.E. the Romans finally capture and destroy it. During the entire siege, over a million Jews are killed; some 97,000 are taken captive.* Among the dead, Pashhur and his family. They had known of Jesus’ prophecy and the instructions that he had given for salvation. But because they refused to act on that knowledge, they paid the price of disobedience.*
A LESSON FOR TODAY
Yes, this Bible prophecy was fulfilled. The same will be true of all that is foretold or promised in God’s Word. As Joshua, the ancient leader of God’s nation of Israel, said: “You well know with all your hearts and with all your souls that not one word out of all the good words that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.”—Josh. 23:14.
Of course, as noted at the beginning of our story, the Bible does not tell about the individual lives of those living just prior to or during Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. It does not even tell about Jerusalem’s destruction; secular history does. However, likely there were families resembling the one we have described, that failed to act on knowledge and flee to the mountains in obedience to Jesus’ instructions.
But of what concern is all of this to us living today? We do not face any similar situation—or do we?
The fact is, we do! The prophecy of Jesus identified more than merely the end of the Jewish system of things back in 70 C.E. That prophecy also identified the time of Christ’s “presence” in Kingdom power, the time when the end of this entire world system of things would be at hand. One reason why we know this is so is that Jesus said: “When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.”—Luke 21:31.
Well, what did Jesus foretell would mark the time of the end of this entire system, and when the kingdom of God was near? Among other things that would be occurring, Jesus said: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages.”—Luke 21:10, 11.
The fact is that these are events we have actually seen taking place today! In this century, since 1914, mankind has been plunged into two catastrophic world wars, and today the nations sit on the brink of even more devastating nuclear warfare. Also, earthquakes, pestilences and food shortages are more widespread than at any other time in history.
So when one compares Jesus’ complete prophecy with present-day events, it becomes clear that right now this prophecy is undergoing a remarkable fulfillment. What does this mean?
It means that the end of this entire system is near, even as the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Cestius Gallus was a sign that Jerusalem’s end was at hand. And just as special action was necessary for preservation then—fleeing to safety in the mountains—so appropriate action is needed today in order to be saved out of a global destruction that is about to come as God executes judgment on the wicked.
The Action Needed
It is not flight to a particular geographical place that will save one. Jesus himself showed this. He concluded his prophecy speaking specifically about the time of the end of this entire system of things, by saying:
“Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.” Luke 21:34-36.
Yes, not a flight to some literal mountains, but spiritual awareness is what is now vital. We need to be alert to the present-day fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, and to be mindful that its fulfillment means that the end of this system is close. Therefore, we need to be very careful of our conduct, even as the apostle Peter wrote:
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion, awaiting and keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah . . . Hence, beloved ones, since you are awaiting these things, do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.”—2 Pet. 3:11-14.
This is the action needed. Our flight to a place of refuge today is accomplished by conforming our lives to God’s righteous requirements. Yes, by doing the will of God we will escape the destruction that is coming upon the entire world of humankind, as the apostle John wrote: “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
Do not doubt for a moment that these Bible prophecies will be fulfilled! Just as surely as Jesus’ prophecy regarding Jerusalem’s destruction in the first century came true, so will the prophecies about the end of this present system of things be fulfilled. Yes, we have every reason to believe in the reliability of Bible prophecy and to act on that belief.
Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Book XX, Chap. IX, par. 1.
Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Book II, Chap. XIX.
The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, translated from the Greek, by C. F. Cruse (1894), page 75.
Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Book V, Chap, XII.
Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Book VI, Chap, III, par. 4.
Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Book VI, Chap, IX, par. 3.
[Picture on page 17]
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies.”—Luke 21:20.
[Picture on page 19]
The Christians leave Jerusalem
[Picture on page 20]
The Arch of Titus in Rome, which shows Jews being taken captive in 70 C.E. This confirms the truthfulness of God’s prophetic Word