Jerusalem’s Destruction—Warning for Our Day?
JERUSALEM! The name may be whispered in prayer, shouted in anger, or obscured in diplomatic correspondence, but it often evokes strong feelings. Is it not ironic that this city, the name of which means “Possession [or, “foundation”] of twofold peace,” has long been a center of international controversy?
Jews, Christians and Moslems alike feel that the city is sacred to them, and are quick to refer to the Bible in support of their claims. But what is of special interest is the fact that the Bible contains specific prophecies regarding what would happen to Jerusalem, and these prophecies describe events that were of international interest. May this be significant as to the meaning of what is taking place now?—Matt. 24:3-22; Luke 21:5-24.
In answer, consider first what the Bible and history tell us concerning the first-century fate of Jerusalem. In the year 33 C.E. Jesus Christ foretold the complete destruction of the city and its temple. Why?
Just two days before giving this prophecy, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to present himself as their king. But the leaders of the nation rejected him as a ruler sent by God. Later, Jesus told them plainly that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to a nation producing its fruits. They themselves would be ‘shattered, pulverized.’—Matt. 21:1-15, 42-46; John 19:12-15.
The facts of history testify that the Roman armies under General Titus fulfilled Jesus’ words to the letter just 37 years later, in 70 C.E. A brief review of how that prophecy worked out is very revealing. Here are a few of the details:
Fortification of Pointed Stakes
As to the accuracy of Jesus’ predictions in his prophecy, we refer to this statement: “Your enemies will build around you a fortification with pointed stakes and will encircle you and distress you from every side.”—Luke 19:43.
Anyone skeptical about what Jesus foretold in 33 C.E. might well have reasoned: ‘What? Build a wooden fence miles long around Jerusalem over difficult terrain? What about enemy harassment and the need to bring wood from great distances? How foolish to prophesy such a thing!’ But what happened 37 years later?
We learn from Josephus that after the Romans had laid siege to Jerusalem and taken two of its three defending walls, they nevertheless became discouraged. Why? Due to the ferocious resistance of the Jews and the high Roman casualties. “Many indeed felt that with conventional weapons they would never take the City.”—The Jewish War, translated by G. A. Williamson, Penguin Classics Edition, 1959, p. 296.a
What was Titus to do? The young general, eager for glory, decided that “if he was to combine speed with safety he must build a wall round the entire City.” The work of building the wall became a contest among the different legions and parts of legions, generating great enthusiasm among the soldiers as they raced to finish their sections first. The result?
“The wall measured 4-1/2 miles [7 km]. . . . Yet the whole task was completed in three days, though it might well have taken months—the speed passed belief.” The very “fortification with pointed stakes” Jesus had predicted! And what results did it produce? Destruction! both for the city and its many inhabitants.
But did you know that Jesus also prophesied about conditions to develop in the years leading up to that tragic finale? Consider what he said about food shortages, lawlessness, and false prophets during those years.
This prediction proved to be true. For instance, Acts 11:27-30 reports: “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus rose and proceeded to indicate through the spirit that a great famine was about to come upon the entire inhabited earth; which, for that matter, did take place in the time of Claudius [41-54 C.E.]. So those of the disciples determined, each of them according as anyone could afford it, to send a relief ministration to the brothers dwelling in Judea; and this they did, dispatching it to the older men by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”
The Jewish historian Josephus apparently describes the same famine in his Jewish Antiquities (Book XX, Chap. 2, par. 5, Loeb Edition). During that time, Josephus says, the city of Jerusalem “was hard pressed by famine and many were perishing from want of money to purchase what they needed.”
Wave of Lawlessness
Food shortages were but one of the problems Jesus had foretold that would affect the world prior to Jerusalem’s destruction. He mentioned also that increasing lawlessness would cool off whatever neighbor love people in general would have.—Matt. 24:12.
Although such lawlessness occurred in many parts of the Roman world, it was especially evident in Judea as the Jewish sentiment for revolt increased. We read of armed groups roaming the Judean countryside in the days of the Roman procurator Felix (about 48-58 C.E.), “plundering the houses of the well-to-do, killing the occupants, and setting fire to the villages, till their raging madness penetrated every corner of Judea.” This occurred before the Christians in Jerusalem fled the city in 66 C.E.—The Jewish War, p. 136.
Nor was this all! Jesus warned that “many false prophets will arise and mislead many.”—Matt. 24:11.
A number of false prophets are described as rising up during the procuratorship of Felix. “Cheats and deceivers claiming inspiration, they schemed to bring about revolutionary changes by inducing the mob to act as if possessed, and by leading them out into the wild country on the pretence that there God would show them signs of approaching freedom. Thereupon Felix, regarding this as the first stage of revolt, sent cavalry and heavy infantry who cut the mob to pieces.” (The Jewish War, p. 135) One such false prophet had been an Egyptian, according to Josephus. Apparently the Roman military commander who arrested the apostle Paul in Jerusalem mistook him for this false prophet.—Acts 21:37, 38.
Not a Stone upon a Stone
One of the most remarkable of the specific declarations in Jesus’ prophecy concerned the temple of Jerusalem. It was not merely to fall into enemy hands, but to be utterly razed, without a stone left resting upon a stone!—Luke 21:5, 6.
It should be remembered that the temple of Jerusalem was a source of pride not only to the Jews but to the entire Roman Empire. Its beautification and enlargement had been planned and begun by Herod the Great, who was king by appointment of the Roman Senate. It was considered an architectural and artistic masterpiece, and incorporated in its construction the gifts of Jewish proselytes and well-wishers from all over the known world.
Josephus boasted: “Viewed from without the Sanctuary had everything that could amaze either mind or eyes. Overlaid all round with stout plates of gold, in the first rays of the sun it reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who endeavored to look at it were forced to turn away as if they had looked straight at the sun.”—The Jewish War, p. 394.
When, according to Josephus, General Titus held a council of war and determined not to destroy the temple, it might have seemed that Jesus’ prophecy would go unfulfilled. But what happened? Despite this decision, as the battle for the temple raged, an unknown Roman soldier threw a firebrand into the sanctuary and the magnificent temple quickly became an inferno. Of course, this did not level the massive stone blocks of the temple. Were they to be spared?
With the city finally taken and the temple in ashes, Titus “now ordered them to raze the whole City and Sanctuary to the ground,” leaving only some military towers to show the mighty fortifications the Romans had overthrown. Despite the intentions of both the Jews and the general, Jesus’ words came true!
What About Today?
The Bible shows that people in our day would again be faced with an issue involving rulership. Scriptural chronology indicates that it was at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 C.E. that Jesus Christ was given kingly authority in heaven to rule all mankind.b By means of a global preaching work carried on by Jehovah’s Witnesses, people in all lands have been put on notice as to the decision that confronts them.
How does the world respond? Most people show no interest. Even of those who profess to be Christian, the majority say by their way of life: ‘We have no ruler but the secular state!’
To what will this lead? Open your Bible and read for yourself what is recorded at Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark 13 and Luke 21. It is evident that Jesus was foretelling for this generation many of the same things that he did for the world prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. The foretold wars, food shortages, lawlessness and proclamations of false hopes are clearly evident, as are other aspects of the “sign” that Jesus gave. Just as selfishness and violence were characteristic of the known world back there, the same is true of the world today. Consequently, destruction also lies ahead—for the entire world system of things.—Prov. 2:21, 22.
But for lovers of righteousness, the woes of the present point to deliverance to come. For Jesus also said: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28.
Deliverance to what? A new order in which all lovers of righteousness will be able to live in true security under the kingdom of God. (Luke 21:31; Mic. 4:3, 4) Does such a prospect appeal to you? If so, now is the time to associate with the people who believe in it and who, at their Kingdom Halls, regularly study the Bible with a view to living in such a way that, not only their speech, but also their actions show that they truly believe in rulership by God.
a This edition is cited in all subsequent references.
b See the book True Peace and Security—From What Source?, published by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.