The End of a System of Things
IT IS no small event for a system of things to be destroyed after lasting for 1,582 years. This is especially true when the system is one that God himself established. The system we speak of is that of the ancient Jewish nation. Why did it end, and what brought about that end in the way that it came?
It is common knowledge that God established the system of things under the Law covenant through the lawgiver Moses in 1513 B.C.E. This system included many features—its various sabbaths, its regulations for religious cleanness, its inheritance arrangements, the temple at Jerusalem with its priesthood and sacrifices and other things. All of this was completely destroyed in the year 70 of our Common Era. With it went the Jewish hope that a king of the line of David would sit on the throne again in Jerusalem and defeat oppressive Gentile forces.
The reasons for and the manner of Jerusalem’s destruction were explained in a prophetic statement by God’s greatest prophet, Jesus Christ, only a few days before he was put to death by the very power that later destroyed the Jewish system of things. But, paradoxically, it was the Jews who delivered him over to that power and who cried out for his execution.
A TERRIBLE END
Jesus’ prophecy was given as a result of a question posed by his apostles. They were showing Jesus the magnificence of the temple buildings. Viewing them, he replied: “Do you not behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”—Matt. 24:1, 2.
Two days prior to this, Jesus had foretold the manner in which the city with its temple would be destroyed. He addressed Jerusalem, saying:
“The days will come upon you 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.”—Luke 19:43, 44.
This was disturbing even to Christ’s apostles, who were circumcised Jews. They did not yet understand that Christ would reign, not from an earthly throne in Jerusalem, but from heaven. Jesus’ statement indicated that God would no longer deal with earthly Jerusalem, but they did not yet fully grasp it. (Acts 1:6) Also, Jesus’ words meant that the priests of the house of Aaron would be put out of their jobs. Why?
The reason why the end of all these things was drawing near was that Jehovah purposed to bring in better things through his Messiah. The animal sacrifices and the other features of the Law, with the prophecies, had pointed the faithful Israelites to Jesus Christ and served to provide unmistakable credentials and identification of him as the Messiah. But such sacrifices were not the things Jehovah really desired, because they could not remove sins. (Heb. 10:5-10) They had to come to an end. Christ’s sacrifice would make them obsolete.
That the end of the Jewish priesthood would come during the conclusion of the Jewish systems of things is further supported at Hebrews 9:26-28, which points out that Jesus did not have to make repeated sacrifices of himself, and says: “Otherwise, he would have to suffer often from the founding of the world. But now he has manifested himself once for all time at the conclusion of the systems of things to put sin away through the sacrifice of himself.”—Compare 1 Corinthians 10:11.
But why such a terrible end for Jerusalem? God’s purpose to end the Law with Christ did not require this drastic action. (Rom. 10:4) In fact, faithful Christians from Pentecost onward (after Christ’s sacrifice had been accepted by Jehovah in heaven) did not think it their duty to tear down the temple or the city of Jerusalem. They recognized the temple as an instrument of God that had fulfilled his purpose. They did not disrespect it. But they knew that Jesus Christ in heaven was their High Priest, because a new covenant had been instituted, and consequently there was a change of the priesthood. (Heb. 7:11-14) Even many of the Jewish priests accepted Christ as the real sacrifice for sins and realized that their job at the temple had fulfilled its purpose and was no longer operative in Jehovah’s eyes. (Acts 6:7) Why, then, such a violent destruction for the Jews’ city and temple?
Jesus had shown why when he said to Jerusalem, while in the temple:
“Here I am sending forth to you prophets and wise men and public instructors. Some of them you will kill and impale, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city; that there may come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I say to you, All these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you. For I say to you, You will by no means see me from henceforth until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!’”—Matt. 23:34-39.
THINGS POINTING TO THE END
Naturally, this declaration by Jesus brought to the apostles’ minds the question: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3) Jesus, in answer, described the events that would lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem:
“Look out that nobody misleads you; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.”—Matt. 24:4-6.
Jews would arise, not claiming to be Jesus returned in the flesh, but holding themselves forth as the promised Messiah or Christ. The Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66 C.E. was such a messianic effort. But none of these were evidences of the “presence” or parousia of Christ (which term is applied in the Greek Scriptures to his return in Kingdom power).
Also, there would be a number of wars during this period that would affect the Jewish nation. But Christ’s disciples were not to be terrified into taking premature action. Jesus went on to say of this period:
“For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.”—Matt. 24:7, 8.
These things would be unmistakable indications to Christians that the end was getting near. Also, specific things would come upon his disciples because they announced the true Messiah and followed his example. Jesus continued:
“Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name. Then, also, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and mislead many; and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:9-14.
This was fulfilled as the general lawlessness and lack of love for God increased. The Jews, wherever they had been scattered, claimed to serve God when they persecuted Christ’s disciples. Nevertheless, the Christians preached the good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth, particularly in the nations to which the Jews had been dispersed.—Col. 1:6, 23.
THE EVIDENCE OF THE END’S IMMINENCE
Then Jesus specified the particular thing that would indicate the close nearness of the end of the Jewish system of things. He said:
“Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. . . . for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”—Matt. 24:15-22.
This would be a sure warning for Christians to get out of Jerusalem and the province of Judea then, at top speed, with no unnecessary burdens, by direct route.
What was this “disgusting thing,” and how did it stand in a “holy place”? In reaction to the Jews’ revolt in October 66 C.E., the Roman general Gallus came down from Syria during the Jewish Festival of Booths and surrounded Jerusalem with “encamped armies.” After a fight, he brought his troops into the city of Jerusalem, in fact, he went so far as to undermine a section of the temple wall. This certainly was an attack on that which the Jews considered holy. But Gallus withdrew suddenly and unexpectedly. The Jews, coming out of the city, followed and harassed his army, capturing siege weapons and returning to Jerusalem even more confident of their security.
As soon as Gallus withdrew, the Christians in Jerusalem left the city for the mountainous region across the Jordan River in the province of Perea. They were saved from death when, four years later, General Titus captured Jerusalem.
SOME “FLESH” SAVED
In the interim period between 66 and 70 C.E., there was great turmoil in Jerusalem, several factions fighting to control the city. Then, in 70 C.E. General Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian, came up against the city, surrounded it with a fortification of pointed stakes, as Jesus had foretold, and brought the inhabitants to a pitiable state of starvation. It appeared that, if the siege lasted much longer, “no flesh” inside the city would survive. But, as Jesus had prophesied concerning this “great tribulation,” the greatest Jerusalem had ever experienced, “unless Jehovah had cut short the days, no flesh would be saved. But on account of the chosen ones whom he has chosen he has cut short the days.”—Mark 13:19, 20.
Providentially, the siege lasted only 142 days. But even then, plague, pestilence and the sword devoured 1,100,000, leaving 97,000 survivors to suffer being sold into slavery or into gladiatorship in the Roman arena. Thus, Jehovah’s “chosen ones” had fled from the doomed city. On that account Jehovah did not have to prolong the time of distress, but could execute vengeance in a short time, sparing 97,000 persons, thus saving some “flesh.”
In this manner the Jewish system of things came to its end. No longer did they have their temple. All their records were destroyed, so that no Jew today can prove a priestly lineage for himself, or that he is of the kingly tribe of Judah. Jesus Christ stands out as the only one who has his lineage proven to be from Judah through David. He alone is the rightful King. (Ezek. 21:27) He holds the office of High Priesthood for all humankind, not according to descent from Aaron, but “according to the manner of Melchizedek,” by direct appointment from his Father Jehovah God.—Heb. 7:15-17.
But the answer to the apostles’ question, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” required even further answer, because Jesus’ parousia, his “presence” in Kingdom power, did not occur at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. Therefore, Jesus spoke about the end of a greater system of things, giving much more information as to the “sign.” This will be discussed in a subsequent issue.