A “Holy Place” Destroyed—What It Means Today
“CHURCH BUILDINGS AND TEMPLES THROUGHOUT THE LAND DESTROYED IN OUTBURST OF ANTIRELIGIOUS VIOLENCE!”
HOW shocked most people would be if someday such headlines were to be heralded by the news media! Yet that is not just a possibility; it is inevitable!
How can this be? Because Bible prophecy clearly shows that this is what will happen very soon in country after country. For example, the prophecy in Matthew chapter 24 mentions the desolating of a “holy place.” While this did have a fulfillment in the first century of our Common Era, it has a far greater fulfillment in our day.
The prophecy was first given regarding Jerusalem and its magnificent temple, used by the Jews in their worship. On one occasion when Jesus Christ was talking to his disciples he said of the temple buildings: “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.”—Matthew 24:2.
Why would God bring such an adverse judgment on that first-century “sacred” temple and the religious system it represented? Because the Jews had turned apostate. They had forsaken God’s laws given to them through Moses. Further, they had rejected God’s representatives who were sent to warn them, even spilling their blood. Thus Jesus said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her . . . Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”—Matthew 23:37, 38.
‘Flee to the Mountains’
To those who sincerely worshiped God, Jesus directed these words: “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. Let the man on the housetop not come down to take the goods out of his house; and let the man in the field not return to the house to pick up his outer garment. Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days!”—Matthew 24:15-19.
Why did Jesus urge his followers to use such haste in “fleeing to the mountains”? He stated: “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.”—Matthew 24:21, 22.
But just what did Jesus mean when he spoke of “the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place”? What did he mean by the “great tribulation,” and by the “flesh” that was to be saved? Why would it be “on account of the chosen ones” that the tribulation would be “cut short”?
What turned out to be the actual fulfillment of this prophecy in the first century? Note, first of all, the urgent warning to flee to the mountains “when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place.”
What was this disgusting desolater? History tells us what actually caused the destruction of Jerusalem: It was the armies of the Roman Empire. When those armies first appeared in force around Jerusalem, that was the signal for the person ‘with discernment’ to get out of the area. And this happened in the year 66 CE. Then, Roman armies under General Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem and even attacked the temple wall, undermining it. They could easily have captured the entire city.
So, there were the Roman armies standing in “the holy city.” (Compare Matthew 4:5; 27:53.) Even the apostate Jews considered Jerusalem and its surroundings to be “holy.” The presence of those armies in this “holy place” was disgusting to the Jews.
But, then, for some reason unclear to historians, General Gallus withdrew his armies and retreated. That was the signal Jesus had foretold. The time had come for his followers, the “chosen ones,” to begin fleeing. Recognizing the urgency of the times, they quickly made their way out of Jerusalem and all Judea, as Jesus had directed. The historian Eusebius states that they fled across the Jordan River to the vicinity of Pella in the mountainous region of Gilead.
A few years later, in 70 CE, Roman armies under General Titus came back into Judea and encircled Jerusalem. But by that time all the “chosen ones,” the Christians, already were out of “the holy city.” Therefore, when the Romans surrounded Jerusalem at that time, there no longer was the opportunity for anyone to flee to safety.—Luke 19:43, 44.
After a short siege of four months and twenty-five days, the armies of Rome demolished the city and the temple. Historian Josephus, an eyewitness, puts the number of dead at 1,100,000 and the captives at 97,000. The numbers were high because the unfaithful Jews did not heed Jesus’ warning to flee. They did the opposite. At the time of a religious festival they poured into Jerusalem and were all trapped when the Romans suddenly encircled the city.
The fact that the “chosen” Christians no longer were in Jerusalem meant that God would not have to be concerned about their safety. They already had made their escape. God could thus allow the Romans to go into Jerusalem and speedily execute His judgment against the city. So on account of the chosen Christians’ already being out of Jerusalem, those days of tribulation came to an end more quickly, having been “cut short.” This allowed for some “flesh,” the 97,000, to survive.
That “great tribulation” in 70 CE was the most terrible calamity that ever came upon Jerusalem. It brought to a permanent end the Jewish-built city, its temple and the system of religion centered around it.
But what does that ancient history have to do with those of us living in this twentieth century? A great deal.