The Jewish War and the Destruction of Jerusalem
The Jewish War began in 66 AD and culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. When under the proconsul Gessius Florus in 64, the injustice, oppression and tyranny had reached a climax. The Jews were confident that God would come to their rescue and vindicate their cause. There is no doubt that this Zealot rebellion movement was filled with a theocratic ideal and fervent messianic hopes. By 66, dissatisfaction turned into open rebellion. The conflict started up in Caesarea and above all in Jerusalem. In November of 66 Jewish Zealots had driven all Roman forces from Jerusalem and had actually slain more than 600 Roman troops. The Roman occupation forces, but also the high priest who tried to smother the rebellion, were no longer equal to the situation and were slaughtered.
The bull-necked emperor Nero gave two simple commands – destroy Jerusalem – level the temple. Nero picked the heavy, plodding fifty seven year old commoner, Vespasian, who would be assisted by his energetic son Titus. The conquered nations comprising the Roman Empire watched with incredulity as the Jews, single-handed, fought the Roman Goliath. Josephus was given the task to commander the Jewish forces. The Jews were so close to winning the war that Rome was forced to use her full military weight against them to insure victory. The Romans knew the world was watching and knew that the stakes were high. If the Jews were to win their independence the whole empire would be in revolt. The extreme Jewish patriots were not satisfied with the tame manner in which Josephus conducted his preparations; they had grounds to suspect that the aristocrat, who had formally belonged to the peace party, had not his heart in the undertaking. The bloody business of massacre and counter-massacre succeeded one another with unrelenting horror. Jews were killed in Caesarea, Scythopolis, Ascolon, Tyre, Alexandri. Josephus ends up turning collaborationist for the Romans.
Josephus tells us that when Cestius Gallus had earlier come with his army against Jerusalem, after some time he raised the siege. After he had left, many of the oldest of the Jews went out from Jerusalem as from a sinking ship. He says that a few years later, when Vespasian come with his troops against Jerusalem, a great multitude fled from Jerusalem to the mountains for security. It is reasonable to suppose that some Christians were among these. When Jerusalem was surrounded, the Christians were to think of their safety, and seize the first opportunity for flight. Jesus had warned them when these things started happening to flee into the mountains.
The Jews of Jerusalem revolted against an emperor whom they would not call a god. After the entire land had been subdued by Vespasian, the siege of Jerusalem itself was finally under-taken in the spring of 70 by his son Titus to end the war and destroy them. The “rampart” is the wall of 39 stadia (about 7800 yards) which the Roman legions threw up in three days around the city to starve it out. Part of the rampart east of the city followed the stream of the “Cedron toward the mount of olives” where Jesus was when he wept. Jews, instead of uniting all their forces and presenting a solid front to their common enemy, carried on a constant and devastating warfare with each other which sapped their strength and wasted their resources, so that several Jewish factions existed, John of Gischala, Simon Eleazar, others. The Temple swam with the blood of more than 8000 Zealots. Suffice it to say, that the Jews, deceived by false prophets who promised them a temporal deliverer, persevered in their rebellion long after reasonable chance of success had disappeared; they were divided into hostile factions, who fought against each other in the streets of Jerusalem, while the walls of the city quivered under the battering engines of the common enemy.
Jesus had warned His followers “Verily, I say unto you, There shall not be left here (Temple) one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” After the siege had lasted for 6 months, Titus captured the city and slaughtered more than a million Jews. In all, 1,356,460 Jews died and also the Roman soldiers. The famous wailing wall is part of the western portion of the retaining wall of the temple area.
Titus pressed the siege of Jerusalem, which was crowded with people because of the paschal festivities, cutting off the water and food supply. The besieged were terribly hard pressed by these tactics, as well as by the insufferable heat. Those who tried to escape were captured and crucified before the very walls as an example to others. According to Josephus, such famine that a mother actually ate the flesh of her own small son. He tells of 2,500,000 assembled at the last Passover just before the city was taken by Titus. 1,000,000 perished in the siege, 347,000 perished in other places. Of the remainder, 97,000 were carried into captivity and 11,000 starved through neglect or sullen refusal of food. On July 17th the daily sacrifices were interrupted.
Some weeks later, after the legions had assaulted the walls and gained entrance like an irresistible stream, the Romans put to the sword all Jews whom they happened to encounter. Titus desired greatly that the Temple should be spared, and promised to spare the Jews if they would stop their resistance. Several times he sent Josephus to persuade his countrymen, but the providence of God directed otherwise. First the Jews themselves set fire to the court of the temple, and afterwards the Romans. Fire consumed the buildings and the temple went up. But the prophecy of the Redeemer had to be fulfilled; the destruction of the temple occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, August 10th, 70. When Jerusalem was captured, the temple was burned and scavengers would turn over every stone to retrieve the melted gold. The Jewish people were expatriated, and never since has sacrifice been offered up to God on Jewish altars.
After bitter fighting and frightful massacres, in September of 70, after a stubborn and desperate resistance, the city fell and the national existence of the Jews came to an end. The Holy City was taken and burned, and the Tenth Legion encamped in the ruined temple. The temple was leveled to the ground and utterly destroyed. Only the Roman garrison was left. Josephus states that the Romans, having taken the city, brought their standards into the court of the temple, and placed them opposite the east gate, where they offered sacrifices to them. Many who survived were sold into slavery or taken to Rome for the wild beasts. The seven-branched candlestick, the golden table of the shew-bread and the golden trumpets were carried through the streets of Rome in triumph. The Emperor Hadrian dealt the final blow in 132, as a result of another revolt led by a so-called Messiah, Bar Cocheba (son of the star), the Jews were again massacred leaving another million victims. From then on, the Jews scattered over the face of the earth, became the wandering people, without temple or sacrifice, as predicted by the prophets.
Christianity was not molested so long as it was regarded as only a phase of the recognized religion of the Jews. Judaism was a “recognized religion.” But after AD 70 when the two faiths stood apart in the full light of day, this confusion with its consequent protection of the Church was no longer possible. The prophecy of Jesus to the fall of Jerusalem goes on to refer to the final coming of the Son of Man and the consummation of history when all men will be faced with judgment.
After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the Sadducees disappear – no temple meant no sacrifices, no place therefore for a priestly class; total national humiliation meant no place for a ruling class skilled in managing foreign rulers. Pharisees alone have shaped the religious life. Judaism, as a political state was ruined, the militant Zealots were decimated; the seething problems which had obsessed Palestine while Jesus lived were history. Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish world. The catastrophic event of its present, past, or future destruction would be a central, decisive world event-an extraordinary intervention of God signaling the beginning of the last days of the world. Among Christians it would have prompted an intense expectation of the imminent return of Jesus in glory.
Dreadful was the punishment of this fated nation: their city and temple were reduced to heaps of shapeless ruin; their best and bravest fell by the swords of the Romans or each other. Most of the wretched survivors were sold into slavery and dispersed over the face of the earth, becoming a mockery, a by-word, and a reproach among nations.