Jesus predicted Jerusalem’s destruction. He told his disciples, “I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). Although Jesus’ life was a remarkable fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; his teaching was remarkable (John 7:46) and his miraculous deeds were undeniable, still the leaders of the Jews not only rejected him as their Messiah, they hated him and were determined to see him dead (John 11:49-50).
The Roman governor found Jesus innocent of the charges they brought against him (John 19:6). When he referred to Jesus as their king, they shouted, we have no king but Caesar (John 19:15). When Pilate washed his hands, declaring he was innocent of Jesus’ death, the chief priests and elders shouted, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:20, 25).
The Jews fell under the influence of the Romans when Aristubulus of the Hasmonean dynasty of Jewish rulers appealed to Rome for help in his civil strife with his brother Hyracanas II. The Roman administrator, Pompey the Great, placed them under Roman military control in 63 B. C. The region of Palestine became a part of the Roman province of Syria. While this was intended to bring stability to the fractious and divided Hebrews, it kindled an undying hatred for the Romans in the heart of many Jewish patriots.
In the generation that followed the death of Jesus, the unhappiness and resentment of the Jews a reached boiling point. This hatred smoldered until it finally erupted in open rebellion against the world’s greatest power. The end of that rebellion was immeasurable suffering, grief and death and the destruction of the nation and their beloved Jerusalem.
Josephus recorded the following phenomena that occurred in the city before the war that led to their doom. In 65 A. D., during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on April 8, at 3:00 a.m., a brilliant light appeared between the altar and temple. It lasted for half an hour. The east gate of the temple was massive. It was made of heavy brass. It took 20 men to close it at the end of each day’s services.
At midnight, of that same April 8th, that gate swung open of its own accord. At sunset, on May 21st, in the clouds over the city, people saw what appeared to be a multitude of chariots. During the Feast of Pentecost, priests serving in the temple claimed to have heard a voice saying “Let us depart.” Within the Jewish population it was widely believed that one of their own was destined to become ruler of the world. This mistaken messianic hope helped to fuel their rebellion.
One contributing factor to the Jewish rebellion, often overlooked, is the fact that with the completion of the temple at Jerusalem some 18,000 workmen were left without employment. They were a restless crowd that was easily manipulated by fiery, rebel leaders.
*The Romans gave Herod Agrippa II authority over the temple complex. He was a moderate leader who tried to maintain a peaceful environment.
* A succession of Roman procurators, who were either incompetent or ruthless rulers, stoked the fires of resentment and became sufficient reason for the Jews to rebel. The first of these was Cumanus (appointed 48 A.D.). Armed conflicts occurred throughout the nation. During Passover celebration some Samaritans attacked and killed a small group of Jews on their way to Jerusalem. A Roman soldier conducted himself in an way insulting to the Jews. These two events became battle cries for the unhappy Jews.
* Cumanus was replaced by Felix (assumed office c.a. 52 A. D. ). He was as tyrannical and corrupt as his predecessor. His presence did nothing to quiet the discontent of the people.
* Emperor Nero appointed Festus to be the next governor (60. A.D.). Festus was the best of the procurators, but he was far from a good and impartial ruler.
* Festus was succeeded by Albinus, a ruthless and covetous man (ca. 62).
* In 64 A. D. Albinus was recalled and Gessius Florus was sent to govern the Jews. By general consent Florus was the worst of Rome’s representatives. He openly boasted of his wrong doings. He accepted bribes from the lowest of criminals. When a delegation of Jews appeared before him to protest abuses they had suffered, Florus turned his soldiers loose on the crowd and 3,600 men, women and children were slain. No crime was beneath him. Historians are convinced that he wanted to provoke a war between Rome and the Jews. It was under his administration that the rebellion became a full fledged war.
* The final spark igniting the war came when Emperor Nero declared the Jewish City of Caesarea to be a Gentile community. Open rebellion broke out over this provocation.
* King Agrippa II tried in vain to discourage his people from engaging Rome in a battle they could not hope to win.
* Then Eleazar, son of Ananias, the high priest of the temple, persuaded the priests to refuse to offer sacrifices for the emperor and the nation of Rome. Agrippa sent 2,000 calvary to restore order, but they withdrew after a week.
* On a feast day a band of violent men mingled with and killed numerous Jewish worshipers. They then attacked the temple police, driving them into Herod’s palace. They then set it on fire. On Aug. 15th the rioters attacked and captured the citadel of Antonia which was within the city of Jerusalem. They put to death all the Roman soldiers stationed there.
* Menahem, son of Judas of Galilee launched attacks against the Romans stationed in Palestine.
* Eleazar took his Jewish troops and slaughtered Menahem and virtually all of his soldiers.
* On a Sabbath day, a band of rebels besieged the Roman troops in the three citadels, Hippicus, Phasel, and Miramme. The Romans surrendered under promise of safety, but the rebels executed all of them.
* The same day Florus instigated the Gentiles to rise up and kill all the Jews in the country. They gladly vented their rage on their Jewish neighbors, killing and looting thousands.
* At this, Cestius Gallus, governor Syria, marched on Jerusalem with the twelfth Roman Legion. He first took and destroyed Joppa and Lydda. His troops captured and burned one of the Jerusalem’s suburbs. For some reason he then withdrew his troops and started home. The enraged Jews attacked the retreating Romans and slaughtered many of them. They also captured a large amount of Roman armaments which they later used in their war with Rome. This event changed the fighting from a local uprising into a general war and brought the power of Rome to defeat the rebels.
* The Jewish leaders promoted Josephus to general as assigned him to prepare Galilee for the coming conflict. That he quickly accomplished. This Josephus later wrote his famous History of the Jewish Wars.
* Cestius appealed to Rome for help.
* Nero dispatched Vespasian, his ablest general, to smash the rebellion. Vespasian brought as his assistant his son Titus. Titus went first to Alexandria and led the 15th Roman Legion north to Palestine. Vespasian brought the 5th and 10th Legions, invaded from the north. They had a total of 60,000 cavalry and foot soldiers plus their servants and baggage tenders.
* Rather than start at Jerusalem, Vespasian started in Galilee and subdued all the cities save Jerusalem. Without allies or help, she stood alone.
* Jews willing to fight, rushed to Jerusalem, thinking her great walls would be to their advantage. Others fled to the city, thinking there they would be safe from the invading Romans. From the start it was evident that there were three leaders with their factions vying for control the city and her defense. These three groups resorted to murderous violence to impose their control.
* Leaders of the factions were:
1. Annaus, who lead the moderate priests. He pled and worked for a peaceful solution. They were soon destroyed by the more radical factions;
2. John of Giscala, who led the Zealots and Idumeans occupied the outer portion of the temple precincts.;
3. Eleasar and his band of rebel priests with a few Zealots held the main buildings of the temple.
4. Simon, son of Gioras, he and his band of villains had been invited into the city. They murdered and robbed without discrimination. These three factions fought each other with savagery. Thousands of Jews trapped inside the city walls were slaughtered as these faction fought for control. The Zealots killed anyone they suspected might try to flee to the Romans. They would not allow the bodies of the nobles to be buried.
* Nero committed suicide on June 9, 67 A.D. The government of Rome was in turmoil. Galba ruled for seven months. Otho’s lasted only three months. Vitellius lasted only a few weeks. The leaders turned to Vespasian. In 69, Vespasian went to Rome and on July 1, was declared to be the new emperor. He left his son Titus to complete the war against the rebellious Jews.
* When came the time for the Passover Celebration, Jews from Palestine and pilgrims from afar, flocked to Jerusalem for the observance. The people seemed oblivious to the fighting already in progress between Jews and Romans and the civil strife between the Jewish factions.
* The Romans allowed the pilgrims to enter the city but would not allow them to leave. This meant more mouths to feed and more water, etc would be needed. The Romans allowed no food to enter the city. In the internecine fighting inside the city, most of their reserves of food were destroyed by fire. Famine soon set in and pestilence soon followed. It is estimated that between two and three million people crowded into the city which normally housed about 750,000 citizens. [Some suggest that the city normally had 25,000 residents. RH]
* On April 14 a battle broke out as John and his Zealots attacked Eleazar, his priests and Zealots. Eleazar’s band was decimated.
* That still left Simon with some 10,000 rebels plus another 5,000 Idumeans to strive with John and his band.
* Titus’s troops had surrounded the city. On May 7, the Romans pierced the walls and took the northern quarter of the city. He entered the lower city, but the Jews were able to drive them back. A second attempt was made and Titus took the lower city. Jewish troops launched a furious attack on the Roman camp but were driven back.
* Titus then ordered his men to build a wall around the remaining portion of the city. It stretched a total of five miles. None could escape.
* Famine and pestilence were allies to the Romans. On July 1st, through one single gate, 115,800 corpses were removed from the city. Unable to bury so many victims, bodies were thrown over the walls. In the end 600,000 Jewish died from the internal war, starvation and disease.
* On July 5th, the Romans broke through the wall into Antonia castle. They drove the rebels into the temple. They quickly seized control of the northern and western porches of the temple.
* On July 24th the Romans burned the outer courts of the temple. It was not Titus’ intention to burn the inner portion of the temple, but in the strife, a Roman soldier tossed a fire brand that ignited adjoining rooms and eventually consumed the entire facility.
* Jerusalem was destroyed on a Saturday, September 8, 70 A. D. All the remaining portions of the city were destroyed. Only three towers were left standing, Phasel, Hippicus and Miriamme. Titus left them as a reminder of the greatness of the city he had destroyed.
* Roman soldiers dug through the ruins of the city hoping to find buried treasure. Foundations of buildings were overturned in search of loot.
* It was estimated that 1,100,000 Jews had died from all causes; 97,000 were enslaved. Some 70,000 were taken to Rome to be displayed in Titus’ triumphal parade. Most of them soon perished, being sent into the arenas to fight wild beasts, gladiators, etc. The remaining men were sent to Egypt to work in mines.
* The total death toll of the war exceeded 2,000,000.
* It is remarkable that although there were numerous Christians living in and around Jerusalem, no Christians perished. Taking Jesus’ warning seriously, when they saw the Roman troops moving into position they abandoned Jerusalem and fled to the village of Pella, east of the Jordan River (Matt. 24:15-19).
As Jesus had promised, Not one stone was left standing upon another…all were thrown down (Matt. 24:2). The people who rejected their Messiah and declared that his blood would be on their heads and those of their children reaped just as they had sown (Gal. 6:7). JHW
Buttrick, G. A. Editor. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville. Abingdon Press, 1962
Edersheim, Alfred. The History of the Jewish Nation After the Destruction of Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, reprint of 1856 edition.
Fallows, Samuel, Editor. Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia, Chicago, Howard Severance Co., 1904
McClintock, John & James Strong. Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Grand Rapids. Baker Book House Reprint of 1887 edition, 1981.
Ussher, James. The Annals of the World (Revised by Larry & Marion Pierce). Master Books, Green Forest, AR. 2003 (Reprint of 1658 edition).
John Waddey, Fortify Your Faith