This is now the thirteenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:
In the last three posts we have begun to consider the words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse as they relate to the predicted judgment on apostate Israel in 67-70 AD. The two previous posts were a two-part discussion of Christ’s non-physical return in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD, and Jesus’ declaration that His generation would not pass away until all that He had prophesied would take place. In this present post we will examine the signs that Jesus said would lead up to the end of the age.
II. Signs of the Close of the Age
Regarding the time markers and signs which Jesus gave in His Olivet Discourse, one may object, for example, that Matthew 24:14 couldn’t have possibly been fulfilled before 70 AD. Here Jesus states that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” However, it’s interesting that Paul told his Roman readers that their faith “is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8). In his epistle to the Colossians he also said that “the word of the truth of the gospel,” which had come to them, had gone to “the entire world” (Colossians 1:6) and had “been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (verse 23). Devout Jews “from every nation under heaven” even heard the gospel in their own languages on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5).
Do these statements not indicate that Matthew 24:14 had already been fulfilled by the time they were written? The phrase “the whole world” here then must mean what it meant in Luke 2:1 when we are told that “the entire world” was registered in the days of Caesar Augustus, i.e. the known world or the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 11:28, Acts 24:5, Romans 16:25-26). Eusebius (263-339), the early church father whose quotation of Irenaeus’ words became pivotal to the late-date theory for Revelation, said this about Matthew 24:14:
Thus, under the influence of heavenly power, and with the divine co-operation, the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly illumined the whole world;  and straightway, in accordance with the divine Scriptures,  the voice of the inspired evangelists and apostles went forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world; the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the bounds of the ocean, and visited the Britannic isles (Dennis Todd ; , 2009).
Bishop Newton of Brazil (ordained in 1949) says of the spread of the gospel:
It appears from the writers of the history of the church, that before the destruction of Jerusalem the Gospel was not only preached in the Lesser Asia, and Greece, and Italy, the great theatres of action then in the world, but was likewise propagated as fax northward as Scythia, as far southward as Ethiopia, as far eastward as Parthia and India, as far westward as Spain and Britain (Todd Dennis , 2009).
John Wesley believed Jesus didn’t mean in this verse that the gospel would be preached in all the world “universally” before the end came. He said, “[T]his is not done yet: but in general through the several parts of the world, and not only in Judea [this happened]. And this was done by St. Paul and the other apostles, before Jerusalem was destroyed. And then shall the end come—Of the city and temple.” Regarding ‘the end’ that Jesus said would come, then, it’s clear that Wesley and other Preterists do not regard this as the end of the world. Kevin Daly (2009) comments:
Jesus’ coming in judgment would bring about the destruction of the city and the Sanctuary – in the case of the latter, to the removal of its last stone. Daniel prophesied some 530 years earlier that ‘seventy weeks’ were decreed ‘for your people and your holy city … The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the Sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed’ (Daniel 9:24, 26b). ‘The end’ that Daniel spoke of and the same ‘end of the age’ that the disciples refer to in their question [Matthew 24:3], is thus the end precipitated by the destruction of the Sanctuary, not the end of the mortal age, as many conclude.
Daly points out that the events predicted by Jesus in response to the disciples’ question were to be land-specific and people-specific, indeed “wrath against this people” (Luke 21:23). Jesus said those days were to be “days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:22). He naturally then drew on Old Testament prophecy “regarding the fate of impenitent Israel.” As an example, Daly puts forth the following chart:
|MATTHEW 24:6, 14
|You will hear of wars and rumors of wars … but the end is not yet.
||War will continue until the end.
|And there will be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in different places.
||And desolations have been decreed.
|Then the end will come.
||The end will come like a flood.
Daly adds, “We have it on the authority of scripture and history that war and famine ensued from the time of Jesus’ crucifixion to the time that the Romans conquered Jerusalem, forty years later. More than ten major earthquakes were recorded during that time.” John Wesley (1703-1791), reflecting the same viewpoint, wrote the following in the introduction to his commentary on Matthew 24:
Josephus’ History of the Jewish War is the best commentary on this chapter. It is a wonderful instance of God’s providence, that he, an eyewitness, and one who lived and died a Jew, should, especially in so extraordinary a manner, be preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important facts, which so exactly illustrate this glorious prophecy, in almost every circumstance (Todd Dennis , 2009).
Regarding wars in this time period, the Roman historian Tacitus had this to say, “The history on which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, horrible even in peace. Four emperors fell by the sword; there were three civil wars, more foreign wars, and often both at the same time” (The Histories, 1:2).
George Peter Holford, in the year 1805, wrote a book entitled “The Destruction of Jerusalem.” His work contained many historical details from the time between Jesus’ ascension and Jerusalem’s downfall in 70 AD, which he showed to line up with the prophecies of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Todd Dennis , 2009). He writes, for example:
[Jesus commenced] with a caution: “Take heed,” says He, “that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and shall deceive many” [Matthew 24:4-5]. The necessity for this friendly warning soon appeared; for within one year after our Lord’s ascension, rose Dositheus the Samaritan, who had the boldness to assert that he was the Messiah, of whom Moses prophesied; while his disciple Simon Magus deluded multitudes into a belief that he, himself, was the “GREAT POWER OF GOD.”
Holford went on to list a host of similar deceivers in that generation, some who literally called themselves “the Christ” or “Messiah,” and others who promised to take on His expected role in delivering the Jews from Roman bondage and bringing a physical kingdom to Jerusalem. Holford also referred to the great earthquakes which took place during those years, along with terrifying storms and violent winds, the like of which prompted Josephus to say, “It seems as if the system of the world had been confounded for the destruction of mankind; and one might well conjecture that these were signs of no common events.”
Holford then notes that the great famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:27-30 began in the fourth year of the reign of Claudius (i.e. 45 AD) and “was of long continuance. It extended through Greece, and even into Italy, but was felt most severely in Judea and especially at Jerusalem, where many perished for want of bread.” This famine was recorded by Eusebius, Orosius, and Josephus, who related that “an assaron [about 3.5 pints] of corn was sold for five drachmae” (in the heyday of ancient Greece in the 4th century BC one drachmae was the daily wage for a skilled worker). This brings to mind Revelation 6:6, where under the third seal judgment it is said that a denarius (or a typical daily wage) would only purchase a quart of wheat. This situation was said by Josephus to have climaxed during the five-month siege on Jerusalem in 67-70 AD. Regarding Christ’s predictions of pestilences, Holford writes:
History…particularly distinguishes two instances of this calamity, which occurred before the commencement of the Jewish war. The first took place at Babylon about A. D. 40, and raged so alarmingly, that great multitudes of Jews fled from that city to Seleucia for safety, as hath been hinted already. The other happened at Rome A.D. 65, and carried off prodigious multitudes. Both Tacitus and Suetonius also record, that similar calamities prevailed, during this period, in various parts of the Roman empire. After Jerusalem was surrounded by the army of Titus, pestilential diseases soon made their appearance there to aggravate the miseries, and deepen the horrors of the siege. They were partly occasioned by the immense multitudes which were crowded together in the city, partly by the putrid effluvia which arose from the unburied dead, and partly from spread of famine.
Jesus also predicted that there would be “terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11) and “signs in sun and moon and stars” (verse 25). In this regard Holford pointed to a number of strange accounts recorded by Josephus, some of which portend to heavenly signs:
 “A meteor, resembling a sword, hung over Jerusalem during one whole year.” This could not be a comet, for it was stationary, and was visible for twelve successive months.
 “On the eighth of the month Zanthicus, (before the feast of unleavened bread) at the ninth hour of the night, there shone round about the altar, and the circumjacent buildings of the temple, a light equal to the brightness of the day, which continued for the space of half an hour.” [Does this recall Zech. 14:7?]
 “As the High Priest were leading a heifer to the altar to be sacrificed, she brought forth a lamb, in the midst of the temple.” Such is the strange account given by the historian. Some may regard it as a “Grecian fable,” while others may think that they discern in this prodigy a miraculous rebuke of Jewish infidelity and impiety, for rejecting the ANTITYPICAL Lamb, who had offered Up Himself as an atonement, “once for all,” and who, by thus completely fulfilling their design, had virtually abrogated the Levitical sacrifices. However this may be, the circumstances of the prodigy are remarkable. It did not occur in an obscure part of the city, but in the temple ; not at an ordinary time, but at the passover, the season of our LORD’S crucifixion in the presence, not of the vulgar merely, but of the High Priests and their attendants, and when they were leading the sacrifice to the altar.
 “About the sixth hour of the night, the eastern gate of the temple was seen to open without human assistance.” When the guards informed the Curator of this event, he sent men to assist them in shutting it, who with great difficulty succeeded. — This gate, as hath been observed already, ‘Was of solid brass, and required twenty men to close it every evening. It could not have been opened by a “strong gust of wind,” or a slight earthquake;” for Josephus says, it was secured by iron bolts And bars, which were let down into a large threshold; consisting of one entire stone.”
 “Soon after the feast of the Passover, in various parts of the country, before the setting of the sun, chariots and armed men were seen in the air, passing round about Jerusalem.”
 Josephus relates that one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a rustic of the lower class, during the Feast of Tabernacles, suddenly exclaimed in the temple, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west — a voice from the four winds- a voice against Jerusalem and the temple — a voice against bridegrooms and brides — a voice against the whole people!” These words he incessantly proclaimed aloud both day and night, through all the streets of Jerusalem, for seven years and five months together, commencing at a time (A. D. 62) when the city was in a state of peace, and overflowing with prosperity, and terminating amidst the horrors of the siege. This disturber, having excited the attention of the magistracy, was brought before Albinus the Roman governor, who commanded that he should be scourged. But the severest stripes drew from him neither tears nor supplications. As he never thanked those who relieved, so neither did he complain of the injustice of those who struck him. And no other answer could the governor obtain to his interrogatories, but his usual denunciation of “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” which he still continued to proclaim through the city, but especially during the festivals, when his manner became more earnest, and the tone of his voice louder. At length, on the commencement of the siege, he ascended the walls, and, in a more powerful voice than ever, exclaimed, “Woe, woe to this city, this temple, and this people!” And then, with a presentment of his own death, added, “Woe, woe to myself”‘ He had scarcely uttered these words when a stone from one of the Roman engines killed him on the spot.
Except for the first omen above, says Holford, all the others were placed by Josephus during the final year leading up to the Jewish War (67-73 AD). Some of these accounts were also recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus.
Holford picks up on the phrase spoken by Jesus in Matthew 24:28, “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” Without being dogmatic on the meaning of this phrase, he notes that not only was Israel fit to be described as a carcass in 70 AD; being spiritually, politically, and judicially dead; but it was also a curious fact that the eagle was the principal figure on the Roman ensigns which were planted throughout the city of Jerusalem and finally in the temple itself. Holford also notes a very sad situation predicted in the words of Jesus Himself:
The day on which Titus encompassed Jerusalem, was the feast of the Passover; and it is deserving of the very particular attention of the reader, that this was the anniversary of that memorable period in which the Jews crucified their Messiah! At this season multitudes came up from all the surrounding country, and from distant parts, to keep the festival. How suitable and how kind, then, was the prophetic admonition of our LORD, and how clearly he saw into futurity when he said, “Let not them that are in the countries enter into Jerusalem (Luke 21:21).
Nevertheless, the city was at this time crowded with Jewish strangers, and foreigners from all parts, so that the whole nation may be considered as having been shut up in one prison, preparatory to the execution of the Divine vengeance; and, according to Josephus this event took place suddenly; thus, not only fulfilling the predictions of our LORD, that these calamities should come, like the swift-darting lightning “that cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the West,” and ” as a snare on all of them (the Jews) who dwelt upon the face of the whole earth ” (Matt. 24:27, and Luke 21:35,) but justifying, also, his friendly direction, that those who fled from the place should use the utmost possible [speed].
Eusebius, in his work entitled “Proof of the Gospel” (Book III, Chapter VII), written in 314 AD, did not assign these events to the future as Dispensationalists do. Quoting from Christ’s words in Matthew 24:19-21, he said:
It is fitting to add to these accounts the true prediction of our Saviour in which he foretold these very events. His words are as follows: “Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day; For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” …These things took place in this manner in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, in accordance with the prophecies of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by divine power saw them beforehand as if they were already present, and wept and mourned according to the statement of the holy evangelists (Todd Dennis , 2009).
There is also a logical reason for Preterists as to why Jesus told His listeners to pray that their flight from Jerusalem would not be on a Sabbath (Matthew 24:20). Prior to 70 AD the Jews who controlled the city would close the city gates on the Sabbath and there would be no way to escape (See Nehemiah 13:15-22). It’s significant to note that this is not a practice in modern Israel; if it was, it would be helpful to the Futurist view which says that this will happen soon.
 A great famine which would cover the entire Roman world was foretold in Acts 11:27-30. The earthquakes took place in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome, Judea and Pompei (February 5, 63 AD). Other earthquakes are recorded in Scripture in Matthew 27:51-54, Matt. 28:2, and Acts 16:26.