30 AD – 70 AD: “The Crimson Thread Remained Crimson”


In about 30 AD, Jesus said something to the scribes, Pharisees, and people of Jerusalem which must have been earth-shattering to His audience at the time: “See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).  This mirrors what happened in the days of Jeremiah: “I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hands of her enemies” (Jer. 12:7).

Notice that Jesus didn’t say the temple belonged to His Father, but instead He referred to it as “your” house (speaking to the people of Jerusalem). As we will see, even secular history provides a stark depiction of the desolation of the temple and the once holy city of Jerusalem during the next 40 years, before they were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Talmud is an important text within Rabbinic Judaism, made up of both oral teachings and interpretations of these teachings. The earlier collection is known as the Jerusalem Talmud and the later collection, compiled between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, is known as the Babylonian Talmud. Both of them have fascinating things to say about the 40 year period between Jesus’ ascension and the temple’s destruction in 70 AD:

[1] Jerusalem Talmud:

“Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open” (Jacob Neusner, The Yerushalmi, p.156-157). 

[2] Babylonian Talmud:

“Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ‘For the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel [Temple] would open by themselves” (Soncino version, Yoma 39b).

The Crimson Thread

There was a Jewish tradition tied to the Day of Atonement, when a scapegoat bearing the sins of the people would be released into the wilderness (see Leviticus 16). Of course, for those who trust in Jesus, this ritual no longer bore any meaning after 30 AD, as Jesus took our sins upon Himself on the cross. According to the Babylonian Talmud, though, the scapegoat would wear a crimson (red)-colored strap, and it would become white once it reached the wilderness, indicating that God had forgiven their sins:

“How do we know that a crimson-colored strap is tied to the head of the goat that is sent to [the wilderness]? Because it is said, ‘If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow’ (Isa. 1:18). By a miracle, this crimson-colored strap turned white, thus showing the people the people that they were forgiven of their sins. Rabbi Ishmael says, ‘Now did they not have any other sign? There was a crimson thread tied to the door of the sanctuary. When the goat had reached the wilderness, the thread would turn white…'” (Tractate Shabbat Folio 86a).

This miracle took place every year, it was said, but not after 30 AD. It was clear that this ritual was no longer acceptable to the Lord, because Jesus was the acceptable sacrifice: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

The Western Light Didn’t Shine

There were seven lamps on the Menorah in the temple, with the westernmost lamp being the most important. Every day the other six lamps would be lit from the Western Lamp. For a long time, it burned continuously, which was seen as a miracle. It was known for being a perpetual fire. However, from 30 – 70 AD it went out every single day. As Ernest Martin explains:

“This ‘western lamp’ was to be kept lit at all times. For that reason, the priests kept extra reservoirs of olive oil and other implements in ready supply to make sure that the ‘western lamp’ (under all circumstances) would stay lit. But what happened in the forty years from the very year Messiah said the physical Temple would be destroyed? Every night for forty years the western lamp went out, and this in spite of the priests each evening preparing in a special way the western lamp so that it would remain constantly burning all night!”

(Ernest Martin, “The Significance of the Year CE 30,” 1994; as quoted in “The Coming Messiah” by Mark E. Jeffries, p. 86

For the believer, this light was unnecessary, for Jesus is the light of the world and so are His followers:

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life‘” (John 8:12).

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The Lot Did Not Come Up in the Right Hand

Each year on the Day of Atonement, one goat was chosen “for the Lord” and the other to be the “Azazel” (the scapegoat sent into the wilderness). They were chosen by lot, as the priest would reach both hands into an urn, selecting both a white stone and a black stone and placing them on the heads of the two goats. The people always hoped that the white stone (“for the Lord”) would be in the priest’s right hand, and this happened about half the time (as one would expect).

During the 40 years between 30 – 70 AD, however, the white stone never once turned up in the right hand of the priest. It turned up in the left hand every single time. Perhaps the significance of this is that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2; see also Acts 2:34, Ephesians 1:20, Heb. 1:3). 

The Temple Doors Opened By Themselves

Both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds also spoke of the temple gates opening by themselves each night between 30 – 70 AD. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Sota 6:3), Jewish leaders knew this was a sign of impending doom for the temple:

“Said Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai to the Temple, ‘O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars” (Zechariah 11:1).'”

Jesus had prophesied that the temple’s downfall would take place in His own generation (Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30, Luke 21:5-32). Scripture also reveals that God’s temple is Jesus and His followers, both individually and corporately:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days? But He was speaking of the temple of His body'” (John 2:19-21).

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16).

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19).

For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people‘” (II Corinthians 6:16).

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The Christian Zionist movement is excited over the prospect of a rebuilt temple in modern Jerusalem, with some Christian organizations even raising large amounts of money to see it happen. No Biblical prophecy says this must happen, and since Christians are God’s temple it’s odd, to say the least, to see Christians on the edge of their seats watching for it to happen. God’s people, wherever we dwell in the world, are His dwelling place. For a deeper study on how God made His dwelling place in the new Jerusalem instead of earthly Jerusalem, see these two posts: [1] Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons and [2] New Jerusalem, God’s Dwelling Place.

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The Olivet Discourse: “This” Generation or “That” Generation (Part 1 of 4)


Much attention is being given these days to what is known as The Olivet Discourse, found in three of the four gospel accounts: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Jesus delivered this famous address from the Mount of Olives just days before His crucifixion. Many today are linking this narrative to current events, such as recent large earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, Haiti, New Zealand, and Indonesia. They believe these are sure signs pointing to the end of the world.

   

         SOURCE                                              SOURCE                                                       SOURCE

Is this how Jesus intended for us to view this prophecy? When He said, “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32), was He speaking of a generation 2000 years into the future? Or was He speaking of His own generation, and events which were to take place in their time? When He said “this generation,” did He really mean “that generation” (one that was distant to His first century audience)? This is what we will be looking at in the four posts which will make up this series. We will examine all three accounts of this prophecy side-by-side, as I believe this will be helpful in seeing what Jesus was saying and how He intended to be understood.

In this first post, we will take a close look at the initial remarks made by Jesus’ disciples, His shocking response, and their resulting question(s) which led to His discourse. Here is that text, from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

MATTHEW 24:1-3

MARK 13:1-4

LUKE 21:5-7

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?  1As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are about to take place?

In all three accounts we see one or more of the disciples admiring the beautiful, massive stones which made up the Second Temple. According to some Jews who encountered Jesus early in His ministry (John 2:18-22), Herod’s massive expansion project had already been going on for 46 years. Indeed, history tells us that it began in 19 BC, and that the renovations continued until 65 AD, a mere five years before the temple was destroyed by the Romans. Tacitus (56-117 AD), the Roman historian and Senator, said that the temple “was famous beyond all other works of men.”

Jesus’ response to His disciples’ remarks must have been shocking, in light of the breathtaking sight before their eyes: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Of course, Jesus had said this before. His ominous prophecy, though, is what prompts their next question. Or is it questions (plural)? There is only one specific question asked in all three accounts. In the accounts of Mark and Luke, at least, there should be no doubt that it’s this question which Jesus spends the next 25 or 26 verses answering: “…when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are about to be fulfilled?” The only thing Jesus had said would happen at this point was that all the temple’s stones would be thrown down.

Model of the Second Temple; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jerus-n4i.jpg

Do we know from history that this temple, the same temple the disciples observed, was destroyed? Yes, we do. Josephus, the Jewish historian, for example, records in astounding detail how Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD after a horrendous 5-month siege (see here, here, and here to learn more about what happened). According to both Mark and Luke, the signs that Jesus gave in the next 25 verses (in Luke’s case) and the next 26 verses (in Mark’s case) were to precede the downfall of the temple. In the next couple of posts, we will look at those prophesied signs, which include earthquakes and other calamities. Many today are saying that these same prophesied signs are happening in our own day, and that this means we are only now about to see Jesus’ prophecies fulfilled. How can this be, though, if they were to happen before a prophesied event which we know took place 1,941 years ago?

Only in Matthew’s account do the disciples perhaps appear to ask two additional questions: [1] about Jesus’ coming and [2] about “the end of the age.” For those who believe that Matthew 24 has yet to be fulfilled, it’s often these questions which are said to indicate a required future fulfillment, despite the fact that they don’t even appear in Mark’s and Luke’s parallel accounts. It’s common these days to see a division of questions, as if the disciples asked about the near future as well as the very distant future, but as this study continues we’ll see that it wasn’t so common in earlier church history. Thomas Newton, a well-known English cleric, scholar, and author, said the following in 1754 about this passage:

‘The coming of Christ,’ and ‘the conclusion of the age,’ being therefore only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, the purpose of the question plainly is, when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it?

Background to Jesus’ Promised Coming: Matthew 10:23 and 16:27-28

What prompted the disciples to ask about Jesus’ coming, especially in the context of what He said about the temple’s impending destruction? Where had Jesus previously spoken of His coming, and what had He said about this event? Jesus had in fact spoken of His coming twice already in Matthew’s account. In Matthew 10:23, Jesus made this very interesting statement: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”[i] During the next couple of decades after Jesus said this, we can see numerous examples of Jesus and His followers doing this very thing (e.g. Matthew 12:14-15, Acts 8:1, Acts 9:23-25, Acts 9:29-30, Acts 14:5-6, Acts 17:4-10, Acts 17:13-14).

In Matthew 16:27-28, He was even more descriptive about what His coming would accomplish, and within what timeframe it would take place: “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person for what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

If this statement was fulfilled in His transfiguration six days later, as some contend, in what sense did Jesus “come with His angels” then and repay each person according to what he had done (a clear picture of judgment)? We know this didn’t happen on that occasion. We also know that none of His disciples died within those six days, but some were indeed martyred before 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. To believe that Jesus hasn’t yet (in the year 2011) come back as He promised in this passage is to believe either that [a] He lied or [b] there are 2000 year old men still walking around on this planet.[ii] Let’s look at four aspects of this promised coming, as this should help us to know what was in the minds of Jesus’ disciples when they asked Him about His coming in Matthew 24:3.

1. IN HIS KINGDOM: From this text, we know that one purpose for His coming, which He promised would take place before all of His disciples had died, was to establish His kingdom. This fits perfectly with the following prophecy given to Daniel: “And in the days of those kings* the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people” (Daniel 2:44). [*Biblical scholars hold a virtual consensus that the four kingdoms in Daniel’s vision were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Since Rome was destroyed in 476 AD, we know that, for this prophecy to be true, the kingdom was set up before that time.] A first century fulfillment fits; a 21st century fulfillment doesn’t. Furthermore, the kingdom was to be given to the saints (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the Parable of the Tenants that the kingdom of God would soon be taken away from the Jewish leaders and their nation and given instead “to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43) – a clear description of the body of Christ. This was to happen even as the stone was to crush those who would fall (verse 44) – 1.1 million Jews killed in August/September 70 AD by the Romans would seem to qualify as a fulfillment of this prediction.

2. TO REPAY EACH PERSON: The context of Jesus’ promise to come “to repay each person” for what they had done was His foretelling of His own death and suffering at the hands of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 16:21-23), and also of the suffering that His own disciples could expect (verses 24-26). In other words, it would be for vindication. This is similar in nature to what Paul promised to the Thessalonian believers when he told them that they could expect relief “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance” (II Thessalonians 1:7), with the purpose being “to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (verse 6). This was imminent in their day, for Paul said that the wrath of God had already come upon the Jewish persecutors (I Thess. 2:14-16). He knew this to be true because Jesus had declared in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:35-36) that the blood of all the prophets would be required of His own (first century) generation in Israel.

3. WITH HIS ANGELS: Just like Paul’s prophecy to the Thessalonians, Jesus’ promise to come while some of His disciples were still alive (Matt. 16:28) was also to involve His angels (“The Son of Man is going to come with His angels…”). As my good friend, Mark Church, has pointed out, all throughout the book of Revelation we see His angels pouring out judgment upon “the great city” where the Lord was crucified (Revelation 11:8) – that is, Jerusalem, the same city which was marked as a harlot because of its shedding of the blood of the saints and martyrs (Rev. 17:1-6), apostles, and prophets (Rev. 18:20-24). [For those who believe that Revelation remains unfulfilled, is there any modern nation or entity which is responsible for the martyrdom of the apostles?]

4. IN THE GLORY OF HIS FATHER: Jesus also promised to come “in the glory of His Father” (Matt. 16:27). As Don Preston well points out, this can be understood to mean that just as the Father had come in the past, Jesus would also come in the same manner. Don gives as an example Isaiah 64:1-3, where the writer declares that God had “come down” numerous times in the past:

“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood, and the fire causes water to boil – to make Your name known to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things that we did not look for, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence.”

Just as the Father’s comings in times past had not been bodily, visible, or physical in nature, neither would the coming of Jesus in judgment be bodily, visible, or physical. We will discuss this in more depth when we come to Jesus’ predicted coming in the clouds in Matt. 24:30/Mark 13:26/Luke 21:27. We will see that there are numerous examples in the Old Testament where God is said to have come in the clouds in judgment upon various nations and enemies of His people, even examples where the language is remarkably similar to the language used in The Olivet Discourse.

So we can see from these two passages (Matt. 10:23 and 16:27-28) why Jesus’ disciples expected Him to come again in their own lifetimes. We’re also beginning to see why, in Matthew 24:3, they linked this coming to His dark prediction about the temple’s future. Other strong clues also exist in the previous two chapters (Matthew 22-23).[iii] Kevin Daly, from the South African ministry “Messianic Good News,” has this to say:

It is Jesus’ confirmation that the Temple’s fate is sealed that leads to the disciples’ question: ‘When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’

Some argue this to be three separate questions – so that Jesus’ answer in the subsequent verses must be unraveled and applied to three different events, namely (i) the temple’s destruction, (ii) his coming and (iii) the end of the age. But this is not supported by the parallel accounts in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. These render the disciples’ question as follows:

‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’ (Mark 13:4)

‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ (Luke 21:7)

In Matthew’s wording of the disciples’ question, what Jesus prophesied against the Temple would, by implication, happen at our Lord’s coming in judgment and would also, by further implication, bring about the end of that age.

Matthew phrases the question in the prophetic language of the Old Testament, which was familiar to the Jewish audience for which his gospel was written. In this language, the execution of Divine judgment was commonly spoken of as a visitation of the LORD, as either His coming or His coming in the cloud. [Consider] Micah’s prophecy against the ‘high places’ of Judah – being localities of false worship, which the Temple in Jerusalem had now become:

‘For behold, the LORD comes forth from His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be melted under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place. For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel  …  What are the high places of Judah? Are they not Jerusalem?’ (Micah 1:3-5).

Source: Kevin Daly, When Will These Things Happen – Matthew 24 and the Vindication of Messiah. 2009.

Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled in 586 BC when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian armies. We know that God didn’t physically and bodily come down at that time, but He did still “come down” in judgment in fulfillment of this prophecy. It’s this same apocalyptic language that Matthew uses to speak of another and more final judgment which was about to come once again upon Jerusalem. History tells us that it did come. Some readers may be surprised to know that Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who preached the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” once made this statement in his work titled “Miscellany #1199”:

“Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it [So in Luke 17:20 – 18:8].”

The way that the Olivet Discourse is popularly approached today has Jesus effectively saying this to His disciples: “You guys have asked a very interesting question about when this temple will be destroyed, but let Me ignore your question and tell you instead about some events which will begin and end about 2000 years in the future.” Rather than being about us, and our generation, Jesus addressed the concerns of His disciples regarding their own generation.

THE END OF THE AGE

Having now given considerable space to the question of Christ’s coming, we’ll give only brief space here to the disciples’ question about the end of the age. The King James Version used the expression “the end of the world” in Matthew 24:3, but most newer translations use the expression “the end of the age.” Clearly, Jesus tied the end of the age that they were speaking of to the time of His coming, which we have seen was promised to occur in their own generation.

Therefore, the disciples weren’t asking about the final days of this planet. Their question was about the end of the Old Covenant age. That age came to an end along with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. This “end” was spoken of by Daniel and other Old Testament prophets. The book of Hebrews even speaks of the Old Covenant “becoming obsolete and growing old…ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). It vanished along with the temple. We are now in what the New Testament frequently called “the age to come.” A great transition took place a long time ago, and we are privileged to live in the New Covenant age. The heavenly Jerusalem is a present reality for God’s people (Hebrews 12:22-24). Regarding “the end” spoken of in both Matthew and Daniel, Kevin Daly provides this helpful chart:

you will hear of wars and rumours 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:

 Matthew 24:6,14

Dan 9:26b

“The end” spoken of in Daniel’s prophecy was clearly to be the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:26). We know as an indisputable fact of history that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD. That brought about the end of an age, the Old Covenant age. It is popularly taught today that we are living in what the Bible calls “the last days,” and that these last days began on the Day of Pentecost because of Peter’s reference to Joel’s prophecy about an outpouring in “the last days.” However, this cannot be true, because Hebrews 1:1-3, Hebrews 9:26, and I Peter 1:18-20 tell us explicitly that Jesus’ incarnational ministry took place in the last days. Therefore, Jesus appeared and ministered in the last days of an age that had clearly begun quite some time before He appeared. That age still had not ended when Paul wrote his epistle to the Corinthian church, but it was drawing even closer to the end, for he told his readers that they were those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

Rather than open this up further, or to try to defend this premise in greater depth here, I’d like to point to an earlier post on this subject which I believe you’ll find to be a good explanation of these things (HERE). You’ll see that the New Testament placed Jesus’ ministry, death, etc. in “the last days” and at “the end of the age,” and that after Jesus’ ascension the apostles still spoke of their time in the same terms. Jerry William Bowers Jr. has also compiled a very informative article, based on David Green’s 101 Time Statements showing that John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early church were not only consistent, but also correct, when they repeatedly stated that certain events were near, at hand, about to take place, etc. That article can be seen (HERE).

In the next post, we will look at the beginning of Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ question about the signs which would lead to the destruction of the temple, His coming, and the end of the age. We will examine Matthew 24:4-14, Mark 13:5-13, and Luke 21:8-18 side-by-side.

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A THOUGHT: Do you find it interesting that John, in his gospel account, omits the Olivet Discourse entirely, even though he was no doubt present when Jesus spoke these things? One likely reason for this curious fact is that the book of Revelation, which he authored, actually functions as his exposition of the Olivet Discourse, though in much greater detail. Therefore, he felt no need to include the Olivet Discourse passage in his gospel account, especially if the book of John was written after the book of Revelation.

QUOTES TO NOTE

Eusebius (314 AD): “If any one compares the words of our Saviour with the other accounts of the historian (Josephus) concerning the whole war, how can one fail to wonder, and to admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Saviour were truly divine and marvelously strange” (Proof of the GospelBook III, Ch. VII).

John Wesley (1703-1791): “Josephus’ History of the Jewish War is the best commentary on this chapter (Matt. 24). 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” (Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, 1754).

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[i] John Wesley (1703-1791) is one of many in church history who taught that Jesus was referring in Matt. 10:23 to a judgment coming in 70 AD in which He would “destroy their temple and nation” (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, 1754).

[ii] John Wesley, again, is one of many in church history who taught a 70 AD fulfillment of Matthew 16:27-28, saying, “For there is no way to escape the righteous judgment of God. And, as an emblem of this, there are some here who shall live to see the Messiah coming to set up His mediatorial kingdom with great power and glory, by the destruction of the temple, city, and polity of the Jews” (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, 1754). Some believe this is also identical to the prophecy Jesus gave in Revelation 22:12, revealing why John’s 1st century audience was to understand that He was about to come: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done.”

[iii] In Matthew 22:1-14 we read the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jewish nation) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12).

In Matthew 23:29-38, we see that in the 7th woe pronounced upon the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus charges them with shedding the blood of all the prophets (vss. 29-31). He even says that they will kill, crucify, flog, and persecute others from town to town (verse 34). As a result, He says, they would be held responsible for all the shed blood from generations past up until their own generation. He concludes, “Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (verse 36). He then lifts up a lament for Jerusalem, whose house, He said, was left to them desolate. This would naturally remind His listeners of Daniel 9:26, where it was said that “the city and the sanctuary” would be destroyed, with desolations decreed. The expected timeframe for this judgment was “this generation” (Jesus’ first century audience).

Revelation Chapter 11


REVELATION 11

Dave: October 8, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11

[Notes from Adam were added on November 3rd and 8th, with Dave’s permission, and are in maroon font.]

Verses 1-2: The Two Witnesses
1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

David Chilton comments: “Measuring is a symbolic action used in scripture to ‘divide between the holy and the profane’ and thus to indicate divine protection from destruction (see Ezek. 22:26; 40-43; Zech. 2:1-5; cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Rev. 21:15-16)” [Source: Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 220]. Some preterists find this text to be one of the strongest indications of an early date. Examples of this can be seen in the following quotes taken from the Preterist Archive:

[1] Johannes Friedrich Bleek (1870): “As to the time of writing, there are several statements which indicate this with tolerable clearness, and to which we have already referred. In the first division (ch. xi. 1-14)… Jerusalem and the temple are spoken of as still standing.” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2:226.)
[2] James M. Macdonald (1877):
“It is difficult to see how language could more clearly point to Jerusalem, and to Jerusalem as it was before its overthrow.”, (The Life and Writings of St John , p. 159.)
[3] Bernhard Weiss (1889): “The time of the Apocalypse is also definitely fixed by the fact that according to the prophecy in chap. xi. it was manifestly written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which in xi. 1 is only anticipated.” (Bernhard Weiss, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament, 2:82; 1889.)
[4] John A.T. Robinson (1976): “It is indeed generally agreed that this passage must bespeak a pre-70 situation.. There seems therefore no reason why the oracle should not have been uttered by a Christian prophet as the doom of the city drew nigh.” (Redating the New Testament pp.. 240-242).
[5] Kenneth Gentry (1998): “If John wrote about literal Jerusalem (“where also their Lord was crucified”)  twenty-five years after the destruction of the literal Temple (as per the evangelically formulated late date argument), it would seem most improbable that he would speak of the Temple as if it were still standing. The symbol would be confusing in its blatant anachronism. The Temple is required to be standing for the symbolical action of the vision to have any meaning. John uses the future tense when he speaks of the nations’ treading down the city. As just stated, this is not a reminiscence of a past event, but rather a future expectation.” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p.175)

David S. Clark (1989) is also quoted in this regard by Steve Gregg (p. 222): “Here is so plainly the destruction of Jerusalem that it could hardly be put in plainer words. It seems evident that there is no getting away from the fact that here we are dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70,–that all that John has said hitherto was leading up to this great fact,–that here we have the culmination of these prophetic seals, and this is where the first half of the book lands us.”

• If Revelation was written in 95 AD, then what temple is being referred to here? Herod’s temple had been long destroyed.
• If the temple here is referring to a temple that is “future” (as futurists believe), why would such a temple be necessary in light of the work of Christ and the new covenant that has replaced temple sacrifices? See Hebrews 9-10. If a new temple is necessary and said to be the “temple of God” in Rev 11:1, this would dangerously minimize the work of Christ.
• Rev 11:2 says that the holy city will be “trampled” for 42 months. This prophecy is remarkably similar to the one spoken by Jesus in Luke 21:24, where it is said that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” And Luke 21:24 is commonly believed to be referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
• The “holy city” is Jerusalem as described in 11:8 [see below].
• 42 months is the length of time that historians say the Roman army attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This 42 months covers the period from February 67 AD – August 70 AD, that is, from the time that Rome declared war on Israel (and Vespasian marched into Judea, Galilee, and on toward Jerusalem) until Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed. From Scripture we know that Jerusalem had been known historically as “the holy city” (Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 48:2, 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53), and this was still its historic designation despite the fact that Jesus had pronounced it desolate (Matt. 23:38). In 1851, Moses Stuart (Professor at Andover Theological Seminary) made the following remarks concerning Revelation 11:2 and the trampling of the holy city for 42 months, his point being that the mention of “the holy city” also referred to Israel as a whole:

“Jerusalem, as being the metropolis, is, as often in the Old Testament, made the symbol or representative of the whole country or nation. The reader needs only to be reminded, how often Zion and Jerusalem stand, in prophetic language, as the representatives of the Jewish government, polity, land, and nation, in order to accede to the position, that the capitals in the Apocalypse are to be considered as the symbols of the country and of the government to which they belong.

“When John therefore predicts, in Rev. 11:2, that “the holy city shall be trodden under foot 42 months,” this of course involves the idea, that the country of which the holy city is the capital, is also trodden under foot. To make their way to the capital, a foreign enemy, coming (as the Romans did) from the north, must have overrun a great portion of Palestine antecedently to the capture of Jerusalem. The prediction of course includes both, inasmuch as the holy city is made the representative of the country at large.”

Source: Moses Stuart, Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, New York: Van Nostrand and Terrett, pp. 115-116; available online at http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/pdf/1851_stuart_hints_interpretation.pdf

Discussion item: read Luke 21:5-33
• My ESV Bible heading, and the accompanying explanation, claim that verses 20-24 refer to AD 70. If so, how could the rest of the text refer to a future “end times”?
• Could the entire passage refer to AD 70?
• What is the significance of verse 32 to the issue?

I have to admit that for some time I’ve been a bit perplexed over the language used in verses 1-2. I can see the basis for saying that this passage is written as if the Second Temple was still standing when John received his vision (and I believe it was), yet the use of the phrase “temple of God” seems to indicate that the Church is also being referred to here (cf. Eph. 2:11-22; II Cor. 6:16; I Cor. 3:16, 6:19). Therefore it may be that John was (symbolically) measuring the Church which would be trampled (persecuted) for 42 months (see Rev. 13:5-7). Given the similarity between this passage and Luke 21:24, the physical temple was also probably being alluded to. It may be that both ideas were being spoken of in this case (more will be said on this later in this post).

David Chilton may be on to something, then, as in the quote above he referred to a division between the holy and the profane. That may very well be what John is seeing contrasted here. In other words, the desolate physical temple (cf. Matthew 23:38) would soon disappear, and only God’s holy temple (His people) would remain standing (cf. Hebrews 8:13, 12:18-29). I also appreciate what David Lowman (a Presbyterian pastor in Colorado) has said concerning these things:

The measuring of the Temple is patterned, like so much of the book of Revelation, after the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel we are shown an angel of the Lord measuring the Temple representing the future for Jerusalem and God’s Holy people after a return from exile. Conversely, John measures the temple to determine its soon coming destruction and its being ‘trampled’ for 42 months…

What John does, though, is give us a beautiful, symbolic picture of God’s preserving work, for only the outer courts of the Temple are seen as being trampled, while the Temple Proper (Holy Place and Holy of Holies) is preserved. This would be God’s remnant preserved through the soon coming wrath and destruction. The physical Temple faced the wrath of God and His judgment, but His true Temple – the Church – survived and thrived amidst the persecution and tribulation…

God here, in this interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, is once again showing His protection of His people. He has measured them out and has determined to protect them through the 3 1/2 year time of judgment set against apostate Israel and the physical representation of the old and obsolete Covenant, the Temple.

Kenneth Gentry (p. 174) writes in a similar manner, saying that “the measuring of the Temple is for the preservation of its innermost aspects, i.e., the…altar, and worshippers within (Rev. 11:1).” He adds,

This seems to refer to the inner-spiritual idea of the Temple in the New Covenant era that supercedes the material Temple of the Old Covenant era. Thus, while judgment is about to be brought upon Israel, Jerusalem, and the literal Temple complex, this prophecy speaks also of the preservation of God’s new Temple, the Church…that had its birth in and was originally headquartered at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 8:1; 15:2). Notice that after the holocaust, the altar is seen in heaven (Rev. 11:18), whence Christ’s kingdom originates (John 18:36; Heb. 1:3) and where Christians have their citizenship (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1, 2).

The external court of the Temple complex, however, is not “measured”; it is “cast out”… All the Israelites who refuse the new priesthood of baptism are cast out and their Temple destroyed. The Temple is not destined for preservation, “for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months” (v. 2). The prior prophecy of Christ (Matt. 24:2) absolutely prohibits any expectation of even a partial preservation of the literal Temple. Thus, John reveals both the prophetic certainty of the material Temple’s destruction and the fact of the preservation of His true Temple, His Church, His New Covenant people, His new priesthood [As such, Rev. 11:1, 2 functions in the same way as the “sealing of the 144,000” passage in Rev. 7]. The proper understanding of the passage requires a mixture of the figurative-symbolic and the literal-historical.

Steve Gregg (p. 220) adds these helpful notes,

As at the end of chapter 10, where John’s eating of the book repeats Ezekiel’s action of centuries earlier, here in chapter 11 John is told to do something else that also has a precedent in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40-47 a man measures the temple with a measuring rod. In Revelation 11 John himself is given a reed for the same purpose. In both cases, the action depicts the defining of the true spiritual temple in view of the impending destruction of the physical structure in Jerusalem (by Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day, by Romans in John’s).

Verses 3-6: 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire…

The two witnesses
• There is all sorts of speculation about the identity of the two witnesses amongst preterists, futurists, and everyone else!
• The reference to the two olive trees and two lampstands is from Zechariah 4:11-14. There the reference is to the high priest, Joshua, and the governor, Zerubbabel. (Read Zech 4)
What do we know about the two witnesses from the text?
• They prophesy for 1260 days (vs. 3)
• They are clothed in sackcloth (vs. 3) (Why? Perhaps because their message is one of impending destruction)
• They have power to harm their adversaries (vs. 5)
• They have power over nature and to strike the earth with plagues (vs. 6)
• They are overcome and killed by the beast in God’s time (vs. 7)
• Their dead bodies will lie in Jerusalem for 3 ½ days (vs. 9)
• Their death will be celebrated (vs. 10)
• They have been a “torment” to those on the earth (vs. 10) How and why?
• God will make them alive again after 3 ½ days! (vs. 11)
• They are taken up to heaven on a cloud! (vs. 12)
• A deadly earthquake fell on the city after their departure (vs. 13)

Explanations given for the identity of the two witnesses:
• Religious and Civic authority (represented by the high priest and governor of Zech 4)
• Moses and Elijah returning to earth
• Elijah and Enoch returning to earth
• James and Peter
• Two people that God raised up for the role

Kenneth Gentry has the following to say regarding their identity and significance:

(1) This is recognized on all hands to be one of the more difficult identifications in Revelation.
(2) Somehow these witnesses relate to Moses and Elijah in that imagery from their ministries appear in the passage (water to blood and drought, v6).
(3) They also related to Zechariah’s prophecy of the gold lampstand and two olive trees in Zech 4:2-3, which speak of the rebuilding of the OT temple under Joshua (priest) and Zerubbabel (governor).
(4) In both allusions we have reference to the original founding of Israel as a nation and the re-establishment of it after the Babylonian exile.
(5) Thus, the two witnesses represent the founding of a new order for Israel upon the ruins of the old, earthly Israel. This is the church of Jesus Christ. Remember: Jesus said he will take the kingdom from Israel and give it to a nation bearing the fruit thereof. (Mt 21:43). Despite the persecution of Christianity it shall arise from apparent defeat.

Tony Denton (www.asiteforthelord.com) offers these interesting thoughts:

Under the Mosaic law, two witnesses were necessary to put any man to death; so, in that sense, God was providing two witnesses against Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. These two witnesses would prophesy against Jerusalem and warn the people for 3.5 years.

Not only did sackcloth represent great sadness at an impending disaster due to sin, but also it (typically made of camel’s hair) was traditionally worn by prophets (like John the Immerser); perhaps this was because prophets were practically always warning of these disasters.

The two witnesses comprise one set of two olive trees and one set of two lampstands. So what or who do these trees and stands represent? Briefly…

This is derived from Zechariah 4:1-12 where the reader finds that one olive tree represents the anointed king David, and the other represents the anointed priest Aaron—thus king and priest; the idea here seems to be that Christ’s church (made up of Christians who were/are both kings and priests, Rev. 5:10) would be witnesses of God against Judaism. And…

We already know that individual congregations of the church universal were represented to John as lampstands (Rev. 1:20), they who shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).

James MacDonald, in his 1877 book The Life and Writings of St. John, was of the opinion that we don’t have a historical record of the activity of the two witnesses during the Roman-Jewish War because the historians we rely on from that time were either Jewish (Josephus) or Roman (e.g. Tacitus), and none were Christian:

If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans . . . . But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth… The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light… If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case, and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled… There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God (pp. 161-162)

Moses Stuart (Professor of Andover Theological Seminary), in his 1851 work Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, saw a significance in the number of witnesses chosen by God to prophesy during this time of judgment upon apostate Israel. He remarks, “Two witnesses, and but two, are specified, as we may naturally suppose, because, ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter is established.'” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 19:15 (cf. II Cor. 13:1).

Although history doesn’t seem to record the activities of two witnesses as some might expect if this is a past event (and if it is assumed that they are merely individuals), Josephus does record some interesting details regarding the activity of one man, whose behavior shows that he functioned very much as a prophet in the city of Jerusalem. The following excerpt is taken from a term paper I wrote a few months ago:

Jesus, the son of Ananus and a common Roman citizen, came to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem during a time of great peace and prosperity and began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He continued to do this for seven years and five months, day and night, in all the lanes of the city, crying out the loudest during the festivals. He was often whipped until his bones were bare, but witnesses say he never shed a tear, only crying out at every lash, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” He was dismissed by the Roman Procurator as a madman… [In April 70 AD he was] killed by a large stone flung from one of the Roman engines… Just before he was struck, he cried out with great force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house! Woe, woe to myself also!”

In verse 6 we read that the two witnesses have the power to strike “the earth” with every kind of plague. Is their ministry worldwide or local? In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.

Verse 8: We know that Jerusalem is being spoken of because it is said that this is “where their Lord was crucified.” The following details also come from my same term paper:

It’s worth noting that “Revelation 11:8 suggests that Jerusalem’s streets were intact at the time of John’s writing” (Kenneth Gentry, 1998, p. 236) because the dead bodies of the two witnesses were to lie there for several days. If John wrote this in 95 or 96 AD, Jerusalem would have been a wasteland. As Kathleen M. Kenyon remarked [Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History, 1967, p. 185], “It was two centuries or more [after 70 AD] before human activity began once more to make its mark in the whole area of ancient Jerusalem.” It’s also significant in Revelation 11:8 that Jerusalem is called “the great city.” This is the same title given to Babylon the Great on at least six occasions (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21).

To be called “Sodom,” of course, is not a compliment. When Isaiah was instructed to prophesy against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:10), he called the Israelites by the same name because of their apostasy. It would make sense for John to speak of apostate Jerusalem, once known as the holy city, as Sodom, Babylon, and a harlot. Todd Dennis writes, “The image of the unfaithful wife, the harlot, was often used of Israel in the OT. Israel is repeatedly called the wife of God (Jer. 2:2, 3:14, Is. 54:5). But she was an unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20, Hos. 1:2, Ez. 6:9, Ez. 16, Is. 50:1) behaving as a prostitute (Jer. 3:1-2).

Luke is very clear that Jerusalem was to be the place where Jesus would be crucified. In his account of the Transfiguration, Luke says, “Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171) notes that Jerusalem was great in not only its “covenantal-redemptive [i.e. spiritual] signficance,” but also because of its historical fame. He quotes the Roman historian Tacitus who refers to Jerusalem as “a famous city” (Histories 5:2). Gentry adds,

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

Verses 9-12: Here we read that the dead bodies of the witnesses would lie unburied in the streets of the great city, Jerusalem, for “three and a half days,” before “a breath of life from God” enters them and they’re caught up to heaven in a cloud. A very natural explanation for “those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” (verse 9) being present in Jerusalem to see these dead bodies is that this would take place during one of the annual festivals. As an example of this, Luke says that on the Day of Pentecost “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Some of these nations are listed in Acts 2:9-11.

In several places Josephus speaks of dead bodies being left unburied in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War (Wars 4.5.2, 4.6.1, 4.6.3, and 5.13.1). Josephus says this about the death of Niger of Peres which took place in Jerusalem:

“Nor did Niger of Peres escape their hands; he had been a man of great valor in their war with the Romans… he besought them to grant him a burial; but as they had threatened him beforehand not to grant him any spot of earth for a grave, which he chiefly desired of them, so did they slay him [without permitting him to be buried]. Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides all that, they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another; all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them, when not long afterward. they tasted of their own madness in their mutual seditions one against another” (Wars 4.6.1).

In Wars 4.6.3 Josephus describes the fate of many Jews who “deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they [the Zealots] had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans.” Josephus adds this:

“Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun; and the same punishment was allotted to such as buried any as to those that deserted, which was no other than death; while he that granted the favor of a grave to another would presently stand in need of a grave himself.”

Verse 13: We are told that a great earthquake takes place, causing a tenth of the city of Jerusalem [identified as such in verse 8] to fall, and 7000 to be killed as a direct result of the earthquake. This is said to occur in the same hour as the end of the ministry of the two witnesses. This account from Josephus, (said to take place during the first half of 68 AD, appears to be the fulfillment of this event:

There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming (Wars 4:4:5). [Taking advantage of the noise of the storm, some of the Jewish zealots cut the bars of the temple gates with temple saws, allowing the Idumaeans to come in and join them in slaughtering some of the people]. The din from all quarters was rendered more terrific by the howling of the storm. And by daybreak they saw 8,500 dead bodies there (Wars 4:4:7-4:5:1).

Josephus does not attribute a certain number of deaths to the earthquake, and a certain number of deaths to the warfare which took place, but only notes that a total of 8500 dead bodies were discovered the morning after this earthquake. This is remarkably close to the Biblical account. Estimates of Jerusalem’s population prior to its destruction (at non-feast times) range as high as 200,000. This number in 68 AD, however, should have been lower considering that the Christians had fled and the city was in the throes of civil war. Josephus then records that the Idumaeans and the Jewish zealots succeeded in killing Ananus the high priest and his next-in-command, Jesus son of Gamalas (also known as Joshua), showing them much dishonor:

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial. I should not make a mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city [when the Jews] beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem” (Wars 4:5:2).

This is not to suggest that Ananus and Joshua were the two witnesses, but it sheds further light on verse 9 which indicates that the two witnesses were also not to be buried (cf. Psalm 79:1-4, where very similar conditions were described by Asaph).

Verses 14-15: 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. The Seventh Trumpet 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

There is much discussion about the meaning of v. 15. Within the Preterist view, in what way can it be said that “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of His Christ”? One response is that, with the trampling of the great city and the destruction of the temple, the kingdom of God is clearly shown that it is not a “national theocracy” limited to the Jewish people. The kingdom of Christ is available to all people (as demonstrated by Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles). The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) is most interesting in this regard. It speaks of the pattern of national Israel and its religious leaders throughout the Old Testament in killing God’s prophets and servants. At last they killed God’s Son, Jesus. When Jesus asked what would be done to the tenants of this vineyard, the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees (vss. 23, 45) rightfully answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruit in their seasons” (verse 41). Jesus then speaks of their rejection of Him (verse 42), and declares that the kingdom of God would be taken away from national Israel “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43).

Who is this people? Of course, it’s the Church, made up of Jewish and Gentile believers, among whom there is no distinction made (Galatians 3:28, 5:6, 6:15; Colossians 3:11; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:13-17). When did this happen, though, that the kingdom was taken away from national Israel and given exclusively to the Church? It can be said that this transaction took place at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, even at Pentecost when the Church was born. However, the physical manifestation of national Israel being taken out of the way, and the final consumation of the Jewish age, took place when Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. It’s quite possible that this event was on Jesus’ mind when He said, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (verse 45). The old covenant was in the process of vanishing away when Hebrews was written (see Heb. 8:13), but at this time it completely vanished away, and remains no more. Now to the Church belongs the kingdom (cf. Daniel 7:13-27).

In the Futurist view, the proclamation in verse 15 heralds the return of Christ and the end of the world. They point to verse 18 as the commencement of the final judgment.

Verse 19: As we saw in Rev. 4:5 and 8:5, the cosmic phenomena in verse 19 mirrors the phenomena that occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The significance of this parallel is that Jerusalem’s destruction (along with the temple) completed the transition from Judaism (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant.

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Our study of Revelation 11 (Part 2: Historicist View) continues here. Our Revelation 12 study can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

PP19: The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD (Part 3)


This is now the nineteenth 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:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/
[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/
[6] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/
[7] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/
[8] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp8-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-1/
[9] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp9-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-2/
[10] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp10-jerusalems-destruction-foretold-in-the-olivet-discourse/
[11] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp11-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-1/
[12] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp12-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-2/
[13] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp13-signs-of-the-close-of-the-age/
[14] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp14-abomination-of-desolation/
[15] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp15-the-man-of-lawlessness-ii-thess-2-part-1/
[16] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp16-the-man-of-lawlessness-ii-thess-2-part-2/
[17] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp17-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-1/
[18] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/pp18-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-2/

In the previous two posts we have been discussing the historical events which led up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. In the first post we saw a timeline of these events, and in the last post we examined some of these historical events in more detail. In this present post we will speak of Rome’s burning of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

For further details regarding the final five-month siege on Jerusalem (April-September 70 AD), and the crushing of all remaining Jewish resistance in the nation of Israel (Sept. 70 – May 73 AD), please refer back to the timeline which is laid out in part 1 (PP17).

Adam Maarschalk

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G. The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD (Part 3)

Titus, the son of Vespasian, had determined to spare the temple as an ornament to the Roman Empire. In a speech to the Jews defending the city, he had said, “I appeal to my own army, and the Jews that are now with me, and even to you yourselves, that I do not force you to defile this sanctuary; and if you will but change the place whereon you will fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay, I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not” (The Wars of The Jews, 6:2:4).

However, a Roman soldier, ignoring his words because he was urged on by a “divine impulse,” threw a flaming stick into a window of the temple, setting it on fire. The Jews instantly rushed in and tried in vain to extinguish the flames. Titus also shouted for help in stopping the fire, but his own men helped only to spread them wider. Writes Holford,

They rushed furiously upon [the Jews], slaying some with the sword, trampling others under their feet, or crushing them to death against the walls. Many, falling amongst the smoking ruins of the porches and galleries, were suffocated. The unarmed poor, and even sick persons, were slaughtered without mercy. Of these unhappy people numbers were left weltering in their gore. Multitudes of the dead and dying were heaped round about the altar, to which they had formerly fled for protection, while the steps that led from it into the outer court were literally deluged with their blood… The Romans, exasperated to the highest pitch against the Jews, seized every person whom they could find, and, without the least regard to sex, age or quality, first plundered and then slew them. The old and the young, the common people and the priests, those who surrendered and those who resisted, were equally involved in this horrible and indiscriminate carnage. Meanwhile the Temple continued burning, until at length, vast as was its size, the flames completely enveloped the whole building; which, from the extent of the conflagration, impressed the distant spectator with an idea that the whole city was now on fire. The tumult and disorder which ensued upon this event, it is impossible (says Josephus) for language to describe. The Roman legions made the most horrid outcries; the rebels, finding themselves exposed to the fury of both fire and sword, screamed dreadfully; while the unhappy people who were pent up between the enemy and the flames, deplored their situation in the most pitiable complaints. Those on the hill and those in the city seemed mutually to return the groans of each other. Such as were expiring through famine, were revived by this hideous scene, and seemed to acquire new spirits to deplore their misfortunes. The lamentations from the city were re-echoed from the adjacent mountains, and places beyond Jordan. The flames which enveloped the Temple were so violent and impetuous, that the lofty hill on which it stood appeared, even from its deep foundations, as one large body of fire. The blood of the sufferers flowed in proportion to the rage of this destructive element; and the number of the slain exceeded all calculation. The ground could not be seen for the dead bodies, over which the Romans trampled in pursuit of the fugitives; while the crackling noise of the devouring flames mingled with the clamor of arms, the groans of the dying and the shrieks of despair, augmented the tremendous horror of a scene, to which the pages of history can furnish no parallel.

The smoke of Jerusalem’s burning was indeed seen by those who stood afar off and who were out at sea (Revelation 18:17-18). Ivan Lewis writes (Todd Dennis [24], 2009), “No one believed that God would permit His Temple to be destroyed, and when this finally did happen, everyone within the city, men and women, young and old, were crazed with despair. Thousands cast themselves into the fire while others fell on their own swords.”

The Romans then hoisted their own idol-covered banners at every key point of the temple area, and plundered and burned the houses in the city. They murdered by the sword every Jew they could find, man, woman, and child. Their only compassion was for the dead, whom they encountered in mass numbers in many of the houses, mostly victims of the famine. Josephus writes, “But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (The Wars Of The Jews, 6:8:5).

The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, could possibly bring to mind a passage like Revelation 14:19-20, which says, “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles].” This was the understanding of John Wesley (1703-1791) who, in his commentary on this passage, wrote:

And the winepress was trodden – By the Son of God, Rev 19:15. Without [outside] the city – Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, ‘the city,’ immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses’ bridles – So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs – So far! At least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.

Wesley, like many today, tied this passage (Revelation 14:19-20) to Rev. 19:11-21, and rightly so. This is often referred to as the “Battle of Armageddon,” which Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say will happen in the plain of Megiddo. Author John Noe, on the other hand, notes that what the Bible refers to as a “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) would transpire “at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16). In Hebrew it’s actually “Har-Magedon,” as “har” means mountain in Hebrew (“Armageddon” is based on the Greek rendering, since “h” is silent in Hebrew). Therefore, this battle was to take place primarily on a mountain, not in a valley. Noe adds,

The most likely case is that Revelation’s “Har” is Jerusalem. Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17)… “Magedon/Megiddo” may also be comparative imagery. A great slaughter once took place in the valley of Megiddo (2 Ki. 9:27; Zech. 12:11). Throughout ancient history, this valley was also a favorite corridor for invading armies and the scene of numerous famous battles (Jud. 4-7; 1 Sam. 29-31; 2 Sam. 4; 1 Ki. 9:15; 2 Ki. 9-10; 22; 2 Chron. 35). So much blood was shed in this valley of Jezreel or Megiddo that it became a synonym for slaughter, violence, bloodshed, and battlefield, as well as a symbol for God’s judgment (Hos. 1:4-5). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.

In a similar fashion, the word “Waterloo” has garnered a symbolic use. Back in 1815, this town in Belgium was the battleground and scene of Napoleon’s final defeat. Today, we have a saying that some one or some thing has met their “Waterloo.” We don’t mean they have met that city in Europe. We mean, by way of comparative imagery, that they have met a decisive or crushing defeat, or their demise. I suggest Revelation employs the word Magedon/Megiddo in this same manner. History records that a great slaughter took place on a mountain in Palestine within the lifetime of the original recipients of the book of Revelation. In A.D. 70 the Roman armies of Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Eusebius, 1.1million Jews were killed (Todd Dennis [15], 2009).

Josephus goes on to say, “Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited” (The Wars Of The Jews, 7:1:1).

First Jewish Revolt (66-73 AD)

The final siege ended on September 26, 70 AD after a duration of five months. The destruction of Jerusalem, though, was not the end of Rome’s fury. Jews outside of Jerusalem also became victims. Holford continues,

All above the age of seventeen were sent in chains into Egypt, to be employed there as slaves, or distributed throughout the empire to be sacrificed as gladiators in the amphitheatres ; whilst those who were under this age, were exposed to sale. During the time that these things were transacted, eleven thousand Jews, guarded by one of the generals, named Fronto, were literally starved to death. This melancholy occurrence happened partly through the scarcity of provisions, and partly through their own obstinacy, and the negligence of the Romans. Of the Jews destroyed during the siege, Josephus reckons not less than one million and one hundred thousand [1.1 million], to which must be added, above two-hundred and thirty-seven thousand [237,000] who perished in other places, and innumerable multitudes who were swept away by famine, and pestilence, and of which no calculation could be made. Not less than two thousand [2000] laid violent hands upon themselves. Of the captives the whole was about ninety-seven thousand [97,000]… After the destruction of Jerusalem seventeen hundred [1700] Jews who surrendered at Macherus were slain, and of fugitives not less than three thousand [3000] in the wood of Jardes. Titus, having marched his army to Caesarea, he there, with great splendour, celebrated the birthday of his brother Domitian; and according to the barbarous manner of those times, punished many Jews in honour of it. The number who were burnt, and who fell by fighting with wild beasts, and in mutual combats, exceeded two thousand five hundred [2500]. At the siege of Massada [73 AD], Eleazer, the commander, instigated the garrison [of Jews] to burn their stores, and to destroy first the women and children, and then themselves.

In summary, says Josephus, “neither did any other city ever allow such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world” (Josephus, The Jewish War, Book 5, Chapter 10, Paragraph 5).