This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.
In the previous post, “The Little Horn Persecuted the Saints (Daniel 7:21, 25),” we continued to examine the roles that Daniel 7 says the little horn of the beast was to play. That post highlighted the persecution and murders carried out by the Zealots against anyone who advocated for peace instead of war, and against anyone they even suspected of wanting to defect to the Romans. During the height of that persecution (66 AD – 70 AD), were Christians in Judea and Jerusalem, and did they get caught up in the midst of it? Or did they all flee to Pella in late 66 AD?
Were Christians in Jerusalem During the Jewish-Roman War?
According to Daniel 7:21-22, 25 the little horn would make war against the saints, persecute them, and prevail against them until “the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” The saints would be in his hand for 3.5 years.
Revelation 13 gives some clues as to where these 3.5 years of persecution (Rev. 13:5-7) would take place. It would be directed toward those “who dwell in the land” (of Israel) who wouldn’t worship the beast (Rev. 13:8, 12). This requirement to worship the beast would be enforced by the beast that came “up out of the land” (a.k.a. “the false prophet”; Rev. 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). He would deceive “those who dwell in the land,” and he would work in the presence of the beast (Rev. 13:11-15). So Israel would be the geographical center of this persecution.
It should be safe to assume that the Christians didn’t support the war, and therefore they were at high risk of being killed if they were in Judea and Jerusalem from 66-70 AD. However, neither Josephus nor Tacitus specifically said that Christians were killed there during that time. As far as I’m aware, Josephus never singled out Christians, or distinguished between Jews and Christians, in any of his writings. He did not specifically say that Christians were killed along with Jews in Judea and Jerusalem prior to and during the first half of the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD).
The claim has been made that no Christians were killed when Jerusalem was destroyed, because they had all escaped to Pella (in modern Jordan). Who first made that claim, and what information was it based on? Assuming it’s true, does it simply mean that no Christians were killed during the siege of April-August 70 AD? Or does it mean, more broadly, that no Christians were killed in Jerusalem after the war began in 66 AD?
Source: Wikipedia (Pella, Jordan)
Since Daniel 7:21, 25 says that the little horn persecuted and prevailed against the Christians for 3.5 years, and since Revelation 13 shows that Christians living in Israel were targets of this persecution, then these are important questions to consider. This is especially true if one is open to the idea that this persecution was carried out by the Zealots.
For a while, the Zealots persecuted and killed their opponents in Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Idumea, and perhaps elsewhere as well, but eventually they were isolated to Jerusalem as the Romans gradually captured those territories. Once the Zealots were isolated to Jerusalem, Josephus is clear that they continued to oppose and kill their opponents there as well (see the previous post). Were Christians among them?
Here are the words of Jesus warning His followers of a time when they would need to flee:
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… For then there will be great tribulation…” (Matthew 24:15-16, 21).
“But when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… For in those days there will be tribulation…” (Mark 13:14, 19).
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her… For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:20-21, 23).
So Luke equates the abomination of desolation with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. When this happened, Christians were instructed to leave not only Jerusalem, but all of Judea, and not to go back in. The following are the earliest testimonies I’m aware of concerning Christians heeding this warning and fleeing to Pella and elsewhere (source: Preterist Archive):
Eusebius (263 – 339 AD)
 “But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men” (Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3, 290’s AD).
 “After all those who believed in Christ had generally come to live in Perea, in a city called Pella of the Decapolis of which it is written in the Gospel and which is situated in the neighborhood of the region of Batanaea and Basanitis, Ebion’s preaching originated here after they had moved to this place and had lived there” (Panarion 30:2).
 “For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan. It is said to belong to Decapolis” (de Mens. et Pond., 15).
 “Now this sect of Nazarenes exists in Beroea in Coele-Syria, and in Decapolis in the district of Pella, and in Kochaba of Basanitis– called Kohoraba in Hebrew. For thence it originated after the migration from Jerusalem of all the disciples who resided at Pella, Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege. It was owing to this counsel that they went away, as I have said, to reside for a while at Pella” (Haer 29:7).
Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (315 – 403 AD)
“The Nazoraean sect exists in Beroea near Coele Syria, in the Decapolis near the region of Pella, and in Bashan in the place called Cocaba, which in Hebrew is called Chochabe. That is where the sect began, when all the disciples were living in Pella after they moved from Jerusalem, since Christ told them to leave Jerusalem and withdraw because it was about to be besieged” (Panarion 29:7:7-8).
“Their sect began after the capture of Jerusalem. For when all those who believed in Christ settled at that time for the most part in Peraea, in a city called Pella belonging to the Decapolis mentioned in the gospel, which is next to Batanaea and the land of Bashan, then they moved there and stayed” (Panarion 30:2:7).
Remigius, Bishop of Reims (437 – 533 AD)
 “[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans” [Thomas Aquinas (1841). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels; Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 799-816)].
So the earliest known testimony about the Christians fleeing to Pella seems to belong to Eusebius, who wrote approximately 230 years after the flight took place. Some speculate that his reports were based on the writings of Hegesippus (110-180 AD), whose writings are now mostly lost. Here are a few things to note from these testimonies:
1. Eusebius said that the church in Jerusalem was warned to flee “before the war,” which Josephus said began in August 66 AD (Wars 2.17.2).
2. Eusebius said that the believers “generally” came to live in Pella of Perea. Epiphanius likewise said that they settled in Pella “for the most part.” This indicates that some believers escaped to other locations and/or that not all of the believers escaped.
3. When Remigius said “as ecclesiastical history tells us,” he appears to have been relying on the accounts of Eusebius.
4. Remigius revealed that Agrippa, who protected the Christians at Pella, was under the dominion of the Romans, and that the Jews he watched over were also under the dominion of the Romans.
Josephus does record a mass exodus out of Judea, but it’s difficult to tell exactly when it happened. It took place while Gessius Florus was the Procurator of Judea (64-66 AD). He behaved wickedly toward the Jews, causing the Zealots to gain the upper hand in Judea. According to Josephus, “he spoiled whole cities, and ruined entire bodies of men at once… entire toparchies were brought to desolation, and a great many of the people left their own country, and fled into foreign provinces” (Wars 2.14.2).
The earliest major attack of Jerusalem by the Romans took place in November 66 AD when Cestius Gallus led an army toward Jerusalem to try to put down the rebellion there (Wars 2.19.2-9). The Jews who were gathered there for one of the feasts “saw the war approaching to their metropolis” (Wars 2.19.2). Cestius and his army approached from the northeast of Jerusalem, first observing the city from Mount Scopus, one of the seven mountains of Jerusalem (Wars 2.19.4). It appears that Cestius approached Jerusalem and entered it from one direction, rather than surrounding the city. This also took place several months after the war had begun. (According to Eusebius, the believers were warned to flee before the war began.)
In order to reconcile the account of Eusebius with the words of Jesus, Jerusalem needed to be surrounded by armies prior to the war, which began in August 66 AD, according to Josephus. Was there an earlier instance of Jerusalem being surrounded, which prompted the believers to flee? Consider this account by Josephus, which took place in April – May 66 AD:
“A few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius [Jyar], a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Wars 6.5.3).
Did Christians flee Jerusalem and Judea at that time? By the time Cestius Gallus arrived in November 66 AD, Josephus says this about the people in Jerusalem: “Now for the people, they were kept under by the seditious” (Wars 2.19.4), meaning that they were under the control of the Zealots. This would have been a dangerous environment for any remaining Christians. In other words, the Zealots were a danger and a threat to the people of Jerusalem well before the Romans were. It was also at this time that Josephus said that many of the Zealots “retired from the suburbs, and retreated into the inner part of the city, and into the temple.” They did this because they were “affrighted at the good order of the Romans.”
Many of the Zealots did briefly leave Jerusalem when Cestius Gallus approached the city, but only for a matter of days. They were seized by fear, ran out of Jerusalem, and some of the people opened the gates and invited Cestius Gallus in “as their benefactor.” However, Cestius was unaware that the Zealots had fled and he surprisingly passed on this opportunity to capture Jerusalem. Instead, the Zealots resumed their courage and began to attack the armies of Cestius Gallus, soon achieving a resounding victory. Presumably, Christians in Jerusalem also had an opportunity to flee Jerusalem during those several days when Cestius Gallus was retreating from Jerusalem and most of the Zealots were pursuing his forces. Here’s how Josephus summarized that chain of events:
“A horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.
It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world. But when the robbers perceived this unexpected retreat of his, they resumed their courage, and ran after the hinder parts of his army, and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen…” (Wars 2.19.6-7).
Immediately after this defeat of Cestius Gallus, Josephus speaks of more Jews fleeing from Jerusalem: “After this calamity had befallen Cestius, many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink” (Wars 2.20.1).
Aside from the armies in the clouds which were seen surrounding cities in April – May 66 AD, there were also armies of Zealots roaming throughout Judea and Jerusalem. It’s possible that they surrounded Jerusalem prior to gaining such power that in November 66 AD they were able to “keep the people under” (Wars 2.19.4).
Concerning “abominations,” note that Josephus said that Jerusalem was full of them by September 66 AD, two months before the Romans arrived. This is when the Zealot leader Manahem and his followers were slain in the temple and other parts of the city:
“The city was all over polluted with such abominations, from which it was but reasonable to expect some vengeance, even though they should escape revenge from the Romans…as likely themselves to undergo punishment for the wickedness of the seditious; for indeed it so happened that this murder was perpetrated on the sabbath day, on which day the Jews have a respite from their works on account of Divine worship” (Wars 2.17.10).
What about the fate of Christians during this time when Jerusalem was in the grip of the Zealots? It’s the later commentaries which say that not a single Christian died in Jerusalem’s destruction. The same compilation of quotes at Preterist Archives reveals that this claim was made by Henry Hammond (1659), Thomas Newton (1754), George Peter Holford (1805), John Gill (1809), Albert Barnes (1832), Adam Clarke (1837), and Charles Finney (1852).
Whether this claim is true or not, it seems to refer only to the siege of Titus beginning in mid-April 70 AD. In other words, they claimed that Jerusalem was empty of Christians by spring 70 AD, but they did not seem to claim that Jerusalem was empty of Christians by fall 66 AD. Henry Hammond (1659), for example, says that “when Titus came some months after and besieged the city, there was not one Christian remaining in it.” Of course, it’s good to ask how Hammond or anyone else living many centuries later could have known that to be the case.
According to these commentaries, not all of the Christians went to Pella. Thomas Newton (1754) and Adam Clarke (1837) both said that they also settled “in other places beyond the River Jordan.”
Thomas Newton was likely referring to the writings of Josephus when he said, “We do not read anywhere that so much as one of them [Christians] perished in the destruction of Jerusalem.” That’s true. Again, Josephus, who wrote in more detail about the Jewish-Roman War than anyone else, didn’t specifically mention Christians being killed in Jerusalem. He also didn’t say anything about Christians escaping to safety in Pella. The lack of such information from Josephus doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t happen. It just means that he didn’t discuss the status of Christians at all.
The language of Daniel 7:21, 25 indicates that there were still Christians in the grip of the Zealots during the period of 66-70 AD. Based on the descriptions given by Josephus, it was difficult, but not impossible, for local people to enter and exit Jerusalem during that time. For example, After the Idumeans joined the Zealots in slaughtering thousands in February – March 68 AD, Josephus said this:
“But because the city had to struggle with three of the greatest misfortunes, war, and tyranny, and sedition, it appeared, upon the comparison, that the war was the least troublesome to the populace of them all. Accordingly they ran away from their own houses to foreigners, and obtained that preservation from the Romans, which they despaired to obtain among their own people” (Wars 4.7.1).
Despite the Zealots watching “all the passages out of the city,” others also managed to conceal themselves and flee directly to Vespasian, the Roman general:
“Vespasian did, indeed, already pity the calamities these men were in, and arose, in appearance, as though he was going to besiege Jerusalem, – but in reality to deliver them from a [worse] siege they were already under” (Wars 4.7.3).
Even in the midst of the Roman siege (April – September 70 AD), there were Jews who found safety when they escaped to the Romans, as “Titus let a great number of them go away into the country, whither they pleased” (Wars 5.10.1). Later in the siege Josephus said this:
“Many also of the other nobility went over to the Romans, together with the high priests. Now Caesar not only received these men very kindly in other respects, but, knowing they would not willingly live after the customs of other nations, he sent them to Gophna, and desired them to remain there for the present, and told them, that when he was gotten clear of this war, he would restore each of them to their possessions again; so they cheerfully retired to that small city which was allotted them, without fear of any danger” (Wars 6.2.2).
Although many Christians apparently left Jerusalem before the war began, it’s possible that some didn’t heed Jesus’ warning to flee (Matthew 24:15-20, Mark 13:14-18, Luke 21:20-23) and perished. It’s also possible that others stayed, endured great difficulties, and managed to flee later.
Outsiders continued to travel to Jerusalem from far and wide for the annual festivals all the way up to April 70 AD, and many of these pilgrims were killed because of the fighting between the Zealot factions (Wars 5.1.3). It’s possible that Christians from other regions outside of Judea came to Jerusalem to participate in the festivals, failing to heed the warning of Revelation 18:4, and paid the price with their lives.
In summary, I don’t believe that the testimonies of Eusebius, Remigius, Hammond, Newton, etc. in any way dismiss the idea that it was the Zealots, especially under the leadership of Eleazar Ben Simon, who prevailed over the saints in Israel and Jerusalem for 3.5 years. On the other hand, the testimony of Remigius actually dismisses the idea that Nero fulfilled Revelation 13:5-7 by persecuting Christians in all parts of the Roman Empire for a period of 3.5 years (from 64 AD until his death in 68 AD).
Nero’s Government Helped Protect the Christians in Pella
Remigius stated that the Christians in Pella were under the protection of King Agrippa, “but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans.” The fact that Christians escaped from Jerusalem to Pella in 66 AD indicates that Nero was not enforcing an empire-wide persecution of Christians at that time. It means that Nero’s government actually helped protect these Christians from the wrath of the Zealots. In fact, all of Perea, where Pella was located, was conquered by the Romans during the last six months of Nero’s life, but the Christians in Pella remained safe during that time.
The Roman general Vespasian’s victory over “Gadara, the metropolis of Perea” is recorded in Wars 4.7.3. Other parts of Perea were also conquered and Josephus says that “all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans” (Wars 4.7.6). This took place in the first half of 68 AD while Nero was still alive. If Nero was intent on killing Christians throughout the Roman Empire, then why did the Christians remain protected in Pella during this time when the Romans specifically targeted Perea and captured all of it? The far greater threat to their safety came from the Zealots who controlled Judea until most of that country was captured by the Romans, and who controlled Jerusalem for the entire first half of the Jewish-Roman War.
The next post will begin to examine Revelation 11:1-13, where the beast is introduced for the first time in the book of Revelation.
All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.