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.