Messianic conflicts and the fall of Jerusalem (Mark 4)

Messianic conflicts and other conflicts

One of the most explicit Messianic images of the Old Testament, the vision of four successive empires in Daniel 2 and 7, was understood to signal the advent of the Messianic kingdom after the downfall of Rome. For this reason a number of Messianic movements arose within this period. According to Josephus, the actions of Messianic teachers and failure of Judean and Roman leaders to deal effectively with them propelled the nation toward open revolt. A review of select Messianic incidents reveals the tension, potential violence and general atmosphere in which Jesus proclaimed the “good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23):

  • Near the time of Herod’s death in 4 B.C., two leading Jewish teachers incited their students to remove the large, golden eagle (the symbol of Rome) that Herod had erected over the great gate of the temple. Herod arrested the teachers and their students and proceeded to burn them alive, also deposing the rigning high priest for his assumed complicity (Josephus Antiques 17.6.2).
  • The census of Quirinius in A.D. 6 prompted an open revolt. led by Judas of Galilee, which was violently suppressed (Antiquities 18.1.1; Acts 5:37).
  • When Pilate became prefect in A.D. 26 he commanded his troops to bring standards bearing the image of Caesar into Jerusalem. A large crowd followed him to Caesarea and sat outside his palace for five days and nights in protest. When he surrounded them with troops, they fell prostrate, exposed their necks and confessed themselves willing to die rather than have the (Mosaic) Law transgressed (Antiquities 18.3.1).
  • Pilate later used funds from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct and crushed all public opposition to this action (Antiquities 18.3.2).
  • He also slaughtered a group of Galileeans while they were offering sacrifices in Jerusalem (Luke 13:1).
  • John the Baptist appeared in Judea around A.D. 27, preaching repentance, the imminent advent of God and public criticism of Herod Antipas. He was arrested and subsequently executed (Mark 6:16-29).
  • A few years later Pilate crucified Jesus of Nazareth on the charge that He claimed to be “THE KING OF TH JEWS” (Matthew 27:37; Antiquities 18.3.3).
  • In A.D. 36 Pilate brutally suppressed a Messianic movement in Samaria, which precipitated his removal from office (Antiquities 18.4.1-2).
  • -in A.D. 41 the emperor Caligula sought to have a statue of himself erected in the temple of Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jews protested, demanding that they be slain first (Antiquities 18.8.2-3).
  • Around A.D. 45 a would-be prophet, Theudas, led a large crowd to the Jordan, promising to part the river at his own command as the sign of a new exodus. Roman troops slaughtered most of his followers and carried the head of Theudas to Jerusalem (Antiquities 20.5.1).

Many other such incidents are described in ancient sources, providing an important window into the complex and challenging world of the Holy Land during the time of Jesus.

The end of Jerusalem

All these tensions ultimately led to the Jewish revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus blamed the incompetence and insensitivity of the later procurators for the disastrous revolt. Despite initial Jewish success, the rebellion was crushed and the temple destroyed by the Roman general Titus in A.D. 70. After the war Judea was governed by a legate of senatorial rank who was under the direct supervision of the emperor. A second Jewish revolt in A.D. 132-135, led by the Messianic pretender Bar Kokhba (“son of the star”; cf. Numbers 24:17), resulted in a great slaughter of Jews and the forcible removal of surviving Jews from the land. The Romans renamed the province Palestine and converted the temple into a pagan shrine. Jerusalem itself became a Rpoman city, named Aelia Capitolina.


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