Josephus and the fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 24)

Illustration: The Titus Arch, which is a Roman celebration monument in Rome of Titus carrying the contents of the Temple in Jerusalem back to Rome.

The Jewish historian Josephus is our primary source of information about the fall of Jerusalem. During the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-70 Josephus began as a rebel leader, but midway he switched his allegiance to the Roman side of the conflict. He accompanied the Roman general Titus to the siege of Jerusalem and was thus an eyewitness of the harrowing events of the city’s fall.

As the Romans slowly crushed the revolt in outlying arears, refugees flooded into Jerusalem for the climatic battle of the war. The Jews inside the city were torn by internal dissent, with various rebel groups vying for control. There was horrendous loss of life, and conditions worsened as the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem in the spring of A.D. 70. Titus’s troops took the outer wall around May and captured the strategic Fortress of Antonia. The destruction of the temple was imminent, but many of the Jewish defenders likely believed that God would defend them and His temple at the last. Nonetheless, at the end of August the Romans successfully attacked the temple, setting fire to its gates and overwhelming its defenders. With the sanctuary fallen, the Jews lost hope, and carnage ensued.

Josephus described it thus: “No pity was shown on accord of age or out of respect for anyone’s dignity – children and elderly, lay people and priest alike were slain. The battle surged ahead and surrounded everybody, including both those who begged for mercy and those who resisted. The flames spread out to a great distance and its noise mixed with the groans of the perishing; and such was the height of the ridge and the magnitude of the burning that one would have imagined the hole city was aflame” (Wars, 6.5.1). Thus was Jesus’ prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple fulfilled (Matthew 24:2).

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