Sin City – 1
A quick historical summary of the destruction of Jerusalem for your non-preterist friends:
In AD64, Herod’s Temple was completed, and Nero burned Rome. Both events led to the persecution of Christians — the Great Tribulation.
The first Jewish Roman War broke out in 66AD. It began with religious tensions between Jews and Greeks, but the Roman response to this opened a can of worms. The Jews were mad that the Romans hadn’t intervened, and the dispute rapidly turned into a Jewish protest against Roman taxes. Jewish rebels attacked Roman citizens, and possible traitors, and overran the Roman military garrison.
Gessius Florus, the Roman governor, intended to teach them a lesson by sending troops to break into the Temple and seize gold as a tribute for the emperor. The Jews mocked him and the unrest only escalated. Florus hit back by arresting and crucifying some of the city’s leaders, even though many of them were Roman citizens.
We must remember that this was only a short time after the completion of Herod’s Temple. Jesus said it would be torn down, not one stone left upon another. We can have little doubt that those words hung over the city for decades, so the Jews felt vindicated in its completion. They were the sons of God, the eternal people. Jesus was a false prophet and they were invincible. And they weren’t going to take Roman abuse any longer.
King Herod Agrippa II, who was pro-Roman, must have figured that things weren’t going to get any better. He and all the Roman officials in Jerusalem fled the city for Galilee.
The Romans sent in their Syrian legate to quell the revolt, but the Roman leadership was shocked when the Jewish rebels ambushed them and sent them packing. Not good. Any defeat like this would undermine Roman authority throughout the Empire. Things ramped up even further.
Emperor Nero commissioned General Vespasian and his son Titus to deal with the escalating problem. They assembled four legions and began their purge in Galilee in AD67. Vespasian crushed the rebellion in the north, with the help of the armies of Agrippa II and other allies.
But, by AD68, Nero’s erratic behavior led to the senate declaring him an enemy of the people. He fled the city and committed suicide. His successor, Galba, was assassinated, which led to civil war in Rome. The throne of Galba was usurped by Otho, and then by Vitellius, which is why AD69 is known as the year of the four emperors. The entire world was now in upheaval.
By this stage, Vespasian was so popular that he was hailed as emperor by his own legions. His support only increased, so he headed for Rome and began a new dynasty of emperors. This left Titus, his son, to finish the Jewish war.
Titus pitched camp to the north of the city, with a force of 80,000 legionaries. Inside the city were 2400 trained Jewish warriors who defended the walls. There was also an incredible number of Jews who had traveled from across the empire to celebrate Passover. They had been been caught in the siege and trapped in the city now for three years.
Jerusalem had been besieged early in the war, but it was so well fortified that things had fallen into a stalemate. What was the Roman solution? Dig an enormous trench around the city wall, and then build a Roman wall around the trench. Anyone caught trying to escape the city was crucified, and there were as many as five hundred in a single day.
Despite the crucifixions, increasing starvation, and disease spreading from the corpses, the Jewish zealots rejected every offer of terms of surrender. Infighting, famine and disease were destroying the city from within. Two thousand rotting bodies were later discovered in the subterranean vaults of the city. On July 17 in AD70, the daily sacrifices stopped because there were no priests left to offer them.
Inside the city, rival zealot factions only stopped fighting each other to join forces when the Romans began building ramparts. Herod the Great had built an enormous military barracks called Antonia Fortress in 19BC. Titus captured it and had it leveled to allow access to the Temple complex for siege materials. Some believe that what is now called the Temple Mount is actually the remains of Antonia fortress.
Finally, the Romans breached the city walls. They ransacked and burned most of the city. Six thousand women and children died in one terrible moment when the cloisters collapsed.
Roman soldiers slaughtered Jews until they were too tired to continue. Blood flowed in the streets. The great altar of sacrifice was heaped with the bodies of the slain. Roman soldiers cut open Jews who had attempted to escape, dead or alive, to retrieve any gold they might have swallowed to smuggle it out of the city.
Jewish historian Flavius Josephus tells us that 97,000 Jews were captured. The best and brightest of the young were taken as trophies. Many of those over the age of 17 were sent to work in Egyptian mines, sold as slaves, or doomed to be slain by wild beasts or gladiators in provincial amphitheaters.
That was the living. Estimates of the total number of deaths vary, but the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus indicates it could have been well over a million.
All the trees had been cut down during the siege. The once stunningly beautiful and impregnable city was now unrecognizable. General Titus declared that he saw the hand of God in his victory.