Josephus verifies Jesus
I have been reading up on the variety of millennial views as of late. Trying to understand each viewpoint. Early in my Christian life, I had been taught about things like secret raptures, and a variety of other dispensational “Left Behind” style theologies. Actually studying the texts has led me away from these early dispensational views and into the Covenant Theology of the Reformers. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Currently, I am reading “A Case for Amillenialism” by Kim Riddlebarger and his exposition of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). He references the Jewish historian Josephus to paint a picture of what happened during the sacking of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 A.D and I was struck by how horrifying it was.
If we hold to the idea of prophetic foreshortening and that the tribulation Jesus describes is both a picture of the tribulation in 70 A.D, as well as the fuller, future tribulation to come. If what the Jews experienced in the 1st Century is merely the type for the Tribulation – then we are in some serious trouble as we prepare for Jesus’ Second Advent. Here is a portion of the Olivet Discourse:
Matthew 24:1-22 (HCSB):
24 As Jesus left and was going out of the temple complex, His disciples came up and called His attention to the temple buildings. 2 Then He replied to them, “Don’t you see all these things? I assure you: Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!”
3 While He was sitting on the •Mount of Olives, the disciples approached Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the •Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. 6 You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then they will hand you over for persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. 14 This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.
15 “So when you see the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand ), 16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! 17 A man on the housetop must not come down to get things out of his house. 18 And a man in the field must not go back to get his clothes. 19 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! 20 Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again! 22 Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect.
I’ve read this passage many times before, and even though Jesus’ words are ominous, I guess it feels rather abstract due to the mystery of it all. Woe to us if we take His words and warnings lightly! Luke 21:20-24 is a slightly more detailed picture of what was to happen to Jerusalem:
20 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! Those inside the city must leave it, and those who are in the country must not enter it, 22 because these are days of vengeance to fulfill all the things that are written. 23 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for there will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
And so, reading through the The Wars of the Jews by Josephus I was struck by something so horrifying about the siege of Jerusalem that it immediately made me refer back to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:19/Luke 21:23 (Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days!). Josephus recounts this frightful episode where a starving mother actually kills and roasts her own baby for food. Here is an excerpt (The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3):
There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezub, which signifies the House of Hyssop. She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. (202) The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon; such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city. What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose. (203) This put the poor woman into a very great passion, and by the frequent reproaches and imprecations she cast at these rapacious villains, she had provoked them to anger against her; (204) but none of them, either out of the indignation she had raised against herself, or out of the commiseration of her case, would take away her life; and if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for others, and not for herself; and it was now become impossible for her anyway to find anymore food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow, when also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself; nor did she consult with anything but with her passion and the necessity she was in. She then attempted a most unnatural thing; (205) and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, “O, thou miserable infant! For whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? (206) As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves! This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us:—yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. (207) Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets and a byword to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews.” (208) As soon as she had said this she slew her son; and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. (209) Upon this the seditous came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her, that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied, that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them; and withal uncovered what was left of her son. (210) Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight; when she said to them, “This is mine own son; and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! (211) Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also.” (212) After which, those men went out trembling, being never so much affrighted at anything as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid his miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard-of action had been by themselves.
What a sad, horrifying picture of the tribulation that those in Jerusalem had to face. And again, what a horrifying type of what is to come before the end.
There are some other more general descriptions that Josephus gives us of the sacking of Jerusalem. The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 1:
Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day, and the seditious were still more irritated by the calamities they were under, even while the famine preyed upon themselves, after it had preyed upon the people. (2) And indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench, which was a hindrance to those that would make sallies out of the city and fight the enemy: but as those were to go in battle-array, who had been already used to ten thousand murders, and must tread upon those dead bodies as they marched along, (3) so were not they terrified, or did they pity men as they marched over them; nor did they deem this affront offered to the deceased to be any ill omen to themselves; (4) but as they had their right hands already polluted with the murders of their own countrymen, and in that condition ran out to fight with foreigners, they seem to me to have cast a reproach upon God himself, as if he were too slow in punishing them; for the war was not now gone on with as if they had any hope of victory; for they gloried after a brutish manner in that despair of deliverance they were already in. (5) And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in one-and-twenty days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about, as I have already related. (6) And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: (7) nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; (8) for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste; nor, if anyone that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding.
Seeing the state of Judea must have been heart-breaking. The early Christians remaining in Judea would have recalled Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse and fled to the mountains. As for the abomination that causes desolation that Jesus and Daniel (hundreds of years before Jesus) spoke of, this is what Josephus writes:
(316) And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator, with the greatest acclamations of joy.
Thus Jesus’ words and those of Daniel before Him came to pass. Here’s what Daniel had to write about these things in Daniel 9:
26 After those 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off and will have nothing.The people of the coming prince will destroy the city and the sanctuary.The end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be war;desolations are decreed.27 He will make a firm covenant with many for one week,but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering.And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the templeuntil the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.”
And as for Jesus saying that not one stone will remain of the temple? Here’s what Josephus records (The Wars of the Jews, Book 7):
Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other such work to be done) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne, and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. (2) This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison; as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; (3) but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. (4) This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.
So what do I take from all of this? One, that the Bible continues to prove itself trustworthy. That the words from the Lord that its Prophets give us come to pass. And therefore, we can trust what our Lord says will happen in the future. I’m constantly amazed by this.
Second, the Great Tribulation (when it comes) will not be pretty. The troubles we see in the world right now, are probably minor compared to what is to come. Just see what happened to Jerusalem. Read through Josephus’ accounts – they are not pretty. If that’s a prototype of what is to come, then the world is going to experience some deep, dark days, with suffering that is unprecedented.
Unfortunately, I also do not expect any sort of ‘secret rapture’ to take the ekklesia (Church) out of this world like Dispensationalists believe. I expect that the elect will be in this world (see Matt 24:22) in the midst of it. Just as the Church was present for the Tribulation in 70 A.D in Jerusalem, so will the Church be here for the Great Tribulation before He returns in power and glory. But the comforting thing is this – the Church will spend the rest of Eternity with the King once He emerges victorious against the presently evil world. And we will also spend it with redeemed resurrection bodies, in a New Heavens and New Earth, to reign with Him and praise Him forever and ever.
To Him be the Glory Forever! Amen.