The Siege of Jerusalem
The Jews had no intention of submitting to the pagans. In A.D. 66, a false hope that God would help overthrow their oppressors led to some initial military success. But the tide quickly turned against them when Vespasian took command of the “Jewish War.”
By the spring of A.D. 70, the children of Israel found themselves defying the Roman armies surrounding their capital. Vespasian, now the Roman Emperor, had given his son, Titus, the charge to complete the victory.
Titus brought five legions of Roman soldiers, in addition to auxiliaries, engineers, cavalry, etc. — some 80,000 men in all. His mission: force the Jews to submit and, if possible, preserve the famous city of Jerusalem as a prize for Rome.
Titus surrounded the city and hoped the display of force would convince the Jews to surrender. It did not. The city had natural defenses by cliffs on all sides except the north. Thus he attacked there. His war machines broke through the first of three walls in early May. Within five days, they were through the second.
Food rations inside the city were scarce. During the nights, ghostly figures would sneak through hidden passages to steal food amid supplies from the soldiers’ tents. Titus decreed that those captured were to be crucified. A forest of crosses littered the countryside as trees were stripped off the land to satisfy the orders for crucifying some 500 Jews per day (cf. Matthew 27:25).
A rampart was built around the city to seal off the hidden passages. Hunger became so intense that the citizens became insane with famine, resorting to murdering one another over food; they even practiced cannibalism. Those who perished were cast over the walls into piles of bodies that remained unburied. The scene of the Holy City was one of utter desolation.
The campaign was taking longer than Titus expected; the soldiers were becoming difficult to manage. They could see Herod’s temple, with its golden surfaces glittering in each evening’s sunset. Every soldier could imagine himself taking spoil of what lay beyond the walls. The Jews who tried to escape had their bodies ripped open, as pitiless soldiers searched their stomachs for jewels and gold.
The Roman army gradually subdued the city, but was impeded when it reached the temple compound. The massive stone walls were impenetrable; the soldiers gained access by burning the great temple doors. Upon gaining entry, Titus commanded his men to put out the fire and “spare the Sanctuary.” But the Jews violently attacked those extinguishing the fire. The Romans retaliated with merciless slaughter; they went berserk — partly out of vengeance, partly with greed.
As the battle raged on, suddenly, a soldier—without command—launched a torch through the Golden Window of the temple. Instantly, the flames licked the fabrics and wood that adorned the interior of that precious building. Titus again commanded his soldiers to put out the fire, but to no avail. The temple was lost. Eventually, the soldiers completely tore apart the compound, looking for rumored treasures. They plundered the city and extracted vengeance from the enemy that had resisted them so bitterly, and had cost them so much.
Having lost its glory, Titus ordered the city razed to bury the evil he had witnessed.
Some 40 years earlier, Jesus had prophesied that “not one of these stones shall be left one upon another” (Matthew 24:1-2). Despite the efforts of the Jews to defend their temple, and the endeavors of the Roman general to preserve that precious building, Christ’s words were fulfilled. The Savior’s prophecy could not be thwarted by mere human resistance. He is Lord of all!
Why discuss such horrors? Why elaborate on the gory details? The destruction of God’s own city, Jerusalem, is a vivid warning to you and to me — of but yet another prophecy. There is another siege — yet in the future. This one will involve the entire planet (Matthew 24:36ff; 2 Peter 3)!
Secular history records that the Christians of the first century found safety by heeding Christ’s warnings to flee the city. Will the modern world listen to his warnings?
- Keller, Werner. 1956. The Bible as History. New York, NY: William Morrow & Co.
- Whitson, William. 1957. The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston.