The Jews no longer offer bloody animal sacrifices like they did centuries ago. Why? They can’t. God commanded that those sacrifices be offered only in the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews have no temple. They have had no temple for nineteen centuries!
JESUS PROPHESIED IT
The year 70 A.D. marked the end. The Roman armies under Titus leveled the magnificent temple and all Jerusalem. Such an earth-shaking event was no surprise to the early Christians. Forty years before it became history, Jesus had prophesied that it would happen.
“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not [one] stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down’ ” (Matthew 24:1,2).
These astounding words were only the introduction to Jesus’ discourse on the future of Jerusalem and the temple. Among other things, He called attention to the fact that this destruction was already the subject of a former prophecy. ” ‘Therefore when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand), ‘then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains’ ” (Matthew 24:15,16).
Jesus thus both confirmed and enlarged upon the prophecy made by Daniel six centuries earlier. What was the condition of the temple when Daniel made this prophecy? What was the importance of the temple in Jerusalem, anyway?
THE WORLD’S MOST HOLY CITY
What makes Jerusalem a unique city is that 3,000 years ago the Creator of the Universe chose it as His dwelling place! God told the Jews through Moses: “You shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices” (Deuteronomy 12:5,6).
Years later, at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon quoted what God had said to his father, David. “I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there… Your son [Solomon] who will come from your body, he shall build the temple for My name” (2 Chronicles 6:6,9).
It was Jehovah God who thus chose Jerusalem and the temple. It was Jehovah God who chose when and how to bless Jerusalem and the temple. It was the same Jehovah God who would choose how and when to punish Jerusalem and destroy the very temple that was His dwelling place.
THE FIRST TEMPLE DESTROYED
Years passed. Hezekiah came to power. He was one of the best kings Judah ever had. But Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, was one of the worst.
“He [Manasseh] even set a carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the LORD had said to David and to Solomon his son, ‘In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever… only if they are careful to do according to all that I have commanded… Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations… therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Behold, [I] am bringing [such] calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle” ‘ ” (2 Kings 21:7-12).
Even though Manasseh’s grandson, Josiah, was a very good king, “Nevertheless the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath… And the LORD said, ‘I… will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, “My name shall be there” ‘ ” (2 Kings 23:26,27).
Disaster came by the hands of the famous Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. You can read about it in 2 Kings 24 and 25. The forces of Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem four times. They carried away to Babylon the best of the people of Judah. They carried away countless treasures of gold, silver and bronze, including all the articles of the temple. They slaughtered multitudes, burned the temple and palaces and broke down the walls. Jerusalem was in total ruin.
RESTORATION HAD BEEN PROMISED
The prophet Jeremiah was in Jerusalem as an eye witness of this devastation. He had repeatedly told the people that such devastation was a certainty. But he also foretold that after seventy years God would punish the Babylonians and bring His people back from captivity. See Jeremiah 25:1-11; 29:10-14.
One of the good-looking youths who was carried captive to Babylon was Daniel. He was well aware of Jeremiah’s prophecies and reached old age without forgetting them. In time, the Persians conquered Babylon. Daniel realized that this political change coincided with the completion of the seventy years that Jeremiah had foretold.
It was time for prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. Daniel’s prayer (Daniel 9:1-19) has three leading themes. First, God is faithful, righteous and forgiving. Second, Judah and Israel are wicked sinners, deserving God’s punishment. Third, Daniel pled with God to now remember the desolation of Jerusalem. In the latter part of the prayer, Daniel speaks to God of “Your city,” “Your holy mountain,” “Your people,” and “Your sanctuary.” That’s Jerusalem, Zion, Judah (Israel), and the temple. The seventy years were accomplished. Daniel longed for the restoration of the people of God.
While Daniel was still praying, the angel Gabriel came and spoke to him. Gabriel’s prophetic words are found in Daniel 9:24-27: the famous Seventy-Weeks Prophecy. Do not forget the setting of this great prophecy: Jerusalem is in ruins, the temple is no more, and the people of Judah are in captivity.
PROPHECY OF THE SECOND TEMPLE
First, notice that this prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) has to do with “your people” and “your holy city.” The prophecy is thus inseparably connected with Daniel’s prayer. Second, notice “abominations” is mentioned once in the prophecy. “Desolate (or desolations)” is mentioned three times. This connects this prophecy with Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24:15: “the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet.”
Gabriel said, (Daniel 9:25):
“Know therefore and understand,
[That] from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem . . .” There it is! There is the answer to Daniel’s prayer. That is all he wanted. He wanted God to remember His promise to restore Jerusalem after 70 years. God does not directly answer Daniel with a “yes.” Rather, God’s reply assumes a “yes” answer. It uses “yes” as simply the starting point.
Daniel got more than he asked for. Yes, Daniel, Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt. However, Daniel, one day in the distant future, they will again “destroy the city and the sanctuary” (verse 26). Is it all futile? Why rebuild Jerusalem and the temple of God only to have them destroyed again? Nevertheless, that is exactly what the prophecy says. It is to that part of the prophecy that Jesus refers in Matthew 24 when He says “Not [one] stone shall be left here upon another.” Solomon’s temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. A second temple would, indeed, be built. Nevertheless, it, too, would be destroyed. God said so!
THE ARRIVAL OF THE PROMISED MESSIAH
The 70-weeks prophecy foretold that the Second Temple would end up like the First Temple. If that were the sum total of the prophecy, it would be a rather dismal picture. However, there is much more. Daniel asked about the temple, Mount Zion, Jerusalem and Israel. But none of these in themselves are important. The important thing is that they were the means by which God would bring the Messiah into the world. Gabriel told Daniel when the promised Messiah would come. He would come sometime between the building and the destruction of the Second Temple!
Gabriel said (verse 25) that from the command
“To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
[There] [shall] [be] . . .” a certain length of time. After that time, “Messiah shall be cut off.” Also, someone will come to “destroy the city and the sanctuary” (verse 26).
The main historical outline of the prophecy is quite clear. First, a command would be given to rebuild Jerusalem. Second, the Messiah would come and be cut off (killed). Third, the Second Temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. Gabriel spoke to Daniel in 538 B.C., the first year of the Persian Empire. Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans. The Messiah had to come before 70 A.D.
And come He did! “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). As Jesus started His preaching campaign, he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Some believed. Many did not.
As His ministry drew to a close, Jesus prepared for His “triumphal entry.” From the Mount of Olives, He looked down upon Jerusalem. His eyes filled with tears. The time for the Messiah had come, but because the Jews would crucify Him within the week, Jerusalem’s doom was sealed. “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things [that] [make] for your peace!… For days will come upon you when your enemies will… level you… to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation’ ” (Luke 19:41-44).
The fullness of time had come. The time for the arrival of the Messiah. The time for the Kingdom of God. But the Jews did not recognize the time. Jesus gave them all kinds of proof that He was the Messiah. The crowning proof was His resurrection. But yet another great proof came in 70 A.D., with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. With this destruction, God closed the door on any future possibility of the Messiah coming. The Jews today who are still awaiting their Messiah might as well rip Daniel 9 out of their Scriptures! Daniel 9 forever proves them wrong. The Messiah had to come before the Second Temple was destroyed.
THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM
Daniel and Jesus prophesied it. History records it. History outside the Bible. Many times we must search records other than the Bible in order to fully appreciate the Bible. The Bible records in detail the fulfillment of the prophecy that Jerusalem would be rebuilt. (See the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.) The Bible records in detail the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would come and be cut off. (See the four Gospels.) But what about the prophecy that the Second Temple and all Jerusalem would be leveled to the ground after the death of the Messiah? The Bible nowhere records the fulfillment of that prophecy. We must look elsewhere for the information.
We are especially indebted to Flavius Josephus at this point. Josephus, a Jew, was born seven years after Jesus’ death. Some thirty years later, when the fever of war greatly increased between the Jews and Romans, Josephus led the Jewish forces in Galilee. There he was overtaken and surrendered to Vespasian, who thereafter became Emperor in Rome. Vespasian left his son, Titus, in command of the campaign in Palestine. Josephus accompanied Titus to Jerusalem, where he was an eye-witness of the war.
Josephus dedicated his last thirty years to writing all about the Jews. His first work was the History of the Jewish Wars. In it, he enters into great detail about their war with Rome, 66 to 70 A.D.
Josephus tells of all the infighting among the Jews. He describes the siege of the city by the Romans, and how the Romans conquered the city wall by wall. He tells of famine, robbers, misery and death. Many of the people wanted to surrender to the Romans, but the hard-liners would not hear of it. Many tried to escape the city. The situation became much like that of the Berlin Wall. When the hard-liners even suspected that someone was about to attempt escape from the city, they would slit his throat!
THE SECOND TEMPLE DESTROYED
The Romans had respect for the holy sites of the nations they captured. Titus did not want to destroy the temple in Jerusalem. As the Romans captured more and more of the city, the hard-liners took to the temple area itself as a last fortress from which to fight. Titus pled with them: “if you will but change the place whereon you will fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay, I will endeavour to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not” (Wars, book 6, chapter 2, paragraph 4).
The hard-liner Jews (Josephus calls them the “seditious”) rejected Titus’ offer. Thus were these hard-hearted, stubborn, unbelieving Jews the very instrument of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus!
Court by court the Romans took the temple area until all that was left was the holy house itself, with the cloisters surrounding it. Some Roman soldiers set fire to these outer rooms. Titus attempted to intervene. However, his soldiers were so infuriated by the stubbornness of the Jews that they could not be stopped. The temple could not be saved. The almighty Creator God of the universe had decreed its destruction!
As the end neared, Titus took opportunity to speak to those who remained of the Jews to see if they would accept surrender. (They did not.) As he opened his speech, he made a remarkable statement. Remarkable because it reminds us of Daniel’s prayer and Gabriel’s prophecy. Titus said: “I hope you, sirs, are now satiated with the miseries of your country, who have… like madmen, after a violent and inconsiderate manner, made such attempts, as to have brought your people, your city, and your holy house to destruction” (book 6, chapter 6, paragraph 2).
Fire! Plunder! Slaughter! Blood! Captives! Of these latter, Josephus says: “he put them in bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines [see Deuteronomy 28:68]. Titus also sent a great number into the provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed upon their theatres, by the sword and by the wild beasts; but those that were under seventeen years of age were sold for slaves” (book 6, chapter 9, paragraph 2).
Josephus opens book 7 with these words: “Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder… 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 eminence… and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison… 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.”
Titus returned to Rome. He and his father, Vespasian, and his brother, Domitian, were the center of a fabulous celebration. Among many other things carried in the triumphal march were the seven-branched lampstand and the table of showbread that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. When Domitian later became emperor, in 81 A.D. he built the Arch of Titus, in memory of Titus’ capture of Jerusalem. The arch remains in Rome to this day. Still to be seen on the inside of the arch is a bas-relief of the Roman soldiers carrying the lampstand and table of showbread!
WHY DID IT HAPPEN?
Parallel to Matthew 24 are Mark 13 and Luke 21. Our Savior said, in Luke 21:20,22: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near… For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Written especially by Moses in Deuteronomy 28 and by Daniel in chapter 9, but certainly in other texts as well.
“The days of vengeance.” The vengeance of the almighty God of heaven. If you are not well acquainted with the contents of Deuteronomy 28, you will want to read it again. If the contents of this chapter had been first written and published by a religious writer today, he would be attacked for being strongly anti-Semitic!
Josephus, a Jew who did not believe in Christ, over and again refers to the destruction of Jerusalem as being by the hand of God. For example, when he was pleading with the Jews to surrender to the Romans, he said to them: the “king of Babylon [Nebuchadnezzar] made war against us, and when he took the city and burnt the temple; while yet I believe the Jews of that age were not so impious as you are. Wherefore, I cannot but suppose that God is fled out of this sanctuary, and stands on the side of those against whom you fight” (book 5, chapter 9, paragraph 4).
Much more to the point of the reason for God’s vengeance, are the remarks of an eighteenth century writer named Thomas Newton. In his Dissertations on the Prophecies, he says: “The predictions [of Matthew 24] are the clearest, as the calamities were the greatest which the world ever saw: and what heinous sin was it, that could bring down such heavy judgments on the Jewish church and nation? Can any other with half so much probability be assigned, as what the Scripture assigns, their crucifying the Lord of glory?… and upon reflection, we shall find really some correspondence between their crime and their punishment. They put Jesus to death, when the nation was assembled to celebrate the Passover; and when the nation was assembled too to celebrate the Passover, Titus shut them up within the walls of Jerusalem. The rejection of the true Messiah was their crime; and the following of false Messiahs to their destruction was their punishment. They sold and bought Jesus as a slave; and they themselves were afterward sold and bought as slaves at the lowest prices. They preferred a robber and murderer to Jesus, whom they crucified between two thieves and they themselves were afterward infested with bands of thieves and robbers. They put Jesus to death, lest the Romans should come and take away their place and nation [see John 11:46-48]; and the Romans did come and take away their place and nation. They crucified Jesus before the walls of Jerusalem; and before the walls of Jerusalem they themselves were crucified in such numbers that it is said room was wanting for the crosses and crosses for the bodies. I should think it hardly possible for any man to lay these things together, and not conclude the Jews’ own imprecation to be remarkably fulfilled upon them, (Matthew 27:25) ‘His blood be on us and on our children’ ” (dissertation 21, paragraph 11).
Why was the temple in Jerusalem so destroyed that not one stone was left upon another? Because that is what God wanted! The Jews rejected the Son of God. God rejected the Jews. The sacrifices of the temple were no longer needed. The perfect sacrifice had been made.
Gabriel made it plain to Daniel. The temple and Jerusalem will be rebuilt. The Messiah will come and die. The temple and Jerusalem will again be destroyed. Only God could have that knowledge centuries ahead of time. Only God could bring it to pass. Jesus Christ is thus proven to be the Messiah long promised to Israel. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. became the final and climactic proof that Jesus of Nazareth was and is, indeed, the Messiah, the Christ, the King and Lord of all. To serve Him is to invite salvation. To reject Him is to invite the wrath of God. Not one stone remained upon another!
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)