Jerusalem Destroyed, A.D. 70
Accuracy of the Narrative
In our study of the Olivet Discourse, two questions are presented to the Lord Jesus. "Tell us," writes Matthew, "when will these things be, and what is the sign of your presence and the consummation of the age?" Mark states the first query in the words employed by Matthew, but gives the second a little differently: "And what is the sign when they are about to be fulfilled?" Luke, who varies little from Matthew and Mark on the first question, asks the second in these words: "And what is the sign when these are about to come to pass?"
Because of the differing ways of stating the second question some critics have attempted to find discrepancies in the narratives. How could the three writers, being inspired infallibly by the Spirit of God, word the second query so very differently in each case? Are they not direct quotations? These questions are asked frequently, and if I may, I would like to make the following explanation. Probably the apostles in their excitement over the prediction made by Jesus framed their questions as stated by the three evangelists. One led out by wording his query as Matthew states. Then another, being interested in one special phase of the subject, immediately worded his question as given by Mark. He is thinking about accomplishing or fulfilling the-task. A third is quoted by Luke as asking "when these are about to come to pass." The accomplishment of the prediction was not foremost in his mind, he was simply thinking in terms of events coming to pass.
One need not be surprised to read the various statements of the question. Situations similar to this occur daily. A speaker is asked a specific question by one in his audience. Another, having the same query in mind but being more interested in a certain phase of the subject, restates it accordingly, while a third party may emphasize still another element. In an open forum such a situation easily develops. Upon this common experience we may take our stand and recognize perfect harmony between all the statements of the evangelists.
Neither Matthew nor Mark recorded our Lord's answer to the first question but we are grateful that Luke was led by the Holy Spirit to do so. When the apostles showed such great interest in the prediction the Saviour naturally and lovingly gave the desired information. This should embolden us to come to Him and ask for additional light on Scripture passages that are obscure to us. If, in faith, we ask for understanding and wisdom, He will not refuse. But if we doubt, we need not expect an answer.
The Suffering of God's People
In Luke, vss. 10 and 11, Jesus takes the minds of the apostles from their own day to the signs of the end of the age--a world war attended by famines, pestilences and great earthquakes in diverse places. As we proceed in this investigation we shall see that our Lord had such passages as Zech. 14 in His mind when He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. The awful horrors revealed in that chapter necessarily will involve great suffering by the people of God who are on earth during the day of Jehovah--the Tribulation Period.
Verse 12, however, begins with these significant words: "But before all these things, they will lay their hands upon you ..." This brought the apostles' thoughts from the end of the age back to their own day so that Jesus might tell of the personal experiences through which they would be called to pass.
According to His forecast they would be brought before synagogues, rulers, governors and kings. They were not, however, to meditate beforehand what their defense should be. They were to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and ability to answer their opponents and, when brought before the tribunals, they were to consider the occasion as an opportunity to give a clear, ringing testimony to the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although they would have to suffer for His name, not one hair of their heads should be lost. In their patience they would really win the life that is life indeed.
During the lifetime of at least some of the apostles, the Temple was to be destroyed: "And Jesus replied to him, Do you not see all of these great buildings? A stone shall not be left upon another which has not been utterly thrown down" (Mark 13:2). This caused the disciples to ask, "Tell us, when these things will be ... ?" The answer is to be found in Luke's Gospel only. Jesus revealed that the sign by which they could know the time was near would be the besiegement and total blockade of Jerusalem. The invasion of the country by a foe was not an indication, but if that army should besiege and encompass the city that would be the sign that the time was near for fulfillment.
Our Lord instructed that the disciples in Judaea were, at that time, to flee to the mountains and those within the city were to depart from it. But how could anyone escape from the city when it was surrounded by a hostile army?
Fortunately for us, Eusebius (book 3, ch. 5) gives us that information. After the Roman forces had besieged Jerusalem for some time the commanding officer, Titus, for reasons not recorded, withdrew his forces. The Christians in the city, taking the Lord's word at par value, fled northeast to Pella. After their departure the Roman forces again besieged the city until it finally was taken with great loss of life. But not one drop of Christian blood was shed in the final collapse!
The instructions concerning speedy flight from Jerusalem are similar to those of Matthew 24:9-28 and Mark 13:14-23 pertaining to the last days. Why the similarity? Because a like situation produces similar results. At the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 A.D., the law of Moses was in force. People weighed down with burdens and responsibilities could not escape quickly at that time. Neither will they be able to do so when the Antichrist sets up his image in Jerusalem. During the last days the Jewish law will again be in force in Palestine and the people will be hindered from escaping from the country as they were in the year 70 A.D.
According to Luke, vs. 24, the armies attacking Jerusalem would slay many of the inhabitants and the rest would be led into captivity among all the nations. That calamity, Jesus said, would be the beginning of the time during which Jerusalem would be trodden down by the Gentiles. This period, called "the times of the Gentiles," is the Christian era. Properly speaking, however, in the light of Dan. 2 and 7, the times of the Gentiles began with the Babylonian captivity and will continue until the kingdom of God is established upon the earth. Our Lord, speaking of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., was saying that the Holy City would be trodden down during the remaining years of "the times of the Gentiles."
The necessary inference in the expression "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" is that when those times are fulfilled Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down by the nations. This promise involves the rise of Zionism and its control over the Holy Land. Palestine now having in part reverted to the Jewish people, it would appear that the times of the Gentiles have about run their course and that soon God will deal especially with Israel by bringing His purging judgments upon her. In the fiery trials of that time the wicked will be purged from the nation and it will be purified.
One must not confuse "the times of the Gentiles" with "the fulness of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:25). The context of the latter expression, as with that of the former, must be consulted to ascertain the force of the phrase. In Rom. 11 Paul discusses the flowing out of the spiritual blessings to the Gentiles while the Jews are in disbelief. The hardness which has come upon Israel because of her rejection of the truth is only partial and for a limited time--"until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" or until the full opportunity has been given to the Gentiles to call out from them a people for the Lord's name.
Luke 21:20-24 gives a definite answer to the first question, when these things will be. When Jerusalem is encompassed by armies--not simply when a foreign foe invades the land--you can know, Jesus declared, that the prediction concerning the destruction of the Temple and of the city will be fulfilled. As we have seen, this prophecy came to pass in the year 70 A.D.