The website ukapologetics is a good resource. They cover a range of topics which include Christian Apologetics, Theology, Religious Studies, and Comparative Religion. You might want to check it out. Anyway, I wanted to pass on an article from the website which, if you’re interested in Prophecy and/or Eschatology, you may find of interest.
Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.”
There has been some debate about how severe the period of AD70 really was, but there should not be…
First of all, let us consult just a few famous references to the staggering suffering which came upon the Jews during a period of seven years from AD66-73, but especially upon Jerusalem Jews during AD70 with the long siege, burning and wholesale slaughter of the residents of the city.
It has been said that there is scarcely another period in history so full of vice, corruption, and disaster as the six years between the Neronian Christian persecution from around AD64 and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The prophetic description of the last days by our Lord began to be fulfilled before the generation to which he spoke had passed away (exactly as He had stated in Matt. 24:34: ‘Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled’). The day of judgment upon the Jewish people seemed to be close at hand. This is what the Christians believed and, indeed, subsequently had good reason to believe.
Josephus (a personal witness to the events) claims that over 1,100,000 people were killed during the initial siege, of which a majority were Jewish. 97,000 were captured and enslaved, and many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, as there is “no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God.” During the siege, there was mass starvation in which cannibalism widely occurred with, it is believed, some mothers even devouring their own children. Later, there were even mass crucifixions to the degree that wood eventually became unavailable.
Let us consider what major early church historian Eusebius wrote about these dreadful events. He wrote around AD325, amazingly close to those events, and with the extensive records of Josephus to draw upon:
“It is fitting to add to these accounts the true prediction of our Saviour in which he foretold these very events. His words are as follows: “Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day; For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
“These things took place in this manner in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, in accordance with the prophecies of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by divine power saw them beforehand as if they were already present, and wept and mourned according to the statement of the holy evangelists, who give the very words which be uttered, when, as if addressing Jerusalem herself, he said: “If thou hadst known, even thou, in this day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a rampart about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee and thy children even with the ground.”
1. After Nero had held the power thirteen years, and Galba and Otho had ruled a year and six months, Vespasian, who had become distinguished in the campaigns against the Jews, was proclaimed sovereign in Judea and received the title of Emperor from the armies there. Setting out immediately, therefore, for Rome, he entrusted the conduct of the war against the Jews to his son Titus.
2. For the Jews after the ascension of our Saviour, in addition to their crime against him, had been devising as many plots as they could against his apostles. First Stephen was stoned to death by them, and after him James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, was beheaded, and finally James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour, died in the manner already described. But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name.
3. But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.
4. But the number of calamities which everywhere fell upon the nation at that time; the extreme misfortunes to which the inhabitants of Judea were especially subjected, the thousands of men, as well as women and children, that perished by the sword, by famine, and by other forms of death innumerable—all these things, as well as the many great sieges which were carried on against the cities of Judea, and the excessive sufferings endured by those that fled to Jerusalem itself, as to a city of perfect safety, and finally the general course of the whole war, as well as its particular occurrences in detail, and how at last the abomination of desolation, proclaimed by the prophets, Daniel 9:27 stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, the temple which was now awaiting its total and final destruction by fire — all these things any one that wishes may find accurately described in the history written by Josephus.
5. But it is necessary to state that this writer records that the multitude of those who were assembled from all Judea at the time of the Passover, to the number of three million souls, were shut up in Jerusalem as in a prison, to use his own words.
6. For it was right that in the very days in which they had inflicted suffering upon the Saviour and the Benefactor of all, the Christ of God, that in those days, shut up as in a prison, they should meet with destruction at the hands of divine justice.
7. But passing by the particular calamities which they suffered from the attempts made upon them by the sword and by other means, I think it necessary to relate only the misfortunes which the famine caused, that those who read this work may have some means of knowing that God was not long in executing vengeance upon them for their wickedness against the Christ of God. (Church History, Book III, Chapter V).
The following sixth chapter of this work of Eusebius is so horrible that I have not included it here, but let no-one feel that these horrors which befell the Jews at that period of history are in any way exaggerated!
But, in all of this, we must note how the Christians who had been assembling in Jerusalem were miraculously spared:
“But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.” (Book III, Ch. 5).
Eusebius refers to a miraculous event in which the voice of angel was distinctly heard by the Jerusalem Christians in their temple meeting place, saying, “Let us remove from here quickly.”
Around a hundred years after Eusebius, Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354-430), probably the first major theologian of the Church, also had no doubt that the events of AD66-73, but especially AD70, were truly momentous from a Christian understanding of Scripture point of view, tieing in those horrible events with such Scriptures as Luke 21. The truth is that all of the leaders of the early catholic church (‘catholic’ obviously not referring to the Roman Catholic Church which would not arrive for many hundreds of years, but the heresy-free New Testament Church which Jesus founded), thought that the events of AD70 were prophetically momentous.
Another major figure of the early church, Chrysostom, wrote the following:
‘Note how this speech is directed against the Jews; for when these things were done by Vespasian, the Apostles could neither observe the Sabbath nor fly, seeing most of them were already dead, and those who survived were living in distant countries. And why they should pray for this. He adds a reason, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall be.”‘
‘I ask the Jews, whence came upon them so grievous wrath from heaven more woeful than all that had come upon them before? Plainly it was because of the desperate crime and the denial of the Cross. But He shews that they deserved still heavier punishment than they received, when He adds, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved;” that is, If the siege by the Romans should be continued longer, all the Jews would perish; for by “all flesh,” He means all the Jewish nation, those within and those without; for the Romans were at war not only with those in Judaea, but with the whole race wherever dispersed.” (Matthew 24:21)’.
‘Then, to show again the greatness of the calamity, He saith, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be.” Seest thou that His discourse is addressed to the Jews, and that He is speaking of the ills that should overtake them? For the apostles surely were not to keep the Sabbath day, neither to be there, when Vespasian did those things. For indeed the most part of them were already departed this life. And if any were left, he was dwelling then in other parts of the world.’
‘And let not any man suppose this to have been spoken hyperbolically; but let him study the writings of Josephus, and learn the truth of the sayings. For neither can any one say, that the man being a believer, in order to establish Christ’s words, hath exaggerated the tragical history. For indeed He was both a Jew, and a determined Jew, and very zealous, and among them that lived after Christ’s coming. I should therefore be glad to inquire of the Jews. Whence came there thus upon them wrath from God intolerable, and more sore than all that had befallen aforetime, not in Judaea only, but in any part of the world? Is it not quite clear, that it was for the deed of the cross, and for this rejection? All would say it, and with all and before all the truth of the facts itself.’ (Homily LXXVI.)
This early Christian understanding that the Jewish people were being punished for their rejection of Christ may seem very harsh today, but we must understand that this was a widespread view for many hundreds of years. Only now, in an age of ‘political correctness,’ ‘liberal values,’ and a concern for ‘human rights,’ has it become unfashionable to express such a view. Yet let there be no doubt that when the people of Judea demanded that Barabbas the robber should be released and that Jesus should be condemned, those people apparently accepted a curse upon themselves and upon their children for their rejection of Jesus. Scripture itself states,
Mat 27:25: ‘Then all the people answered and said, Let His blood be on us and on our children.’
In more recent centuries, Bible commentator, B.W. Johnston (1833-1894), stated,
Matthew 24: 21. Great tribulation. The account given by Josephus, the Jewish historian who witnessed and recorded the war, is almost an echo of the predictions of Christ. Women ate their own children from starvation; the Jews within the city fought each other as well as the Roman army; on August 10, A.D. 70, the city was stormed and there was a universal massacre; 1,100,00 persons perished, and 100,000 survivors were sold into slavery.’
Lutheran theologian Philip Schaff (1819 – 1893), wrote,
‘The forbearance of God with his covenant people, who had crucified their own Saviour, reached it last its limit. As many as could be saved in the usual way, were rescued. The mass of the people had obstinately set themselves against all improvement. James the Just, the man who was fitted, if any could be, to reconcile the Jews to the Christian religion, had been stoned by his hardened brethren, for whom he daily interceded in the temple; and with him the Christian community in Jerusalem had lost its importance for that city. The hour of the “great tribulation” and fearful judgment drew near. The prophecy of the Lord approached its literal fulfilment: Jerusalem was razed to the ground, the temple burned, and not one stone was left upon another.’ (Schaff, History of the Christian Church p. 397-398).
C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), wrote,
‘For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Read the record written by Josephus of the destruction of Jerusalem, and see how truly our Lord’s words were fulfilled. The Jews impiously said, concerning the death of Christ, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Never did any other people invoke such an awful curse upon themselves, and upon no other nation did such a judgment ever fall. We read of Jews crucified till there was no more wood for making crosses; of thousands of the people slaying one another in their fierce faction fights within the city; of so many of them being sold for slaves that they became a drug in the market, and all but valueless; and of the fearful carnage when the Romans at length entered the doomed capital; and the blood-curdling story exactly bears out the Savior’s statement uttered nearly forty years before the terrible events occurred.’ ‘The destruction of Jerusalem was more terrible than anything that the world has ever witnessed, either before or since. Even Titus seemed to see in his cruel work the hand of an avenging God.’ (Commentary on Matthew, p. 412-413).
Bishop William Newcombe, in his ‘Harmony of the Gospels,’ 1778, wrote,
‘The calamities undergone by the Jews were unparalleled in their history, and will remain so. The many and great evils arising from their own distractions and intestine madness, were peculiar to this time. And Josephus asserts in general that no other city underwent such sufferings. In particular he says, that the number of captives, throughout the whole war was 97 thousand and that one million one hundred thousand perished in the course of the siege: To these must be added 237,490 of whom express mention is due by this historian, as being destroyed in other places; besides innumerable others, not subject to calculation, who were swept away by fatigue, famine, disease and every kind of wretchedness and violence. Thus did the awakened vengeance of heaven require of that generation, the blood of all the prophets, which had been shed from the foundation of the world.’ (Harmony, p. 246).
So we may observe that probably the great majority of the evangelical scholars of the church over many centuries, but especially in the early centuries, saw AD70 as being momentous in terms of prophecy and eschatology. Three general points were usually accepted:
1. The Jewish nation incurred the ongoing wrath of God for their rejection of the Messiah.
2. The complete destruction of the Jewish temple system underlined that the temple period was exhausted and complete and would not be restored in that form. From this point, only the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus had God’s authority.
3. The events of AD70 plainly fulfilled at least a substantial part of the Mount Olivet Prophecy, if not the entirety of it (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21).
Only in the 19th century, with the arrival of J.N. Darby’s ‘Dispensationalism,’ and William Miller’s Adventism (and the several cults and sects which arose around the same period, many of them clearly stemming from that perverted root of Adventism), did the significance of the events of AD70 start to be downplayed, with several totally new eschatological concepts starting to be taught.
At this time the focus was taken off AD70 as a major focal point in biblical understanding and Judeo-Christian history and the concept started to be taught that Matthew 24 and Revelation were more or less entirely futuristic in scope. Also, in contrast to the New Testament model of the ‘end of the age’ and the ‘last days’ being a present reality in the apostolic age, these new movements believed that this referred to a brief period prior to the Parousia (the Second Coming of Christ).
Interestingly, these 19th century movements also sought to restore the ‘high place’ of national Israel, seeing much Bible prophecy as being entirely futuristic and mainly concerned with Israel, rather than with the Church. These movements, effectively, demoted the importance of the Church, and they still do.