The first part of this article is a summary of the historical writings of Flavius Josephus in his book “The Wars of the Jews Or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem“. In it he gives an eye-witness recounting of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. The remainder of this article is an interpretation of Matthew 24 in comparison to the events described.
Some people may sincerely disagree with such an interpretation of the symbolic imagery found in Matthew 24. Those who do usually do so out of either an aversion to interpreting prophecy or because it does not mesh with their futuristic interpretations. First, I understand those who believe that this prophecy is speaking of things entirely in the future. In fact, I grew up with a sincere belief that the prophetic content of Matthew 24 lays entirely in the future. I never knew that there were any other possible interpretations. Without a clear understanding of history I tended to view all of prophecy as yet to be fulfilled. That changed in my adult years when I learned about the awful historical event of Jerusalem’s destruction and the solid theological exposition of its relation to Matthew 24. If you are a futurist, I hope that you can at least temporarily set aside your interpretive framework as you read this and learn that there are other valid interpretations of Matthew 24.
Second, many who believe in interpretive caution may avoid directly interpreting prophetic symbolism for the sake of avoiding divisive arguments and falling into error. I understand this because many are tired of seeing bad prophetic interpretations that stem from an obsession with predicting the future via Biblical prophecy. But these same cautious people will still say things like, “The signs of the times…” and “These are the end times…” Such phrases almost always rise from a subconscious comparison of current world events to Biblical prophecy. Thus, without realizing it, they do the very thing they claim to avoid. However, nowhere in the Bible does it say to not interpret prophecy in light of its fulfillment. On the contrary, it tells us to read it and understand it (Revelation 1:3). Error comes in, I believe, when we attempt to predict the future with it. Essentially, we can only interpret prophecy in light of past events that have fulfilled it. This is exactly what the apostles did in the gospels concerning the Messiah (i.e. Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:14, 13:35, 21:4, 26:56, 27:9). However, if no past events can be shown to have fulfilled a prophecy, then the prophecy simply remains to be fulfilled.
In the “Fulfillment” section below, I will compare Matthew 24 to the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Being convinced of its contemporaneous context, I believe that Matthew 24 was completely fulfilled nearly 2,000 years ago. It was a precise prophecy, from the mouth of Jesus Himself, concerning events that His disciples would experience in their own lifetimes. There is solid historical evidence to support this–which is what I write about here. Though I actively interpret the symbolism, I am not asserting at all that I am completely right nor have the last say. There is much solid exegesis going on concerning this renown prophecy and I encourage you to peruse such writings in-depth.
Description of Jerusalem and the Temple
Jerusalem was a city of approximately two million people during the decades after Christ’s ascension. It was built on two mountains: Mount Zion and Mount Acra. Mount Zion was much higher than Acra and more direct in length. It contained the upper city as well as the Temple. Mount Acra sustained much of the lower city and was shaped like a crescent moon.
Large walls, three layers thick, defended three sides of the city. The outer wall contained 60 towers, the second wall had 14 towers, and the inner wall had 90 towers. The fourth side of the city was deemed inaccessible due to a large cliff, so it was only defended by one wall.
The tower of Psephinos stood 105 feet high and had a clear view of the Mediterranean Sea, the deserts of Arabia, and the Jewish dominions. The towers of Hippocus and Phasael stood 135 feet high and were built out of white marble giving the appearance that they were cut out of one enormous stone. These towers were immense fortresses and stunning feats of architecture for their time.
The king’s palace was situated in the north of the city while the Temple and the fortress of Antonia were situated in the east. The fortress of Antonia was built on top of a rock about 75 feet high with four large towers situated on each corner and a large keep in the center. The sides of the rock were smoothed down and marble plates were installed on it in order to make it slippery and quite inaccessible.
The Temple was built in the upper city with its circuit being approximately half a mile. It stood 150 feet high and was adorned on its outside with solid plates of gold. During the sunrise and at various parts of the day, the rays of the sun would reflect off of it making it almost blinding to look at. The parts of the temple not gilt with gold were made of white marble and appeared from a distance as pillars of snow. Several centuries of generations had poured their wealth into it, and the renovations of King Herod had made it one of the most opulent structures on earth.
Signs & Wonders
In the years following the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, numerous false messiahs began to preach throughout the region of Judea. Less than a year after the ascension of Christ, Dositheus rose up claiming to be the Messiah. Later, one of his disciples–Simon Magus– deluded a multitude into believing that he was “the great power of God”. Three years later a Samaritan claimed to have discovered a treasure trove left by Moses and deceived a multitude into believing that he was the Messiah. Pontius Pilate quickly defeated him and slew a great number of his followers. Not long after this, a man named Theudas deceived a large multitude into following him to the Jordan River where he promised to part the river and display great signs from heaven. The Roman governor Fladus slaughtered many of them and killed Theudas.
During the government of Felix, it became a regular occurrence for false messiahs to rise up and convince people to follow them into the wilderness where they promised to display great signs from heaven. Felix regularly put these impostors to death. Then, several years later in AD 55, an Egyptian named Felix (not the Roman governor previously mentioned) gathered 30,000 followers and led them on top of the Mount of Olives where he promised to destroy the walls of Jerusalem with supernatural power. The Roman governor killed 400 of them and dispersed the rest. Finally, in AD 60, a man named Porcius Festus led a multitude into the wilderness promising to free them from the Roman Empire, but was quickly annihilated by the Roman governor. In short, false Messiahs became a frequent occurrence after Jesus’ ascension.
During the time following the ascension, ethnic hatred between the Jews, Greeks, and Syrians came to a climax. At one point numerous Jews fled a terrible plague in the area of Babylon (Iraq) into neighboring Syrian cities. The Syrians and Greeks living in the area slew 250,000 Jews throughout the region in a blatant attempt of genocide. They claimed that the Jews were trying to steal their land.
Earthquakes, Famine & Disease
In the years following the ascension, massive earthquakes were recorded throughout the Roman Empire. One large earthquake in the region of Apamea, Syria was so destructive that the Emperor remitted its tribute for five years in order to assist in its relief efforts. Twelve other large earthquakes were recorded in Rome, Galba, Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, and Jerusalem. It is likely that many more were felt but never recorded.
In the fourth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar, a large famine ravaged the Roman Empire affecting the lands of Italy, Greece, and Judea. Flavius Josephus wrote that during that famine 3.5 pints (1/2 gallon) of corn was sold for 17 grams of silver. Jerusalem was drastically affected by this famine and many people died of starvation. As indicated in 1 Corinthians 16:3, Paul helped administrate the delivery of large amounts of food to Jerusalem from Christians in foreign countries as relief to Christians affected by this great famine. During this famine, disease ran rampant especially in the cities of Rome and Babylon.
Persecution of Christians
Severe persecution of Christians erupted throughout the Roman Empire, especially during the reign of Nero Caesar. Christians were captured, tortured, and killed for their faith. The Roman historian Tacitus reported that numerous Christians betrayed each other leading to the discovery of a great multitude of other Christians who were convicted and barbarously executed. Other large persecutions were recorded in the book of Acts in the Bible. It was also common during the reign of Nero for Christians to be denied the right to setup businesses, as well as the right to buy and sell goods in the Roman Empire.
Flavius Josephus also recorded several supernatural signs that occurred to multiple eyewitnesses during the period after Christ’s ascension and not long before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70:
- A large flaming comet, appearing in the shape of a sword, froze above Jerusalem for nearly a year.
- Just before the feast of unleavened bread, in the middle of the night, a light equal to the brightness of day shone about the temple altar for nearly half an hour—lighting up the region.
- During the same festival, as the high priests were leading a heifer to the altar to be sacrificed, the heifer bowled over and gave birth to a lamb in the middle of the temple courtyard.
- In the middle of the night, the enormous brass eastern gate of the temple, with iron bolts going deep into bedrock to secure it, opened of its own accord without any human assistance. It took 20 men to close it with great difficulty.
- After the feast of Passover, at sunset, people throughout the countryside neighboring Jerusalem reported sightings of a multitude of flying chariots with armed men circling the city of Jerusalem in the clouds.
- On the feast of Pentecost, as the priests were going into the inner temple, they felt the ground shaking, heard indistinct murmurings, and then heard a multitude of voices declaring earnestly, “Let us depart from here!”
- During the feast of Tabernacles, a man named Jesus, son of Ananus, of the lower class became seized by a prophetic spirit and began loudly prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem throughout the city, both day and night. Even after the authorities had beaten him, he never ceased to prophecy for several years and was reported to be one of the first killed by a catapult (in the middle of prophesying) when the siege of Jerusalem began.
The Destruction of Jerusalem
The destruction of Jerusalem began with a series of instigations and events that compelled the Jewish multitude to rebel against Rome. First, the Roman Governor Florus hated the Jews with such a passion that he continually arrested and killed Jewish noblemen and priests without fair trial. This led the High Priest to respond by ending all regular sacrifices in the temple offered up for foreigners.
Thus snubbing the Roman authorities, the Jews instigated Cestius Gallus (the governor of Syria) to march an army into Judea. He proceeded to destroy the cities of Zabulon, Joppa, and the district of Narbatene. He then marched on Jerusalem, and having penetrated its walls began to sack the city. But for an entirely inexplicable reason, he suddenly called his army to retreat, even while he had the victory in his hands. He was subsequently slaughtered by the Jews as he fled. Upon hearing of Cestius Gallus’ downfall, the entire Christian community and rich Jewish noblemen fled the city of Jerusalem into the mountainous region of Pella beyond the Jordan River. The Jews remaining in the land then armed themselves and mustered armies under the command of several prominent Jewish generals, including Flavius Josephus.
Upon hearing of the Jewish rebellion, Nero Caesar sent his mightiest general Vespasian to put down the Jewish sedition. Vespasian, along with his warrior son Titus, marched into Galilee with an army of 60,000 and systematically wiped out every city and Jewish village in the region. It was reported that over 150,000 people died in the onslaught of Vespasian. Nearly 10,000 Jews, attempting to flee by boats on the Mediterranean Sea, were destroyed by a large storm and their bodies littered the coastline causing much of the water to become saturated with blood.
During this time, the Jewish general and priest Flavius Josephus surrendered to Vespasian while defending the city of Joppa, and after prophesying to Vespasian that he would become the next emperor, he became Vespasian’s personal Hebrew/Aramaic translator. (Josephus later endeavored to record all of the events of his time in his historical writings.)
Upon hearing of the death of Nero, Vespasian’s soldiers impelled him to return to Rome and put down the ensuing civil war. Having done so, Vespasian ascended to the throne and became the next emperor—ushering in the Flavian Dynasty. Because of this, the war against Judea was halted for nearly two years.
During that time, in the heart of Jerusalem, two factions of bandits took over Jerusalem and proceeded to imprison, torture, and kill 12,000 of the Jewish aristocracy and priests—plundering their wealth. The two factions then began to fight against each other for sovereignty over Jerusalem. A warrior division of one of these factions, the Idumeans (descendants of Esau), having been excluded from entering Jerusalem, forcibly entered it during the night and in their rage slaughtered nearly 8,500 people including the high priests. Around the same time a large earthquake ripped through Jerusalem, destroying large portions of the city.
After the Idumeans finished their rampage, they left Jerusalem in disgust, leaving the fate of Jerusalem to the two warring factions. One of those factions took over the temple grounds and murdered everyone who attempted to come into it—leaving a lake of blood in the temple courts. This happened during the Passover in which large multitudes of people came from various parts of the land to sacrifice in the temple. The two factions also forcibly guarded the gates of the city killing anyone attempting to exit the city. They claimed that anyone who tried to leave were traitors to Rome. One faction then proceeded to burn storehouses of provisions leading the other faction to do the same. Soon, severe famine ripped through the city as people began to starve.
At the command of his father Vespasian, Titus returned with a large Roman army to lay siege to Jerusalem. His army contained a division of skilled excavators who quickly and thoroughly leveled the hills and crags surrounding Jerusalem in order to setup the siege.
At the arrival of the Romans, the Jews momentarily united and quickly charged out of the city in a fierce attack on the Roman legions. At first the Romans drew back, but Titus, disgusted at the fear of his troops, charged into the Jewish ranks by himself and single-handedly pushed them back into the city. Josephus reported that Titus had become possessed with a divine strength that stunned both his troops and the Jewish rebels. At one point, later on in the siege, Titus (without his armor) became surrounded by a hoard of Jewish rebels and was able to charge out of the fray while a multitude of arrows and spears inexplicably missed their mark. It was as though he were protected by an invisible wall.
While Titus orchestrated the siege against Jerusalem, civil war continued within the city between the two factions. They would periodically unite to attack the Romans but would then turn and attack each other inside the city. Finally, Titus was able to pierce through a portion of the first wall with a large war engine and after a long, intense fight lasting several months he was able to eventually pierce through the second and third walls. While Titus ventured to take the second and third walls, he also commanded his army to build a large trench, six feet deep and six feet wide, to encompass Jerusalem in order to keep anyone from escaping. The Roman army tirelessly dug the trench within a miraculous time-span of only a few days.
While Titus fought his way through the walls, famine had completely gripped the citizens of Jerusalem and multitudes of people starved to death. The two factions of bandits tortured citizens to find food, and multiple acts of cannibalism were later reported. Numerous Jews who were successful in escaping the city were crucified by the Romans–littering the landscape with crosses.
Several defectors, who were undertakers by trade, reported to Titus through Josephus that they had counted no less than 600,000 bodies ravaged by famine and sword that were thrown out into dumps outside of Jerusalem. Josephus, moved by utmost astonishment and disgust, ran up to the walls of Jerusalem and with a voice louder than humanly possible attempted to compel the seditious Jews upon the walls to surrender. Instead, they spat back at him that he was a traitor and ignored his pleas.
After the Romans were able to demolish a large section of the inner wall, they proceeded to capture the fortress of Antonia and advanced straightaway towards the temple. Titus, wanting to capture the temple as a prize of war, commanded his troops not to harm it. However, one particular soldier, who later claimed that he was possessed by a divine unction, threw a firebrand into the temple. This instigated the rest of the soldiers to begin torching it as well. Titus, fearing he would lose the immense treasures of the temple, attempted to stop his troops but was unsuccessful in getting their attention. Blinded by rage, the Roman soldiers completely torched it, killing numerous people who had gone inside to escape the carnage of the city. Josephus reported that the ground around the temple became so full of bodies that he could not find any dry ground to walk on.
Upon the complete destruction of the temple, the Romans erected the eagle ensign of Caesar over the temple mount and proceeded to sacrifice pigs to Caesar. Titus then put the surviving priests to death, and after surrounding the warring factions he delivered terms of surrender in which they were to lay down their arms and surrender themselves to Roman imprisonment and slavery. The leaders of the factions refused the terms of surrender instigating Titus to completely annihilate them. However, a large group of the bandits were able to escape and fled into subterranean caverns and passages under the mountains up against Jerusalem.
As the Romans advanced throughout the city, they set the entire lower city on fire and killed everyone in sight. The survivors they were able to capture were immediately taken out of the city and sold into slavery. The Romans then pursued the rebels who had fled into the caverns and completely annihilated them after capturing their leaders.
The Romans then burned the rest of the city completing its total destruction. They pulled down all but a small section of its walls in order to keep a monument attesting to their conquest. The destruction of Jerusalem lasted five months from the beginning of the siege on April 14th, AD 70 to September 8th, AD 70. 1.1 million Jews were estimated to have perished in the siege of Jerusalem alone (not to count the total destruction of Judea). At the completion of the destruction of Jerusalem, a captain in the army of Titus named Terentius Rufus directed his soldiers to plow up the entire foundation of the temple with plowshares after having plundered and removed all of its rubble.
Titus then took the leader of one of the seditious factions to Rome and tortured him to death in a Roman temple in front of his father Vespasian Caesar. He then sent parts of his army to completely destroy the fortress of Masada and put down all remaining rebellion in the region of Judea. At the end of the war, the entire land of Israel lay desolate with multitudes of Jewish refugees scattered throughout the world.
The Prophecy of Christ in Matthew 24 (33 AD)
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when His disciples came to point out to Him the buildings of the temple. But He answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of this age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For ethnicities will rise against ethnicities, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all the ethnicities for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all peoples, and then the end will come.
So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. But alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never again will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
Learn a lesson from the fig tree: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, at the door. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the presence of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the presence of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24 is a precise prophecy concerning the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem from the mouth of Jesus Himself. He spoke it approximately 37 years prior to the events of AD 70 and it is remarkably specific and detailed in its depiction of Jerusalem’s coming destruction. Essentially, it was given to the apostles as a warning to avoid the pending judgment upon Jerusalem. Many people have understandably considered this passage to be talking about the end of all history just before the second coming of Jesus. Yet the key to its interpretation lies in Matthew 24:24, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Unless an interpretation of Matthew 24 places the events in the lifetime of the apostles, it either twists Christ’s words or ignores this verse altogether. This is something we must avoid. With a point by point comparison to the recorded history of the destruction of Jerusalem, this passage appears to be prophesying entirely about the events of AD 70. You may disagree, but at least consider the historical evidence.
- “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
- Fulfillment: The entire temple was destroyed by the Romans, the rubble removed, and its foundation plowed.
- “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will lead many astray.“ “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders.”
- Fulfillment: Numerous false messiahs and prophets rose up and led multitudes astray.
- “If they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out.”
- Fulfillment: Many of the false messiahs led multitudes of their followers into the wilderness.
- “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”
- Fulfillment: War, rebellion, and seditious plots erupted throughout the region of Judea as well as the entire Roman Empire.
- “Ethnicities will rise against ethnicities, and kingdom against kingdom.”
- Fulfillment: The Syrians and Greeks attempted genocide against the Jews, civil war broke out in the Roman Empire, and the Jews rose up against the Romans.
- “There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”
- Fulfillment: Famine and numerous large earthquakes were recorded throughout the Roman Empire.
- “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all ethnicities for my name’s sake.”
- Fulfillment: Christians were severely persecuted under the reign of Nero Caesar in the decade of 60-70 AD.
- “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
- Fulfillment: Numerous Christians denied the faith and betrayed each other under torture.
- “Lawlessness will be increased.”
- Fulfillment: Complete anarchy and banditry completely overran Judea for several years before Titus conquered it.
- “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
- Fulfillment: The Greek word here for “saved” is the verb “sozo”. This both refers to the theological concept of salvation as well as a literal physical, bodily protection. This is evident in Matthew 8:25, 14:30, 16:25. Remember that to the Hebrew mind the concept of salvation was understood to be an ultimate salvation from bodily death. Here Jesus was referring to the physical protection (salvation from death) offered to Christians who would suffer hardship during the great tribulation.
- “The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all peoples, and then the end will come.”
- Fulfillment: The gospel, as outlined in the book of Acts, spread rapidly throughout the entire Roman Empire before 70 AD. The key Greek words in this verse are “oikoumene”, “ethnos” and “telos”.
- “Oikumene” is literally translated as “inhabited earth” and idiomatically meant the “Roman Empire” in Greek. It is equivalent to the English phrase “civilized world”. Everyone outside of the Roman Empire was considered of no account and everyone within the Roman Empire considered the “inhabited earth” as encompassing only the dominions of Rome. This is evident in Luke 2:1 in which Caesar taxed the “oikoumene”. (He couldn’t possibly have taxed the entire earth.) In Acts 17:31 Paul refers to this verse when he says that the “oikoumene” was about to be judged by Christ. Furthermore, Romans 10:18 says that the Gospel reached all the “oikoumene”–confirming this prophecy.
- The second word “ethnos” is commonly translated as “nations” but literally means “ethnicities” and implies the ethnic people groups within the Roman Empire and not all the “nation-states” of the earth. The concept of a “nation-state” didn’t even exist until centuries later at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
- The word “ethnos” literally meant ethnic people groups.
- Finally, the “end” (Greek: “telos”) speaks of the end of the temple-era and the close of that age and not the end of all history.
- “When you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place…”
- Fulfillment: Luke 21:20 is Luke’s rewording of Matthew 24:15-16. Since “abomination of desolation” was a Hebrew figure of speech from the Book of Daniel, Luke interprets it for his Greek audience by saying “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies”. Thus Luke’s inspired interpretation means that the abomination of desolation was the Roman Army. This fits well with Jewish sentiments at that time that viewed the Romans as an abomination that desolated the whole world. Jesus here warns His disciples that when they see the Roman Army surrounding Jerusalem, the Holy City, they must flee.
- “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
- Fulfillment: First, this clearly states that this great tribulation would take place in the land of Judea. Second, Christians and many Jewish noblemen fled Jerusalem just before its destruction to the mountainous regions of Pela on the east side of the Jordan River.
- “There will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never again will be.”
- Fulfillment: The complete destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, coupled with the infighting, barbaric brutality of the warring factions, in addition to a self-inflicted horrendous famine within the city, and the immense loss of life in a short span of time (well over 1.1 million in a few months) created a concentrated tribulation beyond all reckoning.
- “For as lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
- Fulfillment: In our culture, we assume that this is talking about the visibility of the Son of Man’s coming. Yet lightning is understood in Hebrew culture and all throughout Scripture to refer to God’s judgment and destruction. Here the image of a powerful lightning bolt that stretches across the entire sky is used to describe the immensity of the coming judgment of the Messiah upon Jerusalem.
- “Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather.”
- Fulfillment: The eagle was the ensign of the Roman army. Here it states that wherever a dead body would be found there would be Roman soldiers all around.
- “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
- Fulfillment: This saying parallels with Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon in Isaiah 13:1,10-13,17,19. It is essentially a prophetic parlance concerning God’s judgment through the invasion of a foreign power.
- However, direct interpretation of the symbolism is possible. The sun possibly represents Mount Zion and the Temple. As stated earlier, the Temple with its gold plates and marble walls shone brightly with the rays of the sun. The moon possibly represents Mount Acra, which was shaped like a crescent moon. The lower city of Jerusalem was situated on and around Mount Acra. Thus this passage could be stating that the city of Jerusalem will no longer have light in it and the temple will be no more. The stars are possibly representative of the Jewish aristocracy and the priesthood. They were nearly annihilated by the seditious bandits as well as the Roman Army. The “powers of heaven” possibly represent the demonic hosts that controlled the hearts and minds of the people of Judea. They were shaken from their places of power.
- “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.”
- Fulfillment: The “Son of Man” in Hebrew Scriptures was inextricably linked to the coming of a human Messiah. In fact, Jesus took this title upon Himself all throughout the gospels. The “Son of Man” ultimately entailed the authority and rule of the Kingdom of God on earth. In Hebrew culture the sword was the symbol of authority and rule. Thus the sign of the Son of Man was likely the flaming comet in the shape of a sword that Josephus reported to have frozen over Jerusalem for over a year before its destruction.
- “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
- Fulfillment: As reported by Josephus, a multitude of flying chariots full of armed men (likely angels) were seen circling Jerusalem in the clouds. If this verse is taken literally, Jesus was among them. Yet we must remember that the phrase “clouds of heaven” is a Hebrew metaphor for God’s judgment (Isaiah 19:1). Jesus had stated to the High Priest at His trial before the Sanhedrin, “Hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). He was essentially telling them that because of their actions they would personally see God’s judgment come upon them (in their lifetime), and that it would be Jesus Himself accomplishing it. Whether Jesus was physically seen or not, God’s judgment upon AD 70 Jerusalem fulfills this verse.
- “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
- Fulfillment: “Four winds” is a Hebrew metaphor that means “abroad”, a term referring to distant places. This “gathering” can not be taken literally as all Christians being physically gathered to one locality. Instead this verb “gathering” comes from the Greek word “synagogue” (assembly). It refers to Christianity’s separation from Judaism and establishment as a synagogue (assembly/church) for all people. Furthermore, the trumpet blast was a declaration of freedom and jubilee to the Christians who had endured the great tribulation.
- “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
- Fulfillment: Jesus double-emphatically stated (with “truly” and “I say to you”) that the generation of His disciples (“this generation”) would not pass away until everything in His prophecy would be accomplished. In fact, the entire prophecy of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in that generation, 40 years later, at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Some people will twist this verse to imply that Jesus was talking prophetically of a future generation as His mind was focused on a future time. This is simply incorrect. Jesus snapped back to the present and clearly singled out His disciples by saying “Truly, I say to you…” By singling them out, he spoke to them of their present generation. Furthermore, the temporal indicators throughout Matthew 24 all indicate that Jesus was speaking to His disciples of contemporaneous events soon to take place upon the temple and Jerusalem. The disciples’ discussion of the temple itself is what led to Christ’s discourse.
- “As were the days of Noah, so will be the presence of the Son of Man.” “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.”
- Fulfillment: In the days of Noah the wicked were swept away by the destruction of the flood and the righteous were left behind on the earth. Contrary to the pop-culture notion of rapture, this is not at all talking about the righteous being taken up to heaven. In fact, it states that the wicked will be taken away and asserts that the righteous will be rescued from the ensuing destruction. This was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in which all the Christians had escaped to the mountains before its destruction—thus remaining in the land.
- “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
- Fulfillment: There are many “comings” of God in judgment in Scripture. This particular “coming” of the Messiah does not concern His final coming at the end of history on Judgment Day. The “coming” mentioned here by Jesus was His coming in judgment upon Jerusalem to pour out God’s wrath upon those who had crucified the Messiah and end once and for all the sacrificial system of Judaism. His judgment was just, in accordance with the declaration of the crowd in Matthew 27:25 as Jesus was led away to be crucified: “His blood be on us and our children!”
Since the destruction of the temple, it has never been rebuilt for nearly 2,000 years. In 363 AD, an attempt was made to rebuild the temple by the Roman emperor Julian. Ammianus Marcellinus recorded that while the workers began construction “horrible balls of fire, breaking out near the foundation with frequent and reiterated attacks, rendered the place, from time to time, inaccessible to the scorched and blasted workmen”. A secular historian named Gibbon, researching the event, wrote: “an earthquake, a whirlwind, and a fiery eruption, which overturned and scattered the new foundations of the Temple, were attested, with some variations, by contemporary and respectable evidence”. Julian abandoned the entire undertaking, and to this day a Muslim Mosque is situated on the temple mount, preventing it from ever being rebuilt. Thus ended the sacrificial, ceremonial system of Judaism, which had been fulfilled in Christ and no longer needed for the atonement of sins. God had permanently divorced and judged unfaithful Israel (who had murdered the Messiah) and married a faithful bride: His Church.
“The Wars of the Jews Or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem” Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. Public Domain.
“The Destruction of Jerusalem” George Holford. (1805)