Studies On Christ’s Olivet Discourse
Dr. Frederick A. Tatford of East Sussex, England, is President of the Prophetic Witness Movement, International, well-known lecturer and conference speaker, and author of over sixty books on Biblical themes. This is the third of an extended series of studies by Dr. Tatford on Christ’s Olivet Discourse.
The Destruction Of The Temple
The declaration that the holy temple was to be completely demolished must have filled the minds of the four disciples on Olivet with the utmost consternation. The work of reconstruction had been going on for forty years and was not complete until 63 A.D. That this sacred edifice was to be destroyed was a major calamity. The most impious invader might have been expected to spare it because of its beauty. Not surprisingly they asked when this tragedy would occur and what sign there would be when all the things of which the Saviour had spoken were to be fulfilled (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7). Only Luke records the answer given to these two questions.
The Master had earlier predicted the complete destruction of the holy city (Luke 19:44) and if the temple was also to be destroyed, it was a reasonable deduction that it would occur at the same time. But when? When they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then they would know that its desolation was near, He now declared (Luke 21:20). It was over thirty years before this was fulfilled. The insufferable rapacity and iniquitous conduct of Gesius Florus, the last procurator of Judea, eventually goaded the Jews to revolt when he attempted to plunder the temple treasures and they forced him to flee from Jerusalem. The insurrection was at first surprisingly successful. The forces of Cestius Gallus, the prefect of Syria, who had been commanded to squash the rebellion, surrounded the city, as Christ had predicted, but they were completely routed in 66 A.D. and Cestius was compelled to withdraw.
The Lord’s Warning
According to the Lucan record, our Lord had warned that, when the city was thus surrounded by armies, the people who were in Judea and those who were in the city of Jerusalem should flee to the mountains. This must have seemed an absurd injunction, for Jerusalem was a walled city and was almost impregnable. Prima facie, safety and security were to be found within its walls and the logical course would have seemed to be to remain in that stronghold. Many, however, recalled the injunction and fled to Pella in Perea, one of the cities of the Decapolis, to the south of the Sea of Galilee. In fact, the church historian Eusebius says, “The whole body of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.” Those who did so were preserved and escaped the fate of those who remained in the city, and were much later permitted to return and to inhabit part of the ruined city under the leadership of Simeon.
At the news of the defeat of Cestius, the Emperor Nero dispatched Vespasian, the greatest Roman general of his day, with his son Titus and the elite of the Roman army, to effect the subjugation of the city and the people. Despite the fierceness of the Roman attack, the inhabitants of Jerusalem withstood all the might of the Roman army until 70 A.D. Tacitus says that the city’s normal population of 600,000 had been swollen by thousands of pilgrims who had gone there to celebrate the passover, and unfortunately civil strife broke out between the various sectarian parties. Regretably the frenzied people indulged in internecine strife, assassination and massacre, despite their perilous position.
Vespasian was summoned to return to Rome to assume the imperial purple on Nero’s death, but his son, Titus, was left to complete the siege. The Jews obstinately contested every inch of territory, but the city was eventually captured, put to the flames and razed to the ground by the Roman tenth legion. According to Josephus, a million Jews perished through famine, pestilence, fratricide and the Roman sword, and 97,000 were carried off as prisoners, some to be crucified and others to be exposed in the amphitheatre.
Titus made every possible attempt to save the temple, but his specific instructions were ignored. Josephus says that one of the Roman soldiers “snatched a brand from the blazing timber and, hoisted by one of his fellow-soldiers, flung the fiery missile through a golden window” and that when the flames rose from the sacred building in consequence a poignant scream burst forth from the Jews who agonizingly watched the destruction. The soldiers stripped off the golden plates but as some gold had melted and run down into the debris of the fire-gutted building, they tore the massive stones apart (although many were 20 feet by 12 feet and weighed many tons) to retrieve any melted gold between the crevices. Long afterwards the Emperor Julian, intending to rebuild the temple, removed even the stones which had been left at the time of the destruction by Titus. Our Lord’s words were completely fulfilled: not one stone was left standing upon another.
He had declared, moreover, that great distress would be the experience of the country and that wrath would fall upon the people, that they would be slain in battle and be led into captivity among all nations. The unhappy nation suffered precisely as had been foretold. Many were massacred in cold blood, but large numbers of the survivors were sold as slaves, or forced to work in the mines or to fight against wild beasts or gladiators in the games. Some estimates run as high as two million, as compared with Josephus’ figure of 97,000. After gracing the triumphal procession in Rome, their valiant leaders were put to an ignomious death. The desolation of the country continued until the fortress of Massada near the Dead Sea, the last Jewish stronghold, was captured, although this happened only after the self-inflicted immolation of its gallant defenders.
The Times Of The Gentiles
Our Lord also declared that Jerusalem would be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled (Luke 21:24). The earlier sin and idolatry of Israel and Judah had ultimately led to their repudiation by Jehovah and to their removal from their own land to Assyria (2 Kings 17:18-23) and Babylonia (2 Kings 24:14; 25:21) respectively. Governmental supremacy in the earth was then Divinely bestowed upon Gentile powers, commencing with the Babylonian empire and its autocratic ruler, Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:37, 38). Gentile rule (including, of course, the period of Roman rule existing at the time of our Lord) has held sway over the world ever since and, as Daniel clearly indicated, will continue to be exercised until the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth (Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14). As N. Geldenhuys remarks, the fulfilment of the times of the Gentiles “probably means until the end of the present world-order, when Christ will come with divine majesty and power to establish his eternal kingdom.”2 This period of “the times of the Gentiles” has already lasted nearly two and a half millennia, and God’s ultimate purpose of blessing for Israel has been held in abeyance throughout the whole of that period. Dr. H. Grattan Guinness has pertinently written in Light for the Last Days, “The times of the Gentiles are marked by Jewish loss of dominion and independence, by Jewish subjection to and suffering under Gentile conquerors, by the dispersion of the twelve tribes of Israel and by the subjection of their land.”3
It is usually maintained that our Lord’s statement that Jerusalem would be trodden down by the Gentiles meant that the city would be under the continuous rule of Gentile powers from its destruction in 70 A.D. until the establishment of Christ’s millennial kingdom. This interpretation naturally led to the conclusion that the liberation of Jerusalem in June 1967 marked the end of the times of the Gentiles and that the Second Advent was, therefore, imminent. This is patently fallacious since Revelation 11:2, referring to events which are still future, declares that at that time the city will be trodden down by the Gentiles for a period of forty-two months — after the judgment of the sixth trumpet and before the sounding of the seventh trumpet when the Lord assumes the sovereignty of the kingdoms of the world. As G. H. Lang points out, “The Lord shows that when this treading down takes place it will continue to the very conclusion of Gentile world power, that is, to the destruction of Antichrist shown in Isa. 10 and Zech. 14. For when Isaiah’s description of his advance has brought him to Zion the thought passes to the Lord cutting him down (v. 33); and when Zechariah has described the horrors of the siege, capture and captivity (as repeated by Christ in Luke 21:24), then in verse 3 He at once speaks of the Lord appearing to deliver Zion.”4
The misunderstanding is probably due to the fact that Luke omits all reference to “the abomination of desolation,” of which our Lord spoke in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, but does include particulars of some of the happenings at that future time. A comparison of the records of the three synoptic Gospels leads inevitably to the conclusion that Luke 21:24 does not relate to what followed the destruction of the city and temple in 70 A.D., but to the events which will follow the appearance of the “abomination of desolation” in a day which is still future.
The words which Christ used make it impossible to apply them to the period from 70 A.D. to the end of the times of the Gentiles at His coming to earth. He declared that Jerusalem would be “trodden down” and F. F. Bruce argues that “military occupation and forceful repression are implied by the verb.” It could not apply, for example, to the period of the British mandate nor, despite the harshness of the Turkish regime, to the four centuries from 1517 to 1917, nor to the earlier period of Moslem rule. As G. H. Lang points out, the verb “to tread down means as a man stamps violently on a serpent (Luke 10:19), or as grapes are crushed to pulp in the press (Rev. 14:20; 19:15), both actions being fierce and destructive.”5 Our Lord then was disclosing that, after the appearance of “the abomination of desolation,” the city of Jerusalem would suffer brutal and callous treatment at the hands of Gentile nations until its final deliverance at His coming in power and glory. The confirmatory statement in Revelation 11:2 shows that this “treading down” will be for a period of forty-two months, i.e., the second half of Daniel’s seventieth “week” (Dan. 9:27) or the period of the great tribulation.
1 Ecclesiastical History, III, c, 5.
2 N. Geldenhuys, Luke, p. 258.
3 H. Grattan Guinness, Light for the Last Days.
4 G. H. Lang, The Histories and Prophecies of Daniel, p. 137.
5 Ibid., p. 136.