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THE GREAT TRIBULATION

By Philip Mauro adapted/edited by Glenn Davis

Lesson 7

Vespasian Recalled, Titus Placed In Charge

At this point Vespasian was called to Rome because of the death of the emperor Nero, and the operations against the Jews were run by Titus. Vespasian himself was soon afterwards made emperor.

Meanwhile another tyrant rose up, whose name was Simon. Of him Josephus says: "Now this Simon, who was without the wall, was a greater terror to the people than the Romans themselves; while the Zealots who were within it were more heavy upon them than both the other." Those Zealots were led by a tyrant named John; and the excesses of murder and uncleanness in which they habitually indulged are indescribable [4:9:10]. In order to overthrow John, the people finally admitted Simon and his followers. From that time onward the civil warfare within the city became more incessant and deadly. The distracted city was now divided into three fractions instead of two. The fighting was carried even into the inner court of the temple. Josephus mourns that even those who came with sacrifices to offer them in the temple were slain, "and sprinkled that altar with their own blood, till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those profane persons with those of priests, and the blood of all sort of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves" [5:1:3].

Surely there never were such conditions as these in any city before or since. Among the dire calamities which befell the wretched people was the destruction of the granaries and storehouses of food; so that famine was soon added to the other horrors. The warring fractions were "agreed in nothing but to kill those that were innocent...The noise of those that were fighting was incessant, both by day and by night; but the lamentations of those that mourned exceeded the noise of the fighting. Nor was there ever any occasion for them to leave off their lamentations, because their calamities came perpetually, one upon another...But as for the seditious bands themselves, they fought against each other while trampling upon the dead bodies which lay heaped one upon another, and being filled with a mad rage from those dead bodies under their feet, they became the more fierce. They, moreover, were still inventing pernicious things against each other; and when they had resolved upon anything, they executed it without mercy, and omitted no method of torment or of barbarity" [5:2:5].

At the time described above, the Roman armies had not yet reached the city, and as the Passover season now came on, and things seemed to quiet down momentarily, the gates were opened for such as wished to observe the great feast. The translator, in a footnote, says: "Here we see the true occasion of those vast numbers of Jews that were in Jerusalem during this siege by Titus and who perished therein. For the siege began at the feast of Passover, when such prodigious multitudes of the Jews and proselytes were come from all parts of Judea, and from other countries...As to the number that perished during this siege, Josephus assures us, as we shall see hereafter, they were 1,100,000, besides 97,000 captives."

This is notable as the last Passover. That joyous feast of remembrance of God's great deliverance of His people out of Egypt ended in an orgy of blood. The tyrant John took advantage of this opportunity to introduce some of his followers, with concealed weapons, among the throngs of worshippers in the temple, who slew many, while others "were rolled in heaps together, and trampled upon, and beaten without mercy."

And now, though the Roman armies were at their gates, the warring factions began again to destroy one another and the innocent inhabitants. "For they returned to their former madness, and separated one from another, and fought it out; and they did everything that the besiegers could desire them to do. For they never suffered from the Romans anything worse than they made each other suffer; nor was there any misery endured by the city which, after what these men did, could be esteemed new. It was most of all unhappy before it was overthrown; and those that took it did it a kindness. For I venture to say that the sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition. This was a much harder thing to do than to destroy the walls. So that we may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our own people" [5:6:2].

This is the most astonishing feature of this "great tribulation"; for surely there never was a besiege city whose inhabitants suffered more from one another than from the common enemy. In this feature of the case we see most clearly that it is one of judgment, as the apostle Paul said, "the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost."

31. The most violent party in the city was the ______________.

32. Vespasian was called to _________________ because of the death of the emperor Nero, and the operations against the Jews were run by Titus.

33. Vespasian himself was soon afterwards made ___________________.

34. Another tyrant rose up, whose name was _______________.

35. The Zealots were led by a tyrant named ________________.

36. In order to overthrow ________________, the people finally admitted Simon and his followers into the city.

37. Among the dire calamities which befell the wretched people was the destruction of the granaries and storehouses of food; so that ________________ was soon added to the other horrors.

38. The Roman armies had not yet reached the city, and as the ______________ season now came on, and things seemed to quiet down momentarily, the gates were opened for such as wished to observe the great feast.

39. That joyous Passover feast of remembrance of God's great deliverance of His people out of Egypt ended in an orgy of ______________.

40. And now, though the ______________ armies were at their gates, the warring factions began again to destroy one another and the innocent inhabitants.

41. "We may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our ____________ people."

42. Surely there never was a besieged city whose inhabitants suffered more from _____________________ than from the common enemy.

At this point the siege began in earnest. Titus, however, sent Josephus to speak to the Jews, offering them clemency, and encouraging them to surrender. Josephus made a most earnest plea to them not to resist the might of Rome, pointing out that God was no longer with them. But it failed. So the siege proceeded outside, and the famine began to rage inside, insomuch that children pulled out of their parent's mouths the morsels they were eating, and even mothers deprived their infants of the last bits of food that might have saved their lives.

The fighters, of course, kept for their own use what food there was, and it seems that they took a keen delight in seeing others suffer. It was a species of madness. They invented terrible methods of torments, which would not be proper for us to describe. "And this was done to keep their madness in exercise" [5:10:3]. The most horrible and unbelievable torments were inflicted on all who were suspected of having any food concealed.

"It is impossible to give every instance of the iniquity of these men. I shall therefore speak my mind here...that neither did any other city suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness that this was, from the beginning of the world. Finally they brought the Hebrew nation into contempt, that they might themselves appear comparatively less impious with regard to strangers. They confessed, which was true, that they were the scum, and the spurious and abortive offspring of our nation, while they overthrew the city themselves, and forced the Romans, whether they would or no, to gain a melancholy reputation by acting gloriously against them; and did almost draw that fire upon the temple which they seemed to think came too slowly" [5:10:5].

Under pressure of the famine many Jews went out at night into the valleys in search of food. These were caught, tortured and crucified in sight of those on the walls of the city. About 500 a day were so treated. The number became so great that there was not room enough for the crosses, nor crosses enough for the victims. So several were often nailed to one cross.

A little later the Roman armies encompassed the entire city, so that there so no getting out any more. "Then did the famine widen its progress and devour the people by whole houses and families. The upper rooms were full of woman and children dying by famine; and the lands of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The children also and the young men wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them" [5:12:3]. "Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day...and indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps, one upon another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench which was a hindrance to those that would make sallies out of the city to fight the enemy" [6:1:1]. "The number of those that perished by famine in the city was prodigious, and their miseries were unspeakable. For if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear, a war was commenced presently, and the dearest friends fell a fighting one another about it."

In this connection Josephus relates in detail the case of a woman, well-known for her family and her wealth, who, while suffering the ravages of famine, slew her infant son and roasted him, and having eaten half of him, concealed the other half. When presently the seditious Jews came in to search the premises, and smelt the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her life if she did not show them what food she had prepared. She replied that she had saved for them a choice part, and withal uncovered what was left of the little body, saying, "Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself. Do not you pretend to be more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother." Even those desperate and hardened men were horrified at the sight, and stood aghast at the deed of this mother. They left trembling; and the whole city was full of what the woman had done. It must be remembered that all this time the lives of all in the city would have been spared and the city and temple saved, had they but yielded to the Romans. But how then should the Scripture be fulfilled? [see Deut. 28:56-57]

Soon after this the temple was set on fire and was burned down, through Titus tried to save it. "But as for that house, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages. It was the tenth day of the month, Ab, the day upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon" [6:4:5]. Josephus goes on to say: "While the holy house was on fire everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those were slain. Nor was there any commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children, old men, profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner...moreover, many, when they saw the fire, exerted their utmost strength, and did break out into groans and outcries. Perea also did return the echo, as well as the mountains round about Jerusalem...yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder. For one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as if full of fire on every part, that the blood was more in quantity than the fire, and that the slain were more in numbers than they who slew them. For the ground did nowhere appear visible because of the dead bodies that lay upon it" [6:5:1].

In describing how a number were killed in a certain cloister, which the soldiers set on fire, Josephus says, "A false prophet was the occasion of the destruction of those people, he having made a public proclamation that very day that God commanded them to get upon the temple and that they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. There was then a large number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who announced to them that they should wait for deliverance from God" [6:5:2]. In this detail also the Lord's Olivet prophecy was most literally fulfilled.

When at last the Romans gained entrance to the city, the soldiers had become so exasperated by the stubborn resistance of the Jews, that they could not be restrained from wreaking vengeance upon the survivors. So they indulged in slaughter until weary of it. The survivors were sold into slavery, but at a very low price, because they were so numerous, and the buyers were few. Thus was fulfilled the word of the Lord by Moses, "And there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you" [Deut. 28:68]. Many were put into bonds and sold to slavery in the Egyptian mines, thus fulfilling several prophecies that they should be sold into Egypt again [Hos. 8:13; 9:3].

In concluding this part of his history Josephus gives the number of those who perished [1,100,000] and of those sold into slavery [97,000], and explains, that "they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army." He adds: "Now this vast multitude was indeed collected out of remote places, but the entire nation was now shut up by fate as in prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly the multitude of those that perished therein exceeded all the destructions that either man or God ever brought upon the world" [6:9:4]

Thus ended, in the greatest of all calamities of the sort, the national existence of the Jewish people, and all that pertained to that old covenant which was instituted with glory [2 Cor. 3:7, 9, 11], but which was "to be done away."

Here may be seen an example of the thoroughness of God's judgments, when He arises to do His "strange work." "Judgment must begin at the house of God"; and in view of what is brought to our notice in this history of Josephus, how impressive is the question, "And if it begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" [1 Pet. 4:17]

**Editor's comment: I know this has been a tragic and distressing lesson but do you being to see why Jesus, John, and others took the time to warn the Jewish Christians beforehand so they would not be caught up in this terrible judgment? Think of how much of the Old Testament is spent warning about the Babylonian Captivity. It would be very strange if the New Testament did not spend time warning about this much greater event which was going to happen to their generation.**

43. Titus sent Josephus to speak to the Jews, offering them clemency, and encouraging them to _________________.

44. All this time the lives of all in the city would have been spared and the city and temple saved, had they but ________________ to the Romans.

45. Soon after this the _______________ was set on fire and was burned down, through Titus tried to save it.

46. "There was then a large number of _______________ prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who announced to them that they should wait for deliverance from God."

47. The survivors were sold into slavery, but at a very ______________ price, because they were so numerous, and the buyers were few.

48. Josephus gives the number of those who perished [__________________] and of those sold into slavery [97,000].

Edersheim On Matthew 24

We find that reliable commentators of earlier days have pointed out that when Christ warned His disciples of the great tribulation that was to come, He meant the distresses which would attend the then approaching destruction of Jerusalem. Alfred Edersheim, who was one of the very ablest of commentators, has thus expounded the Lord's Olivet prophecy. We attach special weight and authority to his expositions, for the reason that there is probably no man of modern times who possessed such an extensive and accurate knowledge as he of the customs, manners, habits of thought, writings, and traditions of the Jews in the days of Christ.

Edersheim sees four divisions in the Lord's Olivet prophecy, as recorded in Matt. 24; and we will follow his analysis.

1. The first division comprises verses 6-8, which contain warnings to the disciples that they were not to regard the "sorrows" He was foretelling "as the judgments which would usher in the Advent of their Lord". In other words, they were not to regard wars, famines, etc., as the signs of His second coming. Those warnings have been needed throughout the age. For the "sorrows" foretold by Christ, especially when they happened in connection with the appearance of some supposed "antichrist" - from Nero down to Napoleon and more recently to the German Kaiser - "have frequently misled Christians into an erroneous expectancy of the immediate advent of Christ." It is really surprising that the Lord's people should so persistently take to be signs of His coming the very things He warned them were not to be considered as such.

2. The second division of the prophecy embraces verses 9-14. It contains warnings broader in scope than those of the first section. Two general dangers are specified: a] "internal, from heresies [false prophets] and decay of faith, and b] external, from persecutions. But along with those two dangers, two consoling facts are also pointed out." The first is that, in spite of the fierce persecutions, Divine aid would be given them, and by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit they would be enabled to testify before kings, rulers, and tribunals [Mark 13:9]. The second consoling fact is that "despite the persecutions by Jews and Gentiles, before the end cometh ‘this gospel of the kingdom' shall be preached in all the inhabited earth for a testimony to all nations."

3. The third division of the prophecy is contained in verses 15-28. "The Lord proceeds, in the third part of this discourse, to advise the disciples of the great historic fact immediately before them, and of the dangers which would spring from it. In truth we have here His answer to their question ‘when shall these things be?' And with this He conjoins the [then] present application of His warning regarding false Christs [given in verses 4-5]. The fact of which He now advertises them is the destruction of Jerusalem." It will be noted that the question, "When shall these things be?" is directly answered by the words, "When ye shall see..." [Matt. 24:15; Luke 21:20]. This, together with tribulation to Israel, unparalleled in the terrible past of its history, and unequaled even in its bloody future was about to befall them. Nay, so dreadful would be the persecution that, if Divine mercy had not interposed for the sake of the followers of Christ, the whole Jewish race that inhabited the land would have been swept away. There should have been ‘no flesh saved.'" We agree with this simple and satisfactory explanation of the Lord's words, "And except those days be shortened there should no flesh be saved" [Matt. 24:22]. We have already shown how those dreadful days were shortened.

4. The fourth division of the prophecy is contained in verses 29-31. "The times of the Gentiles, ‘the end of the age,' and with it the new allegiance of His then penitent people Israel, "the sign of the Son of man in heaven perceived by them...the coming of Christ, the last trumpet, the resurrection of the dead, such in most rapid sketch, is the outline which the Lord draws of His coming and the end of the world [age]."

**Editor's comment: Personally I believe verses 29-31 also refer to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. Christ's words in verse 33 naturally apply to all which He had just spoken.**

This finishes the prophetic part of the chapter; and now at verses 32-33 the Lord speaks a parable to impress upon the minds of His disciples the importance and the application of the sign He had given them so that they would know that the destruction of the holy city was near. "From the fig tree, under which on the spring afternoon they may have rested, they were to learn a parable. We can picture Christ, taking one of its twigs, just as its softening tips were bursting into young leaf. Surely this meant that summer was nigh - not that it had actually come. The distinction is important; for it seems to prove that ‘all these things' which were to indicate to them that ‘it' was ‘near, even at the doors,' and which were to be fulfilled ere ‘this generation' had passed away, could not have referred to the last signs connected with the advent of Christ, but must apply to the previous prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish commonwealth."

This too is a very simple and satisfactory explanation of the words, "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." If those words be taken as His answer to the question, "When shall these things be?" they are easy to interpret. If their application is postponed to the far-off future they present much difficulty. For example, to postpone their application would make the Lord contradict His positive and most emphatic statement that no signs would precede and give warning of His second coming.

Edersheim further points out in this connection that the bursting of the fig-tree into leaf is not the sign of harvest, which is the end of the age, but of summer, which precedes the harvest. This is significant.

1. The disciples were not to regard wars, famines, etc., as the signs of His _______ coming.

2. In spite of the fierce persecutions, Divine aid would be given them, and by the presence and power of the ________________ they would be enabled to testify before kings, rulers, and tribunals [Mark 13:9].

3. The question, "When shall these things be?" is directly answered by the words, "_________________________________..." [Matt. 24:15; Luke 21:20].

4. Christ's words in ___________________ naturally apply to all which He had just spoken.

5. Edersheim further points out in this connection that the bursting of the _________ into leaf is not the sign of harvest, which is the end of the age, but of summer, which precedes the harvest.

Feed Yourself Students

1.  Answer all the questions.

2.  Analyaze Matt. Chapter 24.

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Return to The Great Tribulation Lessons.



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