Why Did Jerusalem Fall?

jerusalem_seigeEver had someone come up to you and say, “Why do you think Jerusalem fell in AD70?” That’s probably never happened to you. But it speaks to the circles I move in that I get asked this question a lot – probably because I have lately been writing about the wrath of God.

If you missed it, the story of Jerusalem’s fall is as follows: The Jews rose up against their Roman occupiers in AD66. In AD68 the Roman general Vespasian was sent to quash the Jewish rebellion. In AD69 Vespasian returned to Rome to become the new Caesar and in AD70 his son Titus besieged and utterly destroyed Jerusalem. The fall of Jerusalem is a horrific story that you can read about in Josephus (or Wikipedia).

But the question that concerns us today is Why? Why was this beautiful and important city so brutally destroyed?

Was the fall of Jerusalem God’s wrath in action? Was God punishing Jerusalem for its sins? Did God use the Romans to mete out a little payback for crucifying his son? If you’re not interested in these questions, you might want to head over to the E2R archive and find something else to read. Or check out my latest book reviews. But if you are interested, here are my thoughts on the different explanations.

Was God punishing Jerusalem for its sin?

Good heavens, no. If he was, then the following account of Christ’s work on the cross is not true:

But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26)

If God destroyed Jerusalem on account of its sin then (a) the Bible is unreliable, (b) Jesus’ work remains unfinished, (c) God is in the sin-punishment business, and (d) your city could be next. That’s bad news all round. Happily, the good news declares that on the cross God condemned sin once and for all (Rom 8:3).

Was God dishing out some old covenant retribution?

Punishing sinners is a very old covenanty thing to do. It’s something associated with the law-keeping covenant observed by the Jews. Under that covenant, the Jews were blessed if they did good and cursed if they did bad. Could it be that the old covenant continued on after the cross? Could it be, that after the cross, there were two covenants operating side by side? Could it be that the old covenant ended with the climatic destruction of Jerusalem?

Hebrews seems to suggest this for it describes the old covenant as obsolete and passing away (Heb 8:13), as if there were an overlap between the old and new covenants. For 40 years after Jesus’ sacrificial death, the Jews continued to make animal sacrifices. That practice didn’t end until Titus destroyed the temple. Since the Jews were still engaging in the old covenant rituals, God was just in punishing them for their sins.

But I don’t think so.

The religious Jews might have continued as though nothing had changed, but Jesus’ death on the cross changed everything. The moment he died God tore the temple veil to show us that he was done with the old death-dealing ministry of law. On the night Jesus rose from the dead, he said the new message of unconditional forgiveness was to be preached everywhere, “beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

That’s worth repeating: the new covenant forged in Christ’s blood was not for the Gentiles only, it was for everyone everywhere but it was particularly for the Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus said so.

To this day some Jews continue to observe the law but on the cross Christ fulfilled the law for all of us. The death that the law brings, Jesus tasted for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike (see Heb 2:9). For God to continue to relate to the Jews under the terms of the obsolete law-keeping covenant, is tantamount to saying Jesus didn’t die for the whole world.

Was God punishing Jerusalem for crucifying his Son?

The venerable Victorian Adam Clarke suggests that the destruction of Jerusalem was divine payback for killing Jesus:

It is as remarkable that not one Jew escaped! All either fell by the sword, perished by famine, or were led into captivity! According to their own imprecation, His blood be upon us and our children, God visited and avenged the innocent blood of Christ upon them and upon their posterity; and they continue to be monuments of his displeasure to the present day.

For 2000 years the Jews have been persecuted because they conspired with Pilate to crucify Jesus. In retribution for this they have been run out of countries, exploited, mistreated, and gassed in ovens by wicked and racist men. But God is not an anti-Semite! As he was dying on the cross, the Son of God said “Father forgive them” and the Father surely did!

If God punished the Jews for crucifying Jesus, then the Father and Son are a house divided. But he didn’t and they’re not. Jesus spoke from the Father’s heart which is to give grace and forgiveness to all of us including the worst of us.

“But didn’t Paul say the Jews killed the Lord Jesus?” He did (see 1 Thess 2:15). But Paul wasn’t speaking out of vindictiveness. His heart wasn’t for retribution but reconciliation. He knew his countrymen were misguided for scorning grace, but rather than condemn them he wanted to trade places with them. He wished that he might be accursed so that they – those who crucified Jesus – might be saved (Rom 9:3).

Paul had great grace towards those who killed Jesus but God’s grace is greater still. It is unthinkable that the One who sits on the throne of grace and who showers us with grace upon grace would punish the descendants of Abraham in this way.

What about Christ’s prophecy?

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, (Jesus) wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)

Jesus wept because he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem. He said Jerusalem was doomed because the Jews did not “recognize the time of God’s coming to you” and did not receive “what would bring you peace.” He was talking about himself. Jesus is the Prince of peace who brings peace. If the Jews had embraced him and his gospel of peace they would not have been crushed by the Romans 40 years later.

Jesus said “love your enemies,” but the Jews hated their enemies. Jesus said “pray for those who persecute you” but the Jews were not interested. All that talk about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile was lost on them. They were looking for a sword-wielding messiah not a peace-making Savior.

By crucifying Jesus the religious Jews showed they were more than ready to engage in the politics of violence practiced by the Romans. They weren’t interested in a new kingdom built on love and forgiveness. They were motivated by hatred and a lust for power. And it was this attitude, which Jesus knew all too well, that brought them trouble later.

What about Christ’s other prophecy?

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives a set of prophecies some of which pertain to the imminent destruction of Jerusalem’s temple:

“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mat 24:1)

As with his Luke 19 prophecy, Jesus was very specific and very accurate in predicting the destruction of Jerusalem. In fact, he was so specific that those who heeded his words were able to recognize the danger when it came and flee to safety. But there is nothing in Jesus’ prophesy to suggest that the destruction of Jerusalem would be God’s wrath in action. The only damage inflicted upon the temple that can unequivocally be attribute to divine causes was the rending of the curtain (Mt 27:51), and that happened 40 years before the Romans showed up with their siege engines.

So, why did Jerusalem fall?

Short answer: the Jews ticked off the Romans.

Jerusalem did not fall because God was especially angry with the Jews or because they sinned more than the non-Jews or because some of them participated in the crucifixion of Jesus. Jerusalem fell because when you reject the things that bring you peace, you end up with no peace. By rejecting the Prince of peace and his message of peace, the Jews reaped trouble. How could it be any other way?

Jesus said the Jews would reap what they sowed and they did. The Jews yanked on the tail of the Roman tiger and reaped the consequences. End of story.

What goes around, comes around. If you poke a hornets’ nest, don’t be surprised if you get stung. And if you pick a fight with your boss, don’t be surprised if you get fired. You may blame the hornets or your boss or your own stupidity but what you cannot do is blame God. When you sow trouble, as the Jews did, you shouldn’t be surprised if you reap trouble. Sowing and reaping is a universal principal.

God did everything he could to stop the self-inflicted demise of the Jews. Through his own Son he personally visited them and warned them. And as they crucified him he forgave them showing that his message was unconditional peace and grace from start to finish. The subsequent destruction of Jerusalem had everything to do with their own truculence and nothing to do with God’s wrath.

God's_Wrath_sq“But Paul, you have not said anything about 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.”

I was wondering when you would ask about that scripture. I’ll get to that one in my next post in this series.

Comments

  1. It was the end of the age, more then Romans just being ticked off.

  2. Types and shadows of the two covenants coexisting until the Old Covenant had to be removed –

    David was anointed king but Saul still reigned for a long time until his death. Isaac was born and Hagar and Ishmael had to be cast out. Children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years until the unbelieving Israelites and Moses the law giver died and Joshua led the children of Israel into Canaan, etc.

    The period from 30 A.D. when Jesus died until 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed was Israel’s true spiritual wilderness.

    Luke 11:49 – Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of *this generation*; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of *this generation.*

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your comment. You raise two distinct points:

      1. The old and new coexisting side-by-side: Jesus came preaching the kingdom of grace, forgiving those who neither repented nor asked for forgiveness. At the same time Jesus preached the law to those under the law. So in the life and times of Jesus we see both the shadow and the reality, side by side. And like David under king Saul, Jesus, the anointed king, lived respectfully under Herod and Caesar and Caiaphas (representing an unholy trifecta of politics, power, and religion).

      2. “Required of this generation” – what do you have in mind here? Are you saying that God was somehow responsible for the slaughter of Jewish children? I don’t want to put such horrible words in your mouth, so I will say no more. My view on this passage is that Jesus was preaching eternal consequences, as he often did, rather than making threats.

      • Thank you for always being so polite in your discussions. I LOVE most of your post btw.

        1. Yes, the fornication/adultery of the Harlot apostate Israel (Revelation’s words, not mine) was largely political. Even after Jesus ascended, the apostate Jews used the Roman empire to persecute the church just as they did to crucify Jesus. The unholy trifecta was still around after Jesus ascended and you see it prophesied against in Rev. And Herod killed in Acts. These same shadows (The temple, the Levitical priesthood, the sacrifices) we’re all still going on after Jesus ascended until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. making them no longer possible, the shadow passed away.

        1 John 2:8 – On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.

        At the time John wrote that (before 70 A.D.) the darkness was passing away, but the true light was already shining. The 2 covenants coexisted, but the darkness/shadow passed away in 70 A.D.

        2. As for whether or not God did it, I guess that all depends on whether or not you believe He did the judgments in the OT. If you believe He did the OT judgments then yes, He did this last OT judgment too. Under the Old Covenant curses were promised to the children of Israel if they did not keep up their end of the bargain. All of the the judgments poured out in Revelation are curses from Deu 28. In fact, Revelation is written in the same format as Deu and relies heavily on the book of Eze. Rev, like the books of the prophets, indites apostate Israel for breaking her covenant and it prophesies of the coming judgment for not keeping said covenant. Also like the prophets, it shows pictures of the spiritual realities that Jesus is Lord and that the church is beautiful and victorious and will reign with Him. It also warns the church, like the book of Hebrews, not to go back to the Old Covenant way of doing things.

        But Thankfully, the prophesies concerning the end of the Old Covenant have been fulfilled and the OC finally passed away in 70 A.D. and with the end of the Old Covenant also comes the end of God’s wrath –

        Rev 15:1 – Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them *the wrath of God is finished.*

        Now we live in the New Covenant/Kingdom/Grace age where there is no room for wrath or anti-semitism. The Kingdom of God will continue to fill the whole earth until Jesus finally returns!

        1 Cor 15:25 – For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
        [26] The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

  3. Well the big question I have always asked, and never quite got a adequate answer is….. If Jesus died for all sin on the cross…. why then would he turn around and exact judgment on the Jews? So its obvious that you answered that one. So….. can I ask what you think in regards to Revelation being mostly about describing the destruction of Jerusalem… and not the end of the world as futurists believe? The preterist view makes sense in some ways…. but the whole judgement thing didn’t sit right… I will be interested in what you make of Thessalonians. :)

  4. Thank you Paul, I like your perspective. Mark 12:1-10. and Mt. 23:31-38 both seem to speak to coming calamity that is the result of their choices and the consequences that follow.. They remove their own protection by choosing the path of violence and self righteousness. I don’t see wrath as much as choosing to live by the sword and reject peace (and change of heart Jesus brings)

  5. Paul. very Interesting! I have a previous post on sinning willfully.
    and briefly mentioned about the ending of temple sacrifice.

    i am linking this post

  6. The previous king of Jerusalem saw himself as the lord of righteousness , a man. The new king is the Lord who is righteousness , selfrighteousness verses Grace.Jerusalem could be seen as the city of men’s hearts.The old city will not be able to house the new heart.The destruction of the old Jerusalem was not a judgment but a consequence of rejecting grace. And as for those that suffered and died the only had the opportunity to stand before the only just judge , I have no concern for them. Eternity however you define it , reduces what we know into insignificance, the events are insignificant the message has all significance.

  7. I like it, in short,dont tick off the romans.

  8. Deborah Dillihant says:

    The proverbial Hornets nest… I like how you put forth the questions in a very thought provoking way and then you turn around and answer them. Jesus lamented over the destruction of Jerusalem, and I believe that it is deeper than the hornets nest, I believe that even though we have been saved through mercy and grace, there is also that universal law of consequences as you stated “what goes around comes around” in effect. Yes if we commit a crime we are forgiven, but that does not negate the consequences of our actions.Did he not say that if we live by the law then we are judged by the law? And they were in denial that Jesus was the Son of GOD and refuse to recognize that they had been delievered. A prohet in his home town will never be recognize, and their actions that they chose to continue kept that prophetcy of destruction right on marching. The Law kills, it Killed then and it Kills now, religion has a way of repeating this…

  9. What goes around, comes around? It sound likes Karma to me! I think it suffix to say that sin has consequences and we are still living in a fallen world. Let’s not forget the devil also has vital part to play especially in the life of those who do not belong to God. Throughout history, the devil times and again instigated evil men to steal, kill and destroy. For us who are saved, the devil has no power over us unless we buy into his lie and believe otherwise. Thanks Paul!

  10. One thing for sure – God is not going to allow man to mock at His Son’s eternal sacrifice by continuing to offer animal sacrifices at the temple!

  11. Grace Seeker says:

    It was interesting to hear that not a single Jew survived. I have heard that, opposite of this, that no Christians died, that they all fled, having known Jesus prophecies. Is this true?

    • I have heard this too. It’s important to note that the Christians who fled to Pella and other places, would’ve been ethnic Jews. So when Josephus says all the Jews were killed, he means all the Jews who ignored the warnings and remained in the city of Jerusalem when the Romans arrived.

  12. Dude that was so helpful. Thanks for the clarity! A few more words on why the persecution of the Jews for the past 2000 years might be helpful since you mentioned it. I know it was a lingering question i began to try to answer myself as I read your post. Anyways, thanks. Jesus is LORD.

  13. Lots of good stuff. A few comments. Covenants are eternal…unless one of the parties dies, then the other covenant partner is freed from the terms of the covenant. (Paul actually uses this very analogy of marriage when speaking of dying to the Law in Romans 7.1-6.) So, a clarification…though the New Covenant is for both Jews and Gentiles – it is only those who DIE TO SELF and receive Jesus by faith (ie enter into covenant relationship with the Father through Jesus) who enjoy the blessings of this New Covenant. But to those Jews who reject Christ…they still live under the blessings (and curses) of the Old Covenant (Mosaic Covenant) because it is still in force for them. It has only been rendered obsolete for those believers who have been FREED FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW through faith in Jesus. So, those who cling to the Old Covenant Law will, sadly, also fall by the (curses of the) Law, because “through the Law is no man justified.” Hope this helps.

  14. God can not even remember your sin how can you possibly think he will hold it against you , yes we live in a fallen world but we need to believe Gods promises not our circumstances , we do not need to reap what we sow.We can reap what he has sown.

  15. I don’t get the part about Heb 8:13

    Was the Old covenant gone when the new covenant was established? Or when Jerusalem fell?

    • This is one occasion where the NIV really nails it: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Heb 8:13). Obsolete is such a perfect word here. From God’s side, the old law-keeping covenant is irrelevant and no more. All the requirements of the law were fully met in Christ and he is the definitive sacrifice that removes the sin of the world (Heb 9:26). But from our side there are still those who choose to relate to God on the basis of their obedience – not just religious Jews but anyone who thinks God will bless them as they do their part.

      The old covenant was rendered obsolete, out of date, and useless at the cross. It “passes away” as people hear the gospel and discover all that Christ has done on their behalf and abandon the old ways of do-to-get.

      • Brian Midmore says:

        Should we ‘relate’ to God on the basis of obedience? No and Yes!. Now we are covenant members of Abrahams family on the basis of faith alone. We are justified by faith. Nonetheless within the security of God’s family the Christian is called to holy behaviour and is disciplined by God to create this holy behaviour. The Christian is always related to God on the basis of faith, he is our eternal Father. However there is a real sense that we relate to him on the basis of our obedience since he disciplines us for our disobedience.

  16. “truculence”
    well, i learned a new word today! thanks ;)

  17. What a great post, thank you! I am so interested to hear your thoughts on The Rich Man and Lazarus, are you going to do a post on that any time soon?

  18. Ps. 48 – the city of our great King.
    Is. 60 – and they shall call you The City of the Lord.
    In Heb. 11- they were looking for a city, they saw it afar off, God prepared a city, a heavenly city.
    Heb. 12 – We have come to a city, the heavenly Jerusalem, called Zion.
    Eph. 2 – no longer strangers & foreigners but fellow citizens, . . . a habitation of God . . .
    Rev. 21 – Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    The OT saints were looking, the NT saints have come and were no longer strangers, but fellow citizens, a habitation of God.
    Could it be possible that we are the New Jerusalem come down out of heaven, as a bride?
    Now?

  19. BTW – Great article.

  20. Brian Midmore says:

    You seem to rejecting an anthropomorphised God: a god who vindictively seeks vengeance for the killing His son. Most people would agree with you! But nonetheless after the Jews had rejected Jesus (most of them not all) they ceased in effect to be God’s people. They were branches that had been broken off the olive tree. Therefore they forfeited any protection that being the people of God afforded them and were open to the retribution of the Romans. God had removed his protection. This might be seen as God’s judgement upon them. Some might describe it as God’s wrath, but it wasn’t God’s vindictiveness. It was the consequences of rejecting God’s Messiah.

    • “a god who vindictively seeks vengeance for the killing His son”
      good you spelled it with a small g, because that’s not my Daddy.
      That sounds like Zeus than Daddy.

      “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
      —-
      Why do you think Jesus came for the lost sheep of Israel? They weren’t “broken off” when Christ died. They were already broken off to begin with. God’s covenant wasn’t with the entirety of the Jews during that time, even Christ Himself said some of they were sons of the devil!

      God only made the covenant to those of faith. Not to natural Israel, but the Israel of God. (Rom 2, Ph 3, Gal 4, Gal 6, etc)

      • Brian Midmore says:

        You didn’t read my post properly. I agree that it is not God’s vindictiveness! You make an interesting point. In Romans 10.17-24 Paul talks about breaking off natural branches from off the olive tree of Israel. You suggest that these branches were broken off before they rejected Jesus because they did not have faith. Its possible I suppose but it seems unlikely since they are described as natural branches i.e their ancestor was Abraham. What Paul is saying is that now the family of Abraham is constituted by faith in a faithful Messiah, and so those who do not have faith in him even though they are full Jews who observe Torah are broken off. The people of God are now justified by faith and not the works of the Torah. This the major theme of Romans.

  21. God did not destroy Jerusalem because the Jews killed Jesus but because they REFUSED to believe that he was god even after his resurrection and instead clinged to the old ways worshiping in a man made temple instead of the divine temple of Jesus body and spirit They were in that sense idolatrous

    • God didn’t destroy Jerusalem. Period.

      • I am not so sure about that. I think God definitely was involved in the destruction of Jerusalem, but not as a judgement on the people per se, but on the system itself. It seems that the old system needed to be abolished as people were still clinging to the old ways, instead of embracing the new way of the Kingdom. The old ways needed to go, and Jesus indeed warned his disciples about it in Matthew. Not one Christian lost their life because of that warning. I agree paul that God dealt with sin on the cross, and no one now is judged for their sin, but this was not a person. This was something that was instituted by God ,and needed to become obsolete. Still working my way thru this, and indeed, not certain in my mind about it all, but I think there is more to it than just ‘this happened because the Romans got annoyed at the Jews’ sort of thing.

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