Jesus and Josephus Told of the Destruction of Jerusalem
By Keith H. Meservy
Provo, Utah: FARMS,
Reprinted by permission from The New Testament and the Latter-day Saints
(Orem, Utah: Randall Book Company, 1987), 195–218.
At various times during his ministry, Jesus predicted the divine
judgments that eventually befell Jerusalem and the Jews. During his last
week of mortal life, he not only identified for his disciples the time
and the kinds of problems incident to that dark day, but also the ways
by which they could avoid suffering the consequences.
The Jews took their major step toward the prophesied destruction when
they revolted against the Romans in A.D. 66. Merely four years later,
sword, famine, and fire had leveled the city of Jerusalem; soldiers of
Rome had leveled Jewish homes vacated recently by the dead and the
captives; Jerusalem itself was desolate. Only forty years had passed
since Jesus had predicted it. Undoubtedly, many of those who died on
Jerusalem's streets had heard Jesus' warnings of disaster and his
instructions on how to avoid it.
Today, the hour of God's judgments is being announced again in the land.
For this generation at risk it is reassuring to see how God saves those
who listen to him.
Many accounts of that war were written, but the only one that has
survived was written by Josephus, a twenty-nine-year-old
commander-in-chief of the Galilean sector, who was in an admirable
position to write about it. He knew much of the thinking that had
produced it and was an eye-witness to many of its events. He knew the
major Jewish leaders and, after his capture, knew also the Roman
commanders, Vespasian and Titus. He observed the progress of the war
from within the Roman camp and kept track of its details by regular
interviews with Roman and captured Jewish participants. He saw the fall
of Jerusalem, the burning of its temple, and the leveling of the city.
Consequently, his firsthand knowledge of that war makes his record an
excellent source for studying the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy.
Especially so, since he felt that God had inspired him to understand
what was happening and had preserved his life so that he could tell it.
Josephus, Divine Recorder of the War, Understood It
As the Galilean general, he faced the Romans at the city of Jotapata.
When it finally fell after a forty-day siege and he surrendered, he
recalled many dreams that he had recently had but had not understood.
Referring to himself in the third person, he said: 'There came back into
his mind those nightly dreams, in which God had foretold him the
impending fate of the Jews and the destinies of the Roman sovereigns."
As a priest, he knew how to interpret dreams and knew the prophecies in
the scriptures. At that hour he was inspired to read their meaning."
Recalling the dreadful images of his recent dreams, he
offered up a silent prayer to God. "Since it pleases thee…who didst
create the Jewish nation, to break thy work, since fortune has wholly
passed to the Romans, and since thou hast made choice of my spirit to
announce the things that are to come, I willingly surrender to the
Romans and consent to live; but I take thee to witness that I go, not as
a traitor, but as thy minister."l
Josephus' interpretation of the war is so consistent with the prophecy
of Jesus that it seems as though he had Jesus' prophecy in front of him
as he wrote. I see no evidence, however, that this was the case. And
this lack of evidence suggests that, as Josepbus said, he really was
inspired to understand the meaning of the war.
Eusebius, early church historian, felt that the similarity between the
prophecy and Josephus' history was so striking that it was a testimonial
of Jesus' foreknowledge. "How can one fail to be amazed," he wondered,
"and to admit how truly divine and surpassingly marvelous our Savior's
prescience and foretelling were?"2 I echo his questions. To understand
the prophecy, therefore, one must read Josephus' account of the
fulfillment. To understand the fulfillment, one must understand the
Divine Judgments Came When Love Waxed Cold and Iniquity Ripened
Divine judgments befall the wicked whenever they reject the words and
warnings of God's prophets, ripen in iniquity, and experience the
withdrawal of God's Spirit (see Ether 2:8–11, 15; 2 Nephi 25:9; 26:11).
Two phrases used by Jesus—iniquity will abound and love wax cold—show
why the coming day would be a generation of judgment. When Josephus
described that day (his own), one sees the face of a generation wherein
iniquity abounded and love waxed cold. Josephus concluded that had the
Romans "delayed to punish these reprobates," God would have sent an
earthquake, flood, or thunderbolt to wipe them out. "For it produced a
generation far more godless than the victims of [those former]
visitations" (because wickedness enveloped the whole nation).3
Jewish Robberism Destroyed the Jewish Nation
One might simplify very complex issues by saying that Jewish efforts to
plumb the depths of iniquity began, when, Cainlike, they set their
hearts on the things of this world and used robberism, or organized
force, to get gain. That kind of robberism, according to Josephus,
became the chief plague affecting the nation and leading to its
By the time robberism had fully matured, gangs of robbers were waging a
form of war on Jewish communities. They plundered cities, slaughtered
citizens, and forced anarchy upon the country. When the robbers opted
for war against Rome, they either encouraged or forced all others to
adopt the same course. Finally, at Jerusalem, long before Romans
arrived, they were themselves devastating the sacred city. They were the
first to burn up the grain supply, bloody the temple courts, and put the
torch to sacred precincts. Their unyielding resistance to the Romans
contributed to the desolation of the city. Overall, Josephus held them
responsible for the destruction of their country, Jerusalem, its temple,
and its people.
The Robberism That Destroyed the Nation was Based on Lust for Power
Robberism was an old problem. At least a century earlier in the time of
Herod, robbers were at work plundering the country. The infamous
Barabbas, "who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder,
was cast into prison" (Luke 23:19), was a robber (lestes [John 18:40] a
term used by Josephus for robbers or brigands). By the time of Florus,
robbers were flourishing throughout the country. The robbers' common
goal was to free themselves from Roman rule, but the ultimate goal of
each was to gain the power to control the country.
Such robberism, said Josephus, was not based on patriotism but upon lust
for gain and power:
When raids are made by great hordes of brigands and men of the highest
standing are assassinated, it is supposed to be the common welfare that
is upheld, but the truth is that in such cases the motive is private
Robberism Spawned Iniquity Worthy of Divine Judgments
Materialism, anarchy, and depredations by robbers were all signs of
abounding iniquity. That period became "so prolific of crime of every
description amongst the Jews, that no deed of iniquity was left
unperpetrated, nor, had man's wit been exercised to devise it, could he
have discovered any novel form of vice."6
Jesus and John both recognized the power and threat of the evil that was
even then rearing its head. Jesus called that generation an adulterous
and evil one, one that loved darkness rather than light, one that
satisfied the lust of its murderous father. Both agreed that it was "a
generation of vipers" (see Matthew 12:24, 34, 38–39; 13:4; John 8:44;
Love Waxed Cold and Iniquity Abounded
After forty years of ripening, Josephus said that the brigand bands who
converged on Jerusalem, "abstained henceforth from no enormities."7
an insatiable lust for loot, they ransacked the houses of the wealthy;
regarded the murder of men and the violation of women as a sport; they
caroused on their spoils, with blood to wash them down.8
Satiated with these activities, they imitated effeminate dress in their
hair styling, clothing, perfumes, and makeup. They even imitated
the passions of women, devising in their excess of lasciviousness
unlawful pleasures and wallowing as in a brothel in the city, which they
polluted from end to end with their foul deeds. Yet, while they wore
women's faces, their hands were murderous.9
They vied with each other to open "up new and unheard of paths of vice.
They paraded their enormities and exhibited their vices as though they
were virtues, striving daily to outdo each other in being the worst."10
Josephus, in tears, concluded that no other city
ever endured such miseries, nor since the world began has there been a
generation more prolific in crime…it was they who overthrew the city,
and compelled the reluctant Romans to register so melancholy a triumph.
Killing their high priest along with many of the priests and thousands
of citizens, they gloried in their deeds. Josephus concluded that God
had condemned the city to destruction and wanted "to purge the sanctuary
by fire." Consequently, he "cut off [the priests] who clung to [the
temple and its altar] with such tender affection."11 The green tree had
become dead and dry, ready for the burning.
God Never Destroys Without Warning
One generation earlier, John the Baptist bad warned them that judgments
were impending and wondered who had warned that generation of vipers to
"flee from the wrath to come?" The axe already was being laid at "the
root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good
fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Luke 3:7, 9). The Messiah,
whom they yearned for, was coming as to a threshing floor with fan in
hand. He would "throughly purge his floor" and "gather the wheat into
his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable." (Luke
Jesus Warned of Jerusalem's Desolation, Its Pain and Agony
Seeing what awaited the coming generation, Jesus, during his triumphal
entry into Jerusalem, "beheld the city and wept over it." Said he:
The days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench
about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. And
shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and
they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou
knewest not the time of thy visitation. (Luke 19:41–44.)
Later, at the temple, Jesus told the parable of the wicked farm tenants
to warn conspiring Jews that God would destroy them for killing his
servants. As a householder, he had let out his vineyard to wicked
husbandmen, who would, in turn, beat, kill, and stone the servants sent
to receive the fruits of the vineyard. When they finally killed the son
of the householder to "seize on his inheritance," Jesus wanted to know
what would happen to the husbandsmen.
The Jews in his audience concluded that the Lord of the vineyard would
"miserably destroy those wicked men" (Matthew 21:41). Jesus allowed
their judgment to stand, but changed the metaphor to one of a stone
rejected by builders that became the chief cornerstone. Whoever shall
fall on this stone, he warned, "shall be broken: but on whomsoever it
shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (see Matthew 21:44; 33–46).
Destroyed For Fighting Against God and His Servants
Jesus censured Jews who hated light and loved darkness, killed true
prophets and upheld false ones. Such Jews were struggling to eliminate
God's influence from their lives. Lusting for Jesus' blood, they would
soon satisfy the lusts of their father, known as "a murderer from the
beginning" (John 8:44).
They Fought Against The True Prophets
Jesus tried to show those who claimed to reverence dead prophets that
they really had prophet-killing hearts. In his parable of the wedding
feast, they were the ones who refused the royal invitation to the
wedding, who mistreated and killed the royal servants, but were
themselves killed when the king sent forth his armies to destroy those
murderers and burn up their city (Matthew 22:1–7).
His opponents knew, of course, how determined they were to kill him but
seem not to have understood that their determination qualified them as
prophet-killers. How surprised they must have been when he told them to
fill "up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of
vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:32–33).
That unique generation spilled not only the blood of the prophets but
also the blood of the Son of God. So God would require of them "the
blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the
world" (Luke 11:50; see also Matthew 23:35). The spirit that had
produced every martyrdom since the world began—the desire to fight
God—was fully alive and vibrant in that generation. Therefore, said he
to Jews of Jerusalem, "Your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew
23:38; Luke 13:35). Any house without God in residence is desolate.
Conversely, he had to warn his faithful prophets that in such a
generation, some of them would suffer martyrdom (see Matthew 24:9). The
names of John the Baptist; Jesus; Stephen; James, the Apostle; and
James, the Lord's brother, show how successful that generation was in
Those Who Kill True Prophets Love False Ones
By slaying true prophets, Jews became vulnerable to false ones—the
"ravening wolves." "Take heed that no man deceive you," Jesus had
warned, "For many shall come in my name, saying—I am Christ—and shall
deceive many…Many false prophets shall [also] arise, and shall deceive
many" (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:5–6, 9).
As Josephus shows, false prophets from the time of Christ until the time
Jerusalem fell periodically deceived many Jews. Their influence was
critical enough that it contributed greatly to the destruction of the
nation. Although there seems to be no evidence that they came using the
name or title Christ, i.e., Messiah, there is every indication that
several came in this role. All prophets, true and false, come in the
Lord's name. The false prophets identified by Josephus came to lead
people to victory, and that, of course, was the role of the messianic
prophet. Therefore, one would conclude that those prophets must have
thought of themselves as messiahs in order to elicit the kind of support
they got. Thus, whether Josephus called them messiahs (christs) or not
is irrelevant. They came in that role.
By their fruits—promising deliverance but delivering no one—they showed
themselves to be false messiahs. And their disciples, believing but
undelivered, all too often ended up dead. Jesus warned his disciples to
identify and reject such deceivers. If Jews had followed his counsel,
they too would have survived. Several examples are cited by Josephus:
During the time when Fadus was procurator of Judaea, A–D. 40–46,
a certain impostor named Theudas persuaded the majority of the masses to
take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan River. He
stated that he was a prophet and that at his command the river would be
parted and would provide them an easy passage. With this talk he
deceived many. Fadus, the procurator, simply cut his head off, slew many
of his followers and took many prisoners.13
When Felix was procurator in A.D. 52–54, deceivers and impostors,
claiming divine inspiration, fostered change by revolution and persuaded
the multitude to "act like madmen, and led them out into the desert
under the belief that God would there give them tokens of deliverance."
Felix slew many of them.14
Next an Egyptian charlatan claiming to be a prophet "collected a
following of about thirty thousand dupes." He came from the desert to
the Mount of Olives expecting to overpower the Roman garrison and "set
himself up as tyrant of the people." He escaped, but his forces were
killed or imprisoned.15 By arousing hopes falsely, they led hundreds of
thousands to death in the fall of their country rather than to victory
as they had promised.
False prophets were active through the final days of the city. Six
thousand women, children, and others were incinerated atop the last
portico of the temple. "They owed their destruction to a false prophet,"
who told them that "God had commanded them to go up to the temple court,
to receive there the tokens of their deliverance."16 The Romans simply
burned them alive. There were no survivors of that false plan of
salvation. Finally, to check desertions and encourage hope, numerous
prophets, "were suborned by the tyrants to delude the people, by bidding
them await help from God" rather than fall to the enemy.17
Why were the Jews so gullible as to believe in so many different false
prophets? As a people, they believed in true prophets and this,
ironically, made them susceptible to false ones. Their scriptures also
promised them that a special prophet would come and bring the kingdom
back to them. In that kind of environment, Josephus said,
what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle,
likewise found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that
time one from their country would become ruler of the world. This they
understood to mean someone of their own race, and many of their wise men
went astray in their interpretation of it.18
Josephus called the oracle ambiguous because he thought it applied to
Vespasian. But, it is clear that both oracle and scriptures assured Jews
that "at that time one from their country would become ruler of the
This suggests a terrible irony. Jews, as Josephus stated, had many
prophecies in their scriptures that one of them would rise to rule the
world. (see Isaiah 9:6–7; 11:1–5; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Micah 5:2.) He
was popularly known as the Messiah (the Anointed One). Such scriptural
prophecies of his coming provided an environment of expectation. Roman
oppression provided the need. But, what oracle confirming the scriptures
was Josephus speaking about? He doesn't specify. Is it, therefore,
merely coincidence that contemporary records in the Gospels tell us that
God did in fact give oracles through shepherds and wise men that the
Messiah (Luke 2:11) or King (Matthew 2:2–3) had been born? And that this
news was broadcast abroad, for "when [the shepherds] had seen [the
baby], they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning
this child [i.e., that their Messiah, their Lord and Savior had been
born]" (Luke 2:17). And, when the wise men came into the heart of Jewry
and asked: "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Then Herod was
"troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Matthew 2:2–3; italics added).
Given the significance of the messianic promise to the Jews, their need
for a deliverer, the smallness of their country, and the fact that
angels and a star had announced to that generation of Jews that the
Messiah/King had come, there need be no question that the good news of
the shepherds went like wildfire throughout the country. Within days, we
must assume, all Jews of that generation knew that the Messiah had come.
But, since he was merely a baby, they obviously knew that they must
await patiently the time of his royal advent. When sufficient time had
passed and John burst on the scene, "the people were in expectation and
all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ [i.e.,
the Messiah], or not" (Luke 3:15). When he denied that he was and died,
they were left to find someone who fit their own mold. But, having
rejected the true Messiah, they became vulnerable to all other messianic
pretenders. As successive prophets arose and left believers wanting,
Jews kept looking. By Josephus' time, they were sure he was still out
there somewhere. When the Roman government, therefore, became bankrupt,
they felt that they must make a beginning. Convinced by scriptural
promises and some oracle, that "at that time" he would come, they struck
boldly for freedom. How ironic that the revelation that the true Messiah
had come seems to have made them vulnerable to false prophets who led
them to destruction.
"Thus it was," said Josephus, "that the wretched people were deluded at
that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity." Yet, "as
if thunderstruck and bereft of eyes and mind, [they] disregarded the
plain warnings of God [see below]."19 Jesus also marvelled: "If thou
hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which
belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke
19:42; italics added).
We tend to think that Jesus' warnings about false prophets apply only to
false prophets within the Christian Church, but Josephus made it clear
that following false prophets led to the destruction of the whole Jewish
community. Like corrupt trees, they, along with their fruits, were hewn
down and cast into the fire (see Matthew 7:15–21).
It Was Prophesied That The City Would Be Destroyed When Faction Reigned
Other aspects of Jesus' prophecy show that the temple would be leveled.
There shall not, said he, "be left here, upon this temple, one stone
upon another that shall not be thrown down" (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:3).
Josephus said that many prophets predicted that the city and its temple
would be destroyed, but robbers scoffed at these "oracles of the
prophets as impostors' fables" and, consequently, brought about the
fulfillment of the prophecies against it. One prophecy in particular
stated that "the city would be taken and the sanctuary burnt to the
ground by right of war, whensoever it should be visited by sedition, and
native hands should be the first to defile God's sacred precincts."20
Josephus shows how this happened when robbers became guilty of both
sedition and defiling the sacred precincts.
When the time for the burning of the temple finally came, Josephus
concluded that it was God and not the Romans who put it to the torch.
Contrary to Titus' orders, "[a soldier] awaiting no order…moved by some
supernatural impulse snatched a brand from the burning timber and,
…flung the fiery missile through a low gold door" and set the temple
ablaze—all, said Josephus, because God had sentenced the temple to the
Because of "the height of the hill and the mass of the burning pile, one
would have thought that the whole city was ablaze," and that the
"temple-hill was boiling over from its base, being everywhere one mass
of flame." Many died defending it.22 The surrounding buildings, remnants
of the porticos, and temple gates were then put to the torch.23
The City Was Leveled and the Inhabitants Within
While the temple blazed, the victors plundered everything that fell in
their way and slaughtered wholesale all who were caught. No pity was
shown for age, no reverence for rank; children and greybeards, laity and
priests, alike were massacred; every class was pursued and encompassed
in the grasp of war, whether suppliants for mercy or offering
resistance… The slain [were] more numerous than the slayers. For the
ground was nowhere visible through the corpses; but the soldiers had to
clamber over heaps of bodies in pursuit of the fugitives.24
In addition to those who died by the sword, Romans discovered many
houses that were "packed with bodies of the victims of the famine."25
Not One Stone Left on Another
the whole city and the temple to be razed to the ground, leaving only
the loftiest of the towers, Phasael, Hippicus, and Miramme, and the
portion of the wall enclosing the city on the west…All the rest of the
wall encompassing the city was so completely leveled to the ground as to
leave future visitors to the spot no ground for believing that it had
ever been inhabited.26
The House Was Left Desolate
With the leveling of the temple, the city, and its inhabitants, another
prophecy was fulfilled: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate"
(Matthew 23:38; italics added; see also Matthew 23:29–37; Luke
13:33–35). Any house in which love waxes cold, iniquity abounds, and
God's Spirit withdraws, is, by definition, a desolate house. But, the
physical desolation of the Jewish house was pervasive.
Cities and villages throughout Galilee and Judaea were desolated by the
ravages of robbers and soldiers. The countryside was desolate. The
gardenlike environs of Jerusalem were desolated. "Trees and parks [were]
reduced to an utter desert and stripped bare of timber." For a ten-mile
radius around Jerusalem, all timber was cut to build siege platforms and
towers.27 Obviously, Jesus' beloved Garden of Gethsemane contributed its
share of wood to the Roman attack on Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was leveled and desolated.
The temple was desolated: Robbers made the temple their den, polluted
its precincts, plundered its gold, and profaned its courts with the
blood of worshippers.28 When Jewish blood was mingled with their
sacrifices, another prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled. He had warned his
hearers that unless they repented, then like Galileans "whose blood
Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices," they too would "likewise
perish" (Luke 13:1–3). They hadn't repented and, like Galileans, their
blood also was mingled with their sacrifices.
Jewish lives also were desolated. The tribulation sent upon the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, said Jesus, would be greater than at any time
"since the beginning of their kingdom until this time; no, nor ever
shall be sent again upon Israel" (Joseph Smith, Matthew 1:18). Jesus
charged the women who "bewailed and lamented him" as he travailed his
way onto Golgotha, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep
for yourselves, and for your children," for in the coming days you
"shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and
the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the
mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, cover us" (Luke 23:27–31). This
prophecy was fulfilled many times over. Josephus, for example, said,
"such terror prevailed [at one point] that the survivors deemed blessed
the lot of the earlier victims, now at rest, while the tortured wretches
in the prisons pronounced even the unburied happy in comparison with
Thus, all that housed whatever the Jews held dear—land, cities, gardens,
fields, woods, their capital, their holy temple, the priesthood
organization, their mosaic religion based on temple worship, and their
lives—had become desolate.
How Did Jesus Save His Disciples?
Jesus obviously knew in detail the forces that would bring destruction.
His warnings and counsel helped people prepare in specific ways to cope
with the problems he had identified. They took his forewarnings and were
forearmed. For example, having shown them that iniquity would abound and
love wax cold, he assured them that "he that remaineth steadfast and is
not overcome, the same shall be saved" (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:10–11).
The unprecedented breakdown in law and order, the plunder and violence,
the murder and rape described by Josephus, would frighten even the
stalwart. But, degenerating conditions when a man's enemies would be
they of his own house must not seduce disciples away from their simple
faith, their strong moral commitment, and their deep level of love for
one another. Seeing others succeed by violence and dishonesty must never
entice them to succeed by the same means.
Steadfastness in the right builds character to withstand evil. So, when
the world filled up with iniquity, when love fled and decency went away,
ancient Saints steadfastly stood by their covenants.
Stand in the Holy Place
When you…see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the
prophet, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, then you shall stand
in the holy place; whoso readeth let him understand. Then let them who
are in Judea flee into the mountains. (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:12–13)
"Stand in the holy place…then let them who are in Judaea flee." How can
one stand in the holy place and flee? Obviously neither the temple nor
Jerusalem were places of refuge. Standing apparently means here to take
one's stand. By standing with holy feet on whatever ground, one stands
in a holy place. Holy feet sanctify polluted ground just as polluted
feet pollute holy ground. Standing steadfast, saints sanctify the places
where they live. Thus, came the promise, "he that remaineth steadfast
and is not overcome, the same shall be saved" (Joseph Smith -Matthew
1:11). How reassuring!
Know the Signs of the Times and Recognize the Divine Portents
God gives adequate signs so that his children may know the times in
which they live. Jesus chided Jews who prided themselves on being able
to look at winds and clouds and then predict the weather, but were
unable to "discern this time" (Luke 12:54–56). Along with Josephus, one
is amazed at how many special signs of impending disaster the Lord gave
them that they ignored. But, loving darkness, they rationalized away the
light and took no warning.
For example, during the winter of A.D. 66–67, when war preparations in
Galilee and Jerusalem were being made, "there were omens, which to the
friends of peace boded ill, although those who had kindled the war
readily invented favourable interpretations of them."30
False prophets played a role in this misinterpretation. They deluded
"the wretched people" into believing in deliverance, despite God's
foretelling them of their desolation. "But as if thunderstruck and
bereft of eyes and mind, they disregarded the plain warnings of God."
These warnings consisted in a star resembling a sword that stood over
the city; a comet seen for a year; and, for half an hour in the middle
of the night, at the feast of unleavened bread, a light shining as
bright as day around the altar and the sanctuary. Some thought the light
to be a good one, but sacred scribes interpreted it as a message of
disaster. Also, at that feast, a sacrificial cow gave birth to a lamb in
the midst of the court of the temple. Then, the massive, brass gate of
the inner temple courts, fastened by iron bars and bolted into the stone
threshold, swung open of its own accord at the sixth hour of the night.
It was a favourable omen to some, but to the learned the "opening of the
gate meant a present to the enemy." Then, after the festival and
throughout the country, people saw chariots and armed battalions
hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities. At Pentecost,
priests inside the inner court of the temple reported a commotion and a
din at night followed by a voice as of a host, "We are departing hence."
Finally, at the Feast of Tabernacles, "four years before the war, when
the city was enjoying profound peace and prosperity," Jesus, son of
Ananias, stood in the temple, and cried out, "A voice against Jerusalem
and the sanctuary…a voice against all the people." Despite being
chastised and scourged by officials, he continued day and night for
seven and a half years to say: "Woe to Jerusalem!" When woe had finally
come upon the city, he pronounced his last woe on the city as well as on
himself and was then struck by a stone and died.
Reflecting on these things one will find that God has a care for men,
and by all kinds of premonitory signs shows His people the way of
salvation, while they owe their destruction to folly and calamities, of
their own choosing… Some of these portents, then, the Jews interpreted
to please themselves, others they treated with contempt [until it was
Those kinds of signs given to the Jews fascinate Latter-day Saints who
have been assured that they, too, will see many signs in the heavens and
earth to identify the last days (see for example, D&C 29:14; 88:87–93.)
They are urged to look for such signs (see D&C 39:23; 45:16). Seeing
them will fill them with hope and expectation (see D&C 68:10–11).
Flee to Live!
Jews regarded Jerusalem not only as a sacred city but also as the best
fortified one in the country. Consequently many fled to the city for
refuge. Christians, knowing that the city was doomed, rejected popular
wisdom and prepared to flee from it. Jesus said,
When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the
desolation thereof is nigh…
Let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not the that
are in the countries enter there into.
For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written
may be fulfilled. (Luke 21:20–22)
Ironically, while the Lord led the Saints out of Jerusalem, Josephus
suggests that "by fate" the whole nation was brought within its walls
before it fell. For having converged upon Jerusalem for the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, they "found themselves suddenly enveloped in the
war."32 It was as though "the whole nation had been shut up by fate as
in a prison, and the city when war encompassed it was packed with
inhabitants."33 Josephus estimated that 1,100,000 died during the siege
and that 97,000 prisoners were taken.34
Christian disciples, who knew that old things had passed away and all
things had become new in Christ, did not go to Jerusalem to observe the
Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover, and therefore, were not
caught by the Roman army and confined within Jerusalem. Their
once-and-for-all Passover Lamb had already warned them to flee and to
your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day; for then,
in those days, shall be great tribulation on the Jews, and upon the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, such as was not before sent upon Israel, of
God, since the beginning of their kingdom until this time; no, nor ever
shall be sent again upon Israel. (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:17–18)
Flight From Plundering Jews in Judaea
Roman soldiers, however, were not the only enemy from whom Jews had to
flee. Jesus must have known that Jewish robbers would also slaughter,
ravage, and plunder fellow Jews. And that in doing so they would show no
mercy to those not fleet enough to outrun them. For example, Jewish
bandits from Masada attacked unsuspecting Jews in the Judaean city of
Engedi during the Feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish defenders were driven
from town before they could seize arms. "Those unable to fly, women and
children numbering upwards of seven hundred were massacred." The bandits
carried their spoil to Masada and then wasted the whole district.
Throughout the other parts of Judaea, moreover, the predatory bands,
hitherto quiescent, now began to bestir themselves…each gang after
pillaging [its] own village made off into the wilderness… There was, in
fact no portion of Judaea which did not share in the ruin of the
Jesus' specific counsel to Judaean disciples was to get out of their
cities and into the mountains. "Then let them which are in Judaea flee
to the mountains" (Luke 21:20–21; italics added). Speed of departure was
important, but, in that plundering society, they must be willing to
abandon prized possessions. Robbers otherwise would have reason to
pursue them. Also, carrying possessions would retard their flight. If
they survived, survival would be the prize. Thus, more specific counsel:
Let him who is on the housetop flee, and not return to take anything out
of his house; neither let him who is in the field return back to take
his clothes. (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:14–15)
Flight Was Retarded by Children
One robber band after another converged on Jerusalem. Thus, John of
Gischala and his band fled there from Galilee. The circumstances of
their flight show something of Jesus' concern for the pregnant and those
with small children. As John and his men fled and their wives and
children could not keep up with them, they abandoned them despite their
pleas for them to wait. Love had waxed cold. John gallantly promised to
have his "revenge on the Romans for any left behind, if they are
caught."36 Six thousand stragglers were killed, and three thousand women
and children were brought back by Titus' men.37 Jesus recognized such
problems when he said; "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them
that give suck, in those days!" (Luke 21:23). Flight on wintry days or
Sabbath would also have posed special hardships (see Matthew 24:17).
Jerusalem Saints Fled the City When God Told Them To Do So
Thus, throughout Judaea, those who failed to flee to the mountains
suffered from the robbers. Those who fled to Jerusalem suffered the
agonies of that dying city. But those who fled from Judaea to the
mountains and from Jerusalem to a refuge city survived. Christians
continued to carry on church business from Jerusalem for many years
after Jesus had gone. Obviously they depended upon the Lord to tell them
when the right time for them to flee had come. Thus, when the time was
right, the true prophets led them out. Eusebius, the ancient Christian
historian, tells us how
the people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance, with a certain
oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to approved men there,
had been commanded to depart from the city before the war, and to
inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella. And when those
who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had
utterly deserted both the royal metropolis of the Jews itself and the
whole land of Judaea, the justice of God then visited upon them all
their acts of violence to Christ and His apostles, by destroying that
generation of wicked persons root and branch from among men.38
Josephus himself knew of the time when many fled the city. It occurred
when the momentum for peace was shifting to that for war, when the
Jewish victory over Cestius made Jews drunk with hope, when the war had
not really begun because Vespasian had not yet arrived to begin the
Romans initiative. At that time, said he, "many distinguished Jews
abandoned the city as swimmers desert a sinking ship."39 It is not
likely that Josephus regarded the Christians as "distinguished Jews."
But, it may be that Christian departures triggered an exodus of other
distinguished Jews that was big enough to catch Josephus' attention.
We do not know what happened to the Christians thereafter, except that
by going to Pella they survived, as Eusebius said. It got them out of
The Horrors Were Not Over When the City Fell
According to Josephus, 97,000 prisoners had been taken during the war,
1,100,000 died within the city, the weak and old prisoners were
executed, the strong men were sent to the mines, and the great number of
women and children prisoners glutted the slave market.40 Thousands of
men were kept to fight as gladiators for the amusement of the Romans.41
Jesus said of the Jews after Jerusalem's fall: "All things which [had]
befallen them [would be] only the beginning of the sorrows which [would]
come upon them" (Joseph Smith—Matthew 24:19). Jerusalem itself would
then be "trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles
be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
Unprecedented Tribulation Came Upon The Jews
Jesus knew that the tribulation experienced by the Jews would be
unprecedented—"such as was not before sent upon Israel, of God, since
the beginning of their kingdom until this time; no, nor ever shall be
sent again upon Israel" (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:18). Josephus concluded
as much by his own observation. He said that Jerusalem
suffered such calamities during the siege, that, had she from her
foundation enjoyed an equal share of blessings, she would have been
thought unquestionably enviable; a city undeserving, moreover, of the
great misfortunes on any other ground, save that she produced a
generation such as that which caused her overthrow.42
Correlating what Jesus predicted with events as described by Josephus
shows again why sin is sin, how it feeds upon itself, how hurtful and
deadly its effects are, and how the abomination of sinfulness desolates
any people. It shows how well God knows what takes place on earth; how
much he wants his children to avoid painful encounters; how adulterous,
wicked lives maturate into violence and horror; how God uses the sword
of the wicked to destroy the wicked; and how his righteous purposes are
fulfilled in his judgments. It shows that those things that really
pollute and defile lives are not unwashed hands but "evil thoughts,
murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies"
(Matthew 15:19–20). Jesus identified the undisciplined thought; Josephus
catalogued the deeds.
Throughout the Gospels there is a sad awareness that Jesus, who knew
with precision what would happen, knew also how to stop the desolation
of human lives and save anyone who would listen to him. Repeatedly he
tried to gather and protect his tender chicks. His prophecy and
Josephus' record of fulfillment show that "the righteous that hearken
unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward
unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given,
notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not
perish" (2 Nephi 26:8, see also 3 Nephi 10:14–16).
1. Josephus, The Jewish War (hereafter referred to as War, trans. H. St.
J. Thackeray, Harvard University Press, 1976, 111: 351–354. Vol. I–III,
published in 1976; Volumes IV–VII published in 1979.)
2. Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine,
III.7.6 trans. Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton,
London, S.P.C.K., 1954, p. 74.
3. War 5:566.
4. I discussed at the 1986 Pearl of Great Price Symposium my conviction
that Jewish robberism was identical in type, motive and works to the
Gadiantonism exhibited among the Nephites.
5. Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, XVIII: 7–8, tr. Louis H. Feldman,
Harvard University Press, London 1969.)
6. War 7:259–62.
7. War 4:138.
8. War 4:560–61.
9. War 4:561–63.
10. War 5:401–3, 417–20.
11. War 4:314–25.
12. Eusebius, op. cit., III.5.2.
13. Antiquities 20:97–99. Cf. Acts 5:36.
14. War 2:258–60.
15. War 2:261–65.
16. War 6:285.
17. War 6:285–87.
18. War 6:312–13.
19. War 6:288.
20. War 4:385–88.
21. War 6:250–53.
22. See War 6:271–72, 275.
23. See War 6:281.
24. War 6:271–72, 276.
25. War 6:354–55.
26. War 6:1, 3.
27. See War 6:5–8.
28. See War 4:241–42, 258, 261–62; 5:14–19.
29. War 4:385–86.
30. War 2:648–50.
31. War 6:285–315.
32. War 6:421.
33. War 6:428.
34. This number, Josephus claimed, was not excessive. On an earlier
occasion, priests by count had sacrificed 255,600 lambs for the
Passover, and, since no fewer than ten might eat one lamb, this meant
that at least 2,700,000 partook of the Passover. (War VI:422–425.)
Modern historians feel that the number is excessive. Joachim Jeremiah,
for example, calculates that there were no more than 180,000
participants (55,000 citizens of Jerusalem and 125,000 pilgrims) in the
Passover feast and probably fewer. (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus,
Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1969, pp. 77–84.)
35. War 4:406–9; (italics added).
36. War 4:106:11.
37. War 4:115.
38. Eusebius, op. cit., III.5.3.
39. War 2:556.
40. War 6:384, 386.
41. War 7:96.
42. War 6:404–8.
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