When [Jesus] approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” -Luke 19:41-44
Hollywood has never taken on the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, one of the most amazing events in all of history. It seems tailor-made for a massive, historically inaccurate epic.
Christ’s prophetic discourse on Mount Olivet (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13) sets the stage and predicts what is to come (by His hand!). The extra-Biblical histories of event itself are mind-boggling. The hostile Roman historian Tacitus, in book 5.13 of his history, said this:
Prodigies [extrodinary and prophetic events] had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing.
Josephus, 1st-century Jewish military leader and historian, perceived in the event a judgment on his people. Here is what his history says occurred in the years leading up to the destruction of the great city by the Romans:
- A star resembling a sword hanging over the city
- A comet visible for a year
- During the feast of unleavened bread at night, a great light shining around the altar and holy house for a half hour, making it appear daylight
- A sacrificial cow bringing forth a lamb in the midst of the temple
- A massive brass gate secured with bolts in the floor that opened on its own
- During Pentecost, a quaking in the inner court of the temple, with the sound of a great multitude saying “Let us remove hence.” (Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was the Jewish celebration of the harvest and the giving of the law to Moses, occurring 50 days after passover).
- Before sunset, not long after Pentecost, chariots and soldiers running about in the clouds, surrounding cities.
- A prophet named Jesus who cried woe on the city, to the annoyance of the populace, for 7 years prior to the event
Read it for yourself in The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter 5.3. And keep reading, because the chronicle of the temple’s destruction, the enraged bloodbath amid horrified shrieking, the Jews expecting their Messiah… it is something else. (Unfortunately, the full translation of the book is hundreds of years old and it can be hard to decipher at points. One wishes there were a modern, footnoted translation of the full book, as it is a fascinating read.)
Today, the garish Dome of the Rock sits atop the Temple Mount in the traditional location of the Herodian temple, a golden reminder that the time of the Gentiles has not ended, and also, as has been noted, an unwitting guardian of the new reality that the High Priest has assumed His office and the copy and shadow is no longer needed.