Jesus warned of a time when Herod’s beautiful temple would be destroyed, but the disciples could hardly believe him. The temple was arguably the most magnificent structure in the world, and its glow in the setting sun seemed as eternal as Jerusalem itself.
But a generation later Jewish zealots revolted against Rome. The rebellion began at the fortress of Masada then spread throughout Judea and Galilee. Romans were slaughtered, Jewish defenders battled bravely, and Emperor Nero sent General Vespasian to quell the uprising.
When Nero died, the general left for Rome, placing his son Titus in charge of the 80,000 troops. The siege began in April, 70, immediately after the Passover when Jerusalem was filled with strangers. Within city walls, the Jews splintered into various factions, fighting each other at the very time they needed solidarity. Food supplies ran out and the population began dying from starvation. The high priest’s wife, accustomed to living in luxury, begged for crumbs like a street urchin. Captured Jews were crucified at a rate of 500 a day, crosses encircling the city. Daily temple sacrifices ceased July 17, all hands being needed for defense.
The Romans, using catapults and battering rams, finally broke through the walls. The Jews streamed into the temple. Titus had reportedly wanted to spare the edifice, but his soldiers would not be restrained. A firebrand was hurled through the golden gate and exploded like a bomb. The temple became an ocean of fire. It was August 10, 70, the same day of the year, it was said, in which Solomon’s earlier temple had been destroyed by Babylon.
This, and the subsequent fall of Masada, extinguished Israel as a nation until its rebirth in the twentieth century. Most Christians had fled Jerusalem before its final hour, but the city’s destruction remains a defining event in Christian history. It further severed the young church from its Jewish roots, making it a global entity distinct from Israel and destined to develop its own identity among the Gentiles, bearing a message for all the world.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at these beautiful stones and wonderful buildings!” Jesus replied, “Do you see these huge buildings? They will certainly be torn down! Not one stone will be left in place.” (Mark 13:1,2)