The Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70
by Robert brow (www.brow.on.ca) Aurora, Ontario April 2008
In the words of Jesus Matthew 24 gives us a vivid picture of the fall
of the city and the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70.
Many commentators put "the end of the age" (24:3) at the time
second coming of Christ which has not yet occurred. They assume that
this second coming will be preceded by a tribulation (24:4-22), it
will take place suddenly (24:27). It will be characterized by a period
of "wars and rumors of wars" (24:6), followed by portents in the
heavens (24:29), including a visible sign of the Son of Man (24:30).
In that interpretative model we are still in the generation of Jesus'
Instead of this model of a long delayed second coming, the comments
that follow are based on taking Jesus' words in Matthew 24 as
referring to the period of terrible tribulation that preceded his
coming to destroy the temple in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70
Jesus had intervened or come as Lord again and again in the Old
Testament period. The first coming of the Lord was in the Garden of
Eden (Genesis 3:8), and then to confuse the builders of the tower of
Babel (Genesis 11:5-8). He came on several occasions to Abraham
(Genesis 12:7; 15:1; 17:1; 18:1, 7; 22:1,2), and to Isaac and Jacob
(Genesis 26:2, 24; 32:24, 30) He also came to give Sarah a child in
her old age (Genesis 21:1), and to call Moses to lead his people out
of Egypt (Exodus 3:4, 6; 6:2, 6-8; 12:51; 15:6).
He also came to topple cities and nations. He destroyed Sodom and
Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21; 19:24, 29), and came to judge Egypt
(Exodus 7:5, 25; 8:24, 31; 11:7; 12:13; 14:13; 15:6-12), and
intervened in other nations (Deuteronomy 2:19, 21, 22; 3:3). Evidently
the eternal Son of God came to intervene from the earliest days of the
That is why in the prophets the expression "Day of the Lord" refers to
a coming or intervention of the Lord to upset or change the normal
course of history (e.g. Isaiah 11:11; 13:6, 9; 22:5, 12; 24:21; 25:9;
26:21; 27:12; 28:5; 34:8; Jeremiah 30:8; 31:31; 46:10; Amos 5:18, 20;
Joel 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14-15).
So now two or three days before his crucifixion the Messiah tells his
disciples that when they see the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction
of the temple in their own lifetime (23:36; 24:34), it will be a sign
of his coming (24:30). That will prove to them that the Messiah was
the Lord of all the "Day of the Lord" advents in the Old Testament,
and he will continue his reign as he keeps making his advents again
and again throughout history among all nations.
Isaiah had used the portents of the sun and moon being darkened, the
stars falling and the powers of the heavens as a metaphorical
description of the day of the Lord in the fall of Babylon (Isaiah
13:6-13). Joel had used the same portents as metaphorical of the fall
of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (Joel 2:10-11, 30-32; 3:15-16). Now
Jesus uses these same portents (24:29) as metaphorical of the equally
cataclysmic fall of Jerusalem in that generation (24:14, 34).
It is true there will be final advent when he comes to terminate this
world system, and replaces it with "a new heaven and new earth"
(Revelation 21:1; but the same expression is used regarding Jerusalem
in Isaiah 65:17; 66:22-23).
The Day of the Lord or advent referred to in this chapter
the fall of Jerusalem (24:14, 27, 30, 33-34, 44, 46, 50) and the
world-wide establishment of gentile churches (24:14, 31) will be
decisive proof for the Jewish people that the Jesus who was crucified
is now the reigning Messiah (already spoken of by Peter in Acts 2:36).
Christians will also know from his coming in AD 70 that our reigning
Messiah will step in from time to time in every nation throughout all
future history to topple corrupt and oppressive regimes. We have
sufficient evidence of such interventions in our twentieth century. He
will also intervene when necessary in churches that are taken over by
false teaching and so fail to perform their function (see his
in Revelation 2:5, 16; 3:3, 11).
Here are some comments taken from the Commentary on Matthew's Gospel
on this web site.
24:2 Jesus tells the disciples that the whole edifice will be razed to
the ground, as occurred in their lifetime in AD 70.
24:3 Having left the temple area, and crossed the valley of
the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the disciples want to know when
exactly this will take place, and what will be sign of the end.
24:4-7 Instead of giving them a time Jesus begins by telling them that
many will come claiming to be the Messiah (see 24:23-26). There will
also be a period wars, famines, and earthquakes. Prophetic
interpreters in the past two hundred years have often taken this or
that event as proof we are in the last days before the second coming.
But the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, who lived through the
wars that culminated in the fall of Jerusalem, describes exactly these
events in his Concerning the Jewish War.
24:8 The imagery of a woman's agonizing birth pangs before a child is
born is often used to describe a period of tribulation before a "Day
of the Lord" (Psalm 48:6; Isaiah 13:6-8; Jeremiah 6:24; 22:23; Micah
4:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
24:9-12 Torture, death, betrayal, false prophecy (24:4-5) will
characterize this period of tribulation (24:4-8).
24:13 Here Jesus is not speaking of eternal salvation but of endurance
till the end of this terrible period (10:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:4;
Hebrews 10:36-39). Throughout church history, when circumstances have
been similarly agonizing, Christians have been rewarded with the
direct intervention of the Messiah to terminate an evil age and open
up new opportunities of freedom and service.
24:14 Jesus speaks of two different periods of Messianic goodnewsing
(24:14 and 31). In this verse we have the proclamation, mainly by
Jewish apostles and converts before the fall of Jerusalem. During this
time the first gentile (non-Jewish) churches are established and begin
to grow over the known world (Acts 10:44-45; 14:21-23; 15:14, 23;
Romans 15:18-20; Colossians 1:6).
Here the "end" is not the end of the world but the fall of Jerusalem.
After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 the work of goodnewsing will be
by people of all nations as the church spreads to "the four winds"
24:15-20 We do not know what was the "desolating sacrilege" (the term
was used in Daniel 12:11) that gave the Christians in the area of
Judea the signal to leave just before the ring of Roman legions closed
around the city (see 24:28). The fact that the Christians did escape
in great haste according to Jesus' warning is recorded in Eusebius'
Ecclesiastical History 3:5).
24:21-22 The suffering by the end of the three year siege,
mothers eating their own children, was unbearably awful. And if the
Christians in the area had not obeyed Jesus' words not one of them
would have survived.
24:23-26 Again Jesus warns the disciples of false messiahs
prophets who will claim he is here or there (as in 24:4-5, 11; 1 John
24:27 The coming of the Messiah to terminate the city and its
religious establishment will be some time in that generation (24:34)
but the actual event will be very sudden (as in 24:33, 38, 43).
24:28 Vultures gather when an animal is about to die. Here they are
probably a reference to the Romans legions which had eagles on their
battle standards. When these began to encircle the city Christians
would know the end was near (as in 24:15).
24:29 Jesus uses an exact quote from Isaiah's description of the "Day
of the Lord" in the fall of Babylon seven hundred years before (Isaiah
13:6-13). The stars falling are metaphorical of the great and mighty
who would be toppled. The sun refers to the impressive glory of the
city now being darkened. The moon is the reflected light from the city
among Jews. And the powers of heaven being shaken is metaphorical of a
cataclysmic upsetting of their society.
The same imagery was used to describe a "Day of the Lord" in the
previous fall of Jerusalem predicted by the prophet Joel (Joel
2:30-31; 3:15-16). In the case of Babylon it was a final end, and that
city is still a ruin to this day in present-day Iraq. The Jerusalem
that was destroyed by the Babylonians has been destroyed and rebuilt
again and again. But the temple of Jerusalem toppled by the Romans was
never rebuilt. The temple area is occupied by a mosque, and it is at
the heart of the enmity between Arabs and Jews which goes back 3,700
years to the two sons of Abraham.
24:30 A comparison with Mark's Gospel (Mark 13:26) shows that Matthew
has preceded the words "They will see the Son of Man coming with great
power and glory" (Mark 13:26) with Jesus' explanation: "Then the sign
of the Son of Man will appear in the heaven." The sign and proof that
Jesus is indeed the reigning Messiah will be his direct intervention
in the toppling of the temple and the subsequent establishing of
temples of the Holy Spirit in all nations.
24:31 Before the fall of Jerusalem there had been the planting of
churches in the Roman world through Paul and other apostles (see
24:14). Now God's apostolic preachers (In Greek, angelos means
"messenger") will begin fanning out all over the world.
During the next two centuries there would be a series of
persecutions of Christians in the Roman empire around the
Mediterranean. But during that time churches grew all over the Arab
world to the east, into Persia (present day Iran), India, and as far
as China. They would also grow across the barbarian lands of northern
Europe, including the first Celtic churches in Britain.
24:32-33 Just as the first leaves on a fig tree announce the summer,
so the events described in 24:4-15 will announce the beginning of the
end. Once the disciples have left Jerusalem for the mountains
(24:15-16) the terrible siege will begin (24:21-22). During that time
false Messiahs will abound (24:23-26), but the actual end of the city
will be very sudden (24:27).
24:34 All this will take place during the lifetime of Jesus' hearers
(24:1; as in 23:36). Jesus has therefore answered exactly the three
questions the disciples had asked: "Tell us, when will this be, and
what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age
24:35 The expression is similar to "The grass withers the flower
fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8). It
is used (as in 1 Peter 1:24-25) to remind us that in our world
everything changes, and the only certainty is what God tells us about
his purposes. Jesus is therefore declaring that the answer he has
given is as certain as the very words of God.
24:36-39 It would be impossible to know the precise day and hour, but
the Messiah's coming to topple the city of Jerusalem and its religious
establishment is as certain, as sudden, and as unexpected for those
who ignored the warning as the flood that Noah prepared for.
The advent of the Messiah is referred to ten times in this chapter
(24:14, 27, 30, 33, 37, 39, 42, 44, 46, 50; and also in 25:6-10, 19,
31; see Hebrews 10:36-39). Many Christians assume that the second
coming will be the end of the world, but the advent in this case is
clearly followed by other events (see 24:30, 31, 39, 40, 43, 45, 47;
as in 25:10, 21-23; see comments on 25:31-34).
Others think (based on 24:13) that the second coming will be after the
world has been evangelized. But Jesus announced a first proclamation
before the fall of Jerusalem (24:13) and an in-gathering from all over
the world after his advent (24:31).
Another common pre-millennial view is that the second coming will be
when Jesus comes to rapture or take away the true believers, and all
others will be left behind to face the tribulation that will follow.
The model used in this commentary pictures the Messiah as coming to
topple Jerusalem and its temple, and this is followed by the
world-wide spread of the Church. And throughout history the Messiah
will intervene in days of the Lord among the nations, and also to deal
with the churches (as in Revelation 2 and 3).
24:40-41 Earlier in this chapter there is reference to those on the
flat roof of a house and those out in a field (24:17-18) when
Jerusalem is about to be surrounded. As in those verses, Jesus is
warning of the urgent need to recognize the imminent end of Jerusalem
and escape its destruction.
These two verses are often used as evidence of a rapture of true
believers at a second coming, which is still expected by students of
prophecy in our day after twenty centuries. The idea of a rapture to
come and take away the true believers is based on one text in one of
Paul's letters (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). He was trying to comfort
Christians who would still be alive when the Messiah came in their
generation (1 Thessalonians 4:15; compare Matthew 24:30 and 34). They
were mourning for brothers and sisters who had died before AD 70. So
it is hard to see how a rapture which would be delayed for two
thousand years could encourage (1 Thessalonians 4:18) Christians
facing the imminent destruction of Jerusalem.
In the next chapter of that epistle Paul uses the same imagery of a
day of the Lord, a thief, labor pains, wakefulness, and imminent wrath
as in Jesus' words concerning the fall of Jerusalem (24:8, 27, 42, 43,
48-49, 50-51; compare 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9). Paul must have had the
same picture of the Messiah's coming as the writer of Matthew's
Gospel. And there is no hint of a rapture anywhere in the Gospels.
24:42 Jesus makes clear that his coming is not in the far distant
future but in that very generation (23:36; 24:24).
24:43-44 Similarly the parable of the thief suggests the note of
wakefulness and readiness for the signs of the Messiah's advent in