The Destruction of the Temple During the Great Jewish Revolt

Fredi Winkler

The historical and chronological sequence of events in the war that destroyed the Temple, is of critical importance in relation to the prophecy in Daniel 9:26-27. The translation of this passage can differ between Bibles. This is because the Hebrew used in Daniel isn’t easy to understand, and some parts are even written in Aramaic. As a result, even Jewish translators often disagree.

Combining various translations yields something like this:

“And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end [city and sanctuary] shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Today, we often interpret this as something that will occur in the future. But if you consider the historical and chronological course of the war, then it becomes clear that this prophecy was actually completely fulfilled in the Revolt.

The Jewish rebellion against Rome began in 66 AD. But the war itself didn’t begin in Galilee until 67 AD, because the preparations took time. The war was also delayed because of turmoil in Rome.

On July 1, 68 AD, Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor in Alexandria (Egypt). He placed his son Titus in command of the war, and Titus conquered Jerusalem. This fulfilled the prophecy that the people of the coming prince would destroy the city and the sanctuary. Titus had become prince of Rome practically overnight.

Now the legions had to be mobilized. In early summer of 60 AD, they set out for Jerusalem, to isolate the city. They set up camp on Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, and began closing in. Once again, the Romans tried to force the besieged city to negotiate, which would have spared it from violent conquest and destruction. But the fanatical Jewish factions in Jerusalem were unwilling to compromise.

The most fanatical of the factions, the Zealots, were occupying the Temple Mount. They had developed the Temple into a well-defended fortress. They added defensive towers on the four corner towers of the Temple (its “wings”) by increasing their size with additional wooden structures. Converting the Temple into a fortress was a gross desecration of the holy place, and it became an “abomination of desolation.” But their fanaticism had completely blinded them. In the midst of this horrible situation, the Temple service was still ongoing—with animal sacrifices and everything that went with them—though the people were suffering from terrible hunger.

At the beginning of 70 AD, the Romans brought heavy armored battering rams to Jerusalem’s walls. The attack began on the northern side, because the terrain there is higher. The third wall that Herod Agrippa had built to enlarge the city not that long before, was quickly breached. Next, the Romans reached the second wall (where the Damascus Gate stands today). It took longer to break through this wall, but the defenders were ultimately powerless before the Romans’ heavy machinery. Now they reached the first wall, which protected both the Antonia Fortress and the Temple. This was the Romans’ goal, because that’s where the ringleaders of the revolt had barricaded themselves.

The Romans built siege ramps so they could break through the wall with heavy battering rams. This took a little longer than it had at the previous walls, but again, the Romans were unstoppable. Upon breaking through, they were standing before the walls of the heavily built Antonia Fortress, which they would break through in the same tried and tested manner. They would soon invade the Temple complex, so the defenders were doing everything they could, including hastily constructing an additional protective wall. These efforts did, in fact, delay the Romans’ breakthrough to the Temple grounds.

According to Flavius Josephus, Titus had given direct orders that the sanctuary should not be destroyed. Most Jewish historians have dismissed this report as propaganda. But we know from other wars that it was actually a Roman tactic to preserve foreign sanctuaries. After the wars had ended, these acts of forbearance proved to be constructive and united people, providing a good basis for continuing to live together. So, sparing foreign sanctuaries was actually to Rome’s benefit.

After breaking through to the Temple, the decisive final battle began. The defenders set fire to quickly-gathered wood under the arcade surrounding the Temple. Many Roman soldiers lost their lives. Now the time for respecting the site was over. An angry soldier threw a piece of burning wood into the Temple through a window. The fire spread and the Temple burned down.

It is often assumed that the Romans completely destroyed the Temple at this time, but that’s probably not the case. It’s likely that the Temple remained as a badly damaged ruin.

Animal sacrifice ended forever on the day the Romans broke through to the Temple. What’s amazing is that this happened exactly 3½ years after the war began. This gives us cause to say that the prophecy about the ending of the sacrifices was fulfilled exactly as it had been foretold by Daniel. The war continued for another 3½ years, until the last of the resistance was crushed. This happened at Masada, at the start of 74 AD.

Barely sixty years later, in the years 132-135 AD, the Bar Kokhba Revolt took place. Simon Ben Kosevah (known to us as Bar Kokhba) was proclaimed to be the Messiah by Rabbi Akiva. Although little is known about this time, it’s believed that one of the motives for this second uprising was to rebuild the Temple. Afterward, the Romans decided to thoroughly destroy and level any part of the Temple that was still standing. It’s probable that the tombs of David and other kings of Judah were also destroyed, to remove all reminders of Judah’s greatness that could have fueled nationalism.

This fulfilled the final part of the prophecy, according to which the site was made “desolate, until the decreed end [was] poured out on the desolator.”

Emperor Julian was also known as Julian the Apostate, because he rejected the Christian faith and wanted to revive the old pagan cults. It was in this context that he encouraged the Jews to rebuild their Temple. Preparations had already been made, but God was obviously not in agreement. Julian lost his life in the war against the Persians in 363. He was just 33 years old, and had only reigned for a little over 19 months. And with that, the dream of rebuilding the Temple was finally over.

News from Israel - 10/2023

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