The Destruction of the Second Temple
"Sorely have they afflicted me from my youth," let Israel now say - "Sorely have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows." The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked. May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward! Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand or the binder of sheaves his bosom, while those who pass by do not say, "The blessing of the LORD be upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD!" (Psalm 129. A Psalm of Ascents)
Prelude to the Second Desolation of Jerusalem
Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, as well as most every one of the prophets of Israel, give us copious amounts of information telling us why it was that Israel was taken into exile in Babylon and why the magnificent First Temple should be destroyed. The terrible loss of life and all the associated suffering which took place especially on the 9th of Av, 586 B.C.E. were followed by a slow restoration. By the time of Yeshua (Jesus), 600 years later, Israel enjoyed a modest place among the nations of the Middle East. Gone was the great military prowess she had enjoyed under King David. Gone was the King - Israel had been a vassal state under foreign dominion for centuries. However, a respectable Temple stood in Jerusalem. Sacrifices and offerings and the externals of her religion were in place. The priesthood was corrupted and the number of the godly who were faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was very few. There was little evidence of real spiritual life from God. Demonic activity and occult practices were at an all time high, as the Christian gospels reveal, and the Jews were not highly regarded by the Greeks and Romans for their religion, or for their exemplary lifestyles. The internal politics of a once unified people was divided into factions of Herodians, Hellenists, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Scribes. Thankfully, a tiny believing remnant remained faithful to the Holy One of Israel.
The four Christian gospels say very little about the Temple in the days of Jesus. Except for a few brief words from Jesus there was no extensive public warning that the Second Temple was to be destroyed. The analysis of why this happened would be explained afterward, after resurrection of Jesus. It was then that the Apostles (all Jews) confronted the nation with her grievous sins.
The life of Jesus seemed unimportant to the Romans and to many of the Jewish people at the time Jesus the Christ taught and walked among his own people. The resurrection of this same Jesus and His ascension after a number of public appearances was followed 50 days later by the birth of church on Pentecost Sunday. This took place on the Temple Mount. However, it was not long before persecution drove the apostles and church leaders North to Antioch. The Jewish people were accustomed to outspoken sect leaders and false messiah so Jesus was soon forgotten and his qualifications as a true prophet of God were ignored. The hundreds of new followers of Jesus after the Day of Pentecost were of course originally all Jews.
Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the mad Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus - nicknamed Caligula ("little boots") - attempted to desecrate the Temple. Everywhere else in the Roman empire subjugated peoples had been forced to conform to the cult of Rome and acknowledge not only Caesar as Lord but also fall into line by adopting the Roman pantheon of gods. The Jews had been left alone and it was time they began to conform. Caligula gave an order to set up his statue in the Holy of Holies in the Temple:
Now Caius Caesar did so grossly abuse the fortune he had arrived at, as to take himself to be a god, and to desire to be so called also, and to cut off those of the greatest nobility out of his country. He also extended his impiety as far as the Jews. Accordingly he sent Petronius with an army to Jerusalem to place his statues in the temple, and commanded him that, in case the Jews would not admit of them, he should slay those that opposed it, and carry all the rest into captivity. (Ref. 1)
The Roman writer Tacitus adds that Caius commanded the Jews to place his effigies in the Temple. Josephus records that the Jews pleaded with Petronius not to do this. The Jews in their stubborn monotheism were willing to sacrifice their whole nation before they would allow the Temple to be defiled. Petronius marveled at their courage and ceased with the process so confrontation was temporarily averted. An enraged Caligula commanded that Petronius be put to death. Josephus records that Caligula himself died soon thereafter and due to bad weather at sea, the letter ordering Petronius' death arrived three weeks after the news arrived of Caligula's death. Petronius was not executed and the Temple was spared this particular abomination.
Revolt and Turmoil
To enforce their rule the Romans were forced to brutally repress the rebellions led by various "messiahs" - Theudas, James and Simon. One Jewish group, the Zealots, in existence since the turn of the century, gained enough strength by 50 A.D. that they were able to raid Jerusalem. The Roman procurator Gessius Florius (62-64), whose headquarters were in Sebaste (Samaria), had taken advantage of the instability by taxing the Temple treasury for his own benefit. He was the most cruel of all Roman leaders to date. Florius met the Zealots in Jerusalem by killing 3600 Jews as he pillaged the upper market place. The Zealots in response destroyed the northern portico of the temple adjacent to the Antonia fortress thus preventing Florius from reaching the Temple where he wanted to seize the temple treasures.
Florius was driven from the city eventually and the high priest Eliezer ben-Hananiah persuades the priests to cease offerings to the health of the Emperor. This gave Rome even more reason to crack down.
At the outset of the revolt Herod Agrippa II (grandson of Herod the Great) gained control of the Upper City but the high priest Eliezer took over the Lower City and a civil war began. Agrippa gathered the people in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in a futile effort to restore peace. The rebels set fire to the palaces of the king, his sister Bernice, and to the house of the high priest. Agrippa fled from Jerusalem allowing the Zealots to capture Fortress Antonia and Herod's palace. The former was set on fire and burned.
As the civil war raging in Jerusalem intensified Cestius Gallius, procurator of Syria attacked Jerusalem in 66 A.D. from Mt. Scopus and the ascent of Beth-Horon, but a Jewish group led by Simon Bar-Giora harassed the soldiers of Gallius from the rear and captured all their arms. The rebels had a respite for four years during which time they were able to complete the third wall.
The struggles between the Zealots and the Roman soldiers from Syria destroyed the food stocks of the Zealots who then robbed the homes of the local Jewish population. The inhabitants of Jerusalem died in great numbers by famine as had happened when Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem centuries earlier (Jer. 52:6,7). Greater disaster was soon to come.
The Second Temple Destroyed - As Predicted
During the last days of his life Jesus had assembled his disciples together on the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Temple. The disciples were uncertain and anxious about the future especially in light of Jesus' cleansing of the Temple and stopping the sacrifices, and his astonishing statements delivered in holy anger denouncing the Pharisees. The disciples opened the conversation by talking about the beauty of the temple and its courts. Jesus opened his amazing and detailed reply by predicting the soon-coming destruction of that magnificent building:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down." As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" (Matthew 24:1-3)
Both the Temple and the City of Jerusalem were indeed about to be destroyed. With four Legions, Titus the Roman General, later to become Caesar, began the siege of Jerusalem in April, A.D. 70. He posted his 10th legion on the Mount of Olives, directly east of and overlooking the Temple Mount. The 12th and 15th legions were stationed on Mount Scopus, further to the east and commanding all ways to Jerusalem from east to north. The 5th legion was held in reserve.