Many of Christ's prophecies about what would happen to Jerusalem occurred within 40 years after His crucifixion. Others came to pass in subsequent decades and some are yet to be fulfilled, shedding light on events to take place just before His return.
In the Jerusalem of Christ's day, the temple was the dominant edifice. Several decades earlier Herod the Great had drawn up a grand plan to rebuild the temple and surrounding buildings. The construction commenced in 19 B.C. and was not completed until A.D. 63, well after Herod's death.
The disciples were understandably shocked when Jesus pointed to the magnificent temple complex and said: "...Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2), prompting them to ask Him: "...Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (verse 3).
Jesus answered by first of all cautioning, "...Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ, and will deceive many" (Matthew 24:4-5, 11 and 24). Acts 5:36-37 describes two such men: Theudas, leader of a group of 400, who "was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing," and Judas of Galilee, who "drew away many people after him" but whose movement collapsed after his death. In Acts 8 the sorcerer, Simon Magus, is mentioned, attempting to buy the power of God's Spirit from the Apostles.
The Apostle Paul, in Corinthians, Thessalonians and Galatians, spoke of many other false teachers and, near the end of the first century John wrote about the spirit of "Antichrist." Some also claimed to be the prophesied Messiah Himself, with historians documenting no fewer than 60 pretenders claimed the title of Messiah in the first century.
Many of the events and trends Jesus prophesied culminated in the mid-60s after one corrupt Roman procurator after another ruled the region. The final straw was the requisitioning of a heavy tribute of gold from the temple treasury. When the people protested this desecration, Florus, procurator of Judea, loosed his troops on the populace of Jerusalem, killing as many as 3,600 in a bloodbath. This resulted in a rebellion of enraged Jews spreading over much of the area.
The Roman general, Titus, eventually laid siege to Jerusalem, building an earthen wall around the city to prevent escape and stop the nightly smuggling of food to the inhabitants. As food supplies ran out, suffering increased and eventually the starving inhabitants turned against each other as prophesied: "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another… And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:10,12). Josephus reported that, through their infighting, the Jewish factions destroyed their stores of grain and other provisions that would have been sufficient to feed them. Some historians think that more Jews died in Jerusalem by the hand of their own people than by the Roman soldiers.
Matthew's account of Jesus Christ's prophetic words continues: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21). Great distress and tribulation did come to the Jews of Jerusalem when in late summer of 70 A.D. Titus's army broke through the remaining wall protecting Jerusalem. The magnificent temple, completed only seven years earlier, went up in flames as Titus's war machines pounded the Holy City into rubble. Between 600,000 and one million men, women and children perished. The survivors were taken prisoner, and many of these ultimately died for the entertainment of the crowds in the Roman circus in Caesarea.
Many scholars recognize duality in Bible prophecy, meaning that some prophecies have an initial fulfillment as well as a later one. Jesus Himself alluded to this principle when He cited the prophecy of "the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (Matthew 24:15). The Jews of His day understood that Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated the temple, fulfilling this prophecy some 200 years earlier. Yet Jesus made it clear this prophecy would be fulfilled again.
In the late 60s, according to Josephus, the Romans, ".. brought their ensigns to the temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them . . ." (The Wars of the Jews, VI, vi, 1). So once again an abominable sacrifice was offered at the site of the temple. The events of A.D. 66 to 70 are a foretaste of what must yet happen. That Christ did not return then proves that the events cited above were not the primary fulfillment of His message.
As mentioned, some events will have dual fulfillments culminating at the time just before Christ’s return to this earth.
The time leading up to Christ’s return will "...be a time of great distress…If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's elect it will be cut short" (verses 21-22). In Christ's day mankind did not have the means to threaten literally every human life on the face of the earth, but human life can now be wiped out in several ways undreamed of when Jesus first gave this warning almost 2,000 years ago.
Jesus Christ also knew His message of salvation would be carried to other countries: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (verse 14). The Apostles would begin this work. Christ said that, after receiving the Holy Spirit, they would "be witnesses to [Him] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Many more books of the Bible—comprising what we call the New Testament—would be written, and many more people would hear the Gospel message. Then, when the time is right according to God's great plan, He will send His Son in power and glory to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Hundreds of verses throughout the Bible proclaim that incredible truth.
The Good News Magazine (Sep-Oct 1999)