It was a long walk home to the house of Simon the Leper. The sun warmed their backs as they passed through the Garden of Gethsemane. Slowly they plodded to the top of the Mount of Olives, drawn on by the promise of rest. The disciples stretched, out of breath, in the cool shade of the gnarled olive trees.
They looked back at Jerusalem, her walls orange in the afternoon sun. But as imposing as the walls were, they couldn’t conceal the magnificent Temple. Even now, her mighty spires loomed above the walls across the Kidron Valley from them. As the disciples sat panting from their climb’s exertion, the words of Jesus came back hauntingly.
“Do you see all these things?” he had asked. “Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which shall not be torn down.”
Jesus too gazed back at the city walls, but as vividly as they saw the Temple, Jesus saw the legions that would camp outside Jerusalem forty years in the future.
The disciples broke the silence, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
First, Jesus warned them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” The disciples must not allow these false prophets to deceive them! They must carry the gospel to every nation. But remember, Jesus, warns them, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Next, he predicts the destruction of Jerusalem in such precise language that his followers could escape the future blood bath. “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now — and never to be equaled again. Be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.”
In September A.D. 66, anti-Roman extremists annihilated the Roman garrison in Jerusalem and gained control of the city. Florus, the procurator, was powerless. The imperial legate of Syria, Cestius Gallus, marched on the town with the twelfth legion. From their camp on Mount Scopus, north of Jerusalem, the Romans swiftly entered the city but failed to capture the fortified Temple within. Realizing they needed reinforcements for so great a task, the Romans attempted a withdrawal, which quickly degenerated into a rout. The first Jewish Revolt had begun. Four years later, after a systematic campaign, the Romans destroyed the city after a long and bloody siege. The Temple was burned, and her stones were thrown down.
How did the Jewish Christians escape the fate of their countrymen? An early Christian historian, Eusebius, says they took advantage of the first Roman retreat to escape to Pella, a city on the Jordan River’s far side. When they saw the Romans camped on Mount Scopus, they remembered the words of Jesus and used the Roman retreat as their opportunity to flee.
They were saved from the swords of Rome by listening to the words of Jesus. I wonder if we are wise enough to listen to the warnings of Jesus two thousand years later?