Jesus of Nazareth and the Temple’s destruction

Not only did God choose to speak through people, but people often choose to speak on behalf of God. How then do we tell the difference between those entrusted with Divine revelation and those spreading false messages in His name?

The test is given in Deuteronomy 18: You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him” (verses 21-22).

The Israelites were inclined to listen to the comforting words of the false prophets and often persecuted and even put to death those speaking for God. Yet, by the test of Deut. 18, the false prophets were eventually shown up for their lies and the true prophets vindicated.

Before the Babylonian exile, several false prophets prophesied “peace peace, when there was no peace.”[1]  Jeremiah, on the other hand, faithfully foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple. For this he was despised and beaten and then incarcerated in a pit.[2]

Subsequent events proved that Jeremiah spoke with God’s authority: “On the seventh day of the fifth month …  Nabuzaradan commander of the imperial guard … set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building was burnt down” (2 Kings 25:7).  Vindicated by history, Jeremiah’s prophesies were then accepted as the word of God and included in the Tanach.

The Temple was again destroyed in the time of Jesus of Nazareth. In full view of the magnificent buildings rebuilt after the exile, Jesus uttered his famous prophecy: “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down … this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”” (New Testament, Matthew 24:2,34)

Shortly before this Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and drove out the merchants from the Temple courts.[3] The Jewish ruling class had fostered cordial relations with the Romans, and acquired much wealth from those who came to worship at the Temple. Impending calamity was inconceivable in the face of such prosperity (as it is once again in the Land of Israel at the present time!)

The Temple was utterly destroyed within the time Jesus predicted. What is today called the Western Wall was a retaining wall built by Herod the Great to enlarge and fortify the platform (plinth) on which his extended Temple complex once stood.

“The western part of the fortified wall, behind which the Roman garrison (the tenth legion), kept guard among the ruins, remained intact. That is the wall at which pilgrims weep to this day (Kotel Ma’arabi), assuming it to be the surviving wall of the Temple.” [Moshe Spiegel translation of Simon Dubnov, History of the Jews from the beginning to early Christianity, Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London, 1967, vol.1, p.795.]

That the Temple fell in the year 70, less than 40 years after the crucifixion, fulfils Jesus’ prediction that its destruction would come on that generation. It follows the precedent of the 40 years God gave during the Exodus to the generation that spurned Him by refusing to enter the Land.[4]

There are further details that make the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy even more remarkable: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written” (Luke 21:20-22).

In their ‘History of the Jewish people’, Margolis and Marx mention the well known fact that “a few days before Passover of the year 70, Titus with the main part of his army reached the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem”. That ‘those in the country’ should want to enter Jerusalem just as the enemy siege was closing in, is inexplicable apart from the advent of the Feast. The Torah required that every male should appear at the Temple at this time, to sacrifice the prescribed Pascal lamb.[5] Another Jewish historian writes: “On the eve of Passover, the Roman army was deployed behind the Jerusalem walls … hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all provinces … awaited with trepidation the verdict of fate.” (Dubnov, p.789)

By contrast, “the Nazarenes, that is, those who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah … sought safety in flight from Jerusalem …” (Margolis and Marx, pp. 199-200). These found refuge in Pella in trans-Jordan and escaped the extremities that followed.

An estimated million Jews lost their lives in the siege – firstly through famine, sickness and internecine fighting between rival factions – and then only in active combat and by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans of thousands who tried to flee. [6]

If Jesus of Nazareth was an imposter and false prophet, and not the Messiah he claimed to be, how could the Divine Providence have allowed an exact fulfilment of his prophecies –thereby also providing the grounds on which a multitude of Jews and others over the past 2000 years have been convinced to believe in him? If, on the other hand, the prophecies were fulfilled because Jesus was a true prophet and the Messiah of God, why was he not accepted after the fulfilment of the events he predicted – just as Jeremiah was – by those who initially rejected him?


Further reading:

What is the Torah significance of “not one stone … left upon another”? And how was the second destruction of the Temple different from the first?  Read here …

Why do so many Christians believe that Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24 must yet be fulfilled in the future? Will a Jewish audience interpret this chapter differently?  Read here …

For an eyewitness account of the events leading up to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem read here. For an account of the final hours, read here.

How do Judaism and Christianity compensate for the absence of the Temple in the modern era … see Temple of Messiah

See also other articles on Tisha b’Av:  The saddest day in Jewish history and Tisha B’Av – mourning the destruction of the Temple

[1]  Jeremiah 6:13-14.

[2]  Jeremiah 20, 36, 37.

[3]  Matthew 21:12-13.

[4] Numbers 14. From Numbers 32:13 and Deut. 1:35, a generation by Jewish calculation is forty years.

[5] Deut. 16:16.

[6] Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 5, chapter 11.