In another post I showed the literary structure of Matthew 23—25 and made a rather large claim that “…it is overwhelmingly demonstrable that the majority of Church Fathers who referred to the Olivet Discourse were crystal clear about interpreting Jesus' initial response in 24:4--22 as referring to the Jewish wars and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.”
This post is my defense of that statement. Below you (the reader) will find an anthology of citations in relation to that statement. I recommend reading it all slowly for proper digestion. There is an awful lot, so you (the reader) might want to schedule portions for devouring throughout this week's devotional diet. Save a link in your phone or tablet to use as a reference at later times, too.
There are a couple more things worth mentioning before digging in. I have already posted all of the following quotes in previous posts from years ago (which can be found here). The quotes below do not include footnotes because they have already been posted within that list of previous posts. I'm not being lazy, either. I'm just busy and I want to get all this out as part of this series without re-indexing everything. Also, in this post I have conveniently (?) highlighted noteworthy statements in bold, even though I actually do not enjoy the look of it on this blog. I find it helpful for this particular post, however. The emphasis typically generated by italics just gets lost in the density of it all. I apologize in advance if that bothers you (the reader). It bothers me too. Also, I have portioned each Church Father by bracketing them all with a line of asterisks (as seen below). Note carefully that a new Church Father follows each line of asterisks. Last of all, because blogger is so buggy with it's formatting capabilities, I have decided to cut and paste from my earlier post (linked above). Some quotes have actual "" marks, while others do not. Ignore that sloppiness in this post. That also bothers me. But I'm a very busy guy, so that's my excuse.
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Commenting about the days coming when “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” Saint Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan (A.D. 374) writes:
“It was spoken then of the temple made with hands, that it should be overthrown.”
After this, St. Ambrose adds:
“Matthew adds a third question, that both the time of the destruction of the temple, and the sign of His coming, and the end of the world, might be inquired into by the disciples. But our Lord being asked when the destruction of the temple should be, and what the sign of His coming, instructs them as to the signs, but does not mind to inform them as to the time. It follows, Take heed that ye be not deceived.”
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Commenting on the “false Christs” that Jesus said would arise, Titus of Bostra (theologian and Bishop of Bostra in 363 A.D.) writes:
“…perhaps He [i.e. Jesus] does not speak of false Christs coming before the end of the world, but of those who existed in the Apostles’ time.”
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Commenting on Jesus’ statements about the “tribulation,” “wars,” and “rumors of wars” in Matthew 24, St. Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria (376-444 A.D.) shows that he, too, was well aware that the New Testament Scriptures address the Jewish wars and persecutions which culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Cyril of Alexandria wrote:
“He says this, because before that Jerusalem should be taken by the Romans, the disciples, having suffered persecution from the Jews, were imprisoned and brought before rulers; Paul was sent to Rome to Cæsar, and stood before Festus and Agrippa.”
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Commenting on Jesus’ statements about the “abomination of desolation” and the people of Judea being warned to “flee to the mountains,” St. Augustine tells us how he thought it should be interpreted with all three synoptic gospels in mind (i.e. the parallel statements of Matthew, Mark, and Luke):
“These words of our Lord, Luke has here related to show, that the abomination of desolation which was prophesied by Daniel, and of which Matthew and Mark had spoken, (i.e. Mat. 24, Mark 13) was fulfilled at the siege of Jerusalem. …But where Matthew and Mark have written, ‘Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes’, Luke adds more clearly, ‘And let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto, for these are the days of vengeance, that all the things which are written may be fulfilled.’
…Then Luke follows in words similar to those of the other two: ‘But woe to them that are with child, and them that give suck in those days’; and thus has made plain what might otherwise have been doubtful, namely, that what was said of the abomination of desolation belonged not to the end of the world, but the taking of Jerusalem.”
Just in case anyone thinks that St. Augustine didn't explain his own view clearly enough, his comments on the corresponding prophecy in Mark's Gospel are helpful. Referring to Mark 13:14-20, St. Augustine said this:
"But Luke, in order to show that the abomination of desolation happened when Jerusalem was taken, in this same place, gives the words of our Lord, ‘And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.’ (c.f. Luke 21:20) It goes on: ‘Then let them that are in Judaea flee to the mountains.’ …For Josephus, who has written the history of the Jews, relates that such things were suffered by this people."
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Paulus Orosius (375-418 a.d.), a Catholic priest, historian, and theologian, and a close friend and student of St Augustine, recorded a seven-volume history of important events in life of the Christian Church. In one of his works he quotes Matthew 24:6-9 as a prediction of Jesus, warning first century Jewish believers about the soon-coming destruction of Jerusalem under Vespasian and Titus. Orosius wrote:
But when at that time the city of Jerusalem had been captured and overthrown, as the prophets foretold, and after the complete destruction of the Jewish people, Titus, who had been ordained by the judgment of God to avenge the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, as victor, holding a triumph with his father, Vespasian, closed the temple of Janus. Thus, although the temple of Janus was opened in the last days of Caesar, nevertheless, for long periods of time thereafter there were no sounds of war, although the army was in readiness for action. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, then, in the Gospels, when in those times the whole world was living in the greatest tranquility and a single peace covered all peoples and He was asked by His disciples about the end of the coming times, among other things said this: "You shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. Take care that you do not be alarmed, for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nations will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be pestilences and famines and earthquakes in various places. But all those things are the beginnings of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake." Moreover, Divine Providence, by teaching this, strengthened the believers by giving warning and confounded the unbelievers by His predicting.
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The Church Father, historian, and influential Pre-Nicene theologian, Lactantius (250-325 A.D.), comments about the ascension of Jesus and the prophesies foretold beforehand:
But when He had made arrangements with His disciples for the preaching of the Gospel and His name, a cloud suddenly surrounded Him, and carried Him up into heaven, on the fortieth day after His passion, as Daniel had shown that it would be, saying (Daniel 7:13)“And, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days.” But the disciples, being dispersed through the provinces, everywhere laid the foundations of the Church, themselves also in the name of their divine Master doing many and almost incredible miracles; for at His departure He had endowed them with power and strength, by which the system of their new announcement might be founded and confirmed.
But He also opened to them all things which were about to happen, which Peter and Paul preached at Rome; and this preaching being written for the sake of remembrance, became permanent, in which they both declared other wonderful things, and also said that it was about to come to pass, that after a short time God would send against them a king who would subdue the Jews, and level their cities to the ground, and besiege the people themselves, worn out with hunger and thirst. Then it should come to pass that they should feed on the bodies of their own children, and consume one another. Lastly, that they should be taken captive, and come into the hands of their enemies, and should see their wives most cruelly harassed before their eyes, their virgins ravished and polluted, their sons torn in pieces, their little ones dashed to the ground; and lastly, everything laid waste with fire and sword, the captives banished for ever from their own lands, because they had exulted over the well-beloved and most approved Son of God. And so, after their decease, when Nero had put them to death, Vespasian destroyed the name and nation of the Jews, and did all things which they had foretold as about to come to pass.
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Commenting on related statements about the stones of the Temple being left in ruins (Matt. 24; Luke 19 and 21), Pope Gregory I (590 A.D.) wrote:
“By these words the Roman leaders are pointed out. For that overthrow of Jerusalem is described, which was made by the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus.”
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Commenting on Matthew 24:1-7, St. Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople from 858-886 A.D., wrote:
The city suffered so grievously from famine that the inhabitants were driven to all kinds of excesses; a woman even ate the flesh of her own son. Famine was succeeded by pestilence, a clear proof that it was the work of divine wrath, in fulfillment of the Lord's proclamation and threat that the city should be taken and utterly destroyed.
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A "Doctor of the Church” and "the Father of English History”, Saint Bede (also known as the "Venerable Bede”, 672-735 A.D.) commented on the connection between Matthew 24 and Luke 21. He wrote:
For it was ordained by the dispensation of God that the city itself and the temple should be overthrown, lest perhaps some one yet a child in the faith, while wrapt in astonishment at the rites of the sacrifices, should be carried away by the mere sight of the various beauties.
For there were many leaders when the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand, who declared themselves to be Christ, and that the time of deliverance was drawing nigh. Many heresiarchs also in the Church have preached that the day of the Lord is at hand, whom the Apostles condemn. (2 Thess. 2:2.) Many Antichrists also came in Christ’s name, of whom the first was Simon Magus, who said, This man is the great power of God. (Acts 8:10.)
...Hitherto our Lord had been speaking of those things which were to come to pass for forty years, the end not yet coming. He now describes the very end itself of the desolation, which was accomplished by the Roman army; as it is said, And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed, etc.
...But how, while the city was already compassed with an army, were they to depart out? except that the preceding word “then” is to be referred, not to the actual time of the siege, but the period just before, when first the armed soldiers began to disperse themselves through the parts of Galilee and Samaria. ...And these are the days of vengeance, that is, the days exacting vengeance for our Lord’s blood.
The Venerable Bede also commented on various verses within Mark 13:1-31 in relation to Luke 21 and Matthew 24, mentioning such things as:
...For many came forward, when destruction was hanging over Jerusalem, saying that they were Christs, and that the time of freedom was now approaching. Many teachers of heresy also arose in the Church even in the time of the Apostles; and many Antichrists came in the name of Christ, the first of whom was Simon Magus, to whom the Samaritans, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, listened, saying, This man is the great power of God: wherefore also it is added here, And shall deceive many. (Acts 8:10) Now from the time of the Passion of our Lord there ceased not amongst the Jewish people, who chose the seditious robber and rejected Christ the Saviour, either external wars or civil discord; wherefore it goes on: And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled. And when these come, the Apostles are warned not to be afraid, or to leave Jerusalem and Judæa, because the end was not to come at once, nay was to be put off for forty years. And this is what is added: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet, that is, the desolation of the province, and the last destruction of the city and temple. It goes on: For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
...Now it is on record that this literally took place at the time of the Jewish rebellion. But kingdom against kingdom, the pestilence of those whose word spreads as a canker, dearth of the word of God, the commotion of the whole earth, and the separation from the true faith, may all rather be understood of heretics who, by fighting one against the other, bring about the triumph of the Church. ...The Lord shews how Jerusalem and the province of Judæa merited the infliction of such calamities, in the following words: But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten. For the greatest cause of destruction to the Jewish people was, that after slaying the Saviour, they also tormented the heralds of His name and faith with wicked cruelty.
...Ecclesiastical historians testify that this was fulfilled, for they relate that all the Apostles long before the destruction of the province of Judæa were dispersed to preach the Gospel over the whole world, except James the son of Zebedee and James the brother of our Lord, who had before shed their blood in Judæa for the word of the Lord. Since then the Lord knew that the hearts of the disciples would be saddened by the fall and destruction of their nation, He relieves them by this consolation, to let them know that even after the casting away of the Jews, companions in their joy and heavenly kingdom should not be wanting, nay that many more were to be collected out of all mankind than perished in Judæa.
...When we are challenged to understand what is said (about the "Abomination of Desolation"), we may conclude that it is mystical. But it may either be said simply of Antichrist, or of the statue of Cæsar, which Pilate put into the temple, or of the equestrian statue of Adrian, which for a long time stood in the holy of holies itself. An idol is also called abomination according to the Old Testament, and he has added of desolation, because it was placed in the temple when desolate and deserted.
...It is on record that this was literally fulfilled, when on the approach of the war with Rome and the extermination of the Jewish people, all the Christians who were in that province, warned by the prophecy, fled far away, as Church history relates, and retiring beyond Jordan, remained for a time in the city of Pella under the protection of Agrippa, the king of the Jews, of whom mention is made in the Acts, and who with that part of the Jews, who chose to obey him, always continued subject to the Roman empire.
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Commenting on the parallels in Luke’s gospel, Gregory of Nyssa (370 A.D.) wrote:
“Those spoken of are chiefly of Israel, who must of necessity forfeit their ancient privileges, and pay a heavier penalty than any other nation, because they were so unwilling to receive Him Who had long been prophesied among them, had been worshipped, and had come forth from them. In a most especial manner then he threatens them with not only a fall from spiritual freedom, but also the destruction of their city, and of those who dwelt among them. But a resurrection is promised to believers, partly indeed as subject to the law, and about to be delivered from its bondage, but partly as buried together with Christ, and rising with Him.”
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Commenting on the “divisions” mentioned in Matthew 10, 12, and 24, St. Hilary, Bishop of Poiters (354 A.D.), wrote:
But the word of God is rich, and whether taken simply, or examined inwardly, it is needful for our advancement. Leaving therefore what belongs to the plain understanding thereof, let us dwell on some of the more secret reasons. The Lord is about to make answer to that which they had said concerning Beelzebub, and He casts upon those to whom He made answer a condition of their answering. Thus, the Law was from God and the promise of the kingdom to Israel was by the Law, but if the kingdom of the Law be divided in itself, it must needs be destroyed; and thus Israel lost the Law, when the nation whose was the Law, rejected the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. The city here spoken of is Jerusalem, which when it raged with the madness of its people against the Lord, and drove out His Apostles with the multitude of them that believed, after this division shall not stand; and thus (which soon happened in consequence of this division) the destruction of that city is declared. Again He puts another case, And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?
Continuing his thoughts about Matthew 24, St. Hilary of Potiers also wrote:
And as he was walking away from the Temple, his disciples approached and beckoned him to look at the structure of the Temple. After threatening that Jerusalem would be forsaken, he is shown the grandeur of the Temple's stature, as if it were necessary to stir him by its splendor. He said that it would be entirely destroyed and demolished since the stones of the entire structure would be knocked down.
...Once the Lord had withdrawn to the mountain, his disciples came and asked him privately when this would happen to the Temple, and by what sign they would recognize his coming, and about the end of the world. Here we have three questions in one setting, separated by chronology and distinguished by the degree of significance in their meaning.
The Lord answers the first question concerning the destruction of the city, an event confirmed by the truth of his teaching so that they should not be deceived by an imposter because of their ignorance. For there would come, even in the disciples' day, imposters who would claim they were the Christ. He therefore warns them that the faith could be undermined by the pernicious lie. In fact, it happened that Simon the Samaritan, bolstered with diabolical works and words, led many astray by his miracles. And because this happened during the time of the apostles, the Lord said, the end is not yet. Still, the end is not yet until nations and kingdoms attack one another, and famines and earthquakes occur. This is not dissolution of all things, but the beginning of sorrows from which all evils would originate. He encouraged them to endure suffering: flight, scourging, death, and the pagans public hatred towards them on account of his name. On account of these troubles, many will be shaken, and will stumble in the face of increasing wickedness, and will be incited to hate one another. There will be false prophets, as was Nicolaus, one of the seven deacons, who will pervert many by falsifying the truth, and because of mass wickedness, love will grow cold. But for those who persevere to the end, salvation is assured.
As the apostolic men are scattered throughout all parts of the world, the truth of the Gospel would be preached. Once the knowledge of the heavenly sacrament has been disseminated to all humanity, the fall and end of Jerusalem was imminent. Punishment of unbelievers and fear of the city's destruction are the consequence when the faith is preached. All this happened in Jerusalem, just as it had been foretold; the city was consumed--ruined by her stoning, by her expulsions, by her murder of the apostles, by her hunger, by war, and by her captivity. For having rejected the preachers of Christ, she was shown to be unworthy of God's message and not worthy to exist.
...The Lord warns them to abandon Judaea and flee to the mountains, lest the violence and contagion of those who will believe in the Antichrist be brought among them. But for all who remain faithful, they will be safer in the deserted places of the mountains than in the busy avenues of Judaea.
...Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers! This verse can be understood simply as pertaining to the delay of their flight. Hampered by the weight of the womb, it is difficult for them to flee from the imminent destruction of that time.
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In a homily on Matthew 24 written by St. Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.), the Archbishop of Constantinople (Homily #75) preached the following to his congregation:
“And Jesus went out from the temple, and departed. And His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. And He answered and said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
For inasmuch as He said, “Your house is left desolate,” and had previously forewarned them of many grievous things; therefore the disciples having heard these things, as though marvelling at it, came unto Him, showing the beauty of the temple, and wondering, if so much beauty was to be destroyed, and materials so costly, and variety of workmanship past utterance; He no longer thenceforth talks to them of desolation merely, but foretells an entire destruction. “See ye not all these things,” saith He, and do ye marvel, and are ye amazed? “There shall not remain one stone upon another.” How then did it remain? one may say. But what is this? For neither so hath the prediction fallen to the ground. For He said these things either indicating its entire desolation, or at that spot where He was. For there are parts of it destroyed unto the foundations.
And together with it we would say another thing also, that from what hath been done, even the most contentious ought to believe concerning the remains, that they are utterly to be destroyed.
“And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?”
Therefore did they come unto Him privately, as it was of such matters they meant to inquire. For they were in travail to know the day of His coming, because of their eager desire to behold that glory, which is the cause of countless blessings. And these two things do they ask him, when shall these things be? that is, the overthrow of the temple; and, what is the sign of thy coming? But Luke saith, the question was one concerning Jerusalem, as though they were supposing that then is His coming. And Mark saith, that neither did all of them ask concerning the end of Jerusalem, but Peter and John, as having greater freedom of speech.
What then saith He? “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”
For since they felt as being told of vengeance falling on others when hearing of that which was to be brought upon Jerusalem and as though they were to be out of the turmoils, and were dreaming of good things only, and looked for these to befall them quite immediately; for this cause He again foretells to them grievous things, making them earnest, and commanding them on two grounds to watch, so as neither to be seduced by the deceit of them that would beguile them, nor to be overpowered by the violence of ills that should overtake them.
For the war, saith He, shall be twofold that of the deceivers, and that of the enemies, but the former far more grievous, as coming upon them in the confusion and turmoils, and when men were terrified and troubled. For indeed great was the storm then, when the Roman power was beginning to flourish, and cities were taken, and camps and weapons were set in motion, and many were readily believed.
But of wars in Jerusalem is He speaking; for it is not surely of those without, and everywhere in the world; for what did they care for these? And besides, He would thus say nothing new, if He were speaking of the calamities of the world at large, which are happening always. For before this, were wars, and tumults, and fightings; but He speaks of the Jewish wars coming upon them at no great distance, for henceforth the Roman arms were a matter of anxiety. Since then these things also were sufficient to confound them, He foretells them all.
Then to show that He Himself also will assail the Jews with them, and war on them, He speaks not of battles only, but also of plagues sent from God, famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, showing that the wars also He Himself permitted to come upon them, and that these things do not happen for no purpose according to what has been before the accustomed course of things amongst men, but proceed from the wrath on high.
Therefore He saith, they shall come not by themselves or at once, but with signs. For that the Jews may not say, that they who then believed were the authors of these evils, therefore hath He told them also of the cause of their coming upon them. “For verily I say unto you,” He said before, “all these things shall come upon this generation,” having made mention of the stain of blood on them.
Then lest on hearing of the showers of evils, they should suppose the gospel to be broken through, He added, “See, be not troubled, for all things must come to pass,” that is, which I foretold, and the approach of the temptations will set aside none of the things which I have said; but there shall indeed be tumults and confusion, but nothing shall shake my predictions.
Then since He had said to the Jews, “Ye shall not see me, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord;” and the disciples supposed that together with the destruction would be the end also; to set right this secret thought of theirs, He said, “But the end is not yet.” For that they did suspect even as I said, you may learn from their question. For, what did they ask? When shall these things be? That is, when shall Jerusalem be destroyed? And what is the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?
But He answered nothing directly to this question, but first speaks of those other things that are urgent, and which it was needful for them to learn first. For neither concerning Jerusalem straightway, nor of His own second coming, did He speak, but touching the ills that were to meet them at the doors. Wherefore also He makes them earnest in their exertions, by saying, “Take heed that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ.” Afterwards, when He hath roused them to listen about these things (for, “take heed,” saith He, “that no man deceive you”); and having made them energetic, and prepared them to be watchful, and hath spoken first of the false Christs, then He speaks of the ills of Jerusalem, assuring them ever by the things already past, foolish and contentious though they were, of those which were yet to come.
But by “wars and rumors of wars,” He meaneth, what I before said, the troubles coming upon them. After this, because, as I have already said, they supposed after that war the end would come, see how He warns them, saying, “But the end is not yet. For nation,” He saith, “shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Of the preludes to the ills of the Jews doth He speak. “All these are the beginning of sorrows,” that is, of those that befall them. “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you.”
In good season did He introduce their ills, having a consolation from the common miseries; and not in this way only, but also by His adding, that it is “for my name’s sake. For ye shall be hated,” He saith, “of all men for my name’s sake. Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and many false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
This is the greater evil, when the war is within the Body too, for there were many false brethren. Seest thou the war to be threefold? from the deceivers, from the enemies, from the false brethren. See Paul too lamenting over the same things, and saying, “Without were fightings, within were fears;” and, “perils among false brethren,” and again, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.”
After this again, what is more grievous than all, they shall not have so much as the consolation from love. Then indicating, that these things will in no degree harm the noble and the firm, He saith, Fear not, neither be troubled. For if ye show forth the patience that becomes you, the dangers will not prevail over you. And it is a plain proof of this, that the word shall surely be preached everywhere in the world, so much shall ye be above the things that alarm you. For, that they may not say, how then shall we live? He said more, Ye shall both live and preach everywhere. Therefore He added moreover, “And this gospel shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end come,” of the downfall of Jerusalem. For in proof that He meant this, and that before the taking of Jerusalem the gospel was preached, hear what Paul saith, “Their sound went into all the earth;” and again, “The gospel which was preached to every creature which is under Heaven.” And seest thou him running from Jerusalem unto Spain? And if one took so large a portion, consider what the rest also wrought. For writing to others also, Paul again saith concerning the gospel, that “it is bringing forth fruit, and growing up in every creature which is under Heaven.”
But what meaneth, “For a witness to all nations?” Forasmuch as though it was everywhere preached, yet it was not everywhere believed. It was for a witness, He saith, to them that were disbelieving, that is, for conviction, for accusation, for a testimony; for they that believed will bear witness against them that believed not, and will condemn them. And for this cause, after the gospel is preached in every part of the world, Jerusalem is destroyed, that they may not have so much as a shadow of an excuse for their perverseness. For they that saw His power shine throughout every place, and in an instant take the world captive, what excuse could they then have for continuing in the same perverseness? For in proof that it was everywhere preached at that time, hear what Paul saith, “of the gospel which was preached to every creature which is under Heaven.”
Which also is a very great sign of Christ’s power, that in twenty or at most thirty years the word had reached the ends of the world. “After this therefore,” saith He, “shall come the end of Jerusalem.” For that He intimates this was manifested by what follows.
For He brought in also a prophecy, to confirm their desolation, saying, “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, let him that readeth understand.” He referred them to Daniel. And by “abomination” He meaneth the statue of him who then took the city, which he who desolated the city and the temple placed within the temple, wherefore Christ calleth it, “of desolation.” Moreover, in order that they might learn that these things will be while some of them are alive, therefore He said, “When ye see the abomination of desolation.”
Whence one may most marvel at Christ’s power, and their courage, for that they preached in such times, in which most especially the Jewish state was warred against, in which most especially men regarded them as movers of sedition, when Cæsar commanded all of them to be driven away. And the result was the same as if any one (when the sea was stirred up on every side, and darkness was filling all the air, and successive shipwrecks taking place, and when all their fellow-sailors were at strife above, and monsters were rising up from beneath, and with the waves devouring the mariners, and thunderbolts falling, and their being pirates, and those in the vessel plotting one against another), were to command men inexperienced in sailing, and who had not so much as seen the sea to sit at the rudder, and to guide and fight the vessel, and when an immense fleet was coming against them with a great array, making use of a single bark, with her crew in this disturbed state, to sink and subdue the fleet. For indeed by the heathens they were hated as Jews, and by the Jews were stoned, as waging war against their laws; and nowhere could they stand.
Thus were all things, precipices, and reefs, and rocks, the things in the cities, the things in the fields, the things in the houses, and every single person was at war with them; generals and rulers, and private persons, and all nations, and all people, and a turmoil which cannot be set forth by words. For the Jewish race was exceedingly detestable to the government of the Romans, as having occasioned them endless trouble; and not even from this did the preaching of the word take hurt; but the city was stormed and set on fire, and involved its inhabitants in countless evils; but the apostles that came from thence, introducing new laws, prevailed even over the Romans.
O strange and wonderful facts! Countless myriads of Jews did the Romans then subdue, and they did not prevail over twelve men fighting against them (i.e. the Apostles) naked and unarmed.
In another homily given by St. Chrysostom, he preached:
“Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains. And let him that is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. Neither let him which is in his field return back to take his clothes.”
Having spoken of the ills that were to overtake the city, and of the trials of the apostles, and that they should remain unsubdued, and should overrun the whole world, He mentions again the Jews’ calamities, showing that when the one should be glorious, having taught the whole world, the others should be in calamity.
And see how He relates the war, by the things that seem to be small setting forth how intolerable it was to be. For, “Then,” saith He, “let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains.” Then, When? When these things should be, “when the abomination of desolation should stand in the holy place.” Whence he seems to me to be speaking of the armies. Flee therefore then, saith He, for thenceforth there is no hope of safety for you.
For since it had fallen out, that they often had recovered themselves in grievous wars, as under Sennacherib, under Antiochus again (for when at that time also, armies had come in upon them, and the temple had been seized beforehand, the Maccabees rallying gave their affairs an opposite turn); in order then that they might not now also suspect this, that there would be any such change, He forbids them all thought of the kind. For it were well, saith He, to escape henceforth with one’s naked body.
Therefore them also that are on the housetop, He suffers not to enter into the house to take their clothes, indicating the evils to be inevitable, and the calamity without end, and that it must needs be that he that was involved therein should surely perish. Therefore He adds also, him that is in the field, saying, neither let this man turn back to take his clothes. For if they that are in doors flee, much more they that are out of doors ought not to take refuge within.
“Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck,” to the one because of their greater inertness, and because they cannot flee easily, being weighed down by the burden of their pregnancy; to the other, because they are held by the tie of feeling for their children, and cannot save their sucklings. For money it is a light thing to despise, and an easy thing to provide, and clothes; but the bonds of nature how could any one escape? how could the pregnant woman become active? how could she that gives suck be able to overlook that which she had borne?
Then, to show again the greatness of the calamity, He saith, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be.”
Seest thou that His discourse is addressed to the Jews, and that He is speaking of the ills that should overtake them? For the apostles surely were not to keep the Sabbath day, neither to be there, when Vespasian did those things. For indeed the most part of them were already departed this life. And if any was left, he was dwelling then in other parts of the world.
But wherefore neither “in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day?” Not in the winter, because of the difficulty arising from the season; not on the Sabbath day, because of the absolute authority exercised by the law. For since they had need of flight, and of the swiftest flight, but neither would the Jews dare to flee on the Sabbath day, because of the law, neither in winter was such a thing easy; therefore, “Pray ye,” saith He; “for then shall be tribulation, such as never was, neither shall be.”
And let not any man suppose this to have been spoken hyperbolically; but let him study the writings of Josephus, and learn the truth of the sayings. For neither can any one say, that the man being a believer, in order to establish Christ’s words, hath exaggerated the tragical history. For indeed He was both a Jew, and a determined Jew, and very zealous, and among them that lived after Christ’s coming.
What then saith this man? That those terrors surpassed all tragedy, and that no such had ever overtaken the nation. For so great was the famine, that the very mothers fought about the devouring of their children, and that there were wars about this; and he saith that many when they were dead had their bellies ripped up.
I should therefore be glad to inquire of the Jews. Whence came there thus upon them wrath from God intolerable, and more sore than all that had befallen aforetime, not in Judæa only, but in any part of the world? Is it not quite clear, that it was for the deed of the cross, and for this rejection? All would say it, and with all and before all the truth of the facts itself.
But mark, I pray thee, the exceeding greatness of the ills, when not only compared with the time before, they appear more grievous, but also with all the time to come. For not in all the world, neither in all time that is past, and that is to come, shall any one be able to say such ills have been. And very naturally; for neither had any man perpetrated, not of those that ever have been, nor of those to come hereafter, a deed so wicked and horrible. Therefore He saith, “there shall be tribulation such as never was, nor shall be.”
“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” By these things He shows them to be deserving of a more grievous punishment than had been mentioned, speaking now of the days of the war and of that siege. But what He saith is like this. If, saith He, the war of the Romans against the city had prevailed further, all the Jews had perished (for by “no flesh” here, He meaneth no Jewish flesh), both those abroad, and those at home. For not only against those in Judæa did they war, but also those that were dispersed everywhere they outlawed and banished, because of their hatred against the former.
But whom doth He here mean by the elect? The believers that were shut up in the midst of them. For that Jews may not say that because of the gospel, and the worship of Christ, these ills took place, He showeth, that so far from the believers being the cause, if it had not been for them, all had perished utterly. For if God had permitted the war to be protracted, not so much as a remnant of the Jews had remained, but lest those of them who had become believers should perish together with the unbelieving Jews, He quickly put down the fighting, and gave an end to the war. Therefore He saith, “But for the elect’s sake they shall be shortened.” But these things He said to leave an encouragement to those of them who were shut up in the midst of them, and to allow them to take breath, that they might not be in fear, as though they were to perish with them. And if here so great is His care for them, that for their sakes others also are saved, and that for the sake of Christians remnants were left of the Jews, how great will be their honor in the time for their crowns?
By this He also encouraged them not to be distressed at their own dangers, since these others are suffering such things, and for no profit, but for evil upon their own head.
But He not only encouraged them, but also led them off secretly and unsuspectedly from the customs of the Jews. For if there is not to be a change afterwards, and the temple is not to stand, it is quite evident that the law also shall be made to cease.
However, He spake not this openly, but by their entire destruction He darkly intimated it. But He spake it not openly, lest He should startle them before the time. Wherefore neither at the beginning did He of Himself fall into discourse touching these things; but having first lamented over the city, He constrained them to show Him the stones, and question Him, in order that as it were in answering them their question, He might declare to them beforehand all the things to come.
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Commenting on Matthew chapter 24, verse by verse, Thomas Aquinas records the works of Rabanus and Remigius.
For a little background as to the significance of these scholars, Rabanus Maurus Magnentius was a Benedictine monk who became the archbishop of Mainz (Germany) in 847 A.D., and is venerated in the Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox Churches for his important contributions to the life and faith of the Church.
Remigius of Auxerre (841-908 A.D.) was a Benedictine monk and Latin scholar who taught and wrote copious amounts of works on Biblical exegesis, Christian theology, Greco-Roman classics, Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy, Latin grammar, and liturgical philosophy.
Their comments on Matthew 24 are as follows, with each section beginning with a passage in question, followed by the name of each scholar, followed by their comments, as noted by Thomas Aquinas:
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
Rabanus: The historical sense is clear, that in the forty-second year after the Lord’s passion, the city and temple were overthrown under the Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus.
Remigius: So it was ordained of God, that as soon as the light of grace was revealed, the temple with its ceremonies should be taken out of the way, lest any weakling in the faith, beholding all the things instituted of the Lord and hallowed by the Prophets yet abiding, might be gradually drawn away from the purity of the faith to a carnal Judaism.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Remigius: The Lord continuing His walk arrives at Mount Olivet, having by the way foretold the destruction of the temple to those disciples who had shewn and commended the buildings. When they had reached the Mount they came to Him, asking Him further of this.
…For Mount Olivet has no unfruitful trees, but olives, which supply light to dispel darkness, which give rest to the weary, health to the sick. And sitting on Mount Olivet over against the temple, the Lord discourses of its destruction, and the destruction of the Jewish nation, that even by His choice of a situation He might shew, that abiding still in the Church He condemns the pride of the wicked.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Rabanus: Or, this is a warning to the Apostles not to flee from Jerusalem and Judæa in terror of these things, when they should begin to come upon them; because the end was not immediately, but the desolation of the province, and the destruction of the city and temple should not come till the fortieth year. And we know that most grievous woes, which spread over the whole province, fell out to the very letter. …Nation shall rise against nation, shews the disquietude of men’s minds; pestilences, the affliction of their bodies; famines, the barrenness of the soil; earthquakes in diverse places, wrath from heaven above.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Rabanus: For what desert so many evils are to be brought upon Jerusalem, and the whole Jewish province the Lord shews, when He adds, Then shall they deliver you up, &c.
Remigius: As the capture of Jerusalem approached, many rose up, calling themselves Christians, and deceived many; such Paul calls false brethren, John Antichrists.
…Whoso shall endure unto the end, i.e. to the end of his life; for whoso to the end of his life shall persevere in the confession of the name of Christ, and in love, he shall be saved. …For the Lord knew that the hearts of the disciples would be made sad by the destruction of Jerusalem, and overthrow of their nation, and He therefore comforts them with a promise that more of the Gentiles should believe than of the Jews should perish.
…But the whole passage might be referred to the end of the world. For then shall many be offended, and depart from the faith, when they see the numbers and wealth of the wicked, and the miracles of Antichrist, and they shall persecute their brethren; and Antichrist shall send false Prophets, who shall deceive many; iniquity shall abound, because the number of the wicked shall be increased; and love shall wax cold, because the number of the good shall diminish.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Here we find something fascinating. We find a marginal gloss inserted by St Thomas Aquinas, sharing his own thoughts on the passages in question. Aquinas writes:
“But it is possible to maintain both applications of the passage, if only we will take this diffusion of Gospel preaching in a double sense. If we understand it of fruit produced by the preaching, and the foundation in every nation of a Church of believers in Christ, as Augustine (in the passage above quoted) expounds it, then it is a sign which ought to precede the end of the world, and which did not precede the destruction of Jerusalem.
But if we understand it of the fame of their preaching, then it was accomplished before the destruction of Jerusalem, when Christ’s disciples had been dispersed over the four quarters of the earth. Whence Jerome says, (Hieron. in loc.) I do not suppose that there remained any nation which knew not the name of Christ; for where preacher had never been, some notion of the faith must have been communicated by neighbouring nations.”
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains:
Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house.
Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
Remigius: And this we know was so done when the fall of Jerusalem drew near; for on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us (Euseb. H.E. iii. 5.), miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans.
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Commenting on the book of Daniel, Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus (423-457 A.D.) interprets the "abomination of desolation" mentioned in Daniel's prophecy as foreshadowing a future, first century fulfillment of the "abomination of desolation" mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:15.
...an abomination of desolation on the temple: as a result of this sacrifice not only will the other sacrifice cease but as well an abomination of desolation will be inflicted on the temple--that is, that formerly venerable and fearsome place will be made desolate. A sign of the desolation will be the introduction into it of certain images forbidden by the law; Pilate was guilty of this by introducing into the divine temple by night the imperial images in violation of the law. The Lord also in the sacred Gospels foretold to his holy disciples, "When you see the abomination of desolation..." He said this to highlight the rapidity of the disaster about to overtake them.
Likewise, in his commentary on the twelve prophets, Theodoret makes similar connections. When discussing the prophecy Zechariah about the Lord's feet standing on the Mount of Olives (14:4), where Jesus gave his “Olivet Discourse” of Matthew 24, he describes the fulfillment of such promises as the victory given to Jesus as the Lord of armies, even of the Roman armies as they surrounded the anti-Christian Jews during the siege of Jerusalem. He wrote:
"On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem from the east." From where he ascended into heaven, from there he gives the victory to those fighting against the Jews. He then says the mountain would be divided into four parts, one going to the east, one to the west, one to the north, and one to the south. ...By "mountain" he refers to the cohort of the enemy divided for the purpose of besieging Jerusalem, some occupying its eastern part, some its western, others guarding the north, others the south.
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A 5th century commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, called Opus Imperfectum, comments in this way:
"And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars."
He was saying that at that time there would be rumors of physical battles, which the Roman emperor was preparing against Judea. For just as it is accustomed to happen in the preparation of war while leaders are chosen and an army is gathered and counted, a rumor runs around, especially to those against whom the army is being prepared. But as Josephus explains, after the army entered Judea, it did not immediately turn to Jerusalem but to the individual cities of that region, and various wars were first fought and many cities captured, and thus the army besieged Jerusalem last of all.1 So he commanded his disciples, "See that you are not alarmed," but fulfill the task of your preaching. The spiritual Jerusalem has the physical Jerusalem as its type. For unless that temple had been destroyed, the observance of that Law would not easily have been restrained. But it was destroyed so that even if the Jews wanted to keep the Law later, they could not.
"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom."
At that time all the nations and the kingdoms, which seemed to be under the rule of the Romans, were gathered against the Jewish nation, and nearly all their kingdoms were gathered against the kingdom of the Jews. ...[N]early all those nations and kingdoms were stirred up against one nation, Judea.
"And there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places."
Whoever reads Josephus can find out what are the plagues and famines and earthquakes before Jerusalem was captured.
"So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)."
Some say that the abomination of desolation was the image of Caesar that Pilate put in the temple. But the Evangelist Luke more accurately interprets what is the desolating sacrilege. For in the place where the current passage of Matthew and Mark write, "But when you see the desolating sacrilege," in that very passage Luke writes, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near." And so he says who are in Judea, namely, in order to show by the other resemblance of the explanation of this passage what is the desolating sacrilege standing in the Holy Place. For there was an army of foreigners and the Roman emperor standing around Jerusalem, which up until then was holy. Peter also explained this in Clement. Finally, the text itself also showed that this is the desolating sacrilege. For it is as if he goes back over all those things that he had said earlier and summarized them briefly and says, "So when you see the desolating sacrilege...standing," that is, "When you see those very battles now standing around Jerusalem, which you had previously heard about."
The Roman army is called the desolating sacrilege because he would make the souls of many Christians desolate of God. For before the Romans captured Jerusalem, for half a week Christ bore by his doctrine the constant sacrifice of the Jews from his midst. For it is said that he taught for three years and six months; that number makes half of seven years, so that that sacrifice that was constantly in use would be removed from their midst and the sacrifice of praise would be offered with their voice and the sacrifice of righteousness in works and the sacrifice of peace through the Eucharist. But up until the end of the age there was an uproar because the Jewish custom of offering sacrifices was never rectified.
"Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house."
[N]ote that when he says, "Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains," it is possible to understand this physically according to history at the time of the Romans.
"For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be."
Even if the Jews were sinners up to the time of Christ, nonetheless they were his children, not his enemies, and so every wrath that fell on them was a chastisement coming out of mercy, not a condemnation coming down in anger. But when the Lord was crucified, they ceased to be his children and became his enemies. For that reason now no longer corrective chastisement came on them, but an eradicating condemnation. For Jerusalem was captured by the Assyrians and was repaired again. It was destroyed by Antioch and rebuilt again. It was invaded a third time by Pompey, and again it was repaired. For just as before the day of a person's death comes, he indeed seems to be ill but is not able to die, so also Judea was vexed before Christ but was not destroyed. But after they had committed that horrible patricide, crucifying the Son of the Father and bringing death on him from whom they received life--and what is worse, killing their Lord though they were servants and killing God through they were mortals--he struck them with such a blow that they never have been healed. For just as they committed such a crime as has never been committed nor ever will be again, so also such a sentence came on them as never has come nor ever will.
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Commenting on Zechariah 12:1-3, Didymus the Blind (313-398 A.D.) makes all of the same historical connections presented so far regarding Jesus' prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. He even includes a quotation from Matthew 23.
An oracle of the word of the Lord on Israel. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heaven, lays the foundation of earth, and forms a spirit of a human being in it: Lo, I am making Jerusalem like a shaken threshold for all the people round about and in Judah; there will be a siege against jerusalem. On that day I shall make Jerusalem a stone trodden on by all the nations; everyone who treads on it will mockingly mock it, and all the nations of the earth will gather against it.
The prophet Zechariah prophesies the fate of Judah and Jerusalem and its inhabitants after the crucifixion of Jesus, receiving his message from the Creator of everything, who stretches out the heaven lays the foundation of earth, and forms a spirit of a human being in it.
...The one who stretches out heaven lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of the human being in it threatens to devastate and destroy the city and region of the Jews on account of the crimes committed by those guilty godless deeds against the savior who has come. They inflicted the cross and scourging, remember, on the one who gave his life as a ransom, removing the sin of the world--and this despite his coming for the salvation of all.
Now, what is the awful fate he forecasts for the Christ-killers? Lo, I am making Jerusalem like a shaken threshold and Judah for all the peoples round about so that they will no longer have a basis and security because they will be abandoned by the one who laid its foundation and protects it. ...Before the abandonment and surrender, remember, the city to which this refers was a house and inheritance and beloved soul; but later he said of it because of its impiety towards him, "Lo, your house is left to you in ruins."
...The awful fate that was threatened befell both the material Judah and its capital, which in fact was destroyed to the point that there was no longer stone standing on stone.
...On approaching Jerusalem the savior had said this would happen to her: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if even you had only recognized the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes: your enemies will come upon you, surround you, and throw a rampart around you," so that you will be abandoned and dashed to the ground, with all then hostile nations encircling you, and so you will be seen to be desolate. "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies," Scripture says, remember, "you will know that its devastation has come near.” The killers of the Lord had actual experience of this when the Romans overpowered them, destroyed their cities, and enslaved them; they were taken off into captivity or, rather, uprooted from their motherland, and so no longer had their own land or country, but were taken to every quarter of the earth.
In reference to the wrath that had at last befallen Judah and its inhabitants, an historian, one individual from those who actually experienced it, wrote an account in many volumes of them and their places, so that the fulfillment is indisputably visible both of what the savior said and of what Zechariah uttered in prophetic mode, beginning with the verse I am making Jerusalem like a shaken threshold. When the threshold was reduced to shaking and the city subjected to a siege, all the foreign nations scornfully entered and trampled on it like an unclean stone, no longer approaching it as a shrine and sacred surface, showing no respect or performance of due rites of expiation and purification. They mockingly mocked it like a ruin, with everyone from that time coming to it to "plough it like a field."
Commenting on Zechariah 12:10, he (Didymus the Blind) also wrote:
Having fallen foul of grievous misfortune, the Jews, after gaily murdering the Lord, were in the grip of severe pangs of grief as if grieving for a dear departed and lamenting a firstborn son; "wrath has overtaken them at last," the result being that their homeland has been ruined and they have been enslaved and forced to wander throughout all the earth. It is possible to learn from the present text itself that it was by the decree of God's providence that they were subjected to this for the sacrilege they committed in subjecting the savior of all to crucifixion.
Commenting on Zechariah 14:1-2, he also wrote:
There is reference to days of the Lord when harsh and punitive actions are taken on the guilty, as sense you can find confirmed in many places. ...After the verse saying, Lo, days of the Lord are coming, when your plunder will be divided in your midst, the Lord immediately says he will assemble all the nations against them to battle, as happens on a day of engagement; the nations are assembled for military action in the assault on Jerusalem.
Such things befell them, resembling the savagely inhuman fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea when the Jews were captured by the nations on account of the guilt incurred by the killers of the Lord. "The nations raged, the people informed vain and futile plots, the kings took their stand, and the rulers came together in concert against the Lord and against his Christ. God ridiculed and mocked them, in wrath speaking against them and in his rage confounding them." So the apostle writes to the same effect about those who killed the Lord and the prophets and persecuted the apostles: "God's wrath has overtaken them at last." It was noted above as well that a Jewish historian, Josephus by name, truthfully and precisely described the disasters befalling the nation, including starvation and other misfortunes much worse than that; the searcher after good can meditate on it if interested in reading directed to learning and the fear of experiencing the same fate.
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Commenting on the end of Mathew 23 and portions of chapter 24, St. Jerome (347—420 A.D.) also draws similar conclusions. He writes:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who have been sent to you, how often have I wanted to gather your sons as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." By Jerusalem he does not mean the stones and buildings of the city, but its inhabitants. He laments for it with the feeling of a father, just as also in another passage we read that when he saw it, he wept. Now his words: "How often have I wanted to gather your sons," testify to the fact that all the prophets in the past had been sent by him.
"And having left the Temple, Jesus went away. And his disciples came to him to show him the building of the Temple. But he answered and said to them: Do you see all these things? Amen I say to you: Not a stone shall be left here upon a stone which will not be destroyed." The meaning of the historical narrative is manifest. As the Lord was leaving the Temple, all the buildings of the Torah and the construction of the commandments were destroyed in such a way that nothing could be fulfilled by the Jews. Once the head was removed, all the members fight among themselves.
Now as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying: Tell us, when will these things be and what will the sign of your coming and of the consummation of the world?" ...They were longing to know mysteries and revelation about the future. And they ask three questions: At what time is Jerusalem to be destroyed, when is Christ going to come, and when is the consummation of the world going to happen?
For many will come in my name, saying: I am the Christ, and they will seduce many." One of these is Simon the Samaritan, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles. He claimed to be the great power of God. Among other things, he left the following written statements in his books: "I am the Word of God, I am the Beautiful, I am the Paraclete, I am the Omnipotent, I am God's All." But John the apostle says in his epistle: "You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, but now there are many antichrists." ...It is not surprising that we see some seduced by them, since the Lord said: "And they will seduce many."
"Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, let the reader understand." Whenever we are summoned to understanding, what has been said is shown to be mystical. Now, we read it in Daniel in this way: "And for half a week my sacrifice and libations will be removed, and in the Temple there will be an abomination of desolations until the consummation of the time, and the consummation will be given over the devastation." The apostle also speaks of this, that the man of iniquity and the adversary is to be lifted up against everything that is called God or that is worshiped. He will dare to stand in the Temple of God and show that he himself is God, that his coming in accordance with the working of Satan destroys them, and that it reduces those who received him to a devastation, void of God. Now this can be interpreted either literally of the Antichrist, or of the image of Caesar that Pilate placed in the Temple, or of the equestrian statue of Hadrian, which stands to the present day in the very location of the holy of holies.
"Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take anything from his house, and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his tunic. And woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days." ...This can also be explained in the following manner. During the persecution of the Antichrist or of the Roman captivity, pregnant women and nursing mothers, being weighed down by the burden in their womb or of their children, will be unable to escape [Judea] very easily.
"Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath." If we want to take this of the captivity of Jerusalem when it was captured by Titus and Vespasian, the meaning is that they should pray that their flight will not be in winter or on a sabbath. For in the former season, the harshness of the cold hinders from traveling in the wastelands and hiding in the mountains and deserts. On the sabbath either it is a transgression of the Torah if they wanted to escape, or there would be imminent death if they remain.
"Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it." At the time of the Judaic captivity, many leaders rose up who claimed to be the Christ. This occurred to such an extent that when the Romans were conducting their siege, there were three factions within Jerusalem. But it is understood better of the consummation of the world.
"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and prodigies, so that even the elect, if it were possible, would be led into error. Behold, I have told you ahead of time." As I said earlier, the passage ought to be explained in a threefold way, either concerning the time of the Roman siege, or concerning the consummation of the world, or concerning the battle of the heretics and antichrists of that sort against the Church, who fight against Christ under the pretext of false knowledge.
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The Eastern Orthodox saint, Theophylact (1055-1108 A.D.), Archbishop of Ohrid, wrote a commentary on all four gospels. (St. Thomas Aquinas quotes from his commentaries extensively in his Catena Aurea of Luke’s Gospel.) In his comments about Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13 he writes:
“Now some have wished to place the fulfillment of these things not only at the future consummation of all things, but at the time also of the taking of Jerusalem. For when the Author of peace was killed, then justly arose among the Jews wars and sedition, but from wars proceed pestilence and famine, the former indeed produced by the air infected with dead bodies, the latter through the lands remaining uncultivated. Josephus also relates the most intolerable distresses to have occurred from famine; and at the time of Claudius Cæsar there was a severe famine, as we read in the Acts, (Acts 11:28.) and many terrible events happened, foreboding, as Josephus says, the destruction of Jerusalem.”
(Commenting on Luke 21:9-11)
“But some say that the Lord hereby signified the devouring of children, which Josephus also relates.”
(Commenting on Luke 21:20-24)
“For, since the Lord had spoken much concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, His disciples wondered, that such numerous and beautiful buildings were to be destroyed; and this is the reason why they point out the beauty of the temple, and He answers not only that they were to be destroyed, but also that one stone should not be left upon another: wherefore it goes on: And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Now some may endeavour to prove that Christ’s words were false, by saying that many ruins were left, but this is not at all the point; for though some ruins had been left, still at the consummation of all things one stone shall not be left upon another. Besides it is related, that Ælius Adrian overturned the city and the temple from the foundation, so that the word of the Lord here spoken was fulfilled.”
(Commenting on Mark 13:1-2)
“That is, the Romans against the Jews, which Josephus relates happened before the destruction of Jerusalem. For when the Jews refused to pay tribute, the Romans arose, in anger; but because at that time they were merciful they took indeed their spoils, but did not destroy Jerusalem. What follows shews that God fought against the Jews, for it is said, And there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines. …Fitly also did He premise a recital of those things which concerned the Apostles, that in their own tribulations they might find some consolation in the community of troubles and sufferings. There follows: And ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. He says kings and rulers, as, for instance, Agrippa, Nero, and Herod. Again, His saying, for my sake, gave them no small consolation, in that they were about to suffer for His sake. For a testimony against them, means, as a judgment beforehand against them, that they might be inexcusable, in that though the Apostles were laboring for the truth, they would not join themselves to it. Then, that they might not think that their preaching should be impeded by troubles and dangers, He adds: And the Gospel must first be published among all nations.”
(Commenting on Mark 13:3-13)
“That is, if the Roman war had not been soon finished, no flesh should be saved; that is, no Jew should have escaped; but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, that is, for the sake of the believing Jews, or who were hereafter to believe, He hath shortened the days, that is, the war was soon finished, for God foresaw that many Jews would believe after the destruction of the city; for which reason He would not suffer the whole race to be utterly destroyed.” (Commenting on Mark 13:14-20)
In yet another marginal gloss by Thomas Aquinas inserted within this portion of the commentary about Mark 13:14-20, we find it written:
“After speaking of the things which were to happen before the destruction of the city, the Lord now foretells those which happened about the destruction itself of the city, saying, ‘But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand.)’”
Theophylact again says:
“Or else, This generation shall not pass away, that is, the generation of Christians, until all things be fulfilled, which were spoken concerning Jerusalem and the coming of Antichrist… He says this of the generation of Christians, wishing to console His disciples, lest they should believe that the faith should fail at that time.”
(Commenting on Mark 13:28-31)
Theophylact also comments on John 21:18-24, a passage which clearly implies that John the apostle did, in fact, live until the Lord’s “coming” in 70 A.D. Theophylact wrote:
“Some have understood, Till I come, to mean, Till I come to punish the Jews who have crucified Me, and strike them with the Roman rod. For they say that this Apostle (John) lived up to the time of Vespasian, who took Jerusalem, and dwelt near when it was taken.”
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Anselm of Laon was an 11th century theologian and archdeacon of Laon’s Cathedral; He was also the Dean and Chancellor of the Cathedral School in Laon, France. His works of biblical interpretation were expanded upon by Hugh of St Victor, Peter Lombard, and Thomas Aquinas. Commenting on Matthew 24:4-14, he wrote:
“These things abounded in Judea from the time of the Lord’s passion. About this the apostles were admonished to not be afraid and leave Jerusalem and Judea, because ‘the end’ was not coming immediately, but after forty two years.”
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Otfrid of Weissenburger (860 A.D.), a German monk and author of multiple Latin biblical commentaries utilized by Church councils, comments on Matthew 24:6:
“These things, according to a literal interpretation, were shown to have happened before the destruction of the city. …However, it should be noted that these things spoken by the Lord pertain partly to the Jewish captivity which was done by the Romans, and partly to the day of Judgment.”
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Christian Druthmarus (850 A.D.), an English monk and author of a commentary on Matthew’s Gospel which was used extensively by Pope Nicholas the Great, comments on Matthew 24:8:
“Myself and others have read that all these things happened in Palestine before the province was destroyed.”
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Dionysius Bar Salibi was the best known and most prolific writer in the Syriac Orthodox Church of the 12th century. He was ordained the bishop of Marash in 1184 A.D. and the See of Amid in Mesopotamia in 1166 A.D. Dionysius Bar Salibi comments on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:14 that “…then the end shall come”:
“At the end of the fortieth year after the crucifixion, then the devastation of Jerusalem will be completed. Here He calls the ruin of Jerusalem the end.”
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The Syriac scholar and archbishop of Persia in the 13th century, Gregorios Bar Ebraya, who was renowned in the Syriac Orthodox Church for his works of philosophy, poetry, language, history, and theology, also commented on Matthew 24:14, saying:
“And then shall come the end—namely, the destruction of Jerusalem.”
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Peter John Olivi (1248–1298), a Franciscan theologian and disciple of Saint Bonaventure, also commented on Matthew 24:14, saying:
“‘And then shall come the end shall come’, that is, the end of Jerusalem.”
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St Andrew of Caesarea (611 A.D.) commented on the close relationship between the events described in Matthew 24:4-14 and Revelation chapter 6, saying:
“Our Lord foretold future events to the apostles who were asking about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and about the end of the age, as much as they were able to receive. These things already happened, in the siege of Vespasian and Titus, to the Judeans who killed Christ, just as Josephus the Hebrew narrates.”
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In his detailed commentary of Matthew’s Gospel, St Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274 A.D.) comments on Matthew 24:1-22, saying:
The occasion was twofold. The occasion was His foretelling of the destruction of the Temple, which prediction He indeed made by deed and by word. Firstly, He predicted this by deed, because He went out of the Temple. Secondly, He predicted this by His words, “Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate” (above vv. 23, 38).
… “Amen I say to you, there shall not be left here a stone upon a stone.”
Is this true? …Can it be said that, as according to God’s foresight, at one time the Temple was restored: so, according to God’s foresight, the confirmation of the New Law having begun, the Temple would be destroyed lest sacrifices be made in the Temple. Hence, if it had not been destroyed, many Jews, having become Christians, would perform the ceremonies and so return to the Temple: hence, by divine dispensation, it happened that the Temple was destroyed: and this is stated in Luke 21, 6, where it is said concerning the Temple: “The days will come in which there shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be thrown down.” So also it happens that someone builds through good virtues, but if he fall by some mortal sin, if he becomes negligent, and not careful, he falls completely and is destroyed; “Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof” (Ps. 136, 7). Hence, He wishes to say that not only would the Temple be destroyed, but also the things pertaining to it, which were shadows, as it is stated: “The law, having a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10, 1). Having given the occasion, the question is related. And we ought to note that He went out and went to Mount Olivet, and this signifies the Church in which fruitful olive trees are planted; “I, as a fruitful olive tree” (Ps. 51, 10). And from there, He instructs His disciples. He had said that the Temple would be destroyed, wherefore, they ask three things. Firstly, they ask about the Temple; secondly, they ask about His Coming; and thirdly, they ask about the end of the world.
…In Luke 1 only one question is mentioned, namely, about the destruction of the Temple, because they did not believe that it ought to be destroyed except after the Second Coming; hence, they said, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1, 6). In Mark 13, it is said that they sent only Peter, John, James and Andrew; for these were called first, and so had greater confidence in approaching Him. Wherein we have an example; that those who remain in contemplation longer are more familiar with God; “They that approach to his feet, shall receive of his doctrine” (Deut. 33, 3). These disciples were asking about His Coming, and this is twofold. The Coming is the last, which is for judging; and this will be at the end of the world. You find this written: “So shall he come as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1, 11). The other Coming was for comforting the minds of men, to whom He comes spiritually. “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds” (below in this chapter, verse 30), meaning in the preachers, because by preachers God comes into the minds of men. Hence, there is a doubt regarding to which Coming He refers. Nevertheless, Augustine says that it ought to be referred to His spiritual coming. But some say that it refers to His Second Coming. Others, however, expound this of both the destruction of Jerusalem, and the last Coming. Therefore, He firstly responds in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem; secondly, He responds in regard to the Second Coming, where it is said, For as lightning cometh out of the east. About the first part, He does two things. Firstly, He foretells the things that will precede the destruction of Jerusalem, where it is said: When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation , etc.
…Having already related the destruction, in this part He relates that the consummation will come: and He gives a sort of introduction. And firstly, He cites the prophecy; secondly, He gives a warning, where it is said: Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and thirdly, He gives the reason for the warning, where it is said: For there shall be then great tribulation. So He said: The consummation shall come. When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, etc.
What is it that He calls the abomination? It can be said that the Roman army is the abomination, and they are called abominations of desolation because they were the destroyers of the land. Or, by abominations, the idols are understood: and it can be said of two idols. It is read that Pilate brought into the Temple the eagle, which was the Roman ensign which the Jews called an abomination. Hence, when you see the placing of idols in the holy place, then you can recognize the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. …It was destroyed by Titus and Vespasian, and on that occasion, the Temple was burned and yet some men were let go. …He says, Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains. “Then,” namely, in the time of Vespasian. At that time, a certain man called Agrippa ruled in the mountains, and this man obeyed the Romans and did not rebel against them: hence, when other nations were waging war, this man and his nation were at peace. Hence, by God’s providence, the faithful who were in Judea were warned that they should depart and go to the kingdom of this Agrippa, and they did so: hence, Then they that are in Judea, namely, the faithful, let them flee to the mountains; “O flee ye out of the land of the north,” etc., (Zach. 2, 6).
…And why does He say this? Because when the feast of the Pascha approached, many gathered in Jerusalem: for He knew that Titus would besiege the city when they were so gathered. Hence, He wishes to say: ‘This affliction will happen so quickly that a man will not be able to be on his guard.’
…Hence, He firstly relates the tribulation and the greatness of the tribulation; and secondly, He points out the cause, where it is said: And unless those days had been shortened, etc. He says, therefore: For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world. And he who reads the historical account of Josephus can appreciate the extent of the tribulation, for many were killed by famine. Likewise, there were seditions in the city, such that they were killing each other: hence, when Titus, who was very gentle, wished to spare them, they did not want this. Moreover, there were thieves among them who killed many. And a certain woman ate her son. Hence, there was so great a tribulation such as had never been seen. And Luke says this: “There shall be a tribulation and they shall fall by the edge of the sword” (Lk. 21, 23-24).
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Origen (184-254 A.D.) makes a few passing comments in his homilies (#38), illustrating his awareness that Jesus prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as his “visitation." Commenting on Luke’s narrative about Jesus entering Jerusalem to condemn it (Luke 19-21):
When our Lord and Savior approached Jerusalem, he saw the city, wept, and said, "If only you had known on that day what meant peace for you! But now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will surround you with earthworks. These are mysteries that are spoken. If God reveals their significance, we hope we can open to you what is hidden. ...No one suffered such persecution on account of justice as the Lord Jesus did, who was crucified for our sins. Thus, the Lord exhibited all the beatitudes in himself. For the sake of this likeness, he himself wept, because of what he had said: "Blessed are those who weep," to lay the foundations for this beatitude, too. He wept for Jerusalem "and said, 'If only you had known on that day what meant peace for you! But now it is hidden from your eyes,'" and the rest, up to the point where he says, "Because you did not know the time of your visitation." One of the hearers might say, "What you are saying is obvious, and indeed has been accomplished in Jerusalem. For, the Roman army surrounded it, destroyed it, and exterminated the people. And a time will come when a stone will not be left upon a stone in this city." Now I do not deny that Jerusalem itself was destroyed on account of the crimes of its inhabitants.
Commenting on Jesus’ criticisms of Pharisaical divorce-laws in Matthew’s Gospel (Book 14.19), Origen references the Olivet Discourse of Luke 21 to make his point:
“A sign that she [i.e. Israel] has received the bill of divorcement is this, that Jerusalem was destroyed along with what they called the sanctuary of the things in it which were believed to be holy, and with the altar of burnt offerings, and all the worship associated with it. And a further sign of the bill of divorcement is this, that they cannot keep their feasts, even though according to the letter of the law designedly commanded them, in the place which the Lord God appointed to them for keeping feasts; … and the reason of her not having found favor in His sight was, that there was found in her an unseemly thing; for what was more unseemly than the circumstance that, when it was proposed to them to release one at the feast, they asked for the release of Barabbas the robber, and the condemnation of Jesus? And what was more unseemly than the fact, that they all said in His case, “Crucify Him, crucify Him,” and “Away with such a fellow from the earth”? And can this be freed from the charge of unseemliness, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children”? Wherefore, when He was avenged, Jerusalem was compassed with armies, and its desolation was near, and their house was taken away from it, and “the daughter of Zion was left as a booth in a vineyard, and as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, and as a besieged city.”
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Hegesippus, the 2nd century Christian historian and Jewish convert (110—180 A.D.), wrote an account of the death of James the brother of Jesus in his fifth book on the history of the Christian religion. In it he mentions two things worth noting:
1) The nearness of Jesus “about to come on the clouds of heaven” as a first century event
2) Immediately after James the Just is executed for prophesying against Jerusalem, Vespasian is mentioned as the one who besieged Jerusalem, which implies a direct connection between James’ prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Hegesippus is recorded, saying:
“The charge of the Church passed to James the brother of the Lord, together with the Apostles. He was called the ‘Just’ by all men from the Lord’s time to ours, since many are called James, but he was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine or strong drink, nor did he eat flesh; no razor went upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not go to the baths. He alone was allowed to enter into the sanctuary, for he did not wear wool but linen, and he used to enter alone into the temple and be found kneeling and praying for forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people. So from his excessive righteousness he was called the Just and Oblias, that is in Greek, ‘Rampart of the people and righteousness,’ as the prophets declare concerning him. Thus some of the seven sects among the people, who were described before by me, inquired of him what was the ‘gate of Jesus,’ and he said that he was the Savior.
Owing to this some believed that Jesus was the Christ. The sects mentioned above did not believe either in resurrection or in one who shall come to reward each according to his deeds, but as many as believed did so because of James. Now, since many even of the rulers believed, there was a tumult of the Jews and the Scribes and Pharisees saying that the whole people was in danger of looking for Jesus as the Christ. So they assembled and said to James, ‘We beseech you to restrain the people since they are straying after Jesus as though he were the Messiah. We beseech you to persuade concerning Jesus all who come for the day of the Passover, for all obey you. For we and the whole people testify to you that you are righteous and do not respect persons. So do you persuade the crowd not to err concerning Jesus, for the whole people and we all obey you. Therefore stand on the battlement of the temple that you may be clearly visible on high, and that your words may be audible to all the people, for because of the Passover all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, have come together.’ So the Scribes and Pharisees mentioned before made James stand on the battlement of the temple, and they cried out to him and said, ‘Oh, just one, to whom we all owe obedience, since the people are straying after Jesus who was crucified, tell us what is the gate of Jesus?’
And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do you ask me concerning the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven on the right hand of the great power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven.’ And many were convinced and confessed at the testimony of James and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Then again the same Scribes and Pharisees said to one another, ‘We did wrong to provide Jesus with such testimony, but let us go up and throw him down that they may be afraid and not believe him.’ And they cried out saying, ‘Oh, oh, even the just one erred.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘Let us take the just man for he is unprofitable to us. Yet they shall eat the fruit of their works.’ So they went up and threw down the Just, and they said to one another, ‘Let us stone James the Just,’ and they began to stone him since the fall had not killed him, but he turned and knelt saying, ‘I beseech thee, O Lord, God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, to whom Jeremiah the prophet bore witness, cried out saying, ‘Stop! what are you doing? The Just is praying for you.’ And a certain man among them, one of the laundrymen, took the club with which he used to beat out the clothes, and hit the Just on the head, and so he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot by the temple, and his gravestone still remains by the temple. He became a true witness both to Jews and to Greeks that Jesus is the Christ, and at once Vespasian began to besiege them.”
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Finally, Eusebius of Caesarea made the following (lengthy) comments in his Ecclesiastical History, published in 322 A.D. Below he describes the final siege of Jerusalem, the promised famine that oppressed the economy of the Jewish nation, the predictions of Jesus, and the signs which preceded the Jewish war
After Nero had held the government about thirteen years, Galba and Otho reigned about a year and six months. Vespasian, who had become illustrious in the campaign against the Jews, was then proclaimed sovereign in Judea, receiving the title of emperor from the armies there. Directing his course, therefore, immediately to Rome, he commits the care of the war against the Jews, into the hands of his son Titus; for after the ascension of our Saviour, the Jews, in addition to their wickedness against him, were now incessantly plotting mischief against his apostles.
First, they slew Stephen by stoning him, next James the son of Zebedee, and the brother of John, by beheading, and finally James, who first obtained the episcopal seat at Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour, and was slain in the manner before related. But the rest of the apostles, who were harassed in innumerable ways, with a view to destroy them, and driven from the land of Judea, had gone forth to preach the gospel to all nations, relying upon the aid of Christ, when he said, “Go ye, teach all nations in my name.” The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea: the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evil-doers from the earth.
But the number of calamities which then overwhelmed the whole nation; the extreme misery to which particularly the inhabitants of Judea were reduced; the vast numbers of men, with women and children that fell by the sword and famine, and innumerable other forms of death; the numerous and great cities of Judea that were besieged, as also the great and incredible distresses that they experienced who took refuge at Jerusalem, as a place of perfect security; these facts, as well as the whole tenor of the war, and each particular of its progress, when, finally, the abomination of desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire; all this, I say, any one that wishes may see accurately stated in the history written by Josephus.
It may, however, be necessary to state, in the very words of this writer, how about three hundred thousand that flocked from all parts of Judea at the time of the passover, were shut up in Jerusalem as in a prison. For it was indeed just, that in those very days in which they had inflicted sufferings upon the Saviour and Benefactor of all men, the Christ of God, destruction should overtake them, thus shut up as in a prison, as an exhibition of the divine justice. Passing by, then, the particular calamities which befel them, such as they suffered from the sword, and other means employed against them, I may deem it sufficient only to subjoin the calamities they endured from the famine. So that they who peruse the present history may know, in some measure, that the divine vengeance did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against the Christ of God.
Let us, then, with the fifth book of Josephus’s history again in our hands, go through the tragedy of events which then occurred. “It was equally dangerous,” says he, “for the more wealthy to remain. For under the pretext of desertion, a man was slain for his wealth. But the madness of the rioters increased with the famine, and both kinds of misery were inflamed from day to day. Provisions were plainly nowhere to be had. Hence they burst into houses to search for food, and if they found any, they would scourge the owners as if they intended to deny they had it; but if they found none, they tortured them as if they had carefully concealed it. The bodies of the poor wretches, however, were evidence enough whether they had or had not. Some of them, therefore, that were yet sound in health, they supposed to have an abundance of food, but those that were wan and pallid they passed by; for it seemed absurd to kill men that were soon likely to die for want. Many secretly exchanged their property for a single measure of wheat, if they happened to be the more wealthy; of barley, if they were of the poorer sort. Then locking themselves in the most retired parts of their houses, some, from excessive hunger, ate the grain unprepared; others, however, baked it according as necessity or fear directed. As to a table, there was none set any where; but taking the food from the fire, they tore it asunder yet crude and raw.
Wretched indeed was the fare, and a lamentable sight it was, where the most powerful grasped after all, and the weaker were constrained to mourn. For famine surpasses all other evils, but it destroys nothing so effectually as shame; for that which would otherwise demand some regard is contemned in this. Thus wives tore away the food from the very mouths of their husbands, children from their parents, and what was most wretched of all. mothers from their infants; so that whilst their dearest children lay wasting in their arms, there was not shame enough to prevent them taking away the very drops that supported life. And even in doing this, they did not remain undiscovered; for whenever they saw a door locked, this was a sign that those within were taking food, and then immediately bursting open the doors they rushed in, and choked them, almost forcing the morsels out of their very throats. Old men were beaten that held back their food, and women were torn by the hair, if they concealed what they had in their hands. Nor was there any pity for gray hairs or for infants; but taking up the infants while clinging to the morsels, dashed them to the ground. But they were much more cruel to those who anticipated their entrance, and were devouring what they wished to seize, just as if they had been wronged by them.
They also devised terrible modes of torture, to discover where there was any food. For by cruel devices to prevent every relief of nature, they caused the unhappy individual to suffer such torment, that the very recital makes one shudder at what he would endure, before he confessed that he had one loaf of bread, or that he had a single handful of wheat concealed. The tormentors themselves, however, suffered no want; for it might have been some palliation, if necessity had compelled them thus. But they did it with the view to exercise their ferocity and to provide for themselves for the following days. When any crept forth at night to the outposts of the Romans, for the purpose of collecting wild herbs and grass, these tormentors would go out to meet them, and when they seemed just to have escaped the hands of the enemy, the oppressors robbed them of whatever they brought. And very often, though they entreated them, and conjured them by the most awful name of God, to give them some part of that for which they had risked their lives, they notwithstanding gave them nothing. It was a happy circumstance yet, if, in addition to robbery, they were not also slain.”
This same author (Josephus), after a few particulars, also says:
“But with the hope of egress was cut off all hope of safety to the Jews, and the famine now penetrating deeply, was consuming the people by houses and families. The houses were filled with women and children that had thus perished; the byways with the dead bodies of old men. But the boys and young men, swelling up, tottered and reeled like shadows through the markets, and then falling down, lay wheresoever the malady had overtaken them. The sick were not even able to bury their dead, and those yet in health and strength were loth to do it, both on account of the number of the dead, and the uncertainty of their own fate. Many, indeed, fell down and died upon those they were burying; many went to the sepulchres, even before they were overtaken by the struggles of death. There was, however, neither weeping nor lamentation, for the famine prevailed over all affection. With tearless eyes did they who were yet struggling with death, look on those that had gone to rest before them. A deep silence and deadly gloom pervaded the city. But more oppressive than all these, were the robbers that broke into the houses, now mere sepulchres, and spoiling the dead, and tearing off the garments of their bodies, went off with a laugh.
They would also try the points of their swords in the dead bodies, and some of those that were lying yet alive, they thrust through, in order to try the edge of their weapons. But those that prayed them the relief of their arm and sword, they contemptuously left to be destroyed by the famine; whilst those expiring died with their eyes fixed upon the temple, and left the factious to survive them. These, at first, not bearing the effluvia from the dead bodies, ordered them to be buried out of the public treasury; afterwards, when they were not able to continue this, they threw the bodies from the walls into the ditches below. As Titus went around these, and saw them filled with the dead, and the deep gore flowing around the putrid bodies, he groaned heavily, and raising his hands, called God to witness that it was none of his work.
After some additional remarks, Josephus proceeds:
“I cannot hesitate to declare what my feelings demand. I think that had the Romans lingered to proceed against these guilty wretches, the city would either have been swallowed up by the opening earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or, like Sodom, been struck with the lightning. For it bore a much more impious race than those who once endured such visitations. Thus, by the madness of these wretches, the whole people perished.”
In the sixth book, he (Josephus) also writes thus:
“Of those that perished by the famine in the city, there fell an infinite number. The miseries that befel them were indescribable; for at every house, wherever there was a shadow of food, there was war. The nearest relatives contended with one another, to seize the wretched supports of life. There was no belief that hunger was the cause, even when they saw the dying; but the robbers would search them whilst yet breathing, lest any one should pretend that he was dying, whilst he concealed food in his bosom. But the robbers themselves, with their mouths wide open for want of food, roved and straggled hither and thither, like mad dogs, beating the doors as if they were drunk; and for want of counsel, rushing twice or thrice an hour into the same houses. Indeed, necessity forced them to apply their teeth to every thing, and gathering what was no food, even for the filthiest of irrational animals, they devoured it, and did not abstain at last even from belts and shoes. They took off the hides from their shields and devoured them, and some used even the remnants of old straw as food; others gathered the stubble, and sold a very small weight of it for four Attic drachms.
And why should we speak of the excessive severity of the famine as displayed by eating such inanimate objects? I am going to relate a piece of wickedness, such as is not recorded either by Greeks or barbarians. It is horrid to relate, and incredible to hear. And indeed, lest I should appear to deal in marvellous stories, I would cheerfully pass by this occurrence, if I had not innumerable witnesses still living. I should also deserve but cold thanks from my country, if I should pass by in carelessness what she in reality did suffer.
In the sixth book, he also writes thus:
A woman that dwelt beyond the Jordan, named Maria, the daughter of Eleazar, of the village Bathezor, signifying ‘the home of hyssop,’ distinguished for her family and wealth, having taken refuge at Jerusalem among the rest of the multitude, was shut up in the city with them. The tyrants had already robbed her of all her other possessions, as much as she had collected, and brought with her from beyond the river into the city. But as to the relics of her property, and whatever food she provided, the ruffians daily rushing in, seized and bore it away. A dreadful indignation overpowered the woman, and frequently reviling and cursing the robbers, she endeavored by these means to irritate them against herself. But as no one either through resentment or pity would slay her, and she was weary of providing food for others, and there was now no probability of finding it any where; the famine now penetrated the very bowels and marrow, and resentment raged more violently than the famine. Urged by frenzy and necessity as her councillors, she proceeded against nature herself. Seizing her little son, who was yet at her breast, she said, ‘Wretched child! in the midst of war, famine, and faction, for what do I preserve thee? Our condition among the Romans, though we might live, is slavery. But even slavery is anticipated by famine, and the assassins are more cruel than either—come, be thou food to me, fury to the assassins, and a tale for men, the only one yet wanting to complete the miseries of the Jews.’ As she said this, she slew her son; then, roasting him, she ate one half herself, and covering over the rest, she kept it.
It was not long before the murderers came in, and perceiving the fumes of the execrable food, they threatened immediately to slay her if she did not produce what she had prepared. She answered she had reserved a fine portion of it for them, and then uncovered the relics of her son. Horror and amazement immediately seized them. They stood mute with the sight. ‘This is my own son,’ said she, ‘and the deed is mine. Eat, for I too have eaten, be not more delicate than a woman, nor more tender than a mother; but if you are so pious, and reject my offering, I have already eaten half, and let the rest remain for me.’ After this, they indeed went trembling away, cowardly at least in this one instance, and yet scarcely yielding to the mother even this kind of food. Forthwith the whole city was filled with the dreadful crime, and every one placing the wickedness before his eyes, was struck with a horror as if it had been perpetrated by himself. Thenceforth the wretched people, overcome with hunger, only strove to hasten death; and it was a happiness yet for those who died before they heard and saw miseries like these.”
Such, then, was the vengeance that followed the guilt and impiety of the Jews against the Christ of God. To these accounts it may be proper to add the sure prediction of our Saviour, in which he foretold these very events as follows:
“But woe to them that are with child and those that give suck in those days; but pray that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the Sabbath. But there shall be then great distress, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither may be.”
The historian (Josephus), adding up the whole number of those slain, says, that eleven hundred thousand perished by famine and the sword, and that the rest, the factious and robbers, mutually informing against each other, after the capture, were put to death. Of the young men, the tallest, and those that were distinguished for beauty, were preserved for the triumph. Of the remaining multitude, those above seventeen were sent prisoners to labour at the mines in Egypt. But great numbers were distributed to the provinces, to be destroyed by the sword or wild beasts in the theatres. Those under seventeen were carried away to be sold as slaves. Of these alone, there were upwards of ninety thousand.
All this occurred in this manner, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, according to the predictions of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by his divine power foresaw all these things, as if already present at the time, who wept and mourned indeed at the prospect, as the holy evangelists show in their writings. These give us the very words that he uttered, when he said to this same Jerusalem,
“If thou didst know, even thou, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace, but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days will come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench around thee, and shall encompass thee around, and shall every where shut thee in, and they shall level thee and thy children with the ground.”
Afterwards he [i.e. Jesus] speaks as if of this people:
“For there shall be great distress upon earth, and wrath upon this people, and they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and they shall be carried away captive to all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the nations, until the times of the nations shall be fulfilled.”
“When ye shall see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that her desolation has drawn near.”
On comparing the declarations of our Saviour with the other parts of the historian’s work, where he describes the whole war, how can one fail to acknowledge and wonder at the truly divine and extraordinary foreknowledge and prediction of our Saviour?
Concerning the events, then, that befell the Jews after our Saviour’s passion, and those outcries in which the multitude of the Jews refused the condemnation of a robber and murderer, but entreated that the Prince of Life should be destroyed, it is superfluous to add to the statement of the historian (Josephus).
Yet it may be proper to mention, also, what things occurred that show the benignity of that all-gracious Providence that had deferred, their destruction for forty years after their crimes against Christ. During which time the greater part of the apostles and disciples, James himself, the first bishop there, usually called the brother of our Lord, still surviving, and still remaining at Jerusalem, continued the strongest bulwark of the place. Divine Providence yet bearing them with long-suffering, to see whether by repentance for what they had done, they might obtain pardon and salvation; and beside this long-suffering, it also presented wonderful prodigies of what was about to happen to those that did not repent; all which having been recorded by the historian (Josephus) already cited, it well deserved to be submitted to the view of our readers.