Was His promise to soon return fulfilled in the Destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70?
In A.D. 70 the Romans invaded Israel, destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and slaughtered a large number of Jerusalem’s people. This was about 35 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it was Israel’s darkest hour. Most commentators propose that Christ’s promises, that he would return soon, were fulfilled in these events. They argue that most, if not all, of the book of Revelation and of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the events of A.D. 70. This proposal is based on the following arguments:
- There are unmistakably common elements in the Saviour’s warnings in Matthew 10 and the Little Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Luke 21 & Mark 13), and since the Little Apocalypse deals with both the destruction of Jerusalem and the return of Christ (Matthew 24:15-22), it is concluded that the destruction of Jerusalem is the return of Christ.
- Divine punishment is commonly referred to in the Bible as a “coming”.
- The return of Christ is often described as destruction (Matthew 24:29-30; Revelation 6:12-17).
- According to two first century historians an event occurred in A.D. 66, which was similar to the second coming, as described in Revelation 19:11-14.
Arguments in more detail
The old Jewish economy was set aside by the Roman invasion of Palestine in A.D. 66-70, the destruction of temple by Titus in A.D. 70, the mass slaughter of many of their inhabitants and the scattering of others. Concerning this war, Jesus warned, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matthew 24:21). Josephus confirmed that the Roman-Jewish War was, in fact, the worst war the Jews ever faced. (The Wars of the Jews preface 1, preface 4.12, 5.10.5)
One argument used to support the proposal that His promise, to return soon, was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, is the correlation between Matthew 10, which contains one of Christ promises to come soon (v23) and the Little Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Luke 21 & Mark 13):
In both Jesus warned His disciples that they will be persecuted by the Jews (Mt. 10:16-17; Lk. 21:12), that they will be brought before governors and kings (Mt. 10:18; Lk. 21:12), that they will be hated by all men on account of Jesus (Mt. 10:22; Lk. 21:17), that the persecution will be so great that even family members will betray each other to the authorities (Mt. 10:21; Lk. 21:16) and that endurance will be required, for deliverance will come eventually (Mt. 10:22; Lk. 21:19).
In both Jesus promised His disciples that they are not to be anxious about what they will say when they are brought before governors and kings, for the Holy Spirit will give them appropriate words (Mt. 10:18-20; Lk. 21:13-15).
On the basis of these common elements, and since the Little Apocalypse deals with both the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Matthew 24:15-22) and the return of Christ, it is then concluded that the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is the return of Christ referred to in Matthew 10:23.
A second argument is that divine punishments are commonly referred to in the Bible as a “coming”.
(1) When Jehovah sent the Babylonians to ravage the southern kingdom of Judah, Isaiah depicted the event as an invasion of the Lord himself (Isa. 13:2-5).
(2) Christ warned the erring churches of Ephesus and Pergamum that if they do not mend their rebellious ways, He would “come” and bring punishment upon them (Rev. 2:5, 16).
(3) In Jesus’ parable the king “sent his armies” to destroy those who murdered his Son “and set their city on fire” (Mat. 22:7). These murderers are the Jews, and their city was destroyed by the Romans.
Thirdly, the second coming is described in Revelation 19:11-14. Here, Jesus rides a white horse. “The armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses”. The revelationrevolution website mentions two first century historians who recorded a similar event in A.D. 66, which marked the beginning of the Jewish-Roman war.
“before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Jewish historian Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3)
“In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour.” (Tacitus (pagan historian) The Histories 5.13.)
The parallels between these two accounts and Revelation 19 are striking.
Josephus also mentions a star-shaped sword hovering over the city of Jerusalem the year before the Jewish revolt. Concerning this portent, Josephus says that the people were so badly deceived by false prophets that they had not given credit “to the signs that were so evident and did so plainly foretell their future desolation” (The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3).
It is argued that the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is different from the return of Christ which we expect, but just like the disciples thought the Messiah would be an earthly king and that the Kingdom of God would look like the days of King David, the arrival of Jesus might be very different from what we expect it to be. For one thing, Jesus and the angels will not physically come riding on horses.
Objections to this proposal
Firstly, John wrote his gospel, letters and the book of Revelation after A.D. 70, and he still expected Christ to return soon (1 Jn. 2:17-18; Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:6, 7, 12, 20).
Secondly, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is nowhere explicitly called the coming of Christ.
Thirdly, it is not valid to argue that Matthew 10:23 deals with the destruction of Jerusalem simply because the Little Apocalypse also deals with it. In the article on the Little Apocalypse it is argued that that prophecy distinguishes between:
- General experience of believers, applicable to all times and places;
- The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70; and
- The return of Christ.
Furthermore, the aspects of the Little Apocalypse that are similar to Matthew 10 are all found in that part of the Little Apocalypse that describes the general experience of believers, and are not specific to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Fourthly, A.D. 70 is too late. Jesus said “you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Mt. 10:23), but the temple was destroyed only about 35 to 40 years after Christ spoke these words. There would therefore have been enough time for them to reach all cities of Israel, particularly since they were given the power of the Holy Spirit.
Fifthly, when Christ promised that He would come soon, He also said that He will “repay every man”, that His angels will “gather together his elect from the four winds” (Mt. 10:15, 23; 16:27-28; 24:29-35). These things did not happen at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 should rather be seen as a type of the fullest destruction at the return of Christ:
Just like the Holy Spirit was poured out in power to take the message to Israel, so the Holy Spirit will be poured out in power to take the message to all the nations of the world (Rev. 11:11; 14:6).
Just like Israel rejected the gospel by persecuting the messengers, so the world’s nations in the end time will signal their final rejection of God by persecuting His messengers (Rev. 13:15-18).
Just like the first ‘generation’ saw “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20), so the final generation will see “the kings of the earth and their armies” (Rev. 19:19) surrounded by “the armies which are in heaven” (Rev. 19:14).
Just like the believers could flee safely to the mountains when Jerusalem was surrounded, so the end-time believers will be able to safely flee prior to the destruction of the world.
Just like God destroyed the power of the Jewish nation when there was nothing more He could do for it, so God will destroy the cities of the world when there remains nothing more He could do for them: “the great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell” (Rev. 16:19).
The Little Apocalypse, which deals with both the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the return of Christ, thereby supports the view that the destruction of Jerusalem was a type of the end-of time destruction.
The end of the covenant with Israel
In Matthew 10 Jesus sent His disciples to only “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v5-6), but after His resurrection Jesus gave His disciples a new commission, namely to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). However, the special mission to Israel did not end at the Cross. To the contrary, for the first years after His death the gospel message focused exclusively and more intensely than ever before on the chosen nation. This we see in the following:
That first great outpouring of the Holy Spirit was in Jerusalem for (Acts 1:4). The Holy Spirit was poured out during the Jewish feast of Pentecost, when devout Jews from all around the world were gathered together in Jerusalem. At that time the Holy Spirit was received only by Jews. That first exponential growth of the church was limited to Jerusalem and to Jews only. There-after, for a number of years, the gospel was preached only to Jews. More specifically, the Holy Spirit through the believers worked exclusively in Jerusalem, where the leaders of the nation were. (For more information, see the article Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.)
The period of time of urgent preaching to the Jews, to which 10:23 refers, only came to an end a few years after the Cross, namely when the nation of Israel sealed its rejection of God by persecuting the Spirit-filled believers.
Matthew 23:37-38 records Jesus saying,
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”
The destruction of Jerusalem (“your house”) in A.D. 70 by the “Abomination of Desolation”, as prophesied in the next chapter (Mt. 24:15-22), therefore was the result of Israel’s rejection of God, firstly by killing Christ and secondly, a few years later, by killing His Spirit-filled followers.
It is therefore possible to argue that, when Israel rejected the Holy Spirit, about three years after Christ’s death, that Jesus at that time came in judgment on Israel by making an end to His covenant with Israel. At that time the special protection, which Israel and Jerusalem enjoyed (Dan. 9:24), came to an end. The destruction of Jerusalem, 30 of more years later, was then merely the consequence of this earlier event .
Objection: Although this proposal would explain the urgency—why “you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Mt. 10:23)—other objections remain:
He did not reward each person according to his works and He did not come in the glory of His Father, with His angels when Israel’s period of privilege came to an end.
Even after the end of the period of Jewish privilege the Bible writers continued to claim that “the time is at hand”.
The end of the period of Jewish privilege is nowhere explicitly called the coming of Christ.
The next article discusses the proposal that, if the Jews had accepted their Messiah when, after His death, He send His messengers to them with the power of the Holy Spirit in preaching and miracles, Christ would have returned while some of His generation was still alive, but since they rejected this special message sent to them, His return was delayed.