This fourth letter from Anathoth continues our series on the pressures, fears and hopes of an imaginary young brother living in the shadow of AD 70. The strength which our early brethren gained by their hope in the Kingdom gives encouragement to us today as we live on the eve of an even greater event. The letters from our imaginary young brother Joseph ben Judas living at Anathoth have been edited by Brother Allan Archer.

December, AD 66

 My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

Loving greetings across the centuries.

What has happened in Judea of late is quite amazing—puzzling would be a better word to some.

The crisis in Judea has come and now seems to have gone away! We were expecting the “great tribulation” which Jesus spoke about and it almost was upon us, but it has gone. But we think only for a very short time.

Maybe that will happen in your day too. You might see a great power from the north, armed to the teeth, as they say, and looking as though it is about to crush our little state of Israel. Then you might see it almost collapse in its influence on the world. Would that cause you to wonder about your interpretation of prophecy? Would that weaken your faith? I hope not!

You see, that’s our problem at the moment. The Roman legions have come and then gone and some Jews are even saying that we have seen the last of them. Just from a worldly viewpoint, I don’t think that is right. Whoever challenged the power of the Roman legions and won? Certainly from a Scriptural viewpoint, our elders in the Anathoth ecclesia remain absolutely certain that Rome is the “abomination of desolation” and they strongly believe that, even if it has gone for a time, it will certainly come back.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I must tell you first the exciting things which have happened.

Last time I wrote, I told you that Jerusalem had gone wild about the expulsion of the Judean Procurator, Florus. But then we heard that Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, was on the move with a third of his legions. He moved down to Acre, then marched into Galilee, subduing it with comparative ease. He then marched to Cæsarea, then on to Joppa, burning the town, then on to Lydda. The latest we had heard when I last wrote was that the legions of Cestius Gallus were heading up through the pass of Beth-horon.

Well, it wasn’t long before Gallus had moved through the pass of Beth-horon to the upland plain near Gibeon where he pitched camp. He moved his assault forces to Mount Scopus and attacked the city of Jerusalem on its most vulnerable side, the north. The northern suburbs, not yet fully enclosed by the wall of the city (which had been begun by Herod Agrippa I, but had been discontinued by the orders of the Emperor Claudius), were burned. The Romans proceeded to undermine the wall of the Temple precinct.

At this time influential men in the city would have admitted the Romans, but Gallus was unaware of the uncertainty of the defenders. Many are sure that with a resolute assault, the city could have been taken. Gallus had 30 000 men, sufficient to capture the city. But he didn’t know how vulnerable the city was. Instead, with winter fast approaching and the surrounding countryside still in enemy hands, Gallus ordered the withdrawal of his troops. Why he did not take the final step and complete the task is a real mystery to outsiders (but I think that we can see the hand of God in it—you’ll see why later).

Gallus withdrew to Mount Scopus and then back to Gibeon, which he then abandoned after two days. But he disregarded the first rule of guerrilla mountain warfare: he failed to man the hilltops. The Jews united to harass the Roman withdrawal through the pass of Beth-horon. While still in the pass, the retreat became a rout and the Romans abandoned their baggage and siege equipment and were pursued down to Antipatris. Gallus lost 6 000 men.

Thankfully we at Anathoth missed out on this “action”. It’s been close—too close for comfort really— but it’s all been to the west of us.

I’ve sketched out the following map to show you what happened.

maap

The pass of Beth-horon is of course rich in memories for the Jews. There Joshua broke an Amorite confederacy (Josh 10:1–15), there Saul pursued the Philistines (1 Sam 14:31) and, much more recently, there Judas the Maccabbee and his band of patriots several times harassed the Syrian forces.

So you can guess what has happened. The unexpectedness of the victory at Beth-horon has fanned the flames of fanaticism in Jerusalem. It is as though the days of the Maccabees have returned. The Jewish Zealots are wild with excitement and talk about another glorious era of Jewish independence.

There’s the dilemma for the ecclesia.

Has the time now come to flee to the mountains, or are we years or even decades away from that time?

Our beloved Luke recorded Jesus as saying: “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judæa flee to the mountains”. That’s very clear. The legions of Cestius Gallus have just compassed Jerusalem. But some in our ecclesia are saying that we aren’t there just yet. Matthew’s record of Jesus has, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation…” and that cross-references to Daniel’s “… and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations… ” (refer Daniel 9:27 in our Greek translation). And that we haven’t seen as yet. The legions of Gallus didn’t get near enough to the precincts of the Temple to offer their sacrifices to their pagan gods.

Every night for the last week the brethren have discussed this for hours on end. Shall we go, or shall we stay? And if we escape to the mountains too early, how will we support ourselves? Some of the brothers have good jobs. Why give them up too soon? And what will happen to our houses and our animals and all that we own? We’ve enjoyed quite a comfortable and peaceful life in Anathoth. Would Jesus really expect us to give this up decades, perhaps, before we have to?

What would you do?

Well I’ll tell you what my parents and I think we should do. Get out, while we can! The Roman legions may have retreated, but they’ll certainly be back.

Take, for instance, Daniel’s prophecy of the “little horn” in his chapter 8. Remember how Daniel speaks of the little horn waxing great “toward the pleasant land” (verse 9) and then goes on to describe how this “little horn” of Rome would “cast down the host and the stars to the ground and would stamp upon them” (verse 10). Well, that all happened when the Romans came into Judea under General Pompey and overthrew the Jewish state in BC 65, and the Jewish rulers (“the stars”) were “eclipsed” by the new Roman governors and procurators.

That was last century of course, but the next verse (Daniel 8:11) brings us up to the first century AD by saying that the Roman “little horn” would do three things:

  • magnify himself against the prince of the host
  • take away the daily sacrifice” and
  • “cast down the sanctuary”.

 The “prince of the host” is of course the Lord Jesus Christ, who was put to death 35 or so years ago both by the Jews and by the Romans, through the actions of Pontius Pilate. The Romans then are certain to be the ones who will complete the work in this verse by taking away the daily sacrifice (the Mosaic ritual) and destroying the Temple (the sanctuary). We are sure that we are not embarking upon another era of “glorious Jewish independence”. Governor Gallus was defeated in Beth-horon, but he’ll soon be back with terrible Roman vengeance.

Surely it’s time to follow Jesus’ command to flee to the mountains. Tomorrow evening some of the elders from the Jerusalem ecclesia are coming to Anathoth to discuss this, but really our mind is made up, at least in our family.

Times are amazing for us and we mustn’t weaken our faith. And don’t you give up either, just because events may take unexpected turns.

I’ll write again as soon as I can from this country in which everything is upside down.

Your brother in the hope of the fulfilment of God’s promises