This sixth letter 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 who lived at Anathoth have been edited by Brother Allan Archer.

AD 68

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Loving greetings across the centuries.

When I wrote to you last time, I said that we were looking at moving on to Pella, across Jordan and over in the Decapolis. You’ll remember how most of the brothers and sisters at Anathoth took the opportunity to flee to the mountains. Once the Roman Governor Gallus from Syria and his legions were beaten down the Valley of Beth-horon by the Jewish Zealots, we weren’t waiting around to see what would happen next. We followed Jesus’ advice and “fled to the mountains”.

We worry a lot about our brethren, particularly those in Jerusalem, who didn’t take their opportunity while it was open.

Since I last wrote, we have moved on to Pella. A lot of brothers and sisters and their families have moved here—it’s almost like a Bible School! But not really, for conditions are poor and food is meagre, despite the fact that the area is quite prosperous. Parts of the hillsides of Gilead are heavily forested, unlike the rocky barren slopes of Galilee and Judea . But how do you get employment when you’re just one of many Jews fleeing the madness of Judea which could destruct at any time, or who have fled the iron hand of Vespasian’s legions as they subdued Galilee?

At least the authorities in the region of Decapolis are tolerant. As you probably know, Decapolis means the “ten cities” and comprises people of all sorts of nationalities. It’s quite politically separate from Judea and Galilee and has remained loyal to the Emperor. Hence it’s safe for us Christians and even the forests provide a refuge in case of trouble. We are not that far from where Elijah hid from Ahab by the brook Cherith and the forests are the same ones in which Absalom sought refuge 1 000 years ago.

We have managed to carry on ecclesial life. You’ll not be surprised to know that fulfilling Bible prophecy is the subject which engenders everyone’s keen interest. It’s as through we are reading today, tomorrow’s news from Judea.

I’ve told you quite a bit before about the way we see Daniel’s prophecies fulfilling, that is that Rome is “the little horn” which has magnified itself against the “prince of the host” (the Lord Jesus) in crucifying him and which is about to cast down “the place of his sanctuary”, that is destroy the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (Daniel 8:11). But let me tell you this time about the amazing accuracy in the detail of Jesus’ teaching forty years ago when he spoke to the twelve on the slopes of Olivet. This really encourages us. If prophecies of the present are reliably fulfilled, our confidence grows in the fulfilment of those which relate to the future.

I’ll use Matthew’s record of the Olivet Prophecy, as we are fortunate to have one of the first scrolls of Matthew at Pella, and I’ll give you some notes using your verse notation.

24:3 The disciples’ questions, “When shall these things be? What shall be the sign of thy coming? and of the end of the age?” all relate to our present time, the time when the “Jewish age” is drawing rapidly to an end.

24:5 “many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ”—Back in the days of Gamaliel (Acts 5), Theudas and John of Galilee drew followings, but of recent times Messianic fanaticism has almost been uncontrollable, with a spate of impostors in Jerusalem claiming to have divine powers and seeking disciples.

24:6 “wars and rumours of wars”—Talk in Judea in the last two years has been nothing but about the Jewish war. On a wider front, Rome is having its troubles—in Spain, the Britannic Isles, the Balkans and the east.

24:7 “famines and pestilences and earthquakes”—A great famine was over all the Roman world under Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28). We are very fearful of the famine in Jerusalem when the inevitable siege starts. A great earthquake destroyed the Italian city of Pompeii in AD 63 and there has been a spate of earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Rome, Miletus, Chios, Laodicea, Colosse and Hierapolis.

24:9 “they shall kill you”—We can hardly believe the stories received to date on the terrible atrocities which Emperor Nero has been exercising against our brothers and sisters, particularly those in Rome. Sadly, Brother Paul himself suffered at the hand of Nero.

24:12 “the love of many shall wax cold” That’s our greatest concern. Times are desperate, but many of the Jewish brethren in Jerusalem don’t see it clearly. We keep hearing of brethren being carried away by the intense spirit of Jewish nationalism in the city and losing the spirit of patient tribulation taught by the Lord.

24:14 “the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the inhabited world”—Paul’s work in spreading the gospel to Asia, Greece and the Italian peninsula are well known. But we have also heard that already the gospel has been taken as far north as Scythia, as far south as Ethiopia, as far east as Parthia and as far west as Spain and Britannica.

24:15 “when ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation… stand in the holy place… flee into the mountains”—The link with Daniel 9:26,27 makes this the armies of Rome standing on the holy ground of God’s land. We at Anathoth took the warning and escaped in time, but others didn’t.

I just can’t help thinking about our brethren in Jerusalem. There are young people there my age who were persuaded by the older brethren that it was not time to leave. They thought that time was on their side, but it has closed in and now we don’t think that there’s any way out!

Last time I wrote, I told you about how General Vespasian had brought half the Roman legions in the East to quell the Jewish uprising. Relentlessly he and his son Titus systematically worked through the towns of Galilee and now they are in Judea.

A sickening illustration of Jewish fanaticism (rather, madness) is that of John the Zealot from Gischala in Galilee. At one stage Gischala was holding out, but John deserted with his followers and made his way to Jerusalem. He had tricked Titus by pretending that he was ready to sue for peace, but must wait until the sabbath was over. That night he escaped with the cover of several thousand helpless men, women and children, whom he then left to be slaughtered by the Romans as he made his dash for Jerusalem. Jerusalem is being crowded with the “refuse” of the country.

To cap it all, John of Gischala was given a hero’s welcome at Jerusalem. He blamed the authorities in Jerusalem for the fall of Galilee and many of the leading citizens were arrested and executed without trial.

Meanwhile the Zealots had taken over the Temple platform in Jerusalem. They were convinced that all the senior priests had been corrupted by the Romans and they appointed a new high priest from among themselves. The chief priests, supported by a majority of the population, stormed the Temple and drove the Zealots back into the Temple building itself. The Zealots then called upon the Jews in Idumaea and 20 000 marched on Jerusalem. Let in by the Zealots one night, the reign of terror began and all suspected of Roman sympathies were slain. No leader who could negotiate with the Romans was now available.

And our brethren are in the midst of all that!

And now Vespasian has marched towards Jerusalem and has placed the 5th legion at Emmaus, which as you know is an easy walk from Jerusalem. This blocks Jerusalem from the west. According to our information, he is now moving on to Jericho.

And so the ring around the city starts to tighten. If only our brethren in Jerusalem had escaped while they could! I fear particularly for our young people in the midst of that mad world of extremism and hatred.

We can only pray for them.

I will write again soon. Maybe things will then be brighter. Jesus did say that for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened.

Your brother in the hope of the Kingdom.