This ninth 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 first lived at Anathoth and then in Pella have been edited by Brother Allan Archer.

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

It has been a long time since I last wrote. We have been lying low in Pella, and Judea and Samaria across the river have been so swarming with Roman soldiers that we haven’t been able to make contact. In fact, we have had no idea as to what has been happening in Jerusalem though there may yet be there a few of our fellow Jewish believers.

Last time I wrote Vespasian had just handed over the conduct of the Jewish War to his son Titus and had given him the Twelfth Legion from Syria, the Fifth Legion which was camped at Emmaus and the Tenth Legion which had been camped at Jericho. And another legion was brought in as well. Imagine that—four mighty Roman legions ready to crush Jerusalem. This was the power which the prophet Daniel described as “dreadful and terrible and strong exceedingly, with great iron teeth, which would devour and break in pieces and stamp the residue with the feet of it” (Daniel 7:7).

As Jesus said, “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things that are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20–23).

Then as Titus’ army surrounded Jerusalem, he imposed a news blackout. You know what happens in war. Only now are we being able to put together the parts of the story. Let me try to do this for you, but without giving all the horror. The story shows the terrible vanity of the Jewish cause (in the face of the words of the prophets and Jesus himself), as well as the additional suffering caused just by non-cooperation amongst the Jews.

Titus with his legions moved up to Mount Scopus and also the Mount of Olives.

By now the Zealots in Jerusalem had split into three under Eleazar, John and Simon. Eleazar occupied the inner court of the Temple, while John, who held the outer court of the Temple and part of the lower city, was sandwiched between him and Simon, who held the upper city. The conflict developed into a war of attrition, with each party trying to destroy the other by burning its food supply.

Jews against Jews! Warehouses holding grain to withstand the siege were burned and the corn destroyed. Thus the horror of famine and civil strife was added to the horror of war with Rome.

How clearly the Lord Jesus Christ must have foreseen these events when he addressed the sorrowing women on his way to his own dreadful death— “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us” (Luke 23:28–31).

Titus levelled the area between his camp and the city walls so as to bring up his battering rams to the northern wall. Meanwhile the tenth legion on the Mount of Olives kept the Zealots busy by bombarding the Temple platform with stones from their huge catapults.

The Jews hurled their firebrands against the rams but to little avail. They would dash through the gates and throw themselves on the Romans, but still the Romans prevailed. Eventually the north wall was broken and the Jews withdrew to the second line of walls.

Within days, the Romans had breached the second wall so that now the northern end of the Temple Platform and the Antonia fortress were exposed. As the famine set in, fights broke out over the remaining supplies. An even more terrible split developed between the revolutionaries and the public. Houses were raided and the occupants were often tortured and killed in the frantic quest for food.

The Romans unleashed a campaign of terror hoping to frighten the Jews into surrender. The famine had driven the poorer Jews out of the city at night in search of grasses for food. If captured, they were scourged and crucified in front of the walls. Sometimes hundreds each day met this fate. The Romans broke the monotony by nailing them up in different poses!

Desperate people ate the refuse of the street, the leather off shields, wisps of old hay. It has even been said that a mother killed and roasted her own son. Can you even conceive of the horror of events that would drive such a crazed situation?

The erection by the legions of the ramp up to the Antonia fortress continued, but John and the Zealots had been tunnelling under the walls in the opposite direction, propping the tunnel up with timbers as they went. When the ramp was almost completed, the Zealots set the props in their tunnel on fire and the ramp collapsed.

The Romans rebuilt the ramp in the face of suicide squads of Jews setting fire to the equipment. Titus’ hope for a quick siege was not realised and he reverted to the more arduous methods. A siege wall was erected right around the city, 8km in length, so now there was no hope of any escape or relief.

As the famine grew worse, the desertions increased. Many swallowed their money so that it would not be confiscated by the Romans, but when this was known to the Romans, deserters were ripped open and their bowels searched for gold.

Eventually the battering rams breached the Antonia walls, but the gap was not wide enough for a frontal attack. Only a limited number of soldiers could be brought into action and they were easily driven back by the Zealots.

Meanwhile the Romans began to demolish the Antonia fortress so that the ramp could be extended right through the fortress and form an approach road onto the Temple mount. Once this was complete, the Romans were able to bring large bodies of troops and even cavalry down onto the Temple platform. The Zealots were no match for the Romans in handto- hand combat and were relentlessly driven back into the Temple building itself.

Titus concluded that there could be no peace as long as the Temple remained and gave orders for the gates to the inner court and the nearby porticoes to be set on fire. The flames blazed through the night and the next morning the Romans prepared for the final assault.

A Jew, Abba Eban, describes the end in the following way: “Finally, in the Jewish month of Ab, the Roman forces stormed the Temple mount. On the 9th day of that month, on orders of the Roman General, the Temple was burnt to the ground. The Temple, the centre of the nation, the centre of the faith, was turned to ashes. Systematically the legions reduced the city, that had been so great, by fire. They destroyed houses, meeting places, public buildings, everything but three of the towers that Herod had built. The Romans left Jerusalem in ruins and the tenth legion set up its camp amongst the smoking stones. Titus, in triumph, carried off the sacred objects of the Jews, amongst them the holy menora, the symbol of the people. He had put Judea in chains. He gloried in his success and proclaimed it to the Roman populous in a triumphant arch”.

 What a finish to the nation!—the old city taken and systematically destroyed. The old and ill were killed, the Zealots were executed, the seven hundred tallest were reserved for the triumphal procession in Rome, the rest were sent to the amphitheatres of the east. There some were killed in combat, some by wild beasts and others were burned alive.

Meanwhile the Romans carried their standards into the Temple and sacrificed before them. It was the traditional Roman sacrifice of an ox, a sheep and a pig—the final abomination.”

O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! It had killed the prophets. It had stoned those whom God sent to it. Yet the Son of God longed to “gather its children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings”. But it would not. And now it is desolate (Matt 23:37–38).

If ever there was a lesson of a people that had rejected the care and kindness of the Father and His Son.

I’ll finish my story next time, but for now let’s take some encouragement. However much we Christian Jews in Pella have felt the heartache and pain of the sufferings of our people, so too we have felt the comfort of the words of Jesus, “Ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”.

 Take encouragement in your day. If the recent events in Jerusalem have so movingly and accurately fulfilled Bible prophecy, so too will your day see “him who comes in the name of the Lord”. Your brother in the hope of the Kingdom,