Scenes From the History of the Early Christians

A. D. 70.
"And wizen ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judœa flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter there into. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”
NOT forty years had passed away since those words of Christ were spoken, when the terrible hour of the destruction of, the holy city by the Gentiles came. The Roman governor Pilate, who held his office until the third year after the ascension of Christ, was succeeded by seven governors in the next thirty years, among them the "most excellent governor Felix," before whom St. Paul stood to answer for himself, and of whom it is recorded that he trembled, as he heard the prisoner from Jerusalem reason of "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." Early in the year 66, when the Romans were still busy in making good their conquest of Britain, the Jews in Palestine made a desperate resistance, and tried hard to free themselves from their yoke. Terrible scenes of revolt and outrage followed. In one day the Gentiles in Cæsarea, in revenge for injuries done them, massacred all the Jews, to the number of 20,000. The Jews then attacked the Gentiles, and soon, in every town, the bitter conflict of nation against nation had begun.
When, in the autumn of the same year, the Roman legions drew near Jerusalem, the Christians among the Jews, for the most part, acting on their Lord's warning, left the city and retreated beyond Jordan to the mountain town of Pella, a place about seventy miles off, situated on those slopes of Gilead which were the scene of David's exile when he fled from Absalom. There, and in the district of Perea, they remained, until, when the war was over, by degrees they wandered back to the ruined city. Thus the disciples of Christ, mindful of His word, escaped the fearful horrors of those "days of vengeance" of which He had spoken.
The siege began in April, just at the time of celebrating the Passover, when Jerusalem was densely crowded with Jews from all parts, and contained about three millions of people within its walls. The Jewish historian, from whom we learn much of what took place at this dreadful time, says, "This mighty concourse of people were cooped up in the city as in a prison, and the slaughter of them exceeded all the destructions that men or God ever brought upon the world.”
Nero had sent the general Vespasian—soon to be emperor in his stead—to put down the revolt in the province of Palestine, but it was Vespasian's son Titus, who, on his father being called to Rome, actually besieged and finally took the city. The siege lasted one hundred and thirty-four days, and was a time of unexampled suffering. A pestilence raged among the crowded masses of people, and this was followed by a famine so terrible that the besieged became mad with hunger, and devoured even the dirt in the streets. To add to the horrors of that time, the unhappy city was as a house divided against itself, for when Titus with his army appeared on the neighboring heights, three different parties of Jews were at war with each other within its walls.
We are told that when the Roman general had taken the first and second walls of the city, he paused, with his war engine the Conqueror, and proposed to the besieged to surrender; but this offer was scornfully rejected, though each day saw the miserable famine stricken people who left the doomed city and came over to the enemy's camp. The Roman general caused these unhappy fugitives to be scourged and crucified without mercy, while he still sent messages to the leaders of the factions within the city, warning them not to compel him to destroy their temple. They still answered that they preferred death to slavery, and that they could trust their temple to the care of Him who dwelt there, for in His hands were the issues of war.
Meantime, in their fierce hate, they slew the very men who would have taught them how to defend their city, burnt the scanty supply of corn which remained, and drew off the guard from the strong towers, which were its best protection. Even at the last, Titus persisted in his wish to save the city. "If you will but change the scene of conflict," he said, "no Roman shall approach or profane the holy places: nay, I will save them even against your will." Neither party yielding, the Jews were at length driven into the temple as their last stronghold; the fighting still went on in the outer courts; the famine increased; and still Titus sought to spare the sacred building which, in its fair beauty, showing like "a mountain of alabaster topp'd with golden spires," must have contrasted strangely with the scenes of horror and desolation upon which it looked down. At last, by the wanton act of a soldier, a lighted torch was taken into the temple, and soon the whole building was one sheet of flame. When the Jews saw their temple on fire, hope at last died in their hearts, and raising "a universal but expiring cry of sorrow and despair," they gave up all for lost, and began to hide themselves in the aqueducts and sewers, only to be dragged thence, and mercilessly slaughtered. The city was set on fire in several places, and the work of destruction went on until nothing was left of the stronghold of Mount Zion but a ruinous heap. Titus himself was so amazed at the strength of the "mountain-city," that he attributed his success in taking it to the hand of God.
When he returned to Rome, the victorious general left behind him one of his officers, with instructions to carry on the work which he had begun, and so thoroughly did he fulfill his commission, that we are told that "no one visiting the city would believe it had ever been inhabited." Some of the great blocks of marble of which the temple was built were forty-five feet long, and most of them were thirty-seven feet long, twelve feet high, and eighteen broad. But forty years had passed since the time when Christ in answer to the exclamation of one of His disciples—"Master, see what manner of stones and what building"!—had said, "Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down," and His words were literally fulfilled: "Zion was plowed as a field, and Jerusalem became heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.”
More than a million of the unhappy people of that guilty city, over which the rejected King, whom she was about to cast out and crucify, wept, perished during the siege. Of the multitudes of prisoners which fell into the hands of the Romans, some were thrown to wild beasts, to make sport for the people, but the great proportion were sold for slaves; we are told that thirty might be bought for a piece of silver. Of the strong men, some were dispersed among the towns of the empire, to fight as gladiators in the theaters; others were sent in chains to work in the Egyptian mines; but perhaps the saddest of all the captives were those tall and handsome young men who were taken to Rome, that they might walk in the triumphal procession of the conqueror. In this procession rich spoils and trophies were carried; then came giant statues of the gods of Rome, and after them marched a mournful band of Jewish captives, bearing upon their shoulders the spoils of the temple. The "march past" of this sad procession may be seen sculptured upon an arch which is still standing in Rome—the Arch of Titus—which was set up to commemorate his victory. As the traveler of to-day passes under this arch, and sees, on the one hand, the representation of the emperor in his triumphal car—on the other, that of the captives from Jerusalem carrying the golden candlestick, the table of show-bread, and the silver trumpets of the jubilee—what thoughts must fill his mind!
While much in the Eternal City has gone to ruin, God has allowed this record of the humiliation of His rebellious people to remain, a monument for all time. We are told that when the triumph was over the sacred vessels were placed in a great temple to Peace which the emperor had built, while the roll of the law and the curtain of the Holy Place were taken to his palace. Another memorial of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem remains in the coins struck to commemorate the Roman triumph, which bear the inscription "Juda Capta," and the mournful figure of a woman sitting under a palm, while a Roman soldier stands by.
Jerusalem disappears from history from this time until about fifty years after the death of Titus, when the emperor Hadrian, who had made some efforts to protect the Christians from the popular clamors, determined to restore the city, and sent a colony of soldiers to occupy it. The Jews who had taken possession of the place, which they still counted holy, made a fierce resistance, and began, under a leader named Barcochab, who was believed to be the Messiah, to rebuild their temple. So serious was the insurrection that Hadrian sent to Britain for his best general to quell it. During this time the Christians of Palestine suffered for refusing to acknowledge Barcochab.
After a two years' struggle, Jerusalem was again in the hands of the Romans, and Hadrian determined to wipe out, if it were possible, its very name as a city. The ruins which Titus had left were razed to the ground, and a plow passed over the place where the temple had been. A Roman city was built on the foundations of Jerusalem; a temple to Jupiter upon Mount Zion; no Jew might enter the city on pain of death; and it was not until the fourth century that they were permitted, once a year, on the anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem, to come and weep over its departed glory.
So completely has Jerusalem been trodden down by the Gentiles, who have built city after city upon its ancient site, that it is now only by digging fifty feet below the surface of modern Jerusalem that the foundations of the city of David can be reached. The place on Mount Moriah where Solomon's temple stood is now occupied by a great mosque, for the Turks are masters of the land. Close by this mosque runs the wall of the modern city, and built into the lower part of the wall are some immense hewn stones, which are believed to have belonged to the ancient foundation of Solomon's temple. There, to this day, the Jews meet on Friday evenings, at sunset, and weep for the vanished glory of their nation, while they whisper prayers between the crevices of the stones which once formed part of that house concerning which the God of Israel said, "Mine eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually.”
An English traveler once noticed a young Jew at this place; he was sitting, with downcast air, upon the ground. Drawing near, he asked him what book he was reading. The young man pointed to the 22nd Psalm, and the Englishman took the book from him, and read aloud until he came to the 16th verse.
Then he paused, and asked, —
“Of whom speaketh the prophet thus?"
"Of David, and all his afflictions," replied the young Jew.
“But David's hands and feet were not pierced," said the stranger.
He then spoke for some time about the rejected Messiah, but the Jew would not admit that the words of the Psalm could have been written about a greater than David.
Nearly eighteen hundred years have passed away since the terrible events took place of which our Lord warned His disciples, and the "times of the Gentiles" are still going on, the times during which God allows the nations to have supremacy over Israel; but it will not be always thus; the day will come when Jerusalem shall be "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," as she has never been before, even in the brightest period of her history.