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In Luke 21:10, 11 we read of wars, quakes, famines, and signs from heaven that were to occur before the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of Judea. We have shown that this was to occur twice, not just once. But before each of these events, Jesus says that something else was to occur. We find it in Luke 21:12, 13,
12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony [witness].
No doubt Luke saw Paul’s imprisonment as one fulfillment of this. In fact, Luke wrote the book of Acts partly to give us details of the outworking of this prophecy. Herod executed James (Acts 12:2). He tried to kill Peter as well, but an angel loosed him from prison, and Peter later escaped to Caesarea (Acts 12:19), with Herod in hot pursuit. We know that this occurred in 44 A.D., for this was the year that Herod died (Acts 12:23) in Caesarea after giving a speech.
The other James (Jesus’ brother), who was appointed the head of the Jerusalem Church after the departure of Peter and the other apostles in 44 A.D., was finally killed on the temple grounds. This occurred at the feast of Passover in 62. According to Eusebius, the bishop-historian of the fourth century, James was replaced by Symeon, the grandson of Jesus’ Uncle Cleopas (Joseph’s brother). Cleopas is mentioned in Luke 24:18. Luke knew him personally, for the two had been walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus appeared to them shortly after His resurrection.
Throughout the book of Acts we read how the chief priests in Jerusalem persecuted the Christians and how Saul (Paul) was at one time their chief persecutor. Paul himself appeared twice before Nero, the Roman emperor, where he bore witness of Christ. The first time he was exonerated and set free in 63. He and Luke then went to Spain and Britain, where they preached Christ, but after returning to Macedonia, Paul was arrested and brought to Rome again. This time he was beheaded in 67.
By the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D. all of the original apostles were dead except for John, who lived to see the beginning of the reign of Trajan. This emperor reigned from 98-117 A.D.
Church history shows how the early Christians were persecuted, first by the temple and the synagogues. During those years, Rome considered Christianity to be a sect of Judaism, and so it was a licensed religion (religio licita) that was subservient to the state. After Paul’s first appearance before Nero, however, the emperor discovered that Christianity had separated from Judaism, yet was unlicensed.
So Rome began to demand that Christians offer sacrifice to the emperors (who had been legally declared gods of the state) in order to receive an official license to worship. When they refused, the Christians were persecuted and often executed for insubordination. The persecution shifted from Jerusalem to Rome.
Jesus prophesied that the Christians’ appearance before “kings and governors” (Luke 21:12) would give them opportunity to bear witness of Christ.
Such opportunities to witness for Christ continued throughout the history of the Church. In the fourth century, when the Church came to power, it too persecuted any group not licensed by a recognized bishop and any individuals who did not submit to their authority. Though love was the prime directive of the true believers, the Church as an organization came to value unity above love. Hence, in any difference of doctrines or beliefs, love was set aside in favor of maintaining unity. Unity was soon enforced by pain and death.
In more recent years Christians have been persecuted by other religions, and today we see the rise of a new form of persecution prior to the final destruction of Jerusalem. In the former “Christian” nations of the West (now secular), the trend is to persecute those Christians who refuse to submit to the “values” of government. To call certain lawless practices “sin” is now a crime in some countries.
If this trend continues unchecked, Christians will soon be brought once again to “kings and governors” to bear witness of Christ and His Kingdom. The contrast between the laws of men and the laws of God are becoming increasingly apparent. Jesus’ advice to such believers is seen in Luke 21:14, 15,
14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom, which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.
Jesus had already mentioned this earlier in Luke 12:11, 12,
11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.
In other words, we are to rely on the Holy Spirit, which usually means that we need to develop our ability to hear His voice ahead of time. This is the most important thing we can do to prepare for such times. Jesus continues in Luke 21:16-19,
16 But you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all on account of My name. 18 Yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain yourselves [“win your souls”].
There seems to be a contradiction here. Jesus says, “they will put some of you to death… yet not a hair of your head will perish.”
Obviously, Jesus was not saying that their lives would be spared, but rather that the integrity of their souls would not perish. This was an idiom about the afterlife and the promise of resurrection and rewards associated with it. If one cannot endure the hatred of men on account of the Kingdom, then how is a person fit to inherit the first resurrection and reign with Christ when the “stone” kingdom arises?
The fact that friends and relatives may side with the government and persecute believers shows how powerful the government’s influence and coercion can be. But if believers have learned to fear God rather than men, they have already decided what course of action to take and are willing to endure the consequences of their faith.
All of these persecutions, Jesus said, were to precede the final destruction of Jerusalem, that is, “before all these things.” He then returns to his main topic in Luke 21:20,
20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand.
We should understand the extremist Jews at that time saw this Roman threat as a sign of Jerusalem’s deliverance by the coming of the Messiah—not as a sign of “desolation.” They fought to the bitter end, not believing that God would allow the city and its temple to be destroyed again. They should have believed Jesus’ words and followed His example of submitting to the authority of the current beast empire.
God even sent another prophet named Jesus son of Ananias about four years before Rome surrounded Jerusalem with its army. Eusebius quotes Josephus in Eccl. Hist., III, 8,
“An incident more alarming still had occurred four years before the war [62 A.D.], at a time of exceptional peace and prosperity for the city. One Jesus son of Ananias, a very ordinary yokel, came to the feast at which every Jew is expected to set up a tabernacle for God [Feast of Tabernacles]. As he stood in the Temple, he suddenly began to shout: ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the whole people!’
“Day and night he uttered the cry as he went through the streets. Some of the more prominent citizens, very annoyed at these ominous words, laid hold of the fellow and beat him savagely. Without saying a word in his own defence or for the private information of his persecutors, he persisted in shouting the same warning as before. The Jewish authorities, rightly concluding that some supernatural force was responsible for the man's behaviour, took him before the Roman procurator. There, though scourged till his flesh hung in ribbons, he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, but lowering his voice to the most mournful of tones answered every blow with: ‘WOE TO JERUSALEM’!”
Josephus says this incident occurred “four years before the war.” This could not have meant four years before the actual siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., for this would have placed it at the Feast of Tabernacles of 66 A.D., when the Judeans destroyed the 12th Legion of Cestius Gallus. That was not “a time of exceptional peace and prosperity for the city.” Josephus must have meant four years before the beginning of the revolt in 66 A.D., which would place it in 62 A.D., shortly after James had been stoned and martyred in the Temple.
This unknown prophet named “Jesus son of Ananias” was sent to Jerusalem shortly thereafter to prophesy its destruction. It seems ironic to me that God would raise up a prophet named Jesus to give the city warning of impending disaster shortly after the city's prime intercessor had been stoned. We do not know if he was a Christian or not. Even more intriguing is the possibility that he might have been the son of the same Ananias who ministered to Paul after his conversion (Acts 9:10). Was he actually named Jesus in honor of the One Ananias worshiped?
Whoever he was, this unknown Jesus prophesied “woe to Jerusalem,” very similar to the warnings in Luke 21 and in Matthew 24. He was persecuted for his prophecy “without saying a word in his own defence.” Therefore, the inhabitants of Jerusalem could not claim that they were not warned. Two people named Jesus had come to warn them, and they believed neither witness.
The Jerusalem Church did believe, however, and left the city. Perhaps the witness of this second Jesus prompted some serious discussion and prayer among them. They remembered what Jesus had said, for they had the gospel of Matthew at that time, where they were instructed in Matt. 24:16-18 to flee from the city. Luke later wrote the same instructions in Luke 21:21, 22,
21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
The phrase “days of vengeance,” of course, must be defined according to biblical law, where it is not an emotional expression of hatred but rather a time of judgment. Recall that John’s ministry had begun the time of divine visitation, and when he was executed, Jesus continued that investigation. Jesus rendered the final verdict upon Jerusalem toward the end of His ministry and then prophesied the destruction of the city.
Jerusalem was given forty years in which to repent, because Ezekiel’s intercession had bought them this grace period. (See Ezekiel 4:6, 7, 8.) The visitation was done from 30-33 A.D., and the judgment came forty years later from 70-73 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70, but the final fortress of Masada was taken at Passover of 73.