Day 214: Matthew 24:16-22

Then those who are in Judea must run away to the hills. Someone who is on the roof of a house must not take the time to go down and get any belongings from the house. Someone who is in the field must not go back to get a cloak. How terrible it will be in those days for women who are pregnant and for mothers with little babies! Pray to God that you will not have to run away during the winter or on a Sabbath!

For the trouble at that time will be far more terrible than any there has ever been, from the beginning of the world to this very day. Nor will there ever be anything like it again. But God has already reduced the number of days; had he not done so, nobody would survive. For the sake of his chosen people, however, God will reduce the days.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

Clue #9:  Terrible trouble will come suddenly and go just as fast.

Jesus warned the Jews repeatedly to love their enemies (Day 34).  He told them that “turning the other cheek” was the best response to insult or injury (Day 31) and that they should pay their taxes without complaint (Day 191).  He even said to obey the Roman troops: ”And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles.” (Day 32).  He essentially said, “Don’t mess with the Romans!”

After Jesus’ death the Bible tells the uplifting story of the beginning of the Christian movement.  But there was another parallel story that is not included in the Bible that underscores the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence.  There were also other very important things going on at the same time.

Throughout this blog I have talked about how the Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) were seriously divided about religious practices during the time of Jesus.  The Jews were simultaneously divided about how to free themselves from Roman occupation.  There were those who relied on God to deliver them, but there were others who believed that violence was the only solution.  Those people who believed that war would save them were collectively referred to as the “Zealots”.   Today we would call them “hawks.”

A few short decades after Jesus’ death the Zealots launched the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66 AD.  Violence initially erupted as a result of religious tensions between the Jews and the Greeks, but quickly escalated into anti-taxation protests and terrorist attacks against innocent Roman citizens.  The Roman army failed to respond effectively because of civil unrest and political turmoil in Rome, so the violence escalated unchecked despite the fact that the Zealots were undisciplined and poorly trained.  The Romans were eventually expelled from Jerusalem, but this Jewish victory didn’t last very long.

In the year 69 the Roman General Titus took over the military operation in the Holy Land and launched a siege against Jerusalem that lasted for seven months, during which Zealot infighting resulted in the burning of city’s food supply.  The Romans finally broke through Jerusalem’s defensive walls in the summer of 70 AD.  The starving inhabitants provided little resistance, and the Roman Army moved swiftly through the city, methodically slaughtering men, women, and children.  Josephus witnessed the horrible scene, which he documented in his monumental work The Wars of the Jews:

The Fall of Jerusalem.

The Fall of Jerusalem.

“The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”

Although some were able to flee the city through hidden underground tunnels, it was reported that more than 1 million Jews died from famine and warfare, and 97,000 were taken into captivity.  Titus gave his troops orders to spare the Temple, but the Zealots ensured its destruction by retreating behind its walls and using it as a military stronghold.  Flaming arrows launched against them by the Romans resulted in a conflagration that consumed the Temple and much of the city.

The fall of Jerusalem was swift and decisive.  Even after the fall of Jerusalem, bands of rebellious Jews continued to resist the Romans for another 50 years until the Roman Emperor Hadrian finally destroyed what little was left of the city.  Jerusalem and its precious Temple were destroyed because the Jews didn’t accept Jesus’ teachings about the futility of violence.  If they had continued to co-exist with the Romans, their city would have remained intact and eventually the Roman Empire, like all empires, would have fallen.

I am reminded of the story that they tell about the city of Savannah and how it was spared by General Sherman during the Civil War.  Sherman’s “scorched earth” campaign left a swatch of destruction all the way from Atlanta to the city’s door.  However, the city had the good sense to surrender peacefully and give Sherman the key to the city.  With great fanfare Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln that he had delivered the city of Savannah unharmed to the president as a Christmas gift. As a result of the good sense of its leadership this beautiful city was spared and its downtown area is one of the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts.

I’m also reminded of China, which fell time and time again to neighboring empires.  But today the Han Chinese are the world’s largest ethnic group.  And what happened to all those invading groups?  They are remnants at best.  It’s hard, for example, to find a full-blooded Manchurian these days.  And look at the Mongols.  Not exactly players on the world stage. The Chinese defeated their enemies by loving them – literally.  They intermarried and bred their culture out of existence.  Assimilation. They may have lost all their battles but in the end they always had the last laugh.

And I’m reminded of Switzerland.  That’s what happens when you stay neutral when others go to war.  You prosper.  You get rich.

Jesus’ prophecy was proven true, as well as his teachings about war and violence.  War brings famine and destruction and genocide (Day 208).  If a nation turns the other cheek and waits it out, the invading empire will eventually crash and burn all on its own.  Evil dictators don’t live forever.  The decline of the Roman Empire began around 250 AD and the ultimate fall came another couple of hundred years later.  In most cases, discretion is the better part of valor.  Brains and self-restraint are often more effective than brawn and rage when it comes to safety and self-preservation.

The ultimate irony is that the Christians, who followed Jesus’ teachings about non-violence, established their headquarters in the capital city of their oppressor. Rome’s next claim to fame was as the home of the Roman Catholic Church.  And it really isn’t surprising that it wasn’t long before the church turned away from Jesus’ pacifist ways and became the next political and military superpower.  Rome’s new “Christian Empire” reached its zenith in the Middle Ages.  The Reformation initiated the decline of the Roman Catholic empire and the eventual evolution of the concept of separation of church and state.

Destruction of the Temple.

Destruction of the Temple.

Too bad those Zealots didn’t take Jesus’ advice not to mess with the Romans.  Too bad they didn’t just wait it out.  But then again, if they hadn’t gone to war the Jews might still be slaughtering animals and throwing blood around in that paganistic Temple.  Still it seems that the Temple could have come down without the death of a million people.  It would have been better if it had been by choice rather than force.

What does this scripture say to you?