Matthew 24:21 — For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
Mark 13:19 — For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.
Luke 21:22 – 23 — for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.
Let me make this clear before we proceed that I am not making any statements in regards to persecutions and tribulations which are presently occurring or which are to arise in the future. Such things are certain.
My emphasis is the “Great Tribulation” of which our Lord spoke to His disciples on the Mount of Olivet, and which He called “the tribulation of those days” was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD. 70. He declared that the great tribulation which occurred in that generation and in that manner would never again happen, which indicates the great tribulation mentioned in the Olivet Discourse is a thing of the past.
And the most important key to the understanding of other prophecies is a clear understanding of this specific event. Jesus was practical in His prophetic discourse. On His way to Golgotha, the place of His crucifixion, Jesus explained the severity of these days to the “daughters of Jerusalem,”
Luke 23:28 – 31 — But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed. “Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US.’ “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
EVANS AND PORTER
“In the spring of AD. 70 Titus took command of the Roman forces. During Passover of AD. 70 he moved his troops closer to the city walls and began his assault from the north. In May he breached Agrippa’s wall after nearly two weeks of attack.” [Evans and Porter, “Destruction of Jerusalem,” Dictionary of new testament Background, n.p.]
The Jewish historian Josephus expresses in explicit detail the atrocious events which took place during the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome. He writes of a progressive national madness,
“The city was divided into armies encamped against one another, and the preservation of the one party was in the destruction of the other; so the day-time was spent in the shedding of blood, and the night in fear.” [Josephus, Wars, 2.18.2]
“While Titus was besieging it from without, the three leaders of rival factions were fighting fiercely within: but for this the city might have staved off defeat for a long time, even perhaps indefinitely, for no great army could support itself long in those days in the neighborhood of Jerusalem; there was no water and no supplies.” [Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation, (London: SPCK, 1931), p. 266]
VENGEANCE BELONGS TO THE LORD
These are declared to be the days of vengeance when these prophecies were fulfilled.
KEENER QUOTES JOSEPHUS
“First, it is worth noting that Josephus, not at all having the Olivet Discourse in mind, saw the Daniel prophecy as fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple in AD. 70 and regarded the shedding of priestly blood in the sanctuary as the desecration or abomination that caused the AD. 70 desolation. [Luke 21:22 Keener, Matthew commentary, 576]
Josephus called the Temple “no longer a place fit for God” [Josephus, Wars, 5.1.19] and said that God was the author of its destruction.
Luke 21:24 — They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
THE GREAT TRIBULATION
The fulfillment of the great tribulation is in the context of Jerusalem which had no equal in history. The Temple destruction was accompanied by the destruction of genealogical records, the scattering of the people, and the loss of national identity. This is mainly the reason why it was called the great tribulation.
This great tribulation was a period of immense suffering and calamities that would befall the Jews—famine, death, diseases and destruction of the Temple.
FALLING BY THE EDGE OF THE SWORD AND CAPTIVITY
“SO now Titus’s banks were advanced a great way, notwithstanding his soldiers had been very much distressed from the wall. He then sent a party of horsemen, and ordered they should lay ambushes for those that went out into the valleys to gather food.
Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people, who were deterred from deserting by the concern they were under for their own relations; for they could not hope to escape away, together with their wives and children, without the knowledge of the seditious; nor could they think of leaving these relations to be slain by the robbers on their account; nay, the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that, when they were concealed from the robbers, they should be taken by the enemy; and when they were going to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city.
This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more: yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment.
So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.” [Josephus, Wars, 5.11.1]
“The victors gave no quarter, but slew all Jews upon whom they could lay their hands; 97,000 fugitives were caught and sold as slaves; many of them died as unwilling gladiators in the triumphal games that were celebrated at Berytus, Caesarea Philippi, and Rome. Josephus numbered at 1,197,000 the Jews killed in this siege and its, aftermath; Tacitus calculated them at 600,000. (AD. 70)” [Durant, Caesar and Christ, 545]
SLAIN BY THE SWORD
“But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is, of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything.
But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood.
And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night; and as all was burning, came that eighth day of the month Gorpieus [Elul] upon Jerusalem, a city that had been liable to so many miseries during this siege, that, had it always enjoyed as much happiness from its first foundation, it would certainly have been the envy of the world.
Nor did it on any other account so much deserve these sore misfortunes, as by producing such a generation of men as were the occasions of this its overthrow.” [Josephus, Wars, 6.8.5 ]
“Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a straitness among them, that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.
And that this city could contain so many people in it, is manifest by that number of them which was taken under Cestius, who being desirous of informing Nero of the power of the city, who otherwise was disposed to contemn that nation, entreated the high priests, if the thing were possible, to take the number of their whole multitude.
So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice, (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves,) and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to two millions seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons that were pure and holy; for as to those that have the leprosy, or the gonorrhea, or women that have their monthly courses, or such as are otherwise polluted, it is not lawful for them to be partakers of this sacrifice; nor indeed for any foreigners neither, who come hither to worship.” [Josephus, Wars, 6.9.3]
“The number of the besieged, men and women of every age, is stated to have been 600,000. There were arms for all who could carry them, and far more were ready to fight than would be expected from their total numbers. The women were as determined as the men: if they were forced to leave their homes they feared more in life than in death.” [Tacitus, Histories, 5:13]
ATROCITIES – GOLD IN THE BELLY
“Yet did another plague seize upon those that were thus preserved; for there was found among the Syrian deserters a certain person who was caught gathering pieces of gold out of the excrements of the Jews’ bellies; for the deserters used to swallow such pieces of gold, as we told you before, when they came out, and for these did the seditious search them all; for there was a great quantity of gold in the city, insomuch that as much was now sold [in the Roman camp] for twelve Attic [drams],as was sold before for twenty-five. But when this contrivance was discovered in one instance, the fame of it filled their several camps that the deserters came to them full of gold.
So the multitude of the Arabians, with the Syrians, cut up those that came as supplicants, and searched their bellies. Nor does it seem to me that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night’s time about two thousand of these deserters were thus dissected.” [Josephus, Wars, 5.12.4]
THE FINAL JEWISH RESISTANCE
“Although weakened by famine, the Jews still continued to put up a savage resistance, but the final capture of Jerusalem was only a question of time. First the Lower and then the Upper City were taken—and the last days of Jerusalem were even more harrowing than those that had gone before. When the nationalists still refused to surrender, Titus allowed his troops to massacre, loot and burn. The Temple treasurer and another priest saved their lives by handing over the most holy objects of Jewish cult, including the Menorah (seven-branch candlestick) itself. Finally, before the end of September, all resistance had been brought to an end.” [Grant, The Jews in the Roman World, 201]
THE DAYS SHORTENED
Matthew 24:22 — And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.
Mark 13:20 — Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.
Mark records that it was the Lord who shortened the days of tribulation. Our God will never allow wicked men to exceed the bounds He has set. The extent of the siege was reduced to protect and preserve the enduring Christians so that they could continue to advance the gospel. The elect were the Christians, for whose sake, the days were shortened.
“AND now did Titus consult with his commanders what was to be done. Those that were of the warmest tempers thought he should bring the whole army against the city and storm the wall; for that hitherto no more than a part of their army had fought with the Jews; but that in case the entire army was to come at once, they would not be able to sustain their attacks, but would be overwhelmed by their darts.
But of those that were for a more cautious management, some were for raising their banks again; and others advised to let the banks alone, but to lie still before the city, to guard against the coming out of the Jews, and against their carrying provisions into the city, and so to leave the enemy to the famine, and this without direct fighting with them; for that despair was not to be conquered, especially as to those who are desirous to die by the sword , while a more terrible misery than that is reserved for them.
However, Titus did not think it fit for so great an army to lie entirely idle, and that yet it was in vain to fight with those that would be destroyed one by another; he also showed them how impracticable it was to cast up anymore banks, for want of materials, and to guard against the Jews coming out still more impracticable; as also, that to encompass the whole city round with his army was not very easy, by reason of its magnitude, and the difficulty of the situation, and on other accounts dangerous, upon these allies the Jews might make out of the city.
For although they might guard the known passages out of the place, yet would they, when they found themselves under the greatest distress, contrive secret passages out, as being well acquainted with all such places; and if any provisions were carried in by stealth, the siege would thereby be longer delayed. He also owned that he was afraid that the length of time thus to be spent would diminish the glory of his success; for though it be true that length of time will perfect everything, yet that to do what we do in a little time is still necessary to the gaining reputation.
That therefore his opinion was, that if they aimed at quickness joined with security, they must build a wall roundabout the whole city; which was, he thought, the only way to prevent the Jews from coming out any way, and that then they would either entirely despair of saving the city, and so would surrender it up to him, or be still the more easily conquered when the famine had further weakened them; for that besides this wall, he would not lie entirely at rest afterward, but would take care then to have banks raised again, when those that would oppose them were become weaker.
But that if anyone should think such a work to be too great, and not to be finished without much difficulty, he ought to consider that it is not fit for Romans to undertake any small work, and that none but God himself could with ease accomplish any great thing whatsoever.’ Titus wanted to starve the nation through the siege. He realized this would take too long and would not be glorious. Eventually he stormed the city thus shortening the length of time if the city was going to be taken by the siege alone.” [Josephus, Wars, 5.12.1 ]
COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW
“There have been greater numbers of deaths—six million in the Nazi death camps, mostly. Jews, and an estimated twenty million under Stalin—but never so high a percentage of a great city’s population so thoroughly and painfully exterminated and enslaved as during the fall of Jerusalem.” [Carson, Matthew, n.p.]
Lightfoot comments on the Lord shortening the days of tribulation because of His elect’s sake. He writes:
“And it was also hard enough with those elect who fled to the mountains, being driven out of house, living in the open air, and wanting necessaries for food: their merciful God and Father, therefore, took care of them, shortening the time of their misery, and cutting off the reprobates with a speedier destruction; lest, if their stroke had been longer continued, the elect should too far have partaken of their misery.” [A Commentary on the Gospels]
Carrington writes: “This fighting within the city delivered it quickly into the hands of Titus; ‘the days were shortened.’ “ [Carrington, pg, 266]
Just as Jesus had guaranteed, heaven mediated to save the infant church. Jesus had earlier told them, “…but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short…Behold, I have told you in advance.” [Matthew 24:22-25]