The Destruction of Jerusalem

Disaster was looming for Jerusalem. Radical groups were growing, and the occupying powers grew increasingly uneasy. As far back as A.D. 39, the Roman emperor Caligula had uncovered a plot to overthrow Roman rule. Furious, he responded by reorganizing the territory and rewarding the leaders most loyal to Rome. When Jews in Egypt rioted against local authorities, Caligula reacted with the most outrageously offensive order imaginable. He commanded that a statue of himself be raised in the Jerusalem Temple. His aides knew that this would be an act of war, but Caligula — who was known for his violent temper and whom many suspected to be insane — would not back down. But bureaucrats dragged their feet, and the project was delayed long enough for even Caligula to see its madness. He reversed his order.

This article is from the Catholic Viewer’s Guide to AD: The Bible Continues (airs Sundays at 9/8c). Read more of this fascinating history in Ministers and Martyrs.

But the damage was done. The Jews and the Romans, always suspicious of one another, were now further estranged. Other incidents followed — attacks on Roman citizens became more frequent. Gentiles, for their part, began to taunt their Jewish neighbors. In the year 66, some Greeks sacrificed birds in front of a synagogue, while the Romans looked on and did nothing. Outraged, the Temple priests put a stop to all sacrifices offered for the good of Caesar. The Roman procurator reacted by sending troops to the Temple to make a huge withdrawal of gold from the treasury — a gift for the emperor.

Now came war. From the Roman perspective, it seemed to come from many directions. There were countless cells of disaffected men — and sects of warriors inspired by prophecy. All closed in on the imperial troops and government. So began the bloodshed that came to be known as the first Roman-Jewish War.

The war raged from A.D. 66 to 73, but its climax was a seven-month siege of Jerusalem in the year 70. The Romans sealed off all the city’s supply routes and stopped up its water supply. By midsummer that year, the Romans had breached the walls, and at the end of July the city was in flames. On July 29, the Temple — Herod’s grand reconstruction, which had only recently been completed — was destroyed. The Christians had long since left the city, warned by a prophecy given to the Church.

Both Christians and Jews came to see the destruction of Jerusalem as God’s judgment on a sinful generation. At that point, however, their interpretations parted ways. For the Jews, sacrifice ceased with the utter destruction and profanation of the Temple. For Christians, however, the age of pure sacrifice was just beginning. They recalled that, at Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mt. 27:51). The Temple thus had been decommissioned, made obsolete by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Now the Temple was Christ. Now the Temple was His Church. So close was the communion of Christ with His Church.

That was the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it was proclaimed in the apostolic age, by the Church through its ministers and martyrs.

Editor’s note: This article is the final part in a 12-part series exploring the Catholic background behind NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues (watch on Sundays at 9/8c).Check back each Friday for a new entry. As well, you can get The Catholic Viewers Guide for A.D. as well as Ministers and Martyrs, or order both as a set to save 25%.

image: Jean-Guillaume Moitte, Spoils of the Temple: After a Relief from the Arch of Titus, Rome/ © Museum Associates/LACMA via Wikimedia Commons.

Mike Aquilina

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Mike Aquilina is the award-winning author of more than forty books on Catholic history, doctrine, and devotion. His works have been translated into many languages. He has hosted nine television series and several documentary films and is a frequent guest on Catholic radio.

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  • noelfitz

    This is a great article, and a fitting conclusion to this series of 12 articles.

    Is it possible to be notified if new comments are published about an article on which one has already commented?

  • ravitchn

    There is some evidence that the early Jewish Christians may not have left for Pella at all but participated in the Jewish insurrection against Rome. The gentile Christians had every reason to suppress such talk since it made them vulnerable to Roman retaliation.

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