5 Points of Intersection Between Postmillennialism and Apologetics – Point 2

Scene on the Arch of Titus, showing the Roman army carrying off the Table of Showbread, Candelabra, and Silver Trumpets after destroying the Temple in A.D. 70.

Point 2:  Postmillennialism validates the resurrection and the truth of Jesus’ message.  Postmillennialism, with a preterist view of the Great Tribulation, points to empirical evidence still visible in our own day that a major prophecy by Jesus came true, which validates Jesus as a true prophet from God (Deut. 18:21–22), and that validates Jesus’ message, such as His statements about being God and about His resurrection.[1]  (“Preterist” means “past” and means here that the Great Tribulation occurred in the past, namely the first century A.D.)

Today, any visitor can go to Jerusalem and see that the Temple that stood in Jesus’ day is no longer there.  On its foundations is build the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic mosque.  Jews still visit and pray at a remaining portion of the western retaining wall of the Temple.  That wall is called the “wailing wall” because of the practice of Jews to stand next to it and mourn the destruction of the Temple.   Also still visible to this day is the “Arch of Titus” in the city of Rome, erected in A.D. 82 by the Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus’ military victories, including the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70.  The arch is etched with images of the articles of the Temple being carried away, like the Candelabra and Table of Showbread.  There is no reasonable historical basis for doubting the event of the destruction that ended in September of A.D. 70.[2] 

Jesus promised a judgment that would destroy Jerusalem and specifically tear down the Temple that He was looking at (not some future temple as some Christians claim) within the lifetime of some of His apostles in these passages:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.  But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” . . . Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  (Matthew 24:1-2, 34)

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it,  for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. . . .  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. (Luke 21:20-22)

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.  Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.  (Matthew 23:34-36)

That last quote from Matthew 23 is made while Jesus is at the Temple and just prior to his specific prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24:1-2.

Jesus says repeatedly that this judgment will come upon “this generation.”  A generation is generally 40 years in the Bible, as when the Jews wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus until the death of the first generation, which was for 40 years (Numbers 32:13; Psalm 95:10.  Jesus was crucified in A.D. 30, and 40 years later is A.D. 70, when the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.  Forty years is consistent with another statement that Jesus makes that only “some” of His disciples would still be alive when the judgment comes:

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.  (Matthew 16:28)

He also says that His disciples will not have preached to every town in Israel before His coming:

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.  (Matthew 10:23)

Similarly, right before His crucifixion, Jesus tells some women who are there weeping over Him:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep 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.’ (Luke 23:28-30)

The judgment was coming on “yourselves” and “your children” – within a generation of those living then.

In addition to getting the timing right, Jesus was right that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20).  The gentile armies surrounded Jerusalem multiple times during the conflict.  The first time was in A.D. 66 when Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, marched on Jerusalem, and then retreated.  Many Jews then prepared for further war with Rome, but it may have been taken by Christians to be the signal that it was time to “flee to the mountains” (Luke 21:21) before the complete destruction came.   Another possibility is that Christ’s prediction was fulfilled when Israel’s long-time heathen enemies, the Edomites, surrounded Jerusalem in A.D. 68.  Their 20,000-man army rushed into the city and slit the throats of 8,500 people at the Temple, including the High Priest.[3]  Things only went downhill from there for the city, until its complete destruction in A.D. 70.[4]

The flight of the Christians from Jerusalem to the mountains actually happened, as some early Christian writers have recounted, giving us the additional information that they ended up at the recently deserted mountain city of Pella, north of Jerusalem and on the other side of the Jordan River.[5]  Eusebius (d. 340) writes:

But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.  And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were destitute of holy men, the judgement of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.[6]

And Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403) tells us:

So Aquila, while he was in Jerusalem, also saw the disciples of the disciples of the apostles flourishing in the faith and working great signs, healings, and other miracles. For they were such as had come back from the city of Pella to Jerusalem and were living there and teaching. For when the city was about to be taken and destroyed by the Romans, it was revealed in advance to all the disciples by an angel of God that they should remove from the city, as it was going to be completely destroyed. They sojourned as emigrants in Pella, the city above mentioned in Transjordania. And this city is said to be of the Decapolis.[7]

Jesus also said to flee to the mountains when “when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (Matt. 24:15).  Exactly what the abomination would be is not stated.   Since Jesus uses “the abomination that causes desolation” interchangeably with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies as the signal to flee, the two phrases probably refer to the same event.[8]  For the “unclean” gentile (Roman) army to surround the holy city of Jerusalem to destroy it would have been an abomination because  Daniel refers to Jerusalem as God’s “holy hill” and “holy city” (Daniel 9:16,20,24).  The gentile attack on the holy city unsurprisingly led to further abominations, like the sacrifices being offered to Roman ensigns in the Temple,[9]  and the complete desolation of the Temple itself, never to be rebuilt (at least to our current day).  Whatever the abomination was, the Christians understood it when it happened, and they got out of town in time.

Jesus accurately predicted that the Temple would be completely destroyed, down to the last stone.  While they were on a hill above the city, Jesus’ disciples point out to Him “the buildings of the temple” (Matt. 24:1), and Jesus responds, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:1-2).  Josephus was a Jewish historian who sided with the Romans and recorded the gory details:

While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain. Nor was there commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children, old men, profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner. . . . Moreover, many, when they saw the fire, exerted their utmost strength, and did break out into groans and outcries. Perea also did return the echo, as well as the mountains round about Jerusalem, and augmented the force of the noise. Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder. For one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as if full of fire on every part, that the blood was more in quantity than the fire, and that the slain were more in numbers than they who slew them. For the ground did nowhere appear visible because of the dead bodies that lay upon it.”[10]

The retaining wall that partially remains was part of the platform on which the Temple was built, but all the stones of the buildings of the Temple were cleared off, just as Jesus predicted.

Other fulfillments of events during the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem could be mentioned, such as the rise of numerous false prophets,[11]  famines,[12] widespread lawlessness,[13] and the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman world.[14]

The accuracy of Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem strengthens the case for His resurrection beyond the other evidence often cited ( see here).  We have clear, visible proof that the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.  That is proof that He spoke a message from God; therefore when He made the prediction about Himself that He would die and be resurrected, we can be confident that He was accurate about that too.  Given the evidence for the resurrection itself, and the accuracy of Jesus’ prediction that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed within a generation, every reasonable person should conclude that Jesus Christ is Savior and Ruler of the world.

 

[1]  On Jesus’ claims to deity, see Bird, Evans, Gathercole, et alHow God Became Jesus; and Charles L. Quarles, A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P&R Publishing, 2013).

[2]  For more on this issue, see David Chilton, Paradise Restored:  An Eschatology of Dominion  (Tyler, TX: Reconstruction Press, 1985),  Days of Vengeance:  An Exposition of The Book of Revelation (Fort Worth, TX:  Dominion Press, 1987), and The Great Tribulation  (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987);  Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: The Folly of Trying to Predict When Christ Will Return  (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991); J. Marcellus  Kik,  An Eschatology of Victory  (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian  and Reformed Publishing Co., 1971); Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry, House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology  (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics  [ICE], 1989); Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion   (Tyler, TX: ICE, 1992), The Greatness of the Great Commission  (Tyler, TX: ICE, 1990);  Joseph R. Balyeat,  Babylon:  The Great City of Revelation  (Sevierville, TN: 1991); Michael H. Warren, The Coming of Christ’s Kingdom:  The End Times and the Triumph of the Gospel.  Several of these books are available for free download at www.garynorth.com/freebooks/.

[3]  Josephus, Wars, IV.5.

[4]  General Titus surrounded Jerusalem in the spring of A.D. 70, but he didn’t let anyone out, and all the inhabitants were killed or enslaved when Jerusalem finally fell in September of that year; so in order to escape, Christians must have fled when Jerusalem was surrounded on a previous occasion.

[5]  N.T. Wright defends the view that I am presenting here in his book The Victory of Jesus.  However, he makes the comment that “nobody would think that the flight to Pella was fleeing to the mountains.”  But just because they ended up staying at Pella does not mean that they took the most direct route there, up the valley of the Jordan River.  They could have fled to the mountains first, then made their way over to Pella after that.  And Pella is in a mountainous area on the eastern side of the Jordan, so even if they went directly up the Jordan Valley to Pella, they would have been fleeing to the mountains.

[6]  Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (3:5:3); also see Josephus, Wars, 4:9:2.

[7]  Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403), On Weights and Measures 15.  On the historicity of the flight to Pella, see P.H.R. van Houwelingen, “Fleeing Forward:  The Departure of Christians from Jerusalem to Pella,”  Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003):  181-200, at https://www.academia.edu/2057245/Fleeing_Forward_the_Departure_of_Christians_from_Jerusalem_to_Pella.

[8]  Chilton, Paradise Restored, p. 92.

[9]  Josephus, Wars, 6:6:1.

[10]  Josephus, Wars, 6:5:1.

[11]  Matt 24:5,11; Mark 13:20,21; Luke 21:8; Rev. 13-14:  Josephus, Wars, 4:5:3.

[12]  Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11; Rev. 6:5-6:  Josephus, Wars. 5:10:5.

[13]  Matt. 24:12 ; Rev. 9:20-21 ,11:8-10 , 18:4-5 :  Josephus, Wars, 5:13:6.

[14]  Matt. 24:14:   Acts 2:5; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:16, 20.  That “world” means the Roman world, see Luke 2:1:  “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

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