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armies could shake their blind self-confidence. But at the first sight of the encircling armies, the Christians knew that the time for flight was at hand. But how to flee was the question, with the compassing lines drawn close about the city. Moreover, the Zealots, the furious war party in power, would be little likely to allow any number to pass out to the Roman forces.
Just here God's providence made a way of escape. Cestius, the Roman commander, after having partially undermined one of the temple walls, suddenly decided to defer pushing the attack. "He retired from the city,” says Josephus, “without any reason in the world.” (See "Wars," book 2, chap. 19.) And the Zealots flew out after the retiring Romans, furiously attacking the rear guards.
Then those watching Christians knew that the time for quick flight had come, according to Christ's prophecy uttered many years before. They fled out of the city and out of the country round about.
Through all the years, Christ's prophecy had exhorted them, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.” Matt. 24:20. The prayer was answered, for it was in the autumn and on a week day that the flight was made.* Watching for the sign. and instantly obeying, they were delivered.
Thus it was that when the Romans returned later to the siege, never to give up till the city fell, none of the Christians were overwhelmed in its destruction. Even so are we to watch the signs of our own times, that we may escape those things that are coming upon the earth, and be ready to "stand before the Son of man."
* It was in the autumn that the army of Cestius closed in upon Jerusalem. According to the careful record of Graetz, the Jewish historian, it was evidently on a Wednesday that the Roman army retired, pursued by all the forces of the city. This was the instant for the flight of the Christians. Next day “the Zealots, shouting exultant war songs, returned to Jerusalem (8th October)."-"History of the Jews," Vol. II, p. 268. The day before was the time for unhindered flight.
The Prophetic Word Fulfilled
Christ had declared that the temple, the pride of the nation, would be utterly destroyed. In the last siege, the Roman commander tried to spare the magnificent pile. When the Jews made it their chief fortress, because of its massive strength, Titus remonstrated with them, saying:
“If you will but change the place whereon you fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay, I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not.” – Josephus, “Wars of the Jews,” book 6, chap. 2.
But the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. The people seemed possessed with fury. The hardened Roman pagans were astonished at their suicidal rashness. Titus's efforts to save the temple failed, and it went down in ruin, as Christ had foretold.
The disciples of Christ had called His attention to the immense blocks of stone that composed the temple walls. "See, what manner of stones," one said. When Titus examined these same stones, after the fall of the city, he is said to have declared:
“We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications." * - Id., book 6, chap. 9.
Rather, we would say, in the light of Scripture teaching, the destruction that came upon the city was but the fruit of its own way. God's guardian care had long protected the city of David. When His protection was finally thrust aside and the people put themselves in the power of the great destroyer, divine justice could no longer save the city from the judgments that were bound to fall upon persistent transgression against light.
The lesson is one of those written “for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come." Jerusalem, in that generation of great light and high privilege, fell because it knew not the time of its visitation. Still Christ's sad lament bears its warning to the ears of men: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” Luke 19:42.
Having foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, and given to the believers signs by which they might find deliverance in the day of its overthrow, Christ yet more fully answered the second part of the disciples' question, "What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Matt. 24:3.
* Apollonius, the friend and counselor of Titus, left a similar testimony to the latter's conviction that there was something supernatural about the forces of destruction let loose upon Jerusalem : “ After Titus had taken Jerusalem, and when the country all round was filled with corpses, the neighboring races offered him a crown; but he disclaimed any such honor to himself, saying that it was not he himself that had accomplished this exploit, but that he had merely lent his arms to God, who had so manifested His wrath."— Philostratus, “Life of Apollonius,” book 6, chap. 29.
The Period of Tribulation Quickly He passed to the events of the latter days. But first He sketched, in a few words, the tribulations through which His church was to pass during the intervening centuries. Daniel the prophet had written of this experience, foretelling the long period during which the papal power was to "wear out the saints of the Most High.” Dan. 7:25. Of these times, Christ said in His prophetic discourse:
“Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Matt. 24:21, 22.
It is evident that Christ referred to the time of tribulation foretold by Daniel, not to the trials attending the flight of the Christians from Jerusalem, for their flight was a deliverance of the elect from trial. However much the weak may have suffered temporarily in fleeing from their homes, the great suffering of that time came upon the unbelieving, who had no shelter.
This prophecy given by our Saviour presents the picture of a long-continued persecution of His own elect, and foretells the shortening of the allotted time. God was to intervene in some special way to save His people. And it was even so. The elect did suffer all through the centuries of intolerance, until the rise of the Reformation and the spreading abroad of God's Word broke the power of ecclesiasticism, thus shortening the days of bitter tribulation.
The End Drawing Near According to Daniel's further prophecy, the period of trial and persecution was to reach "even to the time of the end." Dan. 11:35. Naturally, then, we should look for the signs of the latter days to begin to appear following these days of tribulation. And so we find the next words of Christ's discourse introducing the topic of His second coming. From