Copyright © 2020, 2023 Philadelphia Church of God
Most people assume the Bible’s earliest history appears in Genesis. In truth, other scriptures in the Bible reveal considerable history that occurred even before the first verse in the Bible’s first book. Many more expose further events that took place before the second verse in Genesis.
Here is the earliest recorded history in the Bible: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This describes what existed before there was a universe or anything else. There was only God and the Word.
There are plainly two Beings discussed here. As Herbert W. Armstrong made plain in his masterful book Mystery of the Ages, these two made one God—like one family. They were both God in the same sense that two members of the same family could both be Smith.
This one verse tells the story of a past eternity. Here was a “time” when nothing had yet been created—not even a single angel. God and the Word lived together forever in unity and in love.
Then, Scripture reveals, God created untold millions of angels. And He had a marvelous plan for them.
When God created angels, He taught them His law and government. And He taught them about His ambitions to include them in His spectacular creative plans.
Among the angels, God created varying degrees of ability and rank, and organized them in an orderly government structure. Scripture reveals three of the very highest rank—cherubs that were archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer. He gave these three special training in administering His government and law.
God specifically describes Lucifer as “the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so” (Ezekiel 28:14). In the Bible’s descriptions of a symbol of God’s throne on Earth—the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant—it had two cherubs on top, covering it (Exodus 25:17-20; 1 Kings 6:23-28; 8:6-7). This shows the exalted position Lucifer held: He was a covering cherub, right at God’s very throne! God also says of him, “[T]hou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:14). What an exalted position! There he could learn how God thought and watch how God operated. God trained him for an exceedingly significant job.
God gave these three archangels positions of authority. The indication in Scripture is that each of them ruled over one third of the other angels.
Some time after the angelic creation, God created the material universe, including Earth. When the angels witnessed this impressive feat, they “sang together” and “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Why was this such an intensely joyful event? Surely the angels were impressed by the creation—but even more: God had revealed that He was giving them the potential for rulership, starting with Earth. He wanted their help in beautifying the whole universe. The angels were exceedingly happy because, at that time, they kept God’s law and were ruled by God.
Earth was the starting point. God, the Creator-Ruler of all, set Lucifer as king to administer the government of God over this beautiful planet. Lucifer must have done such a good job at God’s throne that God set him over Earth with a third of the angels to help him. His name means “light bringer.” He had a lot of God’s light to bring to Earth. And had he succeeded here, Lucifer would have undoubtedly been given the opportunity to fill the whole universe with light and godly beauty!
And where was Lucifer’s headquarters on Earth? Ezekiel reveals: “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God …” (Ezekiel 28:13). Lucifer’s headquarters on Earth was in the very same location where God later put Adam and Eve.
It was likely the very place where God, in the form of Melchizedek, later founded the city of Jerusalem.
These scriptures strongly suggest that God’s plan has always revolved around this special location—even during the angelic plan, perhaps millions of years before He ever created human beings!
It has very likely always been in God’s mind to plant His throne here on Earth and to create a headquarters in Jerusalem from which to govern the universe!
For some time, worldwide peace prevailed. Lucifer was administering the government of God on Earth. For how long is not revealed—it could have been millenniums. The angels were happy and joyful because they obeyed God’s government based on His law.
This joyful relationship could have lasted forever. But there was a colossal disaster!
“Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created,” God tells Lucifer in Ezekiel 28:15—“till iniquity [lawlessness] was found in thee.” Translators always seem to want to soften the word lawlessness by calling it iniquity.
Lucifer introduced a new kind of thinking in the universe that had never been there before. “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness …” (verse 17). Lucifer had beauty and brightness. He became vain and proud about that—even though it was God who created it. He was like a speck in all of God’s creation, but in his own eyes, he became more important than God and all His creation. God had a plan for him, but instead of thinking about that vast universe and all eternity, Lucifer began to think about his own beauty! How terribly shallow!
Lucifer reached the point where he would no longer keep the law of God, which is the love of God. He stopped loving God. That is where lawlessness leads. If you are breaking God’s law, that is the end result.
Lucifer led the angels under him to rebel. He turned them all against their own Creator, and together they tried to overthrow God. Lucifer (“light bringer”) became Satan (“adversary”).
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:12-14). Satan said, I will exalt MY throne. He has a throne. Satan still rules Earth with the angels who became demons (2 Corinthians 4:4).
When Satan and the demons rejected God’s government, they destroyed God’s physical creation on Earth and in much of the universe. In the process, they also destroyed their joy and happiness! True joy and peace can only be produced by submitting to God’s government. For the first time in the universe, there was rebellion, disunity and a lack of love.
God had made angels free moral agents. He knew there was the possibility they would reject their calling and potential. God had devised a “Plan B” in the event that they made such a choice.
The angels’ revolt confirmed that only God Himself had the perfection of character needed to successfully govern the Earth and universe. Thus, God had decided, if the angels couldn’t do that job, He would re-create Himself—actually create more God beings—more beings who possess the same righteous character that He has!
This was to be the supreme pinnacle of all God’s creative accomplishments!
This was God’s exalted plan for human beings, of whom He said, “Let us make man in our image [meaning character image—after His very character], after our likeness [humans look like God] …” (Genesis 1:26). Human beings, though now mortal and composed of perishable flesh, have the transcendent potential to enter into the very Family of God! (You can learn all about this by requesting a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The Incredible Human Potential. We would be delighted to send you a copy without cost or obligation.)
The human potential exceeds that of the angels. Angels were never offered the opportunity to become a part of the Family of God. This plan is an altogether more spectacular plan.
At the same time, there was something that made it far more challenging.
As with the angels, God gave man free will. But unlike the angels, He made man mortal, subject to death. And He determined that, for man, death would be the wages of sin—of breaking His eternal law (Romans 6:23). Unlike Satan and the demons, who will live forever in the misery caused by their lawlessness, human beings, if they chose to sin, would mercifully perish.
But to make it possible for people to repent and change—to grow in godly, righteous character in preparation for life in God’s Family—God had to devise a way to pay the death penalty for their sin.
“Plan B” required that one of the members of the Godhead die in man’s stead.
Revelation 13:8 describes the Word—one of the two members of the Godhead who had existed eternally—as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” As God views it, that “foundation of the world”—the present, evil world as we know it today—was when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. From that fateful moment, it was certain that the Word would give up His immortality, His glorified spirit status, and become a human being subject to death. This would enable Him to pay the death penalty for the sins of all human beings.
Preparations for that critical event carried on throughout the first four millenniums of human history. It was the God Being who would become Jesus Christ who directly interacted with mankind, starting with Adam and Eve. He planted them in the very location that had been Lucifer’s headquarters and that would one day be His own.
When they sinned, He banished them from that place. He continued to work with humanity, at least in part—Cain and Abel, Seth, Enoch and others. As man’s sins multiplied, the need for that divine sacrifice grew clearer and more urgent. Evil grew so rampant that God regretted even making man! (Genesis 6:5-6). He wiped out mankind in a flood, reserving them for a future resurrection at a time when Satan’s influence would be gone, when God would replace him on Earth’s throne. He saved only one man—Noah—and his family—a total of eight people—and started over.
Again evil multiplied. God decided to choose one man to found a new nation, a righteous nation. That man was Abraham. And once again, God emphasized the importance of His geographical headquarters on Earth in an extraordinary way: He appeared in the form of Melchizedek the priest to found Jerusalem. He promised to give that city, along with the surrounding land, to Abraham and his descendants: “Unto thy seed will I give this land,” He said (Genesis 12:7). As Abraham surveyed that homeland, God said, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (Genesis 13:14-15). This would be the home of His chosen people Israel—and eventually the capital of the world.
It was there, on the central mountain in Jerusalem, that this great God watched Abraham perform a spectacular act of faith and obedience: offering his son as a sacrifice—foreshadowing God’s own sacrifice.
Over four centuries later, this same God redeemed the Israelites from slavery and led them by a pillar cloud to that Promised Land. He later chose Jerusalem as the national capital and installed David as king there. He inspired a magnificent temple to be built there.
He watched as the nation descended into idolatry, and eventually He brought them into slavery and turned His city over to be trodden underfoot by the heathen. But then He again brought His people back and inspired them to build a second temple in Jerusalem.
In the centuries that followed, the Holy City witnessed some inspiring chapters of faith and courage. It also experienced more degradation, particularly when the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes stormed the city, slaughtered Jews, defiled the temple, and forced pagan worship on those who remained. This humiliation was rectified by the Maccabean revolt, which cleansed the temple. Over time, however, God watched as the Jews began to exalt their own traditions over the laws He had handed down to Moses. After the people descended into civil war, God allowed the Roman Empire to conquer the land, including Jerusalem. The Jews became a subject people. But under the rule of Rome’s client-king Herod the Great, the city was built up, the temple was refurbished and expanded, and the people prospered economically.
The time had come for this great God to take on the form of a man and personally return to Jerusalem—for the most dangerous mission of all time.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This great God divested Himself of His spiritual glory and was born as a human being, Jesus Christ.
To qualify as the unblemished sacrificial lamb to pay the tremendous price for the sins of all mankind, Christ had to live a perfect life as a mortal man. Were He to sin, His death would then only pay for His own sins, and it would not have been possible to resurrect Him! That would have left only one God Being and no Savior—no family, no future for mankind! That may very well be why God made this “Plan B”: because it was so risky! But it shows how deep God’s love is and how determined He is to have a family.
Virtually the first event in Jesus’s life as a newborn was a trip to Jerusalem. God ensured that His Son would be born and raised in an excellent family. Jesus’s human mother and her husband were law-keeping Jews. After His birth, they brought Him to Jerusalem according to the law of Moses, “to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22).
By this law, every firstborn son belonged to God, and parents needed to give an offering to “redeem” the child (Exodus 13:2; 22:29; Numbers 18:15-16). This was a special expression of the “first and great commandment” in God’s law—that we love Him with our whole heart, soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:36-37). He commands that we give Him our first and best. But in doing so, we are only following God’s own example: He gave His firstborn Son! Here, Jesus’s human parents symbolically offered their newborn child to God at the temple in Jerusalem.
It is amazing how many times during Jesus’s life He traveled to and spent time in the city that He Himself, as Melchizedek, had founded.
Each year, Jesus’s parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41). When Jesus was 12 years old, they found Him in the temple, having discussion with the educated men (verses 42-47). From His youth, Jesus was doing His Father’s business (verse 49)—even there in the temple.
Later, when Christ was ready to begin His ministry, God the Father allowed Him to be tested directly by Satan the devil. Among the tests Satan hurled at him, “he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence” (Luke 4:9). Jesus parried all of Satan’s temptations and thus qualified to replace him as King over all the Earth!
It was from that point that He began to preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God, whose capital city will be Jerusalem.
Christ again kept the next Passover in that city. Visiting the temple, He saw merchants and moneychangers buying and selling—and it infuriated Him! He drove them out and cried, “[M]ake not my Father’s house an house of merchandise”! (John 2:13-17).
During those festivals, Christ performed miracles that caused many people to believe on Him (verse 23). He continued keeping the holy days in the Holy City throughout His ministry (e.g. John 5:1; 7:2, 10-11). He also came there at least once during “the feast of the dedication,” a national Jewish holiday in the winter (John 10:22-23), called Hanukkah today. Christ’s ministry showed He had a special love for the city God had chosen.
But the religious leaders in Jerusalem were keenly aware of His activities and felt threatened.
As Jesus continued His ministry, His fame spread, and the resentment of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes grew. They were convinced He imperiled their authority and might even lead an open rebellion against the Roman government that empowered them.
Jesus began to forewarn His disciples that He would have to go to Jerusalem to face these Jewish leaders—and that it was there He would be sacrificed (Matthew 16:21; Mark 10:32-34). As the event approached, His warnings grew more insistent (Matthew 20:17-18; Luke 18:31).
Several prophecies in the Old Testament speak of a Messiah coming to establish the Kingdom of God and to restore Israel as a glorious nation. However, many more prophecies also make clear that this Messiah would come twice, and that on His first coming, He would not be a conquering hero, but a lowly man who would be brutalized and murdered (e.g. Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53).
The Prophet Zechariah prophesied of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem during His first coming: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). Clearly this is describing a different event from His arrival in that city, prophesied elsewhere, in power and glory! (e.g. Zechariah 14:4; Micah 1:3-4; Nahum 1:5-6). But during His earthly ministry, when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, He was seated on an ass’s colt (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; John 12:12-16).
“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,” Luke writes in his account (Luke 19:41). Looking upon this city He loved, teeming with men and women and children, markets and buildings, bustling pathways and parks, His mind filled with a vision of the horrifying fate they would all suffer. Deeply emotional, Christ then prophesied of Jerusalem’s utter destruction (verses 42-44).
Christ then visited His Father’s house. Again He saw the temple polluted with commerce and merchantry, and again He was flooded with grief and indignation. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13).
In the days that followed, Jesus was repeatedly confronted by the chief priests, scribes and elders. They challenged His authority as a teacher and sought to draw Him into theological arguments and to expose Him for breaking their stringent religious codes (verses 23-27; Matthew 22:15-33). In their hearts they wanted to lay hold on Him and attack Him bodily! Their only restraint was their fear of how the crowds would react (Mark 12:12).
Finally, in His last public pronouncement, Jesus forcibly corrected the Jewish religious leaders who ruled the city. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He said. “[F]or ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. … Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets” (Matthew 23:23, 29-30). These religious people boasted about how they wouldn’t have killed and spilled the blood of God’s prophets as their forefathers had. Yet they were about to spill far more precious blood—that of Jesus Christ! Christ called these corrupt religious leaders serpents and vipers!
Christ then prophesied that God would send messengers that these men would kill and crucify—and warned that they would be guilty of their blood (verses 34-35). “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation,” He concluded gravely (verse 36).
He then said with fervor, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (verse 37). Throughout the ages, Christ would have gathered the children of Jerusalem (and all mankind) as a hen gathers her little chickens, but they refused. They didn’t want God in their religion—or in their lives! That has been true of all religious and nonreligious people throughout man’s history. This isn’t a message only to the Jews. It’s a message to all people—especially religious people!
And what a price Jerusalem (and all mankind) has paid for that rebellion. Christ says the word woe eight times in this chapter. We shall see that Jerusalem’s history has been filled with woe, woe, woe.
“Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (verse 38). How “desolate” Jerusalem has been and will continue to be until Christ intervenes. And that desolation is only a type of what will happen to all humanity. Christ wants man to learn a lesson from what has happened in Jerusalem. So far, that lesson has not been learned. But because of far more intense woe and desolation, it will be.
The worst is yet to come. But so is the best, which is greater than we can even imagine.
“Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4). How condemning! Then one of Jesus’s own disciples conspired with these men against Him (verses 14-16).
Jesus knew what was about to happen and the suffering He was about to experience. The Gospels record great detail about the final Passover He kept with His disciples where He instituted the New Testament symbols of broken unleavened bread, symbolizing His physical body which was about to be broken, and wine, symbolizing His blood which would be shed for the sins of mankind (verses 26-29).
Afterward, He led His disciples to Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. There, about to face His fiercest trial, He prayed: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Humanly He wanted an escape, but He cried out to God and submitted to the Father’s will. What a Son!
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (verse 44). Christ knew what was coming, and He prayed fervently—to the point that He perspired blood—so He wouldn’t sin! What suffering He endured in order to be perfect! He did all this so He could be our Savior and give us a future.
Later that night, Judas betrayed Him and led Him into the hands of the Jewish leaders. For the next several hours, He endured cruel mocking, scorn and derision. Pilate then had Him scourged (Matthew 27:26).
The Romans called the beating before the crucifixion the half-death! They used a whip that had six to 10 thongs, at the end of which were small pieces of broken bones or metal. Chunks of flesh were ripped out of the victim’s body, leaving a mass of bloody, jagged wounds. Christ’s bones were protruding from His flesh (Psalm 22:17).
Why did Christ subject Himself to that? So you could be healed! There is a healing covenant: By His stripes you are healed (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24).
After the scourging came the crucifixion. During a Roman crucifixion, soldiers would stretch out a person’s hands and feet and nail them onto a stake while it was on the ground. Then they would shove the stake up and let it fall down into a hole, jerking the body and tearing the flesh, causing blood to spurt out. It was great entertainment for those evil Roman soldiers and anyone else watching.
This is what the Son of God endured so we could be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God the Father. This tells us so much about the Family that God is inviting human beings to enter into. This is the love of God—a love so incredible that nobody can even come close to understanding it unless they have the Spirit of God!
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Christ became sin and was momentarily cut off from God.
But what were the words He first spoke from the stake on which He was being crucified? Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34). Christ had no bitterness toward those people.
Think about the magnitude of our sins and how God forgives them all. How God forgives! He purged our sins (Hebrews 1:3).
“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost [spirit]” (Matthew 27:50). Christ screamed—and then died. Translators leave out from the original inspired Greek of verse 49: “And another took a spear and pierced his side, and out came water and blood.” Satan deceived this world into thinking that Christ died of a broken heart. Christ died because a spear was rammed into the side of His body and His blood gushed out. That is why He died. Christ went through this so your sins could be forgiven.
There, in the same place that God had watched Abraham offer his beloved son, God the Father sacrificed His.
There was an earthquake and rumblings because the Son of God had just died (verse 51). “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (verses 52-53). What a miracle the people of Jerusalem witnessed! It didn’t change their lives, but at least they understood He really was the Son of God (verse 54).
Christ had walked around the vicinity of Jerusalem and within the city for years. When His work was complete, He also was crucified there. He paid the penalty for our sins just outside Jerusalem.
This was a towering event in universe history! We need to think deeply on that. Zechariah prophesied that in the future, “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). People will think on the crucifixion in a way that leads them to repentance.
We must strive for this kind of repentance today. We have killed the firstborn Son of our beloved Father! And if we are thinking the way God does, we will experience the same intensity of emotion over what we have done as we would over losing a firstborn son!
God the Father and Jesus Christ sacrificed everything to open up eternal life, and positions in the God Family, to mankind. The very Son of God was sacrificed in Jerusalem. God paid a great price to give us a glorious vision of the future! He allowed His Son to be crucified so all humans could be a part of the future spiritual Family!
It is deeply significant that this universe-altering sacrifice took place in the City of God!
Three days after He was killed, Christ was resurrected. He came to His disciples, who were still in Jerusalem and gathered together (Luke 24:33-36). He spent 40 days with them, during which He commissioned them with the work they would be doing. He told them “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (verse 47).
Toward the end of that period, He then told them to wait in Jerusalem until God gave them the power of His Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). Then, suddenly and dramatically, He shot up into the clouds! (verse 9). While they stared in wonder upward, two angels appeared, saying, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (verse 11).
Many other prophecies speak of Christ’s spectacular return in this way: He will descend from the clouds in brilliant glory (Matthew 24:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 1:7). In that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, on the east side of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4).
Just days later, the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, a commanded annual Sabbath. As Christ promised, suddenly God sent His Holy Spirit and put it within each of those disciples! (Acts 2:1-4).
It was the beginning fulfillment of the prophecy uttered by Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (verse 17; Joel 2:28-29).
The other Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from surrounding nations for this holy day marveled at what they witnessed! Peter, whom Christ had made chief apostle, preached a sermon that convicted a great many people and brought them to repentance. That day, 3,000 people were baptized and given the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-41).
Thus, June 17, a.d. 31, was the official beginning of God’s New Testament Church. It was yet another landmark event in history that occurred there in the Holy City!
These original disciples and new converts were inflamed with a passion to proclaim Christ’s gospel. The newly Spirit-begotten Church had a significant impact on the people and society, beginning at Jerusalem.
These fantastic events created a stir within the Jewish community and among Jewish leaders. After Peter and John then healed a man outside one of the temple gates, they were immediately summoned before the Jewish high council. They were threatened—yet undaunted (Acts 3-4).
The preaching of Christ’s gospel gained momentum. The Church experienced rapid growth from 120 to about 5,000 members (Acts 4:4). People began traveling to Jerusalem, bringing their sick and demon-possessed to the apostles to be healed (Acts 5:12-16).
However, this growth provoked serious persecution. Jewish leaders became incensed and fearful. The apostles were thrown in prison (verse 18). An angel released them and told them to return to the temple and preach. When they obeyed, the religious leaders found them and made this extraordinary statement: “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (verse 28). What an impact these men had in Jerusalem!
After these leaders beat them and again set them free, the apostles continued to preach as Christ had commanded (verses 40-42). “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Wherever God is doing a work, Satan is close by trying to subvert and destroy it. This has been true from the days of Adam and Eve, and it was certainly true of the New Testament Church.
Jewish leaders wanted to stop this new, overzealous faction. Their persecution became far more intense—and deadly. Men, women and children were slaughtered. Acts 7 records the brutal and tragic martyrdom of Stephen. Under siege, many of God’s people were forced to flee: “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).
However, the persecution did not stop God’s Work: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (verse 4). This scattering of God’s people actually furthered the gospel, causing it to spread throughout the known world. Still, the headquarters of the Church remained in Jerusalem. It was there that the ministers met to discuss important matters that affected the Church as a whole (Acts 15).
However, Satan soon launched a craftier attack: establishing a counterfeit church. The history of how he used a sorcerer named Simon to mix elements of Christianity with the Babylonian mystery religion is crucial to understand. I have devoted four chapters to this in my book The True History of God’s True Church (request a free copy). It shows how Satan infiltrated the true Church with false ministers and erroneous doctrines. The original apostles fought valiantly to beat back these destructive forces, but they increasingly came under personal attack.
The years a.d. 60 through 70 were terribly volatile. When the inhuman, egomaniacal Nero ascended to power in Rome, he set off a terrible persecution against Christians. In the early summer of a.d. 68, Nero beheaded the Apostle Paul in Rome. God’s leading Church elders there were also imprisoned and slaughtered. Peter and most of the other apostles were also martyred not long afterward. This created a huge void in the upper level of leadership of the Church.
The Jerusalem congregation of the Church faced a city in disarray. In a.d. 66, Jewish rebels defied the Roman government in Palestine. A general revolt erupted.
Starting in the spring of a.d. 67, the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus swept from the north into Judea. Jerusalem was surrounded by armies. Heeding Christ’s warning (Luke 21:20-21), the Church in that area fled northeast to the city of Pella. Located in the Gilead mountains east of the Jordan River, Pella was a safe haven for God’s little flock.
In a.d. 70, Titus conquered Jerusalem. His siege of the city, described in detail by Josephus and Eusebius, was barbaric. Many people died of starvation. Before the siege was over, cannibalism was rife among the inhabitants. Once inside the city, Titus oversaw the slaughter of many people. He burned the temple to the ground and laid waste the city. In all, some 600,000 people—by some accounts, over a million—were butchered!
This holocaust fulfilled the prophecy Jesus had uttered when He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). He had foretold: “For the days shall come upon thee [Jerusalem], that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another …” (verses 43-44). Proof is abundant and overwhelming that this prophecy was fulfilled in a.d. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and razed the temple.
The historian-priest Josephus was an eyewitness and recorded the event in great detail. He recorded that Caesar ordered the Romans to “demolish the entire city and temple.” “[I]t was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited,” he wrote. “For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor if anyone that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it [its whereabouts].” He said anyone looking upon the devastation would never imagine a city had been there!
This agrees with other accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem from eyewitnesses, including that of Titus, the Roman general who oversaw the final ruin of Jerusalem. Eleazar, a historian and leader of the last remnant of the Jewish resistance at Masada, wrote: “Where is this city that was believed to have God Himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations, and hath nothing left but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those [Romans] that hath destroyed it, which [camp] still dwells upon its ruins ….” Eleazar said the only thing unscathed from the war and still standing was a facility located just beyond the border of ancient Jerusalem.
They all concur that Jerusalem was utterly flattened. (This fact has crucial implications regarding the location of the temple in the first century. If the temple, along with all of Jerusalem, was leveled, then the massive walls of the so-called Temple Mount—where many stones remain on top of each other to this day—should not be standing. The facts show that what is known as the Temple Mount today was actually, as Eleazar wrote, a Roman building located at the edge, but outside, of ancient Jerusalem! You can read this story in my free booklet Jerusalem’s Temples.)
This horrifying history should provoke modern-day Israel most of all to seek God! The Jews want to be religious, but their way, not God’s way. Again and again God has appealed to Israel, but it continues to rebel. It refuses to set an example of godliness for the world. Thus, the worst of this history is going to repeat itself!
The first-century revolt and the terrible tribulation that followed is a type of what is coming upon Britain and America and Judah! The suffering that has occurred in Jerusalem points to what will happen to all humanity before Christ’s Second Coming. Christ wants all mankind to learn a lesson from what has happened in Jerusalem. So far, that lesson has not been learned. This city, so filled with woe and desolation, will soon learn a major lesson from God—because of a far more intense woe and desolation yet to come.
Matthew 24, the Olivet prophecy, which foretells this cataclysmic global destruction, follows Christ’s condemnation of Jerusalem in chapter 23. One of the great signs He gave in this prophecy of what would immediately precede His Second Coming was that Jerusalem would be encircled by foreign armies—and then trodden under foot—utterly razed! (Luke 21:20-24). (We will study more about this and related prophecies in Chapter 6.)
Mankind has reached the point where every human being is about to be destroyed unless Christ intervenes (Matthew 24:21-22). We now face human extinction because Jerusalem and Israel (and the world) have rejected Christ!
They need to understand the consequences they are about to face for that sin! It is all spelled out in prophecy. But they need to see beyond God’s wrath and see God’s hope and why He is watching Jerusalem so closely! It truly is a message all mankind needs to understand!Continue Reading: Chapter 4: The Holy City’s Modern History