13 So when the dragon perceived that he had been thrown into the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the Male. 14 And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, so that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, so that she might be nourished there for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15 So the serpent expelled water from his mouth after the woman, like a river, so as to cause her to be overwhelmed by the flood. 16 But the ground helped the woman; indeed, the ground opened its mouth and drank up the river that the dragon expelled from his mouth. 17 So the dragon was furious about the woman and off he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commands of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.
Introduction - why are Christians persecuted?
One of the things that has mystified Christians and non-Christians alike is persecution. Why does it happen? Why has there been such hatred of Christians in so many countries? You would think that Christians would actually be valued as good neighbors and citizens. After all, Christians have proven themselves to be law-abiding, submissive, loving, non-revolutionary, and model citizens. Yet the fact of the matter is that their godly testimony has often been an offense and their total loyalty to Jesus (rather than to the state) has made them a target of unbelievable abuse. And North Korea is one of the worst. Last year's Solidarity International Report documented that North Korea has routinely engaged in the following:
• Murder • Extermination • Enslavement • Forcible transfer • Arbitrary imprisonment • Torture • Rape and sexual violence • Persecution • Enforced disappearance • Other inhumane acts.
For example, there are reliable reports showing steamrollers squishing Christians. The Solidarity International report goes on to say,
Christians are reported to have suffered brutal violence. Forms of torture include beatings with fists or [use of] implements such as electric rods, wooden pokers, metal poles, water torture through forced submersion, and being used as test subjects for medical training and experimentation.
These kinds of stories can be multiplied by the tens of thousands around the world. And many people are mystified as to how humans can become so inhumane. Guards at prison camps have testified that they didn't know how they could become so sadistic. Well, the doctrine of Total Depravity explains part of the reason. But this passage gives another reason. Satan's kingdom stands behind all non-Christian regimes, and even though Satan was bound in AD 70, his emissaries continue to rule where they can. My last message gave an introduction to this passage when we looked at verse 12. But let's continue in verse 13. And because there is so much controversy, we are only going to get to two verses today.
Satan cast out of heaven (v. 13a)
Verse 13 says, "So when the dragon perceived that he had been thrown into the earth..." or literally, thrown to the land. We saw evidence that even the location to which he was thrown down was the land of Israel.
We have already seen that this great battle of verses 7-12 took place on Artemisius 21, of AD 66. And when we looked at the sixth seal, I documented Jewish, Roman, and Christian witnesses who saw a huge heavenly battle in the skies. Satan and all of his angels were cast out of heaven and no longer allowed to visit heaven to accuse the brethren, such as they had done under Job. It was a momentous historical event. Heaven was cleansed.
Satan retaliates with persecution (v. 13b)
But losing the battle and being restricted to planet earth really angered Satan. And we saw in verse 12 that he was enraged because he knew he only had a little bit of time left - namely the time between AD 66 and AD 70, before he would be bound in the Abyss. So verse 13 says, "So when the dragon perceived that he had been thrown into the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the Male."
He vented his anger against the church. This is explaining another spiritual cause for persecution. Just as Satan and his angels moved the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities of that day, demons continue to produce irrational hatred for the church in rulers like Kim Jong Un, the head of North Korea. By the way, it is one of the reasons why I no longer vote for non-Christians; they can be so easily manipulated by Satan.
In any case, it is important to realize that not all of Satan's forces were bound in AD 70. The prince was, and the beast was. The binding of those two leaders spelled the eventual doom of other demons, but the binding of other demons is a long historical process. Daniel 7 says that the rest of the beasts were allowed varying degrees of freedom to continue to work until it was their determined time and their determined season to be bound. But in this verse, it is AD 66, and Satan is not yet bound.
The flight of Christians from Jerusalem to the wilderness
Verse 14 says, "And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, so that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, so that she might be nourished there for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent."
I will look at each phrase of this amazing verse in a bit, but let me first of all point out that this flight from Jerusalem was documented by many early Christian writers as having already been fulfilled, and at least three of them mention the specific city that they fled to - Pella. Now, there is question about whether they were accurate about the specific city. I think there is some evidence that they may have fled to a neighboring region for the first three months. But in any case, the church fathers said that God warned the church in Jerusalem through both a prophet and an angel to flee from Jerusalem and travel to the region of Paerea, and three say to Pella and some other areas in Paerea. The Clementine Writings say that the early Christians obeyed Christ's command to flee and they were "kept unhurt from the destruction of war." Many believe that these Clementine writings were written within a century of this war. In about AD 325, the early church historian, Eusebius, going off of earlier documents, said the Jewish church that survived after the war,
... took its beginning after the exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of this advice they lived in Perea after having moved to that place, as I said. (Church History 3, 5, 3)
Sometime in the same century, Epiphanius of Salamis wrote,
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." (On Weights and Measures 15)
So the flight itself is quite well documented. But let's look at how it is symbolically described here:
God's supernatural provision of escape from Israel (v. 14a - "given two wings of the great eagle")
Notice the reference to two wings of the great eagle. This speaks of God's personal supernatural deliverance. Some versions have two wings of an eagle, as if the woman grows wings. But the Greek is clear that it is two wings of "the great eagle" that are given to her. In fact the word "the" is emphasized twice in the Greek, literally "two wings of the eagle, the great one." Who is "the great eagle" in the Bible? It is God Himself. He gives the woman His wings and He personally helps her to fly away. He doesn't just send His angels; this is a personal, supernatural deliverance. And like other parts of this very Hebrew book, this is based on Old Testament imagery.
Alluding to taking Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, God said, " I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself" (Exodus 19:4). Deuteronomy 33:10-12 says, “he maintained him in the wilderness [ἔρημος] … as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the LORD alone led him...” This emphasizes His personal intervention. He was there in the form of a theophany - a pillar that glowed at night and a pillar that looked like a cloud during the day. So this is why many commentaries believe that this is a reference to God Himself personally bearing her up.
One interesting side note is that if this is indeed using the Old Testament symbol of God rescuing His bride out of Egypt on eagles wings and taking her into the wilderness to protect her, then Jerusalem and Israel are now being likened to pagan Egypt. Of course, that is not the first time God has done that. In Revelation 11:8 God says that the city where Jesus was crucified is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt. Earlier he had said that the unbelieving Jews don't deserve the title of Jew. So the true Israel (the church), is being rescued out of spiritual Egypt (or unbelieving Israel). In other words, it isn't just Rome who had been persecuting the church, but Israel also. And of course, that has been a recurring theme earlier in the book.
Another thing that needs to be mentioned is that if the woman is taken away from the presence of Satan (which is what the last phrase of verse 14 says), it means that whatever place she fled to must have an absence of demons. Wherever she is, Satan is not present in any way. And this is an encouragement to me. Even cities like Pella can have demons kept away. That's phenomenal. Now it may be that the demons evacuated after the radical Jews exterminated all of the Gentiles in that city. Some think it was an empty city when these Christians moved in. But however God did it, think about a refuge that is demon-free. That phrase indicates that God can put up a spiritual hedge that keeps Satan and demons completely out of a region. And if that is true of a city and possibly even the whole region of Paerea, how much more so would it be true that God can keep demons out of your house and make it a sanctuary. Scripture speaks of God sending His angels to guard us and keep the enemy at bay. And seeing Scriptures like this can give us faith to ask God to keep demons out of certain territories - such as this building when we are worshiping here. These 144,000 were finally given reprieve, and whatever location they went to (and we will look at that in a bit), that location was demon-free. Praise God! That little phrase is so encouraging to me! It gives me faith.
But the most important point is that the wings of the great eagle imply that the church could rely upon God's supernatural presence. To compare it to the original Exodus, one would expect that there were miracles associated and divine presence shown in some way. And there were. In previous chapters we looked at several miracles that took place at this precise time (at least if my theory of the timing is correct).
I'll deal with a couple of the miracles under the next point, but let me remind you that if the Bible promises God's eagle wings of protection, then we too can expect His supernatural presence. Malachi 4:2 speaks of His supernatural healing: "The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings." His wings are associated with supernatural healing. Psalm 17:8 promises supernatural protection from the enemy: "Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings." Psalm 36:7 promises supernatural provision: "How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings." Deuteronomy 32 promises the church supernatural guidance, training, and leading. Speaking of God's guidance of Israel with the Glory Cloud, it says,
Deuteronomy 32:10-12 He [God] encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. 11 As an eagle stirs up its nest, Hovers over its young, Spreading out its wings, taking them up, [the little eaglets will sometimes ride on the back of the mother eagle to get a feel for it - "Spreading out its wings, taking them up"] Carrying them on its wings, 12 So the LORD alone led him,
The wings of the Great Eagle can be yours. God continues to heal, to protect, to provide, and to lead. And we should worship and adore Him for His amazing provisions.
Two earlier predictions of this flight into the wilderness form the background to this passage
But because so many unbelievers have criticized this flight to Pella as being impossible, and because Christian books are all over the map in trying to explain how this really is possible, and because most Christian books ignore the problem that unbelievers bring up, I want to dig into this a bit more. If you have read much on Revelation, you will see that there are a number of different theories. But one thing they are agreed on is that John is bringing both Old Testament and New Testament prophecy to the reader's mind when he writes these words. The New Testament prophecy was Christ's Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 and the parallel Gospels.
But we will look at the Old Testament background first. Please turn to Zechariah 14. I really want you to see the flow of the passage because if this passage is understood, many other things fall into place. This is the passage which would have immediately popped into every Jewish mind. They had long been anticipating this time. So many events in Zechariah were perfectly lining up, and any Christian who was familiar with prophecy would have been looking at current events with intense anticipation. In fact, let's begin in chapter 13 so that you can see that this is a first century context. Because some Christians don't understand how chapter 14 could be fulfilled, they put it into our future, but look first at Zechariah 13:7.
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered; Then I will turn My hand against the little ones.
Verse 7 is quoted in Matthew 26:31 as being fulfilled when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and when all of the disciples ran and were scattered. So we have an inspired commentary that anchors this verse in AD 30. Then the last phrase of verse 7 through to verse 9 shows that God would allow great tribulation to come to His little ones (his infant church) to purify it in the last days of the Old Covenant. From the death of Christ to AD 66 there would be increasing persecution in Israel. And He says that two thirds of the Jewish church in Jerusalem would die and one third would survive. So if there were 144,000 survivors, it makes the church in first century Jerusalem (or Israel) approximately 432,000. That's just a little factoid I thought I would throw in there. Too many people think verses 8-9 are talking about the deaths of the unbelieving Jews in the war, but chapter 14 gives a different number of deaths for unbelieving Jews. The last phrase of verse 7 makes clear that the tribulation of verses 8-9 is the tribulation of believers - and verse 9 makes it clear that they would be purified and made into an incredibly strong church that would be prepared to take over the world. So chapter 13:7 is AD 30. Verses 8-9 is the persecution of the church up to AD 66.
Chapter 14 then deals with God's retribution upon the unbelieving Jews for having persecuted the church. And he does so in a series of snapshots.
The first snapshot of the Jewish war and beyond is in verses 1-3.
1 Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
We saw in a previous sermon that the Roman armies that came to Jerusalem were indeed made up of all the nations of the empire. Every language group and every skin color was represented. And in terms of dividing your spoil, Florus robbed the temple of 25 talents of gold in AD 66, and Titus took the rest in AD 70. Continuing in verse 2:
The city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
Josephus records that Rome left a remnant of Jews at the city and it was not until the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion (AD 132-135) that it was completely evacuated of all Jews. But this is describing the earlier war. Verse 3:
3 Then the LORD will go forth And fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle.
And we have already documented that God's judgments were not just against Israel. They were against Rome as well. And during the same years that Israel was being destroyed, Rome fell apart and massive numbers of Gentiles were killed in the civil wars, the plagues, and the other disasters that happened. Rome even lost large numbers in the early part of the Jewish war.
But now, in verses 4-9 we have another snapshot of the same time period.
4 And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south.
There are disagreements among scholars on how this should be translated. I won't give a definitive interpretation this morning. Some see this as a double landslide, such as Josephus says had happened under Uzziah and that it fills the valley rather than making a valley. And archeology certainly shows a first century massive landslide on both sides of the Mount of Olives. So there were two valleys that were filled. But even if we take it the way that the NKJV translates it, there is evidence that the split we see today on the Mount of Olives may well have happened during this earthquake on the day of Pentecost of AD 66. Early historians tell us that God's glory cloud left the temple and stood on the Mount of Olives. This either created an earthquake or was accompanied by an earthquake that made massive amounts of that unstable mountain fall. The picture in your outline shows a Roman road that used to run through that convenient gap. I also have another picture that shows the amount of rubble that fell from the mountain. Here was the order of events that we can piece together from Christian, Jewish, and Roman sources.
First, angelic voices warned Israel that if they did not repent God would forever leave them. I love how God gives warnings. He doesn't just judge out of the blue. He gives warnings that judgment is imminent. In any case, both angelic and prophetic warnings happened on this date according to Tacitus, Josephus, Ambrose of Milan, Eusebius, Yossipon, and an eye witness rabbi by the name of Jonathan. This shows that the events of that day were God's supernatural intervention. So the first event was supernatural voices.
Immediately after the voices came a supernatural theophany (or manifestation of God) that the Jews called the Shekinah Glory, and which we sometimes call the Glory Cloud. Even the Jewish Talmud admits that this massive pillar of fire and cloud left the temple before the war and stood on the Mount of Olives in exactly the same way that it left the temple and stood on the mount of olives in Ezekiel's day, just before the exile (Ezek. 10:18-19; 11:22-23). I don't know how any Jews could have missed the ominous connection. That's a literal fulfillment of this verse, which says, "in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives." According to Ernest Martin, there are three ancient witnesses to that Glory Cloud leaving the temple on Pentecost of AD 66, landing on the Mount of Olives, and possibly resulting in the split in the Mount of Olives that you can still see today. But that was a supernatural testimony that Israel would be abandoned to judgment. God very literally stood upon that mountain. It was His personal presence to deliver His people. Eusebius, the early church historian, seems to refer to this event as an apologetic against the Jews - saying that God's Shekina glory left them and went to the Mount of Olives precisely to show God's favor upon the church. For Eusebius to say that seems to indicate that this was common knowledge.
Third, there was an earthquake reported on that same day by Josephus, Eusebius, and Ambrose of Milan. Whether the Glory Cloud created the earthquake or whether the earthquake happened independently we are not sure, but it was likely that earthquake that created the valley in the Mount of Olives. And modern seismology shows the fault lines going right through it. So the mountain mentioned in verse 4 was literally split (and according to modern archeology apparently had a massive landslide - so the evidence fits either translation of this verse), and this was all done by God in order to accommodate the flight of the Christians. There is debate on the exact translation of the verse, but we will see in a moment that the devastation could not have been any greater than what happened with the earthquake under King Uzziah. Premils insist that it has to be a far more massive split. But verse 5 says otherwise. Notice the command in verse 5:
5 Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
And Azal is on the other end of that dip in the wilderness. This is the most logical route for the Christians to have followed on their way to Pella. It goes on:
Yes, you shall flee As you fled from the earthquake In the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the LORD my God will come, And all the saints with You.
Notice that it is not an end-of-the-world kind of flight, but they were to flee just like they fled in the days of King Uzziah. That fact makes this less cataclysmic.
And as a sidenote, if they had not obeyed God's command, they would likely have been killed by the zealots who remained behind. But the Zealots were likely to avoid a brand new rift made by an earthquake, accompanied by a landslide, especially if the Glory Cloud was sitting on top of it. That would have been unnerving. And that the Jews were unnerved can be seen in the fact that this Glory Cloud presence on that mountain is mentioned to this day in the Talmud. This valley was the one place that these Christians could run to without being molested. Verses 6-7 show two more things that happened during that war:
6 It shall come to pass in that day That there will be no light; The lights will diminish. 7 It shall be one day Which is known to the LORD— Neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen That it will be light.
This first sign was recorded by Tacitus as the sun darkening during the day and a bright light shining during the night. We looked at those signs when I preached on Revelation 6:12-17. The Roman soldiers were freaked out by the sun being darkened when there was no solar eclipse. It was obvious that it was a supernatural darkness. And both the Roman historian Tacitus and the Jewish historian Josephus record that a miraculous light emanating from the Temple lit up the city of Jerusalem so brightly “that it appeared to be bright daytime.” This miracle literally fulfills verse 7 which says, “When evening comes, there will be light.” But what a beautiful symbol of the end of the Old Covenant (the sun being darkened) and the beginning of the New Covenant (supernatural light coming out of the temple). Verse 8 gives the other sign.
8 And in that day it shall be That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, Half of them toward the eastern sea And half of them toward the western sea; In both summer and winter it shall occur.
While Josephus does indeed mention a miraculous change in the physical water coming into and out of Jerusalem, because this text uses the phrase "living waters," (which Ezekiel clearly uses for the Holy Spirit leaving the temple) this is most likely referring to the living waters of the Holy Spirit leaving the temple and going to the ends of the world - especially since almost identical language is used of the Holy Spirit in other passages. Nevertheless, it is interesting that Josephus says that the literal spring-fed-stream that supplied water to Jerusalem had almost completely dried up (unheard of), but once Titus had conquered the city, that stream miraculously surged with far more water than it had previously. It could be that the literal waters were intended by God to be a symbol of the spiritual waters. That happens frequently in the book of Revelation. I won't be dogmatic. But either way, one cannot say that this verse was not fulfilled.
Verse 9 then goes on to show that Christ's kingdom would expand over all the world after that war. But I want to skip down to verse 12, which I believe was fulfilled in AD 79, when Mount Vesuvius blew its top. That happened under Titus, who plays big role in the book of Revelation.
Zech. 14:12 And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem:
Who fought against Jerusalem? It would be Rome. And of those Romans verse 12 says,
Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths.
When you read the historical accounts of Mount Vesuvius, this is a perfect description of exactly what happened. This was part of God's pay-back to Rome. Mount Vesuvius released a massive surge cloud that engulfed the surrounding Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Oplontis in an incendiary cloud of smoke, lava and ash. Burning at an estimated one thousand degrees Fahrenheit, this volcanic ash would have consumed any who were within a certain radius before their bodies even hit the ground. This is a literal fulfillment.
Then verse 15 goes on to describe plagues hitting Roman citizens and animals. And Roman historians say that immediately after Mount Visuvius, plagues hit the empire killing animals and men. The historians blamed the plague on the ash- who knows? But that there were disastrous plagues is indisputable. They describe utter panic in the citizenry. Verse 15 was perfectly fulfilled.
Then it goes on to describe the Bar Kochba War of AD 132-135, which was Israel's last hurrah, and the resulting devastation. From that time on, Jews were not allowed into the Jerusalem. However, a Christian church was established there, and pilgrimages were indeed made to Jerusalem every year. Eusebius says that they made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, not because Jerusalem was holy, which it was not, but to commemorate the presence of God being given to the church in this miraculous glory cloud resting upon the Mount of Olives. It was a confirmation that Pentecost was indeed true forever. He saw it as quite significant.
After that Zechariah goes on to describe the gradual growth of Christ's kingdom until everything in the world will eventually become holy. So that's the context. This was a passage that was always uppermost in the Jewish mind.
So back to verse 5, this verse gives the command to flee from Jerusalem and therefore the fleeing of Revelation 12 must happen sometime after the Glory Cloud rested on the Mount of Olives (in other words, after Pentecost of AD 66) and sometime before the Jewish war began. That's a pretty small window of time. So this passage is an incredibly important background passage that helps to interpret Revelation 12.
The Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:15-21; Mark 13:14-23; Luke 21:20-24)
The second place where this fleeing is commanded also helps us to narrow down the timing. It is in the Olivet Discourse, which is recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Some theories of the Revelation 12 flight take into account Luke 21, and some take into account Matthew 24, and others take into account a phrase in Mark 13, but all three passages need to be taken into account if we are to date this correctly. Let's read Luke 21:20-24 first.
Luke 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
So Jerusalem has to be surrounded by armies. The first century Christians were commanded to flee the moment they saw that happen. And there is debate because there are 4-5 times when armies surrounded Jerusalem. So which one do we date it from? Turn next to Matthew 24:15-16.
Matt. 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
This second clue is that there needs to be an abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. And it needs to be standing in the holy place.
The third clue is given in Mark 13:14, which simply adds one more phrase: when they see the abomination of desolation "standing where it ought not."
The dating of this flight to the wilderness
Those three hints together with the information in Zechariah 14 help us to narrow down the timing a bit, but more work needs to be done to be absolutely certain. So what I will do is give all the theories and list their strong and weak points. I will tell you which one I lean towards. Each of these theories meets at least some of the evidence. But it does get confusing when you read the commentaries and books on this subject, because they date this event all over the place.
Some have proposed that this flight of the church into the wilderness, or into the town of Pella, happened just before Titus came to capture the city. Certainly armies surrounded Jerusalem in a hostile way, but I fail to see how this was either the abomination standing in the holy place or the abomination standing where it ought not. They say, "Well, Jerusalem was the holy place." The problem is, Roman armies had long been allowed by the Jews to occupy various places in Jerusalem, even up to the temple, but not the temple itself. You can see the model of the Tower of Antonia in the picture in your outline that shows that this Roman occupied fortress was allowed just outside the court of the Gentiles. So if this abomination standing in the holy place speaks of a brand new event, Jerusalem can't be the holy place. Yet that tends to be the majority Preterists interpretation.
Second, by the time Roman soldiers occupied the temple, it was way too late for anyone to flee.
Third, I fail to see how there was a time, and times, and half a time after Vespasian surrounded the city.
Fourth, though there were some Jews who were allowed to escape before they occupied the temple, Josephus does not seem to describe a massive number, such as the 144,000 would have been. Certainly after Titus walked into the temple with his armies, there would be zero opportunity to escape. So on four levels, AD 70 simply does not work. I have 100% ruled that one out.
A second theory says that this escape happened after Cestius surrounded Jerusalem on Tishri 30 (or October 8), of AD 66. This used to be my position and it still has some very strong points. I will not dogmatically dismiss it. Cestius successfully undermined the walls of the temple and was on the verge of lighting the temple wall on fire (so he was at least up to and under the holy place) when for no good reason that any historian can figure out, he retreated. In the retreat of his army, the Jews not only killed most of them, they captured the Roman eagle - a blow to Roman pride. Some think this was when Christians fled because Josephus says, "After this calamity had befallen Cestius, many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink." (Jewish War 2:20:1) But if you read the context of that Josephus quote, you will see that it wasn't the Christians who fled then, but the pro-Roman Jews who knew that the writing was on the wall at this point. Now, maybe Christians fled at the same point as well, but that is not what Josephus seems to be referring to.
Secondly, the phrase "time, and times, and half a time" is a quote from Daniel 7:25. If that phrase simply refers to the three and a half years of Titus' Jewish war, then this theory would fit. But it actually seems to be a reference to the three campaigns of Rome to subdue Jerusalem, each of which was separated by a short period when there was a removal of the armies. It actually covers more than four years. The first campaign was "a time" and refers to Cestius' 66 AD campaign. The second compaign was "and times" and refers to Vespasian and Titus' two year campaign of AD 68-69. Vespasian then gets recalled to Rome to become emperor. The third campaign was the "half a time" and refers to the six month campaign of Titus against Jerusalem, which completely overthrew the city. If that is the true interpretation (which I am absolutely convinced of), then Cestius's defeat doesn't fit because verse 14 places the flight of the woman when? - before the "time and times and half a time." She is nourished by God in the wilderness during the whole of that three part Roman campaign. So that by itself seems to make Cestius' campaign come after she flees. Dicvovering that previously gave me heartburn, but every Biblical clue has to be accounted for.
The third problem with the Cestius theory is that he didn't actually stand inside the temple. So, while it is a credible theory, and while it solves a problem that I have with my own theory (the problem of Josephus saying that Jews massacred the citizens of Pella) I no longer hold to it.
The third theory is that the armies surrounding Jerusalem were the heavenly armies that appeared on Artemisius 21 (or May 4). You may remember our detailed discussion in chapter 6 of the huge figure of a man being seen in the sky leading countless armies in battle against other heavenly beings, and these armies of chariots were explicitly said to be encircling or surrounding Jerusalem. Since the Roman historian Tacitus, the Jewish historians Josephus and Yossipon, and the Christian historian Eusebius all say that these armies were seen by everyone as surrounding Jerusalem (exact words used), this has been hypothesized as being the warning that Christians would need to flee. They certainly saw heavenly armies surrounding Jerusalem on May 4.
I'm not saying that these heavenly armies didn't factor into the Christian decision to flee (I think it probably did), but Matthew 24 and Mark 13 indicate that there had to be more than heavenly armies involved. Christ was quite clear that "the abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel the prophet must be standing in the holy place, and standing where it ought not to be. That seems to be a reference to something that shouldn't be in the temple standing in the temple. So I actually combine theories three and four.
Theory 4 is the Governor Florus theory. It says that Florus' Roman army forced its way into the temple, and they did so on the same day that the heavenly armies appeared in the sky. So this theory is actually pretty legit. That's why I said that I combine this with the previous one. It fits Zechariah 14 perfectly. But it fits the Olivet Discourse well too because world-wide tribulation followed this, and God had to protect a tiny remnant to reseed the earth. So an earthly army surrounded Jerusalem and came into the temple and a heavenly army surrounded Jerusalem on Artemisius 21.
The tension actually started 3-4 days earlier. The Sadducees, who were in charge of the temple, had given the governor, Festus, a bribe of eight talents of gold. In the past they were pretty much able to control politics through such enormous bribes. Eight talents is 16,640 ounces of gold. So that was a bribe of over $20 million. But Festus was an incredibly greedy man, and he knew there was more. He demanded an additional 17 talents of gold, which in today's prices would amount to more than $40 million. The high priests weren't too thrilled with Florus asserting control rather than being controlled with money, so they moved behind the scenes to get him removed from office. They had connections in Rome. After all, they were the ones who got him appointed in the first place.
But their resistance to his demand and a series of perceived insults from others enraged Florus and against all rational thinking he sent his armies into the city, went to the temple and took the money by force. War had been declared previously over lesser offenses than that, so this really was a stupid move on his part. He then added insult to injury by declaring that the temple money was "for Caesar" anyway, claiming Roman jurisdiction over the priests and over the temple and over the money. He no doubt did this because it angered him that the high priests had been manipulating and controlling him through bribes, so now he was declaring Rome's jurisdiction over them. He is turning the tables. This robbery of the temple sparked protests, and he retaliated by indiscriminately killing men, women, and children. Josephus tells us that almost 4000 citizens died, with the Queen almost being killed in the mayhem. In his evangelistic writing to the Jews, Ambrose of Milan indicates that Florus' entry into the temple was the Jewish justification for going to war.
I have been very attracted to this view as it fits 99% of the evidence. But there is a problem. The one problem is that if (as three church say) the Christians fled to Pella, then there is a fatal problem with this theory. Josephus claims that shortly after Ellul 17 (or August 26), every Gentile inhabitant of Pella was killed by Jews in retaliation for the massacre of Jews that took place in Caesarea. Now it is true, that he gives a long list of cities where Jews massacred the Gentiles, so they may not have all happened on the same day, but that is the most natural reading. You see the problem, right? That massacre is three months after this theory says they went to Pella to be protected for the duration of the war. If the Christians had been there some time in May, every one of them would have probably perished in August. Some rescue the theory by saying that the Jews only killed the Gentiles, and these were all Jewish Christians. That is possible. Others rescue the theory by saying that the Christians fled to Petra, which would indeed have made them safe. But there are at least three church fathers who say that it was Pella. Others point out that those same church fathers say it was Pella and other places in Paerea, so Pella could have been occupied three months later. Others have pointed out that these early church historians were removed from the time by 200-400 years, so they may have gotten it wrong. And that is true. I haven't resolved this detail in my mind, so let me give you two other candidates.
Another possible candidate for the abomination that makes desolate is the Jewish zealot, Menahem, a man who successfully fought his way into Jerusalem, declared himself king, entered the temple, and killed the high priest. He was indeed an abomination. But he didn't last long, being killed by a mob. And it faces the same problem as the previous theory - a couple days after he enters the temple, the citizens of Pella are destroyed. There is enough ambiguity in Josephus that the destruction of Pella could have actually happened a couple days earlier, in which case, Christians could indeed flee there. So it is a legit theory on some levels.
The last candidate for the abomination that makes desolate was John of Gischala, a man who killed thousands of his countrymen, entered the temple, killed the high priest, and then set up a mock high priest who was a common man - someone whom Josephus says brought mockery to the priesthood and defiled the temple. In fact, Josephus explicitly says that he was an abomination that defiled the temple and guaranteed Israel's destruction. His party was perverted beyond belief. So on many levels he does fit. His high priest was certainly an abomination standing where he ought not.
But neither of those last two candidates comes before the time, and times, and half a time. In fact, they don't even come before the war with Vespasian. So Cestius is actually a slightly better candidate time-wise than those two.
The bottom line is that there were at least four times that armies surrounded Jerusalem and stood where they ought not. And it is likely that Christians fled during one of those. But having evaluated all of the evidence, I believe the date of Artemisius 21 (or May 4) of AD 66 fits the exegetical evidence of Zechariah 14 best, fits the idea of armies (plural) surrounding Jerusalem, and fits the idea of an abomination actually standing in the temple equally well with Menahem and John of Gischala. Likewise, Josephus dates the war as being started by the actions of Florus. To escape on that date would have spared the church from all the fighting of the three factions in Jerusalem that immediately followed. And if they fled to Petra and other regions of Paerea first, and then settled in Pella, then 100% of the evidence would fit. In any case, Biblical exegesis should trump secular history.
Conclusion - Five applications you can take to the bank
But while I will not be dogmatic on the secular history, there are things we can be absolutely certain on. So in conclusion, here are five applications that you can take to the bank.
First, remind yourself that the days of Satan's kingdom are numbered. He was pushed out of heaven, then pushed out of Pella, and Zechariah indicates his kingdom will be progressively pushed out of this world. The days of Satan's kingdom are numbered.
Second, do not be mystified by persecution. Once you understand total depravity and how demons take advantage of it, persecution of us makes sense. Demons are our sworn enemies and we must be their sworn enemies. In any case, Zechariah says that even persecution can be used by God to purify and strengthen the church.
Third, rejoice that the same supernatural wings that gave such aid to the first century Christians are supernatural wings that God offers to you. The same God who tenderly nourished His bride in the wilderness, tenderly nourishes us today. He loves us and has given Himself to us, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
Fourth, realize that Christians have power over demons to keep them out of any territory that Christians possess. For example, each Sunday morning if we resist demons properly in prayer, dedicate the use of this property to Christ, and cleanse the property with His blood, then demons have no right to enter this room where we worship. If we resist demons in prayer, they cannot enter our home. And if you find demonic activity in your home, talk to me about how to rid your home of demons. It is actually quite easy. Just as first century Christians were taken away from the presence of the serpent, you too can find refuge in your homes.
And finally, find hope in the fact that even the worst troubles on earth are limited in duration and cannot go beyond the time that God allows. Our God is sovereign, and Jesus said of the church, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Amen.
The full report is available for download here: http:// docs-eu.livesiteadmin.com/dc3e323f-351c-4172-800e-4e02848abf80/2016-07-north-korea.pdf ↩
"The members of the Jerusalem church by means of an oracle, given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and settle in a town in Peraea called Pella." (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, 5:4) ↩
"...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." (Epiphanius, On Weights and Measures 15) ↩
Clementine Writings, Recognitions, I, 36 and 39. ↩
δύο πτέρυγες τοῦ ἀετοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου, ↩
...the image of the woman flying with “the two wings of a great eagle … into the wilderness [ἔρημος],” to a “place [τόπος] of nourishment,” alludes to two OT pictures. First, it reflects the picture of God as an eagle protecting Israel in the wilderness, probably alluding to three specific OT passages together, Exod. 19:4 (“I took you up as on eagles’ wings and brought you near to myself”); Deut. 1:31–33 (“in this wilderness [ἔρημος] … God will bear you as a nursling, as a man bears his son … to choose you a place [τόπος], guiding you”); and Deut. 32:10–12 (“he maintained him in the wilderness [ἔρημος] … as an eagle … having spread its wings, and takes him on his back … and there was not a foreign god with him”; cf. Deut. 33:12; Ps. 103:5–7). G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 669.
The Mount of Olives is now actually composed of three summits: the northern summit called Scopus, the middle summit called Nob, and the highest point. ↩
Tacitus, Histories 5.13. ↩
Josephus, Wars 6.5.3 [6.299] ↩
Pseudo-Hegesippus, Chapter 44. (Translated from the Latin by Wade Blocker. This excerpt taken from the Latin edited by Vincente Ussani): "Moreover in the celebration itself of the Pentecost the priests entering the interior of the temple at night time, that they might celebrate the usual sacrifices, asserted themselves at first to have a felt a certain movement and a sound given forth, afterwards even to have heard shouted in a sudden voice 'we cross over from here.'" http://www.preteristarchive.com/ChurchHistory/0370_hegesippus-pseudo_jerusalem.html Note that many scholars believe that Pseudo-Hegesippus was written by Ambrose of Milan. Some manuscripts explicitly credit the writing to him. ↩
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.8.6 ↩
Sepher Yosippon, Trans. Dr. Steven Bowman, Ch. 87, Burning of the Temple]. Here is an extract: "When the holiday of Shavu'oth came in those days, during the night the priests heard within the Temple something like the sound of men going and the sound of men marching in a multitude going into the Temple, and a terrible and mighty voice was heard speaking: 'Let's go and leave this House.'' ↩
Midrash Rabbah Lamentations Proems 25 cited in Ernest L. Martin, Secrets of Golgotha: The Forgotten History of Christ’s Crucifixion (Alhambra, CA: ASK Publications, 1988), p. 84. The full quote is as follows: "R. Jonathan said: Three and a half years the Shechinah abode upon the Mount of Olives hoping that Israel would repent, but they did not; while a Bath Kol issued announcing, 'Return, O backsliding children (Jer. III, 14), Return unto Me, and I will return unto you (Mal. III, 7).' When they did not repent, it said, 'I will go and return to My place (Hos. V, 15).' Concerning that time it is said, 'Give glory to the Lord your God, before it grow dark' (Jer. XIII, 16): before it becomes dark to you for lack of words of Torah, before it becomes dark to you for lack of words of prophecy, 'and before your feet stumble upon the mountains of twilight.'" (Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations Prologue XXV) ↩
Midrash Rabbah Lamentations Proems 25 cited in Ernest L. Martin, Secrets of Golgotha: The Forgotten History of Christ’s Crucifixion (Alhambra, CA: ASK Publications, 1988), 84. ↩
Eusebius said, “Believers in Christ congregate from all parts of the world, not as of old time because of the glory of Jerusalem, nor that they may worship in the ancient Temple at Jerusalem, but . . . that they may worship at the Mount of Olives opposite to the city, whither the glory of the LORD [the Shekinah] migrated when it left the former city.” (Eusebius Proof of the Gospel 6.18.) ↩
Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3. ↩
Josephus says, War 5:409 (5.9.4) although Magnus and Sossius did not only suffer nothing, but took the city by force; as did Vespasian go from the war he made against you to receive the empire; and as for Titus, those springs that were formerly almost dried up when they were under your power3 since he is come, run more plentifully than they did before; War 5:410 (5.9.4) accordingly, you know that Siloam, as well as all the other springs that were without the city, did so far fail, that water was sold by distinct measures; whereas they now have such a great quantity of water for your enemies, as is sufficient not only for drink both for themselves and their cattle, but for watering their gardens also. ↩
Josephus says, "...before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding the cities." (Wars 6:298-299) Yossipon says, "Moreover, in those days were seen chariots of fire and horsemen, a great force flying across the sky near to the ground coming against Jerusalem and all the land of Judah, all of them horses of fire and riders of fire." Steven B. Bowman (Translator), Sepher Yosippon, A Medieval History of Ancient Israel (from the critical Hebrew edition of David Flusser, translated by Steven B. Bowman), prepublication manuscript. The publisher of intent is Harvard Loeb Classical Library. Eusebius writes, "For before the setting of the sun there were seen chariots and armed troops on high, wheeling through the clouds around the whole region, and surrounding the cities." Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Translated by Christian Frederick Cruse, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971), Book 3, Chapter 8, Sections 5-6. ↩
Many believe that Ambrose was the author of Pseudo-Hegesippus. He says,
The Romans wished peace, you proclaimed war. What cause was there that you should provoke those stronger? It was truly harsh that contrary to sacred law a gentile should have entered the temple, but already it was not the temple of God. (Ambrose of Milan, Pseudo-Hegesippus, Book V , p. 297. Translated from Latin into English By Wade Blocker)
The three earliest testimonies to occupation of Pella are that of Eusebius (263-339), Epiphanius (315-403), and Remigius (437-533):
Eusebius (263 – 339 AD)
1. “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 there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men” (Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3, 290’s AD). 2. “After all those who believed in Christ had generally come to live in Perea, in a city called Pella of the Decapolis of which it is written in the Gospel and which is situated in the neighborhood of the region of Batanaea and Basanitis, Ebion’s preaching originated here after they had moved to this place and had lived there” (Panarion 30:2). 3. “For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan. It is said to belong to Decapolis” (de Mens. et Pond., 15). 4. “Now this sect of Nazarenes exists in Beroea in Coele-Syria, and in Decapolis in the district of Pella, and in Kochaba of Basanitis– called Kohoraba in Hebrew. For thence it originated after the migration from Jerusalem of all the disciples who resided at Pella, Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege. It was owing to this counsel that they went away, as I have said, to reside for a while at Pella” (Haer 29:7).
Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (315 – 403 AD)
“The Nazoraean sect exists in Beroea near Coele Syria, in the Decapolis near the region of Pella, and in Bashan in the place called Cocaba, which in Hebrew is called Chochabe. That is where the sect began, when all the disciples were living in Pella after they moved from Jerusalem, since Christ told them to leave Jerusalem and withdraw because it was about to be besieged” (Panarion 29:7:7-8). “Their sect began after the capture of Jerusalem. For when all those who believed in Christ settled at that time for the most part in Peraea, in a city called Pella belonging to the Decapolis mentioned in the gospel, which is next to Batanaea and the land of Bashan, then they moved there and stayed” (Panarion 30:2:7).
Remigius, Bishop of Reims (437 – 533 AD)
“[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans” [Thomas Aquinas (1841). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels; Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 799-816)].