NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 16-17: “The people in Judea at that time should run away to the mountains. They should run away without wasting time to stop for anything. If they are on the roof of their house, they must not go down to get anything out of the house.”
Jesus does not specify what terrible thing Daniel was talking about, but many scholars believe it to be the Roman Army. The Romans were seen as a predatory horde and an abomination. Not only because they consisted of uncircumcised, heathen soldiers. But chiefly because of the images of their gods which were upon their ensigns: for images and idols were always an abomination to the Jews. But what seemed even more despicable was the infighting among the Jews who were encircled inside Jerusalem. So there is no doubt here of what period in history Jesus is referring to. From Jewish historian Flavius Josephus we have this account:
But now the tyrant Simon, the son of Gioras, whom the people had invited in, out of the hopes they had for his assistance in the great distress they were in, having taken control of the upper city, and a great part of the lower, did now make more vehement assaults upon John1 and his party, because they were fought against from above also; yet was he beneath their situation when he attacked them, as they were beneath the attacks of the others above them. Whereby it came to pass that John did both receive and inflict great damage and that easily, as he was fought against on both sides; and the same advantage that Eleazar and his party had over him since he was beneath them, the same advantage had he, by his elevated situation above Simon. On which account he easily repelled the attacks that were made from beneath, by the weapons thrown from their hands only; but was obliged to repel those that threw their darts from the temple above him, by his engines of war; for he had such engines as threw darts, and javelins, and stones, and that in no small number, by which he did not only defend himself from such as fought against him but slew moreover many of the priests, as they were about their sacred ministrations. For notwithstanding these men were mad with all sorts of impiety, yet did they still admit those that desired to offer their sacrifices, although they took care to search the people of their own country beforehand, and both suspected and watched them; while they were not so much afraid of strangers, who, although they had gotten leave of them, how cruel soever they were, to come into that court, were yet often destroyed by this sedition; for those darts that were thrown by the engines came with that force, that they went over all the buildings, and reached as far as the altar, and the temple itself, and fell upon the priests, and those that were about the sacred offices; insomuch that many persons who came there with great zeal from the ends of the earth, to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place, which was esteemed holy by all mankind, fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that altar which was venerable among all men, both Greeks, and Barbarians, with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves. And now, O must wretched city, what misery so great as this did you suffer from the Romans when they came to purify you from your intense hatred! For you could be no longer a place fit for God, nor could you long continue in being, after you had been a tomb for the bodies of your own people, and has made the holy house itself a burying-place in this civil war of yours. Yet may you again grow better, if perchance you will hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of your destruction.2
Also, church historian Eusebius comments on this from his perspective as a Christian. He tells us:
For the Jews after the ascension of our Savior, in addition to their crime against Him, had been devising as many plots as they could against His apostles. First Stephen was stoned to death by them, and after him, James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, was beheaded, and finally James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Savior, died in the manner already described. But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name.” – all these things anyone that wishes may find accurately described in the history written by Josephus.3
Jesus warns those who would be in the city, to flee immediately. Don’t stop on the way out of the house to take anything. In the Talmud, it speaks of those who have two story houses, which the upper level can be accessed either by a ladder inside or steps on the outside.4 So Jesus may have hinted that someone being upstairs not bother to go down the ladder inside, but escape on the outer steps. Also, if they are out in the field working, don’t run back home to retrieve anything.
Church historian Eusebius used Josephus’ writings to pinpoint this prophecy as pertaining to those living in Judea at the time the last Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Chrysostom, who follows him in church history, gives this account: “Having spoken of the ills that were to overtake the city, and of the trials of the apostles, and that they should remain active, and that they will overcome the whole world, Jesus turns again to the calamities of the Jews. While the gospel dispensation will be gloriously fulfilled, the others will be faced with deepening adversities. He shows how intolerable the war will be, even in every detail. ‘Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.’ What does He mean by ‘then’? These things will take place, He says, ‘when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel,5 standing in the holy place.’ He seems to me to be speaking of armies and wars. So flee. There is no hope of safety for you in the cities.”6
It is obvious that Chrysostom took this to mean that the events which occurred to the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem under the onslaught of Roman general Titus are likely to happen to them again in the last days. But, there were those who disagreed with him. So he continues: “Yet some will say that it has happened again and again that the people of Judah have recovered from terrible times. Think of the conditions under Sennacherib.7 Remember Antiochus.8 Remember the time when the armies had come upon them and the Temple had been seized and the Maccabees rallied to give their affairs an opposite turn!9 But Jesus forbids them thinking of any such rescue. He does not want to feed them false hopes. For this is different. It is the end time.”10
Not too long ago, Israeli archaeologists said they stumbled upon the site of one of the great dramatic scenes of Roman’s sacking Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. They unearthed a subterranean drainage channel the Jews used to escape from the city’s Roman conquerors. The dig’s directors, archaeology Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told a news conference that the ancient tunnel was dug beneath the main road of Jerusalem in the days of the second biblical Temple, which the Romans destroyed in the year 70. The channel was buried beneath the rubble of the sacking, and the parts that have been exposed since it was discovered have been preserved intact. Eli Shukron said that the walls — ashlar stones 3 feet deep — reach a height of 10 feet in some places and are covered by heavy stone slabs that were the main road’s paving stones. He also said that several manholes are visible, and portions of the original plastering remain. Pottery shards, vessel fragments, and coins from the end of the Second Temple period were discovered inside the channel, attesting to its age. But woe to those who were left behind.
For those who are not acquainted with archaeological excavations going on in Israel, it must be pointed out that the reason why Israeli archaeologists are so committed to finding such historical sites is because of the doubt and unbelief among secularists, Palestinians, and even some of their own people to the veracity of the Biblical account of their history. Kings David and Solomon and others are myths according to many. That’s why each find is so excitedly celebrated. The same is true for substantiating the Biblical account of those days, especially for those who still refuse to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is real and that all of His miracles took place as recorded, most importantly, His death and resurrection. But soon, His appearance in the sky will prove beyond all doubt that all of it is real.
1 Josephus identifies this individual as John of Gisehala or Giscala (See Wars, Bk. 4, Ch. 9:3), leader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War
2 Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Bk 5, Ch 1:3
3 Eusebius, History of the Church, Bk. III, Ch. 5
4 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Bava Metzia, folio 117a
5 See Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11
6 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 76.1
7 Cf. 2 Chronicles 32, this happened in 701 BC
8 Cf. Daniel 11:21-35, which occurred between 175-164 BC
9 See I & II Maccabees, which happened c. 160 BC
10 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 76.1