Teacher, when will this be? And what will be the sign that this will happen?
These questions of the disciples (Luke 21:7) were asked following the Lord’s declaration that “there won’t be one stone left upon another that won’t be thrown down” (v. 6). The discussion had to do with the future of the temple in Jerusalem (and the city of Jerusalem, where it was located). The words, as is obvious, can’t mean anything less than total destruction.
They asked Him, “when” will it happen? The answer to the first question, according to the facts (that we now are able to look back upon as history) it occurred in 70AD. The Romans not only burned the temple, but they literally did push one stone off another, and plowed up the ground to finish off what was left standing. The one western foundation wall, they left untouched (the so-called “wailing wall”) in order to demonstrate what a great feat it was to pull off the destruction of such a huge place. And when it took place, one of the greatest destructions of life was the result—well over a million. At the time when the siege began people all over the Mediterranean world had gathered for an annual feast—the city was filled beyond capacity—a fact that accounts for such loss of life. So, according to Christ’s prophecy, which He also predicted to occur in their lifetime (Matthew 24:34—the parallel account of the event), Jesus’ words were fulfilled to the letter– one of the greatest evidences of the truth of Scripture.
The second question was also fulfilled to the tee. There was a sign that the utter destruction was imminent: Jesus said, “Now when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation has drawn near” (Luke 21:20). The Jews thought that they could withstand the siege, given the supplies on hand, and the defenses set up. But Jesus warned His followers not to be deceived: “At that time . . .flee to the mountains,” were His words—“Get out of Dodge”—don’t even go home to get something you take with you (vv. 20ff). Get out immediately!
And remarkably, for some reason unknown to history, for a very brief period the Roman armies temporarily lifted the siege and the Christians got out and fled to Pella. Once they Romans returned, there would be no more opportunity to leave. Of course, we know what he reason was—God was making it possible for His own to escape as, indeed, they did.
The account of the war, and the destruction, was given in depth by Josephus, a Jewish commander who, when he saw what was inevitable, defected to the Romans and was commissioned by them to write up the account of the incident from the viewpoint of both sides. In God’s providence, this remarkable history of what occurred has survived in its entirety as a witness to the truth of the Lord’s prediction.