PMW 2020-049 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The great tribulation is deemed by many to destroy an possibility of a long-range hope for history, such as is in postmillennialism. In this ongoing series I am explaining how the postmillennialist can explain the great tribulation, while maintaining his historical hope for the long run. This is the third article in this series. So, let’s get to work.
As per my last article, Jesus forthrightly declares that the great tribulation events will occur in the first century. That being the case, we should expect to find evidence that they did in fact occur then. And we do! Let us survey a few of these. We will see the first-century historical fulfillment of several of his statements in Matthew 24.
In Matthew 24:5 and 11 Jesus warns about false christs and prophets. That is, he is warning about the danger of false religious enthusiasts who will arise in an attempt to distract and disturb his disciples.
False religious leaders are an abundant problem in that day, as we see in the examples of Theudas (Acts 5:36), Simon (Acts 8:9, 10), and Paul’s general warning to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29–30). For instance, Paul expresses his fear for the Ephesian church: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).
The historical record of the first-century Jewish historian and priest Josephus (ca. AD 37–101) also documents false religious leaders who operated during the Jewish War with Rome which brought about the destruction of the temple: “such men deceived and deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration” (Jewish Wars 2:13:4 §259). He speaks of others as “impostors and deceivers [who] persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs” (Antiquities 20:8:6 §167–68).
Clearly, Scripture and contemporary historical records testify of the very real danger of false religious teachers leading the Jews astray shortly after Christ dies.
Wars and rumors of wars
Matthew 24:6 and 7 speaks of “wars and rumors of wars.” This is a sign that we constantly hear about today in eschatological discussions. Since there have always been wars, to which ones is Jesus referring? How is this rather broad sign helpful?
To understand the significance of this sign we must consider an important political fact of first-century history. When the Lord gave this sign to his audience they were experiencing the famous pax Romana (Latin for “the peace of Rome”). But what is this “peace of Rome”? And how is it significant for understanding Jesus’ prophecy?
By military conquests and political savvy, the Emperor Augustus Caesar established this period of remarkable peace shortly before Christ was born (he was the reigning emperor when Jesus was born, Luke 2:1). This was an impressive time of widespread peace that enjoyed freedom from war. The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo (ca. 29 BC–AD 50) speaks of the Roman empire being “free from all sedition, and regulated by and obedient to admirable laws” (Embassy to Gaius 2:8). Roman naturalist and writer Pliny the Elder (who died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79) describes “the immeasurable majesty of the Roman peace” (Natural History 27:3). The third-century church father Origen (ca. 182– 254) mentions the “abundance of peace that began at the birth of Christ” (Against Celsus 2:30).
The Beast of Revelation (Kindle version) by Ken Gentry
A popularly written antidote to dispensational sensationalism and newspaper exegesis. Convincing biblical and historical evidence showing that the Beast was the Roman Emperor Nero Caesar, the first civil persecutor of the Church. The second half of the book shows Revelation’s date of writing, proving its composition as prior to the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. A thought-provoking treatment of a fascinating and confusing topic.
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New Testament scholar, Bo Reicke, notes that “in the Roman Empire proper, the period of peace remains comparably undisturbed until the time of Nero.” The emperor Nero breached the pax Romana by engaging the Jewish War that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. Consequently, the Lord’s prophecy offers a significant sign that warns Christians that despite the pax Romana, they will hear of “wars and rumors of wars” when “nation would rise up against nation.”
When the Jewish War erupted in the late AD 60s, it broke the famous pax Romana. In this important war, Rome victoriously marched across Israel and mercilessly crushed that restive state. Though the Jewish Revolt initially flares up in late AD 66, the resulting formal war began in the Spring of AD 67. That was when Nero formally commissioned his general Vespasian to crush the revolt. As Josephus puts it: “Nero upon Cestius’s defeat, was in fear of the entire event of the war, and thereupon made Vespasian general in this war” (Jewish War Pref., 8 §21; cp. 3:1:1–3 §1–8).
In that war Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and other nations aligned themselves against Israel. Josephus notes that Vespasian secured “a considerable number of auxiliaries from the kings in that neighborhood” (Jewish War 3:1:3 §8). He later writes:
“there were also a considerable number of auxiliaries got together, that came from the kings Antiochus, and Agrippa, and Sohemus, each of them contributing one thousand footmen that were archers, and a thousand horsemen. Malchus also, the king of Arabia, sent a thousand horsemen, besides five thousand footmen, the greatest part of which were archers; so that the whole army, including the auxiliaries sent by the kings, as well horsemen as footmen.” (Jewish War 3:4:2 §68)
Before Jerusalem Fell (Kindle version) (by Ken Gentry)
Doctoral dissertation defending a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation’s writing. Thoroughly covers internal evidence from Revelation, external evidence from history, and objections to the early date by scholars.
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When Vespasian’s son Titus took over the fight, Josephus mentions the greatly increased number of foreign national troops engaged in the siege of Jerusalem: “those auxiliaries that came from the kings, being now more in number than before, together with a considerable number that came to his assistance from Syria” (Josephus, Jewish War 5:1:6 §42).
But not only does this era experience the Jewish War, but it also resulted in a great and destructive civil war in Rome itself. In June of AD 68 Nero committed suicide as Rome erupts into civil upheaval and military strife (Josephus, Jewish War Pref., 9 §23). Britain, Germany, and Gaul revolt against Rome and seek to break out of the empire. Rome feared that the Parthians from the East would mobilize because of the Empire’s disarray during that time.
Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56–117) writes: “The history on which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, horrible even in peace. Four emperors failed by the sword; there were three civil wars, more foreign wars and often both at the same time” (Histories 1:2). He laments that “Rome and Italy are thoroughly wasted by intestine war” (Hist. 4:75). Josephus reports similarly that: “all was in disorder after the death of Nero” (Jewish War Pref. 1:2 §5).
Thus, both Jerusalem and Rome were experiencing nation arising against nation (Matt 24:7). These “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt 24:6) were truly signs for that first-century generation.
The historical facts are fitting our exegetical understanding of the Olivet Discourse and its emphasis on the great tribulation. But there is more. Much more. Please join my in my next article.
OLIVET IN CONTEXT: A Commentary on Matthew 21–25
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!