Written by Vladimir Moss



     The question was: would the Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah, as “the Son of God, the King of Israel” (John 1.49)? On this would depend the salvation of both the people and their State… Tragically, in their great majority the Jews failed this test; they both crucified their True King and God, and said to Pilate: "We have no other king but Caesar" (John 19.15).

     At that moment they became no different spiritually from the other pagan peoples; for, like the pagans, they had come to recognize a mere man, the Roman emperor, as higher than God Himself. As St. John Chrysostom writes: “Here they declined the Kingdom of Christ and called to themselves that of Caesar.”[1] What made this apostasy worse was the fact that they were not compelled to it by any despotic decree. Pilate not only did not demand this recognition of Caesar from them, but had said of Christ – “Behold your king” (John 19.14), and had then ordered the sign, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, to be nailed above the cross. The Jews had in effect, without the slightest external coercion, carried out both a democratic revolution against their True King, and, at the same time, a despotic obeisance to a false god-king.

     Thus did the City of God on earth become the City of Man - and the stronghold of Satan: “How has the faithful city become a harlot! It was full of justice, righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers” (Isaiah 1.21). Thus did the original sin committed under Saul, when the people of God sought a king who would rule them "like all the nations", reap its final wages in their submission to "the god of this world”.

     But the positive result was that the Kingdom, with all its ineffable and inestimable benefits, was passed to other peoples. As the Lord Himself had prophesied: “The Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21.43). Or as St. Paul put it: “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect [from the Gentiles] have obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Romans 11.7). Thus all the other peoples of the world were now given the opportunity of joining God’s Kingdom in the Church, “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6.16).

     But for the Jews who rejected Him it was another matter. After their killing of Christ – which was not only regicide, but also Deicide, an act unparalleled in evil in the history of the world – there came upon them the punishment prophesied by Christ: “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24.21). “That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation…” (Matthew 23.35-36). This prophecy was fulfilled in 66-70 AD, when the Jews, incited by the Zealots, rose up in armed rebellion against Rome. The Roman Emperors Titus and Vespasian crushed the rebellion, destroyed the Temple and killed very many of the Jews. The extent of the slaughter is a matter of controversy[2], but the depth of the horror and suffering is beyond dispute.

     The message of the revolutionaries was strikingly similar to that of another Jewish-inspired revolution – Russia in 1917. As Neil Faulkner writes, it was a message “of sectarian radicals and messiahs… addressed, above all, to the poor. Josephus was explicit about the class basis of the conflict: it was, for him, a struggle between dunatoi – men of rank and power, the property-owning upper classes – and stasiastai – subversives, revolutionaries, popular leaders whose appeal was to ‘the scum of the districts’. The Dead Sea Scrolls were equally explicit, though from the other side of the barricades: whereas ‘the princes of Judah… wallowed in the ways of whoredom and wicked wealth’ and ‘acted arrogantly for the sake of riches and gain’, the Lord would in due time deliver them ‘into the hands of the poor’, so as to ‘humble the mighty of the peoples by the hand of those bent to the dust’, and bring them ‘the reward of the wicked’…

     “The popular movement of 66 CE amounted to a fusion of Apocalypse and Jubilee, the radical minority’s vision of a revolutionary war to destroy corruption having become inextricably linked with the peasant majority’s traditional aspiration for land redistribution and the removal of burdens…”[3]

     But these earthly motives were secondary to the primary cause and crime: the rejection and murder by God’s people of their only King and God. “In this striking way,” writes St. John of Kronstadt, “did the people chosen in accordance with the merits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stumble against the inheritance of these merits, which were being received as their own impersonal virtue; they stumbled on their preference for the earthly kingdom over the Kingdom of Heaven, on their preference for a political messiah over the Messiah Whose Kingdom is not of this world.

     “Let us look at the consequences to which this mistake led. First of all, this bitter error of the chosen people was bewailed by the Messiah Himself. In His triumphant procession into Jerusalem, when Christ came close to the city, then, looking at it, He wept over it and said: ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground, because you did not know the time of your visitation’ (Luke 19.42-44). As He ascended onto Golgotha, Christ the Saviour sorrowed, not over the torments that were facing Him, but about the torments that awaited Jerusalem. He expressed this to the women who were sympathetic to His sufferings, who wept and sobbed over Him: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for your selves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, “Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains: “Fall on us!”’ (Luke 23.28-30).

     “Already in ancient times the prophets were pointing to the woes that would strike the Jewish people for its betrayal of God – the people that was nevertheless chosen for the salvation of the world, for the foreseen fall of Israel had to being salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11.11).

     “1500 years before, the Prophet and God-Seer Moses foretold the siege, the scattering of the Jews across the whole face of the earth and the terrible trials that followed: ‘The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flied, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favour to the young. And they shall eat the increase of your livestock, and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you. They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land, and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you. You shall eat of the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you… Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other… And among those nations you will find no rest… Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life’ (Deuteronomy 28.49-53, 64-65, 66)…

     “The holy Prophet Ezekiel points to the siege of Jerusalem as the consequence of the multiplication of lawlessnesses which attained a greater development than among the neighbouring people.

     “’Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have multiplied disobedience more than the nations that are all around you, have not walked in My statutes nor kept My judgements, nor even done according to the judgements of the nations that are all around you. Therefore thus says the Lord God, Indeed I, even I, am against you and will execute judgements in your midst in the sight of the nations. And I will do among you what I have never done, and the like of which I will never do again, because of all your abominations. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers, and I will execute judgements among you, and all of you who remain I will scatter to all the winds. Therefore as I live, says the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations therefore I will also diminish you. My eye will not spare, nor will I have any pity. One third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst, and one third shall fall by the sword all around you, and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them’ (5.7-12).  

     “In this way the prophets of God clearly announce the causes of the destruction of Jerusalem and what had once been the chosen people, as they were called in antiquity, according to the merits of their forefathers. What became of them with their dreams of an earthly kingdom of Israel? Their destinies serve as a vivid example for the Christian peoples, of what awaits them, too, for abandoning the ways of the commandments of God and for accepting principles that contradict the truth.”[4]

     In 135 there was another rebellion of the Jews under Bar Kokhba. It was crushed by the Emperor Hadrian with the deaths, according to Dio Cassius, of 580,000 Jewish soldiers.[5] The city was renamed Aelia Capitolina, Judaea was renamed Syria Palaestina and Jews were barred from entering it. Finally, the city and ruins were ploughed over and a completely Hellenic city built in its place; a temple to Jupiter was planned for the site of the Temple, while Golgotha was covered by a temple to Venus…

     The ploughing up of the Temple site took place on August 9, the day on which all the major catastrophes of Jewish history took place. Thus David Baron writes: “The fast of the fifth month, which is the month of Ab, answering to August, is still observed by the Jews on the ninth day, in celebration of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; but, according to the Talmud and Jewish historians, the following list of calamities all happened on the same day, namely: (1) On that day the decree went forth from God in the wilderness that the people should not enter the land because of their unbelief; (2) on the very same day of the destruction of the First Temple by the Chaldeans, the Second Temple also was destroyed by the Romans; (4) on that day, after the rising under Bar Kochba, the city of Bethar was taken, ‘in which were thousands and myriads of Israel, and they had a great king whom all Israel and the greatest of the wise men thought was King Messiah’; but (4) he fell into the hands of the Gentiles, and they were all put to death, and the affliction was great, like as it was in the desolation of the Sanctuary; (5) and lastly, on that day ‘the wicked Turnus Rufus, who is devoted to punishment, ploughed up the (hill of the ) Sanctuary, and the parts round about it, to fulfill that which was said by Micah, “Zion shall be ploughed as a field”’.”[6]

     Paradoxically, the Jews’ last stand in both their rebellions took place in the hilltop fortresses built at Herodium and Masada by that arch-Hellenist and Romanist, Herod the Great.[7] Equally paradoxically, their submission to pagan rulers was the result of their rejection of their mission to the pagans. Instead of serving as God’s priests to the pagan world, enlightening them with the knowledge of the One True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they were puffed up with dreams of national glory and dominion over the nations. And so God subjected them to those same nations whom they despised, entrusting the mission to the New Israel, the Church.

     “On coming into the world,” writes Tikhomirov, “the Saviour Jesus Christ as a man loved his fatherland, Judaea, no less than the Pharisees. He was thinking of the great role of his fatherland in the destinies of the world and mankind no less than the Pharisees, the zealots and the other nationalists. On approaching Jerusalem (during His triumphal entry) He wept and said: ‘Oh, if only thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!’…, and recalling the coming destruction of the city, He added: ‘because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation’ (Luke 19.41, 44). ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… which killest… them that are sent to thee!’ He said a little earlier, ‘how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and yet would not!’ (Luke 13.34). What would have happened if the Jews at that decisive moment had accepted the true Messiah? Israel would have become the spiritual head of the whole world, the beloved guide of mankind. At that very time Philo of Alexandria wrote that ‘the Israelites have received the mission to serve as priests and prophets for the whole world, to instruct it in the truth, and in particular the pure knowledge of God’. If they had recognized this truth in full measure, then the coming of the Saviour would have confirmed forever that great mission. But ‘the spirit of the prophets’ turned out to be by no means so strong in Jewry, and its leaders repeated the role of Esau: they gave away the right of the firstborn for a mess of pottage.

     “Nevertheless we must not forget that if the nationalist hatred for the Kingdom of God, manifested outside tribal conditions, was expressed in the murder of the Saviour of the world, all His disciples who brought the good news of the Kingdom, all His first followers and a multitude of the first members of the Church to all the ends of the Roman empire were Jews by nationality. The greatest interpreter of the spiritual meaning of the idea of ‘the children of Abraham’ was the pure-blooded Jew and Pharisee, the Apostle Paul. He was a Jew by blood, but through the prophetic spirit turned out to be the ideological director of the world to that place where ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’.”[8]


[1]St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on John, P.G. 59:505, col. 461. See also Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), "Christ the Savior and the Jewish Revolution", Orthodox Life, vol. 35, N 4, July-August, 1988, pp. 11-31.

[2] The revisionist case has been presented by the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand. Josephus, our only source for these events, writes Sand “estimated that 1.1 million people died in the siege of Jerusalem and the great massacre that followed, that 97,000 were taken captive, and that a few thousand more were killed in other cities”. (This is confirmed by St. Caesarius of Arles who says: “The Jews as if driven by the hand of God assembled in Jerusalem according to their custom to celebrate the Passover. We read in history that three million Jews were gathered in Jerusalem; eleven hundred thousand of them are read to have been destroyed by the sword of hunger, and one hundred thousand young men were led to Rome in triumph. For two years that city was besieged, and so great was the number of the dead who were cast out of the city that their bodies equalled the height of the walls.” (Sermon 127)). However, Sand argues that these figures were grossly exaggerated, and that “a cautious estimate suggests that Jerusalem at that time could have had a population of sixty thousand or seventy thousand inhabitants” (The Invention of the Jewish People, London: Verso, 2009, p. 131).

[3] Faulkner, “The great Jewish revolt against Rome, 66-73 CE”, History Today, vol. 52 (10), October, 2002, pp. 50, 51.

[4] St. John, Nachalo i Konets Nashego Zemnogo Mira (The Beginning and End of our Earthly Life), Moscow, 1901, 2004, pp. 49-50, 51-52.

[5] Again, Sand disputes these figures. He claims that the population of Palestine “in the second century DE remained predominantly Judeans and Samaritans, and it started to flourish again for one or two generations after the end of the revolt” (op. cit., p. 133). He also denies that there was any significant exile from the land after the destruction of the Second Temple, arguing that it was only the conquest of Palestine by the Arabs early in the seventh century that “put an end to the presence of the Jewish people in its land” (p. 141).

[6] Baron, Zechariah, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1918, 1988, pp. 213-214.

[7] Mueller, op. cit., pp. 58-59.

[8] Tikhomirov, Religiozno-Filosofskie Osnovy Istorii, p. 142.


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