Vespasian and Titus - the Prophecies
A good example of prophecy can be seen in the passage in the Book of Ezekiel, written about 600 B.C., in which the Holy Spirit predicted the destruction of Judea by the Romans in 70 A.D. This was a pivotal event in the dispersion forseen by Moses.
Almost six hundred years before this event occured, Ezekiel wrote: "The word of God was addressed to me as follows, 'Son of Man, mark out two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to come along, making both of them begin from the same country." (Ez.21:18-19).
The 'sword' means warfare. The 'two roads' mean two different generals, and they point to two separate campaigns -- both originating from the same country. This 'same country' is Babylon (it turned out to be Rome).
The prophecy is an important indicator that the transposition of Babylon from a country abutting the Euphrates river into the Roman empire, a nation in the western Mediterranean Sea would one day take place, and it shows that the 'king' of this Babylon -- the emperor of Rome -- would one day launch a military campaign against Judea which would involve two different generals.
When this prophecy came true it proved, perhaps more than any other vision in scripture, the fact of Babylon's transposition.
The prophecy was fulfilled when the Roman general Vespasian started the military campaign against Judea in 66 A.D., invading and capturing Galilee and then proceeding south, town by town to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel's prophecy outlined the course of this invasion, "Put up a signpost where they begin, showing the way to a city, showing the sword the way to ...Judah, to the fortress of Jerusalem." (Ez.21:20). The 'signpost', of course, is the prophecy itself.
"For the king of Babylon has halted at the fork where these two roads diverge, to take the omens. He has shaken the arrows, questioned the teraphim, inspected the liver." (Ez.21:21). After conquering Galilee and the northern provinces, Vespasian halted outside Jerusalem. He set up his camp atop the Mount of Olives, where he could look down on the walled city and ponder the best approach to breach the wall.
While he was camped there, 'taking the omens', Nero suddenly died, and Vespasian was called back to Rome to become emperor in Nero's place. This is the point where the two roads diverged, because it was at this juncture that Vespasian's son Titus assumed command of the Roman forces in place of his father. He would later succeed his father on the throne of Rome as well.
The prophecy foresaw that both of these roads would originate in Babylon, and that both would end up on the throne of Rome (at the beginning of the prophecy both were referred to as 'kings' of Babylon). "Into his right hand the lot for Jerusalem falls..." In the prophecies of scripture, God's 'right hand' always refers to His Son, Jesus. Therefore, Vespasian's 'right hand' may be interpreted as his own son, Titus.
"There he must set up battering rams, give the word for slaughter, raise the war cry, level battering-rams against the gates, cast up earthworks, build entrenchments." (Ez.21:22). The Roman army employed all of these against Jerusalem.
Entering the walled city of Jerusalem was a major task. The Roman historian, Tacitus, writing in his 'Histories' in 109 A.D. said:
"...Jerusalem, standing upon an eminence, naturally difficult to approach, was rendered still more impregnable by redoubts and bulwarks by which even places on a level plain would have been competently fortified.
Two hills that rose to a prodigious height were enclosed by walls constructed so as in some places to project in angles and in others to curve inwards. Consequently, the flanks of the Romans were exposed to the Jewish weapons.
The extremities of the rock were abrupt and craggy; and the towers were built, upon the mountain, sixty feet high -- and in the low ground, one hundred and twenty feet high. These works presented a spectacle altogether astonishing. To the distant eye they seemed to be of equal elevation.
Within the city there were other fortifications enclosing the palace of the kings, including the tower of Antonia, with its conspicuous pinnacles...The Temple itself was in the nature of a citadel, enclosed in walls of its own, and more elaborate and massy than the rest.
Even the porticoes that surrounded it were a capital defense. A perennial spring supplied the place with water. Subterranean caverns were scooped out in the mountains, and there were basins and tanks as reservoirs for rain-water."
This is why Vespasian had to camp outside the city even though he had an invincible Roman army with him. Taking this city required all the equipment that the prophecy envisioned.
The Jewish historian Josephus, who was personally present during this event described the Roman seige in great detail. The Romans built entrenchments against the arrows and missles of the Jewish defenders, and they constructed a gigantic earthwork leading up to the top of the walls so that a large number of Roman soldiers could pour into the city right over the top of the wall.
Jerusalem's walls were so high that this massive earthwork had to reach to the height of a ten story building. The Romans also used immense battering rams against the gates. All this took a great deal of time,which the Romans had all they wanted. In fact, they could have simply waited outside until the defenders starved to death, but Tacitus wrote that Titus and his Roman army were too proud to secure the victory this way.
Therefore they engaged in all the activities the prophecy predicted. Not only that, but Tacitus revealed in his writings that these very prophecies were widely known at the time and were seen by the Jews as omens for their survival and victory, not for their defeat. Tacitus wrote:
"The majority of the Jews were deeply convinced that it was contained in the ancient writings of the priests, that, at this very time, the east would renew its strength, and those who would go out from Judea would go forth from this small country to rule the whole world.
Mysterious words, which foreshadowed Vespasian and Titus; but the Jews, according to the usual course of human fondness, interpreted this consummation of destiny as referring to themselves, and were not induced to abandon their error even by affliction."
Tacitus' words confirm that the rest of Ezekiel's prediction was also accurate. Ezekiel wrote,
"The citizens of Jerusalem believe that these omens are idle, whatever oaths have been sworn. But he is evidence of their crimes, and these will bring about their capture. As for you, prince of Israel, vile criminal on the last of whose crimes the day is about to dawn, the Lord God says this: They will take away your turban and remove your crown; everything will be changed; the low will be high and the high brought low. To ruin, and to ruin on ruin, am I going to bring it, to such ruin as was never known before this man came who is appointed to inflict the punishment which I am determined to impose on it." (Ez.21:23-27).
When Titus conquered Jerusalem he tore down the Temple and the other structures on the Temple Mount stone by stone until no evidence of any buildings remained. His destruction left Jerusalem in complete ruin, and much of the Jewish population in slavery.
What neither the Roman historian Tacitus nor the Jewish people realized, was that their expectation in the prophecies of 'the east renewing its strength' occurred not in Titus or themselves, but in the power of Jesus. And 'those who went out from Judea to rule the world' were his disciples of peace.
The renewal of the power of the east had nothing to do with a Jewish military victory, nor with the Romans either. Instead, it was the spiritual culmination of Isaiah's vision of the King of the east destined to liberate mankind from the captivity of Satan's world.
The real focus of the ancient prophecies had to do with the approaching world-victory of the disciples of Jesus coming out of Palestine. The Jewish leaders had seen all the prophecies and correctly interpreted that they were living in the days of their fulfillment, but they had completely misinterpreted the divine application of these visions.
We can look at these ancient prophecies today, long after all the events have been laid to rest, and see the accuracy of the Holy Spirit's words -- and, at the same time, see how completely wrong all of the contemporary 'experts' had been, trying to analyze them.
We can expect this same pattern to repeat itself in our time with respect to the words of Daniel and John.
Ezekiel lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born. For this reason, much of his writing is related to events that took place long before there even was a Roman Empire. He must have envisioned a 'Babylon' coming to Jerusalem from the east (from the Euphrates). His words seem to apply to events which occured when the original Babylon conquered Judah and took the Jewish people into captivity.
For this reason, his writing could be interpreted in one of two ways by the scholars of Jesus' time. Either historically, or as unfulfilled prophecy of the future. We can see now that the second interpretation was the more correct one, because the dispersion of the Jews to the 'Roman Babylon' just forty years after Jesus died was infinitely more disastrous and permanent than the temporary event of the past which had occured 500 years earlier.
The Jews were able to escape from the Babylon of Ezekiel's time rather quickly, but they were never able to escape from the captivity of Rome. The Jews returned to Jerusalem in just 70 years after imprisonment by Nebuchadnezzar, but they had to wait almost two thousand years to recover this city after the Roman campaigns.
And despite their return just a few years ago, they still do not have control of the Rock of Abraham -- the central focus of the Mosaic religion. This shows that the exile continues, even now -- proving that only with the events that happened with Jerusalem's destruction by the Roman empire did Ezekiel's words find their exact and perfect fulfillment.
1. 'The Last Days of Babylon', Chapter 13, 'Jerusalem Under Seige'
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