While preparing my last post where I delved into the meaning of the Jewish High Holy Days I came across some interesting events, or signs, that were given during the Day of Atonement in the year of Christ’s death and resurrection and leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. There is of course a moral and a warning to us in these accounts.
During the Feast Day of Atonement, two goats were brought before the High Priest in the temple. The High Priest would choose which goat would be “for the Lord” and sacrificed in the temple, and which goat would be “Azazel” or scapegoat. The scapegoat would be led outside the temple and pushed out over a cliff. The scapegoat would carry with it the sins of the people. The High priest chose the goats randomly by lots. Two stones, one black (for Azazel) and one white (for the Lord) would be selected, which was entirely ruled by the law of chance. Either he was blindfolded or reached into a bowl where he could not see the stones, or something like that. Records were kept of the stones selected first each year. Previous to year 31 AD it was a 50/50 chance statistically that he would choose one or the other stone first. But for 40 years in a row, starting the year of the Saviors crucifixion and resurrection, the High Priest chose the Black Stone first. The odds of picking the same stone 40 times in a row are astronomical, in fact are 5 billion to 1. The Temple was destroyed 40 years later in 70 AD, ending the sacrifice of goats.
When you add this account with the signs that accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion you wonder how could the Jews not have linked this amazing account, and all the other signs that happened, with Jesus? After a few years of this, they must have realized something extraordinary was going on. They would have traced back to the year when this started and asked themselves what significant event occurred in that year to bring about such an amazing statistic. They would have known that God was behind it. But, my guess is that no one would dare suggest that this had anything to do with the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and the rumored resurrection. PLEASE! Heaven Forbid! Pondering how an entire people could ignore blatant heavenly signs makes me think that we can become so blinded by fears of men, tradition, and keeping things going the same way and not rocking the boat, that we truly become blind to the signs the Lord showers upon us to get our attention.
A fragmented copy of a portion of the lost Gospel of Peter was discovered in 1886 by the French archaeologist Urbain Bouriant, buried in the tomb of a monk at Akhmim in Upper Egypt. This fragment gives an interesting additional account to the crucifixion of the Savior. One of the things described in the fragment is that the sky darkened while Christ hung on the cross. It was so dark that the people were afraid that destruction had come upon them.
And it was noon, and darkness came over all Judaea: and they were troubled and distressed, lest the sun had set, whilst he was yet alive: [for] it is written for them, that the sun set not on him that hath been put to death. And one of them said, Give him to drink gall with vinegar. And they mixed and gave him to drink, and fulfilled all things, and accomplished their sins against their own head. And many went about with lamps, supposing that it was night, and fell down. And the Lord cried out, saying, My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had said it he was taken up. And in that hour the vail of the temple of Jerusalem was rent in twain.
6 And then they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord, and laid him upon the earth, and the whole earth quaked, and great fear arose. Then the sun shone, and it was found the ninth hour: and the Jews rejoiced,Gospel of Peter,”Early Christian Writings”, translated by Raymond Brown.
In this account, there was mention of a great earthquake, and the vail of the temple was torn. The Book of Mormon gives evidence that great darkness covered the earth and great earthquakes accompanied the death of Christ. There is another account that testifies of peculiar things occuring at the time of the crucifixion. The Jewish accounts of the time don’t mention Jesus, but they mention some strange events that coincide with the time of the crucifixion. These records give an account of destruction that took place in 31 AD, which was probably in conjunction with the death and resurrection of the Savior. Dating the death of Christ is a tenuous exercise at best. Ask a dozen scholars to date the crucifixion and you will get a dozen answers. Lets just say that 31 AD is approximate, and fits the historical descriptions and religious records we have of the events at the time.
The Jewish Talmud, Yoma 39b, tells of events that happened 40 years before the temple was destroyed; the temple was destroyed on April 30, 70 AD by the Romans. It tells how the gates of the Hekel (Holy Place) opened themselves and the vail in the Holy of Holies was rent so that people in the courtyards of the temple could see right into the Holy of Holies. Rabbi Yohanan B. Zakkai rebuked the gates saying, “Hekel, Hekel, why alarmist thou us? We know that thou are destined to be destroyed.” In another account it was said that it took some time to close the massive gates because the lintel that supported them was destroyed. The gates were meant never to be opened except during feast days and eventually to welcome the Messiah into the Temple proper.
St. Jerome in a letter to Hedibia writes that the huge lintel of the temple was broken and splintered due to a massive earthquake. This caused the curtain rods to fall and rip the large and heavy vail that concealed the Holy of Holies. The lintel was reported to be a single massive stone weighing 30 or 40 tons and was 30 feet long.
In the same year, 31 AD, the Sanhedrin had to abandon the Chamber of Hewn Stones near the Holy Place in the Temple, which was its official seat, because of the earth quake. This was about 40 yards SE of the entrance to the Holy Place. They had to move to another location called “The Trading Place”, which was further to the east and much less a significant spot. To be forced to move from the prominence of the Chamber of Hewn Stones next to the temple to one much less beautiful, prominent, and very pedestrian must have been humiliating.
“Forty years before the destruction of the temple, the Sanhedrin was banished from the Chamber of Hewn Stones and sat in the trading station.”Talmud, Shabbot 15
Matthew 24 contains the great prophecy by the Savior of the destruction of Jerusalem, which would come in 40 years. This account also was meant to describe conditions at the time just proceeding His second coming in glory. Christ warns His disciples that when they see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel, “stand in the holy place“, …”then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.” He warns them not to take the time to go into the house and take provisions, so swift will the danger descend upon the city. After the Jews had defeated the Roman cohorts and run off the Roman legion sent to put down the Jewish Rebellion in 67-68 BC, political factions fought over rule within the city. At one point, as Josephus describes it, the faction in power took control of the temple and instituted some new practices. Some say idols were introduced and placed in the Holy of Holies. This happened just before the three Roman legions under Titus arrived at Jerusalem at the time of the Passover and sealed off escape from the city. Their arrival was so swift that it is estimated over 2 million people became trapped in the city and were unable to escape. It is believed that the Christians all heeded the warning that Jesus gave them and were able to escape into the mountains and desert to the West of Judaea just before the Romans arrived on the scene. It is estimated that 1 to 3 million Jews perished in the siege of Jerusalem.
Josephus tells us that there were plenty of signs before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Unfortunately, most of the people interpreted the signs as good omens, While the scholars and men in charge knew that the signs were portents of destruction, but in their wickedness they declared the signs to be good. ” Now there were was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes.” (“The Wars of the Jews”, 6.5)
Some of the signs that Josephus tells us in the days immediately preceding the final destruction of Jerusalem and the temple:
- A star resembling a sword appeared above the city
- A comet was seen for a year before the destruction
- Just prior to the rebellion against the Romans in 68 AD during the Passover, a bright light shone around the altar in the temple. It was described as above the brightness of the sun
- For a second time the heavy gates of the temple which was secured by great bolts sealed into the floor of the temple, which take 20 men to close, swung open on its own.
- Just before sunset a few days after the Passover feast of 68 AD, chariots and troops of soldiers were were seen running about in the sky among the clouds.
- At Pentecost the same year, the priests doing their duties in the temple heard a loud noise coming from the Holy Place. It sounded like a multitude of voices shouting, “Let us remove hence.”
- A prophet, by the name of Jesus, son of Ananus, came to the Feast of Tabernacles four years before the destruction and began declaring, “A voice from the East, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people. He went about the streets of the city and on the walls of the city making this same declaration for four years until during the siege that the Romans set against Jerusalem, he was killed upon the walls of the city.
All those people perished because they did not pay attention. They did not believe the signs nor the words of the prophets but paid attention to the soothing words of false prophets or their leaders. Jesus would have protected Jerusalem; He would have gathered them as a hen to its chicks and protected them, but they rejected His message. They were not attracted to the light, but were caught up in their world of self interest and convenience.
“Some people can be too religious to repent.” (Even when presented with evidence that can not really be disputed.) “They fail to understand that their religious zealousness can cause them to be judgemental, religious bigots, proud, and liable to reject the more refined doctrine which is only available to those with the ears to hear. When Zion does come, there will be Gentile opposition to it, especially from the Gentile church. Those who aren’t initially invited will find the idea of Zion without them offensive. They should repent, but instead, because of blindness and jealousy, will fight against Zion.” *
*I wrote this quote down several years ago, but lost the attribution. I am pretty sure this was from Denver Snuffer’s blog about 2013, but wasn’t able to confirm that.