Root Causes of the Jewish Revolts
Book I brought us to the death of Peter, Paul, and especially James, the last great intercessor for Jerusalem. With the martyrdom of James in 62 A.D., the spiritual path was paved for the destruction of Jerusalem.
There were, of course, many political causes of that destruction, and on different levels, blame can be placed on many factors. My perspective, however, is that of the sovereignty of God and the fact that History is simply “His Story.” In my view, then, history cannot be understood unless it is told from God's perspective, which takes into account the spiritual causes of the political events.
The spiritual causes of this war are clearly laid out in Scripture, and I covered these in detail in my book, The Struggle for the Birthright. When God made a covenant with His people in the days of Moses, He told them in no uncertain terms that if they were disobedient to the Law, they would be judged. And if they continued in disobedience, refusing to repent, He would put an iron yoke upon them (Deut. 28:48). He defined that iron yoke as being deported off the land by a foreign nation. Deut. 28:63 says (NASB),
63 . . . the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.
The parallel passage in Lev. 26 tells us further,
23 And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me, 24 then I will act with hostility against you.
In other words, when His people were in disobedience, God would become their “enemy,” as Isaiah 63:10 tells us,
10 But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their ENEMY; He fought against them.
In other words, no Israelite could say that he or his nation was immune from divine judgment on account of being “chosen.” God shows no partiality, but deals with everyone according to their level of knowledge and accountability. Those who possess the law and claim to believe it have more accountability than others, as even Jesus affirmed in Luke 12:47 and 48,
47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes. 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
In the book of Judges we read how God judged Israel for disobedience, as God “sold” them into the hands of various nations until they repented. (See Judges 3:8; 4:2; 10:7.) The people eventually repented, and God then sent “Judges” to deliver them and set them free.
But as time passed, the people refused to repent and to hear the prophet's message. So God first sent the house of Israel into an Assyrian captivity in 745-721 B.C., from which they were scattered among the nations (as Deut. 28:64 had threatened). This was the iron yoke upon the northern house of Israel.
A century later, because the southern house of Judah also refused to repent and hear the word of Jeremiah, God sent that nation to Babylon for 70 years under an iron yoke. Even so, God was merciful to Judah and offered them an alternative to the iron yoke. He sent Jeremiah to offer them a wooden yoke (Jer. 27:2), whereby they might serve their sentence in their own land, paying tribute but without war or deportation. In essence, God was offering them the same kind of judgment that their forefathers had experienced in the days of the Judges.
But the national prophet, Hananiah, broke that wooden yoke (Jer. 28:10), thus signifying the people’s refusal to submit to this more merciful divine judgment. Their foolish rejection of the wooden yoke automatically placed them under the iron yoke (Jer. 28:13).
For this reason, God sent Judah to Babylon under an iron yoke. They returned 70 years later to serve out the rest of the sentence under a wooden yoke, for after the fall of Babylon, they remained under the rule of Medo-Persia, followed by Greece and then Rome. Daniel's prophecies had made it clear that this Babylonian captivity was to consist of more than just 70 years under Babylon. Babylon was merely the “head” of gold, which was to be followed by Medo-Persia, the “arms” of silver, then Greece, the “belly” of bronze, and finally Rome, the “legs” of iron.
The people of Judah, however, seemed totally ignorant of Daniel’s prophecy. Certainly, they did not believe it. Instead, they grumbled and complained at the wooden yoke. False religious teachers arose who preached patriotic religion, convincing the people that their captivity was in violation of God’s will, instead of divine judgment for the sins of their forefathers.
Such men taught that God had commanded the people to break the wooden yoke of nations, even as Hananiah had broken Jeremiah's yoke. Their teaching succeeded in implanting the desire for independence without giving them the understanding of the proper way in which to obtain it. While it was true that God intended for them to be free, it was equally true that their freedom and land inheritance in Canaan was conditional upon their obedience. The law clearly stated that He would disinherit them if they violated His covenant with them.
It is easy to say that one believes in God. It is easy to say that God is sovereign and is to be obeyed. It is even easy to say that God judges sin. But when the judgment drags on for centuries, people become impatient, and it becomes easier for people to be fooled into thinking that the judgment has gone on long enough. At that point, false messiahs find more and more people who are willing to believe that God expects them to fight for their independence and freedom.
As their false messiahs failed to deliver them from the yoke, the people were disillusioned with those messiahs and bitter against God Himself. They considered God to be unjust for allowing the captivity to go on for so long. Religiosity prevented them from directing their anger and bitterness against God, and so they took it out on their rulers. The rulers reacted by oppressing them further to keep “law and order.”
After the Babylonian captivity’s “iron yoke,” Judea was placed under the wooden yoke of Persia from 537-335 B.C. Then the dominion was given to the Grecian Empire. Alexander the Great ruled only a short time, and then his kingdom was divided among his four generals (Dan. 8:8), two of whom fought over Palestine for centuries.
In the Providence of God, the Greeks were given dominion over Judea from 335-63 B.C., at which time the dominion was given to the iron kingdom of Rome. However, the dominion of the Greeks was cut short by a century because they abused their position so badly in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus attempted to turn the temple in Jerusalem into a pagan temple in 168 B.C. For this reason, God allowed the Jewish Maccabees to lead the people to victory and overthrow the wooden yoke for precisely one century (163-63 B.C.).
This was the final century that God had allotted to the Grecian empire. God cut their time short by a century and gave the Kingdom of Judea its independence for a hundred years.
But the fourth kingdom of Daniel was yet to come, and the Scriptures could not be broken. It seems as though the people had forgotten Daniel’s prophecy, hoping that their independence would last forever. But God put Judah back under the wooden yoke when the time came for the fourth kingdom of Daniel’s prophecy to receive its allotted tune. The Roman general Pompey took control of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.
That previous century of independence under the Hasmonean Dynasty only served to give the people a taste of freedom. Not believing either Jeremiah or Daniel, the people revolted from Roman rule as often as they could, led by many false prophets calling themselves messiahs. It was commonly believed that the true Messiah would be successful at overthrowing the rule of Rome and establishing Judah in its place as head of the nations. In fact, this was their ultimate test of messiahship.
Unfortunately, their carnal viewpoint was such that they envisioned themselves ruling as oppressors of the nations in much the same manner as Rome was oppressing the nations. Instead of contemplating how to set the nations free in the glorious liberty of the sons of God, they dreamed of enslaving the nations by the power of the Messiah.
When men are oppressed in life, they either vow never to oppress others as they were oppressed, or else they cannot help but oppress others in imitation of their own oppressors. It is noteworthy that abused children often grow up to abuse their own children. It is the same with whole nations and cultures of abuse. The divine law says in Ex. 22:21,
21 You shall not wrong a foreigner or oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Again, we read in Exodus 23:9,
9 And you shall not oppress a foreigner, since you yourselves know the feelings of a foreigner, for you also were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
In other words, God says, you know what it is like to be oppressed as a foreigner, so you are not to oppress them either. This is based upon the Golden Rule as stated negatively: Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
The majority of the Judeans developed the opinion that they were the ones entitled to oppress the nations even as they themselves had been oppressed. It became the calling of the Messiah, as they saw it, to do unto others what the others had done to them. Each Jew would be given 2,500 slaves, and non-Jews were considered to be sub-human, as the Talmudic writings show.
Whenever a false messiah presented himself, there were always men ready to follow and fight for him. But when the true Messiah came in the person of the Prince of Peace, they rejected Him, for He was much too friendly with the Romans and with non-Jewish people. He showed no inclination to learn the arts of war. He did not come as a great military commander to overthrow Rome. He did not treat Samaritans or Romans with disrespect. He did not fit their idea of a Messiah. He did not even get along with the Temple’s respected leaders.
But the fact is, Jesus submitted Himself to the wooden yoke of Rome, as the law and the prophets had commanded. This was so unusual that even His own disciples did not really understand Him until after the day of Pentecost. Philip's revival in Samaria, followed by Peter's vision, taught the early Church that the Holy Spirit, “the Promise of the Father,” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4), was for EVERYONE—not just an exclusive blessing for the few. This absolutely amazed them (Acts 10:45).
But meanwhile, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). His rejection and death were prophesied by all of the laws of sacrifice as well as in Isaiah 53 and was thus written into the Divine Plan. Nonetheless, God held the nation accountable for its actions. Yet He gave them 40 years of grace in which to repent, as established by the intercession of the prophet Ezekiel (4:6). During much of that period, James interceded for them as an extension of Ezekiel's ministry.
This intercession resulted in many believers, but the nation as a whole continued to reject the true Messiah. They stoned and clubbed to death their intercessor, James, while he was praying for them in 62 A.D. As a result, God became their enemy and fought against them, as Isaiah put it. He sent Roman procurators to Judea who were the worst in their history and who would provoke them to revolt. Thus, the purposes of God were fulfilled to bring judgment upon Jerusalem.
The revolt was the equivalent to breaking the wooden yoke offered to them in the days of Jeremiah and Hananiah. They had rebellious hearts against God Himself. And so, because they refused to submit to the wooden yoke, God put upon them an iron yoke, destroying their city and scattering them into all nations, as the law had threatened.
The reasons for this judgment were not posted in secret, but in the very law in which they trusted. Their rebellious hearts prevented them from believing what was written. And so, what they thought was a revolt against Rome in order to better serve God was actually a revolt against God and His judgments.