The earthquake which shook Jerusalem on the Friday of Golgotha was like a signal for the Jewish outbreak. For forty years the country of the god-killers had no peace, not even the peace of defeat and slavery, up to the day, when of the Temple not one stone was left upon another.
Pilate, Cuspius Fadus and Agrippa had been forced to disperse the bands of the false Messiahs. Under the Roman procurator, Tiberius Alexander, the conflict began with the raging sect of the Zealots and ended with the crucifixion of the leaders, James and Simon, sons of Judas the Galilean. The procurator, Ventidius Cumanus, 48-52, did not have a day's peace: the Zealots and their allies, the Sicarii, did not lay down their arms. Under the procurator Felix the disorders knew no truce: under Albinus the flames of the revolt flared out more boldly. Finally at the time of Gessius Florus, 64-66, the last procurator of Judea, the fire, which for some time had been flickering, spread all over the country. The Zealots took possession of the Temple: Florus was obliged to flee, Agrippa, who went as peace-maker, was stoned, Jerusalem fell into the power of Menahem, another son of Judas the Galilean. Zealots and Sicarii now in power massacred the non-Jews and also those among the Jews who seemed tepid to their fanatic eyes.
The holy place during the great rebellion occupied by the Sicarii had become a refuge for assassins, and the great courts were soaked with blood, even with priestly blood. And the Holy City underwent desolation, when in December of 66 Cestius Gallus, at the head of forty thousand men, came to crush the insurgents, camped around Jerusalem with those imperial insignia which the Jews held in horror as idolatrous, and which through a concession of the Emperors had not till then been introduced into the city.
But Cestius Gallus, finding more resistance than he had anticipated, retreated and the retreat was turned into flight to the great jubilation of the Zealots, who saw in this victory a sign of divine help.
In those days, between the first and second assault, the Christians of Jerusalem, obeying the prophecy of Jesus, fled to Pela, beyond the Jordan. But Rome had no intention of giving way to the Jews. The command of the punitive expedition was given to Titus Flavius Vespasian, who, gathering an army at Ptolemais in 67, advanced against Galilee and conquered it. While the Romans were taking up winter quarters, John of Gischala, one of the heads of the Zealots, having taken refuge in Jerusalem at the head of a band of Idumeans, overturned the aristocratic government and the city was full of uproar and blood.
Vespasian, going to Rome to become Emperor, gave the command to his son Titus, who on Easter Day in the year 70, came up before Jerusalem and began the siege. Horrible days began. Even at the height of danger, the Zealots, carried away by wild frenzy, quarreled among themselves, and split up into factions, who fought for the control of the city.
John of Gischala occupied the Temple, Simon Bar Giora the city, and their partisans cut the throats of those whom the Romans had not yet killed. In the meantime Titus had taken possession of two lines of wall and of a part of the city: on the fifth of July the Tower of Antonia fell into his power. To the horror of fratricidal massacre and of the siege was added that of hunger. The famine was so great that mothers were seen, so says Josephus, to kill their children and eat them. On the 10th of August the Temple was taken and burned, the Zealots succeeding in shutting themselves up into the upper city, but conquered by hunger they were obliged to surrender on the 7th of September.
The prophecies of Jesus had been fulfilled: the city by Titus' order was laid waste: and of the Temple already swept by fire, there remained not one stone upon another. The Jews who had survived hunger and the swords of the Sicarii were massacred by the victorious soldiery. Those who still remained were deported into Egypt to work in mines, and many were killed for the amusement of the crowd in the Amphitheaters of Caesarea and Berytus. Some hundreds of the handsomest were taken prisoners to Rome to figure in the triumphal procession of Vespasian and Titus, and there Simon Bar Giora and Othbr heads of the Zealots were executed before the idols which they hated. "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." It was the seventieth year of the Christian era and His generation had not yet gone down into the tomb when these things happened. One at least of those who heard Him on the Mount of Olives, John, was witness of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the ruin of the Temple. Within the destined time the words of Jesus were fulfilled, syllable by syllable, with atrocious exactness, by a story of blood and fire.