When the Roman legions destroyed Judaea and Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Josephus says that more than 1,100,000 Jews perished and nearly 100,000 were taken captive. 1 In Rome’s ancient forum, the Arch of Titus, which still stands, depicts Jewish captives in chains and Roman soldiers carrying the seven-branched temple candlestick on their shoulders. Yet, while the Jews suffered starvation, slaughter, and capture, their fellow Christians in Jerusalem escaped.
How were the Christians spared?
About thirty-seven years before the destruction, Jesus had foretold the terrible events that would follow his death. He warned his followers to immediately flee Jerusalem when the signs he predicted occurred. The Christian community carefully watched for the signs and followed the Savior’s warning.
The Lord first identified the situation leading up to destruction: Many would deceive the people by saying that they were prophets or even Christ himself. The disciples would be delivered up and afflicted, hated of all nations. Betrayal and iniquity would abound, and the love of many would turn cold. (See Matt. 24:10–12; JS—M 1:6–10.)
The Lord then taught of two major signs that would alert believers to flee: “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” (Luke 21:20.)
He also said, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
“Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
“Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
“Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.” (Matt. 24:15–18.)
Of the abomination of desolation to which Jesus referred, Daniel wrote, “They shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” (Dan. 11:31.)
The abomination had happened in 170 B.C. when the Syrian king Antiochus IV ordered a massacre in Jerusalem, profaned the altar of the temple, and carried away the temple treasures. 2 The horrifying events under Antiochus were familiar to every Jew, and those who heard Jesus’ reference to Daniel vividly understood the Savior’s prophecies.
Among the tragedies that the Lord said would happen was the destruction of the temple. The magnificent structure Solomon had built had already been destroyed and rebuilt twice. It would be destroyed again, and the Jews scattered to the four corners of the earth!
Unfortunately, the New Testament is silent concerning the fulfillment of the Savior’s prophecies in Matthew 24. [Matt. 24] History, however, reveals that his prophecies were realized. It also reveals the stunning fact that the believers obeyed the warnings, fled Jerusalem to a town called Pella, and thus saved themselves. The early Christian scholar Eusebius wrote:
“The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.” 3
Epiphanes also attested to the Christian escape, according to Bible scholar Adam Clarke. The latter wrote: “It is very remarkable that not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem, though there were many there when Cestius Gallus invested the city; and, had he persevered in the siege, he would soon have rendered himself master of it; but, when he unexpectedly and unaccountably raised the siege, the Christians took that opportunity to escape. …
“[As] Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished.” 4
Pella must not have been the only destination of fleeing Christians, but it was the most prominent at the time. The flight to Pella took place in A.D. 66 during the attack by Gallus.
Four years later came the fall of Jerusalem. Titus laid siege to the capital, and his battering rams broke down the great walls. The Jews, who were already suffering from plunder, murder, pestilence, and famine among themselves, were easy prey for the fire and swords of the Tenth Roman Legion.
The Master’s chilling words concerning the fate of the temple in Jerusalem were completely fulfilled: “Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2.) The building the Lord called “my house” (Matt. 21:13) had stood on “immense foundations of solid blocks of white marble covered with gold.” 5 Some of the blocks were 67 1/2 feet long by 9 feet thick. The temple towered 100 feet into the air, fronted by two immense columns. The imposing structure was laid waste, with no part of the building left intact. Only a part of the original wall that had surrounded the temple mount remained.
Jesus had given adequate warning, and those who heeded the prophecies survived, while most others perished. Pella continued as an important Christian center for more than seventy years, during the time that Jerusalem remained desolate. Extensive ruins of Pella lie near the modern village Tabaqat Fahl in the northern foothills of the Jordan Valley—perhaps the “mountains” Jesus referred to—fifty-three miles north of Amman and two and a half miles east of the Jordan River.
Why is the flight to Pella important to us in the last dispensation? The prophecies of Jesus concerning Jerusalem and the temple are not a lesson of the past only. In this case, history presents a type of what will happen again. The Lord told us that the signs that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple shall occur again, including the abomination of desolation. (See JS—M 1:21–23, 27–32.) Our warning signals include hearing of “wars, and rumors of wars” and the “elect [being] gathered from the four quarters of the earth. …
“Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes. …
“Iniquity shall abound, the love of men shall wax cold. …
“[The] Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked.” (JS—M 1:23, 27, 29–31.)
The Christians who fled to Pella “and other places beyond,” such as Antioch and, later, Ephesus, were saved. Would we have been among them?
“Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived” (JS—M 1:37), the Lord says. He urges us to stand in holy places—places, as President Ezra Taft Benson has told us, that “include our temples, our chapels, our homes, and the stakes of Zion.” 6 These are, as the Lord declares, “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (D&C 115:6.)
Tacitus wrote that he had heard that 600,000 were besieged in Jerusalem (see Histories, 5:13), whereas Josephus estimates that nearly three million were in the city because of the feast of unleavened bread. He bases his guess on the reported number of sacrifices during the feast. The number 1,100,000 that he gives seems to refer to those who died in all of Judaea. (See Wars of the Jews, 6:9:3.)
See 1 Maccabees 1:20–50; Josephus, 5:9:4.
Ecclesiastical History, tr. C. F. Crusè, 3d ed., in Greek Ecclesiastical Historians, 6 vols. (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1842), p. 110 (3:5).
The New Testament … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, n.d.), 5:228–29.
Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, n.d.), p. 57.
“Prepare Yourselves for the Great Day of the Lord,” in Brigham Young University 1981 Fireside and Devotional Speeches (Provo, Utah: University Publications Department, 1981), p. 68.