As Jesus declared, false messiahs would arise in Judah. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecutions would likewise break out within the empire. According to His Olivet prophecy, many confessing Christians would be tortured into apostasy, the nation of Judah would be plunged into murderous insanity, and the Gospel would be declared boldly throughout the Roman world by evangelists like Paul and his companions. All of these things happened before the legions of Rome surrounded the city of Jerusalem, which means we are not waiting on a future fulfillment, but we may rightly extol the glory of Christ for this magnificent prophecy that was perfectly fulfilled in a single generation just like He said.
Today we continue our look at the signs of the times by looking at several additional pieces of evidence that Jesus gave that would mark this tumultuous period immediately before Jerusalem’s fall. He tells us in Matthew 24:10
10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:10-14
Many Will Fall Away
Before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies, a period of increased apostasy would plague the first-century church. Jesus predicted that the combination of persecutions, false messiahs, false doctrine, and other calamities brought about in this unique period would be so severe that many would fall away from their faith and would stop walking with Him. This would be especially tempting for those who converted from Judaism since they could likely end their suffering by denying Christ. Scripture attests to the veracity of all of this.
For instance, Paul expresses shock in one of his earliest letters that so many Christians were abandoning Christ (Galatians 1:6) and going after a false Gospel (Galatians 5:4). He warned the Thessalonian church not to be deceived by any of the liars or false teachers that were busily fomenting perverted teachings in their midst because a great apostasy had to occur before the Lord would return in judgment (2 Thessalonians 2:3). He told Timothy that the Spirit expressly revealed this period of apostasy was coming (1 Timothy 4:1), where men would become spiritually shipwrecked and stray away from their Christian faith (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 6:20-21). He warned that abandoning Christ and apostolic teaching, to return back unto Judaism, would cause them to become re-enslaved to the powerless law (2 Timothy 4:10; Galatians 4:8-10) which tickled many apostates itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Paul is not the only one who acknowledges this reality and affirms Jesus’ prophecy. Peter warns the saints not to follow the false prophets (2 Peter 2:1-3), who behave like unreasoning animals (2 Peter 2:10-15), who return to their own vomit (2 Peter 2:20-22). If they follow such men, Peter warns them that they will be carried away (2 Peter 3:17) and driven into the same eternal darkness those who are polluting them are destined for (2 Peter 2:17).
Jude, likewise, calls the apostates within the community hidden reefs that will bring tremendous ruin upon the church (Jude 12) who are called to contend for the Gospel and build themselves up on the most holy Gospel (Jude 4, 20). The author of Hebrews says that some, who had tasted the goodness of that Gospel, unforgivably decided to return back to the damnable troughs of the Jewish religion (Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31). They did this instead of waiting on the judgment coming of the Lord (Hebrews 10:35-39).
The apostle John, in much the same manner, reminds his audience that everyone departing from the community of faith was not truly in the faith, to begin with (1 John 2:19), but even so, the faithful should attempt to call those who left to repentance before destruction overtakes them (1 John 5:16-17; See also James 5:19-20; Jude 22-23).
The plain and simple truth is that we are not waiting on a future apostasy to fulfill the words of Jesus in Matthew 24. That period has already occurred within the early church where countless believers made shipwreck of their faith and ran back to the manure of religion. Sadly, they would find the sacrifices and trappings of Mosaic Judaism ill-equipped to stop the judgment Christ was bringing.
Many Will Betray and Hate One Another
Another sign Jesus gave was that Jewish people would hate and betray one another, which went beyond the persecutions they would inflict upon the Christians. Jesus told them elsewhere that a “brother would betray his own brother” and that family members would turn in violence upon one another in those darkest of days (Matthew 10:21-22). This fact is illustrated powerfully in the writings of many ancient historians, which we will not have time to cover extensively but will sample for just a moment.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the nation of Judah underwent rapid political instability that drove them towards madness. From emperors like Caligula demanding that his statue be erected in the temple to Roman procurators like Gessius Florus who killed thousands of Jews in the city, simply for mocking his greed, it seemed like the Jews were being provoked toward all-out war and they were taking the bait “hook, line, and sinker”. Yet, instead of unifying together against their common enemy, factions splintered and they began attacking each other.
Josephus tells us that the land became filled with despicable tyrants, murderers, and robbers who murdered their own countrymen for more than two decades (Wars 2.12.5). After that original band of murderers was put down by Governor Felix, a new group of Jewish assassins, called the Sicarii, began slaying their own people in broad daylight for obeying the Romans (Wars 2.13.3). Another group soon began polluting the city with talks of insurrection and like the former was put down by Governor Felix (Wars 12.13.4). Still another faction began murdering anyone in the city who refused to revolt from Rome, even setting houses on fire with women and children in them (Wars 2.13.6) and plundering the corpses for sport.