Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (October 2014)
Since the beginning of their history as a people called by God, Israel were surrounded by enemies, leading to a situation in which wars and threatening wars were always part of their existence. By far the biggest threats came from the north, from where mighty enemies launched attacks on Israel with a view to destroying them. These wars were demonic-inspired because Israel are God’s chosen people to whom His Word was entrusted with a message of salvation for all humanity (Rom. 3:1-2). They were also a people through whom the Son of God was incarnated in the royal house of David (Luke 1:26-35; 2:11), so as to be able to atone for the sins of every repentant sinner (John 1:29; Rom. 3:23-24). Israel are also destined to play a prominent role in the Messiah’s future world government (Isa. 60:12), but that will only happen after the entire remnant of the people has been reconciled with the Messiah (Jer. 31:31-34; Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:25-26).
No wonder that the coming Antichrist will mobilise a global force in an effort to annihilate Israel and, in the final instance, to fight against their Messiah in Jerusalem at His second coming (Rev. 19:19). This impostor will also establish his power-base north of Israel, thus fulfilling his role as “the king of Babylon” (Isa. 14:4), “the king of the North” (Dan. 11:36-45), and “the king of Assyria” (Isa. 10:12-14).
During the course of many centuries the king of the North had various power bases in the area north and northeast of Israel, thus providing the historical context for the end-time revival of this evil kingdom. Although some of these hostile kingdoms were situated more towards the east of Israel, they nevertheless approached Israel from the north along established trade routes that were also used for military purposes. The following were the most important manifestations of the hostile kingdoms north of Israel, and against this backdrop the present geopolitical and religious developments in the region will be considered:
The history of the nations begins in Genesis 11 with a Babylonian conspiracy against God and His kingdom. Subsequently, the kings of Babylon were all types of the Antichrist, who will be the end-time leader of Satan’s kingdom on earth. Imitating the way in which Christ as the Son of God will be the human representative of God the Father (John 14:8-9), the Antichrist in his capacity as the son of perdition will be the human personification of Satan (2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 17:8). The devil rules over the fallen world (Eph. 6:12; 1 John 5:19), and he will greatly empower the Antichrist to be a dictator over his world empire: “And the dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (Rev. 13:2).
However, the final usurpation of power by the Antichrist can only take place after his withholder, the true church indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has been taken out of the way at the rapture: “And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish …” (2 Thess. 2:6-10).
Throughout the ages, Satan had various centres of control from where he spread his evil ideas and institutions to other societies and countries, or forcibly imposed it on them. Among these centres were Babylon, Nineveh, Damascus and Rome, but Babylon fulfilled the most significant role. There are strong indications that Babylon in the present Iraq will again rise to prominence in the end-time as its final destruction has not yet occurred. Isaiah describes the end-time destruction of Babylon as a further consequence of Satan’s eviction from heaven, and because of this association there is a clear link between the Babylonian Empire and Satan’s continued rebellion against God after being cast out of heaven:
“You will take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say: … How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities?’” (Isa. 14:12-17).
It is obvious that behind the earthly king of Babylon there was an evil spiritual power, and he was the real king of Babylon. His name is Lucifer and as a mighty angel he was cast out of heaven where he exalted himself in a rebellious effort to be equal with God. Subsequently, he gained control over earthly kings and used them to establish and further expand his kingdom on earth.
According to Revelation 17, mystery Babylon is an apostate religious system that concealed herself in the guise of a wide range of false religions through which she further spread her influence among the nations. John describes her as “Mystery Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5). She manifested as various mystery religions among the nations, by which she reigned over the kings of the earth (Rev. 17:18). Babylon will only be destroyed in the great tribulation when her purpose has been served, and that will coincide with a decree by the Antichrist that all people on earth only worship him as God (Rev. 13:15; 17:16; 18:1-8; 2 Thess. 2:4). The final obliteration of Mystery Babylon will occur together with the destruction of the rebuilt city of Babylon, which will be major end-time metropolis in the region of ancient Babylonia (Rev. 18:21).
We will briefly review the history of Babylon, as well as that of other cities and empires which were greatly used by Satan to control his kingdom on earth.
According to Genesis 10:8-10, Nimrod established a kingdom for himself in Babylon. Apart from the fact that it was a political kingdom, it also became a powerful pagan religious centre from where idolatry and other false religious practises spread across the world. As protagonist of the self-sufficiency of the human race, Nimrod (his name means “Rebel”) took a firm stand against God. Not only did he offer himself as king to his subjects, but also as a god. As a builder of fortified cities in the land of Shinar (one of the earliest names for Babylonia), he was honoured as the God of Forces. He was addressed as the Liberator and Crown Bearer, and regarded as the personification of the Sun-god – the one who gives light and life. After him all Babylonian and Assyrian kings deified themselves. This practice was also adopted by the rulers of other world empires, especially in the Roman Empire.
Since its earliest existence, Babylon was the centre and epitome of an anti-God world power. This tradition is also reflected in the name “Babylon”, which means “Gateway to the gods”. (After God confounded their language, the name Babylon was also associated with “confusion” and “disorder”). The gateway to the gods consisted of a temple tower (ziggurat) in which the priests ascended to make contact with the gods. The top could be reached by means of a helical stairway that surrounded the tower. Up there the priests meditated to become one with the cosmic world. Observations with a view to horoscopy were also made from that look-out post. (cf. Isa. 47:13-14).
The great tower of Babylon was part of the building complex known as the temple of Marduk. It comprised eight sections built one upon the other. At the pinnacle was a small temple with luxurious couches and a golden table. Marduk was the Babylonian city god. As paramount god in the Babylonian pantheon, he was accorded the title King of heaven and earth. The word “Lord” is “Bel” in Chaldees, and it is for this reason that Marduk is also called Bel, or Baal in other languages (Jer. 50:2, Isa. 46:1), hence the name the tower of Baal or Bel. Man became his own god and the master of his own destiny, thereby sharing in the rebellion of Lucifer.
The concepts of political, economic and religious globalism also originated in Nimrod’s Babylonian Empire: “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth’” (Gen. 11:4). Their objective was the establishment of a strong world empire in which all power is centralised in the hands of the king, and in which no person is allowed to act outside his commands. The ancient Babylonian Empire, as well as their successors, were openly opposed to God and commanded their subjects to only worship the gods of Babel. False forms of supernatural power and wisdom were encouraged, and Nimrod was also the head of the Babylonian order of diviners.
In Babylonia, the history of the nations followed an apostate course towards a godless new world order in which all people on earth will be the subjects of Satan’s specially empowered king, the Antichrist. All nations who do not spiritually and constitutionally identify themselves as followers of the true God are engaged in establishing an antichristian society while following a course leading away from the Lord. However, they will sooner or later discover that when sin is full-grown it brings forth death (Jas. 1:15; cf. Prov. 16:25).
Early in the history of the Babylonian nations, more than 4 000 years ago, the Lord intervened to lay the foundation for God-fearing nations who follow and serve the Lord. Since Nimrod was the founder of the unbelieving and deceived Babylonian nations, Abraham was called by God to be the founder of believing nations who serve the Lord: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen. 12:1-3).
The calling of the Lord to Abraham demanded that he became a “Hebrew” – he had to “cross over” the Euphrates River from the land of Nimrod towards a new land which God would give him. His faithful descendants praised the Lord for this act of salvation: “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram, and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and gave him the name Abraham [father of a multitude]” (Neh. 9:7).
Abraham’s believing posterity separated themselves from the pagan practices of the Babylonian nations who were caught up in spiritual darkness. The devil filled the hearts of pagans with hatred towards God’s people, and for that reason Israel was continually involved in wars against heathen nations. The strongest heathen nations were situated north of Israel, and that explains the danger which the pagan “king of the North” posed to Israel during long periods in their history.
Through his power politics, Nimrod laid the foundation for the Babylonian as well as the Assyrians empires: “Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. … And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar [Babylonia]. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city)” (Gen 10:8-12). In Micah 5:6, Assyria is also called “the land of Nimrod”, and for that reason the Antichrist will be described as “the Assyrian” as well as “the king of Babylon”. These two empires took turns to control virtually the same area in the Middle East.
In about 900 BC, Assyria became the dominant power in the region after defeating the Babylonian Empire. They occupied this position until 612 BC, when the Babylonian Empire subdued them and again became the undisputed leaders of the known world. The Assyrians relentlessly persecuted Israel and often tried to destroy them. Between 740 and 722 BC, many members of Israel’s ten tribe kingdom in Samaria were taken captive to Assyria (2 Kings 17). That happened in consequence of Israel’s persistent sinning (2 Kings 17:6-23). However, in the southern kingdom of Jerusalem there was still a faithful remnant, and the Lord intervened in a dramatic way to save the city by destroying the Assyrian army. He said:
“’For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’ And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses – all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword” (2 Kings 19:34-37).
Assyria was incorporated into Babylonia after Nineveh was subjected in 612 BC by Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar. These two empires shared close cultural and linguistic ties – an association which dates back to the conquests of Nimrod, that big rebel against the kingdom of God.
The southern kingdom of Judah was also toppled by the king of the North when Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah says: “And the word of the Lord came to me the second time, saying, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a boiling pot, and it is facing away from the north.’ Then the Lord said to me: ‘Out of the north calamity shall break forth on all the inhabitants of the land” (Jer. 1:13-14). According to Jeremiah 39:1-3, this prophecy was fulfilled when the Babylonians conquered and subjected the kingdom of Judah. The Babylonian exile of the nation took place in three phases between 605 and 586 BC. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and Judea became a province of Babylonia (2 King 25:1-21).
As far as the composition of Israel is concerned it should be kept in mind that the nation became divided into two kingdoms for 250 years – these were the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel in Samaria and the 2-tribe kingdom of Judah and Benjamin in Jerusalem. During this time there were various migrations from the north to the southern kingdom, giving rise to a situation in which Judah soon became representative of all twelve the tribes (cf. 2 Chron. 11:14-16; 15:9). The term “Judah” has special significance as it refers to the royal tribe of Israel from which the Messiah was destined to be born. The appellations “Israel”, “Jews” and “Hebrews” are accepted by all twelve the tribes.
The fact that Israel and Judah were both oppressed and held captive in the Assyrian/Babylonian region where they again intermingled, is confirmed by Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The children of Israel were oppressed, along with the children of Judah; all who took them captive have held them fast; they have refused to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is His name” (Jer. 50:33-34).
Exiles from the ten tribes did not, as is often alleged, migrate to Europe in large numbers and later continued their existence there as West European nations. In the history of Israel, no basis exists for the theory of the “ten lost tribes of Israel”, neither for the British Israel Movement nor other non-Jewish “Israel groups” outside modern Israel and the recognised Jewish population of the world. When Daniel refers to Israel during their exile he has in mind the united Israelite nation with its twelve tribes. During and after the Babylonian captivity reference is only made to one people who are described as “Jews” or “Israelites” (Ezra 6:8, 16-17, 21; Neh. 1:6 and 4:1). In the New Testament, the same alteration of names is used, which accounts for the fact that the same people are 174 times described as Jews and 70 times as Israelites (cf. Acts 2:5,14, 22, 36; 4:5-8; 13:5, 16-17; 22:3; 26:6-7; John 3:1, 10; 4:22; Rom. 11:1; Jas. 1:1).
The fall of the Babylonian Empire was directly related to God’s intervention because of the captivity and oppression of Israel, the destruction of the temple, the subsequent desecrating of the temple objects by Belshazzar, and also because the Babylonians reverted to idol-worship after Nebuchadnezzar had repented and honoured the God of heaven above the idols (Dan. 4:37). During one night, while Belshazzar gloried in the power of the mighty Babylonian Empire and openly defamed God, the writing appeared on the wall which announced the end of this world power. The Medes and Persians conquered Babel and broke their power (Dan. 5).
The fall of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires did not bring about the end of threats to Israel from the north, but rather made way to various other anti-Jewish world powers who also had no regard for Israel as the chosen people. In the end-time, this hostility will build up to reach new heights while the way is being prepared for the world empire of the Antichrist.
During the Persian domination, the Israeli exiles who were earlier taken captive to Assyria and Babylonia, returned to their land in great numbers to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Neh. 2:1-9). However, many of them remained in the lands of their captivity, which were by then provinces of the Medo-Persian Empire. At a certain stage intense hostility was kindled against them, leading to attempted genocide of the Jews (Esth. 3:1-15). Through divine intervention the Jews were given the right to defend themselves, thereby surviving the onslaught against them (Esth. 8:1–9:16).
The Persian power was later broken by Alexander the Great of Greece, but Persia continued to exist as a subjected country. In 1935, the name of this country was changed to Iran. Israel also continued to exist throughout the centuries despite their international dispersion of almost two millennia. Since their restoration as an independent nation in the land of their fathers in 1948, ancient hostilities against them were again rekindled – not only from neighbouring Arab nations but also from Iran. Various calls have already been made by Iranian leaders for the destruction of the Jewish state as it allegedly causes division in the Islamic world. This is a modern repetition of Haman’s conspiracy in the ancient Persian Empire to commit genocide of the Jews. On 29th July 2014, Iran’s religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described Israel as a rabid dog and a rapacious wolf which attacks innocent people in Gaza. He said that Iran is arming the Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel, and criticised the USA for not doing the same.
The oil wealth of Iran and their development of nuclear weapons, together with their fundamentalist Muslim government with its deeply-rooted hatred of Christians and Jews, renders this state an important role player in Middle Eastern conflicts and also in global politics. They have the capacity to even block oil exports via the Persian Gulf.
The Greek Empire (333-146 BC) played a big role in hostility towards Israel. During Alexander the Great’s wars of conquest against Persia he turned south to also subject Tirus and Egypt. The Samaritans also provoked him to destroy the temple in Jerusalem. However, the Jewish historian Josephus describes a surprising course of events which Alexander’s campaign took in Israel.
The narrative concerning Alexander’s first contact with the Jews is recorded in the Talmud and also in the Jewish historian Josephus’s book, Antiquities XI. According to both accounts the High Priest of the Temple, Shimon HaTzaddik, fearing that Alexander would destroy the city, went out to meet him before he arrived at the city. The narrative then describes how Alexander, upon seeing the High Priest, dismounted and bowed to him. (Alexander rarely, if ever, bowed to anyone.) In Josephus’s account, when asked by his general, Parmerio, to explain his actions he said: “I did not bow before him but before that God who has honoured him with the high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very apparel.” Alexander interpreted the vision of the High Priest as a good omen and thus spared Jerusalem and peacefully absorbed the land of Israel into his growing empire. As a tribute to his benign conquest the rabbis decreed that the Jewish firstborn of that time be named Alexander, which is a Jewish name until today (http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/the_greek_empire/).
Alexander the Great did not return home after his resounding victories over the Medo-Persian Empire, and died near Babylonia from malaria and complications caused by liquor abuse. He had no heir and his empire was divided among four of his generals: Cassander who ruled over Macedonia and Greece, Lysimachus who was the ruler of Thrace and Bythinia, Ptolemy who ruled over Egypt, and Seleucus who ruled over Syria and Babylonia. From Israel’s point of view, the latter two kingdoms were most significant because they did not only fight one another for supremacy but also for control over Israel. The Ptolemies who ruled over Egypt were called the kings of the South, while the Seleucids who ruled over Syria to the north of Israel were called the kings of the North.
The power struggle between the kings of the North and the kings of the South is described in Daniel 11. It is highly significant that prophecies that were given on these two kingdoms in 535 BC were literally fulfilled hundreds of years later between 320 and 164 BC. We therefore have every reason to believe that the remaining prophecies which refer to the end-time empire of the Antichrist will be equally literally fulfilled.
A protracted struggle waged between the kings of the North and the South, with a changing degree of success on both sides. Ultimately, the king of the North prevailed and became the dominant power. During this conflict which dragged on for many years, Israel bore the brunt as it was situated between these two warring provinces (Dan. 11:11-16).
A large part of Daniel 11 is devoted to the dictator, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, because he was such a clear type of the end-time Antichrist (Dan. 11:21-35). He called himself “Epiphanes” (the Illustrious One), but because of his insane behaviour and cruelty he was nicknamed “Epimanes” (the Madman). In his campaign against Israel he secured the support of various Jews who did not observe the Torah. With their assistance he vented his fury against the religious Jews. He desecrated the temple in Jerusalem and set up an image of the Greek God Zeus in it. In this way, Israel was compelled to worship Zeus instead of Yahweh.
Daniel 11:31-35 is a transitional passage between the historical and end-time kings of the North as they refer to activities which are characteristic of both Antiochus Epiphanes and the Antichrist. The core of these activities is the profaning the temple by the image of an idol, as well as military action to enforce the worship of the image and ensure the discontinuation of all traditional forms of worship: “And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11:31). Not only did Antiochus Epiphanes engage in these blasphemous activities but the Antichrist will follow suit (Dan. 9:27).
In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus referred to the Antichrist’s desecration of the temple by an abominable image of an idol, and specifically linked it to Daniel’s prophecy: “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. … For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:15-21). The Antichrist will profane the temple in Jerusalem by declaring himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4) and also by setting up an image of himself in the temple (Rev. 13:14-15).
In Daniel 11:32-35, mention is made of deception promoted by both Antiochus Epiphanes and the Antichrist, by virtue of which certain Jews will deny God and follow an impostor, while others will rather suffer tribulation than turning away from the true God.
From verse 36 to the end of the chapter all further prophecies only apply to the end-time king of the North, i.e. the Antichrist. Daniel says: “Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god”. Antiochus Epiphanes did not declare himself to be God but the Antichrist will do so. Paul refers to this end-time enemy of God, who “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4).
The Antichrist will institute a military dictatorship and order people to worship him and his image, and also to receive his number on their right hand or forehead. His covenant with Israel and the nations will be for the duration of one year-week. During the middle of this week he will forbid the sacrificial service in the rebuilt temple, desecrate the Most Holy by placing an image of himself in it, declare himself to be God and demand universal worship (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13:15). His main objective will be to make war against the coming Messiah, as he will be mindful of biblical prophecies that Christ will return at the end of the tribulation period and set His feet on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4-5; Rev. 19:19).
The Antichrist “shall plant the tents of his palace [his military command centre] between the seas and the glorious holy mountain” (Dan. 11:45) – i.e. between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea on Mount Zion. At this strategic place he will await the Messiah, but “he shall come to his end, and no one will help him” (Dan. 11:45). John says that the Antichrist and false prophet will be captured and cast alive into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:19-20). Paul says that the Lord Jesus “will consume him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). No human or satanic power will be able to help him on that day as Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).
With the rise of the Roman Empire during the last century before Christ, dark clouds of persecution did not only descend upon the Jewish people but the establishment of the Christian church in Jerusalem would also meet with great hostility. This wicked world empire set out to physically annihilate Judaism and Christianity, and Nero was the first Emperor in Rome who declared the persecution of Jews and Christians as part of his empire’s official policy. In AD 54, at the age of only 17, Nero was appointed Emperor and he committed suicide in AD 68 after he fell in disfavour and faced rebellion against his rule. During his term of office many Christians died as martyrs for their faith, while Nero himself ordered the execution of Paul and Peter.
Although the central power base of the Roman Empire was not in the Middle East or in Asia Minor north of Israel, they conquered and controlled all countries around the Mediterranean Sea, and the Syrian province was later used as a base from where further attacks were launched on Israel. In this way they continued the hostilities of the historical kings of the North.
Cestius Gallus, the Roman governor of Syria, marched on Jerusalem in AD 66 with a large contingent of soldiers. The Messianic Jews remembered what Jesus had said about the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20), and were looking for an opportunity to flee the city. The siege was effective. Most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were suffering from low morale and were considering a surrender to the enemy. At that moment Cestius, for some inexplicable reason, called off the siege. This unexpected turn of events raised the hopes of Jews that they were gaining victory and could still save their city. They promptly chased down their enemies and killed 5 300 of them. However, the Christians realised the seriousness of the situation and fled to Pella in Trans-Jordan while the other Jews were in pursuit of their enemies.
Nero, the Emperor in Rome, was furious about the humiliating defeat suffered by his forces. He sent Vespasian, one of his best generals, to teach the Jews a conclusive lesson. Vespasian and his son, Titus, commanded an army of 60 000 men. They conquered town after town in Galilee and Judea. Not only did they conquer the towns, but they also slaughtered thousands of Jews and flattened every town to the ground. Many of the Jews escaped to Jerusalem as they believed that the city was so strongly fortified that it would never fall to their enemies. This expectation was contrary to the scenario entertained by the Messianic Jews – they hurriedly left Jerusalem as they truly believed that the destruction of the city was imminent (Luke 21:20-24).
In AD 70, after a siege of five months, Jerusalem was captured and destroyed. The temple was set alight and razed to the ground. During this period 1.1 million people died, half of them through warfare and the other half of hunger. The remaining 97 000 survivors were taken captive and many of them sold as slaves. Only small groups of Jews remained in Judea and Galilee and re-established themselves as citizens of the Roman Empire. However, they still cherished the hope that they would one day again become a free people in their own land.
Between AD 132 and 135, a mere 60 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish population staged the Bar Kochba revolt against their Roman oppressors. Many Roman soldiers died during this uprising. The leader of the rebellion, Simon Bar Kosiba, was regarded by most of the orthodox Jews to be the Messiah, and because of that given the title “Bar Kochba” which means “Son of a Star” (“Kochba” is an Aramaic word meaning “Star”). This title was derived from a Messianic prophecy in Numbers 24:17, which reads: “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a sceptre shall rise of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.”
580 000 Jews were killed in this revolt that lasted for three and a half years. Practically all the remaining survivors were driven away. The Romans even pulled a ploughshare over Mount Zion and so fulfilled the prophecy of Micah. He said that Zion would be ploughed like a field because of the iniquities of the Jewish leaders. He further prophesied that Jerusalem would become rubble and the Temple Mount a forest (Mic. 3:9‑12). The consequences of this war were so severe that many historians described it as genocide. The surviving Jews completely changed their views about Simon Bar Kochba and subsequently labelled him a false messiah.
Emperor Hadrian who ordered the offensive against the Jews, attempted to root out Judaism, which he saw as the cause of continuous rebellions. He prohibited the Torah law and the Hebrew calendar, and executed Judaic scholars. The sacred scroll was ceremonially burned on the Temple Mount. At the former Temple sanctuary he set up two statues, one of Jupiter and another of himself. In the Roman mythology, Jupiter is the king of all the other gods and also the god of the sky. He is the Roman peer of the Greek God Zeus.
In a further attempt to erase any memory of Judea or Ancient Israel, Hadrian wiped these name off the map and replaced them with Syria Palaestina. By destroying the association of Jews to Judea and forbidding the practising of the Jewish faith, Hadrian aimed to root out the nation that inflicted such heavy casualties on the forces of the Roman Empire. Similarly, he re-established Jerusalem, but now as the Roman pagan city of Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden from entering it, except on the day of Tisha B’Av.
Tisha B’Av means “the 9th day of the month Av”, which is the fifth month on Israel’s religious calendar (usually coinciding with July or August on the Gregorian calendar). This is a day of fasting on which the Jews reflect on great tragedies which befell them on this day during their long and turbulent history, particularly the destruction of their first two temples as well as the bitter consequences of exile to the nation. Up to the year AD 135 there were also other major tragedies which occurred on the same day of the year, thereby adding more reasons for fasting and humbling on 9th Av. The following five events were the first ones which gave rise to the establishing of this special day of mourning:
1. The twelve spies sent out by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission on this day. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the Promised Land. For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites’ lack of faith, God decreed that for all future generations this date would become one of crying and misfortune for their descendants (Num. 13 and 14; 32:13).
2. The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed on 9th Av by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC after a two-year siege. The Jews in Judea were then sent into the Babylonian exile.
3. The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah, and rebuilt by Herod in the first century BC, was destroyed by the Romans in August 70 AD (9th Av), scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
4. The Romans crushed the Bar Kochba revolt, killing over 500,000 Jews, on July 8 (9th Av), AD 135.
5. Following the defeat of the Jews in the Bar Kochba revolt on 9th Av in AD 135, the Roman commander plowed the site of the Temple and the surrounding area to finally seal its desecration and demolition.
From their base in the Syrian province (the territory of the ancient king of the North) the Romans waged two devastating wars against Israel in an effort to utterly destroy this people, obliterate their culture and religion, change the identity and boundaries of their land, and to also establish a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, on the ruins of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. The new city was named after the Emperor (his family name was Aelius) and also after his pagan god, Jupiter Capitolinus.
The Jews themselves have greatly aggravated their problems by rejecting Jesus as Messiah and instead following a false messiah, Simon Bar Kochba. Their national rejection of Jesus (except for a small group of Messianic Jews) continued throughout the centuries, and because of that they forfeited the blessings of the Lord upon their nation (cf. Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 18:41-44; 21:24). This situation will prevail right down to the end-time when Israel will again, when they are threatened by hostile powers, repeat the same mistake which they made during the Bar Kochba war: instead of turning to their rejected Messiah, Jesus, they will conclude a covenant with a false messiah who will pretend to be their saviour during times of great distress (John 5:43).
The hostility which Israel experienced during their international dispersion has considerably increased the list of national disasters which they commemorate on 9th Av. Through the service of Moses the Lord had impressed upon their forefathers the blessings that would follow a God-fearing life, but also the disastrous consequences of spiritual apostasy:
“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments … I will give peace in the land. … You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes … I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you. … I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you. … I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation. … I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste” (Lev. 26:3-33).
The sword of oppression indeed followed upon the heels of apostatised Israel! They tried to work out a future without the blessing and protection of their Messiah whom they had delivered to the Romans to be crucified. They even repeatedly revolted against the mighty Roman Empire, prompting major wars in AD 70 and AD 135 which ended in Israel’s near-extinction. A small remnant of them survived these wars and subsequent exiles, but nowhere could they find rest and peace for very long. Hostility against them often flared up to life-threatening levels.
Although the Roman Empire lost all its power in AD 476 and ceased to exist as a centralised political unit, various European nations continued in their own right to practise power politics and also to persecute the dispersed Jews. Another legacy of the Roman Empire was the Roman Catholic Church. In AD 312, Constantine became the first Christian Emperor, and shortly afterwards ordered an end to the persecution of Christians. Under his leadership the church became highly influential and developed into a powerful state church in which great authority was vested in the pope in Rome.
Ecclesiastical abuse of power increased dramatically, and during the Middle Ages numerous military campaigns were organised in which the Crusaders fought against the enemies of Christianity – mainly against the Jews and Muslims. European governments were also influenced to persecute the Jews and expel them from their countries. Since the eleventh century, the Jews were afflicted by various national disasters during the month of Av – most of them even on the 9th day of the month, thereby further expanding the list of tragedies which are commemorated on this day. In the 20th century, Germany greatly contributed towards threatening the future survival of the Jews. The following tragedies are presently also reflected upon during this time of fasting:
· The First Crusade started on the 9th of Av in AD 1096, during which hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed in France and Germany.
· Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 (Av 9).
· Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 (Av 10).
· Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 (Av 7).
· Germany entered World War I on August 1-2, 1914 (Av 9-10), which caused a massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.
· On August 2, 1941 (Av 9), SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party to implement “The Final Solution” by killing all Jews. As a result, the Holocaust began during which six millions Jews, almost one third of the world’s Jewish population, perished.
· On July 23, 1942 (Av 9), began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka in Poland, where between 700 000 and 900 000 of them died in the gas chambers. More Jews died at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp apart from Auschwitz where one million died.
The Roman Empire, as well as the continuation of this empire through individual European nations, and the Vatican in Rome, played a major role in Jewish persecution by perpetuating the policies of the evil king of the North in various ways. However, at the same time other powers were established in the world which are also highly hostile towards Israel – among them most notably the Islamic nations, the Mongol nations (an Asian empire), as well as Russia in the far north. The restoration of Israel in their land in 1948 provoked various old and new enemies of the Jews, while the ancient king of the North is also waking up and has started with a new campaign of hatred and military action to challenge the authority of the God of Israel. In the following instalment of this article the role of these nations will be reviewed in the light of biblical prophecy.