Signs in the Temple
From The Talmud (Yoma 39a)
The last generation that lived from the crucifixion of Messiah in 29AD until the destruction of the Temple in 68AD experienced the withdrawal of the presence of God from the temple. The Priesthood and leading rabbis were greatly troubled by these signs.
- The lot for the Scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:6-10) — The lots for deciding which goat was for the Lord and which was to be the scapegoat were placed in an urn, shaken and then drawn out by the High Priest. If the lot that indicated for the Lord was in the High Priests’ right hand, this was considered a good omen. During the last forty years that the Temple stood, the lot was never in his right hand.
- After the scapegoat was chosen, the priest would tie a scarlet ribbon to its horn. A piece of this ribbon was torn off and posted in the temple. The scapegoat was then taken into the wilderness to be pushed off a precipice. When the goat was dead the piece of crimson left in the temple would often turn white. However in the last forty years the temple stood, it never turned white.
- The western most light on the menorah was used to light all the other wicks. For the last 40 years this light would not stay lit.
- Y It was usual for the fire on the altar to stay lit all day with just two pieces of wood. In the last 40 years, the fire was no longer constant, but was unreliable.
- It was customary that when the priests ate the shewbread, even a piece the size of an olive, would satisfy the appetite. During this same 40-year period, a curse seems to have been put upon the shewbread so that any size piece would not satisfy at all, but all who ate became ravenous. One priest even went so far as to grab the portion of another. Ever after they called him “ben hamzun” (grasper) until his dying day.
- The Temple doors would open at night after being barred to stay closed. The Rabbi’s saw this as fulfillment of Zechariah 11:1, that fire would devour the Temple.
“A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance. Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend, nor give credit, to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation; but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also, before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotion’s which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Nisan, and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day-time; which light lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.
At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner, (court of the temple,) which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now, those that kept watch in the temple came thereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared, that this signaled the desolation that was coming upon them.
Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Jyar, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner (court of the) temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’ But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian, and as husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice this whole people!’ This was his cry, as he went about the by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him, but still he went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man brought him to the Roman procurator – where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet did he not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, ‘Woe, woe to Jerusalem!’ And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, who he was? And whence he came? And why he uttered such words” he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, ‘Woe, woe to Jerusalem!’ Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other then a melancholy presage of what was to come.
This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for, as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, ‘Woe woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!’ And just as he added at the last, – ‘Woe, woe to myself also!’ there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately: and as he was uttering the very same presages, he gave up the ghost.”
JOSEPHUS book 6, chapter 5, section 2ff.