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Lessons From Church History Volume 2

Volumes 2-4. This is the history of the Church from the Roman War (66-73 A.D.) to Constantine and the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. with lessons to be learned from it.

Category - Long Book

Book 2 - Chapter 8

The Revolt Crushed

In spite of Rabbi Akiba's confidence that Bar Cochba was the “Messianic King,” and in spite of the name change from Bar Kosiba (“son of lies”) to Bar Cochba (“son of the star”), the Jewish “messiah” was not very pious. He was physically very powerful and apparently had learned to rely upon the arm of flesh. Jerry Rabow tells us in his book, 50 Jewish Messiahs, p. 13,

“The rabbis were particularly enraged when they heard that before his battles Bar Kockhba didn't pray for God's help, but only asked that God would remain neutral and permit the Jewish army to win by force of arms. Instead of acknowledging dependence upon the divine, Bar Kockhba would pray: ‘Master of the world, neither help nor embarrass us’.

“If most of the rabbis scoffed at the messianic title for Bar Kockhba when he was vanquishing the Romans and establishing an independent Jewish state, their opposition naturally intensified when the victories were reversed.”

In other words, the rabbis did not oppose Bar Cochba as the messiah as long as he was winning battles—even though they knew he was irreligious and downright blasphemous—but once he stopped winning, then the rabbis found grounds to question his legitimacy.

“According to Jewish legend, the Messiah will be a man of such perfect judgment that he will be able to judge without relying upon the possibility of misleading evidences of either sight or sound. This must mean, the rabbis concluded, that the Messiah should be able to judge a man by smell alone. Therefore, they demanded that the blindfolded Bar Kockhba determine by smell the guilt or innocence of an accused man. Bar Kockhba failed history's first ‘smell test’.

“Whatever the truth of this story of Bar Kockhba's test, apparently the rabbis of Betar did have Bar Kockhba killed after he executed Rabbi Eleazar. Without Bar Kokhba, the Jewish resistance crumbled.” (Rabow, p. 14)

Bar Cochba's body, strangely enough, was found crushed by a snake, according to Prof. Graetz in his History of the Jews, Vol. II, p. 419,

“The end of the mighty Bar-Cochba is not known. One who brought his head to the Roman General boasted that he had killed him. His body, however, was found crushed by a snake. On this the conqueror said, ‘Had not God's hand killed him, a human hand could not have injured him’.”

We cannot help but compare this Jewish messiah with Jesus. The prophecy was that the serpent would bruise His heel, while He would crush the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). Jesus indeed was bruised in the heel, so to speak, by dying on the cross, but in so doing, he crushed the serpent's head by means of His resurrection. On the other hand, it is plain that Bar Cochba was crushed by the serpent and that ended the story. It must have been quite a large boa constrictor!

In the end, Bar Cochba was universally condemned for the disaster and loss of a half million Jewish lives. They did not mourn for the 200,000 Greeks and Romans who had been killed by the Jews in Cyrenaica, nor again the 240,000 Greeks killed in Cyprus at the beginning of the uprising. By Graetz' own testimony, the Jews had killed at least a half million Greek and Roman citizens living outside of Judea at the outset of the revolt.

If Bar Cochba had succeeded in retaining his independent kingdom, he would have remained a “messianic king,” regardless of all personal shortcomings. Akiba continued as one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin for a short while, but he was soon arrested and spent considerable time in prison. Finally, he died by torture, having his skin torn off with irons, because Governor Rufus held him more accountable as a leader of the revolt.

The fall of Bethar, the last fortress of Bar Cochba, ended the second revolt and completed most of the prophecies that had been left unfulfilled in the first revolt of 66-73 A.D. The Romans only temporarily had erected their eagles on the temple site in 70 A.D. But after the Bar Chochba revolt, Emperor Hadrian took another step in fulfilling biblical prophecy. Prof. Graetz tells us,

“On the Temple Mount a column was erected in honor of Hadrian, and a heathen temple in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus. . . In all public edicts Jerusalem figured under its new name, Aelia, and so completely was its identity forgotten that a hundred years later a governor of Palestine asked a bishop, who said he came from Jerusalem where that town was situated. At the south gate leading to Bethlehem, a swine's head was erected in half relief, as a special annoyance to the Jews, and it was forbidden them on pain of death to pass within the outer wall of this city. . . . Hadrian followed the old policy of the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated the Jewish holy places from prejudice and revenge, and endeavored to graft Paganism on Judaism by force of arms.” (p. 422)

Daniel had spoken about “the abomination [idol] that makes desolate” (Dan. 12:11). Jesus referenced this as well in His prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. Graetz and other Jewish historians place the writings of the New Testament after 70 A.D., for they assume that later writers put these words into Jesus' mouth out of hatred for Jews. As usual, critics do not believe prophecy to be possible, and so they tend to date prophetic writings after the fact, using the fulfillment to date the writings.

In my view, heart idolatry is the cause of outward idolatry. The word “abomination” used in Daniel is shikoots, meaning “disgusting, i.e., filthy; especially idolatrous or an idol” (Strong's Concordance). Another word used of idols is found in Isaiah 66:17, refers to those “who eat swine's flesh, detestable things, and mice.” The word translated “detestable” is the Hebrew word piggul, “to stink,” from which we derive our word “pig.”

And so, there is a connection between the abomination of desolation and the lowly pig. The connection is seen by the actual fulfillment of the prophecy. The Syrian monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes, had sacrificed a pig on the altar in the temple of Jerusalem about 168 B.C. Now Hadrian erected a temple to Jupiter on the same site and put a swine's head at the south gate. Five hundred years later the Muslims would build a mosque on the site.

It all started with heart idolatry, as defined in Ezekiel 14 and pictured graphically in Ezekiel 8. The abomination (idolatry) that was set up in Jerusalem in later years was simply an earthly manifestation of a spiritual condition. Once a person understands how spiritual forces bring about worldly events, one can work to change the underlying spiritual conditions through prayer, intercession, and spiritual warfare, rather than by force of arms.

The Christians, of course, saw the new Roman temple in the light of Daniel's prophecies and hoped that it indicated a soon return of Christ. Graetz tells us,

“From the time of Hadrian all connection between Jews and Christians ceased, and they no longer occupied the position of two hostile bodies belonging to the same house, but they became two entirely distinct bodies.” (p. 431)

He assumes, of course, that the Christians were motivated by the same kind of hatred that was in the hearts of the Jews toward the Christians. But let me remind them that Bar Cochba was the one who executed the Christians, not the other way around.

No doubt the Bar Cochba revolt was indeed the final separation between the two bodies, primarily because the Christians finally saw the futility of trying to remain within the bounds of Judaism. Also, Judaism had proven itself by an entire century of persecution to be a dangerous missionary field.

And the temple, that great unifier, was gone.