‘Times of the Gentiles’ – History of Jerusalem – Part 05

‘Times of the Gentiles’ – History of Jerusalem – Part 05

In the future, Messiah is destined to reign from Jerusalem. But first, the Holy City will experience the ‘Times of the Gentiles.’ What does this mean? You will better appreciate the present when you understand the past.

Luke 21:23: And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

It is the most famous city in the world with a long, illustrious, and troubled history. Four thousand years in total, with its second millennium being under Israelite rule. The ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was the watershed; from the point of His rejection and crucifixion by and at Jerusalem, the city would enter into a turbulent period called the ‘times of the Gentiles.’[1] In any case, before Messiah rules from Jerusalem, the city will be subjected to a variety of Gentile imperial occupiers for the next two millennia. If you visit the holy city in the future, you may hear some of their names.

Volumes have been written about Jerusalem after the time of Jesus. The city has been invaded and occupied dozens of times. Our main purpose is to give you a general overview, from the time of Christ to the end of Ottoman rule in 1917. You will better appreciate the present when you understand the past.

Roman Rule: Three Stages

Stage One from 63 BC – 70 AD: Jerusalem’s central position, geographically and theologically, gave it a front-row seat to a grand imperial parade: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and now Rome. The first stage of Roman rule in the holy city commenced in 63 BC with the entry of Pompey. It was characterised by a pagan Rome over a Jewish city. The first Jewish revolt of 66-70 AD commenced against the empire. Stage One continued until the city’s destruction by Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian, in the year 70 AD. The city and Herod’s temple were completely obliterated and its smouldering rubble served as a camp for the Roman X Legion. It remained in its devastated condition for the next sixty years.

Stage Two from 130 – 312 AD: In 130 AD, Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to build a thoroughly pagan city on the ruins of Jerusalem. He called it Aelia Capitolina. This action lit the fuse of a second Jewish revolt led by Simon Bar Kochba. He was proclaimed ‘The Messiah’ by Rabbi Akiva. The Jews under Bar Kochba retook Jerusalem, offered sacrifices on the temple mount (minus the temple), and decimated the Roman troops. It took the empire three years under Sextus Julius Severus to brutally crush the revolt.

With Bar Kochba’s defeat and death, Aelia Capitolina was established and the second stage of Roman rule began: a pagan Rome over a pagan city. The Romans built a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount and a temple to Venus on the site of Calvary. Though meant to overwrite Judaeo-Christian sacred memories, this sacrilege inadvertently made the future identification of these sacred sites easier.

Stage Three from 312-638 AD: Stage Three of Roman rule began in 312 AD when the faith Rome once tried to destroy was adopted by its Emperor, Constantine. Now we had a Christian Rome ruling over a Christian city: Heathen Aelia was transformed into Christian Jerusalem. Constantine’s mother, Helena, went on a well-known pilgrimage to the holy city. She ‘discovered’ Calvary, the ‘true cross,’ a ‘holy tunic’ and ‘holy nails.’ Helena ordered the destruction of the temple to Venus, thus making room for the construction of Christendom’s most sacred shrines: these included The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Eleona (Ascension) on the Mount of Olives; and the Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem. Two of these churches still stand today.

First Muslim Period: 638-1099 AD

The Christianised Eastern Roman Empire ruled Jerusalem for three centuries, except for a brief occupation by the Sassanid Persian Empire (614-629 AD). During this torrid period, the Persians destroyed many buildings and massacred many residents. The Roman Christians at Constantinople recovered Jerusalem in 629 AD, only to lose it for good nine years later.

Islam came to Jerusalem early in its history. The city, under the leadership of Patriarch Sophronius, peacefully surrendered to Caliph Omar in 638 AD. It became part of Jund Filastin province of the Arab Caliphate.

Though Jerusalem was under Muslim rule for the coming centuries, as you are about to see, the actual Muslim regimes, and their capital cities, changed.

638-750 AD: Jerusalem was ruled by the Ummayad dynasty out of Damascus. During their tenure, two famous Muslim sites were constructed on Mount Moriah: the Dome of the Rock in 691 AD and the al Aqsa Mosque in 702 AD. Both buildings still exist.

750-877 AD: Abbasid Empire, based in Mesopotamia and the new city of Baghdad. At one point, the Abbasids governed all the way to Spain.

877-1071 AD: Egyptian/Fatimid rule out of Cairo. It was their Caliph al-Hakim that made it his mission to entirely destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which he did in 1010 AD. His action helped spawn the Christian Crusades decades later.

1071-1099 AD: Seljuk Turks – the Turks migrated from Central Asia westward. Originally adherents to Shamanism, they adopted Islam en route to settling in Asia Minor. They replaced the four-hundred-year Arab leadership of the Muslim community and dominated the Islamic world for nearly a millennium. Their harassment of Christian pilgrims en route to Jerusalem provided another pretext for the Crusades.

While the Ummayads adorned Mount Moriah, known as al Haram al Sharif (the noble sanctuary) and the Temple Mount, with their famous buildings, Jerusalem did not prosper for many centuries. It was never the capital of any entity except for the Crusader Kingdom (1099-1187) and the British Mandate (1922). While one could argue that it was trodden down by the Gentiles over the years, it also remained on the map by attracting Jewish and Christian pilgrims from all over the known world.

In the next article, we will learn about Jerusalem from the time of the Crusades to the beginning of the twentieth century.


[1] Note: Some scholars begin this period with the Babylonian captivity around 586 BC. That’s when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.