It was in 66AD when Josephus recorded the sightings of angelic armies in the clouds.
Besides these, a few days after that feast (the last day of the 2nd Passover season), on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [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 armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.
The Roman historian Tacitus also mentions this event:
In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. Few people placed a sinister interpretation upon this. The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world.“
Seeing angelic armies in the sky wasn’t unusual for a Jew, as visions like this had been seen during the time of the Maccabees too.
About this time Antiochus the Fourth made a second attack against Egypt. For nearly forty days people all over Jerusalem saw visions of cavalry troops in gold armor charging across the sky. The riders were armed with spears and their swords were drawn. They were lined up in battle against one another, attacking and counterattacking. Shields were clashing, there was a rain of spears, and arrows flew through the air. All the different kinds of armor and the gold bridles on the horses flashed in the sunlight. Everyone in the city prayed that these visions might be a good sign. ~ 2 Maccabees 5:1-4
The Zealots and their supporters in Jerusalem hoped that the signs that Josephus and Tacitus reported were a sure sign that they were going to win the war against the Romans. But in AD 66, instead of helping Israel win the war against the Romans, the angelic armies seen in chariots and as armed soldiers in the clouds were encompassing the cities of Judea and enclosing them on all sides for capitulation.
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; ~ Luke 21:20-21
The inhabitants in Judea didn’t have newspapers and they relied on information being passed from one person to another verbally and rarely written down. They didn’t need anyone to warn them that destruction was coming upon them – all they had to do was look up into the sky above them!
Then two weeks later at Pentecost Josephus recorded this event…
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.”
Signs that occurred in Judea
Josephus had been a Jewish Priest and military commander, however, he was captured by the Romans during the war and defected. As a result, he documented the War of the Jews for Emperor Titus and indirectly was a 2nd witness to what the scriptures had already prophesied would happen to the Jewish nation.
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 commotions 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 Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone around the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which 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.
- A heifer is a virgin cow that has never had a calf. Can you imagine how the High Priest and the priests would have reacted when a virgin cow gave birth to a lamb?
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 hereupon 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 the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.
The Birth Pains of The Kingdom
The early Jewish Christian church was constantly under threat and persecution from the Jews across the nations of the Roman Empire. The Jewish authorities used Roman law under the administration of Roman district magistrates, who supported Emperor Nero. However, the Christians were also targetted by the lawless Jewish zealot freedom fighters who killed anyone who wanted peace with Rome.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.But he who endures to the end shall be saved. ~ Matthew 24: 9-13
Jesus had warned that false messiahs would come.
“Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them. ~ Luke 21:8
Luke writes what Gamaliel had said when the Pharisees had wanted to kill the Apostles and says that if the Apostles are just like the false messiah’s Theudas and Judas, then God will deal with them His own way.
“Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” ~ Luke 21
Josephus also wrote about Theudas in the period between 44 and 46 CE:
It came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain charlatan, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it. Many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them. After falling upon them unexpectedly, they slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem ~ Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98
Beheading was a popular method of killing people by the authorities and later by the Jewish Zealots.
The Early Church Flee Judea
The Jewish Christians were divinely warned to escape from Jerusalem. Whether they did so in a mass number, in small groups or as individuals we will never know.
Jesus had warned them to prepare for this time and not to leave it too late, especially on a Sabbath as the city gates were always shut. Or in the winter when weather conditions would have made it tough to survive away from the comforts of a home.
This time of tribulation would be unmatched by anything ever experienced before in the Old Covenant world of biblical Judaism.
How miserable those days will be for pregnant and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not occur in the winter or on the Sabbath. For at that time there will be great tribulation, unmatched from the beginning of the world until now, and never to be seen again ~ Matthew 24: 19-21
Revelation 12 covers this period of time too. John wrote that many Christians would be safe when they fled into the wilderness. While others not in the wilderness wouldn’t be safe. The dragon would use the power of anti-Christian Jewish authorities as its weapon, wherever else they lived in the Empire.
And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent… And the dragon was enraged at the woman, and went to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. ~ Revelation 12:13-14, 17
Much later on in the war when Titus arrived and held the city under siege for 5 months, the Jewish Zealots killed anyone who left the city, unless they had money to bribe their way out.
Many began selling houses or precious possessions for gold pieces, which they swallowed so that their rulers could not steal it, and then fled to the Roman lines where they emptied their bowels and recovered the coins, which they used to buy food. After questioning them, Titus generally let humbler refugees of this sort leave the area and go anywhere they liked, which was an added incentive to desert the city. Those who belonged to the nobility were told that he meant to give them back their estates after the war was over, when they would have a role in the new, restored Judea, but in the meantime they were sent to Gophna to be interned in a kind of open prison.
It’s my understanding that this was also the time Daniel spoke of in chapter 12. God would use Titus and his Roman armies as His instrument and the righteous would be delivered in 70AD.
And at that time Michael the great prince shall stand up, that stands over the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of tribulation, such tribulation as has not been from the time that there was a nation on the earth until that time: at that time thy people shall be delivered, even every one that is written in the book. ~ Daniel 12:1
You can read what was happening from 66 AD onwards here. It covers the reign of King Agrippa II, the activities of the evil madman Gessius Florus, and the lawlessness of the Zealots.
You can read about the resurrection of the dead out of Hades and the Parousia of the living saints here.