ROME: ARCHES AND PROPHECY

The Arch of Titus is indisputably my favorite arch in the world. There are some pretty fine arches here and there, commemorating a variety of triumphs for history’s victors, but Titus’s arch has always engaged me in a unique way because of the story of why it was built. The arch has a connection to the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, to Jesus and to prophecy.  It stands as a silent witness to things that were and things yet to come. 

The Arch of Titus stands atop the Roman Forum overlooking thousands of years of history. The purpose of this Arch is to commemorate the Roman general, Titus, and his army’s victory over the Jews in 70 A.D. You see, the Jews who lived in the semiautonomous region of Palestine in the Roman Empire were a bit problematic for Rome. The Jews worshipped one God and didn’t take kindly to Rome trying to force them to worship the Roman Emperor. Religious freedom is always a threat to powerful regimes that desire control over individuals. So, the Roman General, Titus, headed on down to Jerusalem and had it out with the Jews, killing more than a million of them, according to the ancient historian Josephus.[1]  During the siege on Jerusalem, the Romans completely destroyed the Jewish Temple, the center of all Jewish life and worship. A little more than a decade later, in 81 A.D. Rome decided to erect this splendid arch to celebrate the historic victory. 

Whenever I have students on one of my study programs in Italy, I take them to see this Arch. My heart always beats a little faster when I approach this monument. There are few places in the world where you can stand and physically see evidence of fulfilled prophecy as specific as represented by this arch.  It is a place where the past, the present and the future mingle.

Picture it: Jerusalem, early first century. It was a Wednesday and Jesus had just finished the final day of His public ministry. On Thursday, He would celebrate Passover with His disciples. On Friday, He would be crucified. On Sunday, He would be raised from the grave, having conquered death and paid the penalty for sin. It was going to be a busy weekend, what with all that redeeming of mankind. But this story is about Wednesday of that week as Jesus concluded his public ministry.  Jesus and His disciples had just come out of the temple, the most magnificent structure in the ancient world. One of His disciples was going on and on about how glorious the temple was.  Jesus responded and told His disciples something that they could barely wrap their heads around. This conversation is recorded in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke. I’ll let the Gospel of Mark take over the narrative. Mark 13:1-2 says, “And as He came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to Him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

The prediction was clear: The temple would be destroyed and not one stone would be left upon another. Nearly forty years after Jesus made this prediction, it became a reality. First century historian, Josephus gives his account of this event by reporting that Titus’s army laid siege to Jerusalem and eventually set the temple on fire which caused all the gold of the temple to melt. [2] In order for the Romans to reclaim all the gold, they had to remove each stone from the other – exactly as Jesus had predicted. When the temple was destroyed, not one stone was left on another. 

Today, when you look up at the south inner panel of the Arch of Titus, you can see a carved relief of a scene depicting the Romans soldiers taking away the treasures of the Second Jewish Temple. You can see the seven-lamp golden candlestick that stood in the Holy Place of the temple as well as the golden trumpets and the table of shewbread – all important pieces of temple furniture during Jesus’ day. Curiously, the famous Ark of the Covenant that was present in the First Jewish Temple (Solomon’s Temple) is not depicted. Why, you ask? Well, because the Ark was no longer in the temple during Jesus’ time on earth. What happened to it? Settle down, we’ll get to that in the next chapter. But for now, as you stand looking up at the Arch of Titus, you are literally looking at proof of what Jesus predicted: the destruction of the temple. Not just a general prediction, but a specific one that absolutely came to pass. 

The Bible not only tells us what has already happened but what will happen in the future. Jesus’ prophecy about the temple was not all He had to say about the future. The synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke continue the narrative with the disciples and Jesus on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Jesus describes the characteristics of future world history. He doesn’t talk of a world that progressively gets better. He speaks of a world that becomes darker and more ominous. He tells His followers that during the period of time between His departure from earth and His promised second coming, the world will experience spiritual and religious delusion, false prophets, wars, rumors of war, famine, pestilence, natural disasters and the persecution of the followers of Jesus. In other words, Jesus was telling His followers and future followers that things would not get better. The path of events on earth’s timeline will get worse; things will get darker until the day Jesus returns to rule the world bringing truth and peace at the end of the age. 

Jesus compared the increase of the intensity and the frequency of these end-time events with the birth pangs of a woman as she draws closer to giving birth. While the Bible tells us that no one but God knows the day and hour of Christ’s return, we can observe the disastrous global events that Jesus described to His followers. End-time events will culminate in a seven-year tribulation period as mentioned in Daniel 9 and described in detail in Revelation 6-19. The happenings of the second half of that seven-year period will be more horrific than anything the world has ever known. At the conclusion of the Tribulation, Mark 13:24-26 says, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” 

The lesson of the Arch of Titus is this: When the Bible speaks, it speaks in harmony with reality. What it says will happen is actually what will happen. The trajectory of the world’s future is a path that gets increasingly darker until Jesus’ promised return. Jesus’ message to a broken world is that before it gets dark people need to repent and place their faith in Him, the One who gave His life so that we might have life. The philosophies, technologies and riches of this world will not bring lasting peace, but Jesus provides a way for individuals to make peace with God – through Him.  


[1] Josephus, Flavius. (1849). The genuine works of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian: containing twenty books of the Jewish antiquities, seven books of the Jewish war, two books in answer to Apion, the martyrdom of the Maccabees, and the Life of Josephus, written by himself. Boston: Samuel Walker.

[2] Ibid.

This blog is an excerpt from the upcoming book, Before it Gets Dark: The Story of Light, coming July 2021

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