Today's nation of Israel lies in a bit of land that the Greek historian Herodotus, writing around 430 B.C., referred to as Palestine. Before Joshua led the Hebrew people into the Promised Land sometime around 1273 B.C., the region had been conquered by Hittites, Phoenicians, Philistines and others.
Once in Canaan, the Hebrew peoples did not always enjoy a peaceful existence. After King Solomon died, sometime around 925 B.C., civil war broke out and the nation divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and many of her people were deported, giving birth to the legend of the Lost Tribes.
Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 597-586 B.C., and exiled many upper and middle class Jews. Cyrus II of Persia incorporated Israel and Judah into his Persian empire when he conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.
In the early 330s B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the region that was called Palestine by Roman emperor Hadrian. It was during the Alexandrian era that Aristotle referred to the Jewish homeland as IOUDAIA, according to his disciple Clearchos of Soli. Transliterated into Latin, the name became IVDAEA, the English version of which is Judea. The original source for this name likely is the Aramaic word Yehoudaya, which translates as “The Jews.”
After the death of Alexander, his kingdom was divided among his Generals and Judea became part of the Seleucian Empire. In the Apocryphal books, we read of the tension between the Judean Hellenists and Jewish traditionalists that led to the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century B.C. At the time, the Kingdom of Judea controlled most of the region of present day Israel (minus the Negev but with the West Bank, Golan Heights and parts of the Gaza Strip) and parts of western Jordan. Demetrius I Soter suppressed the revolt in 160 B.C., reuniting the Seleucid Empire, but the Hasmonean dynasty established by Simon Maccabeus continued under the vassalage of the Empire until 64 B.C.
Then came the Romans, who conquered Syria in 63 B.C. Israel was a client kingdom of Rome under Herod I from 37 to 4 B.C. , after which it was part of the Judaea Prefecture of Syria Province. Jews did not willingly wear the Roman yoke and rose up in three great rebellions. First was the Great Jewish Revolt (66-73 A.D.), which was suppressed by the Roman army under General Titus Flavius. The cost to the Jews was horrendous. Jerusalem was sacked, the Temple destroyed and an estimated 600,000 to 1,300,000 Jews killed.
The second great Jewish rebellion, called the Kitos War, began in 115AD when diasporic Jews started a revolt in Cyrenaica that spread to Aegyptus and Cyprus. In Cyrene (now known as Shahhat, Libya), the rebels destroyed many temples, including those to Hecate, Jupiter, Apollo, Artemis, and Isis, as well as the civil structures that were symbols of Rome, and exterminated the Greek and Roman populations. The English historian Edward Gibbon, quoting a Roman historian, wrote this about the Jewish insurrectionists:
I don't know about the flesh devouring or the blood licking, but a Jewish source had this to say about the massacres:
After the slaughter in Cyrene the rebel leader Lukuas took his army to Alexandria, which had been abandoned by Roman troops. They burned the city, but not before destroying the pagan temples and the tomb of Pompey. Rome sent new forces to the area, which was finally pacified in the Fall of 117AD. In that same year, Rome's army pacified Cyprus, where Jewish rebels had also seized control and killed a quarter-million Greeks.
Then followed a new revolt in Mesopotamia, that resulted in Roman troops reconquering the area and Mauretanian General Lusius Quietus being sent to govern Judaea and get things under control. The rebels in Cyrene, Cyprus and Egypt had not been entirely defeated when Hadrian became Emperor of Rome in 118 AD. The Jewish leader, Lukuas fled to Judaea, which then became the seat of the war. Quietus laid siege to Lydda, where the Jewish rebels had gathered. The siege was successful and Roman troops took the city and executed a great many of the Jews.
The third of the great Jewish uprisings was Bar Kokhba's Revolt, which began in 132 A.D. and took three years for Rome to quash. The Bar Kokhba rebellion was put down in 135 A.D., and resulted in half-a-million Jews killed and destabilization of the region's Jewish population, Roman emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province to Syria Palestina, renamed Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina and re-established the city as a Roman military colony as part of his efforts to erase historical ties of the Jewish people to the region.
Romans joined the province of Iudaea (comprising Samaria, Judea proper, and Idumea) with Galilee to form new province of Syria Palaestina
Life under the Roman thumb was difficult for Jews living in Palestine. When no longer willing to submit to the harsh and cruel policies of Constantius Gallus, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Jewish population rose in yet another rebellion against Rome. It only took a year or so for Roman General Ursicinus to put down the revolt, destroying a number of cities in the process.
As a consequence of the division of the Roman Empire, which wasn't finalized until 395 A.D., Syria Palaestina became a part of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). The Byzantines referred to the area as Palestine, the name first used by Herodotus.
In 351 A.D., the Jews launched another revolt, this time against the rule of Constantinius Gallus, Caesar of the East. The uprising began in Sepphois, and spread to Tiberias and Lydda. Gallus sent Roman General Ursicinus to deal with it, and his reaction was quick and vigorous. His troops destroyed most of the towns in revolt, as well as neighboring towns, but spared Sepphoris. Roman retribution was severe and a permanent garrison was established in Galilee.
In 613A.D., Jews in Palestine joined with the Persian revolt against Emperor Heraclius, in hopes of liberating Jerusalem and being able to control the city autonomoiusly. The main battle was fought in Jerusalem, which fell to the combined forces of the Persians and the Jews after a 20-day siege. The Christian population of the city was then massacred. Jews then ran the city more or less autonomously for a time. In 625 A.D., the Byzantine army once again conquered the region.
Then, in 638 A.D., Arabs wrested control of the territory of Palaestina from the Byzantine Empire and the troubles continued.
The point I am trying to make is that the region we know as Israel has been a restless land since the Hebrew peoples first entered and before. The Jewish inhabitants of the region were persecuted and persecutors throughout this time. The land was conquered by foreign nations and Jews frequently rose up in rebellion against their persecutors. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, were killed in the rebellions. Jewish rebels sometimes wreaked havoc among Christians unfortunate enough to be living in troubled cities. Christians at times worked terrible pogroms against Jewish neighbors.
We know that the earliest Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem were so certain that risen Christ would return in their lifetimes that they sold their homes and distributed the proceeds and much of their possessions to the poor. Jesus did not return as they anticipated and other Christian communities contributed to their support, as demonstrated in Paul's letters to the church at Corinth. But He did not return then.
Do you not sometimes wonder how many Christians living during the persecutions prior to Constantine's Edict of Milan were convinced that Christ's imminent return was near to hand? How many times, as Persian or Greek or Roman or Arab armies stormed through towns and cities, even Jerusalem, burning and killing almost everything and everyone in sight, did Christians look to the heavens, straining to hear the sound of the trumpet announcing Christ's return in the clouds? He did not come then.
These days, it is not unusual to read or hear that Israel is in danger of being conquered or destroyed yet again and that will trigger the Perousia. But will it? When asked when He would return for His bride, Jesus answered that He didn't know, that only the Father knew.
Will Israel be conquered again? I hope not, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I do not doubt that in the face of such an imminent threat Tel Aviv would loose its arsenal of nuclear weaponry. Will the conquest of Israel, with or without nuclear devastation, signal the beginning of the Tribulation? It could, but hasn't done so following historical conquests of Israel.
Like others who read here, I eagerly await the call to gather in the clouds with the saints in the presence of our Savior. I also am convinced that God will not set the timetable for our Lord's second advent according to my hopes. I wait, looking skyward every now and then, hoping to see an angelic guide coming to lead me into my Savior's holy presence, but knowing that may not happen in my earthly lifetime. I am content to wait, comforted by knowing that one day I WILL stand with the saints in the presence of my God. And so I wait and I pray, as did the writer of Revelation, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)