According to the Talmud (Jewish oral traditions put in writing), the destruction of the Temple did not come as a total surprise to the Jewish people. The Talmud records four ominous events that occurred approximately forty years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. These four events were a warning to the rabbis of the impending doom of the Temple. According to Jewish traditions, all four of the following signs came to pass as recorded in the Talmud (Yoma 39a, b). Here is what happened.
- The Lot marked for the Lord did not come up in the right hand
In Leviticus 16, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest was to present two goats before the LORD. He would then cast lots over the goats to determine which would be offered to the LORD and which would be led into the wilderness as the scapegoat. The goat on which the LORD’S lot fell was offered as a sin offering. (See Leviticus 16:5-10.)
The religious leaders considered it a good omen if the lot marked “for the LORD” was drawn by the priest in his right hand. But according to traditional Jewish writings, for forty years prior to the destruction of the temple, the lot “for the LORD” appeared in his left hand. This bad omen caused great fear of impending doom.
- The scarlet thread tied to the door of the Temple on the Day of Atonement stopped turning white after the scapegoat had been cast over the cliff
The High Priest tied a crimson wool thread around the horns of the scapegoat and sent him off into the wilderness accompanied by a priest. The priest was escorted for twelve miles to a designated place where he pushed the goat over a cliff bearing Israel’s sins. A portion of the crimson thread was attached to the door of the temple before the goat was sent into the wilderness. When the goat was pushed off the cliff and died, the thread on the door at the temple was said to turn from red to white. This was a divine sign to the people that God had accepted their sacrifice and their sins were forgiven.
This sign was based on Isaiah 1:18 which says, “ … though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” Rabbinic writings tell us that for forty years prior to the destruction of the temple, the thread stopped turning white.
- The westernmost light on the Temple candelabra would not burn was a bad omen that the light of the Temple was going to be diminished
Further signs of doom were that the western most light on the temple candelabra would not burn. This was a bad omen that the light of the temple was going to be distinguished.
- The Temple doors would open by themselves
Furthermore, the temple doors would open by themselves. The rabbis saw this as a sign that the temple was going to be destroyed by fire as God’s judgment for their ungodliness. This was based on their understanding of Zechariah 11:1 which says, “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that fire may devour your cedars.”
The obvious significance of these signs is that they began to appear forty years prior to the destruction of the temple. This was when Jesus was crucified. It was a most dramatic way for God to demonstrate that Jesus was the ultimate human reality of the Day of Atonement. His death provided the once-and-for-all forgiveness for sin. “It is finished.” Thank you Lord for your love and mercy!