As I have noted in other posts, in 312AD Constantine the Great became the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire. This ended nearly three centuries of state sponsored persecution against the Christians and was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the Gates of Hades would not prevail against the Church.
Constantine’s successor, following the rule of Constantine’s sons, was “Julian the Apostate.” Julian the Apostate, rightly named, attempted to reverse Constantine’s policies regarding Christians and Christianity.
As I mentioned in the prior post, Julian re-established paganism as the state religion, reopened pagan temples, confiscated church property, prohibited Christians from teaching, and allowed heretics who had been exiled to return to foster schism within the church. Julian’s strategy was to eradicate Christianity, particularly from the governing class, in the empire.
One of Julian’s tactics against the Christians was to attempt to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. In approximately 30 AD, Jesus had told his disciples the temple would be destroyed within a generation. Matthew 24: 1-2, 34. In 70AD Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled when the the Roman general Titus sacked Jerusalem and left the temple in ruins. This was significant because it put an end to the Jewish sacrificial system, and in both a metaphorical and literal sense said to Israel that Jesus was the only sacrifice for man’s sins.
Julian put the force and wealth of the Roman Empire behind his plan to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He could not have anticipated what would happen when the workers began the rebuilding process. What happened was described by different writers in accounts that have survived to this day. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, in a later letter to emperor Theodosius, John Chrysostom, and Gregory Nazianzen, who published his account of what happened during the same year it happened, all wrote of what happened. Nazianzen declared the event had been witnessed by the pagans, who did not dispute the miracle had occurred, which is a pretty bold thing to declare if it had not actually occurred.
But most compelling was the account of Amiantus Marcelinus, a non-Christian philosopher, who described the event as follows, “Whilst Alypius, assisted by the governor of the province, urged with vigor and diligence the execution of the work, horrible balls of fire breaking out near the foundations with frequent and reiterated attacks, rendered the place, from time-to-time, inaccessible to the scorched and blasted workmen; and . . . . the undertaking was abandoned.” As Edward Gibbon, Rationalist Enlightenment historian, and no friend to Christianity notes, “Such authority should satisfy a believing, and must astonish an incredulous, mind.”
In short, Julian attempted to rebuild the temple so the Jews could reinstitute the sacrificial system Jesus came to replace, and fire erupted from out of the foundation so many times as the builders attempted to start the work that they gave up and abandoned the project. Can you blame them? GS