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What was the Bar Kokhba revolt?

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The Bar Kokhba revolt was a series of battles from AD 132 to 135 waged against the Roman Empire by Jews led by Simeon bar Kosba, who made messianic claims and who was renamed Bar Kokhba (“Son of the Star”) by an influential rabbi. The revolt was ultimately unsuccessful, and Jerusalem paid a heavy toll for the rebellion.

During the time of the New Testament, Israel was under the rule of Rome. As long as the leadership and the people cooperated with Rome, they were allowed a measure of autonomy. However, the Jewish leaders feared that an uprising surrounding the activities of Jesus would cause Rome to “take away both our temple and our nation” (John 11:48). Demonstrating their subservience to Rome, the Jewish leaders were not allowed to put Jesus to death; rather, they had to appeal to Pilate, the Roman governor, to execute the sentence they wanted (John 18:31). In response to a later Jewish uprising, the Roman general Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. A group of revolutionaries took refuge at Masada, but they were eventually defeated in AD 73 in the final conflict of the First Jewish War.

After that time, Israel was ruled as a conquered kingdom, and the Romans began to drive Jews from the area. However, Jewish resistance did not completely evaporate. In the Kitos War of AD 115—117, dispersed Jews in Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Egypt rebelled. Some refer to this as the Second Jewish War, but others exclude it since it was not fought in Palestine.

The Bar Kokhba revolt is referred to as the Second or Third Jewish War, depending upon one’s opinion of the Kitos War. This revolt, led by Simeon Bar Kokhba, was in response to Emperor Hadrian’s outlawing of circumcision and the forced Hellenization of all Jews in the empire. Bar Kokhba was able to defeat Roman forces garrisoned in Jerusalem, and for about two years an independent Jewish state was established. As a result of his victories against the Romans, many hailed Bar Kokhba as the Messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel. However, Emperor Hadrian ordered six legions of soldiers into the area along with auxiliaries and reinforcements from other legions. Bar Kokhba was killed, the rebellion was crushed, and many Jews were slaughtered.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jews were barred from Jerusalem except to observe the festival of Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples. The Jews began to be persecuted in a way they had not been before, and the Diaspora began in earnest. Jesus had warned against following false messiahs (Matthew 24:5), and Bar Kokhba was one such counterfeit. After his defeat, Simeon Bar Kokhba was denounced by Jewish leadership, and Jews began to abandon the concept of a personal messiah who would restore Israel. Only recently has the idea of a personal messiah been revived in some segments of Judaism. The result of the Bar Kokhba revolt was that, approximately 100 years after rejecting Jesus as Messiah, Judaism grew disillusioned concerning any hope of a personal savior, a Jewish homeland, and an independent Jewish kingdom.

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What was the Bar Kokhba revolt?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022