Zealots (Jewish)

The term “ZEALOTS” was used to describe different people at different times.  Some were merely passionate or zealous for a cause, which could be good or bad.  One of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot.  This was Simon, the Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).  Josephus used the word to describe the rebellious Jews in the war with Rome in AD 66-70.  These ZEALOTS were filled with extreme passion to fight against the Roman oppression[See: Jewish Virtual Library. org; Jewish Encyclopedia. com; www. Josephus. org].

Josephus described the ZEALOTS as the “fourth Jewish philosophy,” which was founded by Judas the Galilean (in AD 6).  Josephus believed that many of the problems that the Jews suffered during the war, including the burning of the temple, can be blamed on his teaching.

Previously Hezekiah, the father of Judas (not Iscariot), was executed by Herod in c.46 BC.  He was the first to talk about military rebellion against Rome.  His son, Judas, is considered the founder of the ZEALOTS in AD 6 when they revolted against Rome over the census that was taken by Quirinius.  The death of Judas is referred to by Gamaliel (Acts 5:37).  The sons of Judas (James and Simon) continued the rebellion and were crucified in c.AD 47.

They were an on-again off-again movement.  They would spring up (“was”) and get crushed by the sword of the Roman procurators (“is not”), then they would spring up again later (“about to come”), only to be crushed again.  At the time the book of Revelation was written (in AD 62), they were in a dormant phase (“is not”), but were soon to break out again (“about to come”).  This would fit perfectly the date of writing the Apocalypse before the Zealot rebellion began in AD 66.  

There were several factions of ZEALOTS involved in the Jewish-Roman rebellion. That war resulted in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.

The Sicarii were a particularly violent group of rebels who fought in the time of Felix.  Some of them were called “dagger men’’ or “assassins.”  They killed the High Priest, Jonathan, and fled to the desert and defended Masada until AD 73.

Eleazar b. Ananias (see Man of Sin), the son of the High Priest Ananias, was the instigator of the rebellion by stopping the daily sacrifices for Caesar and all Gentiles in AD 66.

Menahem, a grandson of Judas of Galilee and a leader of the Sicarii, obtained weapons from Masada and came to Jerusalem to set himself up as the messianic king.  He was killed by the Zealot forces of Eleazar b. Ananias.

The ZEALOTS were the extremists in Jerusalem, who tried to seize power after the fall of Galilee in AD 67-68.  The Idumeans were another group of ZEALOTS who fought other Jews in Jerusalem.  All of these separate ZEALOT forces fought against each other for power.  They carried on terrorist activities of plunder and harassment against the Jewish people. They committed abominations and were completely “lawless.” (Wars 4.9.10).

The ZEALOTS killed many Jews among themselves.  Both civil laws and religious laws were trampled underfoot by each of the factions of ZEALOTS.  Josephus wrote: “it is probable one may find the Romans to be the supporters of our laws, and those within ourselves the subverters of them.” (Wars 4.3.10).

John of Gischala was an important leader of the ZEALOT rebels.  He tried to take authority in Jerusalem, betraying people in the process, and eventually was captured by the Romans when Jerusalem fell.  John’s ZEALOT soldiers were described as wicked assassins, even dressing like women and behaving like sodomites.

Eleazar b. Ananias led his ZEALOT forces against others and attempted to take full control of all of Jerusalem.  He was one of the leaders of the ZEALOTS who fought against John of Gischala.  His forces controlled the Temple area.  The moderates invited Simon bar Giora to help them, but he was just as wicked as the other ZEALOT leaders.  He was able to take control of the south part of Jerusalem.

During the war with Rome (AD 66-70) the Zealots minted their own coins to be used as the medium of exchange in Judea.  No one could buy or sell in the Zealot economy without using their coinage.

There were three groups of ZEALOT rebels in the city when Titus, the Roman General, began bringing his armies to destroy Jerusalem in the beginning of AD 69.  Eleazar b. Ananias and his ZEALOTS held the Temple; John of Gischala and his ZEALOTS controlled the upper city; and Simon b. Giora and his ZEALOTS controlled the lower city.  These ZEALOT groups were fanatics, waging war on all who opposed them, even the moderate Jews.

The Zealot cause (the Sea Beast) along with its False Prophets (the Land Beast) literally descended alive into the Lake of Fire when the Temple burned (Rev. 19:20) (See: Revelation (The Beast)).  Josephus tells us that the Zealots even set fire to some of the temple buildings first, before the Romans did, and also that a False Prophet hired by the Zealots deceived the people into going up onto the roof of the Temple to await the Salvation of God, and were burned to death when the Temple roof collapsed into the fire.  They descended alive into the fire which killed them (first death) and took them straight into the Lake of Fire (second death) in the unseen spiritual realm.

Josephus describes the Zealot rebels as “a wild beast devouring its own flesh.”  He talks about the rival factions of Zealots killing each other, burning, and plundering in the city of Jerusalem, and says the Zealots were like a wild beast, so starved for food that it turned upon itself and started eating itself.

Wars 4:262 (4.4.3) for that is now made their receptacle and refuge, and the fountainhead whence their preparations are made against us.  And this place [Jerusalem], which is adored by the habitable world, and honored by such as only know it by report, as far as the ends of the earth, is trampled upon by these wild beasts [Zealots] born among ourselves.

Wars 4:425 (4.7.4) while they [Zealots] were themselves run through by the Roman darts, and, like the wildest of wild beasts, rushed upon the points of the others’ swords; so some of them were destroyed, as cut with their enemies’ swords upon their faces, and others were dispersed by the horsemen.

Wars 4:540 (4.9.8) but instead of indulging any merciful affection, he [Simon b. Giora] grew very angry at them for seizing his beloved wife; so he came to the wall of Jerusalem, and, like wild beasts when they are wounded, and cannot overtake those that wounded them, he vented his spleen upon all persons that he met with.

Wars 5:4 (5.1.1) but for the present sedition [Zealots], one should not mistake if he called it a sedition begotten by another sedition, and to be like a wild beast grown mad, which for want of food from abroad, fell now upon eating its own flesh.

Wars 5:85 (5.2.5) This march of the Romans seemed to the Jews to be a flight; and as the watchman, who was placed upon the wall, gave a signal by shaking his garment, there came out a fresh multitude of Jews [Zealots], and that with such mighty violence, that one might compare it to the running of the most terrible wild beasts.

There were extreme abominations committed by the ZEALOTS in the Temple.  Many priests and innocent worshippers were killed in the Temple by the ZEALOTS.  Pools of blood were everywhere in the city and Temple(Wars 5.1.3).

By March, AD 70, Titus had an army of 80,000 soldiers.  They began surrounding Jerusalem and bottled-up all of the ZEALOTS inside the city.  The Temple was burned to the ground on August 9, AD 70 (656 years apart, “to the day,” from the first destruction of the temple by the Babylonians on August 9, 586 BC.  Our God is a God of details).  The war officially ended on September 8 AD 70 when the entire city was burned and destroyed.  Josephus wrote: “The city was taken on September 8, AD 70, after the last siege had lasted about five months” (Josephus, vol. 1, p. 467), and, Where is this city that was believed to have God Himself inhabiting therein?  It is now demolished to the very foundations.” (Wars 7.8.7).

Multitudes of the Jews were killed, with some taken as slaves to work in the mines, rock quarries, or on galley ships.  Some of the strong were taken as prisoners to Rome for the triumphal festivities, and some of the old or weaker were left to work some of the land which was now fully under Roman control.  Of those taken as prisoners to Rome for the triumphal festivities included the ZEALOT leaders, John of Gischala, and Simon b. Giora.  Both were taken to Rome and used in the Triumph.  Afterwards, Simon was dragged through the streets and abused by the crowds, and then thrown over the cliff at the Tarpeian Rock.  John was given a life sentence and was kept in chains in prison until the end of his life.

Eleazar b. Ananias was one the MAN OF SIN and a key head leader of the ZEALOTS.  He was a relative of Menahem and escaped with some of Menahem’s men to Masada in September AD 66 after Menahem was killed.  When Jerusalem fell in AD 70 more refugees fled to Masada.  Those forces then held out for almost three years against the Romans.  In May AD 73 the Romans broke through the fortress walls.  All those remaining Jewish soldiers and their families committed suicide to avoid capture.  It is interesting that both of these historians (Hegesippus and Josephus) mention the fact that the defenders of Masada, including Eleazar himself, were slain by the hand of their own fellow Zealots in a mass suicide pact.  Then their bodies were “thrown into the blazing fire and burned to ashes” there on top of Masada.


See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:

Revelation (The Beast)

Man of Sin (or Man of Lawlessness)

Mark of the Beast (666 – Revelation 13:16-18)


Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):

[For a “far” more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 4 Rev. Chapters 13 thru 20 on The Beast”]