Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (4) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:15- 22
Parallel Passages: Mark 13:14- 20 and Luke 21:20- 24.
In the previous passage we studied the question of the disciples concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. The first part of ChristÕs answer is that many things have to happen before the end is there. There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, etc. Furthermore, the church will be persecuted, many will apostasize, and the Gospel will be preached in the whole world. Then the end will come. In the next section, verses 15- 28, Christ instructs His disciples as to what to do, when tribulation comes upon Israel.

Before we study this passage, I would like to discuss a couple questions. First of all: what is the relationship between verses 4 to 14 and the next passage, verses 15 to 28? There are two options:

1) There is a chronological order. The events pictured in verses 15 to 28 follow in time after the events of verses 4 to 14. In that case the great tribulation, verses 21, follows the preaching of the Gospel in the world, etc.

2) Verses 15 to 28 are a recapitulation of verses 4 to 14. This is the view John Murray advocates (Collected Writings of John Murray, p.388). His argument is that verse 14 has brought us up to the end. ÒOur Lord forecasts to the disciples certain additional features of the period that had been delineated in verses 4-14, and gives the warnings and exhortations appropriate to the events involved.Ó I agree with this latter view. Verses 15 to 28 is another section of the Olivet Discourse. It is recapitulation, not mere repetition.

Another question is: is this section, verses 15 to 28, future or fulfilled? Those who stress that this section has a strictly futuristic applicationÐas the Dispensationalists do--claim that Ôthe abomination of desolationÓ will be an idolatrous image that will be erected in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. It will be either a likeness of the antichrist, or the antichrist himself. Others, in their great zeal to oppose this Dispensationalist view, deny any future reference to this passage. It has been fulfilled, they say, in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

In answer to this, I would say the following. It cannot be denied that the main emphasis in this passage lies on the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened shortly after ChristÕs death on the cross. But that event does not exclude a futuristic application as well.

The Abomination of Desolation
Let us now turn to the text. Does it sound incredible that Jerusalem will be destroyed, and the Jewish nation terminated? Does it seem impossible that the temple service will be abolished, and that the world will yet continue? Christ reminds His disciples of DanielÕs prophecy. ÒWhen ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:).Ó

There are three passages in Daniel that speak about this desolation, namely Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. These verses refer to Antiochus Epiphanes, who defiled the temple. He sacrificed a swine, an unclean animal, upon the altar, and erected an image of the Greek god Zeus in the temple compound. This happened in 168 BC, and is recorded in the apocryphal book of Maccabees (I Macc.1:58).

The verses refer also to a future period in which the temple would be defiled again. This is what Christ predicts here. The fulfilment of this took place in the siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD. The abomination points to the Roman army as an idolatrous, pagan power. This is further explained in Luke 21:20, ÒAnd when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.Ó This abomination, these hostile armies, would cause desolation. They would totally destroy both the city and the temple.

It is interesting to note that after the capture the Romans placed their ensigns, as symbols of their power, over against the eastern gate of the temple, and sacrificed to them when they proclaimed Titus as Emperor (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, VI,6,1).

Flee to the Mountains!
In verses 16 to 20 Christ gives specific advice. The coming of the hostile armies will be so sudden and unexpected that nobody will have time for quiet reflection. They that are in Judea should immediately escape to the mountains. Christ gives a graphic description of the quick action people should take. ÒLet him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes (vss.17,18). The housetop was a place for Jews to sit and relax. By means of outside stairs they climbed on the roof of their house. They should leave their home, without entering it again! The same goes for those who are working in the field. They should not return to take their clothes.

The following texts relate to what would hinder their flight. ÒAnd woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!Ó (vs.19). Pregnant women, as well as mothers with babies will have a much harder time to escape. Their flight will be much slower. ÒBut pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath dayÓ (vs.20). This prayer is directed to the same end. Winter and Sabbath are two obstacles that will slow down their flight. The winter will do that for obvious reasons. It is cold in that season and rainy, so that it is hard to travel. The Sabbath day will hinder those Christian Jews who are still attached to the Old Testament observance of the fourth commandment. According to Jewish regulations, people were not allowed to travel beyond two miles on the Sabbath (Acts 1:12). A flight on this day would be a moral hindrance to them. According to the historian Eusebius, who lived in the fourth century, these words of Christ were literally fulfilled. Whereas the majority of the Jews stayed within the walls of Jerusalem (there were about 1.1 million of them!) the Christians heeded ChristÕs instruction and fled. All of them arrived safely in the town of Pella in Trans-Jordan.

The Great Tribulation
The tribulation that resulted from JerusalemÕs siege baffles description. Josephus gives an account of it in Wars of the Jews (book V and VI). The extremity the Jews were in was increased by warring factions within the city. Seditious Jewish groups terrorized innocent people by ruthless murder and stealing all the food they found. One day they found a mother that had eaten her child. Jews that tried to flee from the city were caught in ambush by the Romans, and crucified before the city walls.

Christ says of this, ÒFor then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall beÓ (vs.21). The reason for this was that they had rejected Christ. Crucifying the Saviour was an offence that exceeded any other crime. God would punish them more severely than He would do to any other nation after them.

It was, however, one of GodÕs provisions that the enemy would not destroy all the Jews in the country. ÒAnd except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the electÕs sake those days shall be shortenedÓ (vs.22). Those days will be ÔprematurelyÕ ended because otherwise even GodÕs elect would perish in the onslaught. It was because of GodÕs care for His people that the Romans did not continue their pursuit of Jews. In that way the believers were safe in Pella.

Is a temporal deliverance then the highest thing we should aim for? Of course not. It is more important to strive for the salvation of our soul. It is better to lose our life in this world than to lose our soul forever.

1. Why is the Roman army called an ÒabominationÓÕ? What abomination is meant in Revelation 21:27?
2. Is ChristÕs instruction to flee to the mountains not contrary to our duty to be faithful wherever the Lord has placed us?
3. Would it be right to sayÐbased on verse 19Ðwe donÕt want to have children because of the turbulent times we are living in? What should be the attitude of married couples in this regard?
4. What is the difference between the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath?
5. According to Dispensationalists the church will be taken up (by the rapture) before ÒThe Great Tribulation.Ó What is the difficulty of that view in light of this passage?
6. Can you give examples of how the Lord has delivered His people out of their afflictions (e.g. Psalm 34:6, 19; Job 5:19; II Pet.2: 9)? Can you give some also from your own experience?

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