Matthew Twenty-Four – The Olivet Discourse

WHEN SHALL THESE THINGS BE?

It was a shocking statement that Jesus made to his disciples that day. As they left the temple in Jerusalem, certain ones remarked about what a magnificent temple it was and how splendid were its stones. But Jesus said that the time would come when one stone would not be left upon another that would not be thrown down! This statement about the destruction of the temple aroused questions from the disciples. As they sat upon the Mount of Olives, they asked Jesus when these things would happen and what sign would be given when these things were about to be fulfilled. In answer to these questions, Jesus spoke about deceivers, wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, the abomination of desolation, and the great tribulation.

Those who hold the FUTURIST interpretation commonly apply the verses about deceivers, wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences to our time — as things leading up to the tribulation period which they believe will be the last seven years of this age (after the rapture). The abomination of desolation is regarded as an idol of the Antichrist (or the Antichrist himself) which will be set up in the holy of holies of a rebuilt Jewish temple at Jerusalem. When this happens, according to this position, the Jews will flee into the mountains.

From that time until Christ returns again (the second stage of the Second Coming) will be especially the great tribulation. This interpretation, of course, is the one which is taught by dispensationalists.

The FULFILLED interpretation, on the other hand, holds that the deceivers, wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences were things which Jesus said would soon happen — things that would happen before the destruction of the temple. The abomination of desolation, by comparing the parallel accounts, is seen to refer to Gentile armies which would surround Jerusalem and bring the city to desolation. When these armies would be seen the disciples of Christ were to flee from Jerusalem and Judea. What Jesus called “great tribulation” referred to the judgment that fell upon the Jewish nation, city, and temple in 70 A. D.

Obviously, the two interpretations — the FUTURIST and the FULFILLED — are far apart from each other. There are fine Christians on both sides. We feel, however, that many have accepted the futurist view only because they have not been fully aware of the historical evidence which shows that the prophecy has been fulfilled. The prophecy is recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In order to get the full picture, all three of these parallel accounts will be considered.

THE STATEMENT OF JESUS

Matthew: “And Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came to him for to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (24:1, 2).

Mark: “And as he went out of the temple one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (13:1, 2).

Luke: “And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said; As for these things which ye behold, the days will come in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down” (21:5, 6).

THE QUESTIONS

Matthew: “WHEN shall these things be?” (24:3).

Mark: “WHEN shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” (13:4).

Luke: “WHEN shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass” (2 1:7).

In addition to the questions about the destruction of the temple, Matthew’s account records the question: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Mt.24:3). We believe Jesus answered all of these questions — as we shall see. Nevertheless, the primary question — recorded by all the writers — was about the destruction of the temple. Jesus had said that one stone would not be left on another and the disciples asked: “When shall these things be?”

DECEIVERS

Matthew: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you, For many shall come in my name saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many” (24:4, 5).

Mark: “And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you; For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many” (13:5,6).

Luke: “And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived; for many shall come in my name saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near; go ye not therefore after them” (2 1:8).

We notice that all three accounts warn about deceivers. But Luke’s account explains WHEN these things would happen. Jesus Said: “And the time DRAWETH NEAR: go ye not therefore after them.” Jesus was not talking about something that would take place hundreds or thousands of years later! Jesus was warning his disciples about something that was drawing near in their time! This is plain.

Did such deceivers or false Christs arise and deceive many in those years before the destruction of Jerusalem? Yes!

According to Josephus, the noted Jewish historian, twelve years after our Savior’s death, a certain impostor named Theudas persuaded a great multitude to follow him to the river Jordan which he claimed would divide for their passage. At the time of Felix (who is mentioned in the book of Acts), the country of the Jews was filled with impostors who Felix had put to death EVERY DAY — a statement which indicates that there were “many” of such in those days!

An Egyptian who “pretended to be a prophet” gathered 30,000 men, claiming that he would show “how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down.”

Another deceiver was Simon, a sorcerer, who led people to believe he was the great power of God (See Acts 8). According to Irenaeus, Simon claimed to be the Son of God and creator of angels. Jerome says that he claimed to be the Word of God, the Almighty. Justin relates that he went to Rome and was acclaimed as a god by his magical powers.

Origen mentions a certain wonder-worker, Dositheus, who claimed he was the Christ foretold by Moses. Another deceiver in those days was Barchochebas who, according to Jerome, claimed to vomit flames. Bar-jesus is mentioned in Acts 13:6 as a sorcerer and false prophet. These are examples of the deceivers of whom history says there were “a great number”, and of whom Jesus had prophesied that there would be “many.”

WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS

Matthew: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (24:6, 7).

Mark: “And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled; for such things must needs be, but the end is not yet, For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (13:7, 8).

Luke: “But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified; for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by [immediately]. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (21:9, 10).

We are told that when Jesus gave this prophecy, the Roman Empire was experiencing a general peace within its borders. But Jesus explained to his disciples that they would be hearing of wars, rumors of wars, and commotions. And did they? Yes! within a short time the Empire was filled with strife, insurrection, and wars.

Before the fall of Jerusalem, four Emperors came to violent deaths within the space of 18 months. According to the historian Suetonius (who lived during the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second), Nero “drove a dagger into his throat.” Galba was run down by horsemen. A soldier cut off his head and “thrusting his thumb into the mouth”, carried the horrid trophy about. Otho “stabbed himself” in the breast. Vitellius was killed by slow torture and then “dragged by a hook into the Tiber.” We can understand that such fate falling on the Emperors would naturally spread distress and insecurity through te Empire.

In the Annals of Tacitus, a Roman who wrote a history which covers the period prior to 70 A. D., we find such expressions as these “Disturbances in Germany”, “commotions in Africa”, “commotions in Thrace”, “insurrections in Gaul”, “intrigues among the Parthians”, “the war in Britain”, “war in Armenia.”

Among the Jews, the times became turbulent. In Seleucia, 50,000 Jews were killed. There was an uprising against them in Alexandria. In a battle between the Jews and Syrians in Caesarea, 20,000 were killed. During these times, Caligula ordered his statue placed in the temple at Jerusalem. The Jews refused to do this and lived in constant fear that the Emperor’s armies would be sent into Palestine. This fear became so real that some of them did not even bother to till their fields.

But though there would be wars, rumors of wars, and commotions, Jesus told his disciples: “See that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the END is not yet.” The word “end” that is used here is not the same Greek word as in the expression “end of the world.” (See footnote on page 59). As Barnes says, the end here referred to is “the end of the Jewish economy; the destruction of Jerusalem.”

Wars, rumors of wars, and commotions were of a general nature. These things were not signs of the end; to the contrary, they were given to show that the end was NOT yet! None of these things would be the sign which would cause the disciples to flee into the mountains.

FAMINES, PESTILENCES, EARTHQUAKES

Matthew: “And there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (24:7, 8).

Mark: “And there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles. These are the beginning of sorrows” (13:8).

Luke: “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines and pestilences, and fearful sights” (21:11).

The Bible records that there was famine “throughout all the world. . . in the days of Claudius Caesar” (Acts 11:28). Judea was especially hard hit by famine. “The disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethern which dwelt in Judaea” (verse 29). Paul’s instructions concerning this “collection [of fruit] for the saints” is recorded in First Corinthians 16:1-5; Rom. 15:25-28.

Historians such as Suetonius and others mention famine during those years. Tacitus speaks of a “Failure in the crops, and a famine consequent thereupon.” Eusebius also mentions famines during this time in Home, Judea, and Greece. Yes, there were famines in those years before the fall of Jerusalem.

Along with famines, Jesus mentioned pestilences; that is plagues, the spread of disease, epidemics. Famine and pestilence, of course, go hand in hand.

When people do not have proper food or insufficient food, pestilence results. Suetonius wrote of “pestilence” at Home in the days of Nero which was so severe that “within the space of one autumn there died no less than 30,000 persons.” Josephus records that pestilences raged in Babylonia in A.D. 40.

Tacitus tells of pestilences in Italy in A. D. 66. Yes, there were pestilences in those years before the destruction of Jerusalem.

During this period, Jesus said there would also be earthquakes in many places. Tacitus mentions earthquakes at Rome. He wrote that “frequent earthquakes occured, by which many houses were thrown down” and that “twelve populous cities of Asia fell in ruins from an earthquake.”

Seneca, writing in the year 58 A. D., said: “How often have cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! how many cities have been swallowed up in Syria! how many in Macedonia! how often has Cyprus been wasted by this calamity! how often has Paphos become a ruin! News has often been brought us of the demolition of whole cities at once.” He mentions the earthquake at Campania during the reign of Nero. In 60 A. D., Hierapous, Colosse, and Laodicea were overthrown — Laodocia being so self-sufficient that it recovered without the Imperial aid furnished other cities. In 63 A. D., the city of Pompeii was greatly damaged by earthquake. There were earthquakes in Crete, Apamea, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, and Judea. Earthquakes in divers places!

PERSECUTION AGAINST THE DISCIPLES

Matthew: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another… And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (24:9-12).

Mark: “They shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten; and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony… whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak but the Holy Ghost… And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (13:9-13).

Luke: “They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony… I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.. . and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (21:12-17).

The book of Acts gives a complete account of how the disciples were persecuted in the very ways Jesus had predicted. Let us take, for example, Acts 4: “And they laid hands on them [Peter and John], and put them in prison” (verse 3). They were brought before “rulers” (verses 5-7). And it turned into an opportunity to testify. Peter explained that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (verse 12). They were given a mouth of wisdom which their adversaries could not gainsay, for the men of the council “marveled” (verse 13). They were then commanded “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (verse 18). As Jesus had said, they were hated for his name’s sake!

The same things are seen in Acts 5. Certain authorities “laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison” (verse 18). Later they were brought “before the council” (verse 27) and told to answer for continuing to teach in the name of Jesus (verse 28). Again they had opportunity to testify (verses 29-32). They were “beaten” (verse 40). As they departed from the “council”, they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer for his name” (verse 41).

Or take Acts 6. There arose certain ones of the “synagogue” that disputed with Steven. “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke” (verses 9, 10). Persecution re suited and he was brought into the “council” and questioned (verse 12). Again there was the opportunity to testify, the words of that testimony being given in Acts 7. Steven was killed for his stand (verses 54-60). Jesus had said that some of them would be killed.

Notice Acts 8. “There was a great persecution against the church.” Christians were put in “prison”, but the result was that the word was preached (verses 1- 4).

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were beaten and cast into “prison.” But it turned into an opportunity to testify and the Philippian jailor and his family were converted as a result (verses 22-34). In Acts 21, persecution resulted in Paul being beaten, brought before rulers, before whom he testified (Acts 22). In Acts 22:19 we read that Christians were “imprisoned and beat in every synagogue.”

In Acts 24, Paul was brought before Felix, the governor, and testified. He was given a mouth of wisdom which his adversaries could not gainsay — though they obtained an orator to speak against him. Paul’s words even made Felix to “tremble.” In Acts 25 and 26, Paul was brought before king Agrippa, the chief captains, and the principal men of the city. He was given a mouth of wisdom, for Agrippa said to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (verse 28).

Jesus said the disciples would be afflicted, beaten, imprisoned; they would be hated for his name’s sake and some would be killed; they would be brought before councils, rulers, and kings, for a testimony; they would be given a mouth of wisdom which their adversaries could not gainsay. Surely these things came to pass in those years — unmistakably fulfilled in every detail!

“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mt. 24:11, 13). Peter, who was present when Jesus gave this prophecy (Mk. 13:3), later wrote about “false prophets” that had risen and of “many” that followed their pernicious ways (2 Peter 2). John, who also heard Jesus give this prophecy, recorded the fulfillment: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world” (l John 4:1). “Many deceivers are entered into the world” (2 John 7).

Paul also spoke of “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). He mentioned Hymenaeus and Philetus who taught false doctrines and overthrew the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:17, 18). By the time of his epistle to Titus, there were “many… deceivers… who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not” (Titus 1:10, 11).

The waters of truth were muddied by betrayals, false prophets, iniquity, and the love of many waxing cold. “But he that shall endure [such things] until the end, the same shall be saved” (Mt. 24:13) — both now and hereafter. We understand “end” here in a general sense, for unlike the use of this word in verses 6 and 14, this reference does not have the definite article in the Greek text.

GOSPEL TO BE PREACHED TO THE NATIONS

“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then [not until then] shall the end come” (Mt.24:14). Unless we take this verse clear out of its setting, “the end” in view here is the end or destruction which was to come upon Jerusalem and the temple.1 This was the question that Jesus was answering in the verses before, and the verses that follow are still speaking about Jerusalem and Judea.

Jerusalem would be destroyed, but “first” the gospel would be preached unto all nations (Mk. 13:10).

It was a tremendous prophecy. Picture the scene. Here on the mount of Olives, Jesus was speaking these words to seemingly insignificant men. Who would have supposed that the names of these humble men would become known around the world and that even in our day — almost 2,000 years later

— the seeds of truth that they planted would still be producing fruit? Who would have supposed that this unpopular gospel that Christ committed to these men would ever spread beyond that immediate area? Such a vast preaching program unto all nations seemed almost impossible of fulfillment. But it was fulfilled, and in a very real sense the gospel did go to all nations before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.!

On the day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, there were present in Jerusalem “devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). They heard the gospel preached by Peter and 3,000 were converted that day. Many of these, no doubt, returned to their various countries and preached the gospel.

Later when persecution came against the church, the believers at Jerusalem were scattered and “went every where preaching the word”, throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1,4). Philip took the message to the city of Samaria with great results (verses 5-8). Later he was directed to a high ranking government official from Ethiopia who was gloriously converted (verses 26-40). It is believed that this man took the message to the continent of Africa and many were converted because of his influential testimony.

Peter took the message to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, an event that was a turning point in the missionary activities of the church (Acts 10, 11). The book of Acts gives a sketch of the mighty missionary work that advanced rapidly.

The message spread to Rome. By the time of Nero, the Christians had grown so numerous that they aroused the jealousy of the government. The story of the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D. — for which the Christians were falsely blamed — is well known. In writing to the Christians at Rome, Paul opens his epistle by saying, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8), and his closing words talk about the gospel as having been “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (16:26).

Concerning even far away England, Newton says: “There is absolute certainty that Christianity was planted in this country in the days of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem.” Eusebius and also Theodoret inform us that the apostles preach’ed the gospel in all the world and some of them “passed beyond the ocean to the Britannic isles.”

By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he could say: “The gospel. . . is come unto you, as it is in all the world” (Col. 1:6). Likewise, in verse 23, he mentions “the gospel which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.”

By 70 A. D., the gospel had gone forth to the world for a witness. No longer was God’s message to man confined to one nation or race!

THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION — FUTURE OR FULFILLED?

Concerning our Lord’s statement about the destruction of the temple, the disciples asked: “WHEN shall these things be? and WHAT SIGN will there be when these things shall come to pass?” (Luke 21:7). As we have seen, Jesus mentioned things of a general nature that would come to pass first. Now he gives THE sign — a specific sign that would let them know that Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. He said that they would see “the abomination of desolation” and when they saw this, they were to quickly flee, for the desolation of the city would be nigh.

Matthew: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them that be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (24:15,16).

Mark: “When ye shall see the abomination of desolations spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains” (13:14).

Luke: “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains… Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles” (21:20,21,24).

Now, step by step, let us notice what we are told in these parallel accounts:

We notice where Matthew and Mark record: ‘When ye shall see the abomination of .. then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains”, Luke, in speaking of exactly the same thing, says: “When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the DESOLATION thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains.” We see, then, that it was JERUSALEM that would become a DESOLATION.

We notice also that this “desolation” was that “which was spoken by Daniel the prophet.” Turning to Daniel 9, we find the passage in which Daniel spoke of this destruction: “And the people of the prince that shall come shall DESTROY the city and the sanctuary” (Dan. 9:26).

Therefore, by comparing the parallel accounts, by the fact that Jesus was answering questions about the overthrow of Jerusalem, and by our Lord’s reference to the prophecy of Daniel, it is evident that what was to become a “desolation” was JERUSALEM. There is no room for any misunderstanding here.

Looking again at the parallel accounts, we see that what Matthew and Mark refer to as the “abomination” that would make Jerusalem desolate, Luke (using plain language) shows that such would be armies — Gentile armies: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with ARMIES, then know that the desolation thereof is .. Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:20-24).

The word “abomination” is a word that refers to anything that is especially loathsome or detestable. Certainly this fits the feelings the inhabitants of Jerusalem would have toward an idol-worshipping Gentile army advancing to destroy their city! In fact, an army (coming to destroy) is an abomination to any people or nation. And, as history has repeatedly recorded, the work of armies so often results in desolation — destruction!

Matthew’s account says that the abomination (Gentile army) would “stand in the holy place” and adds the words: “Whoso readeth, let him ” Mark’s account, because it too is given in somewhat veiled language, includes the words: “Let him that readeth understand.” BUT, looking at Luke’s account of the same passage which is given in plain language, we read: ‘When ye see JERUSALEM compassed with armies . . .“ And because he gives the explanation, he does not include the phrase: “Let him that readeth understand.”

By letting the Bible be its own interpreter, then, we see that the term “holy place” (Mt. 24:15), is a reference to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is commonly referred to as the holy city (Mt. 27:53; Dan. 9:16; etc.). According to the prophecy, Gentile armies were to compass it and finally bring it to desolation.

The word translated “place” in the expression “holy place” in Matthew’s account is topos (see any Greek dictionary or Bible Concordance such as Strong’s, Young’s, etc.). The word topos means simply a locality. Such words as topical and topography are derived from it. It is used in such scriptural expressions as “a desert place”, “dry places”, etc. (It is not the same term as that which is used in describing the holy of holies of the temple.)

What is called the holy place is explained by Luke as the area that would be occupied by armies surrounding Jerusalem. The Matthew Henry Commentary has well put it: “Jerusalem was the holy city, Canaan the holy land, the Mt. Moriah, which lay about Jerusalem, for its nearness to the temple was, they thought, in a particular manner holy ground; on the country lying round about Jerusalem the Roman army was encamped, that was the abomination that made desolate.”1

These pagan armies were to “compass” the city (Luke); they would take a “stand” there (Matthew) — the word stand indicating rebellion or hostility. Examples of the word used in this way may be seen in the following:

“A king of fierce countenance.., shall stand up” (Dan. 8:23,25). “A mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion… and when he shall stand up . . .” (11:3,4). Another will “stand up in his estate, and shall come with an army” (verse 7). “Then shall stand up… a raiser of taxes… and in his estate shall stand up a vile person” (verses 20,21). A king “shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand . . .” (verse 25).

Concerning persecution against the cause of Christ, we read in Acts 4:26: “The kings of the earth stood up and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord . . .”

We cite these references to show how the word “stand” is used of those who assume a place of leadership or authority to rebel or fight. And in the same sense, the “abomination” — the pagan armies — were to take a stand against Jerusalem and compass it about to destroy it!

Taking then the sum of what Jesus said in this connection, we understand that Jerusalem was to become a desolation; one stone would not be left upon another. Jesus also revealed that this destruction would be caused by “armies.” Jerusalem would be “trodden down of Gentiles”, such idol- worshipping Gentile armies quite correctly being referred to as an “abomination.” Any way we look at it, according to the words of Christ, Jerusalem was marked for destruction by the hands of her enemies.

A few days after Jesus had mentioned these things, however, he commissioned his disciples to wait in this very city — to be endued with power from on high. He explained that they would receive power after that the Holy Spirit had come upon them and they would be witnesses unto him throughout the world, including Jerusalem, where their work would begin (Acts 1:8; Lk. 24:49).

But if the city was to be destroyed, what about our Lord’s disciples that would be there as a witness to that city? Were they to perish with the others — with those who had rejected Christ and cried, “Crucify him, crucify him”? Or would there be a way of escape? According to the scriptures, their witness in that city was to continue up to a certain point — only until they saw a certain sign — and then they were to FLEE and escape the horrid destruction destined for that city and people!

As is well known, the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Roman armies in 70 A.D. But before this happened, in obedience to the warning Jesus had given, every Christian fled and thus escaped the awful wrath that befell that city and country! The account of what happened is truly amazing!

In 65 A.D., Florus, the worse of Caesar’s procurators, assumed control of Judea. He did things which brought the Jews to a place of violent rebellion — a rebellion too great for him to handle. Consequently, another man, Cestius Gallus, took over. Marching his armies into Palestine, a number of towns were subdued and he advanced toward Jerusalem. After camping for three days near the city, he began the assault.

Seeing Jerusalem compassed with Gentile armies, the disciples now knew its desolation was nigh — according to the words of Christ. They also knew this was the sign to flee! But HOW could they flee when the city was surrounded? This had not been explained in the prophecy. But let us see what happened.

Cestius and his armies were being very successful in their battle against Jerusalem. So much so, in fact, that the Jews were ready to give up and shortly would have opened their gates in surrender — thus saving the city and temple. But prophecy had it that these things would be destroyed! When Cestius would have almost taken the city, suddenly — as Josephus says, “without any reason in the world” — he withdrew his troops and departed!

This filled the Jews with courage and they pursued the retreating army, inflicting on it a major disaster.

With the retreat of the armies that compassed Jerusalem, there was a brief interval before the armies would return and destroy the city. And in this brief interval, there was time for the Christians to flee. What happened is well summed up in the words of Thomas Newton:

We learn from ecclesiastical histories, that at this juncture all who believed in Christ departed Jerusalem, and removed to Pella and other places beyond the river Jordan; so that they all marvelously escaped the general shipwreck of their countrymen; and we do not read anywhere that so much as one of them perished in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Adam Clarke wrote: “it is very remarkable that not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem though there were many there when Cestius Gallus invested the city.”5 Truly it was a marvelous escape! What confirmation of our Lord’s words! What an amazing fulfillment of prophecy!

The Christians having now made their escape, the desolation of Jerusalem was nigh. After Cestius Gallus had retreated with his troops, Nero then ordered Vespasian to take over. He, in turn, ordered his son, Titus, to go to Alexandria and bring the 5th and 10th legions from Egypt — to subdue Judea. But a crisis developed in Rome causing Vespasian to return there (where in 70 A. D. he was hailed as the new Emperor) and the job of capturing Jerusalem was left in the hands of Titus and his armies.

e see, then, that in the place where Matthew and Mark use the somewhat veiled expression “abomination of desolation”, Luke (using plain language) shows that such was to be Gentile armies compassing Jerusalem to bring it to desolation. All three of the gospel accounts before mentioning this sign begin with the words: “When ye see . . .” and follow this with the words: “Then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains”, etc. There can be no mistake that these are parallel accounts. By simply letting the Bible explain itself, we have seen that the “desolation” was to be the destruction of Jerusalem (city and temple); the “abomination of desolation” referred to heathen armies that would bring about the desolation; and when these armies would be seen compassing Jerusalem, the disciples were to flee.

This interpretation is solidly built on the Bible. With it, the gospel accounts are complimentary, not contradictory. It is confirmed by history. It glorifies Christ, for it plainly demonstrates how his words were fulfilled and his warning heeded — thus providing a great deliverance and blessing for the Christian people of that time!

Having set forth what we sincerely believe to be the exact and only fulfillment of our Lord’s words, we must now consider an interpretation which has become widely believed, especially in this century. We have reference to the teaching that the “abomination of desolation” is an idol to be placed in the holy of holies of a rebuilt Jewish temple — possibly an idol of the antichrist or the antichrist himself. This interpretation has it that the “abomination of desolation” is yet FUTURE!

An example of the futurist interpretation is seen in the following: “The Jews — who will have.., restored Herod’s Temple, and be in league with Antichrist — will have a visit by the False Prophet who shall bring an image of the Antichrist into Jerusalem and wheel it into the temple… When this image of the Antichrist is taken into the Jewish temple, that will be the sign Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24, the Abomination of Desolation.”

Another futurist writer says: “This image will be placed in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and is the ‘abomination of desolation’ to which the Lord made reference in his Olivet discourse.”8 According to the futurist position, the abomination of desolation will be “an idol placed in the holy of holies of the temple during the reign of Antichrist.”

In disagreeing with the futurist interpretation, it is certainly not our intention to treat lightly the beliefs of fine men of God who hold this position.

Nevertheless, we feel that the futurist interpretation will not stand up under investigation.

The setting up of an idol in the sanctuary is something the enemy could not do until such a time as the temple would be in the enemies’ Since the magnificent temple would no doubt be the last thing to be yielded to the enemy in battle, by this time the city would have already been captured and it would be too late for the disciples to flee! Obviously then, this could not be the sign to flee. In order for something to be a warning for the disciples to escape, it would have to come before the capture of the city — not something to take place afterward!

In view of this, an idol in the holy of holies could not be the sign Jesus referred to. But the presence of heathen armies compassing Jerusalem could be — and was — the sign, such happening before the overthrow of the city (as we have seen).

The very prophecy indicates that the “abomination” would destroy the city and the temple — would make it This is exactly what the heathen armies did. But with the teaching that the “abomination” is to be an idol set up in the temple, there is nothing but contradiction. How could the abomination be an idol set up in the temple, when the temple was to be destroyed by the abomination? An idol could not be set up in the temple if the temple was destroyed. It should be pointed out also, that while idols are, of course, abominable, they are not desolators! It is armies that make desolate, not a powerless idol!

The “abomination” that would make desolate was to be something that could be SEEN by the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem. “When you SEE the abomination”; that is, “When you SEE Jerusalem compassed with armies”, then, “let them that are in Judea flee into the ” It is evident that Jesus was not talking about an idol in the holy of holies, for such could not be SEEN by the population of Jerusalem and Judea. Only the high priest entered the holy of holies. None of the ordinary Jews would dare enter there.

It was not an idol in the Jewish holy of holies that destroyed the city and temple! It was not an idol in the holy of holies that was seen by the population of Jerusalem! When the disciples fled into the mountains of Judea, it had nothing to do with any idol whatsoever!

On the other hand, it was pagan armies that destroyed the city and temple. It was armies which were seen by the people, and it was the compassing of Jerusalem by armies that warned the disciples to flee!

The futurist interpretation regarding the abomination of desolation must teach that the Jewish temple will be rebuilt — in order to have a place for the abominable idol to be placed. But we feel this is a very unsound form of interpretation, for it completely ignores the context! What temple was the subject of our Lord’s Olivet discourse? Was Jesus talking about that temple of his day or a rebuilt temple 2,000 years later? Notice: “And as he [Jesus] went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” (Mk. 13:1-4; also Mt. 24; Lk. 21).

In this passage, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his day; he talked about the stones which it contained, had the disciples look at it, answered questions about it! Are we to assume that he was not actually speaking of THAT temple at all, but of a “rebuilt” temple — a DIFFERENT temple, a temple made of DIFFERENT stones, a temple of about 2,000 years later? We believe the answer is evident.

Whether the Jews will build another temple in Palestine is not the issue. The point is that Jesus was speaking of the temple of his day and it was that temple which was to be destroyed by heathen armies — a prophecy which was fulfilled in 70 A. D.

Concerning the destruction of the temple, the disciples asked when it would be destroyed and what sign would be given in warning. The Bible says: “And Jesus ANSWERED . . .” But those who think the prophecy of Matthew 24 refers to a future temple are at a complete loss to show one verse in this chapter where Jesus ever answered these questions! The disciples asked about the destruction of the temple that stood in Jerusalem, and then (according to the futurist interpretation) Jesus started talking about something altogether different — a temple that was yet 2,000 years in the future! If this is true, then Jesus never answered the very questions the Bible says he answered!

On the other hand, when we understand that the abomination that would make desolate was heathen armies that would destroy Jerusalem, there is harmony. Then, and only then, did Jesus really answer what he was asked.

The teaching that the abomination of desolation is something yet future, not only requires a future and different temple, but such a temple — instead of being destroyed — is pictured as a place where the antichrist would set up an idol to be worshipped. If so, instead of the temple being destroyed, it would be preserved as a shrine of false religion.

Obviously these ideas cannot possibly fit in with the context of Matthew 24 or the other accounts. To try to force a preserved temple (instead of one that was to be destroyed) into the Olivet discourse is to put something there for which there is no basis whatsoever.

In view of these things, we reject the idea that the abomination of desolation is something yet future. It was fulfilled in those events surrounding the desolation of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. — fulfilled fully and completely.

Continuing now, we read the scriptures which told the disciples to flee.

Matthew: “Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains; Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of the house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day” (24:16-20).

Mark: “Then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein to take anything out of his house. And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in winter” (13:14-18).

Luke: “Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries [fields or farms] enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!” (21:21-23).

When the time came, the disciples were to flee without delay. They were not to try to take their possessions with them. Such actions might have been questioned and the escape hindered.

They were told to pray that their flight would not be in winter lest the elements delay and hinder; neither on the sabbath. Making their escape on the sabbath, could have easily brought them into suspicion by those who held that only a short distance (at a slow pace) could be traveled on that day. Naturally, there would also be problems for those with small children.

The area from which they were to flee was Judea and especially Jerusalem. They were to flee into the mountains. The setting is definitely Palestine, and the time — as indicated by the prophecy itself, as well as the historical fulfillment — was back in the first century!

Not understanding that the “fleeing into the mountains” has already taken place, William Blackstone, in 1935, sent workers to Petra where they placed Hebrew Bibles (encased in copper boxes) in some of the caves in that area. He believed the Jews would flee into these mountains during the tribulation period and read his Bibles!

Another futurist writer says that the passage under consideration refers to “atomic warfare”, that safety will only be found in the mountains for those in Judea, and that when they flee to the mountains, they should not take their clothing because it will be “dangerously radio active.” The “woe” to those with child and that give suck, is taken to mean that due to atomic explosions, even the mothers’ milk may be “harmfully radio active.” The verse that says, “Pray ye that your flight be not in winter, neither on the sabbath day”, is interpreted to mean that the weekends, especially in winter, will be times of the greatest danger. It is pointed out that Hitler chose weekends for his big surprises and that the Japanese did so at Pearl Harbor. Finally, the writer says: “if a surprise attack comes, therefore, it is most likely to be on a weekend. It would be good insurance to be particularly well prepared at such times, especially in winter”!10

In all due respect to fine men who have taught such things, we must say that only by taking this passage out of its context and by minimizing (or ignoring) the historical fulfillment, can these words be thus applied.

Why were the disciples told to flee out of Jerusalem and Judea prior to 70 A.D.? The passage continues with the explanation: “For then shall be great tribulation”!

THE GREAT TRIBULATION — FUTURE OR FULFILLED?

Matthew: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (24:21, 22).

Mark: “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days” (13:19, 20).

Luke: “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled… for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles” (21:22-24).

Unless we completely ignore the setting, it is evident that the tribulation mentioned here is that which was to come upon the people of Jerusalem and Judea — tribulation which would result in the destruction of the city and temple. As we have seen, Jesus spoke of various things that would come to pass first — wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, etc. None of these would be the sign of the impending desolation. But when they would see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then they would know that the desolation was nigh, and they should flee into the mountains. Why? “For then shall be GREAT TRIBULATION”, wrote Matthew. Luke’s account says: “For then shall be GREAT DISTRESS in the land [Judea], and wrath upon this people [the Jews]. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.”

According to the scriptures, the “great tribulation” of which Christ spoke was to bring great affliction, distress, and wrath upon the Jews and destruction upon their city and temple.

Josephus, the Jewish historian who was an eye-witness to these events, wrote a full and detailed account of the tribulation that fell upon that land and people in and prior to 70 A.D. His account, Wars of the Jews, was published about 75A.D., at a time when the events of which he wrote were still fresh in the memory of thousands. Since he was not a Christian, no one can accuse him of slanting his material so as to match the prophecy Christ had given.

Nevertheless, the history he recorded fully confirms the fulfillment of the prophecy Jesus gave about the “great tribulation” which came upon that land and people. The references we will give in this chapter are from Josephus.

The trouble in Jerusalem began over differences between the Jews and the Romans. Some of the Jews felt they should revolt against Roman rule; other felt that they should refrain from such actions and hope that a peaceful agreement could be reached. The Jews who favored revolt became very violent and began to kill those who disagreed with them. Troops were sent in to control the mob. War was on! Not only at Jerusalem, but throughout the land trouble broke out.

“Every city was divided into two armies . . .”, Josephus says, “and the preservation of the one part was in the destruction of the other; so the daytime was spent in shedding blood, and the night in fear — which was of the two the more terrible… It was then common to see cities filled with dead bodies, still lying unburied; those of old men mixed with infants, all dead and scattered about together; women also lay amongst them, without any covering for their nakedness: You might then see the whole province full of inexpressible calamities while the dread of still more barbarous practices which were threatened, was everywhere greater than what had been already perpetrated.” (II, 18:2).

The Jews in Alexandria that revolted against t he Romans “were destroyed unmercifully; and this, their destruction, was complete… houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and fifty thousand of them lay dead upon heaps.” (II, 18:8).

In one hour, over 20,000 were killed in Caesarea and the battle continued until “all Caesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants… Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood, nor was it exempted from any kind of misery or calamity.” (III, 4:1).

Such horror was in the land that one prominent man, in order to save his family from a worse fate, took a sword and killed first his aged father and mother, his wife and children — all submitting to it willingly — and then took his own life. (II, 18:3).

In Jerusalem, those of the revolting party were known as Zelots. They “fell upon the people [who disagreed with them] as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” In this way, 12,000 of the more eminent inhabitants perished. “The terror that was upon all the people was so great, that no one had courage enough either to weep openly for the dead man that was related to him, or bury him… those that mourned for others soon underwent the same death with those whom they mourned for” (IV, 5:3).

Slaughter continued until “the outer temple was all of it overflowed with blood, and that day they saw 8,500 dead bodies there.” Included in this number were “those that a little before had worn the sacred garments and presided over the public worship, which were cast out naked to be the food of dogs and wild beasts.”

Even those who came with sacrifices were slain, “and sprinkled that altar… with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves.” (V, 1:3).

“The noise also of those that were fighting was incessant, both by day and by night; but the lamentations of those that mourned exceeded the other… their calamities came perpetually, one upon another… But for the seditious themselves, they fought against each other, while they trod upon the dead bodies as they lay heaped one upon another, and taking up a mad rage from those dead bodies that were under their feet, became the fiercer thereupon… and when they had resolved upon anything, they executed it without mercy, and omitted no method of torment or of barbarity.” (V, 1:5).

No wonder Jesus said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves, and for your children” (Lk. 23:28), knowing that all these things would come upon that generation!

Jesus had said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and surely this was true of Jerusalem. Many Jews were killed by Jews, not by the enemy outside the walls. Josephus says that the Jews “never suffered from the Romans anything worse than they made each other suffer.” Such madness and insanity shows the validity of Jesus’ words when he likened that generation to a man who becomes demon-possessed, so that his latter state is worse than the first. (Mt. 12:43-45).

As Jerusalem became surrounded by the Romans, food became scarce within the walls of the city. Many of the Jews went by night into the valleys in search of food. These were caught, “tormented with all sorts of torture” and then crucified in the sight of those on the walls. About 500 every day were thus killed until the number finally became so great that there was not room enough for the crosses, nor enough crosses for the victims. Often several were nailed to the same torture stake. Imagine the torment of those who would see or hear of their loved ones being thus tortured a short distance from the walls. Many had their hands cut off. (V, 11:1, 2).

“Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city.” (V, 12:3).

“Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day… the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench.” (VI, 1:1).

“The number of those that perished by famine in the city was prodigious, and their miseries were unspeakable. For if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear, a war was commenced presently, and the dearest friends fell fighting one another about it… Children pulled the very morsel that their fathers were eating, out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do to their infants: and when those that were almost dead were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives… The seditious… also invented terrible methods of torment to discover where any food was, and they were these: to stop up the passages of the privy parts of the miserable wretches, and to drive sharp stakes up their fundaments! and a man was forced to bear what it is terrible even to hear.” (V, 10:3).

One woman of prominence killed her infant son and roasted him. After eating half of the body, the other half was hid. Shortly after this, certain seditious Jews came to search her house. When they smelled the scent of roasted flesh, they threatened to cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had prepared. She then uncovered the remaining half of the little body, saying: “Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother.” But even those hardened men were horrified at the sight and left the house trembling. (VI, 3:4).

Surely these things were a fulfillment of the warning that had been given centuries before. “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far.., a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young… And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down… And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters… The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward… her young one that cometh from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straightness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates.” (Deut. 28:49-57).

Some who tried to escape from the city after it had been surrounded by the Roman armies, swallowed pieces of gold in order to take them unnoticed.

Word got out that such was being done and many of those who tried to escape were cut open by the enemy to see if they had swallowed any gold. “Nor does it seem to me that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night about 2,000 of these deserters were thus dissected.” (V, 13:4).

Finally the Roman armies broke through the wall and an enraged soldier caught the temple afire. “While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests, were all slain in the same manner… The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those that were slain… nor can one imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise… Moreover, many, when they saw the fire, exerted their utmost strength, and did break out into groans and outcries… Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething-hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it.” (VI, 5:1).

The burning of the temple is especially significant in that the very date on which it was burned by the armies of Titus, was the same date that Nebuchadnezzar had burned it centuries before! This seems like more than a mere accident. “But, as for that house, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire, and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages: it was the tenth day of the month Ab, upon which it was formerly burnt by the king, of Babylon”! (VI, 4:5).

As the temple burned, the Jews knew all hope for deliverance was gone. The aqueducts and the city sewers were crowded as the last place of refuge for the hopeless. When these were searched, two thousand people were found dead there, and those that yet remained alive were dragged from thence and slain.

The scriptures had warned: “And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you” (Deut. 28:68). Josephus tells how those that survived were led away captives, some being taken into Egypt! “As for the rest of the multitude that were above 17 years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines… and sold the rest of the multitude with their wives and children, and every one of them at a low price,and that because such were sold were very many, and the buyers few.” (VI, 8, 9).

There were 97,000 that were sold as slaves and 1,100,000 people that perished during the fierce tribulation of those days. “Now the number of those that were carried captive during the whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished in the whole siege, eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation, but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army… the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destruction that either men or God ever brought upon the world.” (VI, 9:3, 4).

Josephus summed it up in these words: “I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: — that neither did any other city suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.” (V, 10:5).

Josephus says the calamities which befell the Jews were “the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that ever were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations… it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were.” (Preface, p. 427).

The scholarly Christian translator of Josephus’ works mentions this in a footnote: “That these calamities of the Jews, who were our Savior’s murderers, were to be the greatest that had ever been since the beginning of the world, our Savior had directly foretold (Mt. 24:21; Mk. 13:19; Lk. 21:23,24) and that they proved to be such accordingly, Josephus is here a most authentic witness.” (Preface, p.429).

Concerning our Lord’s statement about unparalled tribulation that was to come upon the Jews, Boettner has well said:

Where have been, of course, other periods of tribulation or suffering in which greater numbers of people were involved, and which continued for longer periods of time. But considering the physical, moral, and religious aspects, suffering never reached a greater degree of awfulness and intensity than in the siege of Jerusalem. Nor have so many people ever perished in the fall of any other city. We think of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima as causing the greatest mass horror of anything in modern times. Yet only about one-tenth as many people were killed in Hiroshima as in the fall of Jerusalem. Add to the slaughter of such a great number the bestiality of Jew to Jew and of Roman to Jew and the anguish of a people who knew they were forsaken of God, and we see the justification for Christ’s words, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be.

When Jesus spoke of tribulation “such as was not since the beginning of the world… nor ever shall be”, it seems he was using a proverbial form of expression. Similar expressions are found in various ways in the scriptures.

Concerning the plague of locusts that devoured Egypt, for example, we read that “before them there was no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such” (Ex. 10:14). God said to Solomon, “I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like” (2 Chron. 1:12). “. . . there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee” (l Kings 3:12). “I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like” (Ez. 5:8, 9). Joel spoke of “a great people… there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations” (Joel 2:2). Daniel wrote of “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (Dan. 12:1), and in the historical writings of Maccabees, we read: “There was a great affliction in Israel, the like whereof was not since the time that a prophet was seen among them” (l Mac. 9:27).

Some might argue that there has been greater tribulation since 70 A. D. They could also argue that there have been kings that have had more wealth and honour than Solomon. But such arguments are not merely differences in interpretation, they become arguments against the Bible itself. Seeing how this expression was used in the scriptures, we should not attempt to press it beyond its intended meaning. We believe the historical fulfillment fully meets the requirements of the prophecy that Jesus gave in this connection.

Jesus said: “For then shall be great tribulation” (Matthew); “For there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people… Jerusalem shall be trodden down of… Gentiles” (Luke) Did great tribulation or distress come upon the Jews and that land? Yes. Was Jerusalem “trodden down of the Gentiles” and destroyed so that one stone was not left upon another? Yes.

Was there great wrath, affliction, and distress upon that people? Yes.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he spoke of “the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us… to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess.

2:14-16). The word translated “uttermost” here is the same word that is used in Matthew 24:6, l7 where it is translated “end.” The word “wrath” that is used in this passage is the same as the one used in Luke 21:23: “… wrath upon this people.”

An arch was erected in Rome to commemorate the victory of Titus and the Roman armies in the destruction of Jerusalem. Seven hundred of the Jewish captives were reserved by Titus to follow the carriage in which he made his triumphal entry into Rome. Carried in the procession were the spoils taken from the temple — the golden table, the seven-branched candlestick, the veils of the sanctuary, and the book of the law. These things are sculptured on the arch of Titus in Rome. This monument has been a witness through the centuries to the fact that the words of Jesus were fulfilled concerning the tribulation and destruction that was to come upon Jerusalem and Judea.

The prophecy that Jesus gave continues with these words: “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved [alive]; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Mt. 24:22; Mk. 13:20).

We must bear in mind that the reference here is to the area upon which the tribulation of those days fell — Judea and Jerusalem. It should not be wrested from its proper setting.

Concerning the destruction that came upon this same land and city in the Old Testament, we read: “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate… Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:1, 7, 9). With the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, of course, there was no flesh saved alive. It was total destruction.

There is an obvious similarity here. In the Old Testament, “Except the Lord” had left a remnant, no flesh would have been saved alive. In the New Testament, “Except the Lord” had shortened the days, there would no flesh be saved alive. The meaning is basically the same in both cases.

We will notice in more detail later that the destruction that came upon that land and people was the judgment of God. It was no mere accident that things happened the way they did. The tribulation had definite bounds, however; it could only continue for a limited period of time. The days, we are plainly told, had been shortened. The Gentile armies could only go so far!

Looking at Luke’s account of “the days of vengeance” and “great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people”, we read: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.” Now, who were the Gentiles that did this? It was Titus and his armies. And how long were they to tread it down? “Until the times of the Gentiles [Titus and his armies] be fulfilled” (Lk. 21:24). In other words, only a certain length of time was allotted for them to carry out the work of judgment; or, as Matthew and Mark put it, the days had been shortened!

Some have pulled these five words, “The times of the Gentiles”, out of their setting and have attempted to stretch them into a long age of time for which there is no real proof in this passage. One noted writer of the dispensational school says: “`the times of the Gentiles’ covers the entire period during which the nation of the Jews, the city of Jerusalem, and the land of Palestine are under Gentile domination. This began with Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Palestine and will end at the Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven at the close of the Great Tribulation.”2 This is the teaching set forth in the notes of the Scofield Bible.

But considering the setting, this verse about “the times of the Gentiles” is not talking about who is ruling Jerusalem, it is talking about Jerusalem being trodden down. It is not talking about long ages of time, but of Jerusalem being trodden down by Gentiles, the Gentiles being those that destroyed it in 70 A.D. — Titus and his armies!

It was no exaggeration when Jesus spoke about no flesh being saved alive in that land upon which his judgment came. Josephus informs us that “the populace was almost annihilated… there was no part of Judea, which did not partake of the calamities of the capital city.” But for the elect’s sake, those days were shortened; the times allotted the Gentile armies to inflict that tribulation were limited. Though the Christians had escaped into the mountains, living without housing or provisions, they too could have eventually been destroyed by sword or famine if those days of tribulation had not been shortened.

SUN, MOON, AND STARS DARKENED

Matthew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (24:29).

Mark: “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light. And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken” (13:24, 25).

Luke: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (21:25, 26).

Here now is a description of the condition of things after the tribulation.1 Immediately after the tribulation, the sun, moon, and stars would be darkened. Is this language about the darkening of the heavenly bodies to be taken literally or figuratively? By searching the scriptures, we find that such expressions were commonly used by the prophets in a figurative way. From Genesis to Revelation, in fact, the “sun”, “moon”, and “stars” are used in passage after passage as symbols.

In the dream of Joseph, for example, his father, mother, and brethren were symbolized by the sun, moon, and stars (Gen. 37:9-11). The calamities that fell upon the Jews in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes were symbolized by casting down some of the host of heaven and the stars to the ground (Dan. 8:10). In Revelation, stars were used to symbolize churches (1:16, 20). The “sun” and “moon” in passages such as Revelation 12:1 in which we read of a woman “clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet” are recognized by all as symbolical.

The scriptures symbolize disaster and destruction upon nations by such expressions as these: the sun shall go down, sun darkened, light darkened in the heavens, no light in the heavens, the moon shall not give her light, stars shall fall, stars darkened, cloudy day, dark at noon day, no brightness, darkness, etc. While such language was probably more common to ancient times, yet it is not uncommon for us even today to use expressions which are comparable. When a person comes to see some truth or fact clearly, for example, we might say that he saw the “light.” A person that is intelligent is spoken of as being “bright.” Those who are considered outstanding in the entertainment field are called “stars” — movie stars, television stars, recording stars, etc. On the American flag, each state is symbolized by a star. Policemen commonly wear badges which include the star symbol — representative of their authority as policeman. Soldiers receive star shaped medals which symbolize outstanding service. We might describe the future as being “bright” if referring to good days ahead; or the future might be described as being “dark” if days of trouble are being described. We commonly speak of the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages”, etc.

In hieroglyphic writing, the sun, moon, and stars were often used as symbols — representing empires, states, kings — and the darkening of the heavenly bodies symbolized the overthrow of these empires and their rulers.

In like manner, the holy prophets of the Bible used these same symbols to portray divine truth and warnings. The use of such symbols was not the product of a heated imagination, but was within the framework of the established and sober language of those times. We will now take a closer look at the scriptures that use these expressions.

In Ecclesiastes 12:1,2, we find that the expression “while the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened” is used to symbolize good times.

Consequently, the reverse — an expression about the sun, moon, and stars being darkened — would symbolize “evil days”, days of trouble.

The nation of Israel was likewise promised bright days (blessings) if obedient to God, or dark days (trouble, judgment) if disobedient. Blessings for obedience are described in these terms: “He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the LIGHT, and thy judgment as the NOON DAY” (Ps. 37:6). “Then shall thy LIGHT break forth as the morning… then shall thy LIGHT RISE in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the NOON DAY” (Isaiah 58:8-10). “Thy SUN shall no more go down; neither shall thy MOON withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting LIGHT, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60:20).

But on the other hand, when this nation was disobedient, just the reverse describes their condition: “We wait for LIGHT, but behold obscurity; for BRIGHTNESS, but we walk in DARKNESS… we stumble at NOON DAY as in the night” (Isaiah 59:9, 10, etc.)

God repeatedly warned his people in the Old Testament that if they did not repent, disaster and destruction would fall upon them. It would be a thy of “darkness, and not light… even very dark, and no brightness in it” (Amos 5:18- 20). “The end is come upon my people of Israel… I will cause the SUN to go down at noon, and I will DARKEN the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:2, 9).

They would be scattered in a “cloudy and DARK day” (Ez. 34:12).

Judah and Jerusalem were warned of the destruction that came upon them in these words: “I will also stretch out my hand upon Judah, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem… a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of DARKNESS and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick DARKNESS” (Zeph. 1:4, 15). Isaiah described their condition in these words: “And if one look unto the land, behold DARKNESS and sorrow, and the LIGHT is darkened in the heavens thereof” (Isaiah 5:3, 30). And the destruction that came upon that nation was spoken of by Jeremiah in these words: “I beheld… the heavens, and they had no LIGHT… the heavens above [will] be BLACK” (Jer. 4:3, 23, 28). Jeremiah warned them to turn to God in repentance `before he cause DARKNESS, and… while ye look for LIGHT, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross DARKNESS” and the people be carried away as captives (Jer. 13:9, 10, 16-19).

This was the message of the true prophets — men like Zephaniah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. But there were false prophets among the people who caused the people to err. Concerning these, God said: “Therefore NIGHT shall be unto you… it shall be DARK unto you… the SUN shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be DARK over them… there is no answer of God… Jerualem shall become heaps” (Micah 3:6, 12).

Now if such expressions as these were used to describe the destruction that came upon Jerusalem and Judah in Old Testament times, surely these same symbols were fitting ones to describe the destruction that came upon that same city and country in 70 A. D. By Jesus’ use of these symbols, the disciples knew Jerusalem would be destroyed again. The tribulation that was to come upon that city and people would not be merely a time of passing trouble, but the condition of things immediately after the tribulation of those days would be utter destruction and desolation — as symbolized by the familiar Biblical expression: the sun, moon, and stars shall be darkened.

Looking further, we find these same expressions are used in the scriptures to symbolize destruction upon other countries as well. Concerning the destruction that came upon EGYPT, we read: “Thus saith the Lord God; I will also make the multitude of EGYPT to cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He and his people… shall be brought to destroy the land… the day shall be DARKENED… a cloud shall cover her, and her daughters shall go into captivity” (Ez. 30:6-18). And concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, we read: “And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the STARS thereof DARK; I will cover the SUN with a cloud, and the MOON shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make DARK over thee, and set DARKNESS upon thy land… I shall bring thy destruction… I shall make the land of Egypt desolate” (Ez. 32:2-15).

Thus, the overthrow and destruction that came upon Egypt by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar — who carried out the judgment of God — is described with the figures of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened.

Likewise, we read of the utter destruction that God brought upon IDUMEA. “And all the hosts of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down… For my sword… shall come down upon Idumea… from generation to generation it shall lie waste” (Isaiah 34:4-10). And the land remains a desolation to this day! Again we notice the pictorial language used to portray a dark time — even an overthrow and destruction.

Then there is the prophecy about the fall of Babylon which was to come “as destruction from the Almighty”, even though heathen armies were the instruments he used. “He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the STARS of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the SUN shall be darkened in his going forth, and the MOON shall not cause her light to shine… Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them… and Babylon… shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited… but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there” (Isaiah 13:9, 10, 17-21).

That this prophecy was fulfilled is evident. The kingdom was given to the Medes (Daniel 5:28-31). It did become a desolation — as predicted — and the desolate condition of that land to this day is a mute testimony to the fulfillment. This desolation, even as we have seen in the other cases, is described in language that is highly figurative — sun darkened, moon not giving her light, and the stars darkened. In short, a very dark, dark time for Babylon was predicted — and so it was.

Now if the Lord saw fit to portray the destruction and desolation of Babylon, Idumea, and Egypt, in such symbols in the Old Testament, why should we suppose he would use different terms when he became flesh and dwelt among us?

When Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and others, it was not the LITERAL sun, moon, and stars that were darkened. When Idumea became a desolation, it was not the LITERAL stars of heaven that were dissolved or fell. When Egypt was overthrown and became desolate under the attack of Nebuchadnezzar, it was not the LITERAL sun, moon or stars that were darkened. These expressions were symbolical and were fulfilled as such.

Using the scriptures as our guide, we believe it is evident that our Lord’s words in Matthew 24:29 about the sun, moon, and stars being darkened, are to be taken in the same way.

Bearing these things in mind, what is the meaning of Matthew 24:29? As we have seen, the prophecy about the tribulation pertained to a certain city — Jerusalem; to a certain land — Judea; to a certain people — the Jewish nation. What would be the condition of things for that city, nation, and people “immediately after the tribulation of those days”? Would they experience only a passing tribulation after which things would return to normal? No!

Transferring the expression about the darkened sun, moon, and stars from symbol to fact, and using the other scriptures as our guide — instead of guess work! — we can see that these things spoke of complete overthrow, of destruction, and desolation. This interpretation is solidly built upon the scriptures and its accuracy is confirmed by the fulfillment that is now history.

Matthew: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great Sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (24:30, 31).

Mark: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven” (13:26, 27).

Luke: “And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (21:27, 28).

We have seen the marvelous historical fulfillment of what Jesus said would come to pass. It has all fit together perfectly — step by step, verse by verse. Now, however, it might appear that a problem has been reached, for we read: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man… they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” What, then, is the proper explanation?

Could it be that the Lord came in a figurative sense in 70 A.D.? Some have pointed out that while there will be the final great and glorious coming of Christ, there are sometimes other ways in which he comes in blessing or judgment. For example, the words, “Return O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel” were prayed whenever the ark was set up and rested (Numbers 10:36). After the captivity at Babylon, God said, “I am returned unto Jerusalem” (Zech. 1:16; 8:3). The Lord came to men in dreams (Gen. 21:3). He came down to see the City (Gen. 11:5). “I am come down to deliver thee” out of Egypt (Ex. 3:8). “Lo I come unto thee in a thick cloud” (Ex. 19:9).

Other scriptures speak about the Lord “riding upon a swift cloud”, coming into Egypt, and that the Egyptians would be set against the Egyptians (Is. 19:1). “The Lord… maketh the clouds his chariot . . .” (Ps. 104:3). David, after calling upon the Lord for help in battle, said: “The Lord… bowed the heavens… and came down… he delivered me” (Ps. 18:6-17). These are a few scriptural examples in which we read of the Lord coming down, visiting, returning. All agree that these are not references to his personal and visible coming at the end of the age.

Some expositors believe that it is in this same sense that we are to take the passage under consideration. With this interpretation, the part about sending forth the angels (messengers) with the sound of the trumpet is taken to mean the sending forth of the apostles with the gospel message to gather together people in all parts of the world into the church. However, we believe there are some serious objections against this position.

As we have just seen, there are verses which speak of the Lord coming on the scene in blessing, in deliverance, in judgment — verses that do not refer to his personal and visible coming. But in the text under consideration, we read: “They shall SEE the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” — language which we would normally link with the Second Coming. We notice also that “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds.” This ties in perfectly with a noted Second Coming passage, Revelation 1:7: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him… and all kindred of the earth shall wail because of him.” Further, when Jesus was taken up, “a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and when he comes again, believers will be “caught up… in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4). All of these verses seem definitely tied together: he will be seen, people will mourn, he will come with clouds.

Our Lord’s prophecy also states that he will send forth his angels with the sound of a trumpet and they shall gather together his elect in all parts of the world. Mention of the trumpet, of course, reminds us of two noted Second Coming passages: First Thessalonians 4 which mentions the Lord’s descent from heaven and the sound of the trumpet, and First Corinthians 15 which mentions this trumpet as the last trumpet.

It is true that the word translated “angel” is sometimes translated messenger, and the word messenger is sometimes translated from the same word as apostle (the distinction usually being indicated by the context). It is also true that the apostles went forth to gather men of all nations into the church. But Christ commissioned his apostles to preach before he left! The sending forth of the apostles to preach the gospel was not linked with another coming of Christ — figurative or otherwise. By 70 A.D., as we have seen, these men had already gone forth into the world with the gospel message.

A few chapters before Matthew 24, we read that at the end of the world the angels will be the reapers of the harvest — gathering the wicked to judgment, and the righteous to shine forth in the kingdom of God (Mt. 13:24- 30, 36-43).

Taking all of these things into consideration, we favor the interpretation which applies Matthew 24:30, 31 (and the parallel accounts) to the Second Coming of Christ when he will come with the clouds, in power and great glory; when men shall see him and mourn; when he shall send out angels with the sound of the trumpet to gather together believers to meet the Lord.

Of course this raises an objection. In verse 29, we read about the condition of things “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” And this next verse begins: “And then shall appear the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”, etc. Would this not indicate that the Second Coming was to occur right then? How can this be reconciled with the fact that Christ was not seen coming in power and great glory at that time?

The word that is translated “then” in this passage is tote. (Matthew uses the word 90 times — more than all of the other New Testament writers put together.) The word “then” can be used to indicate something to happen right at a given time or it can be used to indicate the order in which events will happen. We believe it is here used in the latter sense.

Jesus spoke of general events that were to occur before the overthrow of Jerusalem and then the specific sign of that destruction: Gentile armies surrounding Jerusalem. The invading armies would bring about great tribulation for the people left in Jerusalem and Judea. The condition of things immediately after that tribulation would be that of desolation. All of these things were to happen first, “and then shall appear… the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory . . .” That Jesus was here explaining the order in which these events would occur, and not defining an exact time for the Second Coming is indicated by other things he explained in this passage.

The Second Coming was not to be at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, for Jesus expressly warned about any who would say that Christ had come in those days — and was in the desert or in some secret place (Mt. 24:23-27). This definitely implies that those days would not be the time of his Second Jesus said Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Jews who were not killed in the tribulation of those days would be led captive into all nations (Lk.21). This could not be the same time as the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the age, for Jews will not be led away captive into all nations after the end of the It was following the events of 70 A. D. that they were led away captive. The one event was the end that came upon Jerusalem; the other will be the end of the age.

In a later part of Matthew 24, Jesus expressly said that no man, not himself or the angels, but the Father only knew the time of the Second Coming, the end of the age (Mt. 24:35,36). But concerning the overthrow of Jerusalem,

Jesus definitely knew that time and stated that it would be before that generation then living would pass away. They had asked WHEN this destruction would be, and he told them. But the time of the Second Coming was NOT revealed. The two, then, are set in contrast. The possibility that a long period of time might pass before the coming of Christ is suggested by the story of the bridegroom that did not appear until the midnight hour or the master who “after a long time” returned (Mt. 25:14-30).

The destruction of Jerusalem was preceded by a specific sign — Jerusalem compassed about with Gentile But the Second Coming, on the other hand, will come “as a thief in the night”; we are exhorted to be ready at all times; there will be no specific sign (such as a huge cross in the sky) to warn people a few minutes before Christ returns. The sign of the Son of man will be Christ himself — HE will appear! People will be eating and drinking and getting married — the routine things, just as in Noah’s day — and will not be expecting anything unusual to happen. Then suddenly Christ will come! The sign preceding the fall of Jerusalem was specific; the signs or warnings about the Second Coming are general — nothing to reveal the day or hour!

At the time of the fall of Jerusalem, the disciples were to escape into the mountains. Then, there was time to flee; but when Christ comes there will be no time to flee or make preparations to meet At the Second Coming, believers will not flee into the mountains, but will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, in the clouds. In the first century, they were scattered; at the Second Coming they will be gathered. It is contrast all the way through.

Furthermore, having faith in Christ and the truth of the scriptures, and knowing that the Second Coming did not take place back in the first century, we know that a meaning should not be forced upon Matthew 24:30 that would contradict what Jesus himself went on to explain.

Having seen the detailed account of how Jesus’ words have been fulfilled in history in a remarkable manner; having seen how believing in these prophecies the Christians in Jerusalem were able to flee at the proper time; having seen how the fulfilled interpretation exalts and confirms the words of Christ; we see no virtue in trying to postpone the entire prophecy to the future — even though verse 30, if taken alone, is admittedly difficult. But despite whatever weaknesses may exist in our understanding on this point, to place the entire prophecy into the future cannot be correct, for then we would have to completely ignore the basic questions that the discourse was given to answer!

THE FIG TREE

Matthew: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (24:32- 34).

Mark: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done” (13:28-30).

Luke: “And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand, verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (21:29-32).

The futurist interpretation concerning this passage is that the fig tree symbolizes the nation of Israel. Scofield says that the fig tree passage is “a prophecy that Israel shall again bud.”1 In the year 1948, the present nation called Israel came into existence. Some believe this has been the budding of the fig tree of which Jesus spoke. But was this what Jesus meant?

It has been supposed by some that throughout the Bible we might find references to Israel being symbolized by the fig tree. Looking into the Old Testament, there is little — if any — proof that the fig tree is a symbol of the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, there are two references in which the fig tree is sometimes regarded as symbolizing the nation of Israel. Whether this is corrector not, neither passage pictures the tree as budding or fruitful, but just the opposite!

In the one passage, a parable, the owner of the fig tree came for “three years” seeking fruit on the tree and found none. He then ordered that the tree be cut down. The vinedresser suggested that they let it remain another year, and

— if it remained unfruitful — to then cut it down (Lk. 13:6-9). The parable gives no indication that the tree ever became fruitful. If the reference is to the nation of Israel to whom Christ’s personal ministry was directed for three years and over, we know that Israel, as a nation, did not bear fruits of repentance — instead they rejected Christ and his message. Failing to see in him the sacrifice for sins, they were cut off spiritually and a few years later, even their city, temple, and nation were destroyed (as we have seen).

The other New Testament reference to a fig tree that is sometimes applied to the nation of Israel is Matthew 21:19. But here, again, the reference is not to a fruitful tree, but to an unfruitful tree, a tree that Jesus cursed, a tree to which he said, “Let no fruit grow on thee hence forward for ever.”

Looking on through the New Testament, there are no other verses that would indicate that the fig tree is a symbol of Israel. On the other hand, we do find verses that refer to Israel as an OLIVE tree (Rom. 11:17,24).

But returning now to our Lord’s words about the “fig tree”, we need look no further than the text itself to find full proof that Jesus was NOT talking about the nation of Israel! Matthew’s account says: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh . . .” But Luke’s account shows that Jesus did not single out only one tree in giving this illustration. “Behold the fig tree, AND ALL THE TREES: when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.”

If the “fig tree” here represents the nation of Israel, then “all the trees” would have to represent all the nations. With this, the passage would have no point at all! In view of this, Dake (though himself a strong dispensationalist) has well said: “The fig tree… is universally interpreted to mean the Jewish nation, BUT THIS COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE THE MEANING.”2

Jesus was merely drawing an illustration from nature. He said that when they saw the fig tree and all the trees put forth leaves, they knew of themselves by common knowledge that summer is near. SO LIKEWISE, when they would see all these things they could also know that certain things were near. In the same sense, we might use a human comparison from nature. We might say that when the sun is in the west, we know that night is at hand; when snow is on the ground, we know it is winter time; when the leaves turn color, we know it is autumn; when we see dark clouds gathering we know it is going to rain. And so Jesus used a simple parable or illustration — something they could know of themselves. It was human knowledge that when trees put forth leaves, men know that summer is at hand; so likewise, when they would see “all these things” come to pass, such would be a sign to them.

Now then, what did Jesus mean when he spoke of “all these things”? He had just spoken of the Second Coming. Was this a continuation of what he had just spoken, or was he here returning to the original line of thought? If we take it to refer to everything that Jesus had just previously mentioned, the passage would have to read something like this: ‘When ye see the sun darkened, the moon not giving her light, the stars falling, the powers of heaven shaken, the sign of the Son of man in heaven, all tribes mourning, the

Son of man coming in the clouds, the trumpet sounding, the angels gathering the elect from around the world: when ye see these things you will know that it is near, even at the doors.” What possible sense would there be in saying that when the Lord is seen coming in the clouds, and all these other things, that they would then know that the Second Coming was nigh? This would be an inconsistent statement.

Therefore, when Jesus spoke of seeing “these things”, we believe he was returning to the original line of thought and the reference is to the things they would see leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem: there would be deceivers; famines, pestilences, earthquakes; the gospel would go to the nations; finally the specific sign — Jerusalem compassed about with Gentile armies; and when they would see all these things — then they would know that the destruction of Jerusalem was nigh.

Further proof that it was to “these things” that Jesus had reference is seen in the fact that all these things were to be fulfilled before the generation then living would pass away! All three accounts record our Lord’s words: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled” (Mt. 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32).

Jesus had said that one stone would not be left upon another that would not be thrown down — Jerusalem and its temple were marked for destruction.

And the disciples asked: “WHEN shall these things be?” (Mt. 24:2, 3). Here then is the answer! These things would happen before the generation then living would pass away. Living on this side of the fulfillment, we know that these things did happen within the time specified. It is an amazing fulfillment of prophecy!

Just before Matthew 24, in chapter 23, Jesus had warned that generation of Jews: “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers… Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men… some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, ALL THESE THINGS shall come upon THIS GENERATION. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Mt. 23:32-38). In commenting on this passage, Scofield very correctly says: “It is the way also of history: judgment falls upon one generation for the sins of centuries. The prediction was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.”3

BUT, a few verses later, in Matthew 24 when Jesus said: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” — a statement which would clearly place the great tribulation back then, instead of in the future! — Scofield tries to make “generation” have a completely different meaning — even though it is exactly the same word in both the English and the Greek! Scofield attempts to make the word “generation” in Matthew 24 mean “race, kind, family, stock, breed” and so “the promise is, therefore, that the generation — nation, or family of Israel — will be preserved unto ‘these things’.”

But this reasoning will not stand up under investigation. Let us look through the book of Matthew and see how the word generation was used throughout his writings. First of all, there is Matthew 1:17: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations . . .” Obviously the reference is not to 14 different races, but to fourteen different generations of that race — each generation following the other in logical sequence. Jesus asked: “Whereunto shall I liken this generation?” — a reference to that generation then living. It was “an evil and adulterous generation”, Jesus said, and that the people who lived in the days of Ninevah “shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it” as will the queen of the South who traveled from far to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus then spoke of a man who became demon possessed in such a way that his last state was worse than the first, and added: “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Mt. 12:38-45).

Jesus called that generation “a wicked and adulterous generation” (Mt. 16:3,4) and a “faithless and perverse generation” (Mt. 17:17). Then coming to Matthew 23, Jesus reproved the hypocrisy of that generation and said they were no better than their fathers that had killed the prophets; judgment upon Jerusalem was certain; and their house would be left desolate —“all these things shall come upon this generation” (Mt. 23:36). And finally, Matthew 24:34: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”

We feel it is completely arbitrary to take this word in all the other places in Matthew to refer to the generation living at one time, and then in Matthew 24 attempt to make the very same word apply to the whole race of Jews over a period of 2,000 years or more! Surely no one would do this except to uphold a theory.

Strangely enough, those who hold that the word “generation” in Matthew 24 means the Jewish people as a race also hold the belief that the Jewish race will never pass away. But if Jesus meant that the Jewish race will not pass away until these things are fulfilled, and if the Jewish race will never pass away, his words were meaningless and he did NOT answer the question: “WHEN shall these things be?”

But taking the word “generation” in its normal meaning — the generation of people living at one time — then all is clear and the question is answered! ‘When?” According to Jesus, these things were to happen before that generation would pass away! He was expressing a time element — not merely that these things could happen anytime as long as there is a Jewish race somewhere! The question was not about how long the Jewish race would continue, but about the destruction that was to come upon Jerusalem.

Through the centuries, the Christian people have been strengthened in their faith by seeing how the words of Christ were so marvelously fulfilled — not only in their details, but even within the time he specified, before that generation then living passed away! In more recent times (especially with the rise of Dispensationalism), however, this has been set at naught by those who would place all of Matthew 24 in the future — thus greatly minimizing the fulfillment and having to place a meaning on the word “generation” in Matthew 24 that is contrary to its use throughout the rest of the book.

THE END OF THE AGE

Matthew: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (24:35, 36).

Mark: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is” (Mk. 13:31, 32).

Luke: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. And take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkeness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come” (21:33-35).

Up to this point, Jesus spoke about the overthrow of Jerusalem in answer to the questions he was asked, leaving this original line of speech briefly two times to speak of the Second Coming by way of contrast (Mt. 24:27, 30-31), and then returning to the original questions. After telling of the things that would happen in that generation, the whole discourse now shifts from here on out to the question about the Second Coming and the end of the world. Jesus now states that heaven and earth shall pass away — an expression referring to the end of the age — and that the time of “that day” is not revealed. Notice now what will happen when that time comes: “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Mt. 24:40-42).

The word here translated “taken” is the same word that is used in John 14 in which Jesus said, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” Paul explains that believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Those who are ready will be taken — he will receive them; while sudden destruction shall fall upon those that are left.

Dispensationalists apply these verses to a pre-tribulation, secret rapture. But notice! We are clear down at verse 40. The topic is the end of the age, when heaven and earth shall pass away. And this is when Jesus said one shall be taken and the other left! According to the dispensational outline, to be consistent, these verses should have been way back in the early part of Matthew 24 — before the tribulation, before the abomination of desolation, before the flight into the hills, before all of this. But no hint of any secret rapture is found anywhere in those early verses, not until the end of the age do we read that one will be taken and the other left.

All three of the parallel accounts close by giving illustrations which stress watchfulness.

In summary, we see that Jesus made the statement that one stone would not be left upon another that would not be thrown down. The disciples asked WHEN these things would be and WHAT SIGN would precede this destruction. And Jesus answered. They would see the abomination of desolation — Gentile armies surrounding Jerusalem — then they would know that the destruction of the city was nigh. This answered the disciples’ question about WHAT SIGN would be given. Upon seeing this, they were to flee, for then would be great tribulation upon that land and people. In answer to the question about WHEN these things would come to pass, Jesus said it would be before that generation passed away.

The disciples also asked about the Second Coming — the end of the age. This too was answered. All of these other things would happen first, and then Christ would return. But as to the exact time, no man knows the day or hour when this will be. The Second Coming will be as in the days of Noah — the world will not be expecting judgment. Suddenly Christ will appear — bringing an end to this age. One will be taken and the other left.

BIBLICAL REFERENCES TO THE WORD “TRIBULATION”

We will now notice the word “thlipsis” (number 2347 in Strong’s Concordance), the word that is translated “tribulation” in Matthew 24. This word is translated by the following words: tribulation, affliction, anguish, persecution, burdened, and trouble. We shall quote or refer to every text in which this word is used and then draw some conclusions.

TRIBULATION UPON THE JEWS (4 references)

As we have just seen, Jesus spoke of “great TRIBULATION” and about the condition of things “after the TRIBULATION” (Mt. 24:21, 29). Mark’s account of the same passage says: “In those days shall be AFFLICTION (thlipsis — tribulation)” and mentions the time “after that TRIBULATION” (Mk. 13:19, 24). Luke’s account refers to that tribulation in these words: “For there shall be great distress in the land” — the land of Judea, as the context shows — “and wrath upon this people” — the Jews — “and… Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:23, 24). All of this came to pass, as we have seen, in 70 A. D.

TRIBULATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS (32 references)

The Bible says: “In the world ye shall have TRIBULATION” (John 16:33). “We must through much TRIBULATION enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “We glory in TRIBULATIONS also: knowing that TRIBULATION worketh patience” (Rom. 5:3).

“TRIBULATION, or distress, or persecution” shall not separate us from Christ (Rom. 8:35-37). We are to be “patient in TRIBULATION” (Rom. 12:12), “joyful in all our TRIBULATIONS” (2 Cor. 7:4), and faint not at TRIBULATION (Eph. 3:13; 2Thess. 1:4). The Lord “comforteth us in all our TRIBULATION, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any TROUBLE [thlipsis — tribulation]” (2 Cor. 1:4). Jesus spoke of those who receive the word but do not become rooted and “when TRIBULATION or persecution ariseth” they give up (Mt. 13:21).

The same word that is translated “tribulation” in these references is translated “affliction” in the following references: Jesus said Christians would be delivered up “to be AFFLICTED” (Mt. 24:9) and that “AFFLICTION or persecution” would stumble some (Mk. 4:17). Christians were persecuted with “reproaches and AFFLICTIONS” (Heb. 10:33); they had “a great trial of AFFLICTION” (2 Cor. 8:2); and they “received the word in much AFFLICTION” (1 Thess. 1:6). But they were exhorted that “no man should be moved by these AFFLICTIONS: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thess. 3:3). Such “AFFLICTION” is light compared with the eternal glory that shall be ours (2 Cor. 4:17).

“Out of much AFFLICTION and anguish of heart”, said Paul, “I wrote unto you with many tears” (2 Cor. 2:4), “approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in AFFLICTIONS” (2 Cor. 6:4), in “bonds and AFFLICTIONS” (Acts 20:23), “AFFLICTIONS of Christ… for his body’s sake” (Col. 1:24), and “we were comforted over you in all our AFFLICTIONS” (1 Thess. 3:7; see also Phil.
1:16; 4:14).

Thlipsis is translated “trouble” in 2 Cor.1:8: “. . . TROUBLE [tribulation] which came to us in Asia… insomuch that we despaired even of life.” The same word is translated “persecution” in Acts 11:19: “. . . the PERSECUTION [tribulation] that arose about Steven.” This persecution is referred to as “great” in Acts 8:1; that is, great tribulation.

To the church at Smyrna, Jesus spoke of their “works, and TRIBULATION, and poverty” and instructed them, “fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer… ye shall have TRIBULATION ten days” (Rev. 2:9, 10).

John, writing to the churches, referred to himself as “your brother and companion in TRIBULATION” (Rev. 1:9). Later he was shown a vision of the redeemed — multitudes that no man would number, out of all nations. These are described as “they which came out of great TRIBULATION” (Rev. 7:14).

Some have pointed out that the Greek text has “the” in front of the words “great tribulation” in this verse — “THE great tribulation.” But this does not prove that a seven year period at the end of the age is meant, for the Greek also has “the” in Revelation 1:9: “I John, your brother, and partaker with you in THE tribulation.”

John was suffering tribulation back in the first century — THE tribulation — and the whole gospel era has been marked with tribulation for Christians in one place or another, in one way or another. The use of the article designates the type of tribulation that is meant — it was tribulation against Christians.

Since the word “great” can be understood extensively as well as intensively, it is quite arbitrary to insist that it must refer only to a period of time at the end of the age.

When John saw the vision of the “great multitude, which no man could number”, he was told that these came out of the great tribulation, or, as some translate it, they came through great tribulation. It does not say they came out BEFORE the tribulation. Nor do dispensationalists understand it as such. The dispensational position is that these are “tribulation saints” that will be converted after the church has been raptured! But to apply these things to a brief period of seven years (or three and a half years, as some say) makes more problems than it solves. How could such a vast multitude be converted — in such a brief period — when the church, according to the theory, will be raptured before this time? Will people who miss the “rapture” win more souls than the faithful and obedient who were ready for the rapture had won?

Certainly Revelation 7:14 can add no weight to the dispensational teachings.

The word translated “tribulation” is used in the following seven verses which do not bear directly on our present study, but which are included for the sake of completeness. Thlipsis is translated “burdened” (2 Cor. 8:13), “affliction” (James 1:27; Acts 7:10, 11), “trouble” (1 Cor. 7:28), “anguish” (John 16:21) and “tribulation” (Rev. 2:22). The last verse is a reference to judgment upon certain ones in the church at Thyatira who were seduced by the prophetess “Jezebel”: “Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent.” The next verse implies that such would serve as a warning to the other churches: “. . . and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts” (verse 23) which shows the church would still be here to observe her chastisement. This is not used to support the pre-tribulation rapture teaching.

TRIBULATION UPON THE WICKED (2 references)

In referring to “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God”, the Bible says that God will “render to every man according to his deeds… unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth… wrath, TRIBULATION and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Rom. 2:5- 9). There is nothing here to indicate a seven year period of time. The reference is to the wrath of God at the end of the age.

“It is a righteous thing with God to recompense TRIBULATION to them that trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6). But to what does this refer? We continue reading: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God” (verse 7). Again, this “tribulation” or “vengeance” that will fall upon the wicked will be in that day when Christ is revealed in flaming fire. There is no idea of a seven year tribulation “period” expressed here. It will be “sudden destruction” (1 Thess. 5:3).

Having now looked at every reference in which the word thlipsis (tribulation) is used, there are certain conclusions that are apparent. The word appears a total of 45 times. Four references are to tribulation that came upon the Jews, Judea, and Jerusalem — a prophecy which was fulfilled in the first century.

Seven references use the term in a variety of ways, none of which have any bearing on our present study. Of the remaining 34 references, all but 2 refer to tribulation upon believers because of their stand for Christ! In these 32 references, not one of them is speaking of a future period of time, but of tribulation in general. The remaining two references are linked with the “sudden destruction” that will fall upon the wicked when Christ shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire! Neither of these passages specify a period of time, but refer to an EVENT!

We have now looked at all of the references to the word that is translated “tribulation” in Matthew 24. If the scriptures teach a tribulation of seven years at the end of the age — and a secret rapture to escape that tribulation — doesn’t it seem strange that none of these verses say anything about it?

Dispensational writers commonly argue that the church will be raptured to heaven before what they call “the tribulation period” because God has not appointed Christians to wrath. After speaking of the tribulation as a seven year period of time, one writer states: “The church of Jesus Christ HAS NEVER BEEN DESTINED TO SUFFER the pangs of the Tribulation Period… Scripture: ‘For GOD HATH NOT APPOINTED US (who are BORN AGAIN) TO WRATH (1 Thess. 5:9)’.”1 But what “wrath” is 1 Thess. 5:9 talking about? Notice the context.

As we have seen earlier, the Lord will descend from heaven, believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and “sudden destruction” will fall upon the wicked “and they shall not escape.” It is concerning this wrath — not a seven year tribulation period — that the scripture goes on to say: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

Paul said that we are not appointed to wrath, but only a few verses before he did say Christians are appointed to TRIBULATION! “No man should be moved by these afflictions [thlipsis — tribulations]: FOR yourselves know that we are APPOINTED thereunto. FOR verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer TRIBULATION” (1 Thess. 3:3, 4). We are not appointed to wrath, but we are appointed to tribulation for the cause of Christ.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he spoke of Jesus who has “delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Was he speaking of deliverance from a seven year tribulation period? John asked the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7). No one takes this to mean a seven year tribulation period. Paul said that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). Unbelievers are spoken of as “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). “The wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience” (Col. 3:6). “The wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). None of these verses are taken to refer to a dispensational type tribulation period at the end of the age.

In view of these things, why take 1 Thess. 5:9, “God hath not appointed us to wrath” as a reference to a seven year tribulation period and then, upon this assumption, use it as a proof for an extra coming of Christ to rapture the church before this supposed tribulation?

Are we then saying there will be no tribulation period at the end of the age? All through the centuries there have been times of tribulation against Christians — to one degree or another. We have no guarantee that the last days will be any exception to this. But we do not believe there will be the type of tribulation that is commonly given in the dispensational interpretation. The Bible teaches that at the time of the Second Coming, the end of the age, people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, planting and building, buying and selling (Lk. 17:26-30). According to this description, things will be continuing in what will be considered a normal, routine pattern. People will be saying, “Peace and safety” (1 Thess. 5:3).

But if “all hell will break lose” upon the earth in the way some have proclaimed, surely after undergoing this for seven years, people would not be saying, “Peace and safety.” Or if we force a literal interpretation upon Revelation 4-19 and teach that these things will all occur in this brief period of time — surely the idea of peace and safety would be completely out of place. And if the literal sun and the literal moon will be darkened just prior to the Second Coming, would people still be marrying and giving in marriage, planting and building, buying and selling? Would the condition of things be normal?

Writing a number of years ago, Guinness has well said: “If such signs as are imagined by some were to precede the advent, the state of society predicted in these passages could not by any possibility exist. If monstrous, unheard of, supernatural, portentous events were to transpire, would they not be telegraphed the same day all over a startled world, and produce such a sense of alarm and expectation that buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage, would all be arrested together, and ‘peace and safety’ would be far from anyone’s lips?”

Since, according to the Bible, at the time of the Second Coming, people will be doing the routine things — eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, planting and building, buying and selling — we conclude that there will not be the type of tribulation that some have envisioned during the last years of this age. But regardless of how things may go, the important thing is to watch and be ready at all times, “looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

 

By Ralph Woodrow