The Great Tribulation

“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.

26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” – Matthew 24:15-28.

This is our Lord’s answer to the first question, relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of its inhabitants [Matt. 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-23; Luke 21:20-24].

Everyone read aloud in the ancient Mediterranean world. A regular attender at synagogue should know God’s word. It may relate to the specific phrase “the abomination of desolation” in Dan. 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. The word “desolation” meant sacrilege.

This was used in Dan. 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. It seems originally to refer to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 B.C. (cf. Dan. 8:9-14; I Mac. 1:54). Also in Dan. 7:7-8 it related to the Antichrist of the end-time (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4). Luke 21:20 helps us interpret this as possibly the coming of Titus’ army in A.D. 70. It cannot refer to the siege of Jerusalem itself because it would be too late for believers to escape.

This is an example of a phrase being used in several different but related senses. This is called multiple fulfillment prophecy. Often it is difficult to interpret until after the events occur. Then looking back, the typology is obvious.

“let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (v.16) — Eusebius, an early church historian (4th century A.D.), informs us that the Christian community fled to the city of Pella in Perea when the Roman army appeared and began to surround Jerusalem.

“who is on the housetop not go down” (v.17) — The houses had flat roofs. They were used as the place of social gathering in the hot months. It has been said that one could walk across Jerusalem on the roofs of houses. Apparently some houses were built next to the city’s wall. When the army was seen, immediate flight was necessary.

“not go back to get his clothes” (v.18) — This referred to one’s outer cloak which was used as sleeping gear. They were to flee immediately and not go back even for what was perceived as necessities of life.

“woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies” (v.19; see Mark13:17) — This referred to the destruction of Jerusalem only! These disciples’ questions to Jesus related to three separate issues: the destruction of Jerusalem, His Second Coming, and the end of the age. The problem is that these questions were dealt with at the same time. There is no easy verse division by topic.

“pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (v.20) — This phrase was related to the difficulties of pregnant women fleeing quickly. This is not a warning to today’s women not to be pregnant at the Second Coming. Matthew, written to Jews, adds the phrase “or on the Sabbath” which is left out of Mark 13:18. Jewish believers would be reluctant to flee on a Sabbath.

“such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (v.21) — This is a Hebrew idiomatic phrase similar to many in the OT (cf. Exod. 10:14; 11:6; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; Joel 2:2).

“…for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (v.22) — If all the Christians fled, as Eusebius tells us they did, then this might be a reference to the Jewish people, the OT elect (God still has a purpose for national Israel cf. Romans 9-11). However because of the use of the term “elect” in vv.24 and 31, it seems to refer to believing Jews.

The true Messiah’s coming (vv.23,26) will not be secret or hidden. It will not be to a select group but visible to all (v.27). Biblically there is no “secret rapture.”

“if” (vv.23,26) — Denotes potential action.

“they will show great signs and wonders” (v.24) — These false christs will perform miracles (cf. Matt. 7:21-23). We should be careful of always identifying the miraculous with God (cf. Exod. 7:11-12,22; Deut. 13:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 13:13; 16:14; 20:20).

“For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (v.27; see Luke 17:24. Mark 13 does not have this phrase) — This implies a visible coming. The NT does not teach a secret rapture of believers (cf. Matt. 24:40-41). But it does reveal that believers dead and alive will meet the Lord in the air at His Second Coming (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

“For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (v.28) — This does not appear in Mark 13 but it does appear in Luke 17:37. It was a proverbial statement possibly from Job 39:30. If it was a cryptic reference to the end time battle of Psalm 2, then maybe the source is Ezek. 39:17-20. It may be a metaphor for end time persecution and death.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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