The Abomination of Desolation and The Great Tribulation (Matthew 24: 15-28)

I am blessed to do ministry in a context of loving brethren. I do step on their toes from time to time, but they are loving and gracious to me in our disagreements.

For a long time now I have been working through the book of Matthew and sharing some of my devotional thoughts via my personal Facebook page.

I recently got to Matthew 24, a very disputed text in Scripture among Christians. My first comments on verses 1-15 seemed to spark interest. That made me want to perhaps elaborate on this chapter in more detail, which seemed to be more appropriate for a blog setting rather than a very long, extended, Facebook status.

Thus, these are my relatively brief thoughts on Matthew 24: 15-28, The Abomination of Desolation.

Context

To establish the context, I maintain and continue to maintain that Matthew 24 is a prophetic chapter, but Jesus was prophesying an event in His future, but is now in our past. Meaning Jesus is speaking in these verses of things that have already happened.

Many in the church interpret Matthew 24 as a prophesy of the end of the space time continuum. I see it as the end of the Jewish eon.

I maintain that Jesus is prophesying the events in 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed (and to this day not rebuilt) and Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome.

My primary argument for this so far in my studies is the time texts and audience of the chapter. In verses 1-2, while leaving the Temple, Jesus prophesies the destruction of that Temple. That sets the stage.

Then in verse 3 the disciples ask for further information, asking “when will these things be?” Thus, the disciples continue the context of the Temples destruction by referring back to what Jesus said about the Temple being destroyed. The disciples here link then, “the signs of  [Jesus’] coming and the end of the age” together. To me, this is the foundation for the rest of the chapter. These things are the destruction of the Temple which is joined together with the end of the age.

Jesus does not ignore their request and instead jump to a distant future they will be long gone for. He first tells them, by using the second person you, that they will personally experience the signs signifying the end; namely, false Christs, rumors of war, famines, earthquakes (4-8). The apostles could not have been around for these things if they still have yet to happen.

Again in verses 9-13 Jesus tells the apostles that further signs of the end of the age will be the apostles being persecuted and martyred. The end that Jesus is speaking of is something that the apostles will and did experience.

Lastly, Jesus said the Gospel would go out to all nations, Many say this has not happened since so many people groups in our day and age are unreached, but Scripture must interpret Scripture. And Paul says that in his very day the Gospel was preached to “every creature” (Colossians 1:23). To take Jesus’ words to mean there must be a day when literally every individual person was reached would turn Paul into a liar.

Contextually, Jesus is speaking to a specific people, about a specific Temple, in regards to events they would experience. I maintain then that Matthew 24: 1-14 is not a prophesy of something to happen in my future, but happened in Jesus’ future when He said it, but is now in my past.

Who is Jesus Talking To?

That which needs to be addressed as I continue through Matthew is whether at any moment in this chapter Jesus makes a shift from the present audience to a future audience. I do not believe that happens in verse 15-28.

The next sign of the end of the age would be “the Abomination of Desolation” which I will elaborate on later. I first want to demonstrate why I believe this chapter to still be dealing with events in my generation’s past. Once this abomination of desolation is fulfilled from Daniel, Jesus commands,

“16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.”

Whatever Jesus is talking about in terms of the abomination would happen to the people hearing Him, not a future generation. Notice how the specific people in the specific region of Judea are told to flee to a specific set of  mountains (16). People still have flat roofs and spend time on them (17), notice how the rigid travel restrictions of the Sabbath laws are still being observed (20). This is clearly something to happen to this particular Jewish people in the 1st century.

Luke To the Rescue

Another great text to help place this in history rather than in the future is how the inspired author Luke describes the beginning of the great tribulation. Luke 21: 20-24,

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

The city of Jerusalem would first be surrounded and then destroyed by Gentiles. In 70 AD, the city was surrounded by Rome prior to the Gentile army destroying it.

The Great Tribulation Part I

Now, why are these people supposed to flee so frantically and quickly, regardless of their circumstances, laws, or weather?

“21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

They are to flee because of the great tribulation that is to follow. This is the concept that many attribute to some end-time tribulation. There are many contextual problems with this though.

First, if this is a cataclysmic end time tribulation, why would fleeing to the mountains help (16-18)? Are we supposed to believe that when Jesus returns we can all flee to our cabins in the woods and escape His judgment? This is clearly a local judgment, one in which running away is sufficient enough to avoid enduring it. This is further demonstrated by Jesus’ fear that this day of judgment would take place on a Sabbath (20). This would mean travelers would be breaking the Sabbath by their laborious commute. This would not make sense related to Jesus returning to judge the world.

Second, why would it be worse for pregnant or nursing women (19)? Contextually, this makes sense since it would be quite hard to flee a city without warning, and begin a long hiking trip in the wilderness, all the while pregnant or taking care of young babes. However, if this is simply the judgment of Christ, why would being pregnant make it worse? Does Jesus judge pregnant women with more wrath? Is Jesus angered by nursing women?

Third, related to that, why would would it be worse in the winter (20)? If Jesus returns in the summer, will that make His final judgment more tolerable? Clearly, Jesus is reminding us of the obvious, that to take an impromptu hiking trip is bad enough, let alone when it is freezing outside.

Whatever this tribulation is, it happened to the 1st century Jews, in Judea.

For the Sake of the Elect

Jesus Himself explicitly tells us this event would not be some final event or even be anywhere near the final judgment of His coming, for the days will be cut short for the elect’s sake.

“22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”

The Great Tribulation part II

One question that needs to be answered now is the necessary question of what was the momentous event called the great tribulation? I maintain with others in my particular eschatological convictions that it was the destruction of the Temple, the fall of Jerusalem in 70  AD. This fits all accounts.

First, this would have happened in Judea, to the generation Jesus is speaking of.

It also involves the Temple, which Jesus began the chapter talking about, and is the location of the abomination of desolation.

Lastly, it would have put an end to the Jewish age completely as the Temple was now gone.

The severity of the judgment is understandably a great concern for those who differ with me. Jesus says that this tribulation will be “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

How does one attribute that radical, intense description to an event that few people even remember?

Was the destruction of the Jews really worse than the holocaust, or the flood?

Before explaining it, notice how this verse still does not support the idea that the tribulation here is the end of all things. Notice that Jesus says “no, and never will be.” Jesus recognizes there will be tribulations and struggles after the great one.

To the point, there are two potential ways to read this:

1) Yes, it in fact, is worse.

The fall of the Jews in 70 AD certainly does not get a lot of attention in public schools. It did not have as much of a global impact as things like the holocaust, the flood, or other dictatorial rules. However, when one looks into the events surrounding Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem, it was horrific. It is hard to even hear about what was going on.

From the siege of the city all the way to the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish judgment was terrible. Most of information we have come from the very reliable Jewish historian Josephus.

Dr. Gary Demar in his book Last Days Madness and J. Marcellus Kik in his book An Eschatalogy of Victory outline much of Josephus’ accounts of this time. One well known woman was so hungry, she boiled alive her young baby and ate it. She even saved parts of her dismembered and cannibalized baby and offered it to Jewish soldiers who found her because they could smell what was going on from afar. This is just one small story of an entire event where people warring against each other were starved, killing each other, and being slaughtered by Rome. Bodies were being piled up and thrown over walls to lie in the streets. It was a horrific judgment.

In light of how violent and awful it was, it makes sense why Jesus, in Luke’s account, is recorded as saying, “But turning to [the Jews] Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children (23: 28).'”

2) Jesus Was Speaking in Hyperbole

One option is to believe that the fall of Rome was worse than any judgment we have or will experience before the final day. However, another option is to interpret Jesus non-literally, in hyperbolic fashion.

Before anyone throws up their hands and rolls their eyes, first read Ezekiel 5: 5-9,

“5 Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. 6 And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes. 7 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not[a] even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, 8 therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments[b] in your midst in the sight of the nations. 9 And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again.”

God spoke of a past judgment on Jerusalem as being so bad, it is something he would never do again. Thus, Jesus in Matthew and YHWH in Ezekiel cannot both be literal at the same time. One of them has to be hyperbolic, or both. Thus, it is not a cop-out interpretation to not take Jesus literally in Matthew 24, but to instead believe He is utilizing common Hebrew hyperbole.

Either way, there are consistent, textual ways to understand the severity of the great tribulation without assigning it to the final judgment.

The Abomination of Desolation

What then is the abomination of desolation? This has to be something or Solomon accompanying the Temple, as Jesus makes clear. This is why the futurist interpretation foresees the Temple being rebuilt.

However, there are a handful of possible theories which fit the literal time frame that Jesus establishes.

Some say it was the Zealouts, who were Jewish rebels known as the Zealouts did for a period of time overtake the Temple and used it as a garrison. The holy place became a place for murderous thugs to fight, kill, and plan their unbelieving rebellion. Others say it was the Jewish priests who continued the sacrifices after Jesus fulfilled them.

I prefer the interpretation that it was the Romans.

Both DeMar and Kik cite Josephus testifying that Pilate commissioned the Roman idols to be brought into the Temple to be worshipped. The abomination in the Temple was the worship of Roman idols in God’s house.

Not only would this have been a true abomination to the Jews under Roman siege, but it also fits perfectly well with Luke’s clear account that Rome was involved in great tribulation.

I am eager to continue working forward through this wonderful Gospel book.

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