Good morning dear reader, and welcome back for another thrill-packed stop on our tour of the Olivet Discourse! If you read the several posts I wrote recently about Biblical interpretation, then you have probably realized by now that I am practicing what I preached in those posts (and podcasts come to think of it). I have checked the old presuppositions of commentators at the door, and gone looking for context. Finding the context of Matthew 24 and 25, I then went looking for the internal structure to ascertain how many questions Jesus answered, and then respected the overall context and the internal context established by Matthew and Jesus. By doing that, we saw that in 24:29-33, Jesus was simply telling us that God would execute His righteous and just judgment on Jerusalem, and in this discovery the highly complex became very simple.
OK, I’ll admit that it took a little work to get there, but now the hard part is over.If you can keep going with me, you will soon discover that this is an amazing and awesome text.
Let’s move on to the preceding section, Matthew 24:15-28. In this section, Jesus tells the disciples what the people of God will need to know when Jerusalem is besieged in the period leading up to 70 AD. Verses 15-16 give a sign of warning to the people regarding the time to flee the region, giving a reference to Daniel’s prophecy; that will be discussed below. When this sign appears, the people in Judea are to flee to the mountains, and along this route, they can travel through the back country all of the way to Lebanon behind the Roman advance to safety. Verses 17-20 underscore the need for haste in their flight from the region. It is important to note that He said “in Judea” and not in Jerusalem which is the capital of Judea. This is because by the time they see the sign he referred to, it will be too late for Jerusalem, as we shall see. Verses 21 and 22 detail just how horrible the coming siege will be, and gives the believers the hope that the horror will be cut short so that they may be able to escape destruction. In verses 22-25, Jesus warns the believers not to be fooled by rumors, and urges them to stick with what He is telling them, ending with the note that they will be spared from Jerusalem’s doom. In verse 25, He reinforces the thought that He is giving them advance warning of the situation.
“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.
This is the sign for those Christians who are trapped within the city: “the days will be shortened.” This was crucial for their survival once the siege began and history records that they understood it. When the days were shortened during the siege, the Christians were to listen to no rumors and get themselves out of the city… no matter what anybody says. “See, I’ve told you ahead of time.”
Our text ends with a curious section from 26-28, where Jesus warns that some will be fooled into thinking that the destruction of Jerusalem is the end of the world and the time of his coming. This is clearly not the case, and the believers mustn’t be fooled, for when He does come, it will not be in secret!
The sign in our text is “the abomination that causes desolation,” and is used by Daniel in describing military attacks on Jerusalem in chapters 9, 11 and 12. To a Jew, “abomination” would be something that defiles something that is holy. A Gentile army surrounding the Holy City would be a possibility. “Desolation” means emptiness, so what we are looking for is a gross defilement that results in emptiness.
Looking to the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Luke, we find the answer
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
By comparing Matthew 24 to Luke 21, we see that the sign they were to look for was when a Gentile army surrounded the Holy City of Jerusalem, and this happened in 66 AD. A question may arise as to why Matthew refers to Daniel, and Luke does not. Remember that Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel written for the Jews, and Luke’s was the one written for the Greeks. Frequently, Matthew refers back to prophecies that arte fulfilled, while Luke just spells out what happened. This is because the Jews were aware of the prophets, and by reminding them of the prophecies that are fulfilled, Matthew is lending credibility to Jesus’ Messianic claim. Luke’s audience is largely ignorant of Jewish tradition, and such comparisons would be of little value to those readers; Luke spells things out that Matthew relates to Scripture.
Thus, we come to see that what Jesus is giving as a signal to flee the area is the Roman siege at Jerusalem; those outside the city are to flee immediately, and those within the city will have to wait for another sign for deliverance… This signal comes in verse 22: those days will be cut short!
This whole situation is very easy to see in the secular history of this period, for it happened just as Jesus said that it would. This afternoon, at 2 pm Eastern Time, I’ll post a Bonus Post on the History of the Siege of Jerusalem, and I hope you’ll stop by and give it a read… it’s not long, and the sources are linked if you would like to investigate further. Our next post on this will be at 11:30 am Eastern and in it we’ll cover the verses all the way back to the question in verse 3, and then go back through the entire text to verse 34 and see how it all fits together. See you then!