In the Fulness of Time/Part 138
|By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2011|
|Having spoken of the beginning birth pangs which will involve the first half of the 70th “week” for Israel, the Lord then continued by explaining the climactic event which is to divide the seven years, namely, the “abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet” in Daniel 9:27.|
- 1 The Middle of the 70th “Week:” Abomination of Desolation. Matthew 24:15
- 2 The Second Half of the 70th “Week:” Great Tribulation. Matthew 24:16-28
The Middle of the 70th “Week:” Abomination of Desolation. Matthew 24:15
- Mt. 24:15 “When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand),…”
Having spoken of the beginning birth pangs which will involve the first half of the 70th “week” for Israel, the Lord then continued by explaining the climactic event which is to divide the seven years, namely, the “abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet” in Daniel 9:27. This wicked “prince that shall come” is also called the “Antichrist” (1 John 2:18), “the man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) and “the beast” (Revelation 13:4). According to Daniel 9:27 this Antichrist makes a firm “covenant” with Israel for “one week,” or seven years, but “in the midst of the week” (or three and a half years) “he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even unto the consummation.”
Whatever this abomination of desolation consists of, it is placed “in the holy place.” It could be an image of the beast (Revelation 13:14) or some sacrifice associated with the idolatry of ungodly paganism. In any event, it is to be understood as a sign for the Jews so they might escape the awful tribulation of those days.
The Second Half of the 70th “Week:” Great Tribulation. Matthew 24:16-28
The Urgency of Evacuation. Mt. 24:16-20
- Mt. 24:16-20 “Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains: Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe to those who are with child, and to those who nurse children in those days! But pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.”
Whatever it is of the abomination that comes to stand in the holy place, it is to be understood as a sign for the Jews to evacuate Judea. They are specifically told to go to the mountains (Revelation 12:6, 14), and that Israel (under the symbol of the woman whose male-child is to rule all nations with a rod of iron) would flee into the “wilderness” to a “place prepared by God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days” which is 1,260 days, or three and a half solar years. In Revelation 12:14, Israel is to be “nourished for a time, and times, and half a time from the face of the serpent.” This same designation for three and a half years is used in Daniel 7:25 for the time that the saints are to be given into the hands of the Antichrist in his attempt to wear them out.
The actual place of refuge was prophesied in Micah 2:12, as noted by Fruchtenbaum: “The remnant is gathered together as the sheep of Bozrah. Since the sheep of Bozrah are not any different than other sheep, this gathering as the sheep of Bozrah simply means that they are to be gathered in Bozrah” (Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Footsteps of Messiah. San Antonio: Ariel Press, 1982, p. 203). Later he added: “Since the main purpose of the Campaign of Armageddon is the annihilation of the Jews, the armies of the world will move southward from Jerusalem to Bozrah, as Jeremiah 49:13-14 makes clear” (p. 232).
Bozrah is in the mountains which are a part of the wilderness of Edom, and it is near the rock city of Petra in present-day southern Jordan. It will be an excellent place for refuge from the Antichrist for the Jews who flee Judea. The assurance that Jehovah will nourish them there (Revelation 12:14) will give further security concerning their preservation through the latter half of the Tribulation period.
Christ then made further arguments for the urgency of evacuation at that time. The man on the flat roof will not even have time to come down to retrieve any possessions (verse 17). The man in the field will not be able to return for his clothes (verse 18). The pregnant women and nursing mothers will have a difficult time because of their physical condition or responsibilities with young babies (verse 19). Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the horrendous slaughter of women with child by the Assyrians, or the time of His own human birth, when Herod the Great ordered the massacre of babies so that Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus from death.
It might seem a little odd that the Lord would mention the danger of fleeing from the land of Israel in the winter (verse 20), but as Fruchtenbaum mentions: “Most of the escape routes will force them to use wadis, which are dry water beds which only fill up with flash floods when it rains during the winter months…. Every year in Israel people are drowned because they are caught in these dry river beds during a flash flood (Ibid., p. 178).
Fleeing on the Sabbath would be especially difficult since the Jews restricted travel to “a Sabbath day’s journey” (Acts 1:12) which was less than half a mile. This was not in the Law of Moses, but was a rabbinical tradition, based on Exodus 16:29 and the size of a Levitical city in Numbers 15:4-5. Even in modern-day Israel this is observed to the extent that transportation for public use is stopped on the Sabbath. A sudden evacuation on the Sabbath would be difficult at best and almost unthinkable at worst!
The Severity of Tribulation. Mt. 24:21-22
- Mt. 24:21-22 “For then shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, 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.”
The exact time for the beginning of this “great tribulation” was given in verse 15, namely, when the Antichrist set up the “abomination of desolation” in the holy place at the middle of the 70th week, according to Daniel 9:27, which is three and a half years as designated in Daniel 7:25. The tribulation will be so severe that an evacuation of those in Judea to the wilderness will be urged (verses 16-20). The severity of trouble will be the greatest the world (kosmos) has ever seen or ever will see. Those who relegate this to the Fall of Jerusalem (66-70 AD) when over a million Jews were slain, or to the Nazi holocaust of six million Jews, or the Russian holocaust of nearly 20 million Jews, do not take into consideration that the statement of Jesus anticipated the fulfillment of Revelation 6:8 when one fourth of the earth’s population will be slaughtered, not to mention the devastation prophesied in Zechariah 12:2, 13:8; 14:1-2. The events of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD will pale in comparison!
Some have imagined a problem with the statement that “those days shall be shortened.” This may seem to contradict the definite number of 1,260 days, or three and a half years prophesied for this time of tribulation; but if two basic things are remembered, there will be no reason for discrepancy or contradiction. First, the meaning of the word kolobo-o is: “to cut off” (Thayer, J. H. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: American Book Company. 1886, p. 353). Second, the form in which it occurs; both usages in Mark 13:20, “And except 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,” as well as the first of the two occurrences in Matthew 24:22: “And except those days should be shortened,” are “all in the aorist tense and indicative mood with the augment. That form is used to express past time” (Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927, p. 193). Back before time, in the decree of God, it was determined that the time limit of the great tribulation would be three and a half years, otherwise the enemies of Israel would not have stopped until every last Jew had been annihilated, but “for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened” that is, “cut off” before they exceed their allotted time limit which was determined in the decree of God.
The context implies, indeed, demands, that the elektous, elect, refers to those chosen Jews, saved from death during those years of tribulation. The nation Israel is called God’s elect in Isaiah 45:4 and in other places in Scripture, so it is not surprising if this faithful remnant is so designated here. Simply because the members of the Body of Christ are also His elect (Colossians 3:12) is no reason why the Church should be brought into this context dealing with Israel. (As a matter of fact, the same word, elektous, is used of Christ in 1 Peter 2:6 and of the elect angels in 1 Timothy 5:21. Thus, the context must be determinative each case.)
The Subtlety of Deception. Mt. 24:23-26
- Mt. 24:23-26 “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore, if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert, go not forth; behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not.”
Throughout the three years of the Tribulation period, false Messiahs (24:5) and false prophets (24:11) will use their satanic wiles to deceive many. This is why Christ said that He had already warned them (24:25). But as the second half of the period proceeds, this evil will become more intense. Following the evacuation of Judea, the false messengers of Satan will find it necessary to attempt to infiltrate those who have fled to the mountains. First, they will claim that Christ has already appeared, saying: “Lo, here is Christ, or there” (verse 23). In order to bolster such claims, they “shall show great signs (semeia) and wonders (terata),” two words that are used of Christ’s miracles in Acts 2:22; so that their counterfeit ministry “if possible” might deceive the very elect. Obviously this will fail, yet the attempt will be made.
Another subtle approach will be to claim that Christ is “in the desert,” and Christ’s instruction is “go not forth.” This indicates that these Judean refugees will be in such a sheltered refuge as would be afforded at Petra, the Rock City. If they go forth from that mountainous fortress, it would not be as difficult for the forces of Antichrist to crush them.
Still another group of deceivers will use the exact opposite approach, saying, “Behold, he is in the secret chambers.” McNeile made this comment: “Some might expect a Messiah, who, like other revolutionary leaders, proclaimed himself openly; others a Messiah Who was preparing for His revolution in secret, known only to a few” (McNeile, Alan. The Gospel According to Matthew, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980. p. 351). These subterfuges are not to be believed, Christ warned, for they are all equally spurious.
The Visibility of His Invasion. Mt. 24:27-28
- Mt. 24:27-28 “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
Two words have been used to distinguish the aspects of Christ’s second advent: The Translation (the Rapture, when He comes in the air for the Church saints) and the Invasion (when He comes back to the earth with His saints). It is the Invasion which will be characterized by Visibility. Jesus uses lightning to emphasize that, in contrast to the false prophecies of Messiahs, there will be no mistaking the return of Messiah to earth. As lightning, it will be visible from east to west; as lightning “shineth,” it will be bright, with nothing secret about it. As lightning, it will be “with power and great glory” (verse 30).
The final sentence in this paragraph is admittedly puzzling. Taken literally, it means that wherever dead bodies are, there the aetoi (either eagles or vultures) will descend upon them. From a physical point of view, the vast carnage will result in this very thing. Symbolically, it can be related to the parallel passage in Luke 17:37 when the disciples asked: “Where, Lord,” in regard to the separation of believers from unbelievers at that time. He answered: “Wherever the body is, there will the eagles (aetoi) be gathered together.” This means that these two similar statements refer to the judgment to come upon unbelievers, who are not prepared to meet Him. “In the fulness of time” they will be judged as swiftly and as surely as vultures pounce upon dead bodies!