In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:15-22.
In today’s passage, we come to one of the more debated sections of Matthew 24. Jesus speaks of a prophecy in Daniel concerning the “abomination of desolation” and warns of a “great tribulation” or “great distress”, depending on your translation. Some believe this points forward to the Anti-Christ and the wrath of God poured out on the world.
But we find several clues in scripture that indicate these verses speak more of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
One of the first places to look is the parallel account in Luke 21:20-24. In Luke, we read slightly different words from Jesus, and what are we to make of that? Does that mean a contradiction in the writings? No, it’s better to think about it in the way we perceive things.
Two people can go to the same baseball game. One might sit in the left field stands and the other behind home plate. They watch the same event from different perspectives. When they tell others about the game, they might share different details or highlight different big plays, all depending on their vantage point and audience. Yet, assuming they both shared accurately, what they each individually said is true and a piece of the whole. That’s how the different gospels work–they were written by four different men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), each led by the same Holy Spirit but in different times, different places, and for different audiences.
So, reading Matthew and Luke together give us a more complete picture of Jesus’ words. Luke doesn’t mention Jesus’ reference to Daniel, but he does record Jesus saying, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near.” Then he gives the same advice to flee to the mountains and country side. And he describes the time not only as a period of distress but “wrath against this people.” Finally, he speaks of Jerusalem being overwhelmed by “gentiles” (non-Jews) “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Historically, leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the violent and volatile political group called the Zealots fought to control Jerusalem and led a rebellion against Rome, killing many in a refusal to pay taxes. Rome responded by sending troops and besieging the city. During this time, the Zealots burned many of their own supplies hoping to motivate others to join the fight, but ended up causing the death of many from a lack of food. Titus, sent by his father–the emperor Vespasian, led the assault that captured the city, destroyed the temple, and left Jerusalem in ruins. Many who had not fled were killed.
In this case, the battle was the “great distress”, Titus was the “abomination of desolation” whose armies left the city in ruins, and Jerusalem has had populations consisting of many gentiles ever since.
Elsewhere, the Bible still says plenty about antichrists and “the antichrist.” The Bible also says much about the distress and tribulation that many followers of Jesus have faced and will face throughout history. Jesus will speak of his return further in Matthew 24, but we must remember that part of his answer was in response to the question by the disciples about when the destruction of the temple would take place (23:37-24:3).
So, these words of Jesus in Matthew 24:15-22 remind us to look backward to fuel faith in what lies ahead. Jesus’ words that proved true with the events of 70AD will also prove true when he returns, just as he promised.
All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/17/not-yet-the-end-the-last-days-part-2/