Reading Time: 7 Minutes
Once again, an imaginary follower of Jesus will narrate the words of Jesus about the beginning of the end. The narrator continues the account that began in Matthew 24.3 when the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
I tried to absorb all that Jesus was saying about coming events. His warnings sounded horrific and like everyone else, I hung on his every word.
Jesus said, “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat” (Matthew 24.15-18).
I physically shuddered when I heard the words, “desolating sacrilege.” Everyone knew the history of both Daniel’s prophecy and the time when Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem and slaughtered pigs on the altar. Even though this was nearly 200 years ago, every child knew the story all too well.
Now that I am old and looking back on what has happened to our country, I think I understand what Jesus meant when he spoke of the “desolating sacrilege.” First, I thought it may have been when the Zealots occupied the Temple and fought with the followers of John Gischala, who controlled the 33 acres outside of the Temple itself.
I still can’t believe that while fighting our common enemy, Rome, we were so divided that these two groups decided to turn on each other. I know Rome was preoccupied with their own civil war during that time, but really. Why did we have to have a civil war of our own?
I am glad that I took this small civil war as Jesus’ warning. It may or may not have been the “desolating sacrilege,” but I managed to escape the siege. I literally left, along with several other friends, with only what I could carry. Even with that, I wondered if I had delayed too long.
Jesus talked about how difficult it would be to flee from danger and said, “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath” (Matthew 24.19-20).
He was so right about how hard our flight from Jerusalem would be. We did have pregnant women and young mothers with us. The rushed retreat from Jerusalem was hard on everyone, but particularly hard on them.
When the Romans ended their civil war, they came back to Israel with a vengeance. I heard stories from people who stayed in Jerusalem during the five month siege of what they went through. I don’t think words can describe the horror of their experiences.
Once again, Jesus gave us a glimpse of what would happen on that day, when he talked to us on the Mount of Olives. He said, “For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24.21).
I believe that it was the presence of Jesus’ followers that caused God to have mercy on the city. I remember Jesus saying, “And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24.22).
From the time of the late 50s until our city was destroyed in AD 70, our nation was more divided than at any other time in my life. One false leader after another kept popping up and gaining a following.
I remember one claiming to be able to part the Jordan River. Another said he was the leader to follow, because he had discovered the sacred vessels of Moses. All these men accomplished was to further divide and confuse the people.
I am so glad that Jesus warned us in advance of what was to take place. He told us, “Then 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 produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24.23-26).
Jesus made it clear to all of us that no one would have to prop up his coming with clever words. His coming would be as real as a flash of lightning. He said, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24.27).
I did wonder what he meant when he said, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matthew 24.28). When he said this, was he referring to the ability of a vulture to see in the distance? Were his words a way of telling us that we could see coming events and be able respond accordingly?
Or, was he referring to his coming, that it would be as obvious as all of the dead bodies in Jerusalem after the siege by Rome? I really don’t know.
I have approached Matthew 24.15-28 as a message about the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This is the way that R. T. France has interpreted these verses in his commentary on Matthew.
A good place to begin our understanding of this passage is with the destruction of the Temple. However, I also think there is an application to our day. Here are some applications to consider.
(1) God permits his disciples to go through suffering along with the general public. How Christians respond to suffering, war and persecution is a powerful witness to the reality of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
(2) We need to beware of false leaders, who compete for followers and divide the people of God. They customarily prey on our fears and make promises to fulfill our hopes. However, Jesus tells us we can determine if they are authentic or not. He said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7.16).
(3) The good news of Jesus is of the highest importance. Jesus said, “And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come” (Matthew 24.14).
A criminal who about to be executed in England told the minster who was trying to convert him, “If I believed what you are telling me, I would crawl all over England on my hands and knees if necessary to tell people about Jesus.”
If we really believe what we say about Jesus, we will do everything in our power to help people experience God’s love, grace, forgiveness and new life. This will be our priority.
(4) We are 2000 years closer to the return of Jesus than when Jesus spoke these words on the Mount of Olives. The next section of Matthew will address his second coming.
Dear Jesus, thank you for warning your church about the coming events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem. As we generate thoughts of your second coming, please help us to make sharing the good news of your love with other people our major desire.