Two Questions; Two Comings (Part One) – Matthew 24:1-35

Thus, as Jesus warns in vv. 9-14, in the midst of these general events, there will be tribulations specific to the disciples (who would then be apostles) and the church—delivered up, arrested; put to death, martyred; hated by the nations, persecuted; also dealing with apostasy in the church; betrayal; false prophets; and many who fell away, as their love for Christ grew cold (cf. Rev. 2:4). Their experience of many of these tribulations are recorded in the book of Acts, and some of them are mentioned in the epistles. History shows us persecution by the Jews and persecution by Rome (the Roman Empire) provided regular tribulations for the early Christians, causing much turmoil in the church. Nero’s persecutions were particularly brutal. Indeed, he ordered Peter and Paul’s death around AD 66-67. By some accounts, six of the apostles were martyred prior to AD 70,[9] seven if you include James the brother of Jesus. It is also interesting to note the correspondence that these portents have with the first five seals in Rev. 6:2-9—false Christs,[10] wars, famine, death (including “pestilence” from Luke 21:11), and martyrdom.[11]

Yet despite general and personal temptations and tribulations, Jesus’ call is to faithfully endure, giving the promise of “the ultimate spiritual security,” to those who persevere “for as long as it takes.”[12] Resulting from such faithful perseverance of the apostles and the church, the gospel of Christ’s kingdom would be proclaimed to the whole world (v. 14).

Consider for a second, though. Was the gospel actually proclaimed to the whole world before AD 70? Some would argue no, pointing to the Western Hemisphere as an example. However, in the way the term “the whole world” is meant, similar to the term “the end of the earth” in Acts 1:8, the Bible answers “yes.” The Apostle Paul unquestionably reports that the gospel had been proclaimed to the whole world. In Rom. 10:18, written about AD 57, Paul affirms that the gospel has been proclaimed “to all the earth” and  “to the ends of the world.” Then in Col. 1:6, writing from prison in Rome around AD 62 (Acts 28), Paul speaks of the gospel, “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.” Then in v. 23 he speaks of “the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” Thus, fulfilling Matt. 24:14, and also the Lord’s task given to his apostles in Acts 1:8, the gospel had spread from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the whole world.

Jesus then, in vv. 15-28, reveals a sign that would signal to his followers that God’s judgment upon Israel, the destruction of the city and temple, was about to happen. It is the sign of the abomination of desolation. This sign would be something the Lord’s people in Judea would surely recognize, so they could then react by fleeing, hopefully to escape the great tribulation. This reference to the “abomination of desolation,” in v. 15, harkens back to the prophecy in Dan. 9:7, 11:31, and 12:11. Many scholars think, and it seems likely, that the prophesied event in Daniel occurred in 167 BC, with the profanation of the altar of burnt offering, in the temple of Jerusalem, by a representative of Antiochus IV, Epiphanes. You can read about it in 1st Macc. 1:54–59 and 6:7. Now, if that is the correct historical fulfillment of the Daniel prophecy, Jesus is then saying there will be another “abomination of desolation,” something the first atrocity foreshadowed. There are various suggestions as to what this might be.[13]

It is best not to be dogmatic about what event is the actual “abomination of desolation,” as several reasonable options are suggested by scholars. Jesus doesn’t spell it out. As it was, the Jewish War raged from AD 67-70. In June, 69, Vespasian marched upon Jerusalem, taking his Army up to its very walls. But he did not stay long, as he had his eyes on a bigger prize. In, July, the Roman Army crowned him emperor, so he left Judea for the civil war against his rival, emperor Vitellius. In Luke’s version of the discourse (21:20), Jesus expresses a way to know how to identify the sign of God’s judgment, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” So, the Christians were probably alerted by Vespasian’s armies to look for the abomination of desolation, based on Jesus’ Words.[14] Perhaps, as the Roman armies pulled back for a short time, that was when “those days were cut short,” for the sake of the elect (v. 22). Jerusalem got a short reprieve, while Vespasian passed the armies in Judea to his son Titus. But, in April, AD 70, Titus began “his final march to Jerusalem” to eventually surround and cut off the city.[15] Josephus, a Jewish historian who was there, records all sorts of profanations that happened within the temple at the time, including criminals entering the Holy of Holies, murders within the temple, and other desecrations.[16] Plainly, the temple was desolate, the Lord was gone, and what had been holy was desecrated by abominations—the abomination of desolation.