The Ancient Biblical Teaching of the Ages Part 3
Part 3 – Matthew 24: The Great Tribulation Fulfilled!
Matthew chapters 23-25 contain the only major prophecy delivered by Jesus. It is often misapplied to our generation – many people thinking that the things predicted (including a great tribulation etc) are going to happen either in our lifetime or in our future – however it is ignorance of history and shallow reading of the passage itself that leads to that belief. If we knew history, we would know that everything Jesus predicted has already happened. If we read the passage carefully, we would know that Jesus clearly said when it would happen (within one generation) who would see it (his disciples) and where it would happen (Judea). Let’s just have a look at Jesus prediction – section by section – and we will see how it says NOTHING about the day and age that we live in, nor about “the End of the world”, nor any of the “popular” images that people superimpose upon it. We will see – if we simply read it in context – that it is a prophecy of a time of trouble and tribulation which would come upon Judea (not the whole world), within the lifetime of the disciples who were listening (not our lifetime), at the hands of invading Roman armies (not the “Antichrist”), and it would result in the final end of the Temple in Jerusalem (not the end of planet earth), and this would be the end of the Old Covenant Age (not the end of the world). If THAT is what this prophecy of Jesus actually says, in its original context, (and, as we shall see, it is), then a whole lot of sermons, books, and badly made movies about the “End Times” should be taken to the nearest dumpster!
Jesus had a confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes – the religious rulers of his day, and he said to them:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate’” (ch 23:29-38)
Let that sink in. Jesus just told the religious leaders in the city of Jerusalem that they are opposing God, that they and their ancestors have always opposed God and even killed God’s prophets, that Jesus would send to them more prophets and wise men and they would kill them as well, and because of all of that, the blood of all the prophets and holy ones they had killed would be avenged in THAT GENERATION and that it would result in their Temple being “left desolate” – which is a reference to the prophet Daniel who wrote about a coming “abomination that will leave God’s Temple desolate” (see Daniel 11:31, 12:11). That all seems pretty clear. But, Jesus disciples are a bit shocked at what he has just said. To Jewish people of that time, the Temple in Jerusalem was the most sacred thing they could think of. So, the disciples of Jesus want to make sure they have understood him correctly, and so the account goes on …
“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (24:1-2)
They leave the Temple, walk down into the Kidron valley then up the other side to the Mount of Olives, and so are standing facing Jerusalem and the Temple, and there the disciples question Jesus again:
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Note: “when will these things be?” What things? The things just discussed – that judgment would come upon the religious leaders of Jerusalem within that generation and the Temple would be destroyed so completely that not one stone would be left upon another. That is what is clearly said. Lets not change the meaning. Here is how Jesus answered: There will be warning signs before this “End of the Age” event happens, false messiahs, false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes – “Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. (24:6-7)
What is so surprising about that? We have had all these things for generations. Yes, but Jesus wasn’t speaking to us – he was speaking to THEM – to his disciples and telling THEM that THEY would see these things, (not us). They lived during the Pax Romana when Rome had an enforced peace amongst the nations of the Empire. No one would dare to rebel against Rome. And the Jewish leaders were violent to self-proclaimed messiahs and prophets – no one would falsely claim to be one, it would be a death sentence. BUT, within the next 40 years, everything changed. Small nations began to rebel against Rome and break away, false prophets and messiahs began to arise in Jerusalem, and amidst the political and religious chaos that was happening, the leaders couldn’t contain it. And within that 40 year period, there was more seismic activity recorded in that Mediterranean region than had even been recorded. Then there was the terrible famines that began (due to the Jewish/Roman war) that left multitudes starving to death and some even turning to cannibalism – its all recorded in history.
All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (v8) – That is, the birth of a new Age.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (v9-13)
This “tribulation” was going to happen to the disciples of Jesus, and within their lifetime. THEY would be put to death (not us). Lawlessness increased in Judea at that time, but those who kept the faith until the “End” of that Age were to be the saved ones – those who heeded Jesus prophecy were saved from the siege.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (14)
That is, the END of the Age – yes, the gospel was preached throughout the known world before the end of the Age, one generation later, in AD 70 (if that seems far-fetched, then see Rom 1:8, 10:18, 16:25-26, Col 1:5-6, 23)
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of God’s chosen those days will be cut short. (v15-22)
This actually, historically, happened. The followers of Jesus, when they woke up one morning on their rooftops (as was the custom) and saw Jerusalem surrounded by Roman armies bearing the eagle banner, they knew that the Temple would be desecrated and the city destroyed, like Jesus had said, and so they fled to the city of Pella for safety – and they fled exactly as Jesus said. They didn’t go down from their roof tops to leave by the gate, because they would have been killed. No, they jumped from rooftop to rooftop until they reached the walls and then climbed down and fled.
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, 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. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather. (V23-28)
Once again the false messiahs are mentioned, even that one would go into the inner chamber of the Temple (where only the High Priest was allowed) and one would raise up an army in the wilderness – these things literally happened within that generation. The city was now a “corpse” and the eagle banners of Rome encircled it.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (v29)
This is a common Biblical figure of speech, not to be taken literally, but meaning that the city or nation in question will be wiped out – get its lights knocked out – in our parlance. See here for some examples (Ezekiel 32:7-8, Isaiah 34:4-5, Isaiah 13:10)
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens” (v30)
The sign that the Son of Man is in the heavens (that Jesus has risen and ascended and is now “in the heavens”) will be the fulfillment of his prophecy – now it will happen, Jerusalem will be destroyed and it will be the sign that Jesus was who he claimed to be – the Son of Man, now seated in the heavens.
“and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (v30-31)
And all the tribes DID mourn when their temple was destroyed. Jesus here quotes Daniel again – the Son of Man coming on the clouds is NOT Jesus coming back to earth, but “coming before the Ancient of Days in heaven” – it is Jesus ascension – they will “see” Daniels prophecy fulfilled – see Daniel 7:13
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (32-34)
Like a fig tree shows signs of summer, so Jerusalem will start to show “signs” of judgment, so the disciples would know when it was near – but it most certainly WOULD happen within one generation, and so it did. Josephus records in his history that within 40 years all of Jesus predictions were fulfilled, and thousands of Jews were crucified, and thrown over the walls into Gehenna (the burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem), and the city and Temple were razed to the ground. “His blood be on us and our children” (Matthew 27:25)
Well, there is more to Matthew 24 and in fact the prophecy continues in Matthew 25 – but you get the idea: This passage has nothing to do with global events in our time or in our future. The Old Covenant was rendered obsolete at the cross, and it finally passed away in AD 70. The Age had ended.