107 End of the Age: The Great Tribulation

Part 7 of a Bible study course on the End Times

Matthew 24:15-21 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.  For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again.

Historical fulfilment:.

In 70AD, the Roman general, subsequently emperor, Titus, determined to annihilate the Jewish rebels once and for all. He and his army marched to Jerusalem and, after a bitter siege, completely destroyed the city, mercilessly killing most of the inhabitants. There can be no absolute way the modern commentator can know what the “abomination that causes desolation” referred to. One credible theory is that the fulfilment of this prophecy was the worship of the Roman army standards by the Roman soldiers at Jerusalem and at the site of the temple. The standards were not just like regimental colours in today’s armies. They bore images of the Roman and Greek gods, and so worship of them was serious idolatry. The wording of Luke when reporting the same discourse adds support to this theory:

Luke 21:20-22 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

Verse 15 of Matthew “when you see…the abomination that causes desolation” is equivalent to Luke’s verse 20, “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies.” So it does seem quite likely that the two are connected and the “abomination” was indeed the idolatrous standards.

The Christians, forewarned by Jesus’ remarkable prophesy, no doubt stayed away from the city, and escaped as a result. Jesus’ words about the destruction of the temple, with not one stone being left on another, were clearly fulfilled at that time. Enraged by the fierce fighting of the Jews, the Roman army completely demolished it. After burning it, molten gold and silver flowed into the joins between the stone and the soldiers prised apart the stones to get the precious metals. So quite literally “not one stone was left on another”.

Modern-day fulfilment: We are seeing massive growth in idolatry all over the world. All the Old and New Testament prophecies of the end of the age point to a time when God will remove from among His people those that worship idols. And the idolaters will be severely dealt with by God. So surely the main point of this particular section for those of us who don’t actually live in Jerusalem is to warn us to “flee” when we see gross idol-worship, and when we see the signs of the end spoken of in this passage intensify. “Flee” may mean different things according to our context. But especially we should not have anything to do with idol-worship.

Jesus indicates that there is going to be a time of extreme tribulation on earth leading to His coming again. Will this be the worst tribulation ever in the history of mankind? Think of the Second World War; think of the holocaust; the Russian front; mediaeval battles fought by hand-to-hand combat; the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan; times of extreme sickness such as the plague or the black death. If we see this prophecy in Matthew as relevant to our time, it seems the coming time could be worse than all these. Jesus did warn us of a great tribulation prior to His coming. The gospel of Mark confirms this:

For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.  Mark 13:19

It is obvious that Matthew and Mark are talking about the same event previously described by Daniel:

“At that time Michael shall stand up,
The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people;
And there shall be a time of trouble,
Such as never was since there was a nation,
Even to that time.
And at that time your people shall be delivered,
Every one who is found written in the book.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:1-3 

 

This time of trouble can only be the same time of trouble in Matthew and Mark. There can only be one time of trouble “such as never was since there was a nation even to that time”. In all three passages:

  1. The tribulation is the worst ever.
  2. It ushers in the judgment of all mankind.
  3. The righteous and wicked will appear in the judgement.
  4. All the righteous shall be delivered
  5. Their names are in the Book of Life
  6. The wicked go to eternal “shame and contempt”

We shall learn a lot more about these cataclysmic event as we continue with these studies.

 

Questions

  1. What is one thing “the abomination that causes desolation” might refer to?
  2. How might this prophecy apply to our day?
  3. Why did Rome destroy the city?
  4. What Old Testament writer also wrote of this event?
  5. How does the Old Testament prophecy clarify Jesus’ prophecy?
  6. How do you feel about a coming time of trouble? Are you ready for it?
  7. What will you do now that you have this new insight?