April 26, 2019
Another Look At Eschatology -- Part 2
I want to begin this second half of my theory on the Eschatology in Matthew 24 with this premise: I do not believe we should become too focused on when all the events Jesus references take place. It is enough to know that He announced there would be an end to old religious systems [that could not save mankind] and the beginning of a Kingdom of Heaven government on earth; a government that would not end.
But most Christians are even unaware of this truth. So until His return, there will be a clash between the two systems -- religion vs Kingdom -- with the old system fighting for relevancy in the face of the re-establishment of God's original design for man on the earth. Yes, Jesus tells us not to be concerned about the day and the hour of His return, but He also tells us to stay awake and be ready for it, or like in the parable of the ten virgins, the foolish ones will find themselves shut out of the marriage feast.
With all that in mind, let's go back to Matthew 24 and see how Jesus makes a transition from the things that would happen in the generation of the Disciples [to signal the beginning of the end of religious systems] to the actual time of His return when the last of the religious age will yield to the everlasting Kingdom of God on earth.
So yesterday, we left Jesus prophesying that the old religious system is being replaced with a Kingdom model and its gospel "will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations" ... and then the end [of the religious system] would come. Notice that He doesn't give a timeline for how long that will take. And I would submit to you that the gospel of the Kingdom has not been preached throughout the world. In fact, it has not even been preached throughout the Western Church! (This is a topic that I will be exploring in my next post). There are still people who do not understand what Jesus inaugurated with His First Coming. Therefore, "the end" is not yet in sight.
But I want to take a careful look at Matthew 24:15-28. It is in these verses that Jesus makes His transition FROM prophesying to the Disciples' generation TO prophesying about His Second Coming. Note that He begins this passage by telling them that when they see "the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel", those that are in Judea must flee to the mountains because great tribulation is coming. He further states, "And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."
Now, I have sat in several Sunday School classes that have taught that this is concerning the future. So let's first look at the "abomination of desolation". If you are like me, you have likely been taught that there will be an event similar to the one in Daniel, Chapter 9, -- "and on the wings of abominations shall come one who makes desolate." The website, The Gospel Coalition, agrees with historians who say this references the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled Palestine from 175-64 B.C. Antiochus treated Israel with such violence and contempt that they rebelled against him. When he came to suppress the rebellion, his forces entered the temple, stopped the regular sacrifices, set up an idol of [or altar for] Zeus, and apparently offered swine there as a sacrifice. This is an abomination because it is idolatry, and it brings desolation because it defiles the holy place at the heart of Israel.
So, while I do not think Jesus is necessarily saying this specific abomination will be repeated, I do think we can surmise that here, as is often the case throughout the Bible, “abomination” refers to major covenant violations, especially idolatry. But I also think we should consider that He is still talking about this happening in the generation of the Disciples, and He could be prophesying about the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. And I will tell you that His comments that no humans would be saved unless the days were cut short certainly apply to the siege and destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Just read what it was like .... the Jews rose up in rebellion against Rome, which resulted in a campaign by Rome's leading general, Vespasian, to take care of "the Jewish problem". This was a continuation of the "wars and rumors of wars" prophecy Jesus had made earlier. Vespasian began his campaign in AD 67 in Galilee, where a young priest, Joseph, was in command. His army numbered more than 50,000 men. Vespasian took Sepphoris, Jotapata (where Joseph surrendered to the general and became the Roman scribe Josephus), and several other towns with brutal force. He also destroyed Gamla, where the Jewish Zealot movement began, putting 10,000 people to the sword. Most of the towns of the region were left as smoking ruins. Many men were executed, often crucified, and the women and children were sold into slavery. A few were saved for the games in the arena. Galilee was again Roman.
When Vespasian became emperor after the death of Nero, he appointed his son, Titus, to continue his campaign against Jerusalem. The situation in Jerusalem was horrible. Several factions of Zealots converged on the city, having been defeated elsewhere. They blamed each other for their defeats. One group controlled the Temple Mount and appointed their own priest. When the Sadducee priests resisted, they were slaughtered along with 8,500 of their supporters. The sewers of the city ran with Jewish blood. Simon Bar Giora, another self-proclaimed messiah, entered the city and fought the Zealots. Confusion and terror reigned. Jerusalem was divided into three sections, each fighting the other as the Romans tightened the noose. Apparently, the Christian community, possibly remembering Jesus' words (Matthew 24:15-16), fled to the mountainous regions east of the country.
In the spring of AD 70, Titus arrived outside Jerusalem. His army now numbered 80,000 or more. Titus breached the third wall near the end of May and slaughtered the people of that part of the city. Five days later, the second wall fell. Half of the city belonged to the Romans. In July, the Romans built a siege wall around the city to prevent escape and to starve the citizenry.
People killed each other over scraps of food. Anyone suspected of contemplating surrender was killed. Because some Jews had swallowed gold coins before trying to escape, their fellow citizens began to disembowel those they caught, looking for money. In one night, 2,000 were ripped open. No one bothered to bury the dead. Many who did surrender were crucified just outside the walls so the hapless defenders could watch their agony. Josephus records that the Roman soldiers nailed people in various positions for their own amusement until they could not find enough crosses for the victims.
The famine took its toll as well. Josephus reports that 600,000 bodies were thrown out of the city. On August 6, the sacrifices ceased in the Temple. The Temple itself was burned and destroyed on the ninth of the Jewish month of Av (the end of August), the same day it had been destroyed by the Babylonians more than 600 years before. It has never been rebuilt. All the citizens of the city were executed, sold into slavery, or saved for the games in the arena. The slaughter was beyond description. Infants were thrown to their deaths from the top of the city walls, and people were burned alive; the alleys of the city were choked with corpses. Eleven thousand prisoners died of starvation waiting for their execution. Josephus records that more than 1 million perished and nearly 100,000 were sold into slavery. The Jews' holy city was gone and their Temple destroyed. I don't know about you, but I think these events qualify as fulfillment of Jesus's prophecy that if the days had not been cut short, no one would have been saved. Therefore, it makes sense that this passage pertains to that time and that generation, not the future.
BUT, then Jesus does something curious. He again prophesies that "false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." It is here that I believe He transitions to the coming of the end of the age of religion [and the perpetuation of His Kingdom] and His Second Coming. He says, "do not believe" the false christs. We will see the sign of the coming of the Son of Man ... it will look like this ... as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west.
Again, I want to make it clear that I do not put forth my opinion as a Biblical scholar. But I try to be like a good Berean and search the Scripture for truth. And I am certainly open to having my mind changed as the Holy Spirit reveals more of what I need to know. And you know what? We don't have to agree on the timeline of eschatology. Nor do we even need to consider the timeline, except for His admonition to "stay awake" and "be ready". So when Jesus says "after the Tribulation of those days", the Bible does not say which days it is. Therefore, we should consider His warning as if it could be any day.
But He does state that the powers of the heavens will be shaken and there will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory. 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.
And, yes, only the Father knows when that will take place. But He gives us clear instructions ... He is setting His servants over His household until He returns. We are to feed the children of God until He returns. We are to preserve and extend His Kingdom to all the earth. That should be what we are all focused upon. And what does that look like? What is the good news of the Kingdom? Tune in for the next post!
Matthew 24:43-44 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.