CHAPTER FOUR

Christ Coming in Vengeance — Matthew 24

We have briefly mentioned the prophecy passage that comprises Matthew 24 and its parallel recordings in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Now we can take a detailed, in–depth look at this great prophecy, spoken by Jesus Christ himself and see how it fits into the events of the times. Many people have understood that portions of this passage refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but they have made divisions in the prophecy in order to assign some parts of it to the far future. Our purpose here is to examine the prophecy in fine detail to see how it fits the events of the destruction of the Jewish nation, and to see how such man–made divisions in the text are unjustifiably imposed. The rationalizations of men have these scriptures mean two vastly different things, when a sincere study will show us that they refer only to the one event that fulfilled the prophecies. Such divisions and rationalizations leave us with more questions than answers, for they introduce conflicts and distortions into the word of God.

Matthew 24:1-3:

“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’”
[NIV]

Once again, the King James version uses the phrase “end of the World,” here. The NIV has the correct sense in that the disciples realized that a destruction of the Temple would mean the end of the age – the age of their Jewish civilization. It was the Temple of Herod in Jerusalem that Jesus and the disciples were discussing here, and its destruction would automatically mean the end of the Jewish religion as they knew it, for the Temple played the pivotal role in the sacrifices and the atonement of the Jewish people.

Here, Jesus had made a remarkable prophecy concerning the Temple. It would be utterly destroyed. When the disciples, naturally awed and worried about such an event, asked Jesus when it was to occur and what signs they should watch out for, he directly answered them with a list of seven things (highlighted below) that would happen, after which the end of the age would come:

Matthew 24:4-14:

“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines [and KJV correctly adds: pestilences (diseases)] and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
[NIV]

These seven things that were to occur do not belong to a future worldwide crisis. Let us look down near the end of the prophecy for a moment and see what kind of time limit Jesus puts on these events. In Matthew 24:34, we read:

“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”

As we have noted earlier, the word “generation” here is from the Greek word “genea” rather than “genos,’ and indicates a literal generation rather than a more general usage as many people teach. This prophecy was to be completely fulfilled (“all these things”) within that living generation of people to whom Jesus was speaking. They would live to see each thing prophesied come to pass, culminating with the destruction of Jerusalem (and the Jewish religion and state).

If we study the history of those times, we can readily see that all seven of the things Jesus listed in verses 4-14 were fulfilled within that living generation. Let us examine them and note how each one came to pass.

1. Anti-Christs or false teachers would come —

Here we can turn to a decidedly non–Christian source to find references to these people. As we previously noted, Josephus was a Jew who recorded the history of these times, and he mentions many such people and gives us specific examples of some. He states: “these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God.” Simon Magus the sorcerer, mentioned by Luke in Acts 8:9, was of this ilk – a deceiver, taking advantage of the situation. This type of thing increased in volume and seriousness as the years toward the destruction of Jerusalem went by.

2. Wars and rumors of wars —

Of course, there have been wars and rumors of wars throughout history. It would be impossible to assign a time frame to Christ’s prophecy based on this one sign. Let us remember, however, that it was to the disciples who had asked him that he was describing the signs to watch for. Were there wars and rumors of wars during the years between Jesus and the destruction of A.D. 70? We can turn to another non – Christian source, the Roman historian Tacitus, to determine this. In his Histories, Tacitus states concerning these years, “there were three civil wars; there were more [than three wars] with foreign enemies; there were often wars that had both characteristics at once.” More importantly, there were the rumors of the approaching Roman army throughout Palestine as the final war began against the Jews. Many, upon hearing of the defeats in Galilee, would retreat to Jerusalem, only to be caught in the siege and destruction there.

3. Famine and pestilence [disease] —

During the reign of Claudius Caesar, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, there was an unparalleled famine. It was prophesied and verified in Acts 11:28. The actuality of it is also verified by Josephus. Disease, of course, goes hand in hand with drought and famine, especially in the ancient world. It is noteworthy, also, that famine was one of the most important factors in the fall of Jerusalem.

4. Earthquakes —

Again, earthquakes happen all the time, all over the world. If, however, we look to these particular times, we find a large earthquake that occurred about A.D. 61, some nine years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, which destroyed the cities of Colosse, Hierapolis, and Laodicia in Asia Minor. Also, the Roman Tacitus states: “cities in Campania’s richest plains were swallowed up and overwhelmed.”

5. Tribulations of Christians and martyrs —

The unbelieving Jews were the prime persecutors of Christians from the time of Christ’s death until AD. 70, and the heathen powers of Rome persecuted them for a season beyond that. Paul himself was a dedicated persecutor of Christians before his conversion. Stephen, Peter, Paul, James, and many others were put to death before the destruction of Jerusalem. Today, there is no comparison to this kind of persecution. Although individuals may suffer in various places, the church as a whole is not in danger of being eliminated by persecutions from non–Christians. At that time, however, the tribulations were exceedingly dangerous and they were ongoing for as long as the Jewish state and religion still existed.

6. False prophets will appear —

Here is another reference to the increase in anti–Christs that would appear and proliferate during this period. Josephus, to quote one example, tells of a magician who told the people he was a prophet and persuaded a large number of them to follow him to the Jordan river, which he had promised to part for them.

7. Apostasies, loss of faith —

This loss of faith by so many persecuted Christians is also the “falling away” mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. A great many of those calling themselves Christians would lose faith under the pressure of the tribulations and would not inherit the spiritual Kingdom. Many would return to their Jewish beliefs and traditions and, ignoring the prophecies, would perish in the war events.

8. Gospel preached to all the world —

As we discussed earlier, it was! The authors of the scriptures did not use the word “world” to mean “planet” as we commonly use it today. It was the “world” of the Jews to whom the gospel was preached. It was preached on the day of Pentecost to thousands of them from all over the Jewish world. The second century historian Eusebius understood this when he wrote: “the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly irradiated the whole world. Presently…the sound of his inspired evangelists and apostles had gone throughout all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

Verse 14:

“…and then the end will come.”

As soon as all these things had happened, the “end” would come. The end of what? It was the end of the age, or the end of the “world” that the disciples had asked Jesus about. It was the end of the age of the Hebrews as the holy, set-aside people of God. In the parallel Prophecy in Matthew 5:18 which we examined earlier, Jesus characterized it as the “passing away” of the “heaven and earth,” and in Revelation 21:1, John saw the “first heaven and the first earth” passing away.

Verses 15 –16:

“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whosoever readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.”

This verse has been a puzzle to most people. It is difficult to understand what Jesus is talking about unless we place the prophecy in its proper time and environment. The KJV doesn’t help in this instance, either. It should read “standing in the holy place.” What, then, is this “abomination of desolation” that is being given as a warning sign? If we are subject to this prophecy ourselves, we had better know what it is so we can watch out for it! The mystery is solved when we take a look at the actual historical events of the Roman invasion of Jerusalem.

When the army first reached the Temple grounds, they did several things. They committed acts of war against the Zealots and other Jews who were trying to keep the Romans out. They also, in their normal manner of war conduct, raised their Roman standards – the flag-like banners that proclaimed who they were, which segment of the army they belonged to, and which established their claim of political power over the place where they erected them.

These acts were an abomination, a sacrilege, to the great and holy Temple of God in Jerusalem. This was repeated later during the final siege of the city, when the Romans made their way into the actual Temple and raised their standards within the sanctuary itself before they burned it down. This was, as Mark puts it in the parallel passage in Mark 13:14:

“…the abomination of the desolation...standing where it ought not….”

If we examine the source prophecy in Daniel that Jesus is referring to (Daniel 9:27), we can see the same thing a bit clearer.

“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week, he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate....”

Here, we see God dealing with his wayward people, causing the destruction of the city and Temple in the middle of the prophetic ‘‘week’’ or “seven” (which symbolically means seven years — the seven years of the entire Jewish war from Nero’s command to the fall of Masada). It was three and one half years into the war (“in the midst”) that the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices and oblations were “caused to cease” by the acts of the Roman army. By that time, the abominations of the Romans, and the Jews as well, had so corrupted the Temple and the people that Daniel prophetically described it as an “overspreading” of abominations. The end result was that the city was made truly and literally desolate. The buildings were torn down and no one lived on the site of Jerusalem for many years thereafter. More importantly, the Jewish nation and political/ religious system was made spiritually and physically desolate. The people were carried off into slavery and the old ways of Judaism were abolished. Eusebius understood the subject of Christ’s prophecy when he wrote:

“…finally, the abomination of desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire.”

Jesus was using this imagery as another warning sign for the disciples to watch out for. At the first instance of this activity by the Romans, they were to react. What were the disciples supposed to do? Verse 16 makes it plain –

“Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.”

It was time to run – run for their physical lives! They had to get out of the city of Jerusalem and the political country of Judea if they were to be saved from the Roman invasion and destruction. When they saw the signs, they were to get out fast and not even take time to gather their personal belongings. It should be plain that this has nothing to do with us today.

It is revealing to see just how these prophecies and predictions actually came true during the first part of the war. According to Josephus, the first attack on the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 66, led by the Roman general Cestius Gallus, got the Romans into the city and up to the walls and gate of the Holy Temple itself, which had been commandeered as a fortress by the radical Jews who wanted to fight it out with the Romans. This act of turning the Temple into a military fortress, full of armaments and violence instead of reverence and prayers, was one of the greatest abominations of it.

The Romans advanced under their shields to the actual gates of the Temple, which they intended to burn open. Then, something very strange happened. Gallus, at the verge of military success, decided for some unknown reason to retreat – and he took his men out of Jerusalem entirely! As a Jewish historian, Josephus was at a loss to explain this withdrawal by Gallus, whom he stated “retired from the city, without any reason in the world.” Importantly, Josephus states that after this event, many people “swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink.”

We can turn to the history by Eusebius once again to discover what really happened. He wrote:

“The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ [had] removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea.”

The town of Pella was near the Sea of Galilee, but it lay outside of the country of Judea, in the political region called Decapolis. This was out of the path of the invading Romans.

Can we explain why the Roman general withdrew so unexpectedly and suddenly from Jerusalem? Josephus
actually stated the correct answer earlier in the passage quoted above when he states:

“It was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he [Gallus] was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.”

Indeed, it was God who was making war on Judea. In Zechariah 14:2, we hear God say:

“I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it…”
[NIV]

God had brought forth the Romans as his tool of punishment and it was God who arranged that a period of time should be provided, as he had promised, for the escape of the believing Christians. That time was provided, and the Christians did flee!

In the parallel account of this prophecy in Luke, Jesus said in chapter 21:20 –

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.”
[NIV]

Here, the reference to the Roman invasion is clear. He goes on to say in Luke 21:22:

Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.”
[NIV]

Earlier, in Luke 19:43-44, Jesus addressed the doomed Jerusalem with these words:

“The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
[NIV]

This is an extremely accurate prediction and picture of the actual siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The Roman armies under Titus dug trenches and built a huge containing wall or berm, made of earth, completely encircling the city so that no one could escape. After the siege and the final battle, only three towers were left standing by the Romans to show what manner of city they had destroyed. As for the rest of the city of Jerusalem and its walls, Josephus tells us:

“It was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.”

Returning now to our study passage in Matthew, in verse 16 Jesus told the disciples to watch for these signs and then “flee to the mountains.” In verses 17-25, we hear Jesus describe the danger and the panic that would occur during the invasion:

“Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his 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, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time 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 appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.”
[NIV]

These verses deal with the actual, physical hindrances to flight from the besieged city. A woman with child or who was caring for an infant would be hindered. Winter weather would hinder flight. On the Sabbath day, the gates of the city would be closed, thus delaying or preventing their escape. Again, Jesus warns them of the dangers of following the many false prophets that would appear.

In Luke’s version, in the identical passage in verses 23- 24, we read:

“How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
[NIV]

“This people” is obviously the Jewish nation which is being destroyed. The “great distress” in the land is the war being waged against them by the Roman army, but it is God’s wrath that has been stirred against the Jews. God used the Romans to take them “by the sword.” The relatively few survivors were taken prisoner and carted away into slavery in many foreign lands, “to all the nations.

Obviously, the “Gentiles” here were the Romans themselves, but what are these “times of the Gentiles” that were to be fulfilled? The use of the word “fulfilled” should trigger us to think that this is the culmination of some prophesy concerning the Gentiles. We can find some references of interest in two places in the Bible. The first is back in the book of Daniel, where, in chapter 12:7, Daniel is listening to the messenger of God tell him:

“It will be for a time, times, and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”
[NIV]

Here is a prophetic vision of these times when the power of the “holy people” would be broken (that is, the religious authority would be removed from them), and a specific time frame is placed on the process. In the type of symbolic language used in the Hebrew prophecies, the term “time” when used in this way means “one year.” The amount of time that was prophesied for the destruction of the Jews was: 1 year (“time”) + 2 years (“times”) + 1/2 year (“half a time”), equaling 3 1/2 years total. Numerous other references in Daniel, like “thousand two hundred and ninety days,” confirm that he means 3 1/2 years for the prophetic time span.

Now let us examine the other place in the Bible that has reference to this event and this prophesied time. Let us look for a moment at Revelation, chapters 11 and 12. In 11:2, we read:

“[the Temple of God] has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.”
[NIV]

and the next verse:

“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days....”
[NIV]

and verse 9:

“For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial.”12
[NIV]

and chapter 12:6 –

“The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.”
[NIV]

and verse 14:

“The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half time, out of the serpent’s reach.”

In all of these prophecy passages the same time period is repeatedly spoken of. The period was to be 3 1/2 years and this would be the times of the Gentiles to overcome the city and people of Jerusalem and Judea. Was the prophecy accurate? Did the Romans take this particular amount of time to accomplish their destructions? The answer is yes. From the date, February of A.D. 67, when the Roman emperor Nero gave the official order to his general Vespasian to go and subdue Judea, to the final destruction of the Temple of Herod and the city, in August of A.D. 70, was in fact three and one-half years.

Returning to Matthew, in verses 26 - 27, we hear Jesus refer for the first time to a “coming” of the Son of Man:

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
[NIV]

This passage ties in directly with verse 23 just preceding where Jesus warns the disciples of false Christs. The coming of the Son of Man would be a tremendous event that would be clearly identifiable by those who knew that God was behind the events of the war.

In verse 28, Jesus interjects an interesting symbolic description of the upcoming war and destruction:

“For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

The Jewish nation is represented here as a carcass, for it is no longer “alive” with the Spirit of God as it once was. It is a spiritually dead nation that has rejected the Christ. Now, the birds of prey are gathering to feast. Here is an obvious reference to the Roman army as the “eagles” – the common image of their armies and nation, emblazoned on every Roman standard.

In verses 29 - 31, we hear Jesus speak of his coming in a familiar passage, often quoted as a reference to a yet future coming of Christ. Many have asserted that there is a break in the continuity of the verses here and that this section does not have anything to do with the previous descriptions of the soon to happen destructions of Judea and Jerusalem. Let us read the passage and see what we can make of it:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

To a casual reader, it would appear obvious that such cataclysmic events as described here have not yet occurred, or we would not be here to think about it. The sun still shines, and the moon is still up there in the sky. What the serious student of the Bible should realize, however, is that these images have been used before in the scriptures. This is still a prophecy being uttered by Jesus and he is using symbols rather than literal descriptions. It is very easy to forget this concept since it is not something we do in our own culture, but every time a prophecy is pronounced in the Bible, symbolic language is used.

Over and over in the Old Testament, we find these same symbols being used to describe the downfall of political authorities and the spiritual darkness that settled over Israel when they sinned against God. For example, in Ezekiel 32:7-8, God is prophesying through Ezekiel “the downfall of Egypt in 572 B.C. when he says to the Pharaoh:

“When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
[NIV]

In Isaiah 5:30 and 13:10, he prophecies of the attack of the Assyrians and the destruction of Babylon:

“And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.”

“For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”

In Joel 2:10, the same symbols are used in looking forward to the events of AD. 70:

“The earth shall quake before them: the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.”

and in Amos 8:9, God tells how he will send Israel into captivity:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.”

So, when we hear Jesus speaking his prophecy in the New Testament, we should not be surprised at the types of imagery he uses in describing the upcoming destruction events concerning the Jews. These were the same peoples under the same type of conditions (disobeying God), and suffering the same kind of fate as before, except that this time their punishment was final.

The sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling in the Prophecy refers to the religious authorities (in this case the Jewish leaders who rebelled against Christ and led the people to persecute Christians) who were being utterly destroyed by God. These people are also the “powers of heaven” who were being shaken. Certainly, God’s Heaven is and never will be subject to shaking of its authority, Power, or substance. This “heaven” was something else. It was a symbol for the religious authorities whose authority had been removed.

Notice now, the timing of all these events and the coming of the Son of Man. The first thing in Matt. 24:29 is:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days….”

Which days were these? The days Jesus has been warning the disciples about throughout Matthew 24 – the upcoming days of the war. Then, when was this coming to occur? It would be immediately after the terrors and “tribulations” of that war. It was the final act of the Roman army to destroy the Temple, the centerpiece of the Jewish religion and authority. They killed off the line of the High Priests and the caused the Jewish sacrifices to cease. God had promised to come against his people’s enemies. Here, indeed, was the coming of God, just as promised, to remove the Jewish “carcass” off the face of the earth and out of his people’s way. It was not a physical coming of Christ, but a spiritual coming through the physical tool of the pagan, Gentile Roman army. It was God’s vengeance on his and his people’s enemies in a very real and physical way.

Note that even within this prophecy passage, there is a specific reference to whom these prophesied events are going to happen. In verse 30, when God has come and the final vengeance is taken:

“…and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn….”

Who were the tribes of the earth? Since the “sun” and “stars were representing the Jewish authorities, then the “tribes of the earth” would be those people under their rule – obviously this refers to the 12 tribes of Israel. Why were they mourning? God had destroyed their land, their peoples, and their way of life. They were being truly punished for their sins. Then note that:

“…they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

This coming of Christ had to have occurred during those times, or the tribes of Israel could not have been witness to it as Jesus said they would be. Christ would be coming in the “clouds of heaven,” that is, it would be a spiritual coming, and it would be with power to accomplish the goal of vengeance against the enemies, and with great glory – the glory of victory and of righteousness. The Jewish “tribes” did indeed see this great coming of Christ, for it comprised their destruction.

Let us look for a moment at the phrase “tribulation of those days.” Many people are looking for a yet future time of persecutions and tribulations against Christians, based on a futurist interpretation of these prophecies, but there is no reason to look any further than the events of these times to find the tribulations that were prophesied by Jesus. Certainly, in the 40 some years that transpired between the cross and the final destruction of Judaism, there were in increasing frequency and severity persecutions made against the fledgling Christian community in Palestine and elsewhere. As we have indicated, most of this terrorism and suppression was at the hands of the Jews themselves, who saw in Christianity a sacrilegious and unacceptable offshoot “cult” that was stealing faithful Jews away from the orthodox beliefs.

The tribulations that Jesus was referring to in the Matthew 24 passage, however, were the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem as evidenced by all the other signs and symbols of the chapter. This was something to be avoided by the Christians who were in that place. They were to watch for the signs and get out fast when these terrible tribulations were about to begin. To get a sense of just how fearsome these times were for the Jews and anyone else caught up in Jerusalem at the time, we can turn to Josephus once again.

During the actual siege and battle actions of the years A.D. 67 - 70, the 3 1/2 year period of the Gentiles against the holy city, Josephus reported 1,100,000 people dead. The Roman historian Tacitus reported over 600,000 casualties. The large number of people involved is understandable when we realize that the walled city of Jerusalem was the “fortress” of the land of Judea, where everyone fled as a last resort to escape the advancing Roman armies. Also, very importantly, the initial Roman besiegement of Jerusalem came at the time of Passover. The city was packed with pilgrims for the Holy time. With both of these considerations, we see that essentially the majority of the Jewish nation was crammed into the great city when the Romans came and shut them up inside.

It was quite a terrible trap. The seeming safe refuge of Jerusalem had turned into a nasty snare for all those inside. As we read earlier, the Romans built an earthwork “berm” or mound-like wall completely around the city along with trenches, to make certain that no One could escape their retribution. As people would try to escape, the Romans built hundreds upon hundreds of crucifixes on top of the berms and hung the escapees as object lessons to the people inside.

At first, the city held out fairly well, although warring factions within the Jewish community were causing almost as much trouble to each other as the Romans outside were, especially in setting on fire their own city’s essential grain stores. Eventually, over the long siege, the terrible famine that ensued took its toll. By the time the Romans entered the city, every street of Jerusalem was filled with piles of unburied dead bodies of those who had starved. Bands of wild Zealots roamed the streets, searching for anyone with even a crumb of bread, for which they would kill. The scent of cooking meat took one group to a house where a woman had actually killed and cooked her own child.

As Josephus put it:

“Neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries...from the beginning of the world.”

“The entire nation was now shut up by fate as in a prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either man or God ever brought upon the world.”

so said Jesus in Matthew 24:21:

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

Again, we are seeing a usage of the word “world” here that is different from our common use of it. It was the world of the Jewish nation that Jesus and Josephus were speaking of. It was the culminating cataclysm for the Jewish “world.”

By the end of the siege, when the Romans entered the city and destroyed the Temple, the dead numbered over one million. (By comparison, the U.S. war dead in all of World War II was 292,100.16) Josephus says that the Romans took 97,000 survivors into immediate slavery and sold them off into diverse countries, thus physically obliterating the Jewish nation.

Eusebius says:

“...Vespasian, after the capture of Jerusalem, commanded all of the family of David to be sought, that no one might be left among the Jews who was of royal stock....”

As for the city itself, Josephus says:

"now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its walls, [which were] so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.”

The site of Jerusalem, after having been razed to the ground, was left abandoned and desolate for centuries after the war.

A time of great tribulation, indeed, and one the Christian Community was warned of and one which they, in fact, escaped from. Jesus gave them the information they needed to make their escape – it came in the form of the prophecies he spoke to them.

So, in the symbolic language of Matthew 24, verse 30, we see the actions God was taking against the old Jewish nation described in terms of his “coming in the clouds of heaven.” In verse 31, Jesus, still using symbols, goes on to describe this event:

“And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Who were the “elect”? These were the people who had followed the Messiah into the new Law of grace, the Christian disciples who had accepted Jesus. Where were these “elect”? Jesus says that the angels gathered them from “one end of heaven to the other.” These Christians were not on the receiving end of this “coming” of Christ, for they were already in the heavenly realm with him.
Ephesians 2:5 tells us:

“And [Christ] hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

In fact, these Christian souls were going to be a part of that coming, along with Christ! Colossians 3:4 tells us:

“When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

The Christians were (and are) already in the spiritual heavenly realm, for Christ had already come to those who were looking for him, and now Christ consolidated all of them in the glory of victory over the persecuting Jewish authorities.

In Matthew 24, verses 32-34, Jesus gives his disciples an answer to one of their original questions, “When shall these things be?”. He does not give them a specific day or time for this great “coming” against the enemies, but he has told them what signs to watch for and now he places a well–defined time limit on the prophecy:

“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”

“All these things” includes all the signs Jesus outlined, all the tribulations he said they would have to endure, and it also includes the “coming in the clouds of heaven” at the end of the tribulations. All these things would happen before that literal generation had passed completely away, or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 16:28 –

“There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”

It is plain that none of these events belong in our future. To try to force them into the far future is anachronistic – putting something out of place in time. These events belonged to that generation of Christians and Jews and the events of history match the events prophesied, point for point. There is no need to extrapolate the images of the prophecy into our future once we realize the nature of the symbols that are being used by Jesus. We see this use of symbolic language again in the next verse, verse 35:

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Jesus is still prophesying, and these are still symbols. The “heaven” and “earth” that shall pass away are not this planet and universe that we inhabit. That is not the subject of Christ’s prophecy here. This refers, again, to the religious authorities of the old Law of Moses and the people who follow them, who would be destroyed by these war actions and would “pass away.” Christ’s words would never pass away, for they are the New Law that took the place of the Old Law which was “abolished in his flesh” by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Ephesians 2:15).

Verses 36 through 39:

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
[NIV]

“That day” was the day of visitation, the coming of God against the enemy. No human being or even any spiritual creature other than Jehovah God knew the exact timing of the thing, but it was to be preceded by distinct and identifiable warning signs. To emphasize his point, Jesus compares this current situation with the one Noah was in where evil overran good and the tiny minority of good men and women were saved from the vast majority of evildoers by the divine intervention of God himself. Those evildoers were taken by surprise when the flood came. This time, the Jews would be taken by surprise when the flood of war came to their country and fortress and destroyed them.

Verses 40 through 42:

“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Here are very obvious references to the situation that would occur when the Roman armies advanced on Jerusalem. The unbelieving Jewish man or woman would stay in Judea and be taken captive by the Romans, but the Christian would keep watch and recognize the signs. He would flee the situation, thus saving his own life.

In the remainder of chapter 24, Jesus explains why the exact time of the coming is not divulged to the Christians and exhorts them to be watchful for the signs. He explains that the giving of an exact time for the event would be like the owner of a house knowing the time of a burglary – he would be standing ready to prevent it. The unfaithful Jews were to be taken by surprise, like a “thief in the night.” The faithful Christian, watching for the signs and not becoming discouraged or losing faith, would flee the “visitation” and would be saved. Note what Paul reminded the Thessalonian brethren in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6—

“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are the children of light, ...Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.”

The Christians were children of light, which is symbolic of knowledge. They had the knowledge of this prophecy to guide them and save them from the terrible events of the war.

We again note, because it is a common interpretation, that many teachers would divide Matthew 24 into two or more segments. One part would be the warning signs to the disciples concerning the downfall of Jerusalem in AD. 70. Then any references to the “coming of the Son of Man” would be completely separated from those signs and would refer to a far future event at the end of man’s universe. Some would divide the scripture at verse 27, others at verse 36. With the kind of study we have undertaken here, it can be seen that such divisions are really nothing more than a way to rationalize around the use of the phrase “coming of the Son of Man” when Jesus places that event within the lifetimes of his disciples who were with him then. It is not difficult to understand that this phrase, echoing many other similar uses in the Old Testament, is entirely plausible, natural, and consistent with the interpretation we have examined here: that this “coming” was a spiritual event, carried out by God as a physical one through the use of human, pagan armies just as he did many times before in the long history of his rebellious, chosen people — the Jews.

In the next chapter, we will look at the other New Testament references to a coming, revealing, or appearing of Jesus Christ.

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