Jesus responded by giving the disciples not one, but seven signs of the end. (We must remember that "the end" in this passage is not the end of the world, but rather the end of the age, the end of the Temple, the sacrificial system, the covenant nation of Israel, and the last remnants of the pre-Christian era). It is notable that there is a progression in this list: the signs seem to become more specific and pronounced until we reach the final, immediate precursor of the end. The list begins with certain events which would occur merely as "the beginning of birth pangs" (Matt. 24:8). In themselves, Jesus warned, they were not to be taken as signals of an imminent end; thus the disciples should guard against being misled on this point (v. 4). These "beginning" events, marking the period between Christ's resurrection and the Temple's destruction in A.D. 70, were as follows:
1. False Messiahs. "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many" (v. 5).
2. Wars. "And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (v. 6-7a).
3. Natural disasters. "And in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs" (v. 7b-8).
Any one of these occurrences might have caused Christians to feel that the end was immediately upon them, had not Jesus warned them that such events were merely general tendencies characterizing the final generation, and not precise signs of the end. The next two signs, while they still characterize the period as a whole, do bring us up to a point near the end of the age:
4. Persecution. "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name" (v. 9).
5. Apostasy. "And at that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (v. 10-13).
The last two items on the list are much more specific and identifiable than the preceding signs. These would be the final, definitive signs of the end - one the fulfillment of a process, and the other a decisive event:
6. Worldwide evangelization. "And this gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (v. 14).
At first glance, this seems incredible. Could the gospel have been preached to the whole world within a generation of these words? The testimony of Scripture is clear. Not only could it have happened, but it actually did. Proof? A few years before the destruction of Jerusalem, Paul wrote to Christians in Col-ossae of "the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing" (Col. 1:5-6), and exhorted them not to depart "from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven" (Col. 1:23). To the church at Rome, Paul announced that "your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world" (Rem. 1:8), for the voice of gospel preachers "has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world" (Rem. 10: 18). According to the infallible Word of God, the gospel was indeed preached to the whole world, well before Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. This crucial sign of the end was fulfilled, as Jesus had said. All that was left was the seventh, final sign; and when this event occurred, any Christians remaining in or near Jerusalem were instructed to escape at once:
7. The Abomination of Desolation. "Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak" (v. 15-18).
The Old Testament text Christ referred to is in Daniel which prophesies the coming of armies to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple: "The people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined . . . and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out upon the desolate. " The Hebrew word for abomination is used throughout the Old Testament to indicate idols and filthy, idolatrous practices, especially of the enemies of Israel (see, e.g., Deut. 29:17; 1 Kings 11:5, 7; 2 Kings 23:13; 2 Chron. 15:8; Isa. 66:3; Jer. 4:1; 7:30; 13:27;32:34; Ezek. 5:11;7:20; 11:18, 21; 20:7-8, 30). The meaning of both Daniel and Matthew is made clear by the parallel reference in Luke. Instead of "abomination of desolation," Luke reads:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; because these are the days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-22).
The "abomination of desolation," therefore, was to be the armed invasion of Jerusalem. During the period of the Jewish Wars, Jerusalem was surrounded by heathen armies several times. But the specific event denoted by Jesus as "the abomination of desolation" seems to be the occasion when the Edomites (Idumeans), the agelong enemies of Israel, attacked Jerusalem. Several times in Israel's history, as she was being attacked by her heathen enemies, the Edomites had broken in to ravage and desolate the city, thus adding greatly to Israel's misery (2 Chron. 20:2;28:17; Ps. 137:7; Ezek. 35:5-15; Amos 1:9, 11; Obad. 10-16).
The Edomites remained true to form, and their characteristic pattern was repeated during the Great Tribulation. One evening in a.d. 68 the Edomites surrounded the holy city with 20,000 soldiers. As they lay outside the wall, Josephus wrote, "there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continual lightings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming."
This was the last opportunity to escape from the doomed city of Jerusalem. Anyone who wished to flee had to do so immediately, without delay. The Edomites broke into the city and went directly to the Temple, where they slaughtered 8,500 people by slitting their throats. As the Temple overflowed with blood, the Edomites rushed madly through the city streets, plundering houses and murdering everyone they met, including the high priest. According to the historian Josephus, this event marked "the beginning of the destruction of the city . . . from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs ."
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