THE GREAT TRIBULATION
One of the most basic principles for an accurate understanding of the Bible's message is that Scripture interprets Scripture. The Bible is God's holy, infallible, inerrant Word. It is our highest authority. This means that we cannot seek for an authoritative interpretation of Scripture's meaning anywhere outside of the Bible itself. It also means that we must not interpret the Bible as if it dropped out of the sky in the twentieth century. The New Testament was written in the first century, and so we must try to understand it in terms of its first-century readers. For example, when John called Jesus "the Lamb of God," neither he nor his hearers had in mind anything remotely similar to what the average, modern man-on-the-street might think of if he heard someone called a "lamb." John did not mean Jesus was sweet, cuddly, nice, or cute. In fact, John wasn't referring to Jesus' personality at all. He meant that Jesus was the sinless Sacrifice for the world. How do we know this? Because the Bible tells us so.
This is the method we must use in solving every problem of interpretation in the Bible — including the prophetic passages. That is to say, when we read a chapter in Ezekiel, our first reaction must not be to scan the pages of the New York Times in a frantic search for clues to its meaning. The newspaper does not interpret Scripture, in any primary sense. The newspaper should not decide for us when certain prophetic events are to be fulfilled. Scripture interprets Scripture.
In Matthew 24 (and Mark 13 and Luke 21) Jesus spoke to His disciples about a "great tribulation" which would come upon Jerusalem. It has become fashionable over the past 100 years or so to teach that He was speaking about the end of the "Church Age" and the time of His Second Coming. But is this what He meant? We should note carefully that Jesus Himself gave the (approximate) date of the coming Tribulation, leaving no room for doubt after any careful examination of the Biblical text. He said:
Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matt. 24:34).
This means that everything Jesus spoke of in this passage, at least up to verse 34, took place before the generation then living passed away. "Wait a minute," you say. "Everything? The witnessing to all nations, the Tribulation, the coming of Christ on the clouds, the stars falling . . . everything?" Yes — and, incidentally, this point is a very good test of your commitment to the principle we began with in this chapter. Scripture interprets Scripture, I said; and you nodded your head and yawned, thinking: "Sure, I know all that. Get to the point. Where do the atomic blasts and Killer Bees come in?" The Lord Jesus declared that "this generation" - people then living - would not pass away before the things He prophesied took place. The question is, do you believe Him?
Some have sought to get around the force of this text by saying that the word generation here really means race, and that Jesus was simply saying that the Jewish race would not die out until all these things took place. Is that true? I challenge you: Get out your concordance and look up every New Testament occurrence of the word generation (in Greek, genea) and see if it ever means "race" in any other context. Here are all the references for the Gospels: Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36;24:34; Mark 8:12,38; 9:19; 13:30; Luke 1:48,50; 7:31;9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 16:8; 17:25; 21:32. Not one of these references is speaking of the entire Jewish race over thousands of years; all use the word in its normal sense of the sum total of those living at the same time. It always refers to contemporaries. (In fact, those who say it means "race" tend to acknowledge this fact, but explain that the word suddenly changes its meaning when Jesus uses it in Matthew 24! We can smile at such a transparent error, but we should also remember that this is very serious. We are dealing with the Word of the living God.)
The conclusion, therefore-before we even begin to investigate the passage as a whole - is that the events prophesied in Matthew 24 took place within the lifetime of the generation which was then living. It was this generation which Jesus called "wicked and perverse" (Matt. 12:39, 45; 16:4; 17:17); it was this "terminal generation" which crucified the Lord; and it was this generation, Jesus said, upon which would come the punishment for "all the righteous blood shed on the earth" (Matt.23:35).
"Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!" (Matt. 23:36-38).
Jesus' statement in Matthew 23 sets the stage for His teaching in Matthew 24. Jesus clearly told of an imminent judgment on Israel for rejecting the Word of God, and for the final apostasy of rejecting God's Son. The disciples were so upset by His prophecy of doom upon the present generation and the "desolation" of the Jewish "house" (the Temple) that, when they were alone with Him, they could not help but ask for an explanation.
And Jesus came out of the Temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the Temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down." And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, . the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:1-3).
Again, we must take careful note that Jesus was not speaking of something that would happen thousands of years later, to some future temple. He was prophesying about "all these things," saying that "not one stone here shall be left upon another." This becomes even clearer if we consult the parallel passages:
And as He was going out of the Temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down" (Mark 13:1-2).
And while some were talking about the Temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, "AS for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down" (Luke 21:5-6).
The only possible interpretation of Jesus' words which He Himself allows, therefore, is that He was speaking of the destruction of the Temple which then stood in Jerusalem, the very buildings which the disciples beheld at that moment in history. The Temple of which Jesus spoke was destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies in A.D. 70. This is the only possible interpretation of Jesus' prophecy in this chapter. The Great Tribulation ended with the destruction of the Temple in a ,d. 70. Even in the (unlikely) event that another temple should be built sometime in the future, Jesus' words in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 have nothing to say about it. He was talking solely about the Temple of that generation. There is no Scriptural basis for asserting that any other temple is meant. Jesus confirmed His disciples' fears: Jerusalem's beautiful Temple would be destroyed within that generation; her house would be left desolate.
The disciples understood the significance of this. They knew that Christ's coming in judgment to destroy the Temple would mean the utter dissolution of Israel as the covenant nation. It would be the sign that God had divorced Israel, removing Himself from her midst, taking the kingdom from her and giving it to another nation (Matt. 21:43). It would signal the end of the age, and the coming of an entirely new era in world history — Jesus Christ% New World Order. From the beginning of creation until a.d. 70, the world was organized around one central Sanctuary, one single House of God. Now, in the New Covenant order, sanctuaries are established wherever true worship exists, where the sacraments are observed and Christ's special Presence is manifested. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had said: "An hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. . . . But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and truth" (John 4:21-23). Now Jesus was making it clear that the new age was about to be permanently established upon the ashes of the old. The disciples urgently asked: "When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Some have attempted to read this as two or three entirely separate questions, so that the disciples would be asking first about the destruction of the Temple, and then about the signs of the end of the world. This hardly seems credible. The concern of the immediate context (Jesus' recent sermon) is on the fate of this generation. The disciples, in consternation, had pointed out the beauties of the Temple, as if to argue that such a magnificent spectacle should not be ruined; they had just been silenced with Jesus' categorical declaration that not one stone there would be left upon another. There is nothing whatsoever to indicate that they should suddenly change subjects and ask about the end of the material universe. (The translation "end of the world" in the King James Version is misleading, for the meaning of the English word world has changed in the last few centuries. The Greek word here is not cosmos [world], but aion, meaning eon or age. ) The disciples had one concern, and their questions revolved around one single issue: the fact that their own generation would witness the close of the pre-Christian era and the coming of the new age promised by the prophets. All they wanted to know was when it would come, and what signs they should look for, in order to be fully prepared.
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Preparing for Armageddon, Natural Disasters, Nuclear Strikes, the Zombie Apocalypse, and Every Other Threat to Human Life on Earth. Most of us have thought about how we would handle various types of scenarios that could signal the end of the world. There are plenty of movies on the subject, psychological papers, and even survivalists that are part of reality TV shows. Perhaps you have had dreams about being one of the few left and what you would do in order to survive.