15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 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. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And 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.” – Matthew 24:15-31 ESV
In this chapter, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse into God’s plans for the end times. With His upcoming death and eventual departure nearing, He was preparing His followers to set their hope on the future. It was all in response to their question: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Jesus was providing them with an expansive overview of the things to come. Some of what He had to say would take place in the not-so-distant future, including the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occured in 70 AD. But much of what Jesus told them has not yet taken place.
Jesus’ reference to the abomination of desolation refers to a passage from the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel records a message he received from the angel, Gabriel. It was in response to a prayer Daniel had prayed on behalf of all the Jews who, like him, were living in exile in Babylon. He had been reading the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that God had promised to return the people to the land after 70 years in captivity. Daniel knew that the 70 years was quickly approaching and he longed to see God fulfill His promise.
Gabriel delivered the following message to Daniel:
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. – Daniel 9:25 ESV
Daniel had been thinking about the fast-approaching date of Israel’s return to the promised land. But God was giving him a much broader, longer-term view of the things to come. Yes, they would be returned to the land at the end of the 70 years in exile. And they would rebuild Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. But then, God told Daniel that a period of seven sets of seven (49 years) and sixty-two sets of seven (434 years) would pass, once the people had been restored to the land. That adds up to 483 years. Once the people had returned to the land, it would be 483 years until the Anointed One came. This is a prediction of the coming of Jesus in His incarnation. But Gabriel also predicted that the “anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). Jesus would die.
But what Gabriel shared next has yet to occur. He was giving Daniel a glimpse into the distant future, the end times.
26 And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV
And this is what Jesus referred to in His Olivet Disrouce. He too mentioned a time yet to come. These are prophetic words of Jesus describing a series of future events and they are complex, confusing and controversial. Jesus said these would be difficult days. When these things take place, those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs 16). They should not bother packing (vs 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs 19). Those who are alive at that time, should pray that bad weather or the Sabbath won’t prevent them from getting away (vs 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs 21). Then He states that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs 22). It will look as if it is time for Jesus to return, but no one knows that day (vs 23-28).
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 NASB
This is describing what is known as the Great Tribulation. A literal seven year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. Before this all takes place, the Church will be raptured. Jesus will return to remove all the believers from the earth. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers results in the removal of the Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained evil. It will see the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of great persecution of the people of Israel, like nothing they have ever gone through before. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.
The Return of the King!
These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ. The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” – Matthew 24:30 NLT
The disciples would not live to see this day. We will not be around to see this day. No one knows when this day will happen.
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT
Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch people unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But there will be those who have chosen to follow Christ during those days. “And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (Matthew 24:31 NLT). Jesus says that there will be two men will be working the field, one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect, will be taken. This indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. The second coming of Christ will see a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.
Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they are to live in readiness. And as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. Don’t allow yourself to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency.
“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT
What difference should all this make to us today? Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Jesus was preparing His disciples to keep their eyes focused on the end. Their immediate future was going to be difficult. He was going to die, resurrect, then leave them. They would be reponsible for continuing His mission of sharing the gospel with the world. They would suffer as a result and many of them would die martyr’s death. But He wanted them to know that God had a plan in place. Their immediate circumstances would not be an indication of how things were going to end. Jesus would eventually leave them, but He would also return. As believers, we need to have a long-term perspective, focused on the end that God has in store.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.