Harmony of the Gospels

Mount of Olives
Jesus Tells of the Future
Matthew 24:15-22 (Focal Passage), Mark 13:14-20, Luke 21:20-24

PART 6: The Great Tribulation With Its Trouble And Sorrows

Matthew 24:15-22 (Focal Passage)

15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand),
16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
17 “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.
18 “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.
19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
20 “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.
21 “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.
22 “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

Mark 13:14-20

14 “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
15 “Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house.
16 “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.
17 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
18 “And pray that your flight may not be in winter.
19 “For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.
20 “And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.


Luke 21:20-24

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.
21 “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.
22 “For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
23 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.
24 “And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

15 Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand),

Alternate Translation (NLT): The time will come when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about: the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the holy place—reader, pay attention!

At this point we have come to the middle of the Tribulation. In the Old Testament this time of world wide trouble is given various names: "the time of Jacob's trouble," "that day," " the Day of the Lord," and "The Tribulation." We know that Jesus is talking about the Tribulation by comparing verse 15 with Daniel 9:27: “He will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. Then as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the end that has been decreed is poured out on this defiler.” (NLT). “He” refers to the prince that shall come, the Roman Antichrist, who will come during the Tribulation Period after the Rapture of the church. The Antichrist will pledge to protect Israel for a seven-year period, but in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifices and the offerings to cease. After three and one half years, the Antichrist will break his covenant with Israel and defile their new Temple by setting up an idolatrous image. All men will be ordered to worship this abominable idol. Failure to comply will be punishable by death ([1]Rev. 13:15). The New Testament confirms this in II Thessalonians 2:4 where Paul declares that the Antichrist, the man of sin, will sit “… in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” Up until that point the Antichrist will have seemed to be Israel’s protector. His true intentions will then be known. Revelation states that power was given unto him to continue forty and two months ([5]Rev 13:5). He will have only one half of the seven-year period left after he breaks his treaty with Israel. As a result, Israel will be forced to flee and to hide under God’s protection “… for a time, and times, and half a time …” (Rev 12:14), another reference to the last three and one half years of the Tribulation. “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand).” ... The erection of the idol will be the signal to those who know the Word of God that the Great Tribulation has begun. Note, that the Lord wants the one who “reads” the prophecy to “understand” it.

At this point you may be asking, “What is the abomination of desolation?”  Well, Daniel tells us about two of them.  One of them was Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian, who came down and destroyed Jerusalem.  In [2]Daniel 11:31 we read: "and arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that make it desolate." History bears out the fact that Antiochus Epiphanes came against Jerusalem in 170 BC, at which time over 100,000 Jews were slain.  He took away the daily sacrifices from the temple, offered the blood and broth of a swine upon the altar, and set up an image of Jupiter to be worshiped in the holy place.

The abomination of desolation is mentioned first in Daniel (9:27; [2]11:31; [3]12:11); where Antiochus Epiphanes’ sacrilegious act profanes the Jewish temple worship. That act would foreshadow a similar and more severe act by the  Antichrist. Whereas Antiochus offered a pig on the sacred altar of the Temple, the Antichrist will offer himself ([4]II Thess 2:4)! The action of desecration by Antiochus, which David had predicted, will now be repeated in the future by the Antichrist as the signal of the beginning of the Great Tribulation and the breaking of the covenant. “The holy place” is the Temple, which will be rebuilt. Daniel’s prophesy, therefore, cannot be limited, just to the days of Antiochus since Jesus, in His day, was still awaiting the fulfillment of his prophesy, and it even goes beyond the catastrophe of A.D. 70, since it is called the greatest tribulation of all time (Mt 24:21). However, our Lord is undoubtedly referring to the second abomination of desolation to which Daniel alludes in Daniel 12:11, and I believe that it will be an image of Antichrist which will be set Up In the temple.  During the Tribulation the temple will be rebuilt and the nation of Israel will be back in Palestine.  Obviously, our Lord is speaking of the temple rather than the church, because the church has no holy place.  However, we cannot be certain that this is the abomination of desolation too which our Lord refers in this passage before us; this is just our surmising.

I am not looking for the abomination of desolation--I wouldn't know it if I'd met it on the street--but the people in the last days will be looking for it because it will be the sign to prove that they are in the Great Tribulation Period.  Instead of our looking for the Antichrist and his abomination, we are told to be looking for "that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2: 13). 

16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Alternate Translation (NLT): Then those in Judea must flee to the hills.

Notice the means by which certain men will escape persecution during the last 3 1/2 years of The Tribulation.  There is no other way that a person can help himself, other than fleeing to the mountains.  We may take this to mean one of two things:
First, we may take it to mean that it is a prediction of the ruin that will take place.  It will be impossible to stand up against it, even the strongest men will not be able to make any headway.  It is like that which Jeremiah insisted on, but in vain, when Jerusalem was besieged by the Chaldeans, that it would be useless to resist.  So Christ here, says how difficult it would be to try to prevent the terrible destruction that's coming.
Secondly, we may take it to be instructions given by Christ to His followers.  He tells them to flee the to the mountain's, but not the mountains around Jerusalem, but those in remote corners of the country.  That would provide some shelter for them.  Israel is said to be scattered on the mountain's according to 2 Chronicles 18:16--Then he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’ ”  Note, In times of eminent danger, it is wise to seek our own preservation by any means possible; and if God opens a door of escape, we ought to make our escape, otherwise, we show that we do not trust God.

The warning to "flee to the mountains" looks beyond the first century to the Jew's flight from the persecution of the Antichrist (Rev.  12:6-14).  Every Jew must flee and not look back; their refusal to bow to the image would be quickly detected.

17 “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.
18 “And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.

Alternate Translation (NLT): A person outside the house must not go inside to pack. A person in the field must not return even to get a coat.

They must hurry and leave, because their life will be in imminent danger.  Therefore, he who is on his roof, when the alarm sounds, must come down and leave without going into his house to pack, for two reasons.  First, because the time it would take to pack up his things, would delay his flight.  Note, When death is at the door, delays are dangers; wasn't Lot told " Don't look behind you." Those who are convicted of their sin, and the ruin that it causes them, have good reason to flee to Christ.  They need to go to Him immediately, otherwise their delays could cost them dearly, by keeping them from Him eternally. 

Secondly, because he is carrying his clothes, and other valuables with him, the burden would slow his flight.  The Syrians, in their flight, "cast away their garments" (2 Kings 7:15).  At such a time, we must be thankful we are alive, "for the life is more than meet" (Mt.  6:25).  Christ recommended that these things should be left behind, for He has a house built for them in heaven, with clothes, and treasures they have stored there.

Now, in this case, Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans.  None of the 12, except John, needed to be hidden in the mountains (Christ hid them all in heaven).  None of the Christians who were in Jerusalem at that time were there, because they all went to a town called Pella, on the other side of the Jordan River, where it was safe.  Even though many thousands perished in the destruction of Jerusalem, there was not so much as one Christian there.  It says in Proverbs 22:3 that the prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself.  This warning has not been kept a secret.  Matthew's gospel was written long before the destruction of Jerusalem, so that others might take advantage of it.  But, those who perished because of unbelief, is a symbol of all those who have or will perish because they do not heed the warnings that Christ gave concerning the wrath to come.

19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!

Alternate Translation (NLT): How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for mothers nursing their babies in those days.

All Christians will suffer at this time, but here our Lord tells us who will suffer the most.  He says, "Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies." Jesus was referring to this same event when at his death he said, "For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck." Be glad, if you do not have children at that time.  Those with children may have to watch their children being murdered.  But those who are pregnant will be the unhappiest of all, for three reasons.  First, To them the famine would be a horrible thing, because they would see their child's tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth, and hear him crying for water.  Secondly, they may experience the worst catastrophe of all; their conquerors will rip their babies from their mothers arms and tear them apart.  Thirdly, Those attempting to flee with their children cannot move fast enough or far enough to avoid capture.  Children, especially those that are nursing, will delay or slowdown the mother's flight and expose her to danger.  However, babies and children cannot be left behind.

20 “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.

Alternate Translation (NLT): And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath.

What is it that Christians should pray for at that time?  Jesus tells us in this verse; "that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath." Generally, when there is some type of calamity, it behooves Christians to be in prayer.  However, there is no remedy for the Tribulation, so you must flee.  The decree has gone forth, so God will not be entreated to take away his wrath, not even if it was Noah, Daniel and Job who were asking.  Although, you cannot effectively pray that you will not be forced to flee, pray that your circumstances will be controlled by God.  Note, God has the power to change circumstances and events, which sometimes are life altering.  Therefore, we must always keep our eyes on Him.

Christ still wants his disciples to pray for themselves and their families. In this case, prayer should be made beforehand for all those who are forced to flee for their lives.  First, pray that they will be saved, and then pray that they will find a place of safety.  Note, When the prospect for trouble is still at a great distance, it is good to lay in a stock of prayers beforehand, for two reasons:
First, They must pray, if it is the will of God, that their flight will not be during the winter, when days are short and the weather is cold, and therefore traveling is very uncomfortable, especially for whole families.  Note, Though traveling may be difficult and hard on our bodies, we must take what God sends, and what ever it might be we can pray that the difficulties we encounter will be made easier by Him.  In fact, we are encouraged to do that because the Word says that the Lord is for the body.
Secondly, They should pray that their flight is not on a Sabbath day.  This is a reference to the difficulty of travel (securing lodging, meals, services) on the Sabbath in an area where Jews will be observing such restrictions. The Jews pray that their flight would not be on the Jewish Sabbath, since that would draw the attention of the scribes and Pharisees.  Christians should pray that it is not on the Christian Sabbath, because being forced to travel on that day would bring grief to them by remembering past Sabbaths.  Jesus never seemed to care about the ceremonies of the Jewish religion, because they were all to vanish, but he often showed concern for the Sabbath, because He was often accused of breaking the Sabbath laws and defending His disciples when they did it.  Christians today do not observe the Sabbath day laws but worshiping in a church with other believers makes it a special day.  And the things that we do are the same as any other day.  However, if you are one who believes in keeping the Sabbath, do not flee on that day, but instead abide by what you believe, even though you may die by it.

Again, these are people who are observing the Sabbath day, which is Saturday.  This is a another proof that Christ is speaking directly to the Jewish people.  I don't go to church on the Sabbath but on Sunday because my Lord rose from the dead on that day.

We should pray that we may have quiet undisturbed Sabbaths, and make the day all about worshiping God.  To flee in the winter is uncomfortable to the body; but to flee on the Sabbath day may be uncomfortable to the soul.

21 “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Alternate Translation (NLT): For that will be a time of greater horror than anything the world has ever seen or will ever see again.

This description isolates the Tribulation period from all the inquisitions, purges, massacres, and genocides of history. This prophecy could not have been fulfilled by any previous persecutions because it is clearly stated that it will be ended by the Second Advent of Christ. Note, Our Lord is the One who labels the end of the age as the Great Tribulation (If you want to find fault with it talk to him, not to me.).

For then there will be great tribulation. The troubles which will begin immediately will be overwhelming and then there will be a great tribulation. When the measure of iniquity is full, and the servants of God are sealed and secured, the troubles will come; nothing could be done against Sodom until Lot entered into Zoar, and then there was fire and brimstone immediately. Tribulation was indeed great in AD 70, with the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem. Inside the city, plague and famine raged, and what was worse than either was the disharmony and division of the people, so that every man’s sword was against every other man. It was then that the hands of the pitiful women flayed their own children. Outside the city the Roman army was ready to swallow them up. They were particularly enrage against the Jews, not only because they were Jews, but rebellious Jews, as well.

When the Romans finally entered Jerusalem, It was a desolation unparalleled, such as was not since the beginning of the world, nor ever will be. Many a city and kingdom has been made desolate, but never was there any desolation like this. Let us never think that God has done his worst, because he can heat the furnace seventy times hotter, and He will do it, when he sees greater and still greater abominations. The Romans that destroyed Jerusalem had lost the honor and virtue of their ancestors, which had made even their victories easy for the defeated. And the willfulness and stubbornness of the Jews contributed to the increase of the tribulation. No wonder the ruin of Jerusalem was an unparalleled ruin, when the sin of Jerusalem was an unparalleled sin—even their crucifying Christ. Note, The nearer any people are to God in their profession of faith and privileges, the greater and heavier their judgments will be, if they abuse those privileges, and be false to that profession (Amos 3:2).

Such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. Since that is true, believe me, people will know it when it gets here!  I hear people today talking about the church going through the Tribulation, and they don't seem to realize how severe it will be.  In fact, some folk say that we are in the Great Tribulation at the present time!  Well, things are bad in our day, I'll grant that, but this period can not be matched with any other period in history.  When the Great Tribulation gets here, there will be nothing to match it in the past or in the future. In no other period of history (past or future) of the world will there be so much suffering and universal destruction as during the seven years called the Great Tribulation.  These years are fraught with wrath (Ezek. 7:19), judgment (Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5, 7), darkness (Amos 5:18, 20), indignation (Isa. 26:20, 21; 34:1-3), and Sorrow.  The scriptural representations of the Great Tribulation are wholly negative with no attempt to minimize the severity of human suffering in that time.  During the Great Tribulation, God will pour out His wrath on mankind and will judge all of creation, just before the peace of the Millennium is ushered in.

22 “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

Alternate Translation (NLT): In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, the entire human race will be destroyed. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.

Our Lord is speaking of desolation, which, if it should be prolonged, would be intolerable, so that no flesh would be saved. Death will come in so many dismal shapes that there will be no escaping. The computation which Josephus made of those that were martyred, amounts to more than two million. We read in the book of Revelation that during the Tribulation 1/3 of the population of the earth will be destroyed.  On another occasion 1/4 of the population will be destroyed.  It is absolutely unique.  Using the simile given to us in revelation 6, the red horse of war, the black horse of famine, and then the pale horse of death will ride during that period, and the population of the earth will be decimated.  There was a time when this seemed to be an exaggeration.  Even some good commentators considered it hyperbole.  However, now that several nations of the world have atom bombs, which could destroy the population of the world, it no longer appears to be exaggerated.

No flesh shall be saved; he does not say, "No soul shall be saved,’’ since the destruction of the flesh may be for the saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus.

But here, the Lord has given us a word of comfort in the midst of all this terror—that for the elects’ sake these days will be shortened, not made shorter than what God had determined (for that which is determined, shall be poured upon the desolate, Dan. 9:27), but shorter than what He might have decreed, if he had dealt with them according to their sins; shorter than what the devil wanted. He would kill us all if he could. If God, who made use of them to serve his own purposes, had not set boundaries to their wrath--boundaries that were shorter than one who judged by human standards would have imagined. Note, [1.] In times of great tragedy, God shows his favor to the elect remnant. [2.] The shortening of calamities is a kindness God often grants for the elects’ sake. Instead of complaining that our afflictions last too long, we should consider our defects, and we will see that we have reason to be thankful that they do not last eternally, as it will for those who are assigned to hell. When we encounter difficulties, it behooves us to say, "Blessed be God that it is no worse; blessed be God that it is not hell.’’ However, there is comfort in this verse ---"but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." God will not let mankind commit suicide.  That is the reason this will be such a brief period.

 Special Notes

1 (Rev. 13:15) “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” God permits a power which is not seen anywhere else in Scripture. The Antichrist wants to make the deception as strong as possible. So the image is given breath to speak, to command worship, and to mete out capital punishment to those who refuse adoration of the idol. When political power and man’s religion are so wedded, Satan is indeed the master of ceremonies.#

2 (Dan. 11:31) “And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation.”  Antiochus Epiphanes authorized his forces to pollute the sanctuary … and … take away the daily sacrifice. They sacrificed a sow, spread its remains inside the Holy Temple, and erected a large statue of Zeus for the people to worship. This was the abomination that maketh desolate.#

3 (Dan. 12:11) “And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.” The 1290 days mentioned here probably refer to the last three and one half years of the Tribulation Period, plus an additional thirty days to be used in judging the qualifications of those who will enter the Millennium (Mt 25:31–46).##

4 (2 Thess. 2:4) “Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” Because of Paul’s familiarity with the language of the Old Testament, there are many similarities to Daniel (especially 11:36). This is, however, a new description of the leader of the forces of evil in the final apocalyptic battle against God. “Opposes”  is present tense and implies continued, determined, and planned opposition to God. It is a common word for the opposing sides in a battle. “Exalts himself” shows his extreme pride; he puts himself over everything considered as a god or an object of worship and as it were, seats himself in the Temple of God. “Showing himself”  has the sense of “attempting to demonstrate” that he is God.#

5 (Rev 13:5). And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months#


Do you have any questions or comments?

 Have you ever noticed how you can tell people there are more than 300,000 billion stars in the universe and they’ll believe you, but tell them the paint is wet and they’ll touch it to see if you’re telling the truth?

Leadership, July 6, 1993, p. 6

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