Did All of the Judean Christians Flee to Pella?


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

In the previous post, “The Little Horn Persecuted the Saints (Daniel 7:21, 25),” we continued to examine the roles that Daniel 7 says the little horn of the beast was to play. That post highlighted the persecution and murders carried out by the Zealots against anyone who advocated for peace instead of war, and against anyone they even suspected of wanting to defect to the Romans. During the height of that persecution (66 AD – 70 AD), were Christians in Judea and Jerusalem, and did they get caught up in the midst of it? Or did they all flee to Pella in late 66 AD?

Were Christians in Jerusalem During the Jewish-Roman War?

According to Daniel 7:21-22, 25 the little horn would make war against the saints, persecute them, and prevail against them until “the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” The saints would be in his hand for 3.5 years.

Revelation 13 gives some clues as to where these 3.5 years of persecution (Rev. 13:5-7) would take place. It would be directed toward those “who dwell in the land” (of Israel) who wouldn’t worship the beast (Rev. 13:8, 12). This requirement to worship the beast would be enforced by the beast that came “up out of the land” (a.k.a. “the false prophet”; Rev. 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). He would deceive “those who dwell in the land,” and he would work in the presence of the beast (Rev. 13:11-15). So Israel would be the geographical center of this persecution.

It should be safe to assume that the Christians didn’t support the war, and therefore they were at high risk of being killed if they were in Judea and Jerusalem from 66-70 AD. However, neither Josephus nor Tacitus specifically said that Christians were killed there during that time. As far as I’m aware, Josephus never singled out Christians, or distinguished between Jews and Christians, in any of his writings. He did not specifically say that Christians were killed along with Jews in Judea and Jerusalem prior to and during the first half of the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD).

The claim has been made that no Christians were killed when Jerusalem was destroyed, because they had all escaped to Pella (in modern Jordan). Who first made that claim, and what information was it based on? Assuming it’s true, does it simply mean that no Christians were killed during the siege of April-August 70 AD? Or does it mean, more broadly, that no Christians were killed in Jerusalem after the war began in 66 AD?

pella

Source: Wikipedia (Pella, Jordan)

Since Daniel 7:21, 25 says that the little horn persecuted and prevailed against the Christians for 3.5 years, and since Revelation 13 shows that Christians living in Israel were targets of this persecution, then these are important questions to consider. This is especially true if one is open to the idea that this persecution was carried out by the Zealots.

For a while, the Zealots persecuted and killed their opponents in Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Idumea, and perhaps elsewhere as well, but eventually they were isolated to Jerusalem as the Romans gradually captured those territories. Once the Zealots were isolated to Jerusalem, Josephus is clear that they continued to oppose and kill their opponents there as well (see the previous post). Were Christians among them?

Here are the words of Jesus warning His followers of a time when they would need to flee:

Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… For then there will be great tribulation…” (Matthew 24:15-16, 21).

But 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… For in those days there will be tribulation…” (Mark 13:14, 19).

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those 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… For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:20-21, 23).

So Luke equates the abomination of desolation with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. When this happened, Christians were instructed to leave not only Jerusalem, but all of Judea, and not to go back in. The following are the earliest testimonies I’m aware of concerning Christians heeding this warning and fleeing to Pella and elsewhere (source: Preterist Archive):

Eusebius (263 – 339 AD)

[1] “But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men” (Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3, 290’s AD).

[2] “After all those who believed in Christ had generally come to live in Perea, in a city called Pella of the Decapolis of which it is written in the Gospel and which is situated in the neighborhood of the region of Batanaea and Basanitis, Ebion’s preaching originated here after they had moved to this place and had lived there” (Panarion 30:2).

[3] “For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan. It is said to belong to Decapolis” (de Mens. et Pond., 15).

[4] “Now this sect of Nazarenes exists in Beroea in Coele-Syria, and in Decapolis in the district of Pella, and in Kochaba of Basanitis– called Kohoraba in Hebrew. For thence it originated after the migration from Jerusalem of all the disciples who resided at Pella, Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege. It was owing to this counsel that they went away, as I have said, to reside for a while at Pella” (Haer 29:7).

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (315 – 403 AD)

“The Nazoraean sect exists in Beroea near Coele Syria, in the Decapolis near the region of Pella, and in Bashan in the place called Cocaba, which in Hebrew is called Chochabe. That is where the sect began, when all the disciples were living in Pella after they moved from Jerusalem, since Christ told them to leave Jerusalem and withdraw because it was about to be besieged” (Panarion 29:7:7-8).

“Their sect began after the capture of Jerusalem. For when all those who believed in Christ settled at that time for the most part in Peraea, in a city called Pella belonging to the Decapolis mentioned in the gospel, which is next to Batanaea and the land of Bashan, then they moved there and stayed” (Panarion 30:2:7).

Remigius, Bishop of Reims (437 – 533 AD)

[1] “[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans” [Thomas Aquinas (1841). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels; Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 799-816)].

So the earliest known testimony about the Christians fleeing to Pella seems to belong to Eusebius, who wrote approximately 230 years after the flight took place. Some speculate that his reports were based on the writings of Hegesippus (110-180 AD), whose writings are now mostly lost. Here are a few things to note from these testimonies:

1. Eusebius said that the church in Jerusalem was warned to flee “before the war,” which Josephus said began in August 66 AD (Wars 2.17.2).
2. Eusebius said that the believers “generally” came to live in Pella of Perea. Epiphanius likewise said that they settled in Pella “for the most part.” This indicates that some believers escaped to other locations and/or that not all of the believers escaped.
3. When Remigius said “as ecclesiastical history tells us,” he appears to have been relying on the accounts of Eusebius.
4. Remigius revealed that Agrippa, who protected the Christians at Pella, was under the dominion of the Romans, and that the Jews he watched over were also under the dominion of the Romans.

Josephus does record a mass exodus out of Judea, but it’s difficult to tell exactly when it happened. It took place while Gessius Florus was the Procurator of Judea (64-66 AD). He behaved wickedly toward the Jews, causing the Zealots to gain the upper hand in Judea. According to Josephus, “he spoiled whole cities, and ruined entire bodies of men at once… entire toparchies were brought to desolation, and a great many of the people left their own country, and fled into foreign provinces” (Wars 2.14.2).

The earliest major attack of Jerusalem by the Romans took place in November 66 AD when Cestius Gallus led an army toward Jerusalem to try to put down the rebellion there (Wars 2.19.2-9). The Jews who were gathered there for one of the feasts “saw the war approaching to their metropolis” (Wars 2.19.2). Cestius and his army approached from the northeast of Jerusalem, first observing the city from Mount Scopus, one of the seven mountains of Jerusalem (Wars 2.19.4). It appears that Cestius approached Jerusalem and entered it from one direction, rather than surrounding the city. This also took place several months after the war had begun. (According to Eusebius, the believers were warned to flee before the war began.)

In order to reconcile the account of Eusebius with the words of Jesus, Jerusalem needed to be surrounded by armies prior to the war, which began in August 66 AD, according to Josephus. Was there an earlier instance of Jerusalem being surrounded, which prompted the believers to flee? Consider this account by Josephus, which took place in April – May 66 AD:

“A few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius [Jyar], a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Wars 6.5.3).

Did Christians flee Jerusalem and Judea at that time? By the time Cestius Gallus arrived in November 66 AD, Josephus says this about the people in Jerusalem: “Now for the people, they were kept under by the seditious” (Wars 2.19.4), meaning that they were under the control of the Zealots. This would have been a dangerous environment for any remaining Christians. In other words, the Zealots were a danger and a threat to the people of Jerusalem well before the Romans were. It was also at this time that Josephus said that many of the Zealots “retired from the suburbs, and retreated into the inner part of the city, and into the temple.” They did this because they were “affrighted at the good order of the Romans.”

Many of the Zealots did briefly leave Jerusalem when Cestius Gallus approached the city, but only for a matter of days. They were seized by fear, ran out of Jerusalem, and some of the people opened the gates and invited Cestius Gallus in “as their benefactor.” However, Cestius was unaware that the Zealots had fled and he surprisingly passed on this opportunity to capture Jerusalem. Instead, the Zealots resumed their courage and began to attack the armies of Cestius Gallus, soon achieving a resounding victory. Presumably, Christians in Jerusalem also had an opportunity to flee Jerusalem during those several days when Cestius Gallus was retreating from Jerusalem and most of the Zealots were pursuing his forces. Here’s how Josephus summarized that chain of events:

“A horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.

It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world. But when the robbers perceived this unexpected retreat of his, they resumed their courage, and ran after the hinder parts of his army, and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen…” (Wars 2.19.6-7).

Immediately after this defeat of Cestius Gallus, Josephus speaks of more Jews fleeing from Jerusalem: “After this calamity had befallen Cestius, many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink” (Wars 2.20.1).

Aside from the armies in the clouds which were seen surrounding cities in April – May 66 AD, there were also armies of Zealots roaming throughout Judea and Jerusalem. It’s possible that they surrounded Jerusalem prior to gaining such power that in November 66 AD they were able to “keep the people under” (Wars 2.19.4).

Concerning “abominations,” note that Josephus said that Jerusalem was full of them by September 66 AD, two months before the Romans arrived. This is when the Zealot leader Manahem and his followers were slain in the temple and other parts of the city:

The city was all over polluted with such abominations, from which it was but reasonable to expect some vengeance, even though they should escape revenge from the Romans…as likely themselves to undergo punishment for the wickedness of the seditious; for indeed it so happened that this murder was perpetrated on the sabbath day, on which day the Jews have a respite from their works on account of Divine worship” (Wars 2.17.10).

What about the fate of Christians during this time when Jerusalem was in the grip of the Zealots? It’s the later commentaries which say that not a single Christian died in Jerusalem’s destruction. The same compilation of quotes at Preterist Archives reveals that this claim was made by Henry Hammond (1659), Thomas Newton (1754), George Peter Holford (1805), John Gill (1809), Albert Barnes (1832), Adam Clarke (1837), and Charles Finney (1852).

Whether this claim is true or not, it seems to refer only to the siege of Titus beginning in mid-April 70 AD. In other words, they claimed that Jerusalem was empty of Christians by spring 70 AD, but they did not seem to claim that Jerusalem was empty of Christians by fall 66 AD. Henry Hammond (1659), for example, says that “when Titus came some months after and besieged the city, there was not one Christian remaining in it.” Of course, it’s good to ask how Hammond or anyone else living many centuries later could have known that to be the case.

According to these commentaries, not all of the Christians went to Pella. Thomas Newton (1754) and Adam Clarke (1837) both said that they also settled “in other places beyond the River Jordan.”

Thomas Newton was likely referring to the writings of Josephus when he said, “We do not read anywhere that so much as one of them [Christians] perished in the destruction of Jerusalem.” That’s true. Again, Josephus, who wrote in more detail about the Jewish-Roman War than anyone else, didn’t specifically mention Christians being killed in Jerusalem. He also didn’t say anything about Christians escaping to safety in Pella. The lack of such information from Josephus doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t happen. It just means that he didn’t discuss the status of Christians at all.

The language of Daniel 7:21, 25 indicates that there were still Christians in the grip of the Zealots during the period of 66-70 AD. Based on the descriptions given by Josephus, it was difficult, but not impossible, for local people to enter and exit Jerusalem during that time. For example, After the Idumeans joined the Zealots in slaughtering thousands in February – March 68 AD, Josephus said this:

“But because the city had to struggle with three of the greatest misfortunes, war, and tyranny, and sedition, it appeared, upon the comparison, that the war was the least troublesome to the populace of them all. Accordingly they ran away from their own houses to foreigners, and obtained that preservation from the Romans, which they despaired to obtain among their own people” (Wars 4.7.1).

Despite the Zealots watching “all the passages out of the city,” others also managed to conceal themselves and flee directly to Vespasian, the Roman general:

“Vespasian did, indeed, already pity the calamities these men were in, and arose, in appearance, as though he was going to besiege Jerusalem, – but in reality to deliver them from a [worse] siege they were already under” (Wars 4.7.3).

Even in the midst of the Roman siege (April – September 70 AD), there were Jews who found safety when they escaped to the Romans, as “Titus let a great number of them go away into the country, whither they pleased” (Wars 5.10.1). Later in the siege Josephus said this:

“Many also of the other nobility went over to the Romans, together with the high priests. Now Caesar not only received these men very kindly in other respects, but, knowing they would not willingly live after the customs of other nations, he sent them to Gophna, and desired them to remain there for the present, and told them, that when he was gotten clear of this war, he would restore each of them to their possessions again; so they cheerfully retired to that small city which was allotted them, without fear of any danger” (Wars 6.2.2).

Although many Christians apparently left Jerusalem before the war began, it’s possible that some didn’t heed Jesus’ warning to flee (Matthew 24:15-20, Mark 13:14-18, Luke 21:20-23) and perished. It’s also possible that others stayed, endured great difficulties, and managed to flee later.

Outsiders continued to travel to Jerusalem from far and wide for the annual festivals all the way up to April 70 AD, and many of these pilgrims were killed because of the fighting between the Zealot factions (Wars 5.1.3). It’s possible that Christians from other regions outside of Judea came to Jerusalem to participate in the festivals, failing to heed the warning of Revelation 18:4, and paid the price with their lives.

In summary, I don’t believe that the testimonies of Eusebius, Remigius, Hammond, Newton, etc. in any way dismiss the idea that it was the Zealots, especially under the leadership of Eleazar Ben Simon, who prevailed over the saints in Israel and Jerusalem for 3.5 years. On the other hand, the testimony of Remigius actually dismisses the idea that Nero fulfilled Revelation 13:5-7 by persecuting Christians in all parts of the Roman Empire for a period of 3.5 years (from 64 AD until his death in 68 AD).

Nero’s Government Helped Protect the Christians in Pella

Remigius stated that the Christians in Pella were under the protection of King Agrippa, “but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans.” The fact that Christians escaped from Jerusalem to Pella in 66 AD indicates that Nero was not enforcing an empire-wide persecution of Christians at that time. It means that Nero’s government actually helped protect these Christians from the wrath of the Zealots. In fact, all of Perea, where Pella was located, was conquered by the Romans during the last six months of Nero’s life, but the Christians in Pella remained safe during that time.

The Roman general Vespasian’s victory over “Gadara, the metropolis of Perea” is recorded in Wars 4.7.3. Other parts of Perea were also conquered and Josephus says that “all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans” (Wars 4.7.6). This took place in the first half of 68 AD while Nero was still alive. If Nero was intent on killing Christians throughout the Roman Empire, then why did the Christians remain protected in Pella during this time when the Romans specifically targeted Perea and captured all of it? The far greater threat to their safety came from the Zealots who controlled Judea until most of that country was captured by the Romans, and who controlled Jerusalem for the entire first half of the Jewish-Roman War.

————————————–

The next post will begin to examine Revelation 11:1-13, where the beast is introduced for the first time in the book of Revelation.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

Advertisements

The Significance of the Word “Desolate” in the New Testament


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the book of Revelation”

The word “desolate” (or the related word “desolation”) only appears 12 times in the New Testament. Seven of these appearances are in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and five of them are references to Jerusalem’s condition in Jesus’ day and to what was about to happen to that city. This word does not appear in John’s gospel account, but its final two appearances in the New Testament demonstrate that John, in the book of Revelation, was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was.

Like the previous post, this one is also inspired by a recent discussion here. PJ Miller, of Sola Dei Gloria, observed the similarity between Matthew’s use of the word “desolate” in both chapters 23 and 24:

[1] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

[2] “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16).

[1] In Matthew 23:38, Jesus summed up what had become of Jerusalem in His lament over that city. Although formerly God’s house, Jesus now spoke of Jerusalem (and/or the temple) as “your house,” for He had abandoned it and left it to them as “desolate.”  About 650 years earlierGod said the same to Jeremiah just before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC:

I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritageI have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies… ‘Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion underfoot; They have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it desolate; Desolate, it mourns to Me; The whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart” (Jeremiah 12:7-11).

(In two recent posts, we discussed how first century Jerusalem became infested with demons, but how God chose new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, as His house and His dwelling place.)

Strong’s Concordance defines the word “desolate” (#2048), used in Matthew 23:38, as “lonesome, waste, desert, solitary, wilderness.”

[2] In Matthew 24:15, Jesus warned His followers living in Judea to flee to the mountains when they saw the “abomination of desolation.” Matthew’s Jewish audience was familiar with this phrase, and would understand the reference to Daniel, but Luke quotes Jesus differently for his mostly Gentile audience:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…” (Luke 21:20-21).

So the “abomination of desolation” was in the hands of foreign armies coming to complete Jerusalem’s desolation. The warnings of Matthew and Luke, stated differently, were to bring about the same response: immediate flight. In 314 AD, Eusebius, known as the father of church history, wrote the following about the obedience of Jesus’ followers to His words in Matthew 24:

“The people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance with a certain oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to the approved men there, had been commanded to depart from the city before the [Jewish-Roman war of 67-73 AD], and to inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella [in modern-day Jordan]. And when those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had utterly deserted both the royal metropolis of the Jews itself and the whole land of Judaea, the Justice of God then visited upon them all their acts of violence to Christ and his apostles, by destroying that generation of wicked persons root and branch from among men” (see here for more about this event).

The word “desolation” in Matthew 24:15 is #2049 in Strong’s Concordance, and the definition there is: “from 2048; to lay waste (lit. or fig.): -(bring to, make) desolate (-ion), come to nought.” The word “desolation” in Luke 21:20 is entry #2050, and Strong’s simply points back to #2049. So we can see that all three entries (#2048, #2049, and #2050) are essentially the same word, just as the words “desolate” and “desolation” are essentially the same in English.

“Desolate” and “desolation” appear in Mark 13:14 and Luke 13:35 as direct parallels to Matthew 24 and Matthew 23, respectively. Otherwise, these words only appear six other times in the New Testament.* We’ll look briefly at four of these instances, before looking at their two appearances in Revelation: 

The word “desolation” appears in Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 (parallel passages), where Jesus responds to the Pharisees who question by what power He was casting out demons: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

The word “desolate” appears in Acts 1:20 regarding Judas Iscariot: “’For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it.”

It also shows up in Galatians 4:27, in Paul’s argument that God’s people belong to the Jerusalem above, and not the Jerusalem below. He quotes Isaiah 54: “For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.’”

The Strong’s entry for Acts 1:20 and Galatians 4:27 is #2048, and the entry for Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17 is #2049.

*A different Greek word for “desolate” appears in I Timothy 5:5, and refers to a widow’s grief.

The final two places where this word shows up in the New Testament are in Revelation 17:16 and Revelation 18:19 (Strong’s #2049), regarding the burning of the harlot and the great city:

And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’”

As we discussed in a recent post (“Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons“), “the great city” was first identified as the place “where also our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8).” Of course, Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. This city was also aptly named “the harlot,” the same name given to it by Jeremiah (3:6-8), Ezekiel (16:15), and Hosea (6:10) because it was full of spiritual adultery at that time. Revelation 16-19 repeatedly holds “the great city”, “the harlot,” and “Babylon the great” (different names for the same entity) responsible for shedding the blood of God’s saints, prophets, and apostles. Jesus left no doubt who was responsible for shedding this blood, and when the resulting judgment would come: Israel, in His generation (Matthew 23:29-38).

Jesus declared Jerusalem in His day to be a desolate house, and He warned that “the abomination of desolation” would come and complete its desolation in His own generation. John, in his visions of “things which must shortly take place…for the time is near…at hand” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10), saw the outcome of what Jesus prophesied, Jerusalem made desolate and burned to the ground.

Seeing how the word “desolate” is used here in Revelation 17 and 18, concerning the harlot and the great city, is good confirmation that John was showing Jerusalem to be every bit the desolate place that Jesus said it was in Matthew 23 and 24. This desolation was made complete in the year 70 AD. Gratefully, we can rejoice that we are children of the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26), the new Jerusalem aligned with the new covenant established by the blood of our Savior (Hebrews 12:22-24).

The Olivet Discourse: “This” Generation Or “That” Generation (Part 3 of 4)


In the first post (Part 1) of this series, we examined the first few verses of Jesus’ famous Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, and Luke 21:5-7. We saw the disciples admiring the temple, Jesus telling them it would soon be destroyed, and the disciples asking Him when that would take place. In Matthew’s account alone they asked Him about His coming and the end of the age that they were living in. In the second post, we examined a roughly 10-verse segment in each account where Jesus described some of the signs which would take place before the temple’s destruction. We saw how those signs were fulfilled between the time of His ascension around 30 AD and the temple’s overthrow in 70 AD, about 40 years later.

In this post we will look at how Jesus warned His followers living in Judea to flee to the mountains when they saw “the abomination that causes desolation” (Matthew 24:15/Mark 13:14), that is, “Jerusalem being surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20). We will see some remarkable accounts of how the believers obeyed and did this very thing about 36 years later. We will also consider what Jesus said about a time of great tribulation that was to come.

MATTHEW 24:15-28

MARK 13:14-23

LUKE 21:20-24

15 So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. 22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25See, I have told you ahead of time.26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 14 When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understandthen let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. 20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. 20 When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 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. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 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. 24 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.

THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION

Matt. 24:15-20/Mark 13:14-18/Luke 21:20-21, 23a – Both Matthew and Mark speak of an event which Christ’s followers were to be on the lookout for, “the abomination that causes desolation.” Both writers appeal to the reader “to understand,” and Matthew adds that this was spoken of by Daniel (9:26-27, 11:31, 12:11).  Luke also speaks of an event which would lead to desolation, which he describes as “Jerusalem being surrounded by armies.” Looking at all three accounts together, we can see that these (apparently) two different signs were actually one and the same, for they were to bring about the same response: immediate flight. Luke, addressing a non-Jewish audience, makes plain what the “abomination of desolation” was to be:

AUTHOR:

Matthew

Mark

Luke

CATALYST: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’…” “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’…” “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies… desolation is near.”
RESPONSE: “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…”

Perhaps overlooking this fact, it is often said by futurists that, at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, nothing occurred which may have fulfilled Christ’s prophecy of a coming abomination of desolation. A number of early church writers, however, did teach that this prophecy was fulfilled at that time. These included Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Eusebius (263-339) Athanasius (296-372), Augustine (379), Chrysostom (379), Jerome (347-420), and Remigius (437-533). Eusebius (263-339 AD) was a Roman scholar and historian, known as the “Father of Church History.” In his work entitled “Proof of the Gospel” (Book III, Chapter VII), written in 314 AD, he said the following:

It is fitting to add to these accounts the true prediction of our Saviour in which he foretold these very events. His words are as follows: “Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day; For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” …These things took place in this manner in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, in accordance with the prophecies of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by divine power saw them beforehand as if they were already present, and wept and mourned according to the statement of the holy evangelists…

Moreover, the people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance with a certain oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to the approved men there, had been commanded to depart from the city before the war, and to inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella. And when those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had utterly deserted both the royal metropolis of the Jews itself and the whole land of Judaea, the Justice of God then visited upon them all their acts of violence to Christ and his apostles, by destroying that generation of wicked persons root and branch from among men.

…at last the abomination of desolation, proclaimed by the prophets, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, the temple which was now awaiting its total and final destruction by fire– all these things any one that wishes may find accurately described in the history written by Josephus.

Remigius (437-533 AD) tells us this:

[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time.

This is fascinating stuff! Athanasius (296-372 AD), the bishop of Alexandria, likewise wrote this:

“And when He Who spake unto Moses, the Word of the Father [i.e. Jesus], appeared in the end of the world [age], He also gave this commandment, saying…, ‘When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth, let him understand); then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains…’ [Matt. 24:15-16]. Knowing these things, the Saints regulated their conduct accordingly” (Defence of His Flight).

When Athanasius spoke of the believers in Jerusalem living “accordingly,” it’s likely that he meant they lived simply, in order to be prepared for that time when they would need to suddenly vacate. Indeed, we read in Acts that the believers there “had all things in common,” they “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45), and “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32). Of course, many of these believers were later scattered throughout Judea and Samaria when persecution suddenly arose after Stephen was martyred (Acts 8:1).

SOURCE

From Scripture it seems clear that “the holy place” mentioned by Jesus (Matt. 24:15) was not the temple, but Jerusalem, since the entire city was considered holy (Nehemiah 11:1, Daniel 9:24, Matthew 4:5, Matthew 27:53). In Daniel’s day the temple was holy, but Jesus had just pronounced it desolate (Matthew 23:38). This was the viewpoint of Chrysostom (379 AD), who wrote, “For this it seems to me that the abomination of desolation means the army by which the holy city of Jerusalem was made desolate” (recorded in The Ante-Nicene Fathers). Thomas Newton, in his dissertation titled “The Prophecy of Matthew 24” written in 1753, also took this position:

Whatever difficulty there is in these words [in Matthew 24:15-16], it may be cleared up by the parallel place in St. Luke, ‘And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains,’-xxi – 20, 21. So that ‘the abomination of desolation’ is the Roman army, and ‘the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place’ is the Roman army besieging Jerusalem. This, saith our Saviour, is ‘the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet,’ in the ninth and eleventh chapters; and so let every one who readeth those prophecies, understand them. The Roman army is called ‘the abomination,’ for its ensigns and images, which were so to the Jews.

Other commentators roughly contemporary to Thomas Newton held to the same view, i.e. that these words of Jesus were fulfilled in 67-70 AD. These included John Wesley (1754), Adam Clarke (1837), C. H. (Charles) Spurgeon (1868), and Philip Schaff (1877). For example, Charles Spurgeon said (“Popular Exposition of Matthew”),

“This portion of our Savior’s words appears to relate solely to the destruction of Jerusalem. As soon as Christ’s disciples saw ‘the abomination of desolation’, that is, the Roman ensigns, with their idolatrous emblems, ‘stand in the holy place’, they knew that the time for them to escape had arrived, and they did ‘flee to the mountains.’ The Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and villages, ‘in Judea’, availed themselves of the first opportunity for eluding the Roman armies, and fled to the mountain city of Pella, in Perea, where they were preserved from the general destruction which overthrew the Jews.

The Romans came into Jerusalem bearing standards, emblems, and banners with images of their gods and proclamations of the deity of their emperor. B.H. Carroll (1915), in his well-known work, “An Introduction of the English Bible” (1915), related an interesting incident which took place during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD). This incident sheds light on what was constituted as such an abomination at this time:

Pilate, at that time Roman Procurator, sent from Caesarea, the seaport of that country on the Mediterranean Sea, a legion of Roman soldiers and had them secretly introduced into the city and sheltered in the tower of Antonio overlooking the Temple, and these soldiers brought with them their ensigns. The Roman sign was a straight staff, capped with a metallic eagle, and right under the eagle was a graven image of Caesar. Caesar claimed to be divine. Caesar exacted divine worship, and every evening when those standards were placed, the Roman legion got down and worshiped the image of Caesar thereof, and every morning at the roll call a part of the parade was for the whole legion to prostrate themselves before that graven image and worship it. The Jews were so horrified when they saw that image and the consequent worship, they went to Pilate, who was at that time living in Caesarea, and prostrated themselves before him and said, ‘Kill us, if you will, but take that abomination of desolation out of our Holy City and from the neighborhood of our holy temple’ (pp. 263-264).

Jesus had told those living in Judea to head to the mountains, predicting such urgency that they weren’t even to grab what was inside their homes. It would be especially difficult for those who were pregnant or nursing. Neither winter (according to Matthew and Mark) nor the Sabbath (said Matthew) would be an ideal time to have to flee. George Peter Holford, in his 1805 book, “The Destruction of Jerusalem, An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity,” notes a very sad situation predicted in the words of Jesus Himself:

The day on which Titus encompassed Jerusalem, was the feast of the Passover; and it is deserving of the very particular attention of the reader, that this was the anniversary of that memorable period in which the Jews crucified their Messiah! At this season multitudes came up from all the surrounding country, and from distant parts, to keep the festival. How suitable and how kind, then, was the prophetic admonition of our LORD, and how clearly he saw into futurity when he said, “Let not them that are in the countries enter into Jerusalem” (Luke 21:21).

Nevertheless, the city was at this time crowded with Jewish strangers, and foreigners from all parts, so that the whole nation may be considered as having been shut up in one prison, preparatory to the execution of the Divine vengeance; and, according to Josephus this event took place suddenly; thus, not only fulfilling the predictions of our LORD, that these calamities should come, like the swift-darting lightning “that cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the West,” and ” as a snare on all of them (the Jews) who dwelt upon the face of the whole earth ” (Matt. 24:27, and Luke 21:35) but justifying, also, his friendly direction, that those who fled from the place should use the utmost possible [speed].

There is also a significant note to be made concerning Jesus’ instructions to pray that their flight from Jerusalem would not be on a Sabbath (Matthew 24:20). Prior to 70 AD the Jews who controlled the city would close the city gates on the Sabbath and there would be no way to escape (See Nehemiah 13:15-22). It’s significant to note that this is not a practice in modern Israel; if it was, it would be helpful to the Futurist view which says that this will happen soon. As one can see from the quotes above, this Futurist view is a new one that doesn’t reflect what has been taught in church history.

GREAT TRIBULATION

Matt. 24:21/Mark 13:19/Luke 21:22-23 – All three writers define this time as one of “great distress.” This is the phrase used in the NIV, quoted above. In most other translations, the phrase used by Matthew and Mark is “great tribulation.”  That time would be more distressful than any other time since the world began. Matthew and Mark add that it was “never to be equaled again.” This statement by Jesus is one more indication that the tribulation He spoke of is already past. For if this refers to a supposed end of the world in the future, and not 67-70 AD, why would Jesus say such a thing? It wouldn’t make sense to use the expression “never to be equaled again” when referring to an event that brings humanity to the very end of time. Instead this phrase implies that a significant period of time would follow the great tribulation Jesus spoke of, which makes sense if it took place in the first century. This passage has several parallels in Scripture, as can be seen from the following chart:

JEREMIAH 30:7 DANIEL 12:1-7 MATTHEW 24:21 LUKE 21:22-23 REVELATION 7:14
“Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, “For then there will be great tribulation, “Alas… For there will be great distress upon the earth [or ‘this land’] and wrath against this people.” “And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation’…”
“…there is none like it…” such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”
yet he shall be saved out of it.” But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”
“And someone said…, ‘How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?’ And I heard…it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.” “for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (verse 22).

So among the things which we see are that this tribulation was to be for Israel, it would last for 3.5 years (“time, times, and half a time”) and would end when the power of that people had been shattered (Daniel 12:6-7), and the followers of Christ would experience deliverance. We already saw that God delivered the believers of the first century when they obeyed and fled to Pella. The Roman campaign against Israel did in fact last for 3.5 years, from the time that Nero declared war in February 67 AD and dispatched Vespasian as his general (Revelation 6:2) until Jerusalem fell in August 70 AD (Revelation 18:9-24). This accomplished the shattering of the power of “the holy people” (Daniel’s phrase).

Josephus vindicates the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:21 (“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.”) with his own firsthand report: “If the misfortunes of all nations, from the beginning of the world, were compared with those which befell the Jews, they would appear far less in comparison; No other city ever suffered such things, as no other generation, from the beginning of the world, was ever more fruitful in wickedness.”

Luke, in his account, adds a couple of very revealing expressions, saying that this great distress would be “in the land” and that the wrath would be “against this people.” The phrase “the land” is not only a common expression in Scripture indicating “the promised land” (Israel), but Judea and Jerusalem are explicitly mentioned in verses 20, 21, and 24. Luke’s use of the phrase “this people” is also a clear reference to the Jews who lived in that land, who were left behind because they didn’t flee. Those who view the “great tribulation” as future tend to view it as a worldwide event, but these are very clear indications that this judgment was localized to Israel. We also have highly detailed historical records showing how utterly devastating Israel’s downfall was at this time in history (67 – 70 AD). To learn more, see this fascinating timeline here.

Another profound statement is made by Luke. He says that this time of punishment would be “in fulfillment of all that has been written.” Evan Erzingatsian provides the following chart showing how Jesus’ predictions are based on Israel’s covenant contract recorded in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. As Evan says,

“The table below shows the paraphrases (found in Matt 24 and Luke 21) based on the contractual terms found in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Only Israel said ‘Amen!’ to the curses (Deut. 27:15-26). Only Israel was bound to experience the calamitous events found in Matthew 24. This is why Matthew 24 mentions Jerusalem and Judea as the places where the events of the last days would unfold (Matt. 24:16, Luke 21:20-23).”

No automatic alt text available.

It has been said by some futurists that the preterist (past fulfillment) position is anti-semitic, because it takes away prophetic significance from modern-day Israel and the Jewish people (over and above other peoples). Ironically, though, it’s the futurist position which is looking forward to mass devastation for Israel and the Jewish people, a time which will supposedly be even worse than what took place in 70 AD.

Matt. 24:22/Mark 13:20 – Matthew and Mark record that the destruction during this time of tribulation would be so great that no one would survive if it was allowed to continue for long. This would be done, says Matthew, for the sake of the elect. Jerusalem was under a very tight siege for five months, from April through September 70 AD, before the whole city was burned (Matthew 22:7). The famine became so great that mothers even ate their own babies. Dead bodies were piled everywhere, and those who tried to escape the city were crucified by the Romans at such a rate that Josephus tells us more than one Jew would often be nailed to the same cross. Josephus records that 1.1 million Jews were killed at this time.

Source: Cindye Coates (Matthew 24 Fulfilled)

Luke 21:24 – Luke tells us that many would be killed “by the sword” during this time. This, of course, is indicative of ancient warfare rather than 21st century style warfare. It is this section of Luke’s account (Luke 21:20-24) which many futurists admit took place in the first century. At the same time, they often insist that Luke’s phrase “this generation” in Luke 21:32 means a future (or present) generation which will see all these signs come together at once. This position is highly contradictory, for at least the following reason.

In the previous post, we saw that a number of signs precede “the abomination of desolation” and “great tribulation” in the accounts of Matthew and Mark: [1] imposters claiming to be Christ [2] wars and rumors of wars [3] nations and kingdoms clashing [4] earthquakes [5] famines [6] persecution and martyrdom [7] betrayal and hatred. Without a doubt, these exact same signs also appear in Luke’s account before Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and there comes a time of “great distress.” According to the Futurist interpretation, then, the above seven signs precede two entirely different time periods; i.e. in Luke they refer to a time period in the first century, and in Matthew and Mark they supposedly refer to our own generation. As we will see in the next post, however, Jesus says in each account that “this generation will not pass away until ALL these things take place.” The Futurist who admits that the “great distress” in Luke 21:20-24 took place from 67-70 AD, but who says that the rest of the prophecy remains unfulfilled, has already stretched out the definition of a generation more than 1900 years.

Luke also speaks of many being taken as prisoners “to all the nations.” We learned from the previous post that when Jesus spoke of all nations (Matt. 24:14, Mark 13:10), this was a reference to the Roman Empire. The same is true here. Josephus tells us that nearly 1.2 million Jews were killed in Jerusalem, and that the Romans carried off 97,000 Jews into international slavery.

Luke tells us that the end of Jerusalem’s trampling by the Gentiles would also be the end of “the times of the Gentiles.” Perhaps the most popular Futurist position is that “the times of the Gentilesbegan in 70 AD, that this continues until today (i.e. it’s the Church Age), and that “God’s program with the Jews will one day soon be resumed.” I believe this to be false, and that “the times of the Gentilesended in 70 AD instead. Without taking up more space here on this subject, I’d like to point to an article by Mike Blume, whom I believe does an excellent job showing that the times of the Gentiles began with Babylon’s affliction and domination of Israel, followed by that of Medo-Persia and Greece, and finally ending with Rome’s destruction of that nation. He also shows that Luke 21:24 is parallel to both Romans 11:25 and Revelation 11:2, which shows that Jerusalem was to be “trampled underfoot” for 42 months. Again, 42 months = 3.5 years, which is precisely how long Rome took to invade and destroy Jerusalem (February 67 AD – August 70 AD).

Matt. 24:23-26/Mark 13:21-23 – Here Matthew and Mark essentially repeat Jesus’ earlier warning (see previous post) about false prophets and false messiahs. Jesus’ 1st century listeners are told to be on their guard (this really did have meaning for them), because these deceivers would even perform great signs and miracles. As David Chilton reminds us, in his 1987 book, The Days of Vengeance (p. 340),

“The Book of Acts records several instances of miracle-working Jewish false prophets who came into conflict with the Church (cf. Acts 8:9-24) and worked under Roman officials (cf. Acts 13:6-11); as Jesus foretold (Matt. 7:22-23), some of them even used His name in their incantations (Acts 19:13-16).”

Matt. 24:27-28 – Jesus compares His coming (which, again, He promised would take place while some of His disciples were still alive – Matt. 16:27-28) to lightning which comes from the east and is also visible in the west. This statement appears only in Matthew’s account, the only account to have specifically mentioned His coming up until this point (in verse 3).

This is possibly a reference to the 12th Roman legion, Fulminata, that participated in the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This legion did not perform well in November 66 AD when Cestius Gallus was defeated by the Jews, but it did very well in 70 AD. Its emblem and nickname was “Thunderbolt.”

Image result for LEGIO XII FULMINATA

Source

Adam Clarke, in his 1810 commentary on this verse, interpreted it this way:

“It is worthy of remark that our Lord, in the most particular manner, points out the very march of the Roman army: they entered into Judea on the EAST, and carried on their conquest WESTWARD, as if not only the extensiveness of the ruin, but the very route which the army would take, were intended in the comparison of the lightning issuing from the east, and shining to the west.”

Then Jesus adds, “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” Some translations say “eagles” instead of “vultures.” George Peter Holford (in 1805) noted that not only was Israel fit to be described as a carcass in 70 AD; being spiritually, politically, and judicially dead; but it was also a curious fact that the eagle was the principal figure on the Roman ensigns which were planted throughout the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD and finally in the temple itself. Albert Barnes, in his commentary on these two verses in 1832, agreed:

“The words in this verse are proverbial. Vultures and eagles easily ascertain where dead bodies are, and come to devour them. So with the Roman army. Jerusalem is like a dead and putrid corpse. Its life is gone, and it is ready to be devoured. The Roman armies will find it out, as the vultures do a dead carcass, and will come around it, to devour it… This verse is connected with the preceding by the word “for,” implying that this is a reason for what is said there, that the Son of man would certainly come to destroy the city, and that he would come suddenly. The meaning is, he would come by means of the Roman armies, as certainly, as suddenly, and as unexpectedly, as whole flocks of vultures and eagles, though unseen before, suddenly find their prey, see it at a great distance, and gather in multitudes around it.”

Source: Cindye Coates (Matthew 24 Fulfilled)

Quotes to Note

Jonathan Edwards (1736): “Thus there was a final end to the Old Testament world: all was finished with a kind of day of judgment, in which the people of God were saved, and His enemies terribly destroyed.”

Philip Mauro, scholar and US Supreme Court bar lawyer (1859-1952): “It is greatly to be regretted that those who, in our day, give themselves to the study and exposition of prophecy, seem not to be aware of the immense significance of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which was accompanied by the extinction of Jewish national existence, and the dispersion of the Jewish people among all the nations. The failure to recognize the significance of that event, and the vast amount of prophecy which it fulfilled, has been the cause of great confusion, for the necessary consequence of missing the past fulfillment of predicted events is to leave on our hands a mass of prophecies for which we must needs contrive fulfillments in the future. The harmful results are twofold; for first, we are thus deprived of the evidential value, and the support to the faith, of those remarkable fulfillments of prophecy which are so clearly presented to us in authentic contemporary histories; and second, our vision of things to come is greatly obscured and confused by the transference to the future of predicted events which, in fact, have already happened, and whereof complete records have been preserved for our information.

“Yet, in the face of all this, we have today a widely held scheme of prophetic interpretation, which has for its very cornerstone the idea that, when God’s time to remember His promised mercies to Israel shall at last have come, He will gather them into their ancient land again, only to pour upon them calamities and distresses far exceeding even the horrors which attended the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is, we are convinced, an error of such magnitude as to derange the whole program of unfulfilled prophecy” (Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation, 1921, emphasis added).

PP14: Abomination of Desolation


This is now the fourteenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/
[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/
[6] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/
[7] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/
[8] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp8-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-1/
[9] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp9-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-2/
[10] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp10-jerusalems-destruction-foretold-in-the-olivet-discourse/
[11] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp11-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-1/
[12] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp12-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-2/
[13] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp13-signs-of-the-close-of-the-age/

This will be the last of four posts in which we are considering the words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse related to the predicted judgment on apostate Israel in 67-70 AD.  We have already considered Christ’s non-physical return in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD, and His declaration that His generation would not pass away until all that He had prophesied would take place. In the previous post we  examined the signs that Jesus said would lead up to the end of the age. In this post we will speak of the abomination of desolation, as well as the great tribulation which Jesus said would find no comparison in history.

Adam Maarschalk

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

III. The Abomination of Desolation

It is said by a number of futurists that, in the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, nothing occurred which may have fulfilled Christ’s prophecy of a coming abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel (8:13; 9:26-27, 11:31, 12:11). Of this, Jesus said, “when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16). A number of early church writers, however, did teach that the abomination of desolation occurred in the time period of Jerusalem’s destruction. These included Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Eusebius (263-339) Athanasius (296-372), Augustine (379), Chrysostom (379), Jerome (347-420), and Remigius (437-533). Eusebius, for example, said:

…the many great sieges which were carried on against the cities of Judea, and the excessive sufferings endured by those that fled to Jerusalem itself, as to a city of perfect safety, and finally the general course of the whole war, as well as its particular occurrences in detail, and how at last the abomination of desolation, proclaimed by the prophets, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, the temple which was now awaiting its total and final destruction by fire– all these things any one that wishes may find accurately described in the history written by Josephus (Dennis [4], 2009).

Sam Storms (2006) is one contemporary pastor and author who believes that the abomination of desolation and the great tribulation are already long past. He says, “[A] careful study of [Matthew 24 and Mark 13] will reveal that ‘the abomination of desolation’ to which [Jesus] refers, as well as the ‘great tribulation,’ pertain to the events of 70 a.d.”

From Scripture it seems possible that the holy place mentioned by Jesus was not the temple, but Jerusalem, since the entire city was considered holy (Daniel 9:24, Nehemiah 11:1, Matthew 4:5, Matthew 27:53). In Daniel’s day the temple was holy, but Jesus had just pronounced it desolate (Matthew 23:38). This was the viewpoint of Chrysostom, who wrote, “For this it seems to me that the abomination of desolation means the army by which the holy city of Jerusalem was made desolate” (recorded in The Ante-Nicene Fathers). Thomas Newton, in his dissertation titled “The Prophecy of Matthew 24” written in 1753, also took this position (Todd Dennis [12], 2009):

Whatever difficulty there is in these words [in Matthew 24:15-16], it may be cleared up by the parallel place in St. Luke, ‘And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains,’-xxi – 20, 21. So that ‘the abomination of desolation’ is the Roman army, and ‘the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place’ is the Roman army besieging Jerusalem. This, saith our Saviour, is ‘the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet,’ in the ninth and eleventh chapters; and so let every one who readeth those prophecies, understand them. The Roman army is called ‘the abomination,’ for its ensigns and images, which were so to the Jews.

Other commentators roughly contemporary to Thomas Newton held to the same view, i.e. that these words of Jesus were fulfilled in 67-70 AD, also allowing that “the holy place” was not the inner temple but Jerusalem itself. These included John Wesley (1754), Adam Clarke (1837), C. H. (Charles) Spurgeon (1868), and Philip Schaff (1877). For many of these commentators, it was enough of an abomination that the Romans came into Jerusalem bearing standards, emblems, and banners with images of their gods and proclamations of the deity of their emperor.[1] B.H. Carroll (1915), in his well-known work, “An Introduction of the English Bible,” related an interesting incident which took place during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD). This incident sheds light on what was constituted as such an abomination at this time:

Pilate, at that time Roman Procurator, sent from Caesarea, the seaport of that country on the Mediterranean Sea, a legion of Roman soldiers and had them secretly introduced into the city and sheltered in the tower of Antonio overlooking the Temple, and these soldiers brought with them their ensigns. The Roman sign was a straight staff, capped with a metallic eagle, and right under the eagle was a graven image of Caesar. Caesar claimed to be divine. Caesar exacted divine worship, and every evening when those standards were placed, the Roman legion got down and worshiped the image of Caesar thereof, and every morning at the roll call a part of the parade was for the whole legion to prostrate themselves before that graven image and worship it. The Jews were so horrified when they saw that image and the consequent worship, they went to Pilate, who was at that time living in Caesarea, and prostrated themselves before him and said, ‘Kill us, if you will, but take that abomination of desolation out of our Holy City and from the neighborhood of our holy temple’ (pp. 263-264).

As we will see later, it’s a historical fact that thousands of believers, recalling Jesus’ words, did flee to the mountains around 67 AD. According to Remigius, they did so as the Roman army approached, even a couple years before the Romans invaded the temple itself:

[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us [referring to Eusebius], miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time.

IV. No Greater Tribulation Before Or Since

Holford writes that in the final days and hours of the siege on Jerusalem, when the temple was penetrated, many Jews inexplicably forsook the towers of the temple which they had arrogantly deemed to be impenetrable. In a panic, they “sought refuge in caverns and subterraneous passages; in which dismal retreats no less than two thousand dead bodies were afterwards found. Thus, as our Lord had predicted, did these miserable creatures, in effect, “say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the rocks, ‘Cover us’ (Luke 23:30; cf. Rev. 6:16).” Even the Roman general Titus recognized the hand of God in Israel’s destruction, for he exclaimed, “Had not God himself aided our operations, and driven the Jews from their fortresses, it would have been absolutely impossible to have taken them; for what could men, and the force of engines, have done against such towers as these?”

Josephus vindicates the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:21 (“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.”) with his own firsthand report: “If the misfortunes of all nations, from the beginning of the world, were compared with those which befell the Jews, they would appear far less in comparison; No other city ever suffered such things, as no other generation, from the beginning of the world, was ever more fruitful in wickedness.”

This statement by Jesus is one more indication that the tribulation He spoke of is already past. For if this refers to a yet future time just prior to the Second Coming, and not 67-70 AD, why would Jesus use the phrase “and never will be”? It wouldn’t make so much sense to use the expression “and never will be” when referring to an event that brings humanity to the very end of time. Instead this phrase implies that a significant period of time would follow the great tribulation Jesus spoke of, which makes sense if it was completed by 70 AD. The final section will show in more detail how awful that tribulation was.


[1] E.g. Spurgeon said, “This portion of our Savior’s words appears to relate solely to the destruction of Jerusalem. As soon as Christ’s disciples saw ‘the abomination of desolution’, that is, the Roman ensigns, with their idolatrous emblems, ‘stand in the holy place’, they knew that the time for them to escape had arrived, and they did ‘flee to the mountains.’ The Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and villages, ‘in Judea’, availed themselves of the first opportunity for eluding the Roman armies, and fled to the mountain city of Pella, in Perea, where they were preserved from the general destruction which overthrew the Jews (Haynes, 2001).

PP10: Jerusalem’s Destruction Foretold in the Olivet Discourse


This is now the tenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/
[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/
[6] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/
[7] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/
[8] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp8-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-1/
[9] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp9-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-2/

In this post we will begin to examine the three New Testament accounts of the Olivet Discourse, delivered by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

Adam Maarschalk

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

E. Jerusalem’s Destruction Foretold in the Olivet Discourse

Futurists and Preterists alike seem to agree that there are remarkable parallels between the revelation given to John and the teachings of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21). After all, Jesus speaks of His prophesied events as “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) and John uses the same phrase (Revelation 7:14). One’s preconceived ideas can lead to vastly different assumptions about these details. For Futurists, the bulk of what Jesus shared in the Olivet Discourse refers to events which have not yet taken place, and this is in keeping with their view that the bulk of the book of Revelation is also not yet fulfilled. For Preterists, Jesus spoke far more in Matthew, Mark, and Luke regarding 70 AD than Futurists give Him credit for, and this is in keeping with the Preterist view that the parallel events found in the book of Revelation took place by 70 AD.

It can be noted that the Olivet Discourse, as it is recorded in Luke, is somewhat different than its parallel account in Matthew and Mark. Mike Rusten (2009 [1]), Associate Dean of The Bethlehem Institute and formerly an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, observes, “Whereas in Matthew the disciples ask two questions, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen (i.e. the destruction of the temple), and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’ Luke only records the disciples asking about the time of the destruction of the temple.” He further notes that unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not make reference to false prophets, an increase in lawlessness, enduring until the end[1], or the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. On the other hand, Matthew and Mark do not explicitly mention Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, the days of vengeance upon Israel, Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, or the Jews being led captive into all the nations.

Mike Rusten concludes that “the times of the Gentiles,” as mentioned in Luke 21:24, refer to the nearly 2000 years which have transpired since the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (Luke 21:20-24a) and the Second Coming of Christ (Luke 21:25-27), which we currently await. If this is true, though, one must still grapple with the fact that Matthew 24:4-28 and Luke 21:8-24 are parallel passages to a very large extent. In both passages readers are warned of [1] imposters claiming to be Christ [2] wars and rumors of wars [3] nations and kingdoms clashing [4] earthquakes [5] famines [6] persecution and martyrdom [7] betrayal and hatred [8] a signal indicating the need to flee to the mountains without the slightest delay [9] the difficulties for pregnant woman and those who will be nursing infants in those days [10] great distress and tribulation.

Matthew 24:29-31 and Luke 21:25-28 are parallel passages as well. The difference is that Matthew says the coming of the Son of Man would immediately follow “the tribulation of those days,” while Luke does not use the same phrase but instead refers to the slaughter and captivity of the Jewish people, the trampling of Jerusalem, and the times of the Gentiles. Futurists generally agree with Preterists that Luke indeed refers to 70 AD at this point, but they place a multi-century gap in Luke 21:24a so that verses 25-28 are yet future. Futurists can’t place any gap before Matthew 24:29, however, because Matthew uses the word “immediately.” So they consign “the tribulation of those days,” described in verses 15-28, to the future as well. They have no choice but to do so, if Matthew 24:29-31 is yet future. The Futurist interpretation then is left to explain why the above 10 warnings refer to two entirely different time periods, depending on the book in which they are found; i.e. in Luke they refer to a time period in the first century, and in Matthew (as well as Mark) they refer to a time period no sooner than the 21st century.

This leads to a dilemma when we come to the next set of parallel verses, Matthew 24:32-35 and Luke 21:29-33. In both cases Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” For the Futurist, this means that all the things Jesus prophesied will take place in one future (or present) generation which will see them begin. At first glance, this seems to work in Matthew’s account of the Olivet Discourse because, says the Futurist, the vast majority of Matthew 24 must refer to a generation alive in the 21st century. This line of reasoning falls apart with Luke’s account, however, because the Futurist admits that the “great distress” in Luke 21:20-24a took place around 70 AD. By any reckoning, a “generation” is far shorter than 1939 years.

Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse is interesting in this regard. After Jesus prophesies of the impending overthrow of the temple (Mark 13:1-2), Mark records the disciples asking Him only one question (verses 3-4, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”) Jesus then articulates all of the same 10 warnings which were noted above in the accounts of Matthew and Luke. In Mark’s account, verses 24-27 are parallel with Matthew 24:29-31 and Luke 21:25-28. Mark’s transition is more similar to Matthew’s use of “immediately” in that he says, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkenedAnd then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24, 26). This is significant because Mark is only addressing the question of the temple’s overthrow, and the signs which would show it was about to happen. We know without any doubt that it happened in 70 AD.

It may be possible to account for the different details highlighted by each author by considering the audiences to which they were writing. For example, Luke, a Gentile doctor, may have repeatedly made specific references to Jews and Gentiles because he expected his audience to be Gentile. Matthew, however, may have chosen not to do so because his audience was primarily Jewish. By this way of thinking, Luke perhaps omitted any explicit reference to the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel because such a reference was less likely to resonate with his Gentile audience.

In any case, it’s even more interesting that John, in his gospel account, omits the Olivet Discourse entirely, even though he was no doubt present when Jesus spoke those things. From the Preterist viewpoint, one likely reason for this curious fact is that the book of Revelation, which he authored, actually functions as his exposition of the Olivet Discourse, albeit in a more detailed manner. Therefore, he felt no need to include the Olivet Discourse passage in his gospel account, especially if the book of John was written after the book of Revelation.

Regarding the notion that the question posed by the disciples in Matthew 24:3 is different in nature than the question posed in the other two accounts, the Preterist view is that there is no division of questions. The disciples did not ask about the end of the world, but rather the end of the age (i.e. the Jewish age) as spoken of by Daniel and other Old Testament prophets. So what appears to some to be a 3-part question is simply the disciples asking questions about the same event; i.e. the destruction of the temple, the coming of Christ in judgment, and the end of the age. Thomas Newton, in 1754, said (Todd Dennis [20], 2009), “‘The coming of Christ,’ and ‘the conclusion of the age,’ being therefore only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, the purpose of the question plainly is, when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it?” Kevin Daly (2009) likewise remarks:

It is Jesus’ emphatic confirmation of the Temple’s fate that leads to the disciples’ question: ‘When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ While some argue this to be three separate questions – so that Jesus’ answer in the subsequent verses must be unraveled and applied to three different events – this is not supported by the parallel accounts in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels: ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’ (Mark 13:4); ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ (Luke 21:7). What Jesus prophesied against the Temple would happen at our Lord’s coming in judgment and would also, by implication, bring about the end of that age.


[1] One could say, though, that those spoken of in Luke 21:8 are false prophets, and that Christ does speak of endurance leading to salvation in verse 19.