Studies On Christ’s Olivet Discourse
Dr. Frederick A. Tatford of East Sussex, England, is President of the Prophetic Witness Movement International, well-known lecturer and conference speaker, and author of over sixty books. This is the fourth study of his extended series on Christ’s Olivet Discourse.”
The End Of The Age
The remaining two questions asked by the disciples on Olivet that late afternoon related to the manifestation of Messiah in power and authority and to the end of the age, and it is evident that, in the view of the questioners, these two events synchronized. They anticipated that Messiah would bring to an end the present age and usher in the coming age by defeating the Romans and delivering His people from the Gentile yoke. This must have seemed imminent since they were now convinced that the Messiah was actually in their presence.
Our Lord dealt with their fourth question before referring to the third. They had asked what the sign would be of the end of the age, i.e. of course, of the Jewish “present age.” Surely some climatic event or some remarkable happening was about to take place. Presumably Messiah would terminate the present age and usher in the coming one by some world-shattering act. Only the first Gospel recorded the question (Matt. 24:3), but both Matthew and Mark provided the answer. Luke, as indicated in the previous chapter, obviously quoted part of our Lord’s reply but did not mention the vital sign which He gave.
The Abomination Of Desolation
According to Matthew the indication would be when they saw “the abomination of desolation” (or “the desolating idolatry”), spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (Matt. 24:15). Mark, however, recorded the Lord’s words as “standing where he ought not” (Mark 13:14). Both evangelists exhorted the reader to understand what was implied.
When the sign appeared, the Lord enjoined those who were then in Judea to flee to the mountains for safety — a similar injunction to the one He had given in relation to the destruction of the temple. If one was upon the flat housetop (still a feature in Israel and a man could walk from one roof to another), he was advised not to delay by descending to remove anything from his house. One who was working in the fields was warned not to sacrifice time in returning to recover his clothes. The pregnant wife and the mother of a young babe were to be pitied and they should pray that their flight would not be in the winter when travel might be arduous or on the sabbath day when travel would be restricted. (The rabbinical interpretation of Ex. 16:29 and Num. 35:5 fixed 2,000 cubits as the maximum distance which could be travelled on the Sabbath day). Unparalleled trouble was to come upon the land: hence the need for haste in flight. The references to Judea, the housetop, the Sabbath day, etc., indicate that it was the people of Israel about whom our Lord was speaking.
Our Lord’s quotation, “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet,” was based on Daniel 9:27. There the prophet stated that the coming prince mentioned in verse 26 would enter into a seven-year treaty with “the many” (inferentially the nation of Israel), and that halfway through that period he would put a stop to all forms of religious worship, and that “upon the wing of idolatries” (“abomination” is almost an Old Testament synonym for “idolatry,” cf. 1 Kings 11:5, 7; 2 Kings 23:13; Ezek. 5:11) would come a desolation. The term “wing” has been subject to a number of widely different interpretations, but E. J. Young is probably correct when he says, “The word apparently refers to the pinnacle of the temple which has become so desecrated that it no longer can be regarded as the temple of the Lord, but as an idol temple … The wing of the temple (Matt. 4:5; Luke 4:8) is the summit of the temple itself.”1 In some way or other the temple was to be so defiled by idolatrous rites as to become in God’s sight, an abomination.
Many expositors have referred to the ensigns carried by the Roman army, which often bore eagles and images of the emperor and to which divine honours were paid by the army. Josephus quotes an incident when Pilate brought ensigns bearing Caesar’s effigies into Jerusalem and caused a violent protest by the Jews. But the term implies something of far greater impiety than this.
Tregelles suggests that an idol may be set up on the wing or pinnacle of the temple, but the apostle Paul revealed that, when the ultimate apostacy comes, the Man of Lawlessness will sit down in the temple and claim homage as God (2 Thess. 2:3, 4). The seer of the Apocalypse also referred to the setting up of a statue of a great ruler (apparently the same individual), to which life will be imparted and for which worship will be demanded on penalty of death (Rev. 13:14, 15).
When this sign appeared, the godly should follow the Lord’s injunction and flee from Jerusalem to find a refuge in the mountains, for this sign would herald the commencement of “the great tribulation,” a period of unparallelled trouble so dreadful that, unless an early end to it came, no one would be saved (Jer. 30:7). He warned that, in that period, many would declare that Messiah had come and was to be found in one place or another. No credibility should be given to their stories, for false messiahs and false prophets would appear upon the scene, showing great signs and wonders which might almost deceive the elect (i.e. Israel, since false messiahs and false prophets and amazing signs have no relevance to the Church or to Christians). The Master had given the warning and those who listened to Him should not be deluded by calls to go forth into the wilderness to find Him or expect Him in some secret chamber (Matt. 24:23-26; Mark 13:21-23; Luke 17:23).
There would be no doubt when He came. His coming would be plain for all to see. It would be like the lightning flashing across the sky from the east to the west (Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24). The idle rumours circulated by misleading individuals could, therefore, be completely discounted.
The Gospel of The Kingdom
When the sign of “the abomination of desolation” appeared, the godly would know by deduction that, in 42 months or 3 ½ years, the end of the age would come, since, according to Daniel, the abomination of desolation was to occur halfway through the seventieth heptad or “week” of Daniel 9 and the previous 69 heptads have been demonstrated by history to be of seven years each.
Our Lord gave a further indication, however. Before the end of the Jewish “present age” could come, “the gospel of the kingdom” must be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations (Matt. 24:14.) The gospel of the kingdom was simply the glad news that the King was coming to set up His kingdom. When our Lord commenced His public ministry, He taught in all the synagogues of Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23). The King was here and the kingdom was available to those to whom it had for centuries been promised. C. I. Scofield defines the gospel of the kingdom as “the good news that God purposes to set up on earth the kingdom of Christ, the Son of David, in fulfilment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:16). The good news of this kingdom was announced by the Old Testament prophets (Isa. 9:6, 7), by Christ in His first coming (Matt. 9:35), and will be proclaimed during the great tribulation” (Matt. 24:14). Jews converted by the power of the Holy Spirit will proclaim the message throughout the world and all nations will hear and have the opportunity of turning to God and accepting the coming King. Revelation 7 and 14 indicate that large numbers of Jews and Gentiles will be converted during that period and this will prove an indication of the nearness of the end of the age.
It is sometimes suggested — presumably on the basis of Matthew 24:14 — that the end of the Christian era and the taking away of the Church at our Lord’s coming to the air (as distinct from His Second Advent to earth) cannot occur until every nation has been evangelized. But there is no support for this theory in the New Testament. Our Lord’s reference was not to the gospel of the grace of God which is being preached today, nor was it to the Christian age but to the Jewish one. The events referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Tit. 2:13, etc., are not dependent upon the universal propagation of the gospel.
1 The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 208.