Chapter V, Our Lord's Great Prophecy

In the light of what we have been considering, let us turn now to our Lord’s great prophecy uttered on the Mount of Olives shortly before His crucifixion. We find this prophecy recorded in the three Synoptics, namely, in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. It will help us to understand these words aright if we remember that they were uttered just as the sixty-ninth week of Daniel 9 had come to a close. As yet the disciples knew nothing of the long interval that was to elapse ere the seventieth week would be fulfilled. They had already understood to some extent, and yet very feebly, that their Master was about to suffer and to die, but not until after His resurrection did they really comprehend what He meant when He told them that the Son of Man was to be crucified and the third day rise again. They were in the position of a godly Jewish remnant waiting expectantly for the manifestation of the kingdom. They had this and this only in mind when they asked the question: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?”

I take it that most of my readers are well aware of the fact that the expression, “end of the world,” as given in the Authorized Version is somewhat misleading. The marginal reading is correct. The end of the age, they knew, would be at the close of the seventieth week, and they were asking the Lord definitely how they might know when that time was about to expire. This is corroborated when we turn to Acts 1, and find these same disciples inquiring of the risen Lord: “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” All their expectations were centered in that kingdom. They knew nothing of the present interval which we speak of as “the dispensation of the grace of God.” The mystery of the Church, the one body, had not yet been revealed. Though our Lord had spoken on two occasions of the Church, as recorded in Matthew 16 and again in chapter 18, it is evident that this did not mean to them anything more than the congregation of the righteous. The full revelation of what was in the Lord’s mind was to be given later.

In answer to their question, the Saviour did not reprove them because they interpreted Old Testament prophecies literally and looked for an earthly kingdom to be set up at the end of the age, but He told them: “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” What all this implied they did not at first understand. Doubtless He explained many things to them during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, as intimated in Acts 1:2-3, but His program for this age was unfolded little by little until the full revelation of the dispensation of the mystery of the one body was given to the Apostle Paul and through him imparted to others.

So then, as we consider Matthew 24, we should try to put ourselves in the place in which the Apostles were at that time in order that we may get their mental attitude and understand what it was concerning which they asked Him; then we shall understand His answer.

He knew that Israel’s day was over for that time. He had already said to them, “Your house is left unto you desolate.” When the disciples looked admiringly upon the great buildings of the Temple and its surroundings and exclaimed, “Master, see what great buildings are here,” He replied, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” This must have amazed them, for they doubtless supposed that in a very little while He would proclaim Himself as King-Messiah and that that very Temple would be the center of Jehovah’s worship when the King should reign in Zion.

And so they asked in surprise for information regarding three things. First, “Tell us, when shall these things be?” that is, “When will Jerusalem be destroyed? When will the Temple be thrown down?” We do not get the answer to that in Matthew 24. When we turn to Luke 21, verses 20 to 24, we find that question fully answered. Christ’s words are as follows:

“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains ; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days: for there shall be great dis- tress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).

The second and the third questions are intimately linked together. The disciples inquired, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” They rightly linked Messiah’s manifested presence in and to Israel with the end of the age. It is this double question that the Lord answers in the words recorded in Matthew 24 and in the last part of Luke 21, as also in Mark 13. In other words, let us bear in mind that our Lord was not giving His apostles an outline picture of what would take place during the past nearly two thousand years, the great interval between His First and Second Comings. He was speaking to them as to a Jewish remnant who were waiting for the kingdom, who knew that sixty-nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy of the times and the seasons had expired, and who were concerned as to the fulfillment of the brief period that was left and the ushering in of the kingdom. In verses 4 to 8 we have what in a general way covers this entire dispensation:

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:4-8).

But these will be the actual conditions prevailing in the first part of Daniel’s seventieth week, for the Great Tribulation in its intensity occupies only the last three and one-half years, or 1,260 days. The first half, or forty-two months, will be taken up with providential judgments leading up to that awful hour of trial. At first the distress on earth will be occasioned by the disrupted condition of things when, following the Rapture of the Church, God once more takes up Israel, and the Gentile nations will be in turmoil and conflict. This will be followed by a time of great testing for the remnant of Israel, who will be called out in that day to be God’s witnesses in the earth. It is particularly to these that verses 9 to 14 apply:

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:9-14).

Notice that He speaks here of the good news which these Jewish messengers are to carry throughout the world, called distinctively “the gospel of the kingdom.” There is, of course, only one Gospel, but that Gospel presents different aspects at different times. The Gospel is God’s message concerning His blessed Son. It was proclaimed in the Garden of Eden when God declared: “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” It was preached to Abraham when He said: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The Old Testament prophets were Gospel preachers as they told of the coming Messiah. When John the Baptist appeared, his voice rang out, proclaiming: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” On the other hand, let us never forget that it was also John the Baptist who preached the Gospel of grace when he said, “I saw and bear record that this is the Son of God. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The Lord Jesus went about proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom. He presented Himself to Israel as God’s King, but they refused Him. Then He turned to the weary multitudes and said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And we must not forget that though John’s Gospel was written several decades later than the Synoptics, yet it records the preaching and teaching of our blessed Lord in regard to the Gospel of grace while He was going about through the land of Palestine proclaiming the kingdom.

Here in Matthew 24 we have no apparent break in the testimony. If we can understand that the Great Parenthesis comes in between our Lord’s rejection and the beginning of the fulfillment of this Olivet Discourse, everything will be clear. In that day of trial, God will raise up a special testimony in Israel even as we are told in the book of Daniel. “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever . . . Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:3, 10). These wise ones in Israel will proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom. Their witness will go on until all nations have heard the testimony. Then the final end of the age will come.

In writing as I have done, I trust no one will misuse the truth which I am here seeking to present by endeavoring to excuse themselves from present missionary activity on the ground that it will be Israel’s business to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom in a coming day. Our Lord seems to have purposely led Mark to record His saying a little differently. In Mark 13:10 we read: “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.” This is a very broad statement, and we know from what the Spirit of God afterwards revealed that it is our responsibility to carry the Gospel everywhere during this intervening period before Israel’s remnant testimony will be given to the people of the end-times.

Verse 15 of our chapter brings us to the midst of the week and introduces the last three and one-half dreadful years. Notice our Lord’s words:

“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 Judaea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And 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 then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matthew 24:15-26).

The abomination of desolation spoken of here is not to be confounded with the transgression of desolation of Daniel 8:13. That had to do with the polluting of the Sanctuary by the setting up of an idol in the Holy Place in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, but this reference is to Daniel 12:11-12:

“And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days” (Daniel 12:11-12).

That is, the setting up of the abomination of desolation, whatever its full meaning may be, will be the signal for the remnant of the latter days, to let them know that in 1,260 days the Great Tribulation will be over, and in thirty days more the new order of things will have come in. The additional time, bringing the waiting period up to 1,335 days, may have to do with the reinstitution of Jehovah’s worship in Jerusalem. These verses we have quoted above have nothing to do with the destruction of Jerusalem in the past, as one may see by comparing them with Luke 21, but they describe a future siege of Jerusalem, when the Roman prince and the Antichrist have been manifested. Then shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world, no, nor ever shall be. Then Satan will raise up false Christs and false prophets to seek to deceive the waiting remnant, but the Lord has forewarned them not to believe the lying testimonies of Satan-inspired leaders in that day.

His Coming will be in manifested glory at the close of the tribulation period, as we read in verses 27 to 31.

“For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:27-31).

I am not attempting a careful exegesis of this chapter, but am merely drawing attention to its broad outlines. A few things, however, should be noticed before leaving it. The twenty-eighth verse evidently refers to the city of Jerusalem which will be the carcass in that day, and against it the eagles, or “vultures,” the carrion-devouring armies of the nations, will be gathered. There will be portentious signs in the heavens when the Son of Man appears in glory. The tribes of the land will mourn, as Zechariah has foretold in his twelfth chapter, And men will “see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This is something altogether different from the Rapture of the Church as portrayed in I Corinthians 15 and in I Thessalonians 4. There is no gathering of saints to Him in the heavens here, but He sends forth His angels with the great sound of a trumpet, and they gather His elect together from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. These are not the heavenly saints but the earthly elect, the 144,000 of Israel and the great number of redeemed Gentiles as set forth in Revelation 7. They will be gathered to Christ Himself when He appears in Jerusalem and His feet stand upon the Mount of Olives, before His foes are dealt with in judgment.

It will not be necessary for our present purpose to pursue the further study of this chapter, interesting as it is. The inquiring reader can find many excellent helps if he desires to go into the matter carefully.1 My object has been simply to show that the key to our Lord’s prophecy is the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel. The Great Parenthesis there indicated, if taken into account when reading this remarkable chapter, makes everything perfectly plain.

1 I am glad to recommend three excellent books on the Gospel of Matthew: Lectures on Matthew, by William Kelly, and the expositions by Dr. A. C. Gaebelein and Dr. E. Schuyler English. Any of these will prove helpful to the student of prophecy who desires a careful explanation of this portion of the Word.