“So 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. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 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. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
(Matthew 24:15-35 ESV)
Yesterday’s passage started what’s known as the Olivet discourse. Recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is one of the most extended teachings in Christ’s final week.
Theologians and scholars – people smarter than I – have mixed perceptions about what the passage means. Did it happen entirely in the past? Does it refer entirely to a future time of tribulation? Is it another one of those “already-not yet” passages in which there was a fulfillment a short time after the prophecy was spoken along with an expected later fulfillment?
There were times in history when the temple was desecrated. In 168 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanies had an altar to Zeus built in the temple and ordered the sacrifice of swine and other unclean animals there.
Then, in 70 A.D., the temple was destroyed by the Romans, during a Jewish revolt that seemed to prompt the fulfillment of Jesus’ warning about fleeing as Christians fled to the mountains to escape the carnage.
But there is a greater time of tribulation coming. I can’t imagine a time so desperate that there’s not time to run from the field to get back to the house to grab a coat or to come in from a deck to gather supplies for the journey.
The events, as horrific as they are, remain under the sovereignty of God, who, in his mercy, cuts the short the destruction. Some say this means that if God were to pour out his unchecked wrath on the wickedness of humanity, no one could survive the destruction. I can’t wrap my mind around a destruction so utterly complete.
The sun and the moon darkening? The stars falling from heaven? Interpret this literally or figuratively and it’s still terrifying.
Frankly, it’s easier for me to understand people being led astray by a false Christ. As the headlines talk of violence, wars and man’s continuing inhumanity to man, people who are not anchored in the truth of the gospel of Christ will start to cling to whatever hope they find.
Yet among these words of warning and destruction, there are two promises on which we can base our hope.
Christ will return “with power and great glory” to gather his people to him.
And his word will never pass away. Even as we go through the difficult times – whether those foretold in prophecy or those that comprise the reality of every day life – his Word remains. It is our foundation.
It is our anchor in the storm.
How are you engaging the word of God? Think about devoting more time to memorizing his promises.
These (hopefully) daily devotions for Lent have turned into daily devotions for March, which is technically not Lent but is the month leading up to Easter. They are based on the 40 Days of Lent reading plan available at YouVersion. The plan was graciously provided to YouVersion by Journey Church.