The Great Tribulation – Matthew 24:15-28

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Faith Bible Church, NY

March 26, 1995

The Great Tribulation

Matthew 24:15-28

What is the scariest thing that you can think of? What would be your worst nightmare? Hollywood has come up with quite a few things over the years, but nothing they have ever dreamed up can compare to what will happen when what is often called the “Great Tribulation” comes, the Holy Spirit’s restraining influence is removed, and in a real sense, “all hell breaks lose on Earth.” One passage describes it as a time of such torment that men will cry out to the mountains and rocks to “fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…” (Rev. 6:17), and this happens before things even get really bad.

In Matthew 24 Jesus gives a brief description of what occurs during those years; a more detailed description is given in Revelation with bits and pieces also being described in other books. None of it is for the faint of heart.

I remember that when I was a young teen I read one of these fictional stories based on non-fictional truths of the book of Revelation. I was not able to sleep for several nights because the description of the wrath of God on an sinful world was so terrifying.

But part of the reason for God revealing these aspects of what is to come is for that purpose. There should be great fear concerning the wrath of God. There should be a terror that grips the human heart when it contemplates God’s judgment on sin. The apocalyptic revelations are a warning to all mankind about the end result of sin and that we had better be prepared for the Lord’s return. It is a warning to the non-Christian to repent, or they will suffer God’s judgment, and it is a warning to the Christian to live their lives in a worthy manner.

Last week we began our examination of Matthew 24 as Jesus began to answer the disciples questions concerning “when these things will be, what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age” (vs. 3). Remember that the disciples had no idea that Jesus would go to heaven and then return at some point in the future. Their expectation was that Jesus would set up His kingdom sometime in the very near future. They were looking forward to Rome being overthrown and Israel being set up and the world power with Jerusalem as its Capital and the Messiah on David’s throne. This was the subject of the last question they asked Him prior to His ascension into heaven in Acts 1. “Is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” What sign would be given that would indicate that Jesus was ready to set Himself up as the World Ruler which the Old Testament prophecies talked about.

The disciples did not understand that there would be an intervening church age prior to Jesus establishing His earthly kingdom, and Jesus does not deal with that age here. In fact, as I pointed out last week, the church in not in view in this chapter at all. What is being talked about in this chapter is the coming of God’s wrath on the earth, and the Church will not come under God’s wrath. 1 Thess. 5:9 “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” Rev. 3:10 “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”

Jesus is speaking prophetically to the disciples. That is, He is talking with them, but His message is really for a generation that is yet to come, the generation that “would not pass away until all these things take place” (24:34). This was a common occurrence in Old Testament prophecies and several things in the text point out that this is what Jesus is doing here. As just mentioned the generation that saw these things would not pass away until they were completed, and neither the disciples or anyone else has seen many of the elements here come to pass yet including the preaching of the gospel in the whole world for a witness to all the nations (14), nor the “Abomination of Desolation” (15), nor the “great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall” (20), nor the sun being darkened, the moon failing to give its light and the stars falling from the sky (29).

Last week we looked at what Jesus called the “beginning of birth pangs,” and related these to events described in Revelation 6 & 7. That there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of the righteous and apostasy. All these things have always been true, but at the beginning of the great tribulation they will increase dramatically in frequency and seriousness, just as birth pangs do. And prior to the end, the gospel will be preached to all the world, and we saw last week that during the tribulation period God will have 144,000 Jewish servants as well as the two Witness of Rev. 11 to accomplish this task, and then in Rev. 14 there is an angel that has “an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people…’Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgement has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.'”

It is at this point we pick up Jesus’ continuing description of this time in verse 15.

Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! But pray that your flight may not be in the winter; or on a Sabbath; for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short

The setting up of the Abomination of Desolation will mark a time of danger for those who live in Judea that will come so swiftly that as soon as one hears of it, they should flee immediately without any preparation. The only though should be “run for your life!” It will also mark the start of a period of tribulation that will be greater than anything that has occurred or ever will occur again.

What is this Abomination of Desolation, or more literally, the “Abomination that makes desolate.” Jesus specifically says that it is what Daniel the prophet had spoken of and that they reader should understand.

Daniel speaks of an abomination of desolation several times and he refers to two separate events. One of these two events has already occurred under Antiochus VI, and is a type of what is to come under the anti-Christ.

After the breakup of Alexander the Great’s kingdom, the nation of Israel was caught in the middle of two warring empires, that of the Selucids to the North and that of the Ptolemy’s in Egypt. One after the other would rise up and conquer the other with Israel being continually battered back and forth between the two empires. It seemed that no matter who won, that nation lost. Antiochus IV came to power in 174 B.C. He became obsessive about expanding his kingdom, especially in conquering Egypt. He was quite proud and called himself Theos Epiphanes (meaning “God manifest”). The Jews hated him and called him “epimanes” (meaning – “the mad one”). After being forced out of Egypt by Roman forces, Antiochus took out his wrath on the Jews. Daniel 11:31 records, “And forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.

Antiochus went on a wild campaign of forced Hellenization of the Jews. He wanted to change their culture and make them like the greeks including the worship of the greek Gods. He slaughtered those who refused to submit. He stopped the Temple sacrifices to the Lord and then set up a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This was the first “abomination that made desolate.”

But Daniel speaks of another such atrocity that is still to come. In Daniel 9 the Lord gives Daniel a panoramic view of the future especially as relates to the gentile oppression of the Jews. Starting in verse 24 Daniel records,

24″Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. 25So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

Without going into all the detail here, the gentiles would oppress the Jews and Jerusalem for 70 weeks of years, or 490 years, but this would be broken into two parts. The first 69 weeks (483 years) marked the time from the decree of Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. for the rebuilding of walls of Jerusalem until 30 A.D. when Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then is “cut off” by the crucifixion. The 70th weeks is still to come. It is the period of the great tribulation, the period described in the book of Revelation. Half way through that week will come one who will stop the sacrifice and will make desolation.

Daniel comments further on this individual and his actions in Chapter 11 saying in verse 36 that he will “exalt and magnify himself above every god…” and will speak against the God of gods. In 12:11 Daniel is told that “from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days, 30 days longer than 3½ years. Revelation 13 backs this up saying that the Beast sets himself up to be worshiped and he blasphemes God for 42 months, or 3½ years.

The evidence indicates that the Abomination of Desolation, the abomination that causes desolation, is when the Anti-Christ ends the Temple worship and sets himself up to be worshiped instead. Many Bible scholars believe this may even occur in the form of a statute of himself that he will set up in the holy of holies in the same way that Antiochus IV had set up an idol of Zeus.

This will be very obvious to everyone who desires to understand it when it happens. Jesus goes on to express the urgent need to flee when it does happen.

The abomination will be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus tells all those who are in Judea to flee to the hills. Run for your lives! The urgency of doing this is stressed by the illustrations he gives.

Homes in Judea are generally built with flat roofs so that they could be used by the people. Things could be stored there, work could be done, or they might just enjoy the cool evening breeze after a hot day. Most often you would reach the roof by a stairway on the side of the house. Jesus says in verse 17 that if you are on your housetop and you find out about the abomination of desolation, don’t even take the time to go into the house, just run for your life.

In verse 18 he says that if you are working in the field and find out about it, don’t even take the time to cross the field to fetch your coat, just flee for the mountains to hide from the persecution that is coming.

In verse 19 Jesus mentions personal situations that would make this very difficult. Those who are pregnant or have a young child would have a difficult time because it is hard to move quickly if either of those things are true. In verse 20 He mentions timing circumstances which would make it difficult, winter or a Sabbath. The cold, wet weather of winter makes travel and hiding in the mountains more difficult. Any hindrance could be fatal. And if it occurs on a Sabbath, those holding to the Sabbath travel restrictions would be greatly hindered and the orthodox might try to obstruct other people from breaking their Sabbath restrictions.

Jesus emphasis is obvious. The Abomination of Desolation will
herald the outbreak of a very severe danger for those in Judea. There will not be a moment to lose in fleeing to the hills. In verse 21 Jesus describes this as “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.” There is nothing before and nothing after that will compare to it.

Daniel 12:1 says the same thing, “And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.”

The danger that will arise in Judea will primarily be a persecution of the Jews. The Anti-Christ will have swept through the Middle East and begin a severe persecution of the Jews. Zechariah 13 describes the slaughter of that time, “And it will come about in all the land,” declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and the will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'”

Here in Matthew Jesus describes the urgent need to flee to the mountains to hide. Revelation 12 also describes the necessity of fleeing. The woman of that chapter, representing Israel, flees into the wilderness for 1,260 days, or 3½ years (12:6). The anti-Christ will also vent his wrath on the surrounding nations, and according to Revelation, on those who profess Christ. Rev. 6 and 7 both describe multitudes of people who are martyred because of their testimony for Christ.

This will be the worst period of tribulation that has ever, or will ever occur. It is so bad that in verse 22 Jesus says, “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.”

The cutting short of the days can not refer to the number of days, for that is already determined in Scripture as 1,260. The cutting short must then refer to either the length of the day or the length of daylight. Either one requires a miracle at the hand of God as a means to enable the elect to better hide from the anti-Christ.

The term “elect” refers both to the remnant of the nation of Israel that will turn to Christ and to the gentiles that come to Jesus during the tribulation period. If the days had not some how been cut short, no life would be left, but God does cut them short for the sake of the elect, His chosen people.

Another danger in this time of tribulation will be the continuing effort of false prophets to deceive, and that is what verses 23-28 deal with. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”

The Apostle Paul describes this same thing in 2 Thess. 2:9 telling about “the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because the did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”

Revelation 13:13 describes the beast who “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast,” This includes the appearance of raising someone from the dead (vs. 3,14).

As people are hiding in the mountains there will be a continual effort to deceive these people even by miracles into believe that Christ has returned. But Jesus warns against it. Verse 25, “Behold, I have told you in advance. If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

The Lord will not return in secret. It will not be hidden. It will be as bright and obvious as lighting that strikes across the sky. Revelation 1:7 says that “every eye shall see Him.” Tell that to the next cult group that you encounter that tries to tell you that Jesus has already secretly returned. There is no reason to believe such lies now, and there will be no reason to believe such lies in the future regardless of the miracles that may be done by the one claiming it. Jesus has already told us, when He returns, it will be obvious to everyone.

The proverbial statement of verse 28 states the same thing, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” It is easy to find the carcass of a dead animal because the circling vultures over it declare it to everyone.

Next week we will examine verses 29-31 to see exactly what the sign of His coming will be.

As I said last week, the point of this is that God has already determined the future and revealed some of it to us. The question to us is what will we do with that knowledge.

If you are not a Christian, then take the warning given seriously. There is no guarantee that you will make it to this period because any of us could die at any time, but even if you did, what then? Salvation of your soul will probably come at the cost of your physical life? What holds you back from humbling yourself and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness now? Get right with the Lord Today!

If you are a Christian, then what sort of life you are living. What is your mind set on, what controls your heart? If you mind is not set on the eternal things of God, if your heart is not controlled by Him, then change it! If it is, rejoice!

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