OUR Lord uttered one of the most remarkable prophecies of Holy Writ respecting the “Time of the End”—the closing epoch of this Gospel age. It was uttered near the close of his earthly ministry, when he was endeavoring to prepare his disciples gradually for the new dispensation, which would be fully introduced after the tragedy of Calvary. He wished them to understand that they must not expect immediately the honors and glories of the Kingdom, which he had promised should be shared by his faithful. Before these glories and blessings, would come trials and sufferings. He, their master, the King, must be rejected of Israel and be crucified, in harmony with the prophetic declarations, then Israel would be given over to their enemies, and their holy city and costly temple be utterly destroyed: moreover, his disciples must not expect to be above their Master, exempt from the reproaches and sufferings that fell on him; but that faithfulness to him and his teachings would cause them to be hated of all men for his sake; but that finally, though after much tribulation, those faithful unto death would be rewarded, when he would come again to receive them unto himself and to a share of his glory.
Teaching along this line our Lord reserved until near the close of his ministry. At first the disciples were disposed to resent this, and to insist (as some do today) that the Lord’s cause must conquer the world, as a result of their preaching; and Peter went so far as to express the dissent to our Lord, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord, this [death and the scattering of thy people and the triumph of evil generally] shall not be unto thee.” (Matt. 16:22; Mark 8:31,32) But our Lord severely rebuked Peter; and all of the disciples seem to have gradually settled down to a realization that the glories of the Kingdom were still remote, and that the Master must go away, and, leaving them, send the Comforter, the holy Spirit, to guide and keep them until he would come again in the glory of the Father’s Kingdom.
It was in this attitude of mind and with our Lord’s latest expression with reference to the temple, still ringing in their ears, that the disciples sought from the Master definite information on these points which were not yet clear in their minds.
“And as Jesus sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us (1) When shall these things [the destruction of the Temple, etc.] be? and (2) What shall be the sign of thy presence* and (3) of the end of the world [age]?” Matt. 24:3
Undoubtedly the opportunity and the questions were of divine providence; for the prophecy was surely meant more for the instruction of God’s people living in this “harvest” time, than for those who asked the questions. In studying this prophecy it is very necessary to keep in memory the questions to which it is the inspired answer. The prophecy is given with much similarity by three of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke; but since Matthew’s is the most complete and orderly, we follow its narrative in general, bringing forward any modifications noted in the other accounts.
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” Matt. 24:4,5
Altogether, there have probably been many false Christs, male and female. But none of these, nor all of them together, can be said to have “deceived many.” Yet it is against the kind which “deceive many” that our Lord cautions us here, and again, later on in this prophecy, in which connection we will examine particularly the antichrists which have deceived many.
“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors [threats, intrigues] 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.” Matt. 24:6-8
Thus briefly did our Lord summarize secular history, and teach the disciples not to expect very soon his second coming and glorious Kingdom. And how aptly: surely the world’s history is just this—an account of wars, intrigues, famines and pestilences—little else. Our Lord separates the history of the true Church and states it with similar brevity, thus:
“Then [during that same period, the Gospel age] they shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations [peoples] for my name’s sake. And then [during that same period] many shall be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets [teachers] shall rise and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Matt. 24:9-13
In the light of history would it be possible to portray the course of God’s true Church in fewer words? Surely not. The likeness is perfect. “Whosoever will live godly shall suffer persecution,” is the Apostle’s declaration; and whoever has not shared it has every reason to doubt his relationship to God as a son. (Heb. 12:8) And so with the Church as a whole, when not persecuted by the Ishmael and Esau class, it has been because there was so much of the spirit of the world or so much of “cold love” toward the Lord and his truth that they were not worthy of persecution. But judged by this same standard, and by our Lord’s prophecy, there have been some faithful unto death all the way down through this Gospel age—a “little flock.”
Here again our Lord clearly showed the disciples that the end of the age was much farther off than they had supposed; that the message of his Kingdom was to be good tidings, not to Israel only, but to all nations. But this did not imply that other nations would receive the gospel which Israel had rejected. Rather, we should expect just what we find, that as the god of this world blinded Israel, so he would blind the vast majorities of other nations, and hinder them from seeing in Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God—and he has. (1 Cor. 1:24) If only a remnant of Israel (specially instructed for centuries under the Law) was found worthy to be of the “royal priesthood,” what more could be reasonably expected of the heathen nations, long “without God and having no hope”?
It is well that we carefully note our Lord’s words—that the gospel was not to be preached to the nations to convert the nations, but as a witness to the nations, and to call, and perfect, and gather out of all nations “the elect.” Later on “the elect,” as the Kingdom, will bless the nations, opening their deaf ears to the gospel, and their blinded eyes to the True Light.
This witness has already been given: the word of the Lord, the gospel of the Kingdom, has been published to every nation of earth. Each individual has not heard it; but that is not the statement of the prophecy. It was to be, and has been, a national proclamation. And the end has come ! “The harvest is the end of the age,” our Lord explained. (Matt. 13:39) Some have been disposed to query whether or not this prediction has yet been fulfilled, because the missionaries who have gone into heathen lands have very generally known little or nothing of the good tidings particularly specified by our Lord—”the good tidings of the Kingdom.” But we answer, the printed gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have gone to them brimming full of the Kingdom tidings, just as we have them.
Thus, our Lord briefly summed up the two thousand years of trials and persecutions upon his Church, and the fruit of their labor in successfully witnessing to all nations, and hastened on to answer the important query respecting how the living would know of the time and the fact of his second presence. He ignored the question respecting when the stones of the temple would all be overthrown, lest they should associate that event with his second coming, and because he wished to so associate the trouble upon fleshly Israel in the overthrow of its polity with the trouble upon nominal spiritual Israel in the end of this age, as type and antitype.
It was with evident intention on God’s part, though unknown to the Evangelists, that the record of our Lord’s prophecy at this point is given piecemeal—here a part and there another; here a reference to the typical trouble on typical Israel in the close of the typical harvest, there a reference to the similar though more general and greater trouble in the end of this age upon antitypical Israel—Christendom. Truly the prophets declared of our Lord that he opened his mouth in parables and dark sayings, and “without a parable spake he not unto them.” Yet in harmony with the divine intention, the dark sayings and parables are now becoming luminous to all whose eyes are anointed with the true eye-salve.
“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 that be in Judea 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 those that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in 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.” Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20
Four points in this narrative show that while it may have had a typical application to the trouble in the end of the Jewish age, its real or most important application belongs to the trouble with which the Gospel age terminates. (1) The reference to the “desolating abomination” mentioned in Daniel’s prophecy. (2) The statement that the trouble will be the most severe the world has ever known or will ever experience. (3) That unless the carnage were cut short there would be no flesh saved. (4) The context succeeding unquestionably describes events at the end of the Gospel age—events which could not be applied to the end of the Jewish age, and were not fulfilled there. Two of these points deserve special examination.
The prophet Daniel (9:27) did record that after Messiah would be “cut off” in the midst of the seventieth week of covenant favor, he, by establishing the antitypical sacrifices of atonement, would cause the sacrifices and oblations of the Law to cease: and that then, because abominations would prevail, he would pour destruction upon the desolate (rejected nation), as God had previously decreed.
All this had its fulfilment in the destruction of natural Israel’s polity. From the time our Lord said, “Your house is left unto you desolate “—”ye shall see me no more until that day when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah,” their religion became an abomination, an empty form, a mark of their repudiation of the one sacrifice for sins which God had provided; and resting under the curse they had invoked upon themselves (blindness—Matt. 27:25), their course toward destruction was rapid, as God had decreed and foretold.
But Daniel’s prophecy has much to say about an Abomination that maketh Desolate in nominal spiritual Israel; which was set up in power representatively in Papacy, and which has exercised a great and baneful influence of spiritual desolation in the spiritual house or temple of God, the Church of Christ. This abominable system of error was to continue until the cleansing of the sanctuary class; and beyond that it was to prosper greatly and lead many in nominal spiritual Israel to repudiate the ransom-sacrifice, given once for all; and the result of its overspreading influence would be the desolation of rejected Christendom.
In this view of the matter there is great significance in our Lord’s words—”When therefore ye see the abomination of the desolation having stood in the holy place, as foretold by Daniel the Prophet (reader consider): “Then let them which be in Judea flee to the mountains.” Here we must remember the parallelism between the two harvests, the two times of trouble and the two flights; and must consider that Judea would represent Christendom of today.
To apply our Lord’s words to the present time, and to his people in Christendom, who now, in the light of present truth, see the Abomination stand where it ought not—in the holy place—in the stead of the true sacrifice, is a very simple matter. They should at once flee from the influence of the abomination and from the system falsely styling itself Christ’s (mountain) kingdom, to the true mountain or Kingdom.
But to leave Christendom, repudiating her temples, her forms of godliness, her social enchantments, her flatteries and honors, and to brave her denunciations and anathemas and her various powers of boycott, and to flee to the Lord and the true Kingdom, repudiated, ignored and denied by the worldly-wise and worldly-good, is surely quite a flight, quite a journey; and few but the “saints” will even think of starting on it. The perils of the way are portrayed by our Lord in a manner that would seem overdrawn and contrary to his usual custom if applicable only to the physical sufferings of the believers who fled from Judea in the close of the Jewish harvest: but his words are manifestly appropriate to the spiritual flight and trials of this end time. In a word, this command to flee, and the description of its trials, can only be properly understood in connection with the command of Revelation (18:4), “Come out of her, my people, so that you may have no fellowship with her sins, and that you may not receive of her plagues.”