Welcome back to part six in our series of “The Last Days According to Jesus.” To begin with it will be helpful for you to first start by reading from the following passages and possibly marking them in some fashion so that you can quickly turn back to each of them for a parallel comparison as you read this article (Matthew 24:15-22, Mark 13:14-20, and Luke 21:20-24).
We already discussed in part five that it is important for us to recognize that Jesus said, “…when YOU see the abomination of desolation,” then get the heck out of dodge! And He said this to HIS disciples because He knew that it would be the kind of advice that THEY would actually end up putting into practice in THEIR lifetime.
This means that no matter what MY interpretation is, what YOUR interpretation is, or what ANYONE’S interpretation is regarding the “Abomination of Desolation,” it HAS to fit within a 1st Century context because Jesus said the DISCIPLES were going to literally SEE IT with their own eyes.
Which is why Jesus had them think back to the “Abomination of Desolation” in Daniel’s prophecy, which occurred during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he besieged Jerusalem and the Jews back in 167 B.C. Both of these events were described in similar, apocalyptic language because they were events where foreign, pagan armies came against the city of Jerusalem to execute divine judgment upon the Jews for their repeated sins and continual rejection of God.
Which is precisely why Luke records Jesus’ statements as, “…when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.”
And here’s one other thing to consider, which I have mentioned before, but I think it is worth mentioning again:
I’ve heard many, many Christian teachers, pastors, and book authors state something like this: “One of the reasons we know Jesus is about to come back again is because Israel is about to be attacked. The Bible tells us that a conglomeration of nations led by Russia and Iran are going to surround Jerusalem at the battle of Armageddon, and when they do Jesus warned us to recognize when this is occurring and then immediately flee to safety because we don’t have to worry about suffering during that battle.”
But what I’ve never understood is why they don’t read and reiterate the PRECISE words that Jesus uses during this prophetic warning. Instead, they try and make it fit into a 21st Century context — but Jesus only intended for it to be applied to the 1st Century audience.
Jesus looked right into the eyes of His disciples and said, “…when YOU see the abomination of desolation,” and when, “…YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” then flee to the Judean mountains. And why did He tell them that? Because He knew that once the siege of the Roman army was in full swing then there would be NO chance to get out of the city, and therefore no chance for survival.
Now…if we try and force that into a 21st Century context then it means this: When WE see the abomination of desolation, and when WE see the city of Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then WE are to flee the city and hide out in the mountains of Judea.
So then what am I supposed to do? Book the quickest flight I can out of SeaTac airport, fly into the Ben Gurion airport outside of Tel Aviv, and then grab my luggage and run off into the mountains of Judea? What possible purpose, impact, or help would this warning, or COULD this warning have for me today? Of course the answer is …… NONE!
On the other hand, it would have ENORMOUS impact and purpose for the lives of the disciples and any other Christian believers who were alive during the time of A.D. 70 and the siege of Jerusalem because it would have literally saved their very lives!!
The Great Tribulation
Alright, let’s look at one more thing from these verses that we didn’t discuss in part five … and that is what Jesus says in verse 21, “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.”
Now, how many of you have heard pastors, and teachers, and book writers talk about “The Great Tribulation?” Yeah, it’s everywhere! And how many of you have heard that it’s going to happen before the rapture, during the rapture, or after the rapture?
Well, what if we tried to empty our collective minds as it were of all that superfluous, outside, subjective banter and went directly to what the Bible actually says about the “tribulation?”
Here’s what I want you to do; I want you to read along with me every single verse in the entire New Testament where the word “tribulation” is used:
The English word tribulation is the translation from the Greek word thlipsis and that word is used 43 times in the New Testament. Now we don’t have time to read all 43 verses but let’s read a few that will be extremely helpful for our discussion today:
- Matthew 13:21, “…yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction (thlipsis) or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.”
- Matthew 24:9, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation (thlipsis), and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
- Matthew 24:21, “For then there will be a great tribulation (thlipsis), such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.”
- Matthew 24:29, “But immediately after the tribulation (thlipsis) of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
At this juncture I want to ask you, who is the intended audience of all four of these passages? The first one is from the parable of the Sower and the Seed so it can have application over many periods of time in human history. But the second and third one are directly from the Olivet Discourse, and we know Jesus is speaking directly and specifically to His disciples, so they can only have a 1st Century context.
And the third one, even though it is utilizing symbolic, apocalyptic, and Old Testament judgment language, it too is being uttered in this same discourse and therefore contextually and exegetically is meant for that same 1st audience.
In addition to these, if you want to read them on your own later on, Mark records almost the exact verbatim remarks as Matthew’s accounts in places like Mark 4:17, Mark 13:19, and Mark 13:24.
And here’s one from John’s gospel in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation (thlipsis), but take courage; I have overcome the world.” And even though this can have application for every believer, during every epoch of time, Jesus is in fact speaking directly to HIS disciples when He says this.
And here’s a couple from the book of Acts, Acts 11:19, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution (thlipsis) that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.”
Acts 14:22, “…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations (thlipsis) we must enter the kingdom of God.’”
These two are clearly intended for 1st Century Christians who were literally suffering persecution and tribulation at the hands of those who opposed them. And Dr. Luke had already recorded in Acts 8:1 that, “…a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem,” after Stephen was stoned.
Here’s how Paul uses this word repeatedly in his writings to the 1st Century church, Romans 5:3, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations (thlipsis), knowing that tribulation (thlipsis) brings about perseverance;”
2 Cor 1:8, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction (thlipsis) which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;”
Philippians 4:14, “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction (thlipsis).”
1 Thess 1:6, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation (thlipsis) with the joy of the Holy Spirit,”
1 Thess 3:3, “…so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions (thlipsis); for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.”
So again, Paul obviously heard and understood that the early church, and the 1st Century believers were going to suffer under severe tribulation and persecution; the very kind that would be part and parcel of that which was described by Jesus during the Olivet Discourse.
But perhaps the most telling usages of this word “thlipsis” come to us from the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Rev 2:9-10, “I know your tribulation (thlipsis) and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation (thlipsis) for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
So Jesus is speaking directly to 1st Century believers who were a part of the church in Smyrna and He warns them about the suffering and tribulation that is about to come upon them so they can be prepared for it in advance.
In Rev 2:22 Jesus warns the 1st Century believers in the church of Thyatira that they need to stop associating with those who participate in immorality and idolatry and says, “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation (thlipsis), unless they repent of her deeds.”
But, the most revealing usage of this word in my opinion, in the entire New Testament … comes to us from Rev 1:9 where the Apostle John says to the 1st Century believers all over the Roman Empire, “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation (thlipsis) and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
Just stop for a moment and let the impact of that statement sink into your exegetical consciousness.
I John … fellow partaker IN THE TRIBULATION!
This is John the Apostle, a man living right there in 1st Century Rome, declaring to the early church that HE is a fellow partaker, along with ALL THE OTHER BELIEVERS, in the tribulation.
In other words, it’s already going on! And I’m suffering because of it just like you are. We’re in this together! We’re experiencing the persecution, the sacrifice, the loss, the hardship, and the tribulation that Jesus said we would!
And honestly, no matter what ANYONE says about what they think the “tribulation” is, or is going to be sometime in the future, how in the world can the Apostle John be a participant with them in a 21st Century tribulation?
And this is precisely the problem. When Christians read through the Bible, cherry pick their favorite eschatological passages and phrases, and then try and eisegetically force the text to state something it doesn’t, they wind up with all kinds of weird and whacky ideologies about the end times and the second coming of Christ.
And then they try to take terms like “The Tribulation” and force it into a 21st Century context when as we’ve seen through even just a cursory examination of the word thlipsis, the word “tribulation,” the total, exegetical and contextual meaning and usage of this word is predominantly a 1st Century meaning and a 1st Century context.
Which is why In this section of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus isn’t trying to warn His disciples about some kind of tribulation that will happen two thousand years after they are dead and gone! That’s just absurd — after all why would they even care?! No …… He’s trying to warn them about a 1st Century tribulation that would take place during the course of their very lives and have a detrimental and life-altering impact on THEM … NOT US!
Which is precisely why Luke records this warning in this manner, “…for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to THIS people; and THEY will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
And even though I’ve already said this repeatedly in this series, I am going to say it again. The clearest way that we can know with absolute certainty that the “tribulation” spoken of by Jesus, was intended for His 1st Century audience, is by the capstone and verbal time stamp He puts on all of it, with His statement in Matthew 24, verse 34 when He emphatically declares, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until ALL these things take place.”
So either Jesus was lying and misleading them, or He meant what He said … THAT generation was going to see ALL those things take place in THEIR lifetime.
Alright, let’s move on by first reading from Matthew 24:23-26 and Mark 13:21-23.
This section is actually quite easy to understand because as you know, we talked about it in Part Four, and this section is nothing more than a recapitulation of what Jesus had already said to them and warned them about in verse four when He said, “See to it that no one misleads YOU!”
False Teachers, False Prophets, and False Messiahs were going to be raising their ugly heads in the DISCIPLES’ generation and Jesus wanted them to be ready for it.
And we looked at many different statements from Peter, Paul, John, Luke, and even Jesus Himself where this theme and warning is oft repeated to forewarn and forearm the church for this kind of potentially damaging and destructive infiltration right into their very midst.
So let’s continue on. The next two verses we are going to read are only recorded in Matthew’s account in verses 27-28; so read those first.
As you can see, this language can indeed be potentially puzzling and perhaps difficult to understand, but I believe it’s possible to come up with a plausible explanation by just implementing some sound, hermeneutical principles just like we would do for any other passage of scripture.
So right from the get go we would do well to recognize that these statements are being made in the midst of Jesus’ other statements that are directed to His 1st Century hearers…HIS disciples.
So that again means that whatever interpretation we come up with HAS to fit within a 1st Century context.
Now many teachers have said, “Well, lightening obviously lights up the entire sky all at once, so this is just a metaphorical picture of what it’s going to be like when Jesus comes back to earth during His second coming. So that means everyone is going to see Him all at once in the sky all over the globe!”
But that kind of haphazard explanation and interpretation are wrought with all kinds of problems and errors. For starters, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen LOTS of lightning storms in my lifetime; and I have yet to see a lightning strike that starts from the earth’s horizon in the west, and then travels ALL THE WAY over to the earth’s horizon in the east, for as far as the human eye can see!
In truth, lightning is always localized … not universal and global. That should be as plain as the nose on our faces.
Secondly, Jesus isn’t talking about His second coming, the end of all things, and the final consummation of the ages for all time. The clear context of His entire discourse PROVES this. He is answering very direct questions from His disciples, and providing them with very direct answers about THEIR lives … NOT OURS!
And therefore, He is simply using the same kind of familiar, Old Testament language and phrasing that was repeatedly used to describe the “Coming of the Lord” in spiritual judgment … NOT physical appearance.
Truly from a biblical perspective God “comes” in all sorts of ways in both the Old and New Testament…He comes in power, blessing, strength, and encouragement, but also in anger, and in judgment all the time. But the predominant way that God has “come” to His creation is spiritually … NOT physically!
If you don’t believe that, just do an examination and personal study for yourself and try and find every single passage in scripture that speaks of God coming PHYSICALLY upon the earth, in a tangible, corporeal form and what you’ll be left with is really just the incarnation of Jesus Christ … and that’s about it.
We’ve already discussed this at some length back during Part Two so if this is unclear to you just go back and revisit the discussion there – including the list of some 92 verses that I laid out for you that describe God’s “coming” in spiritual judgment time and time again.
However, I do want to take a moment and start a discussion about this phrase “Son of Man” because I think it is important. We aren’t going to have time to complete this examination but we’ll at least get is started.
The Son of Man
So what is this “Son of Man” thing that we see so much of in the gospel accounts? Why does Jesus walk around during the entirety of His earthly ministry and constantly refer to Himself as the “Son of Man?”
Well……thankfully we can let scripture explain scripture and once again by implementing some sound hermeneutical principles and practices we can come to a rational, logical understanding of what it means.
The first instances that I know of where this term ‘son of man’ is used in scripture comes to us from the book of Psalms:
Psalm 8:4, “What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”
And David repeats this same thought in Psalm 144:3 saying, “O Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You think of him?”
Clearly, there is nothing super spiritual or bizarre going on here because in its obvious scriptural context David is simply using the term son of man to speak of mankind … human beings.
Isaiah and Jeremiah both use the same term and use it in the same exact way in places like Isaiah 51:12, 52:14, 56:2; Jeremiah 49:18, 49:33, 50:40, and 51:43. Additionally, Ezekiel uses it a myriad of times in his writings as well, but all of these usages simply mean human beings and mankind in general.
And so we are left with really only two possibilities when Jesus calls Himself the ‘Son of Man’:
- Either Jesus is designating Himself as just another human being, just another ‘son of man’ (think of it as a little “s”)…
- Or, He is saying something else.
And truly, if we have any understanding of the Word of God, or have ever simply read through the majority of the Gospels, then we understand immediately that Jesus was not just a man, or simply another human being. So He has to be saying something else … so then, what is it?
Well, as we continue to peruse through scripture and the usage of the term ‘son of man’, all of the sudden when we get to the book of Daniel we see this moniker used in a completely different way. Daniel has an incredible vision in chapter seven of his book and he writes down a summary of it and all of the things he heard and saw take place within that vision.
As he goes through the details of this vision he says in verses 13 & 14, “13I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
This is actually an incredible passage of scripture and an incredible prophetic vision because from it we learn many things about the Messiah Jesus the Christ.
First we see that Jesus was going to look like a human being, He would have the nature of a normal son of man.
And I know I said Ezekiel used this term as well in his writings, but he only used it to simply describe mankind in general like the others. However, I did leave out one important instance right in the beginning of his very first chapter where he writes in a similar style of Daniel; and he also describes something he saw in a vision.
Look at Ezekiel 1:26, “26Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli (a deep blue stone) in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man.”
And both of these visions are the same exact thing that the Apostle John describes in The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:12-16 says this, “12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.”
The second thing we see from Daniel’s vision, is this particular subject isn’t just a human being; because He is being brought UP to the Ancient of Days (God the Father) and presented before Him. So He might look similar to a man, but He’s definitely not just a man.
Now stop and ask yourself, when was Jesus ever brought UP to the Ancient of Days and presented before the Father? Did He in fact ever go up and ascend to the Ancient of Days?
Of course He did, just look at Acts 1:9, “9And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
And of course Jesus had to do this; because His ascension proved that He had become the conqueror of death, hell, and the grave and now sits in power at the right hand of the Father!
Okay, so far from Daniel’s vision in chapter seven, we see that Jesus fits perfectly as the ‘son of man’ that is prophesied about, because He took on the form of man, and He was also glorified after His resurrection and presented before the Father in His ascension up to Him.
The next thing we see Daniel saying is, “…to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
Well hello! Yup…that’s Jesus too!
There is no other god above our God…
There is no other king above King Jesus…
There is no other subject, entity, or ruler who will have an everlasting dominion like the eternal authority and dominion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ! He IS the Son of Man!
So Jesus is indeed the Son of Man and He uses that moniker intentionally. So if He says the coming of the Son of Man is going to be like lightning flashing across the sky; then I think we can easily surmise that He is talking about His spiritual coming in judgment against the nation of Israel; and it will be an event that is easily seen and ubiquitously known by all.
But again, it will be a localized event against them for their repeated sins and rebellion … and for their murder of the Son of God.
But it won’t be a universal and global judgment; in other words the Roman army isn’t going to go on a global rampage against all of humanity, their attention will specifically be focused upon the Jews, the city of Jerusalem, and their beloved temple.
I wish we had more time, but I’m going to have to stop right here in part six and pick up our examination of this “Son of Man” moniker in part seven. See you then!