I mentioned in my last blog that this is one of the more difficult passages in scripture, and part of the difficulty comes in the harmonizing of it. Jesus had just told the disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, and troubled by this revelation, the disciples asked when this would happen and what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age.
I’m trying to think of this from their perspective. At this point, it still had not sunk in that Jesus had to die and be raised to life. It had never even crossed their minds that Jesus would ascend to heaven and depart from them. So when they asked about his coming, they weren’t asking when he would come back from heaven. They were probably asking when he would set up his kingdom.
They had heard all the prophesies of the “Day of the Lord” from the Old Testament. A day of judgment for the nations, and a time when Israel would be restored. But now Jesus was saying that this temple would be destroyed. The Day of the Lord could not certainly happen before that. And yet, this very week, they had heard the people in Jerusalem shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
As a result, they were understandably confused. What’s difficult about interpreting these passages is trying to harmonize them. In particular, Luke, at a certain point, uses certain language to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Matthew and Mark seem to use that very same language to describe something that is yet to come even in our day.
My guess is that as time went on, after Jesus had left and the Holy Spirit had come upon them, the disciples started to understand that Jesus’ words had relevance not only for what was to happen in the near future at the destruction of the temple, but what was to happen when Jesus returns again.
At any rate, in Luke’s account, Jesus talks about how in the future, there would be false Christs, wars, and disasters. But he warned the disciples that before these things happened, they would be persecuted and even be put to death. All this happened in the book of Acts. We also see when they were put on trial, the Holy Spirit gave them the words to speak in such a way that their opponents couldn’t answer them, just as Jesus promised.
He then warned that when they saw armies surrounding Jerusalem, to get out of there because Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people taken captive. And he talked about how terrible it would be for those women who would be pregnant or nursing at that time. All this happened in AD 70, and most if not all the Christians at that time took Jesus’ warning and were not there when Jerusalem was destroyed, while many other Jews stayed in Jerusalem thinking it was their only hope for safety.
But Matthew and Mark seem to use the same, or at least similar language for what will happen in the future. That there will be an abomination that causes desolation standing in the temple. The book of Daniel refers to this event, and it was originally fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes set up an idol of Zeus in the temple, and then sacrificed a pig on the altar of God. But there was no such event in Jerusalem when it fell in AD 70. So it must be referring to something that happens in the future.
Here also, Jesus is seen as saying to flee Jerusalem and how horrible it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers. But he goes on to say,
Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again. (Mark 13:19)
It’s hard to say Jesus was talking about Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70, when the future tribulation will be much worse.
So what am I saying? All the things that happened in Jerusalem in AD 70 were a sign for what will happen in the future. And indeed for what’s happening even now. For even now, we see wars and rumors of wars. We see famines, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. We see false Christs popping up all over the place. We see persecution.
And all this will not end until Jesus comes again. And when he comes, all will know it because he will appear in the sky for all to see, and at that time he will call his elect to him.
I know that many people think that Jesus will rapture all Christians before Antichrist even comes. I certainly hope so. I’m willing to be convinced. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Whatever you believe, here’s the point I want you to remember: Jesus’ words concerning Jerusalem came true, exactly as he had said. We see his words coming true even today. And so when he says he will come again, we can know it’s true. Because he said so. Jesus said,
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Luke 21:33)
So no matter what trouble we may suffer through, let us wait in hope, and be ready whenever he does come.