Last time we studied Matthew, we read about events leading up to the Tribulation. In this next set of verses, Jesus is jumping straight to the Tribulation's middle. The entire book of Revelation traces out each little event with detail, but apparently for His warning recorded in Matthew, He was being more brief. So, what we see here are basically the high points.
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),
16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
17 "Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house.
18 "Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
19 "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
20 "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath."
The Abomination of Desolation is described elsewhere in Scripture:
From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.
- Daniel 12:11
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
So what we gather will take place at the Abomination of Desolation is that it is the half-way point in the seven-year Tribulation, that sacrifices in the Jewish Temple will be halted (which means they will have been begun again - something that could actually happen at any moment as the Jews can have everything up and running in a matter of days when the regain the Temple Mount), and that the "Antichrist" (it seems, since being God has been Satan's motivation all along) will declare himself to be God.
(Tiny side-note: Those verses in 2 Thessalonians are yet another point in Scripture that I see as pointing to a post-Tribulation rapture, not pre-Tribulation.)
An Abomination of Desolation of sorts already happened a couple of centuries before Christ said these words - committed by the evil Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. What he did to the Jewish Temple was the inspiration for the Abomination of Desolation scene in Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series. And it was kind of a precursor to the "real-deal" on that will happen during the Tribulation. Just as Jesus appeared in human form before His incarnation multiple times in the Old Testament (for example, talking with Abraham and wrestling with Jacob), I think it likely that "the Antichrist" has appeared on Earth multiple times as well (i.e. human beings indwelt by Satan - like Judas and probably Hitler).
The rest of the verses in this set serve to point out just how terrible this time will be for the Jews. Keep in mind how much oppression and near-extermination they have suffered throughout the history of the world - and realize that this time will be THE worst. And yet, God's concern for the pregnant and nursing women trying to flee reveals His incredible care - even thousands of years in advance while delivering a brief prophecy, He takes the time to express His concern for them.
And verse 20 brings up an interesting topic for us to all mull over regarding prayer ... Even beyond the basic theological truth that God has always known everything that will ever happen, it is even made explicitly clear that the day of Christ's return is set in stone (Matthew 24:34-36). And since studying Daniel and Revelation makes it clear that all End Times events are on a strict, interconnected timetable, that means that the day of the Abomination of Desolation has a set date, as well. So, praying that this won't happen on a Sabbath or during winter wouldn't seem to be able to change anything ... except that God would have known in advance that people would pray that if He told them to, so He answered their prayers in advance before they had even prayed it yet ... Try wrapping your mind around that for a minute! ;-)
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.
22 "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."
The word "tribulation" has the potential to confuse some. Basically, we have decided to call the entire seven-year period of judgments outlined in Revelation "the Tribulation," but the Bible itself calls the second half of that seven-year period a "Great Tribulation." So they are two different things.
And, as indicated here and in the timeline in Revelation, that second half will be far more intense than the first half - and considering how terrible the first half will be, no wonder the whole thing has to be cropped to only a few years so that some sort of remnant of the saved will be able to survive!
23 "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him.
24 "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
25 "Behold, I have told you in advance.
26 "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the l,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,,' do not believe them.
27 "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be."
We talked about this topic in our last study, too, so I won't spend a ton of time on it here. But it's critical to remember that as the End gets closer and closer, demonic power will increase on Earth, to the point that possessed people have such demonic powers that even some Christians will fall for it and think they're prophets or Christ Himself. But Christ will not come in that form - even though there is a lot of End Times prophecy that is confusing, one thing that is abundantly clear is that when Christ comes, everyone on Earth will know it, and it will be a powerful moment.
28 "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Apparently a lot of people try to read specific prophetic meanings into this verse, like it talking about the rapture or Armageddon, but I see it is as simply a wry descriptive phrase about the false Christs. It could mean that as the post-apostasy Church has a lot of spiritually-dead "Christians" and former Christians, charlatans will come in and lead them into following demonic influence, or that as the Earth approaches its death, false teachers will come in and drag people into spiritual death, or many other things along these lines.
Next time, we'll get to cover some of the "happy," exciting stuff following the Tribulation. :-)