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HOW CHRIST'S WORDS GIVE THE KEY TO DATE THE GREAT TRIBULATION
On the Mount of Olives, just outside the city of Jerusalem, Christ's Disciples, asked Him what signs would indicate the ending of the age and His return to set up His Kingdom. Jesus' reply to these questions is generally referred to as the Olivet Discourse, and during the course of it He gave certain information which not only describes the Great Tribulation, but which helps us to date its commencement and the geographical location where it would begin. To see this clearly, let us look at the accounts given of the words of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
A) "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 be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
B) "For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved, but for the elect's sake whom He hath chosen. He hath shortened the days."
C) "For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled . . . for there shall be great distress in the land and upon the people, and they shall fall by the edge of the sword and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
To summarise this harmony of the three Gospels, Jesus described the period under examination as being:
4) NOTHING ELSE LIKE IT SINCE CREATION
5) NEVER BE ANYTHING LIKE IT AGAIN
6) UNLESS HE CUT SHORT ITS DURATION ALL FLESH WOULD PERISH
7) HE WOULD INTERVENE IN PERSON FOR THE SAKE OF HIS ELECT.
Furthermore the Lord Jesus not only described the Tribulation but also dated it and located it. He said it would begin with:
1) DISTRESS UPON THE LAND — This being Palestine and especially the city of Jerusalem, site of the Holy Temple and scene of our Lord's Olivet Discourse, and His subsequent trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.
2) DISTRESS UPON AND CAPTIVITY OF THE PEOPLE — These were the inhabitants of the land of Palestine, generally referred to as Jews. In fact the population was a mixture of the true seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as found in the Tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi who had returned out of Babylonish captivity, together with the multitudes who embraced Judaism out of fear in the days of Esther, and the group who actually dominated the entire religious and political set-up in Judea and Jerusalem, the Edomites or Idumeans. These people were the descendants of the rejected line of Esau, who had been forcibly converted to Judaism under the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus. The fate of these people finally overtook them by the hands of the Roman Legions in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was besieged, captured and destroyed by the armies of the Roman Prince Titus, just as the prophet Daniel and the Lord Jesus had predicted (See our book "-Will The Jews rebuild a Jerusalem Temple?").
WHY DID THE JUDGEMENT COME?
As Jesus neared the end of three and a half years ministry of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing the sick and suffering He approached the city of Jerusalem. The Edomite/Idumean faction which controlled Jewry and the province of Judea at that time, had opposed the Lord at every opportunity, so much so that the Scriptures declare:-
"After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He would not walk in Jewry because the Jews sought to kill Him."
Knowing what lay ahead of Him, as He prepared to enter Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, Jesus looked down on Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and wept as He uttered this forecast of its forthcoming siege and destruction amidst scenes of unprecedented tribulation:-
"And when He was come near, He beheld the city and wept over it. Saying, If thou hadst known even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round and keep thee in on every side. And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee: and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." After a few more days of teaching and debating with the religious leaders of Jewry, Jesus standing within the very precincts of the Temple uttered this final proclamation of judgement upon the Jews:-
"Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify: and some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias whom ye slew between the Temple and the altar. 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Far from repenting of their previous sins and crimes against the messengers of God, the Jews went on to fill their cup of iniquity to the brim, by crucifying Christ; arrogantly crying out in Pilate's judgement hall:-
"Let Him be crucified . . . His blood be on us, and on our children."
The Vatican Council and certain Protestant theologians may seek to absolve them of this crime, but the Apostle Peter affirms their blood — guiltiness in these words:-
"But ye denied the Holy One and the Just (Jesus), and desired a murderer (Barabbas) to be granted unto you. And killed the Prince of Life, whom God bath raised from the dead."
For forty years, a Bible generation of testing, trial and probation (See our book, "The Divine Calculator"), the Jews continued to reject the New Covenant Gospel of Salvation. Not only did they refuse to repent, but in many cases they were foremost in the persecution of the early Church so much so that the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians:-
"For ye brethren, became followers of the Churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men."
1 Thessalonians 2:14-15
Finally the time of their judgement came during the Jewish Revolt of 67-70 A.D. It marks the commencement of Great Tribulation and we shall now go on to see:-
HOW THE WORDS OF JESUS WERE FULFILLED IN 70 A.D.
Judea had always been one of the most restless and rebellious parts of the Roman Empire, and from 60 A.D. onwards the situation began to deteriorate rapidly. Felix the Roman governor was succeeded by Festus, Albinius and then Gessius Florus, a brutal tyrant whose cruelty and maladministration was bound to result in an uprising; which it soon did; Florus was driven out of Jerusalem, the fortress of Antonio was seized by the Zealots and the pro Roman faction in the Holy City was slaughtered. The revolt spread like wildfire, and when Cestius Gallus the Roman governor of Syria who had advanced on Jerusalem, suddenly retreated for no apparent reason, the Jewish Zealots went on the offensive, convinced that God was on their side.
However, over the next three years, under the command of Vespasian who subsequently became Roman Emperor, and then of his son Titus, the Imperial Legions systematically subdued Palestine, gradually tightening the net around the Holy City, in which anarchy reigned as rival Jewish groups fought each other for control. Gabara, Jotapata, Tarichaea, Gischala, and Gamala all fell to the Romans with great slaughter, as the defenders and citizens were exterminated or engaged in mass suicide. These events are recorded for us by the Jewish historian Josephus, who was at first a commander of the rebels in Galilee before going over to the Romans.
The account of the Siege of Jerusalem, as given by Josephus makes gruesome reading. Over one million Jews perished in the siege by famine and the sword. The defenders were reduced to eating human flesh, and chewing grass and leather for sustenance. Those who ventured outside the walls by night in search of food, if captured were scourged, then crucified by the Romans in full view of the defenders. Sometimes hundreds met their fate in this manner during the space of one day. Perhaps some recalled the words of Jesus, when making His way to Calvary and crucifixion. He said to the women of Jerusalem:-
"Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but for yourselves and for your children."
Josephus writing of the conflict says:-
"Our city of all those which have been subjected to the Romans, was advanced to the highest felicity and was thrust down again to the extremist misery; for if the misfortunes of all men from the beginning of the world, were compared to those of the Jews, they would appear much inferior upon the comparison . . . to speak in brief, no other city every suffered such things, as no generation from the beginning of the world was ever more fruitful of wickedness."
As the plight of those within the walls grew worse, many attempted to escape, swallowing their money so that it would not be taken by the Romans. When this was discovered, any subsequent deserters were ripped open and disemboweled by the Romans in search of gold. Eventually most of the city and the Castle of Antonio had fallen to the invaders, and the Jews took refuge within the Temple precincts. They prepared to make a final stand there, still believing that God would intervene and save them. Finally the Holy Temple fell to the soldiers of the Roman Prince Titus; fire brands were used by the Roman soldiers to set the Sanctuary ablaze, and soon the magnificent temple ot Herod was a heap of smoking ruins. The Roman Legions now carried their
standards, the Eagle and the Serpent into the Temple and sacrificed before them in the traditional Roman manner, an ox, a sheep and the ultimate abomination — a pig. It has been estimated that at least one milion perished in the Siege of Jerusalem, and some ninety thousand survivors were sold into slavery, whilst seven hundred of the tallest most handsome captives were reserved for the March of Triumph through Rome by 'Titus and his Legions. Thus were fulfilled the predictions of the Lord Jesus, a generation earlier, and also of the prophet Daniel several hundred years before, when he had foretold concerning Titus and the armies of Imperial Rome:-
"And the people of the Prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined . . . and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
THE ABOMINATION AND THE FLIGHT OF THE CHRISTIANS
One of the most amazing aspects of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was that not one single Christian perished in the conflict, the reason for this being as we shall see, that they heeded a warning prophecy of Jesus uttered over forty years earlier, concerning the Abomination of Desolation. Let us trace the events as they are outlined for us in the writings of Josephus.
Strange events and portents of doom had begun to take place in the city of Jerusalem as early as 62 A.D. Strange sounds were heard and lights seen shining over the Temple in the dead of night. The huge Eastern Gate which had been barred for years with iron planks had opened at midnight and during the Feast of Pentecost that year there had been a minor earth tremor. Then there appeared in the city a seemingly demented prophet, the son of Ananius, who daily cried out a message of warning and impending doom in the city streets:-
"A voice from the East, a voice from the West, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice against this whole people. Woe, Woe to this holy house and to this people."
When the Jews subsequently broke into revolt some four and a half years later, his previously apparently insane ravings began to have a ring of truth to them and when the Roman armies of Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem and prepared to lay siege to it, the Christians recalled the warning prophecies of Jesus, uttered a generation earlier. Here are three accounts of His message as recorded in the Gospels.
A) "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 which 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 them 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."
B) "But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand) then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains. And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house neither enter therein to take anything out of his house. And let him that is in the field not turn back again to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days. And pray ye that your flight be not in winter, for in those days shall be affliction:'
C) "When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains and let them which are in the midst of it depart out . . . for these be the days of vengeance.,"
By harmonising these three Gospel accounts we see that where Matthew and Mark referred to the Abomination of Desolation, Luke referred to the Roman armies; they were one and the same thing. The Christians in Jerusalem realised this, but surrounded by the Legions of Cestius Gallus, flight seemed to be impossible. Then by a miracle, or as Josephus puts it, "for no apparent reason," the Roman commander and his forces withdrew. The forces of the Jewish Zealots pursued the retreating Romans, attacking them with such ferocity that they were faced with total destruction. The Jews believed they had won a great victory, but the Christians knew that the
Legions of Rome would return, and that now was their chance to heed the words of Christ. They fled the city of Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, not even taking time to gather their possessions. They took to the mountains, and eventually according to the historians Eusebius and Ephiphanius they reached safety at Pella and other places beyond the River Jordan. Not one Christian perished in the bloody siege which followed.
What became of the prophet of woe? Josephus tells us that after proclaiming his message for some seven and a half years, he was killed by a stone from a Roman siege engine as he stood on the walls of the embattled city, still proclaiming woe to it and to the Holy Temple.
In a Bible study such as this, we must proceed as we would if building a house. Before we can lay our foundation and raise our superstructure it is first of all necessary to clear the site of all useless, and often hindering debris and rubble. So in like manner before going on to make an in-depth study of our topic, let us clear the ground of all false and deceptive doctrines, and clearly state:-
WHAT THE GREAT TRIBULATION IS NOT
A) It is not the concept popularly and widely preached and proclaimed by the Futurists, of a period of three and a half or seven years, at the end of this age, when after the supposed Secret Rapture of the Christians, their one-man Anti-Christ or Beast reigns supreme. We are given a truly nightmarish picture of this time, when horrific events will take place on an unprecedented scale; when torture, death by martyrdom, famines, plagues and natural disasters will be the order of the day.
B) It is not that period of time referred to in Scripture as Jacob's Trouble:-
"Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's Trouble; but he shall be saved out of it."
This is a specific period of trouble and tribulation which is to come exclusively on the nations of Jacob/Israel, whom we identify in these closing days of time as the Celto-Anglo-Saxon and related kindred peoples of the earth.
C) It is not the era of prophecy known as the Judgement of the Nations or the Day of Vengeance of our God, when He pours out His fury on the Heathen, Gentile, Babylonish world order. This is yet to be and we read concerning it:-
"Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth, for their iniquity."