The coming crisis

Through his parables and other teachings, Jesus had spoken a number of times of his going away and his return in glory, which would bring in the climax of the age, the triumph of his kingdom and final judgment. His disciples apparently connected these events with the predicted destruction of Jerusalem.

Therefore, when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, his disciples immediately connected this with the return of the Messiah and the end of the age. They asked him what significant events would occur before these final great events (Matt 24:1-3; Luke 21:5-7).

In reply Jesus told them that the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple was not necessarily connected with the return of the Messiah or the end of the age. They were not to believe rumours they might hear from time to time that the Messiah had returned, for there would always be false prophets who tried to attract a following for themselves. Nor were they to think that all wars, famines, earthquakes or plagues were sure signs that the end was near (Matt 24:4-8; Luke 21:8-11).

The end would not come till the gospel had spread throughout the world, and this goal would be reached only after much opposition. God’s servants would be persecuted by enemies and betrayed by friends; many would be killed. Only by love and unfailing faith in God would the survivors be able to endure their trials. Even if their sufferings resulted in death, God would preserve them for his heavenly kingdom (Matt 24:9-14; Luke 21:12-19).

Although the people of Jesus’ day would not see the final events of the world’s history, many of them would certainly see a foreshadowing of those events; for they would live to witness the horror of the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem.

On seeing the awful sight of Rome’s armies approaching the city, people would flee to the hills, without even waiting to collect their belongings. They would find escape particularly difficult if the attack came in winter (when weather conditions would slow them down), or on the Sabbath (when religious regulations would restrict them). Women and children especially would suffer. The enemy’s savage attack would be more terrible and destructive than anything they had known. In fact, if God did not stop the butchery, no one would be left alive. The people would be massacred, the temple burnt and the city destroyed. The event would be a repeat of the atrocities of Antiochus Epiphanes, only many times worse

– an ‘awful horror’ (GNB), a ‘desolating sacrilege’ (RSV), an ‘abomination that causes desolation’ (NIV) (Matt 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-24; cf. Dan 9:27; 11:31; see ‘The New Testament World’).

During the time these troubles were building up, false prophets would try to draw Jesus’ disciples into their group. With clever tricks and comforting words they would assure them that the Messiah had returned and was hiding in some safe place, waiting to lead his people to victory. The disciples of Jesus were not to believe such rumours. Jesus’ return would be as sudden, as open, and as startling as a flash of lightning. When God’s great intervention eventually occurred, it would be plain for all to see (Matt 24:23- 28).

Jesus did not return at the fall of Jerusalem, nor immediately after. It seems, then, that his prophecy still awaits its greater fulfilment. If that is so, there could be a repeat of conditions such as those during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but on a wider scale and with greater intensity. The powers of nature on earth and in space will be thrown into confusion, nations will be in turmoil, and people everywhere will be filled with fear. The present age will come to an end as Jesus returns in power and glory to save his own and judge his enemies (Matt 24:29-31; Luke 21:25-28).

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