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His church through dark ages to follow; then He described the events of the latter days, the signs showing His second advent near at hand; and, finally, He pictured the scenes of His own glorious appearing in the clouds of heaven. The fullest record of the discourse is found in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew.
A Striking Parallel
The first portion of the prophetic discourse (verses 4-14) deals with general conditions that were to prevail both in the last days of the Jewish state, and on a yet larger scale in the course of history leading to the last days of the world. There was so close a parallel between these times that Christ, in one description, answered both questions asked, When shall these things come upon Jerusalem? and, What shall be the signs of the end of the world?
The prophetic word foretold the rise of false Christs, the coming of wars, famines, and earthquakes in "divers places." The believers saw these things fulfilled in that generation before Jerusalem fell; but as we read the prophecy, we see the wider application and yet larger fulfilment through the course of history since that day, these calamities increasing in the earth as the end draws near. Before the end of the Jewish state, the believers carried the gospel to all the known world of their day. (See Col. 1:23.) In these latter days we are seeing the yet wider proclamation of the gospel, as foretold in the fourteenth verse, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
The Last Days of Jerusalem
We may note briefly some of the events of Jerusalem's last days. Christ had forewarned the believers:
"Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many."
Having rejected the true Christ, the nation was open to deception by the false. We catch just a glimpse of the fulfilment in the book of Acts; in secular history the full story is told. Ridpath says:
"Never was a people so turbulent, so excited with expectation of a deliverer who should restore the ancient kingdom, so fired with bigotry and fanaticism, as were the wretched Jews of this period. One Christ came after another. Revolt was succeeded by revolt, instigated by some pseudo-prophet or pretended king."-"History of the World," Vol. I, p. 849 (Part III, chap. 19).
During the Saviour's life and ministry a divine hand had to a great extent held the elements of violence in check, but as the light was rejected more and more, the spirit of evil came to hold sway unrestrained. Dr. Mears well describes the changed conditions in these words:
"The narrative of the evangelists presents a tranquil scene, a succession of attractive pictures, in striking contrast to the bloody and tumultuous events which crowd each other in the pages of Josephus.""From Exile to Overthrow," pp. 256, 257.
Thus the events led rapidly on toward the day of Jerusalem's fall, so long foretold by the prophets.
The Sign to the Believers
The disciples had asked for a sign, and Christ gave them. a token by which they might know when the time to flee from Jerusalem had come. Here Luke's Gospel gives the fullest record:
"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; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled." Luke 21: 20-22.
The unbelieving in Jerusalem and Judea could not conceive that their city, so long protected and favored of God, could be destroyed. Not even the appearance of the Roman
THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BY THE ROMANS UNDER TITUS, A. D. 70
"When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh." Luke 21:20.
armies could shake their blind self-confidence. But at the first sight of the encircling armies, the Christians knew that the time for flight was at hand. But how to flee was the question, with the compassing lines drawn close about the city. Moreover, the Zealots, the furious war party in power, would be little likely to allow any number to pass out to the Roman forces.
Just here God's providence made a way of escape. Cestius, the Roman commander, after having partially undermined one of the temple walls, suddenly decided to defer pushing the attack. "He retired from the city," says Josephus, "without any reason in the world." (See "Wars," book 2, chap. 19.) And the Zealots flew out after the retiring Romans, furiously attacking the rear guards.
Then those watching Christians knew that the time for quick flight had come, according to Christ's prophecy uttered many years before. They fled out of the city and out of the country round about.
Through all the years, Christ's prophecy had exhorted them, "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Matt. 24: 20. The prayer was answered, for it was in the autumn and on a week day that the flight was made.* Watching for the sign, and instantly obeying, they were delivered.
Thus it was that when the Romans returned later to the siege, never to give up till the city fell, none of the Christians. were overwhelmed in its destruction. Even so are we to watch the signs of our own times, that we y escape those things that are coming upon the earth, and be ready to "stand before the Son of man."
*It was in the autumn that the army of Cestius closed in upon Jerusalem. According to the careful record of Graetz, the Jewish historian, it was evidently on a Wednesday that the Roman army retired, pursued by all the forces of the city. This was the instant for the flight of the Christians. Next day "the Zealots, shouting exultant war songs, returned to Jerusalem (8th October)."-"History of the Jews," Vol. II, p. 268. The day before was the time for unhindered flight.
The Prophetic Word Fulfilled
Christ had declared that the temple, the pride of the nation, would be utterly destroyed. In the last siege, the Roman commander tried to spare the magnificent pile. When the Jews made it their chief fortress, because of its massive strength, Titus remonstrated with them, saying:
"If you will but change the place whereon you fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay, I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not." -Josephus, "Wars of the Jews," book 6, chap. 2.
But the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. The people seemed possessed with fury. The hardened Roman pagans were astonished at their suicidal rashness. Titus's efforts to save the temple failed, and it went down in ruin, as Christ had foretold.