Matthew 24:15-22 (NIV) “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
Jesus draws back again to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Although there are many words and verbal pictures in this section, they all communicate one main picture: an invasion and siege by a foreign power that will stop the daily sacrifices at the temple, and will replace the worship of God as the God of Israel with the worship of pagan gods.
This is the abomination that causes desolation, identified by Daniel in three passages (9:27, 11:31, and 12:11), and initially fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes, when he invaded the temple, abolished the sacrifices, defiled the altar and the holy place with pig’s blood, and set up idols of Greek gods. This same desolation, cessation of sacrifices, and invasion of the sacred temple courts by gentiles was going to happen again when the Romans would enter the temple precincts boldly, and remove all of the holy things. Even though they would not fill the temple with images of their gods (the temple would be almost immediately burned and torn down to the ground), their Roman standards being carried into the temple grounds, symbolizing to them the victory of the gods of Rome over the God of Israel, would have exactly the same meaning to the people of Jerusalem who remained alive to see it.
But before that happened, the Roman forces under general Titus would march through the land, killing many as they pushed forward to suppress the revolt against the emperor. They would besiege the city of Jerusalem, starting a couple of days before the Passover, and finally breaking through the last stronghold at the end of August. During that time, the distress of the huge population the city, the numbers swelled with Passover pilgrims, was intense. The Romans didn’t just sit in wait during the siege, but continued to push their assault daily, taking the outer city early on, then taking more ground, pushing the survivors continually into an ever shrinking zone around the temple.
Jesus’ advice to His followers was that when these things started to happen, they should simply flee to the hills. And they did. This advance warning allowed the Christians to flee from the city before the Roman troops encircled it. At that point, trying to get back into the city to collect possessions would have been deadly, as the trap closed quickly.
Father, even in this Jesus is caring for His followers. And it wasn’t just the twelve and their families who were saved, but all of those who turned to Jesus, received these teachings, and obeyed when the time came. Help us, also, to listen clearly to Jesus’ teachings, and to the leading of Your Spirit as we go through our days, and obey immediately when prompted, so that You can guide us through these uncertain times. Amen.