Even a Plowboy Can Understand
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 24:15a (Holman) So when you see the abomination that causes
desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the
holy place. . .
The prophet Daniel wrote about 535 B.C. Four times he predicted a disaster called the abomination of desolation (8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11).
This prediction was first fulfilled in 168 B.C., when King Antiochus Epiphanes, self-named “God Manifest”, captured Jerusalem and tried to annihilate Judaism by enforcing Greek religion. He desecrated the temple by turning the priests’ living quarters into a brothel, and by building an altar to Jupiter, on which he sacrificed a pig, an ultimate blasphemy to Jews.
In our current text, Jesus said the abomination of desolation foretold by the prophet Daniel and fulfilled by King Antiochus would happen again. In other words, Daniel’s prediction referred to more than one event. It was not exhausted in 168 B.C., nor did the Roman General Titus finally fulfill it when he destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. As we have learned, in Matthew 24 Jesus in one reference sometimes spoke of things that would happen soon, continue to occur throughout history, and happen near the end of time. As I said early in this chapter, the peaks are behind each other, not side by side.
Antiochus and Titus foreshadow someone else who will commit another abomination of desolation. The Bible clearly teaches that as we near the end, the good will get better (Matt. 24:14), and the bad will get worse.
Paul told us; near the end a man of lawlessness will be revealed, who will exalt himself above every god, and call himself god (2 TH 2:1-12); but believers don’t despair. When Jesus comes, He will destroy this evil warlord with a breath. We sometimes give the impression Jesus and Satan will be deadlocked in a wrestling match at the end, with Jesus barely winning at the last second. No! Jesus will dispense with him as easily as we shoo a fly.
Matt. 24:15b . . .(let the reader understand),. . .The Gospel is a revealing, not a secret. Jesus wanted us, the common people, to know two things: His words here are vitally important, and we can understand them. This does not mean all of us will know every detail, but it does mean we can all know enough to be prepared whenever these events begin to happen, whether in the flow of history, or at the end of the age.
In this chapter, Jesus was not trying to be cryptic, to speak in ways only the upper crust, the elite, would understand. Among Christ-followers, every Bible reader has equal opportunity to understand. In His Kingdom, there are no bluebirds and buzzards, no first class and third class citizens.
Tyndale told of his desire to translate the Bible into English, but the religious aristocracy, wanting to maintain control over the masses, opposed him. When the English Bishop John Bell said the common people would be better off if they did not read the Bible, Tyndale said, “If God spares my life, in a few years a plowboy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do.”
Matt. 24:16 . . .then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!
When Titus besieged Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Christians remembered this command and warning from their Master. Church historian Eusebius said no Christians died in the destruction of Jerusalem. He said they fled to the town of Pella, on the other side of the Jordan, 17 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. Pella was a town of Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile territory that stayed true to Rome in 70 A.D. In the ancient world, it was common for conquerors to grant people a chance to flee during a siege. It meant fewer people in the city to fight in the end. Alexander the Great would sometimes set up lamps outside besieged city walls, granting mercy till the flame died.
For those loyal to Judaism, this desertion of the holy city by the Christians was the ultimate act of treason. It may have been the final irreparable breaking point between the two religions. As Christians fled, others ran into the city, thinking it was too precious to God for Him to ever let it fall. The result was one of the worst mass slaughters in human history.
The Christians forsook Jerusalem. It would be hard to justify this type of desertion today, because no theocracies exist now. As citizens of earthly political homelands, we share common allegiances to hearth and home. Someone well said patriotism is love of family expanded to a larger scale.
The issue in 70 A.D. was more religious than political. To stay in Jerusalem would have been rebellion against God. Our current text is blunt. How clear would Jesus have had to be? This was not the first time God had spoken against defending Jerusalem. Jeremiah was thrice told not to pray for the people (7:16; 11:14; 14:11). He told King Zedekiah to surrender to, not resist, the Babylonians (38:17). To oppose the Babylonians was to oppose God’s justified judgment on Israel’s sins. The same was true in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. To resist Rome would have been refusal to submit to God’s will.
The mountains around Jerusalem abound in caves. The Maccabees hid in them during their bloody revolt that cast off King Antiochus. Robbers and criminals also often used them as hideaways. These mountain caves, and the flight to Pella, are markers that should encourage Christ-followers. We are never left without hope. The church will always find ways to survive and go on with her Kingdom work. We may have to go underground, may have to hunker down, or may have to flee, but God’s Kingdom expansion will go on.
When we are persecuted, if a door of escape can be gone through lawfully, do so. This is what the members of our daughter Burmese church had to do. They were forced to flee their homes by the thousands. There was nothing wrong with their doing this. We are free to flee; we are not to pursue martyrdom; it must chase us. But if we cannot escape, and are called on to compromise, to not stay true to our convictions, we have to suffer if need be, as our brothers and sisters are having to do under Islamic terrorists today.
The reports of Christians being massacred abroad are shattering our hearts. We all feel totally powerless, and can sense anger swelling up in us.
For weeks I have been pondering how we believers can appropriately respond to this. I’m not dealing here with political possibilities. Government leaders are the ones God has set in place to make the hard military calls.
I speak to believers. One, pray. We are commanded to pray for our government leaders. I have prayed for Mr. Obama daily for these six years.
Pray for persecuted believers. Oh my, if we are not praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, what in heaven’s name are we praying for?
Two, speak precisely. We need meticulous accuracy in all our remarks on this issue. My Cousin Lois drilled into her students, “Say what you mean; mean what you say.” Be precise. Let me clearly state what we are up against.
We are being violated by five Islamic terrorist groups: Al Qaeda in the Middle East and Africa; Al-Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram in Nigeria; ISIS in Syria and Iraq; Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are Islamic terrorist groups, but not all Muslims support them. Be very precise in our remarks; we do not want to alienate the majority of Islamic followers. We need them. Only the Islamic majority can end Islamic terrorism.
We believers have had to implement this form of self-discipline in our own backyard. Only the Pope could rein in the excesses of the Jesuits.
Only Presbyterians could lead their people away from Calvin’s error of letting Michael Servetus be executed for his anti-Trinitarian beliefs. Only Baptists could stop Zwingli’s error of taking up arms for the cause of Christ.
We should not vilify the Islamic majority. When discussing terrorism, speak precisely. Name the specific groups guilty of it. To bolster my intent here, let me remind us, we Baptists don’t want to be measured by Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka KS. Let us do to others what we want done to us.