Do the words of Christ in Matthew 24:15-30 predict a religious persecution of Jews in the modem state of Israel within seven years after the church has been raptured from earth to heaven? Yes, say dispensationalists, pointing to the Saviour's references to the "abomination of desolation," and "great tribulation."1
Commenting on a future fulfillment of the seventieth week of Daniel 9, which dispensationalists dissect from the preceding sixty-nine and transfer to the end of time (see MINISTRY, May, 1982, pp. 14-17), A. J. McClain states, "Our Lord's great prophetical discourse recorded in Matthew and Mark fixes the time of Israel's final and greatest trouble definitely within the days of the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20). 2 According to McClain, Christ placed the "abomination of desolation" (see Dan. 9:27) in the future, at the end of time, "just before His second coming in glory" (see Matt. 24:29, 30). 3
J. F. Walvoord agrees that in Matthew 24:15-22 Jesus "had in mind the prediction of the climax of Israel's seventieth week or seventy sevens of years predicted in Daniel 9:27." 4 And a note at Matthew 24:15-20 in The New Scofield Reference Bible speaks of "a future crisis in Jerusalem after the manifestation of the 'abomination.'" 5
Do the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 refer to a future, post-rapture tribulation for Jews? Can such a position be sustained by careful exegesis of the passage? In my opinion, the dispensational exegesis of Matthew 24 is an amazing example of futurism that denies the clearly recognized complementary function of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Jesus' prophetic discourse is recorded by all three Synoptic Gospels and therefore should be studied in the light of all three records. However, dispensationalists exclude Luke from their interpretation of Christ's Olivet discourse because Luke's account does not favor their exegesis of the "abomination of desolation." Yet many New Testament students consider Luke's narrative to be historically more full and complete than either of the first two Gospels. Luke stands first in length and completeness.
The New Scofield Reference Bible even goes so far as to declare that Jesus' words in Luke 21:20-24—the undeniable parallel of Matthew 24:15-22—predict the very opposite of what He says in Matthew's account! "The passage in Luke refers in express terms to a destruction of Jerusalem which was fulfilled by Titus in A. D. 70; the passage in Matthew alludes to a future crisis in Jerusalem after the manifestation of the 'abomination.' See Beast (Dan. 7:8; Rev. 19:20, note); and Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16; 19:17, note). In the former case Jerusalem was destroyed: in the latter it will be delivered by divine interposition." 6
Such a contradiction is the result of a doctrinal assurance that will not submit itself to the complementary, yet harmonious, points of view of the three Synoptic Gospels on the "abomination of desolation." Here the dispensationalist position can maintain itself only at the cost of breaking up the organic unity of the Synoptic Gospels.
R. H. Gundry, himself a dispensationalist theologian, acknowledges that it is irresponsible to impose a Jewish application on Matthew's Gospel (rather than applying it to the church) and thus relate chapter 24 to another, future, dispensation after the church has been raptured from earth. 7 His major argument: "The Olivet discourse appears in substantially the same form in Mark and in a somewhat altered form in Luke. Consequently, it may still relate to the church from the latter gospels." 8 Furthermore, Christ addressed the discourse to His apostles who represented, of course, the church, not the Jewish nation.
All three Synoptic evangelists record Christ's warning prediction that before the desolating abomination would appear in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Christians must experience the trials of false christs, of wars and rumors of wars, of famines and earthquakes (see Matt. 24:4-8; Mark 13:5-8; Luke 21:8-11). These predictions became historical reality between A.D. 35 and A.D. 55. 9 Yet Christ had emphasized, " 'All these are the beginning of birth pains'" (Matt. 24:8; cf. Mark 13:8).*
Christ then mentioned a second kind of trial: Jewish and Gentile persecutions in the face of which the Holy Spirit would give His disciples an irresistible testimony; betrayals by relatives and hatred by all for the sake of His name (see Matt. 24-'9-14; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). Bo Reicke gives a detailed report of the fulfillment of all these trials before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and states, "The situation presupposed by Matthew corresponds to what is known about Christianity in Palestine between A.D. 50 and 64." 10 And in all these upheavals Paul affirmed that the gospel had "been proclaimed to every creature under heaven" (Col. 1:23). These facts allow us to conclude that Matthew 24:1-14 and its parallels in Mark 13:1-13 and Luke 21:5-19 have found a literal fulfillment in the years between Christ's death and the destruction of Jerusalem. 11
What, then, was Christ's purpose in giving all these signs that would lead up to the "abomination of desolation" in Jerusalem (see Matt. 24:15, K.J.V.)?
He wanted to alert His own disciples to the truth that His second advent would not occur at the impending destruction of Jerusalem as they initially had taken for granted (see verse 3; Luke 21:6, 7). When Roman legions besieged Jerusalem, the Jewish Zealots, inflamed by predictions of miraculous success, maintained their resistance in the false expectation that God would supernaturally deliver the city as He had done in the time of King Hezekiah (701 B.C.). 12
Against these false prophets Christ urged His disciples not to expect His return in glory at the coming desolation of Jerusalem. When they saw the desolating abomination in the holy place, they were to know this was the signal to flee immediately from the city and Judea. They should not expect God to deliver Jerusalem as the prophets Joel (chapter 3) and Zechariah (chapters 12 and 14) had envisioned. And the reason should be clear. These apocalyptic prophecies presuppose a faithful remnant of Israel on Mount Zion. But this time the faithful remnant was the Messianic flock that was called out of the doomed city. Jerusalem would be destroyed according to the prophecy of Daniel 9:26, 27 because the city had rejected the Messiah as her covenant God. In Matthew 24, Jesus points specifically to Daniel's prophecy of doom for Jerusalem: " '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. .. 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'" (verses 15-21).
There is no perspective here for Jerusalem's deliverance "by divine interposition" as the Scofield Bible claims, but rather the opposite: the faithful remnant must flee out of Jerusalem and Judea when they would see the abominable invader coming within the land of Israel. Why flee away? Because the Roman desolator functions as God's decreed vengeance or punishment on the city and the Temple for her rejection of the Messiah and His apostles (see Dan. 9:26, 27 and Luke 21:22).
A close comparison of the parallel context in the Synoptic Gospels confirms this conclusion beyond any doubt. Mark's record of Jesus' warning states: " 'When you see "the abomination that causes desolation" standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . . Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now— and never be equaled again'" (Mark 13:14-19).
Luke's Gospel explains Mark's version of Christ's prophecy more elaborately for the Roman Theophilus (see chap. 1:3): " 'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. . . . There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled'" (chap. 21:20-24).
It seems impossible to interpret Luke's explicit description as referring to any thing other than the destruction of Jerusalem, which soon became historical reality in A.D. 70. Even The New Scofield Reference Bible admits this, as we have seen. Yet, the undeniably parallel passages in Matthew 24:15 ff. and Mark 13:14 ff. (all three Synoptic passages begin with " 'When you see . . .'") are explained as referring to a different, future dispensation when the church is no longer on earth!
Indeed, the Scofield Bible finds two future sieges of Jerusalem in the same words of Christ's Olivet discourse! "Two sieges of Jerusalem are in view in the Olivet discourse, the one fulfilled in A.D. 70, and the other yet to be fulfilled at the end of the age. . . . The references in Matthew 24:15-28 and Mark 13:14-26 are to the final siege, when the city will be taken by enemies but delivered by the return of the Lord to the earth (Rev. 19:11-21; Zech. 14:2-4)." 13
It seems apparent that such an interpretation of Christ' words is guided not by an exegesis that takes into account the context of the Synoptic Gospels, but by a preconceived futurism that forces on Christ's application of Daniel 9:26, 27 for His own generation an eschatological system of dispensationalism for Israel. Such an interpretation is saying that Mark and Matthew wrote nothing about the impending desolation of Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70, while Luke wrote nothing about the "final" abomination and tribulation antichrist has in store for the "finally regathered" Jews. Why, then, does Luke, who largely follows Mark's account, completely ignore such a horrible tribulation for future Jews and focus exclusively on the imminent desolation of Jerusalem by Titus and the resulting worldwide scattering of Jews as the complete fulfillment of God's punishment for Jerusalem (see Luke 21:22; cf. Deut. 28:44-59; Dan. 9:26, 27)? Why does Christ in His Olivet discourse give identical instructions about the desolating abomination to His apostles for the church?
Not an idol image in the inner sanctuary but the invading armies of Rome in the "holy land" could be seen by all in Judea (see Matt. 24:15, 16; Mark 13:14). Both Matthew and Mark speak not merely of a coming "abomination" but of a desolating abomination. This horrible desolation, explains Luke to his largely Gentile readers, would come to Jerusalem with the destroying heathen armies (see Luke 21:20).
If the three Synoptic Gospels describe one and the same event regarding Jerusalem—the approaching desolation of the city and the sanctuary—then Christ placed the fulfillment of Daniel 9:26, 27 in A.D. 70, within His own generation (cf. Matt. 24:34; 23:36; Luke 21:32, 22).
Luke's emphatic declaration that the destruction of Jerusalem (by Titus in A.D. 70) was "the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written" (Luke 21:22) is the sealing confirmation that Daniel's "seventieth week" has been completely fulfilled in Christ's mission to Israel and in Jerusalem's horrible destruction by the Romans. 14
G. G. Cohen has argued that the predicted "abomination of desolation" was not fulfilled in A.D. 70, because "history reveals no action by the Roman general, Titus, which can be identified as the abomination of desolation of Matthew 24:15 or 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4." 15
Although Christ's disciples were to flee from the city and Judea prior to its destruction when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by the heathen armies, F. F. Bruce reports that "when the Temple area ' was taken by the Romans, and the sanctuary itself was still burning, the soldiers brought their legionary standards into the sacred precincts, set them up opposite the eastern gate, and offered sacrifice to them there, acclaiming Titus as imperator (victorious commander) as they did so. ... The offering of such sacrifice in the Temple court was the supreme insult to the God of Israel." 16
Paul's apocalyptic outline in 2 Thessalonians 2 is based on the antichrist prophecies of Daniel, primarily found in chapter 7, where the antichrist ("the little horn") is explicitly located as arising among ten "horns" after the demise of the fourth kingdom (the Roman Empire) has made room for the ten smaller nations, that is, after A.D. 476 (see Dan. 7:23, 24).
Dispensationalism's unwarranted projection of this apocalyptic antichrist back into Daniel's seventy-week prophecy is one reason for the separation of the final week of that prophecy from the former sixty-nine and its being placed at the end-time. As given in Daniel 9, the seventy weeks reach only until the Messiah's coming to be "cut off" and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem as God's ordained punishment. But the antichrist of Daniel 7 is predicted to come after the Roman Empire has expired in the fifth century A.D. Thus, to fit antichrist into the seventh-week prophecy, a portion must be carried forward to the end-time. All such necessities vanish when Jesus' words are understood in their obvious context and meaning.
Understood in this way, the Saviour substantiates the fact that Daniel's seventy weeks end, not in a post-church persecution of Jews in Israel, but with Messiah's coming and the consequences to Jerusalem of His rejection.
All Bible texts, unless otherwise noted, are
from The Holy Bible: New International Version,
Copyright © 1978 by the New York International
Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan
1 J. F. Walvoord, The Return of the Lord (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, fifth printing), Chapter
2 A. J. McClain, Daniel's Prophecy of the Seventy
Weeks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940), p. 10.
3 Ibid., p. 40.
4 J. F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1974, eleventh printing), p.
5 The New Scofield Reference Bible, C. I.
Scofield, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
1967), p. 1034.
7 R. H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), chapter 9,
"The Olivet Discourse."
8 lbid., p. 130.
9 See detailed report, with historical references,
by B. Reicke, "Synoptic Prophecies on the
Destruction of Jerusalem," in Studies in New
Testament and Early Christian Literature (essays in
honor of A. P. Wikgren), D. E. Aune, ed.
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), pp. 121-134; esp.
10 lbid., p. 133.
11 See also The Seventh-day Adventist Bible
Commentary, on Matt. 24:2-14, pp. 497, 498.
12 Josephus, Wars VI. 5. 2, reports that "a large
number of false prophets . . . announced to them
[the people] that they should wait for deliverance
13 The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1114 (on
14 Josephus writes that 1.1 million Jews perished
and 97,000 were sold into slavery. He concludes:
"Accordingly the multitude of those that perished
therein exceeded all the destructions that either
men or God ever brought upon the world."—
Wars, VI. 9. 4.
15 G. G. Cohen, "Is the Abomination of
Desolation Past?" Moody Monthly, April, 1975,
pp. 31, 34.
16 F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations (Exeter: The
Pater Noster Press, 1973), p. 224.