In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus has warned His disciples of the urgency of fleeing whenever they should see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, and the woe that will befall those who cannot make haste. And yet, while the forthcoming day of the Lord is certain, still He bids them to pray that their flight may be at a time amenable for their deliverance, intimating that as God gave heed to Lot as judgment was about to be poured out upon Sodom, He can likewise be moved by prayer to grant them favors as they make their escape. In particular, He bids them pray that their flight will not be in winter or on a Sabbath, i.e., at such time as the Lord has already gathered the fruit into His barn and His disciples have need to have already entered into the safety of His rest if they are to be delivered from that conflagration of the chaff being burned up with unquenchable fire; cf. Exo 15:7, Zep 2:1-3, Mat 3:11-12, 2Pe 3:9-10.
How does Jesus describe that conflagration in Mat 24:20-21 that makes escape before the winter or on a Sabbath so imperative? Cf. Jer 30:7, Dan 12:1. What is meant by “a great tribulation”? Cf. the NET “great suffering” and NIV “great distress”; see also Act 7:11, 1Ma 9:27 for the same Greek phrase. Would the suffering and distress that Jesus is predicting here be the first time an unparalleled tribulation had afflicted people on the earth, and especially Jerusalem? See Exo 10:6,14, Dan 9:12, Joel 1:2, 2:2, Eze 5:9. What unparalleled tribulation is described in Scripture as having come upon the whole earth that from the beginning of the world until then had never occurred, and would never happen again? See Gen 6:5-13, 9:11-15. Shall we then necessarily assume that the great tribulation Jesus speaks of in Mat 24:21 will mark a complete end of all such tribulations, or is it possible that it is within the power of an infinite God to bring many such judgments that are singular in nature and which can all be described as having never occurred since the beginning of the world and shall never happen again? Cf. 2Pe 3:5-7. In addition to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation in 70 AD, in what way might the fall of the Roman empire, the religious wars following the protestant reformation, World War I, World War II, the battle of Stalingrad, or the communist purges of Stalin, Mao, and Castro all be referred to as great tribulations? Would those who come through such times of distress be amiss in referring to them as a great tribulation? In what way might singular life changing personal events like a severe illness, the death of a child, divorce, or a debilitating accident also be referred to as times of great tribulation? Cf. Luk 21:34-35 and think: who among men has not experienced such times of distress? Cf. Joh 16:33. How does this help us to understand how Jesus’ words can apply both to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and to other events throughout history, as well as perhaps an even greater all-encompassing tribulation that will come upon the whole world and of which those are but a type? Cf. Rev 16:18.
In what sense was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD a great tribulation for the Jews? See Josephus’ description. Is it possible that people today have become even more ungodly and stubbornly rebellious than those who suffered the great tribulation of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, whom Josephus says were even more ungodly than those who perished in Korah’s rebellion, or the flood, or the destruction of Sodom? In what ways is this arguably true? Consider how the modern religion of science and materialistic naturalism has turned more people further away from God than ever before, and how the media at the same time has permeated the culture with moral filth and violence unlike any time before in history resulting in a widespread degeneration of the sexes and breakdown of the family that is unparalleled in history; cf. 2Ti 3:1-5. Consider too that our present generation is also the recipient of a much fuller revelation of God—both a greater general revelation because of its scientific advances and a greater special revelation because of all the saints who have gone before us and the many more tools available to us to even better understand the Scriptures; hence people today are even more culpable for such great evil; cf. Heb 2:1-4. How does this help us to understand that Jesus’ words in Mat 24:21 could also apply to us and refer to an even greater tribulation that will destroy an even more wicked and adulterous generation?
1. RSV 1 Maccabees 9:27 Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.↩
2. The Jewish War 6:271-276 271 While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those who were caught were slain; nor was there a pity of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children, and old men, and common persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner; so that this war went around all sorts of men, and brought them to destruction, and as well those who made supplication for their lives, as those who defended themselves by fighting. 272 The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those who were slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the temple were very large, one would have thought the whole city had been on fire. Nor can one imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise; 273 for there was at once a shout of the Roman legions, who were marching all together, and a sad clamor of the seditious, who were now surrounded with fire and sword. … Perea did also return the echo, as well as the mountains around [the city], and augmented the force of the entire noise. 275 Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those who slew them; 276 for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of those bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them. The Jewish War 5:566 I will not hesitate to say what gives me pain: I believe that, had the Romans delayed their punishment of these villains, the city would have been swallowed up by the earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or, like Sodom, consumed with fire from heaven. For the generation which was in it was far more ungodly than the men on whom these punishments had in former times fallen. By their madness the whole nation came to be ruined. Cf. Mat 11:23-24.↩