QUESTION: How do you interpret Matt 24: 15-17 for the day and time that we live in?
Matthew 24:15-18 reads: “Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken about by Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place (let the reader use discernment), then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains. Let the man on the housetop not come down to take the goods out of his house, and let the man in the field not return to pick up his outer garment.”
Jerusalem was once the focal point of the worship of Jehovah in the pre-Christian era. And it was also the birthplace of Christianity. The holy city was also twice destroyed by the nations; not coincidentally, nations that make up the composite wild beast; namely, Babylon and Rome.
If you recall, Jesus’ entire discourse in the 24th chapter of Matthew, the so-called Olivet Discourse, was prompted by the question posed by his disciples: “Tell us, when will these things be…”
Jesus had just announced that the temple in Jerusalem was going to be destroyed - leveled, without so much as a stone being left upon another stone. That is what prompted the disciples to ask Jesus in private to explain matters. And apparently, the disciples were inspired by the spirit to phrase their question so as to allow Jesus to enlarge his answer to encompass the sign of his presence and the conclusion of the entire global system.
Obviously after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans God did not thereafter command Christians to rebuild the city, as he had commanded the Jews after they were freed from Babylon. Jerusalem and the Jewish system had served their purpose. Israel had produced the Messiah and Jehovah then produced a new nation - a new organization - Christ’s congregation. As if to demonstrate that he was no longer exclusively dealing with the Jews God had Jerusalem and the temple utterly destroyed.
Paul’s letter to the Hebrews was intended to prepare Hebrew Christians for the cataclysmic end of the Jewish system. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, it was the one appointed as “the apostle to the nations,” who was accused of being an apostate by the Jews, who explained to the Jewish Christians all the intricacies of the Law and what it foreshadowed in the Christ.
Paul’s point was driven home in the 13th chapter, where he stated: “Hence Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us, then, go forth to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach he bore, for we do not have here a city that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come.”
In context the apostle explained how the carcasses of the animals that had been sacrificed to Jehovah in the tabernacle were burned up outside the camp. And Paul pointed out that Jesus, too, was hung on the stake outside the gate of the holy city. And those who follow Christ and who have been called to the city of God above must likewise leave the earthly city in order to obtain the heavenly one.
In the case of the 1st century Christians who happened to be living in Jerusalem when the Roman legions came to lay siege, they literally had to go outside the city in order to continue living.
Quite likely the surviving members of the apostles and the other older men who made up a first century governing body, so-called, were among those living in Jerusalem and Judea at the time the disgusting thing was discerned to be standing in a holy place. They were sure to have called Jesus’ words to mind and fled without delay. And as Jesus foretold, not a stone was left standing upon a stone when the Roman armies returned under Cestus Gallus. The city did not continue. It was totally obliterated. What a test of faith that must have been for them!
As Jesus indicated, though, there is another “Jerusalem” that will exist during the great tribulation. That is, after all, the context. As Jesus said regarding the desolation of Jerusalem: “...for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”
Obviously, as horrific as it surely was back then, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE was not the worst disaster in the history of mankind. Nor did it require divine intervention to prevent the extinction of the human race. Indeed, in the 21st chapter of Luke Jesus explained that the crisis would engulf all the inhabitants of the entire earth, not just tiny little Judah.
All but the most unreasoning Preterists will admit that Jesus was clearly foretelling a far greater catastrophe would accompany the situation comparable to the first century surrounding and desolation of Jerusalem and the temple.
But surely the modern city of Jerusalem and the nuclear-armed Israel that exists now has no further place in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose; except, more than likely, factoring into triggering global war. (See Isaiah commentary: Jehovah's Witnesses and Jerusalem)
So what does Jerusalem symbolize?
Jesus gave us a hint when he referred to Daniel the prophet. For example, at Daniel 12:11 the prophet wrote down the words of the revelatory angel for us. They read: “And from the time that the constant feature has been removed and the disgusting thing that causes desolation has been put in place, there will be 1,290 days.”
At Daniel 8:13 the angel uses the very same phraseology as did Jesus in the 21st chapter of Luke regarding Jerusalem being “trampled on” and the holy place being desolated. And Daniel 8:13 connects the “constant feature” with the holy place and the holy ones. Here is how that verse reads: “And I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one speaking: ‘How long will the vision of the constant feature and of the transgression causing desolation continue, to make both the holy place and the army things to trample on?’”
So, in consideration of Jesus’ advice to “let the reader use discernment,” what ought we discern?
Although Daniel 12:11 states that the “constant feature” is removed and “the disgusting thing that causes desolation is put in place,” the 8th chapter links the removal of the “constant feature” with the desolation of the holy place, which the context makes clear belongs to the Prince of princes - Christ.
However, the 8th chapter makes no mention of the “disgusting thing” - only a king fierce in countenance. Since prophecy interprets itself, we ought to discern that the king fierce in countenance is the disgusting thing that causes desolation. Not only that, so is the eighth king of Revelation, the last manifestation of the king of the north and the little horn in Daniel chapter 7, since all these are said to fight against the holy ones and prevail.
As regards the "putting in place" the disgusting thing in the closing words of the prophecy, that must relate to its being put in the holy place, and not its mere coming into existence.
At any rate, the Watchtower’s interpretation of Daniel is utterly absurd. They claim the “constant feature” mentioned in chapter 12 was removed in 1919. But the "constant feature" in the 8th chapter was supposedly removed during World War Two, then restored during the 1940’s, when some trivial adjustments were made to the Watchtower's corporate charter. And, of course, the holy place that Jesus foretold would be desolated according to Daniel is said to represent Babylon the Great, with no connection whatsoever to anything in the prophecy of Daniel.
Any of Jehovah’s Witnesses who seriously, critically examine what the Watchtower has actually put to print on these vital prophecies, ought to have a deeper appreciation of why God has filed away in reserve in the 42nd chapter of Isaiah these words, scheduled to be directed to certain leading men during the period the angel called “the denunciation” in the 8th chapter of Daniel:
“Who is blind except my servant, So deaf as the messenger I send? Who is so blind as the one rewarded, So blind as the servant of Jehovah? You see many things, but you do not keep watch.You open your ears, but you do not listen.”
In direct answer to the original question: Jesus’ words will find fulfillment in the coming humiliation and desolation of the Watchtower Society. Then all of Jehovah’s Witnesses who want to live will have to abandon the city-like organization they have heretofore clung to and faithfully supported. They will have to go out of the camp to meet Christ.
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