The Coming “Great Tribulation” Foreshadowed
“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.”—Matt. 24:21, 22.
1. When and after what events involving Jerusalem was Daniel told about the worst time of trouble in all human history?
MORE than two thousand five hundred years ago, after the overthrow of the mighty Babylonian Empire, the aged prophet Daniel was told about the worst time of trouble to come in all human history. (Dan. 10:1 to 12:1) He was told, however, not to lose his peace of heart and mind about it. (Dan. 12:13) For more than eighty years Daniel had been an exile in idolatrous Babylon on the Euphrates River of the Middle East. There he survived the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, which the emperor of Babylon had brought about in the year 607 before our Common Era. (Dan. 1:1 to 2:1, 14) But shortly after mighty Babylon itself was overthrown, Daniel received the assurance from God’s Word that Jerusalem would be rebuilt. The city and its territory of Judah were to lie desolate only seventy years, even as Daniel’s friend, the prophet Jeremiah, had predicted. (Dan. 9:1-3) But, more than that, God’s angel assured Daniel that the long-looked-for “Messiah the Leader” would come to this rebuilt Jerusalem. But not in aged Daniel’s day!
2. (a) When, according to what Daniel was told, was “Messiah the Leader” to present himself to Jerusalem, and what time period would this start off? (b) After that what was to happen to rebuilt Jerusalem?
2 How long after Daniel’s day? God’s angel told Daniel that Jehovah God had marked off seventy weeks of years, or 490 (7 X 70) years, in his timetable concerning this “Messiah the Leader.” The Messiah would present himself to Daniel’s people at the end of sixty-nine of those weeks of years, or after 483 years. From when? From when the commandment would go forth to rebuild and restore the walls of Jerusalem. So the Messiah’s appearing would start off the seventieth week of years, but in the middle of that week, or after three and a half years of it, he would be “cut off” in such a way that he would “cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease” at Jerusalem. After the end of the seventy weeks of years there would be tremendous trouble for Jerusalem because of a “disgusting thing” that would be “causing desolation.” (Dan. 9:24-27) Would this trouble upon her be associated with mankind’s greatest time of trouble? Daniel died before finding out.
3. How and when did the Messiah put in appearance right on time? (b) Where was he at the middle of the “seventieth week,” and with whom?
3 The title Messiah means “Anointed One.” In autumn of the year 29 of our Common Era an anointing of someone did take place, not by some man, but by God; not with anointing oil, but with God’s holy spirit. Timing himself accurately, God did this anointing right on time, at the beginning of the seventieth week of years. He anointed his own Son in human form, Jesus, immediately after he was baptized in water by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. This anointing with holy spirit made Jesus “Messiah the Leader.” Thus the Messiah appeared, and the crucial seventieth week of years began. He started carrying out what his anointing commissioned him to do by preaching God’s Messianic kingdom. For doing this he made many enemies in Jerusalem and Judea and the neighboring provinces. In the middle of the seventieth week of years, which came in early spring of the year 33 C.E., Jesus the Messiah made sure to be at Jerusalem, with the twelve apostles whom he had chosen.
4. What did he tell the temple worshipers about their “house,” and till when was he not to be seen again?
4 On Tuesday, Nisan 11, three days before the Passover feast, he visited the rebuilt temple of Jerusalem. He had already foretold the destruction of this rebuilt Jerusalem; but now he plainly told the people worshiping at Jerusalem that their “house,” their religious temple, was abandoned to them. Then he added: “For I say to you, You will by no means see me from henceforth until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!’” (Matt. 23:37-39) He left the temple never to be seen in it again.
5. (a) What did Jesus say about the temple stones? (b) Later that same day, on the Mount of Olives, what question did his apostles ask him?
5 As Jesus was going out, his apostles called his attention to the temple buildings and stones. Then he made known the terrible result of the temple’s being abandoned to the people of Jerusalem by saying: “Do you not behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” (Matt. 24:1, 2) Later that day he and his apostles looked at that temple from atop the Mount of Olives. As they looked down on Jerusalem and its temple, the apostles remembered what Jesus had said. This prompted them to ask the following question: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—Matt. 24:3.
6. What basis was there for the three parts of the apostles’ question?
6 When would all these things be, resulting in destruction for Jerusalem and her temple? Since Jesus had said that the people of Jerusalem would see him no more until they said to him, “Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!” when would he come again from where he was going and be present again? Since all these things could not take place without the end of a system of things, when would the conclusion of the system of things be?
7. How big a question did those apostles ask, and by it what did they want to know first of all?
7 Evidently those apostles did not know what was embraced in those three things about which they were asking. But Jesus knew, and so he gave them a bigger answer than they might have expected, an answer that went farther than the time that they calculated. It is plain, however, that, first of all, they wanted to know when Jerusalem and her temple were to be destroyed. Would it come in their day, in their generation? So Jesus spoke first on that feature of the threefold question and with a direct application to literal Jerusalem and her temple. He said:
8, 9. Would those misleading men whom Jesus foretold claim to be Jesus himself, and why would they have special appeal to Jews?
8 “Look out that nobody misleads you; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.”—Matt. 24:4-6.
9 Those misleading men would not come saying, ‘I am Jesus,’ but would come using the title Messiah and would come saying: “I am the Christ.” For Jews, those professed Messiahs would have to be Jews, not Gentiles. In view of the threatening destruction of Jerusalem, they would come as Liberators, Preservers, of the Holy City, for which reason they would have much appeal to the Jews and would mislead many. They would have just the opposite message from what Jesus, the true “Messiah the Leader,” proclaimed, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple. By this warning Jesus’ disciples could know that those self-styled Christs, who did not have the anointing of God’s spirit, were false.
10. What proves that Jesus did not make a false prediction here?
10 Jesus did not make a false prediction here, for Flavius Josephus in his history called “Wars of the Jews,” Book 6, paragraph 54, tells of three false Messiahs as being one of the reasons for the explosion against Imperial Rome that led to the destruction of Jerusalem.
“WARS AND REPORTS OF WARS”
11. When was it that the apostles were to “hear of wars and reports of wars”?
11 Besides the appearance of false Christs (which would indicate that Jesus Christ would not be personally present in flesh), the apostles were to “hear of wars and reports of wars.” In the case of some wars, the apostles would be so close to the neighborhood of them as to hear directly the sound of them, and not hear mere reports of distant battles. When would this be? Since Jesus’ prophetic words here are leading up to his description of the destruction of earthly Jerusalem, these wars would be between the time of his prophecy and the destruction of the holy city. Especially so if the apostles were to “hear of” such wars.
12. (a) What question here rises concerning these wars and the international conflicts mentioned in the next verse (7)? (b) The break in Luke’s account at this point has led some commentators to argue which way?
12 Well, then, what about the wars foretold in the very next verse, Mt 24 verse seven, in which Jesus goes on to say: “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another”? Are these wars different from the ones just previously foretold? Here the parallel account by the Evangelist Luke makes a break. After quoting Jesus’ words, “When you hear of wars and disorders, do not be terrified. For these things must occur first, but the end does not occur immediately,” Luke’s account reads: “Then he went on to say to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.’” (Luke 21:9-11) This break in Luke’s account has been understood by some commentators to mean that Jesus is here starting off on a new line. Yet, how could this reasonably be so, since Jesus is still leading on to Jerusalem’s destruction?
13. (a) At the occurrence of such wars what were the apostles not to think? (b) Did such wars occur back in apostolic times?
13 Plainly, then, here in the first application of the prophecy, Jesus is referring to international wars due to occur before the impending destruction of Jerusalem. By going on to say that nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, Jesus is explaining why it is that they would hear of wars and reports of wars. But they should not get disturbed at such wars, because these are not the visible proof that the end is right upon them. And according to secular history, there were wars that occurred between the time that Jesus ascended to heaven and the destruction of the holy city. There were the Parthian wars in southwest Asia and the uprisings that took place in the Roman provinces of Gaul and Spain. There was the war waged by Asinaeus and Alinaeus against the Parthians to the east of the Roman Empire. There was the Parthian declaration of war against King Izates of the land of Adiabene.a
14. (a) Were there risings of nationalities that affected the Jews back there? (b) What had rabbis said about risings of kingdoms and nations?
14 True, these were wars that had no direct connection with Jerusalem, but, be it remembered that Jesus foretold the rising in war of nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom, which would allow for purely Gentile wars. During that time the Jews under the Roman Empire had no kingdom. Nevertheless, there were risings of Jews against other nationalities, and risings of other neighboring nationalities against the Jews, involving the Syrians and Samaritans, so that tens of thousands of Jews were slain. It was a very painful period for the Jews. By a number of rabbis the Jews had been told that, when kingdom would be rising against kingdom and city against city, it would indicate the time of the Messiah, that his appearance was near.
15. What can be said about earthquakes back there?
15 There were also earthquakes back there, which are on record. There was that earthquake on the island of Crete during the reign of Claudius Caesar, another in Smyrna, others in Hierapolis, Colossae, Chios, Miletus and Samos; another overthrew the city of Laodicea during the reign of Emperor Nero. There was even one in Rome, as reported by the Latin historian, Tacitus. In his Wars of the Jews, Book 4, chapter 4, paragraph 5, Josephus tells of a dreadful earthquake as occurring in Judea itself.
16. What about food shortages back there; and pestilences?
16 Famines also took place, one of which is reported on in the Acts of the Apostles, Ac chapter eleven, verses 27 to 30, the one foretold by the Christian prophet Agabus and occurring during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Reportedly, many Jews in Jerusalem died because of this famine. Of course, because of food shortage and thus the lack of proper nourishment, the people succumb to sicknesses, and pestilences break out. It was as Jesus foretold.
17. (a) How were all such things not to be interpreted, but what effect were they to have on the disciples? (b) Of what were they given warning, and what work was to be done everywhere?
17 However, these things were not to be the instantaneous forerunners of the destruction of the “city of the great King,” Jerusalem. After foretelling those things, Jesus added: “All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.” (Matt. 24:8) As far as they had a connection with Jerusalem, they were a beginning of distress pangs for her and the province of Judea. But they did not mean the immediate end of the holy city and the desolation of Judea. But the fact that those things were at least the beginning of distress pangs for Jerusalem should have been enough to stir the Christians to greater activity, instead of relaxing and taking it easy because “the end is not yet.” (Matt. 24:6; 5:35) There was an extensive work to do, and this required great effort and persistence in spite of religious persecution. So, in Mt 24 verses 9-13 Jesus went on to warn his apostles of the coming persecution by Jews and Gentiles and of the increase of lawlessness and of the need of Christian endurance, and then he added: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
18. (a) What additional command did the resurrected Jesus give shortly before his ascension? (b) What can be said about the accomplishment of the work before Jerusalem’s destruction?
18 Several weeks later, after his resurrection from the dead and before his ascension to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Some days later, after the next festival of Pentecost, the faithful disciples proceeded to do this. What was the result? By about the year 60 or 61 C.E., when the apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he could write to the Christian congregation in Colossae, Asia Minor, and say of their hope: “The hope of that good news which you heard, and which was preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) At that time Paul was wanting to carry the good news of God’s kingdom into Spain, as a pioneer evangelizer. (Rom. 15:23, 24) Such a preaching of God’s kingdom in the inhabited earth had already been given by ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The “end” could not come before this was accomplished.—Matt. 24:14.
THE END OF FIRST-CENTURY JERUSALEM
19. What event, however, was to mark the time for speedy action, and why?
19 Having mentioned the coming of “the end,” Jesus promptly proceeded to speak about the holy city upon which the end would come during that first century C.E. According to Matthew 24:15-22, he said: “Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through 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 the house to pick up his outer garment. Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days! Keep praying that your flight may not occur in wintertime, nor on the sabbath day; 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.”
20. Since the disciples were to flee from Judea, why were the details of Jesus’ instructions to them fitting?
20 Jesus here definitely mentions the province of Judea. He instructs his disciples to flee out of it, a thing that would necessarily include fleeing out of Jerusalem, the city holy to the Jews. In Judea was where the sabbath law applied, making it hard for persons to journey over great distances or carry loads and also closing the gates of walled cities even to fugitives fleeing there. How much more difficult this would make it for Jewish women in pregnancy or nursing babies to go in haste on foot! Also, the wintertime with its bad weather would make it difficult, not only for such women, but for all other persons in flight. Upon noting the indication foretold by Jesus, all were to flee, from housetop to housetop, if necessary, and from fields outside the city. Get out of all Judea without delay!
21. Because of what about the coming trouble was there then such need of extreme haste in fleeing?
21 Why, though, all this extreme hurry? Because now at last “the end” was near. There was immediately at hand a “great tribulation” that would be so destructive that, were not the days of it cut short, “no flesh would be saved.” On account of God’s chosen ones, those days would be cut short. Under those circumstances, only a minority of persons in Judea would have their flesh saved. Hence, to take no chances of being among the vast majority whose flesh would not be saved in that “great tribulation,” the wise and safe course for them would be to heed Jesus’ instructions and get out of Judea, fleeing to mountains outside.
22, 23. (a) What, then, was the “holy place” where the abomination that causes desolation ought never to stand? (b) How does Luke’s parallel account indicate that that was really the “holy place”?
22 What, then, was the “holy place” in which the “disgusting thing that causes desolation” was to stand? Well, what place in all Judea was the “holy place”? It was the holy city of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings. That is the “holy place” where the “disgusting thing that causes desolation” “ought not” to be standing at any time. (Mark 13:14-20) In fact, the parallel account of Evangelizer Luke concerning Jesus’ prophecy plainly names Jerusalem. Luke, chapter twenty-one, verses 20-24, reads:
23 “Furthermore, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled. Woe to the pregnant women and the ones suckling a baby in those days! For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.”
24. (a) How did Christian Jews in Judea come to see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies? (b) By this what did they know?
24 When was it that the Christian Jews in Judea saw “Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies”? It was in the year 66 C.E., after the revolt by the Jews brought the Roman armies of General Cestius Gallus against the city, at the time of the celebration of the festival of booths (tabernacles), October 19-25. This was exactly thirty (30) years after the seventieth week of years, foretold by the prophet Daniel, had ended in the year 36 C.E. On the thirtieth day of the Jewish month Tishri, or about November 3/4, General Gallus brought his army into the city. For five days they made an attack on the temple wall and succeeded in undermining it on the sixth day. Then, suddenly, for apparently no good reason, he withdrew his armies, which suffered considerable casualties at the hands of the pursuing Jews. Thus the unparalleled “great tribulation” for the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea did not begin then. But now the Christian Jews knew it was near.
25. (a) So the disciples in Judea thus saw what thing standing where it ought not to stand? (b) How had Daniel 9:26, 27 foretold this thing and the desolation it would cause?
25 In this manner the Christian Jews caught sight of the “disgusting thing that causes desolation” standing in a “holy place,” where it “ought not” to stand, when the Roman armies stood on ground considered holy by the Jews around the city, especially when undermining the temple wall. This was the “disgusting thing” foretold in Daniel 9:27. In that verse, after describing events of the seventieth week of years, Daniel goes on to say: “And upon the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; and until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate.” This desolation of the rebuilt Jerusalem is detailed in the preceding verse Da 9:26(26b), in these words: “And the city and the holy place the people of a leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations.” Jesus said that Daniel had foretold this “disgusting thing.”
26. (a) Who was this foretold “leader,” who were the “people,” and when did the flooding into the land take place? (b) How did the Jewish “chosen ones” in Judea escape this?
26 Who, then, was the “leader that is coming,” whose “people” actually brought the “city and the holy place” to ruin? This was General Titus, the son of General Vespasian who became the Roman emperor in the year 69 C.E. In the Hebrew Scriptures an army is repeatedly spoken of as “the people.” Also, an army is spoken of as flooding into the invaded land. This flooding of the military “people” of the “leader,” General Titus, against Jerusalem did not occur till the spring of the year 70 C.E. So from the retreat of the armies of General Gallus in November of 66 to early spring of 70 C.E. there was an interval of more than three years and five months. During that favorable interval the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Judea seized the opportunity to flee out, to the “mountains” outside that doomed province, for now they knew, from what Jesus said, that Jerusalem’s desolation had drawn near. Thus these Christian “chosen ones” escaped.
27. (a) Was God’s time for Jerusalem’s “great tribulation” to start postponed? (b) Who were the Jewish Christians that were then in peril and that Jehovah wanted to be in a safe place?
27 In the spring and summer of 70 C.E. the predicted “great tribulation” befell Jerusalem, causing much loss of Jewish lives. According to Jesus’ prophecy, God had a fixed time for the “great tribulation” upon Jerusalem. He did not postpone the time for it to begin. Hence he let the called-off attack of Cestius Gallus in 66 C.E. serve as notice for his endangered “chosen ones” to flee. Cestius Gallus could easily have taken Jerusalem in short order, but missed his chance. It was not God’s time. Not all of his “chosen ones” were then in the danger zone. Already there were hundreds of Christian Jews outside the province of Judea, and outside the Roman Empire as well as inside. These were in no danger because of the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Only the Christian Jews inside Judea were in peril. It was these imperiled “chosen ones” whom God purposed to have safely out of Judea and Jerusalem before his fixed time for Jerusalem’s “great tribulation” to start. Why should any of these be destroyed when he executed his vengeance upon unfaithful Jerusalem and Judea? They did not deserve to be destroyed.
28. (a) Who, then, were the Jews whose “flesh” was in danger of not being “saved”? (b) Having all his “chosen ones” safely out of the danger area, what action could Jehovah take toward Judea and Jerusalem?
28 Having by then fled from Jerusalem and Judea, the Jewish Christians were thenceforth in no danger of being hurt by Jerusalem’s “great tribulation.” It was the unbelieving Jews who got bottled up inside the city that then ran the danger of being destroyed. All the Jewish “flesh” inside Jerusalem faced the danger of losing life, if the tribulation went on too long. Such non-Christian Jews had flocked into the city in order to celebrate the Passover festival on Nisan 14, this to be followed by the week-long festival of unleavened bread. It was then that General Titus swooped down with his military “people” against the doomed city. He surrounded it, thus cooping up the rebellious Jews inside. He also had his “people” build around the city a stockade about five miles long, thus to prevent any besieged Jews from escaping. Since Jehovah God had by then had all his “chosen ones” outside the doomed area, he could be speedy in executing his vengeance upon Judea and Jerusalem, thus confining the execution to a short time of intensive destructiveness.
29. How long was the siege of Jerusalem, and what tended to shorten it?
29 The siege of Jerusalem did not last long, only from Nisan 14 to Elul 6 (September 6, Gregorian calendar), or less than six months, and not eighteen months as in the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies in 609-607 B.C.E. There were a number of thingsb as permitted by Jehovah God that worked together for the shortening of the siege in 70 C.E.
30. (a) Despite its shortness, how disastrous was the siege? (b) What continued to be done to Jerusalem, but to continue until when?
30 Short though the siege was, it was horrible enough, although not being the greatest tribulation that had happened to mankind until that time and could never occur again. The “disgusting thing that causes desolation” did bring about an extermination, according to God’s own decision. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, reports that 1,100,000 Jews were killed or died. But because of ‘cutting short’ the days of that “great tribulation” upon Jerusalem, some Jewish “flesh” was saved. Josephus reports that 97,000 survived and were taken captive and dragged off into Egypt and other Roman provinces.c The city and its temple were completely destroyed, just as Jesus had foretold. Thus, in a very literal sense, Jerusalem continued to be “trampled on” by the Gentiles (non-Jewish nations) from the time of the first destruction and desolation of Jerusalem and Judah by the Babylonians in the year 607 B.C.E.d But someday those Gentile Times were due to be fulfilled, namely, 2,520 years after their beginning back there in autumn of 607 B.C.E. That means in 1914 C.E.—Luke 21:24.
a See The Historians’ History of the World, Volume VIII, under the subheading “Anarchy in Parthia.” page 70 and following.
b For example, the building of a wall to enclose the northern suburb of Jerusalem by Herod Agrippa I had been stopped by orders from the suspicious emperor of Rome, Claudius Caesar. After the retreat of the troops of the Roman General Cestius Gallus in 66 C.E. the Jews neglected to prepare for a long siege should the Romans return to resume the siege of Jerusalem. Added to this, when the Romans did return under General Titus, it was suddenly, taking the city’s defenders by surprise. To make matters worse, the defenders fell to fighting among themselves in a civil war. They deserted their strongholds, where, except by famine, they could not have been easily subdued.
When General Titus inspected Jerusalem’s walls after taking the city, he felt moved to attribute his success to God. He said: “We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards overthrowing these towers?”—Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, Book 6, chapter 9, paragraph 1, as translated by William Whiston, M.A.
c Josephus estimates the number of those who died in the siege at eleven hundred thousand, not counting in those who were killed at other places in Judea.—See Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, Book 6, chapter 9, paragraph 3.
d “Till the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, that is, till the time that the periods which are appointed to the Gentile nations for the completion of divine judgments . . . shall have run out. . . . Such times of the Gentiles are ended in the case in question by the Parousia . . . the kairoi ethnon [times of the Gentiles] would be the kairoi [times], which were familiar to all from the prophecies, and which had already begun to run their course, so that at the time of Jesus and long before they were regarded as in process of fulfillment. This is the reason for our having oi kairoi [the times] with the article (compare xix. 44).”—Pages 530, 531 of Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Gospels of Mark and Luke, by H. A. W. Meyer, Th.D., and copyrighted in 1884.
[Picture on page 43]
Jesus’ apostles asked him, first of all, when Jerusalem and her temple were to be destroyed. He gave them a bigger answer than they might have expected