Peace with God amid the “Great Tribulation”
1. (a) Did Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24:4-22 have a literal fulfillment upon earthly Jerusalem? (b) What shows whether this prophecy is to have a further fulfillment?
REMARKABLY the prophecy of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 24:4-22, had a literal fulfillment. That was between the time of his giving it in 33 C.E. and the end of Jerusalem’s “great tribulation” in 70 C.E. Such a “great tribulation” has not occurred again or been repeated upon Jerusalem, even upon the rebuilt Jerusalem in the days of the Crusades as carried on by the Roman Catholics against Mohammedans in the Middle East. Well, then, does this mean that that much of Jesus’ prophecy is now mere dead history, with no further application? No! For even the way in which Jesus words his prediction of the “great tribulation” points to a tribulation far greater than Jerusalem’s siege and destruction in the year 70 C.E. Yes, indeed!
2. (a) Why do Bible commentators admit of difficulty in understanding or applying Jesus’ prophecy? (b) What does A. Plummer say regarding Luke 21:22?
2 It is admitted by well-known Bible commentators of Christendom that Jesus’ prophecy is at times difficult to understand or apply. He gave it in answer to a question of three parts, namely, about when the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple would be and about the sign of his “presence” and of the “conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:3) These commentators admit that, in Jesus’ prophetic answer to all three parts of the question, it is sometimes hard to grasp whether he is referring to one or the other feature.* For example, with reference to Jesus’ words in Luke 21:22, “These are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled,” the author and Bible commentator A. Plummer makes this suggestion: “The reference, therefore, is to the destruction of Jerusalem regarded as a type of the end of the world.”*
3. Evidently, in speaking of Jerusalem and of the system of things, what would Jesus have in mind in order for Matthew 24:21, 22 to be true?
3 Very evidently, in all good reason, when Jesus tells of the time that “these things” would be and also what would be the sign of the “conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus had in mind something immensely bigger than what the inquiring apostles had in mind. He used doomed unfaithful Jerusalem of his day as a type, and so he had in mind the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, namely, Christendom, and he also had in mind a system of things larger than that of the Jewish system built around Jerusalem and her temple. Hence Jesus could say, without exaggeration: “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) The terrible destruction of antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, Christendom, is part of the calamitous end of this present worldwide “system of things,” commonly spoken of as “the end of the world.”—Matt. 24:3, AV; AS.
4. (a) What features of Jesus’ prophecy carry beyond the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.? (b) Reasonably, then, Jesus could speak of Jerusalem in what way?
4 Certainly the second “presence” of Jesus Christ did not take place at Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. Furthermore, the Gentile Times were to continue after her destruction, and thus this worldwide “system of things” was to continue on till at least those Gentile Times were “fulfilled.” Moreover, there are features of Jesus’ prophecy that run from after his description of Jerusalem’s “great tribulation” down to his parable of the sheep and goats, and these features were not fulfilled at Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. (Matt. 24:23 to 25:46) So it was only reasonable that Jesus should use doomed Jerusalem in a twofold sense, literally and symbolically, typically and antitypically.
5. (a) Why are we not wrong in applying Jesus’ prophecy to from 1914 onward down to Armageddon? (b) The trampling on which “Jerusalem” was terminated in 1914, and how?
5 Well, then, we are not wrong when we also apply Jesus’ prophecy from the year 1914 C.E. onward to the coming war at Armageddon, are we? No! For we do have with us till now the symbolic, antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, namely, Christendom. Both the Bible’s time schedule and the physical facts of history prove that the Gentile Times, “the appointed times of the nations,” ended in 1914 C.E. about October 4/5 that year. (Luke 21:24) The Gentile nations had not been ‘trampling on’ antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem (Christendom) down till that year 1914. However, they had been trampling on the Kingdom right of God’s Messiah, as the Permanent Heir of King David, to rule at Jerusalem and over David’s nation of the twelve tribes of Israel. Hence Jehovah God terminated that trampling by Gentile nations on the Kingdom right of his Messiah in 1914 C.E. How? By installing his Son Jesus Christ on the heavenly Mount Zion and thereby restoring the Messianic kingdom. From then on God has been proceeding to make the Gentile nations the footstool of his Messianic King Jesus, to destroy them finally at the coming war of Armageddon.
6. (a) How does the modern antitypical time period compare in its events to date with the typical time period concerning ancient Jerusalem? (b) Of what was this plain proof to the nations of today?
6 Nineteen hundred years ago Jesus became absent from the earth by ascending back to heaven. Since old Jerusalem was typical, the time period from his ascension and down to Jerusalem’s destruction thus becomes typical. It pictures the time period from the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 C.E. down to the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Armageddon, where the political lovers and associates of antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, Christendom, will be destroyed. (Rev. 16:14-16) Were there wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes back there nineteen centuries ago before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E.? Yes, and likewise with this present time period since 1914 C.E., when Jesus’ absence ended, spiritually speaking. In fact, the end of the Gentile Times in that year was marked by nation rising up against nation and kingdom against kingdom in the first world war of human history. Famines, pestilences and earthquakes accompanied or followed that first world war on a scale never recorded before. This was plain proof to the nations that Jesus Christ was “present” in his heavenly kingdom as Messiah, just as after his ascension to heaven and sitting down at God’s right hand he was reigning among his dedicated, baptized disciples on earth till Jerusalem’s destruction and thereafter.
7. (a) What were those events from 1914 onward, according to what Jesus said in his prophecy? (b) Why was the “end” “not yet” after those initial events?
7 As in the case of nineteen centuries ago, the international war, the food shortages, the pestilences and earthquakes, were a “beginning of pangs of distress.” (Matt. 24:8) This was particularly so for the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, Christendom, for World War I was preponderantly her war, all twenty-eight parties thereto except four being so-called Christian nations and kingdoms. But after more than four years of World War I, the “end” was “not yet.” It did not lead into the war of God’s great day at Armageddon. There was yet much work to do. Before that “end” would be allowed to come, a worldwide work had to be done by his faithful disciples on earth. What? “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.” Just as there was a preaching of the “good news” in “all creation that is under heaven” before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E., so there has been a witness to God’s established Messianic kingdom in all the inhabited earth to all the nations since 1914 C.E. This too has been done by Jehovah’s witnesses despite persecution.—Matt. 24:9-14.
8. So, then, what is yet ahead for the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, and what is God’s purpose concerning the days thereof?
8 The antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, Christendom, has had her “beginning of pangs of distress,” and her situation and that of the rest of the world has not become less painful since. Jesus’ prophecy indicated that the “anguish of nations” and their perplexity would continue, with no improvement. (Luke 21:25, 26) There is yet ahead the “great tribulation” upon the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, a tribulation that is bound to affect her worldwide political associates and patrons. Jesus’ description of it makes it plain that, like the global flood of Noah’s day, the tribulation threatens all human life in the flesh. (Matt. 24:21, 22, 36-39) If allowed to continue too long, it would exterminate all “flesh.” Hence the purpose of God is to shorten the number of “those days” of this unparalleled “great tribulation.”—Mark 13:19, 20.
9. Back in 1925 C.E. what suggestion was published as to how God was to shorten the days of the “great tribulation”?
9 On account of his “chosen ones” he cuts short the days. How? Back in the year 1925 the suggestion was set out in the leading article of the Watch Tower issue of May 1, entitled “For the Elect’s Sake,” that “those days” of the “great tribulation” were cut short in the middle. The explanation was given that the “great tribulation” had begun in 1914 C.E. and that it was not allowed to run its full course then but God stopped World War I in November of 1918. From then on God was allowing an interval for the activity of his anointed remnant of elect Christians before he let the final part of the “great tribulation” resume at the battle of Armageddon and come to its termination. This would allow for sheeplike persons to be saved.—Matt. 25:31-46.
10. Why did that explanation back in 1925 sound good and reasonable?
10 This explanation sounded good and reasonable back there in 1925, just seven years after World War I and fourteen years before the unexpected World War II, a conflict four times as bad as World War I. But even World War II did not merge into the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Armageddon, as some had expected it to do. (Rev. 16:14-16) Here we are, twenty-four years after World War II closed in 1945 and a portion of the anointed remnant of elect ones are still here and the war at Armageddon is still ahead, although getting very close now. Back in 1925 the Bible timetable as set out in the book “The Time Is at Hand,” published in the year 1889, was still thought to be correct. Hence it was not calculated that six thousand years of man’s life on earth were yet to end during the 1970’s. Of course, the old timetable for scheduling the events of the Bible and fulfillment of prophecies affected the understanding of matters by the International Bible Students. But now chronology has been reexamined.
11. According to that suggestion, how long has the time interval proved to be till now, and what is happening to the remnant of anointed “elect” ones meantime?
11 If, as explained in 1925, the first part of the “great tribulation” began in 1914 and ended in 1918, then the time interval by which “those days” of the tribulation are being cut short has extended itself for fifty-one years and is not yet over. Many of the anointed remnant that witnessed the end of World War I in November of 1918 and others that have been added to the remnant since then have grown old, and some have been killed in persecution or died of old age or other causes. For example, in the year 1948, out of 376,393 that celebrated the Lord’s Supper, only 25,395 partook of the bread and wine to testify that they were of that anointed remnant. But on April 1 of the year 1969, out of 2,719,860 that celebrated, only 10,368 partook of the bread and wine. This included quite a number of the remnant who experienced the “beginning of pangs of distress” during World War I. A number of these should survive still longer to see and go through the war of Armageddon, in harmony with Jesus’ words, at Matthew 24:33-35:
12. What did Jesus prophesy concerning “this generation”?
12 “When you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away [unfulfilled].”
13. (a) According to the type upon ancient Jerusalem, when did the “great tribulation” not begin? (b) Where, then, is the “great tribulation” located, and what will it mean for Christendom and her allies?
13 Were the suggestion made in 1925 true as to cutting short the days of the “great tribulation” in the middle, “for the elect’s sake” (Matt. 24:22, AV), what then? Then the time interval between the opening part of the “great tribulation” and the closing Armageddon part thereof will prove to be around five times as long as the length of the “great tribulation” itself. However, in order to correspond with the events of the first century, from the time of Jesus’ departure by ascending to heaven in 33 C.E. to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E., the antitypical “great tribulation” did not begin in 1914 C.E. Rather, what took place upon Jerusalem’s modern antitype in 1914-1918 was merely “a beginning of pangs of distress” for her and her political allies. The “great tribulation” such as will not occur again is yet ahead, for it means the destruction of the world empire of false religion (including Christendom) followed by the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Armageddon against the political allies of Babylonish false religion. In that “great tribulation” the present system of things must end in its religious and political phases.
14. (a) According to the word that Jesus used, how will the coming “great tribulation” be shortened? (b) Why can God shorten the days thereof, and why is it urgent?
14 It is this coming “great tribulation” that must have its days “cut short” [Greek, koloboʹo], curtailed, lopped off at the extremity, not split in the middle. This is done on account of God’s “chosen ones” and in order that ‘some flesh’ may be saved. (Matt. 24:21, 22) God has a fixed “day and hour” for the start of that “great tribulation,” without any delay. (Matt. 24:36) On account of having by that “day and hour” all the remnant of his “chosen ones” safely outside of the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem and outside of its associated secular system of things, God can then make it a swift work in executing divine vengeance and destruction upon this entire wicked system of things. As in the case of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the number of days of this coming “great tribulation” can be “cut short,” there being no need for prolonging them. This will permit also of the saving of ‘some flesh’ alive through the “great tribulation,” since ordinarily frail human “flesh” would, without divine protection, be unable to endure the lengthening too long of this “great tribulation” that will be the worst in all human history.
15. (a) How was the work of making additional members of the Jewish remnant in Judea suddenly terminated? (b) Thereafter, how was God’s accounting with Jerusalem and Judea carried out?
15 Nineteen hundred years ago, in connection with the Christian remnant that was taken out of the Jewish nation, the apostle Paul made a significant remark in his letter to the Romans, written about the year 56 C.E. He quoted from Isaiah 10:22, 23 and said: “It is the remnant that will be saved. For Jehovah will make an accounting on the earth, consummating it and cutting it short [or, executing it speedily; Greek, syntémno].” (Rom. 9:27, 28; 1950 edition, margin) Back in 66 C.E. and shortly thereafter the Jewish Christians fled out of Judea and Jerusalem, and thus there was an abrupt cutting short of the work of making Jewish converts in Judea and Jerusalem to be a part of the Jewish remnant. Accordingly, in 70 C.E., God’s sentence of destruction upon Jerusalem and her temple was executed, not in a long-drawn-out war through a long-lasting siege, but through a surprisingly short siege due to collapse of the defense by the cooped-up rebellious Jews.
16. What was thus “cut short” for Jerusalem, and yet why did so many Jews perish?
16 Thus Jerusalem’s “great tribulation” was not lengthened, but was “cut short,” permitting 97,000 Jews to survive although not having God’s protection, whereas 1,100,000 Jews perished. Jerusalem was then, indeed, not at peace with God, but this disaster came for the reason that Jesus mentioned to her, with tears, saying: “If you, even you, had discerned in this day the things having to do with peace—but now they have been hid from your eyes. Because . . . you did not discern the time of your being inspected.”—Luke 19:41-44.
17. What, though, were the relations of the escaped Christian Jews, and for what were they free?
17 On the other hand, the escaped Christian Jews who were by then outside of desolated Judea were at peace with God, just like all other Christian believers, Gentile and Jewish. They were God’s “chosen ones,” free to serve him by preaching the “good news” of his Messianic kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.—Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10.
18. (a) At the expected coming of the Son of God to execute judgment, who will join in beating themselves in lamentation? (b) After what did Jesus prophesy of the gathering of the chosen ones, and what does history show about this gathering?
18 Likewise today, the anointed remnant of God’s “chosen ones” are at peace with him, although being in the midst of a world of turmoil. They expect the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to come shortly to execute God’s judgment upon this wicked “system of things.” At that time, according to Jesus’ prophecy, not just the Jewish tribes, but “all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation.” They will see destruction staring them in the face at the hands of this “Son of man,” Jesus Christ, in his glory and power. But what about the anointed remnant? Will they join in the worldwide lamentation? No! For Jesus prophesied that his angels will “gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.” (Matt. 24:29-31) Jesus listed this after speaking about Jerusalem’s destruction. According to the historic facts, the gathering of these “chosen ones” first began to take place a long time after the “great tribulation” of ancient Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
19. (a) Into what are the “chosen ones” gathered? (b) By the time of the “great tribulation” what will be true of the remnant, and what do they expect?
19 The gathering began to take place after World War I ended in 1918. The remnant of the “chosen ones” were gathered, not into heaven, but into a unity of organization and of action world wide, in order to preach to all the nations the “good news” of God’s established kingdom, for which they had been chosen as heirs of God and as joint heirs of Jesus Christ. (Matt. 24:14; Rom. 8:16, 17; 2 Tim. 2:11, 12) By the time that the antitypical “great tribulation” bursts forth the full number of this anointed remnant will be made up; the choosing of Kingdom heirs will be ended. This anointed remnant, as a class, expect to survive the “great tribulation” and the destruction of this present “system of things” and enter into God’s new system of things under the heavenly kingdom of his Messiah, Jesus.—Rev. 7:1-8.
‘SOME FLESH WILL BE SAVED’
20. (a) For the most part the remnant of “chosen ones” have been taken out of what religious realm? (b) Why will it not be necessary to lengthen the “great tribulation,” and what is God’s purpose?
20 Since the “beginning of pangs of distress” in 1914 C.E. the majority of those composing the remnant of “chosen ones” have been persons taken out from the modern-day antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, namely, Christendom, the minority of them from the pagan realm. When, evidently soon now, Jehovah God will have completed the work of gathering from all parts under heaven his remnant of “chosen ones,” there will be no need for him to deal patiently any longer with Christendom and her political paramours of this system of things. As with the Jerusalem of the apostles’ days, Jehovah can terminate his accounting with Christendom and the rest of this system of things in a speedy way, in no prolonged order, in a reduced period of time. While He as the accurate Timekeeper has a definite day and hour for beginning the “great tribulation,” he can lop off anything tending to lengthen it. It is his purpose to do so.—Matt. 24:21, 22, 36.
21. (a) Whose “flesh” will be saved out of the “great tribulation”? (b) How will their state differ from that of the Jewish “flesh” saved out of Jerusalem’s destruction?
21 Will there be ‘some flesh’ saved at that time? Yes, and this in addition to the remnant of “chosen ones.” In the first century in the apostles’ days, it was none of the “chosen ones,” either Jewish or Gentile, that were in danger at the destruction of Jerusalem and desolating of Judea. They were all outside, free from assault and capture by the Roman armies under Titus. It was the Jews cooped up inside Jerusalem that were in danger of extermination amid her “great tribulation.” Because of the shortness of the Roman siege 97,000 were spared alive, even without God’s protection. But for what? For degraded slavery among the pagan Gentiles. But in the coming antitypical “great tribulation” none of those religionists who remain with the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem and in association with her political allies will be preserved alive, no matter how short the “great tribulation” turns out to be. They will be destroyed with the present “system of things” of which they are a part. Why should they, not being at peace with God, be saved?
22. (a) Who largely are those whose “flesh” will be saved, and because of what will they survive? (b) What will they witness?
22 Yet, there are on earth today many persons, who, although not of the remnant of “chosen ones,” are at peace with God. They are fully dedicated and baptized Christians, but not having a heavenly hope and inheritance like the spirit-begotten “chosen ones.” According to the statistics available, these have for the most part fled from doomed antitypical Jerusalem, rather than stay in her to be cooped up for destruction. These make up the ‘some flesh’ that Jesus indicated would “be saved.” Not just because of shortening the days, but because of God’s protection over them, they will survive. Their surviving the “great tribulation” just ahead will not mean what it meant in the case of the 97,000 Jewish survivors of Jerusalem’s destruction, namely, a being dragged off into slavery by those making up the modern-day “disgusting thing that causes desolation.” Rather, they will witness and survive the destruction of that disgusting desolator and become free in God’s new system.—Rev. 17:1-14; 19:11-21.
23, 24. (a) As compared with the remnant of chosen ones, what are these “tribulation” survivors called, and how many will they be by then? (b) What kind of relations do they have with God, and why?
23 Revelation 7:9-17 speaks of these as coming “out of the great tribulation.” Compared with the number who make up the remnant of God’s “chosen ones,” these baptized, dedicated Christians with an earthly hope are a “great crowd.” No man today knows how many there will be in this “great crowd” by the time of the “great tribulation.” As to their flesh, they come out of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. Even though not being spiritual Israelites like the “chosen ones,” they are now at peace with Jehovah God. They have forsaken the side of the enemies of God, both inside and outside of antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, and they have come onto the side of the escaped “chosen ones.” So they have a favorable standing before God’s throne and before his Lamb Jesus Christ, and they hail these as with palm branches in jubilation. Appreciating their saved condition at present and expecting salvation during the coming “great tribulation,” they cry out in public declaration:
24 “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.”—Rev. 7:9, 10.
25. (a) Despite the destructiveness of the “tribulation,” what will this “great crowd” experience? (b) Of what will they strive to prove worthy after Armageddon?
25 No matter how destructive the “great tribulation” will be, no matter how intense the destructiveness of it may become because the “great tribulation” is concentrated within a cut-short time period, this unnumbered “great crowd” will be saved alive in their “flesh” and will enter God’s new system of things after his war at Armageddon. All this is because they, along with the remnant of “chosen ones,” keep at peace and harmony with God and his Lamb Jesus Christ until the “great tribulation” and till it ends, serving God “day and night in his temple” in company with the chosen remnant. (Rev. 7:14-17) Like sheep at the right hand of the Shepherd King Jesus Christ, they will continue to do good to the remnant of his spiritual “brothers,” as long as these are with them in the “flesh.” In God’s earthly system after Armageddon these sheeplike ones will gratefully strive to prove themselves worthy of salvation to all eternity to God’s praise.
On Matthew 24:3 Dr. A. T. Robertson comments: “They ask three questions about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, his own second coming (parousia, presence, common in the papyri for the visit of the emperor), and the end of the world. Did they think that they were all to take place simultaneously? There is no way to answer. At any rate Jesus treats all three in this great eschatological discourse, the most difficult problem in the Synoptic Gospels. . . . It is sufficient for our purpose to think of Jesus as using the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem which did happen in that generation in A.D. 70, as also a symbol of his own second coming and of the end of the world . . . or consummation of the age. . . . Certainly in this discourse Jesus blends in apocalyptic language the background of his death on the cross, the coming destruction of Jerusalem, his own second coming and the end of the world. He now touches one, now the other. It is not easy for us to separate clearly the various items.”—Pages 187, 188 of Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume I.
See Dr. A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume II, on Luke, pages 261, 262.