Questions From Readers
● In view of the terrible destruction of Dresden, Stalingrad, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, how could Jesus describe what befell Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as a ‘great tribulation such as had never occurred before, nor would occur again’?
That prophecy had a future application beyond what occurred to Jerusalem and on the Jews in 70 C.E., but it also was true as to the history of that city and nation.
These words are in Jesus’ prophetic reply to the apostles’ question about his future presence and the conclusion of the system of things. (Matt. 24:3, 21; Mark 13:19) Jehovah’s Witnesses have often pointed out that much of what Jesus there foretold had two fulfillments: First, a limited fulfillment in the developments leading up to and including the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. Second, a major application from 1914 C.E., when Jesus began his invisible heavenly presence as king of the Messianic kingdom, and including the yet future end of the worldwide evil system of things.—See The Watchtower of January 15, 1970, pages 41-56, and God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, pages 293-331.
In that prophecy Jesus emphasized the need to keep alert and to be ready. He said: “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.”—Matt. 24:20, 21.
For Christians living in Jerusalem and Judea who would be directly affected by the end of the Jewish system of things, the warning to keep alert was vital. The Roman armies surrounded the city in 66 C.E., but then unexpectedly withdrew. That was the specific signal that Jesus had mentioned in Luke 21:20-22. And history tells us that obedient Christians responded by fleeing from the city of Jerusalem and from Judea. So it is reasonable to apply also to the literal city of Jerusalem and Judea what Jesus next said, about the “great tribulation.”
The destruction brought by the Romans in 70 C.E. was more extensive and terrible than when the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. Also, the tribulation in 70 C.E. brought the permanent destructive end to the Jewish-built city and temple and the system of worship centered around it. So Jesus was correct in prophetically describing the events in 70 C.E. as “great tribulation such as has not occurred [on that city, nation and system of things] since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.”
But there is more to it. We are involved. Why? Because Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:21 evidently had a larger meaning. Christ’s invisible presence as Messianic king ruling over the globe did not begin in 70 C.E. He himself showed that that was not even to be expected. When once the disciples “were imagining that the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly,” Jesus gave what is known as the parable of the minas. It was about ‘a certain man who traveled to a distant land to secure kingly power and then return,’ and it showed that his ruling as Messianic king was yet a long way off.—Luke 19:11-27.
The worldwide fulfillment in one generation of Jesus’ prophecies about unprecedented war, famine, earthquakes and so on, confirm that the limited fulfillment on Jerusalem before 70 C.E. was but a type of what we are experiencing.* Accordingly, the present period is the conclusion of the entire wicked system of things, which will be climaxed by a “tribulation such as has not occurred from the beginning of the creation.” (Mark 13:19) It will be far greater than what occurred to Jerusalem, Judea and the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. In fact, it will even be greater than the flood of Noah’s time when the entire “world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water.” (2 Pet. 3:6) It will not be confined to certain isolated cities such as were destroyed in recent wars. It will involve all the persons living on the face of the globe, now numbering about 4,000,000,000.—2 Pet. 3:7-13.
The accuracy of Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:21 as respects what occurred in 70 C.E. should drive home to us the certainty of the major application of those words in our time.