Will You Be Saved When God Acts?
“Unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”—MATTHEW 24:22.
1, 2. (a) Why is it normal to be interested in our future? (b) Natural interest may have been involved in what vital questions?
HOW interested are you in yourself? Many today carry self-interest to extremes, being egocentric. Yet, the Bible does not condemn appropriate interest in what affects us. (Ephesians 5:33) That includes being interested in our future. So it would be normal for you to want to know what your future holds. Are you interested?
2 We can be sure that Jesus’ apostles had such an interest in their future. (Matthew 19:27) Likely that was a factor when four of them were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They asked: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are destined to come to a conclusion?” (Mark 13:4) Jesus did not ignore natural interest in the future—their interest and ours. Time and again he highlighted how his followers would be affected and what the final outcome would be.
3. Why do we link Jesus’ reply to our time?
3 Jesus’ reply set out a prophecy with a major fulfillment in our time. We can see this from the world wars and other conflicts in our century, the earthquakes that snuff out countless lives, the food shortages that bring sickness and death, and the plagues—from the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 to the current AIDS scourge. However, much of Jesus’ reply also had a fulfillment leading to and including the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. Jesus warned his disciples: “Look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them.”—Mark 13:9.
What Jesus Foretold, and What Occurred
4. What are some warnings included in Jesus’ reply?
4 Jesus went beyond foretelling how others would treat his disciples. He alerted them as to how they themselves should act. For example: “When you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation standing where it ought not (let the reader use discernment), then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.” (Mark 13:14) The parallel account at Luke 21:20 says: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies.” How did that prove accurate in the first instance?
5. What happened among the Jews in Judea in 66 C.E.?
5 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1982) tells us: “The Jews were increasingly restive under Roman control and the procurators were increasingly violent, cruel, and dishonest. Open rebellion broke out in A.D. 66. . . . The war began when the Zealots seized Masada and then, under Menahem, marched on Jerusalem. Simultaneously Jews in the gubernatorial city of Caesarea were massacred, and news of this atrocity spread throughout the country. New coins were marked Year 1 through Year 5 of the revolt.”
6. The Jewish revolt produced what Roman response?
6 The Roman Twelfth Legion under Cestius Gallus marched from Syria, ravaged Galilee and Judea, and then attacked the capital, even occupying the upper section of “Jerusalem the holy city.” (Nehemiah 11:1; Matthew 4:5; 5:35; 27:53) Summarizing developments, the volume The Roman Siege of Jerusalem says: “For five days the Romans attempted to scale the wall, being repulsed time after time. At length the defenders, overpowered by the hail of missiles, gave way. Forming a testudo—the devise of locking their shields over their heads to protect themselves—the Roman soldiers undermined the wall and attempted to set fire to the gate. A terrible panic seized the defenders.” Christians inside the city could recall Jesus’ words and discern that a disgusting thing was standing in a holy place.* But with the city surrounded, how could such Christians flee, as Jesus had advised?
7. When victory was within reach in 66 C.E., what did the Romans do?
7 Historian Flavius Josephus relates: “Cestius [Gallus], aware of neither the despair of the besieged nor the feelings of the people, suddenly called off his men, abandoned hope though he had suffered no reverse, and flying in the face of all reason retired from the City.” (The Jewish War, II, 540 [xix, 7]) Why did Gallus retreat? Whatever the reason, his retreat allowed Christians to obey Jesus’ command and flee to the mountains and to safety.
8. What was the second phase of the Roman effort against Jerusalem, and what did the survivors experience?
8 Obedience was lifesaving. Before long the Romans moved to crush the revolt. The campaign under General Titus climaxed in a siege of Jerusalem from April to August 70 C.E. It chills one’s blood to read Josephus’ description of how the Jews suffered. Besides those killed fighting the Romans, other Jews were slaughtered by rival bands of Jews, and starvation led to cannibalism. By the time of the Roman victory, 1,100,000 Jews had died.* Of the 97,000 survivors, some were promptly executed; others were enslaved. Josephus says: “Those over seventeen were put in irons and sent to hard labour in Egypt, while great numbers were presented by Titus to the provinces to perish in the theatres by the sword or by wild beasts.” Even as this sorting out took place, 11,000 prisoners starved to death.
9. Why did the Christians not experience the outcome that the Jews did, but what questions remain?
9 Christians could be thankful that they had obeyed the Lord’s warning and had fled the city before the Roman army returned. Thus they were saved from part of what Jesus termed ‘great tribulation such as had not occurred since the world’s beginning until then, nor would occur again’ on Jerusalem. (Matthew 24:21) Jesus added: “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.” (Matthew 24:22) What did that mean then, and what does it mean now?
10. How have we previously explained Matthew 24:22?
10 In the past it was explained that the ‘flesh to be saved’ referred to Jews who survived the tribulation on Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The Christians had fled, so God could let the Romans bring a swift destruction. In other words, on account of the fact that the “chosen ones” were out of danger, the days of the tribulation could be cut short, allowing some Jewish “flesh” to be saved. It was felt that the surviving Jews foreshadowed those who would survive the great tribulation coming in our day.—Revelation 7:14.
11. Why does it seem that the explanation of Matthew 24:22 should be reconsidered?
11 But is that explanation consonant with what happened in 70 C.E.? Jesus said that the human “flesh” was to be “saved” out of the tribulation. Would you use the word “saved” to describe the 97,000 survivors, in view of the fact that thousands of them soon died of starvation or were slaughtered in a theater? Josephus says about one theater, at Caesarea: “The number of those who perished in combats with wild beasts or in fighting each other or by being burnt alive exceeded 2,500.” Though they did not die in the siege, they were hardly “saved.” And would Jesus consider them as being similar to happy survivors of the coming “great tribulation”?
12. Who were the first-century “chosen ones” in whom God was interested?
12 By 70 C.E., God no longer viewed the natural Jews as his chosen people. Jesus showed that God had rejected that nation and would let its capital city, temple, and system of worship come to an end. (Matthew 23:37–24:2) God chose a new nation, spiritual Israel. (Acts 15:14; Romans 2:28, 29; Galatians 6:16) It was composed of men and women chosen out of all nations and anointed with holy spirit. (Matthew 22:14; John 15:19; Acts 10:1, 2, 34, 35, 44, 45) Some years before the attack by Cestius Gallus, Peter wrote to “the ones chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, with sanctification by the spirit.” Such spirit-anointed ones were “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Peter 1:1, 2; 2:9) God would take such chosen ones to heaven to reign with Jesus.—Colossians 1:1, 2; 3:12; Titus 1:1; Revelation 17:14.
13. What sense might Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:22 have had?
13 This identifying of the chosen ones is helpful, since Jesus foretold that the days of tribulation would be cut short “on account of the chosen ones.” The Greek word translated “on account of” can also be rendered “for the sake of” or “for . . . sake.” (Mark 2:27; John 12:30; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 9:10, 23; 11:9; 2 Timothy 2:10; Revelation 2:3) So Jesus could have been saying, ‘Unless those days are cut short, no flesh will be saved; but for the sake of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.’* (Matthew 24:22) Did something occur that benefited or was ‘for the sake of’ the Christian chosen ones trapped in Jerusalem?
14. How was “flesh” saved when the Roman army unexpectedly retreated from Jerusalem in 66 C.E.?
14 Recall that in 66 C.E., the Romans moved through the land, occupied upper Jerusalem, and began undermining the wall. Josephus comments: “If only he had persevered with the siege a little longer he would have captured the City at once.” Ask yourself, ‘Why would the powerful Roman army suddenly abandon the campaign and “flying in the face of all reason” retreat?’ Rupert Furneaux, a specialist in interpreting military history, comments: “No historian has succeeded in supplying any adequate reason for Gallus’s strange and disastrous decision.” Be that as it may, the effect was that the tribulation was cut short. The Romans retreated, with the Jews savaging them as they went. What of the anointed Christian “chosen ones” who had been trapped? The lifting of the siege meant that they were saved from any slaughter that threatened during the tribulation. Hence, those Christians who benefited from the cutting short of the tribulation in 66 C.E. were the saved “flesh” mentioned at Matthew 24:22.
What Does Your Future Hold?
15. Why would you say that Matthew chapter 24 should be of particular interest in our day?
15 Someone might ask, ‘Why should I be especially interested in this clarified understanding of Jesus’ words?’ Well, there is ample reason to conclude that Jesus’ prophecy was to have a larger fulfillment, beyond what happened up to and including 70 C.E.* (Compare Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:10, 11; Revelation 6:2-8.) For decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses have preached that the major fulfillment occurring in our time proves that we can expect a large-scale “great tribulation” just ahead. During it, how will the prophetic words at Matthew 24:22 be fulfilled?
16. What encouraging fact does Revelation provide about the approaching great tribulation?
16 Some two decades after the tribulation on Jerusalem, the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. It confirmed that great tribulation lay ahead. And, being interested in what affects us personally, we may be relieved to know that Revelation prophetically assures us that human flesh will live through this coming great tribulation. John foretold “a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” Who are they? A voice from heaven answers: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:9, 14) Yes, they will be survivors! Revelation also offers us insight into how things will develop in the coming great tribulation and how Matthew 24:22 will be fulfilled.
17. The opening phase of the great tribulation will include what?
17 The opening phase of this tribulation will be an attack on a symbolic prostitute called “Babylon the Great.” (Revelation 14:8; 17:1, 2) She represents the worldwide empire of false religion, with Christendom being most reprehensible. According to the words of Revelation 17:16-18, God will put it into the heart of the political element to attack this symbolic harlot.* Think how it could appear to God’s anointed “chosen ones” and their associates, the “great crowd.” As this devastating attack on religion advances, it might seem that it will wipe out all religious organizations, including Jehovah’s people.
18. Why might it seem that no “flesh” will be saved through the opening part of the great tribulation?
18 This is where Jesus’ words found at Matthew 24:22 will be fulfilled on a large scale. As the chosen ones in Jerusalem appeared to be at risk, Jehovah’s servants might seem in danger of being eliminated during the attack on religion, as if that attack would wipe out all “flesh” of God’s people. Yet, let us bear in mind what happened back in 66 C.E. The tribulation caused by the Romans was cut short, allowing God’s anointed chosen ones ample opportunity to escape and remain alive. Thus, we can rest assured that the destructive attack on religion will not be allowed to kill off the global congregation of true worshipers. It will proceed quickly, as if “in one day.” Somehow, though, it will be cut short, will not be allowed to complete its objective, so that God’s people can be “saved.”—Revelation 18:8.
19. (a) After the first part of the great tribulation, what will be evident? (b) To what will this lead?
19 Other elements of Satan the Devil’s earthly organization will thereafter continue for a time, mourning the loss of dealings with their old religious paramour. (Revelation 18:9-19) At some point, they will notice that God’s true servants remain, “dwelling in security, all of them dwelling without wall” and appearing to be easy prey. What a surprise is in store! Responding to a real or threatened aggression against his servants, God will rise up in judgment of his enemies in the final part of the great tribulation.—Ezekiel 38:10-12, 14, 18-23.
20. Why will the second phase of the great tribulation not put God’s people in danger?
20 This second phase of the great tribulation will parallel what happened to Jerusalem and its inhabitants in the second attack by the Romans in 70 C.E. It will prove to be “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until [then], no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:21) We can rest assured, though, that God’s chosen ones and their associates will not be in the danger zone, at risk of being killed. Oh, they will not have fled to one geographic location. First-century Christians in Jerusalem could flee from that city to the mountainous region, such as Pella across the Jordan. In the future, however, God’s faithful Witnesses will be located all over the globe, so safety and protection will not be based on geographic location.
21. Who will do the fighting in the final battle, and with what result?
21 The destruction will not be by the forces of Rome or any other human agency. Instead, the book of Revelation describes the executional forces as being from heaven. Yes, that final part of the great tribulation will be carried out, not by any human army, but by “The Word of God,” the King Jesus Christ, assisted by ‘the armies that are in heaven,’ including resurrected anointed Christians. The “King of kings and Lord of lords” will carry out an execution far more thorough than the Romans did in 70 C.E. It will eliminate all human opposers of God—kings, military commanders, freemen and slaves, small ones and great. Even human organizations of Satan’s world will meet their end.—Revelation 2:26, 27; 17:14; 19:11-21; 1 John 5:19.
22. In what further sense will “flesh” be saved?
22 Recall that “flesh,” both of the anointed remnant and of the “great crowd,” already will have been saved when Babylon the Great goes down swiftly and completely in the first part of the tribulation. Likewise in the final part of the tribulation, “flesh” that has fled to Jehovah’s side will be saved. How this will contrast with the outcome for the rebellious Jews in 70 C.E.!
23. To what can surviving “flesh” look forward?
23 Thinking of the possibilities for your own future and that of your loved ones, note what is promised at Revelation 7:16, 17: “They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.” Surely, that is really being “saved” in a wonderful, lasting sense.
Josephus says: “When Titus entered he was astounded by the strength of the city . . . He exclaimed aloud: ‘God has been on our side; it is God who brought the Jews down from these strongholds; for what could human hands or instruments do against such towers?’”
Interestingly, Shem-Tob’s text of Matthew 24:22 uses the Hebrew word ʽa·vurʹ, which means “for the sake of, on account of, in order that.”—See preceding article, page 13.
See The Watchtower of February 15, 1994, pages 11 and 12, and the chart on pages 14 and 15, which sets in parallel columns Jesus’ prophetic reply found in Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21.
See Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, pages 235-58, published in 1988 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
How Would You Answer?
□ What two phases were there to the Roman army’s attack on Jerusalem?
□ Why is it unlikely that the 97,000 Jewish survivors in 70 C.E. made up the “flesh” mentioned at Matthew 24:22?
□ How were the days of Jerusalem’s tribulation cut short, and how was “flesh” thus saved?
□ In the approaching great tribulation, how will the days be cut short and “flesh” be saved?
[Picture on page 16]
Jewish coin struck after the revolt. The Hebrew lettering says “Year two,” meaning 67 C.E., the second year of their autonomy
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture on page 17]
Roman coin struck in 71 C.E. On the left is an armed Roman; on the right a Jewess in mourning. The words “IVDAEA CAPTA” mean “Captive Judea”
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.