‘Flee to the Mountains’
To those who sincerely worshiped God, Jesus directed these words: “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!”—Matthew 24:15-19.
Why did Jesus urge his followers to use such haste in “fleeing to the mountains”? He stated: “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.”—Matthew 24:21, 22.
But just what did Jesus mean when he spoke of “the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place”? What did he mean by the “great tribulation,” and by the “flesh” that was to be saved? Why would it be “on account of the chosen ones” that the tribulation would be “cut short”?
What turned out to be the actual fulfillment of this prophecy in the first century? Note, first of all, the urgent warning to flee to the mountains “when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation . . . standing in a holy place.”
What was this disgusting desolater? History tells us what actually caused the destruction of Jerusalem: It was the armies of the Roman Empire. When those armies first appeared in force around Jerusalem, that was the signal for the person ‘with discernment’ to get out of the area. And this happened in the year 66 CE. Then, Roman armies under General Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem and even attacked the temple wall, undermining it. They could easily have captured the entire city.
So, there were the Roman armies standing in “the holy city.” (Compare Matthew 4:5; 27:53.) Even the apostate Jews considered Jerusalem and its surroundings to be “holy.” The presence of those armies in this “holy place” was disgusting to the Jews.
But, then, for some reason unclear to historians, General Gallus withdrew his armies and retreated. That was the signal Jesus had foretold. The time had come for his followers, the “chosen ones,” to begin fleeing. Recognizing the urgency of the times, they quickly made their way out of Jerusalem and all Judea, as Jesus had directed. The historian Eusebius states that they fled across the Jordan River to the vicinity of Pella in the mountainous region of Gilead.
A few years later, in 70 CE, Roman armies under General Titus came back into Judea and encircled Jerusalem. But by that time all the “chosen ones,” the Christians, already were out of “the holy city.” Therefore, when the Romans surrounded Jerusalem at that time, there no longer was the opportunity for anyone to flee to safety.—Luke 19:43, 44.
After a short siege of four months and twenty-five days, the armies of Rome demolished the city and the temple. Historian Josephus, an eyewitness, puts the number of dead at 1,100,000 and the captives at 97,000. The numbers were high because the unfaithful Jews did not heed Jesus’ warning to flee. They did the opposite. At the time of a religious festival they poured into Jerusalem and were all trapped when the Romans suddenly encircled the city.
The fact that the “chosen” Christians no longer were in Jerusalem meant that God would not have to be concerned about their safety. They already had made their escape. God could thus allow the Romans to go into Jerusalem and speedily execute His judgment against the city. So on account of the chosen Christians’ already being out of Jerusalem, those days of tribulation came to an end more quickly, having been “cut short.” This allowed for some “flesh,” the 97,000, to survive.
That “great tribulation” in 70 CE was the most terrible calamity that ever came upon Jerusalem. It brought to a permanent end the Jewish-built city, its temple and the system of religion centered around it.
But what does that ancient history have to do with those of us living in this twentieth century? A great deal.
The “Holy Place” and a “Disgusting Thing”
A typical kingdom of God ruled in Jerusalem from 1070 to 607 BCE. It represented God’s sovereignty in the earth. But then this Davidic dynasty was overthrown by the Babylonians. No kingdom has ruled again in the earthly Jerusalem, right down to this present day. However, Jerusalem has ceased to be trampled on in this regard: God’s sovereignty has now come to be exercised through a “heavenly Jerusalem”—the promised kingdom of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. The Bible timetable, fulfillment of prophecy and the testimony of historians all combine to pinpoint the year 1914 as marking the end of “the appointed times of the nations” and the start of a period of “anguish of nations.”—Hebrews 12:22; Luke 21:24-26; Revelation 11:15.
The “heavenly Jerusalem,” represented by faithful anointed Christians on earth, now occupies “a holy place.” But have the nations of earth acknowledged this? Far from it! In the year 1919 they proposed the League of Nations, which leading clergymen proclaimed to be “the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth.” Likewise, religious leaders have described the League’s successor, the United Nations, brought forth in 1945, as ‘the sole hope for lasting peace.’ So the clergy would have this man-made makeshift stand in the “holy place” where only God’s kingdom by his Christ may now rightfully operate. A “disgusting thing,” indeed, in the sight of God and all lovers of righteousness!
However, as we move down toward God’s time to destroy the present wicked world system, the “disgusting thing,” the UN combine of nations, becomes a threat to world religion itself. How so? In that powerful member nations of the UN, notably those of the Communist bloc, have invaded the realm of religion. Especially have these atheistic forces become a threat to the continued operation of Christendom’s religions, as, for example, in China, in the Soviet Union and in other Eastern European countries. Thus power-hungry UN members stand now as a threat to Christendom’s claimed “holy place.” This represents everything that her religions hold sacred—her field of operation, her organizations, her church buildings and other assets, and her claimed right to rule the lives of her people. What will be the end of this confrontation?
The modern desolater, the UN ‘wild beast with seven heads and ten horns,’ is prophesied to make false religion “devastated and naked” and to “completely burn her with fire.” (Revelation 17:3, 16) In doing so, it will not be their acting out of any love of God, no more so than did ancient Rome. The modern “disgusting thing” now includes many nations that hate God, his kingdom rule and the people who bear God’s name, Jehovah. And, certainly, this desolater is part of the present system of things controlled by Satan the Devil.—Luke 4:5-8; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Matthew 6:9, 10.