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And there shall be Great Tribulation

What on earth have we done with the teachings of Jesus

We are continuing our review of Matthew 24 in the Matthew Henry commentary. Many believe we are living in the last days. We do well to look into what Jesus had to say concerning these times. Though many bible commentators have existed, Matthew Henry’s work has been termed ‘the best English commentary for devotional purposes’. He offers practical suggestions and his commentaries contain a ‘rich store of truths’. We need to dig into the Word and gain an eternal perspective for these tumultuous times. These times of great tribulation.

The next sections deals with tribulations. We must remember that throughout the Bible there are types and shadows. When Jesus addressed the three questions of “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” he answered all three in one.  What was about to happen then – a shadow, will happen again – a type.

The gospel shall be preached

Henry says – Christ foretells the preaching of the gospel into all the world (Matt. 24:14).  This gospel shall be preached, and then shall the end come.  It is called the gospel of the kingdom, because it reveals the kingdom of grace, which leads to the kingdom of glory.  This will set up Christ’s kingdom in this world.  This gospel, sooner or later, is to be preached in all the world, to every creature. In it Christ is to be Salvation to the ends of the earth.  This gospel is a faithful declaration of the mind and will of God concerning the duty of man.  Also of the reward which man may expect from God. It is a record [1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son].  It is a witness, for those who believe, that they shall be saved, and against those who persist in unbelief, that they shall be damned. See [Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned].

This is intimated that the gospel was to be, at the least heard of, throughout the then known world, before the destruction of Jerusalem.  Within forty years after Christ’s death, the sound of the gospel had gone forth to the ends of the earth, [Rom. 10:18 Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world].  Paul fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum (modern-day Croatia, Bosnia and parts of Albania); and the other apostles were not idle.  The persecuting of the saints at Jerusalem helped to disperse them, so that they went everywhere, preaching the Word, Acts 8:1-4.  And when the tidings of the Redeemer are sent over all parts of the world, then shall come the end of the Jewish state.  

That which they thought to prevent, by putting Christ to death, they thereby secured.  All men were given the gospel, and then the Romans came, and took away their place and nation, John 11:48.  Paul speaks of the gospel being preached to every creature, [Col. 1:6-23 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth].

The people who know their God shall do great exploits

It is intimated that even in times of temptation, trouble, and persecution, the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached. It shall spread and shall force its way through the greatest opposition. Though the enemies of the church grow very hot, and many of her friends very cool, yet the gospel shall be preached. Even then, when many fall by the sword and by flame, and many do wickedly, yet then the people who do know their God, shall be strengthened to do the greatest exploits of all [Dan. 11:32-33 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering].  In Paul’s example, [Phil. 1:12-14 most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much bolder to speak the Word without fear].

It is intended here that the end of the world shall be when the gospel has done its work in the world.  The gospel shall be preached, and that work carried on; so that all nations, shall have either the enjoyment, or the refusal, of the gospel then the end will come.  The world shall stand as long as any of God’s chosen ones remain uncalled.  But, when they are all gathered in, it will be set on fire immediately.

He foretells more particularly the ruin that was coming upon the Jews, their city, temple, and nation, Matt. 24:15.  What He said here, would be of use to His disciples, for their conduct and for their comfort.  He describes the several steps of that calamity, such as are usual in war.  The Romans setting up the abomination of desolation in the holy place, Matt. 24:15. Some understand by this an image, or statue, set up in the temple by some of the Roman governors. This was very offensive to the Jews, provoked them to rebel, and so brought the desolation upon them.  The image of Jupiter Olympius, which Antiochus caused to be set upon the altar of God, is called—The abomination of desolation. This is the very word here used by the historian, 1 Macc. 1:54.

By His predictions, He confirmed the prophecies

This was spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, who spoke more plainly of the Messiah and His kingdom than any of the Old-Testament prophets. He speaks of an abomination making desolate, which was set up by Antiochus (Dan. 11:31; 12:11).  What our Saviour refers to, we have in the message that the angel brought him (Dan. 9:27), of what should come at the end of seventy weeks.  Armies of idolaters may well be called abominable armies.  

Some think, the tumults, insurrections, and abominable factions in the city and temple, may be part of the abomination making desolate. Christ refers them to Daniel’s prophecy, that they might see how the ruin of their city and temple was spoken of in the Old Testament. This both confirms His prediction, and takes off the disgust of it. They might likewise from then gather the time of it—soon after the cutting off of Messiah.  This is the sin that secured it—their rejection of Him—it is a desolation determined.  Christ by His precepts confirmed the law, so by His predictions He confirmed the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Christ inserts this memorandum, “Whosoever reads, let him understand. Whosoever reads the prophecy of Daniel, let him understand that it is to have its accomplishment now shortly in the desolations of Jerusalem.” Those that read the scriptures, should labour to understand the scriptures.  We cannot use that which we do not understand. [Acts 8:30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?]

The angel that delivered this prophecy to Daniel, stirred him up to know and understand, Dan. 9:25. And we must not despair of understanding even dark prophecies.  The great New-Testament prophecy is called a revelation, not a secret.  Things revealed belong to us, and therefore must be humbly and diligently searched into.  Let him understand, not only the scriptures which speak of those things, but by the scriptures let him understand the times. Observe and take notice.  Be assured, that the vain hopes with which the deluded people feed themselves, the abominable armies will make desolate.

He that flees, may fight again

The means of preservation which thinking men should apply themselves to (Matt. 24:16, 20); Then let them which are in Judea, flee. Then conclude there is no other way to help yourselves than by fleeing.  We may take this as a prediction of the ruin itself.  It would be impossible for the stoutest hearts to contend with it, but they must get out of the way.  So Christ here shows how fruitless it would be to stand it out. He bids everyone make the best of his way.

We may take it as a direction to the followers of Christ what to do.  Not to join a confederacy with those who fought and warred against the Romans for the preservation of their city and nation. But let them submit in the decree that was gone forth, and with all speed quit the city and country, as they would quit a falling house or a sinking ship, as Lot quitted Sodom.

He shows them where they must flee—from Judea to the mountains. It is not only lawful, but our duty, to seek our own preservation by all good and honest means.  If God opens a door of escape, we ought to make our escape, otherwise we do not trust God but tempt Him.  We only go out of the way of danger, not out of the way of duty, we may trust God to provide a dwelling for His outcasts, [Isa. 16:4, 5 Let My outcasts dwell with you, O Moab; Be a shelter to them from the face of the spoiler. For the extortioner is at an end, Devastation ceases, The oppressors are consumed out of the land]. In times of public calamity, when we cannot be serviceable at home and may be safe abroad, Providence calls us to make our escape. He that flees, may fight again.

Flee to Christ

What haste they must make, Matt. 24:17, 18. The life will be in danger, in imminent danger, the menace will slay suddenly.  Therefore he that is on the house-top, when the alarm comes, let him not come down into the house to gather his belongings but to make his escape.  He that shall be in the field not return to fetch his clothes or the wealth of his house, for two reasons.  First, Because the time which would be taken up in packing up his things, would delay his flight.  When death is at the door, delays are dangerous.  It was the charge to Lot, Look not behind thee.  

Those that are convinced of the misery of a sinful state, and of the necessity of their fleeing to Christ, must do it quickly, lest they perish eternally. Secondly, Because the carrying of his clothes, and his other valuables, would burden him, and clog up his flight.

The Syrians, in their flight, cast away their garments, [2 Kgs. 7:15 And they went after them to the Jordan; and indeed all the road was full of garments and weapons which the Syrians had thrown away in their haste].  At such a time, we must be thankful if our lives be given us, though we can save nothing. For the life is more than meat, [Matt. 6:25 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?]. Those who carried off least, were safest in their flight. Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator—The penniless traveller can lose nothing by robbers.  It was to His own disciples that Christ recommended this forgetfulness of their house and clothes. They would belong to Him have their habitation and treasure in heaven which the enemy cannot plunder.  He that has grace in his heart, carries his everything along with him.

Many perish through their unbelief

To those whom Christ said this immediately, did not live to see this dismal day, none of all the twelve but John only.  They did not need to be hidden in the mountains (Christ hid them in heaven).  They left the direction to their successors, who pursued it.  When the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea saw the ruin coming on, they all retired to a town called Pella, on the other side Jordan, where they were safe.  Of the many thousands that perished in the destruction of Jerusalem, there was not so much as one Christian.  Thus the prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself, [Prov. 22:3 A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished]; [Heb. 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith]. This warning was not kept private.  Matthew’s gospel was published long before that destruction, so that others might have taken the advantage of it.  Many perished through their unbelief of the warnings Christ gave concerning the wrath to come.

What they should pray against at that time—that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the sabbath day, Matt. 24:20.  Observe here that in times of public trouble and calamity, to be much in prayer. It is a salve for every sore, never out of season, but seasonable when we are distressed on every side. Pray that the circumstances of it may be graciously ordered. That, though the cup may not pass from you, yet the extremity of the judgment may be prevented. 

God has the arranging of the circumstances of events and therefore our eyes must be ever toward Him. Christ’s request for them was to pray for favour, intimates His purpose of granting it to them. Christ still bids His disciples to pray for themselves and their friends.  When trouble is at hand, it is good to lay in a stock of prayers beforehand.  They must pray that their flight might not be in the winter, when the days are short, the weather cold.

For the sabbath, He showed concern

Though the ease of the body is not to be mainly consulted, it ought to be duly considered.  We must take what God sends, and when He sends it, yet we may pray against bodily inconveniences.  Secondly, that it might not be on the Jewish sabbath day, because travelling then would give offence to them. This intimates Christ’s design, that a weekly sabbath should be observed in His church after the preaching of the gospel to all the world.  We do not read of any of the ceremonial ordinances of the Jewish church, that Christ ever expressed any care about, because they were all to vanish.  But for the sabbath He often showed a concern.  It intimates likewise that the sabbath is ordinarily to be observed as a day of rest from travel and worldly labour. 

He ascertains that works of necessity are lawful on the sabbath day such as fleeing from an enemy to save our lives.  Had it not been lawful, He would have said, “Whatever becomes of you, do not flee on the sabbath day, but abide by it, though you die by it.” But likewise it is very uneasy to a good man, to have to do any work of necessity on the sabbath day. We should pray that we may have quiet, undisturbed sabbaths that we may attend upon the Lord without distraction.  

What immediately ensues will be great troubles (Matt. 24:21). Then shall be great tribulation when the measure of iniquity is full.  When the servants of God are sealed and secured, then comes the troubles.  Nothing could be done against Sodom till Lot had entered into Zoar, and then came the fire and brimstone immediately. There shall be great tribulation.  Within the city plague and famine raged, and faction and division, so that every man’s sword was against his fellow.  On the outside of the city was the Roman army ready to swallow them up, with a particular rage against them.  

For the elects’ sake the days shall be shortened

It was a desolation unparalleled, such as was not since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be. Many a city and kingdom has been made desolate, but never any with a desolation like this. Let not daring sinners think that God has done His worst, He can heat the furnace seven times hotter.  The willfulness and obstinacy of the Jews themselves contributed much to the increase of the tribulation.  No wonder that the ruin of Jerusalem was an unparalleled ruin.  When the sin of Jerusalem was an unparalleled sin—even their crucifying Christ.

It was a desolation which, if it should continue would be intolerable, so that no flesh should be saved, Matt. 24:22. He that escaped one sword, would fall by another, Isa. 24:17, 18.  Josephus estimated that the slain amounted to above two million. He does not say, “No soul shall be saved,” for the destruction of the flesh may be for the saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus. 

But here is one word of comfort in the midst of all this terror. That for the elects’ sake these days shall be shortened. Not than had been determined (for that which is determined, shall be poured upon the desolate, Dan. 9:27), but shorter than what He might have decreed, if He had dealt with them according to their sins.  In times of common calamity God manifests His favour to the elect remnant. His jewels which He will secure. 

The shortening of calamities is a kindness God often grants for the elects’ sake.  Instead of complaining that our afflictions last so long. If we consider our faults, we shall see reason to be thankful that they do not last forever. When it is bad with us, we should say, “Blessed be God that it is no worse; blessed be God that I am not to endure hell, endless and remediless misery.”

Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary

In summary

  • Know that when persecution comes, it has served in the past as God’s tool to disperse the gospel throughout the world.
  • We are promised that when the enemies of the church grow very hot and many of her friends very cool, true believers who know their God will be strengthened and do the greatest exploits.
  • We must not despair of understanding even the dark prophecies. The Holy Spirit will reveal these things to us when we ask.  Things revealed belong to us.
  • Christ tells us that when we are faced with great persecution and there is no other way, then we do well to plan a way of escape.
  • It is pointless to join a coalition with those who fight for the preservation of the nation.  But submit to the decree (unless is contradicts scripture) and quit as Lot quit Sodom.
  • If God opens a door of escape we ought to take it and trust God to provide a dwelling.
  • Christ calls us to forgetfulness of our house and belongings for when we belong to Him we have our habitation and treasure in heaven.
  • We are to be much in prayer in times of calamity for favour and to beseech God that the extremity of judgment may be prevented.
  • Take hope that for the elect’s sake these days shall be shortened.  His jewels He will secure.
And of His Kingdom there shall be no end
Luke 1:33

And of His Kingdom
There shall be no end
The Word of God
On which we can depend,
Shines forth
In a world of gloom
To the heart that for Him
Makes room.
 
A continuous series of successes 
       and failures
Are the sum of man’s expression
Prosperity existing for a time
Only to be followed by war and depression
Twenty six civilizations have 
       come and gone
Such is the history of men
And man still battles with the same 
      problems
Over and over again.
 
The fluctuations of time
The swinging of the pendulum from 
         war to peace
From starvation to plenty, from 
        chaos to order
All this will one day cease.
But the kingdom of God will abide forever
On this we can depend.
The joy of His truth floods our being
‘And of His Kingdom, 
       there shall be no end’.
 
By the late Andrew Feakin
(passed away 16th March 2019)

Prayer:  Father.  The world is in turmoil. But You know the end from the beginning.  Nothing is a surprise to You.  I pray that the faith of all who reads this be strengthened.  Calm our hearts when they be anxious.  Draw us closer to You that we may know that You will protect us and provide for our every need.  May we fix our eyes on You and be about Your business.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

There shall be great tribulation!

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