Jesus said many interesting things in His Olivet Discourse such as His answer to the disciples’ question as recorded in Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4, and Luke 21:5-7, which we previously discussed. There was another interesting quote in 24:15 (13:14) in which Jesus said: “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).”
In between those two passages, Jesus issued a litany of things that would happen (24:4-14, 13:5-13, and 21:8-19), and although Luke doesn’t mention “the abomination of desolation,” it is what he says next in 21:20a that brings today’s discussion into focus, for it is his portrayal which leads to a more accurate picture of what comes next. That verse says, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.” So, he does talk about Jerusalem’s desolation, but not the abomination of desolation.
After that (Luke 21:21-23a, Mark 13:14b-18, and Matthew 24:16-20), all three Gospels basically say the same thing, which is that Jesus told them to flee the city, and which the believers did, escaping the ensuing conflagration! Now, look at what Luke says next, in 21:23b-24 – “for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Compare that with what the angel told Daniel in 12:1, “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.” We will talk about this verse in more detail at a later time, but for now we are interested in the time of distress.
We can see the similarities of Luke’s and Daniel’s statements of a time of distress, but also notice how Mark talks of a time of tribulation (13:19, 24), and Matthew says there will be great tribulation, a term which has taken on a life of its own. Now, not to be too wonky, but the Greek text has no article (the word ‘the’) modifying that term, so the great tribulation is incorrect. There will be great tribulation or great distress, but other than that….
Fixing the time for all of this is not difficult if we respect history and we don’t place unnatural meaning on Jesus’ or Daniel’s words. Going back to Jesus’ tirade against the religious leaders (Matthew 23), and recognizing the concept of what He was saying to them and also the severity of His words gives us some insight into the meaning of what He said next. Speaking to His disciples, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recorded their comment to Him about the Temple as they left it, Jesus’ answer as to its destruction, their questions as to when and what, and His ensuing explanation of how it would all transpire, including His warning to them to flee when they saw certain things.
Not only that, but Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32 all record this statement from Jesus: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Remember, He was speaking to His disciples after He had said all those things about tribulation, the abomination…, etc. And that which He said to them was no different than what He said to the religious leaders in Matthew 23:36 when He said this, “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred within that generation.
If you believe in the infallibility of the Scriptures, that they are God-breathed, i.e., that they are inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness as the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, then you must acknowledge that something is going on here. As stated earlier, put aside preconceived ideas, things that have been said and written by people, however well-intentioned, that could be wrong. This is a difficult subject which, unfortunately, makes us reliant on what others say and write. Be as the Bereans, who were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).
Summarizing, we have looked at the synoptic gospels and what they have to say about: 1) the Temple’s destruction, 2) the abomination of desolation, 3) the great tribulation/great distress, 4) when it all occurred, and 5) we examined the context of those utterances by Jesus and Daniel. There are literally dozens of times in my book where I talk about context. Context is key. In fact, there is a Canadian theologian (or the father of, I’m not sure) by the name of D. A. Carson who said, “Text without context is pretext.” A pretext is an excuse or an alleged reason. Think about that. It is so true. More to come.