What did Jesus declare would happen if the days of tribulation were allowed to continue?
For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. – Matthew 24:2122
What days are Jesus referring to here? Clearly, its a time of distress [tribulation] unlike anything before it or after. Was He describing the years between His death and the destruction of the Jewish temple? Or, was he describing a time of great tribulation thousands of years into the future? Some will say, “both”. They claim He was describing an event which would happen in the shorter term and at the same time be describing another event to happen even later. They would argue the destruction of the temple was a “foreshadowing” of the future great tribulation.
I would argue that reading these verses in the context they were given and understanding history, Jesus was talking about the early church and the end of the Jewish sacrificial age. Whether there is also some future event, I cannot say. Scripture does not specifically support that idea. It seems to be an idea promoted by Dispensationalists since the 1800’s.
Clearly, Jesus describes a terrible time in the previous verses. Again, in the context of the passage and a review of history, I think it’s reasonable to conclude the period between Christ and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. seems to fulfill this prophecy. I won’t go into all the details here, but I suggest you read, for example, The THE WARS OF THE JEWS by Flavius Josephus.
Did Jesus prophesy that only the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be threatened by total destruction? Or did He say that no one would be safe from the threat of annihilation?
The Moffatt translation renders this verse clearer as “not a soul would be saved alive.” This verse, then, is not referring to spiritual salvation at all, but to being saved from physical destruction. It is clear that no one would survive. The Revised Standard Version says “no human being would be saved …”
I suppose had the wars continued and the Romans extended their persecution beyond the Jewish temple to annihilate Christians, there would have been even more deaths.
But, that was not in God’s plan and He brought an end to the blood bath. Mark 13:20 tells us it was the Lord (Kyrios) who cut short those days. And, He did so to protect the elect (eklektos) – those who had accepted Christ.
Has there ever been a time of trouble such as the destruction of the Jewish temple or later events in history?
For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. – Matthew 24:21
History is strewn with wars and periods of persecution that were horrendous. But, these events leading up to the destruction of the temple take on something that has never happened since. That is… the end of the Jewish age, the end of their complete system of worship and sacrifice, the end of the very heart of their society. The temple was not only the center of religious and social life for the Jewish people, but it was a sign of God’s presence in the Holy City – all wiped away in 70 A.D. God, it seemed, was no longer in the city. The Jewish revolt was eventually put down a few years later with the capture of the fortress at Masada.
Within the walls of Jerusalem before its fall, the Zealots and the fanatical Sicarii publicly executed the more moderate Jewish leaders who were listened to by the common person. They hung their dead bodies so that everyone could see the repercussions of preaching insurgent messages of peace. The moderate leaders in Jerusalem at the start of the revolution in 66 A.D. had all been killed by 68 A.D., and not one by the hands of the Roman aggressors. The rest of the city was plundered and burned to the ground soon after the Temple fell. The Romans crushed the remaining, beleaguered Jewish resistance. Jerusalem was under complete control of the Romans by September 70 CE. In all, Josephus claims, over one million Jewish people were killed. Thousands more Jewish people were sold in to slavery and many were taken back to Rome or died in the Roman arenas.
Were any of the Old Testament prophets inspired to foresee this same time of worldwide peril?
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a time of judgement, captivity, and restoration in the time of Zedekiah king of Judah when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians (Jer 32:1-2) and the judgements of Jeremiah chapters 1 – 29 are to be carried out [586 BC].
The days are coming,’ declares the, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 30:3
This prophecy is given at a dark time for the Jews…
These are the words the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cries of fear are heard— terror, not peace. Ask and see: Can a man bear children? Then why do I see every strong man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor, every face turned deathly pale? How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it. – Jeremiah 30:4-7
But, there is hope for the Jews as the prophecy also speaks of their deliverance of the Jews from Babylon. We read about that restoration in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. A number of decades later in 538 BC, the Jews in Babylon were allowed to return to the Land of Israel, due to Cyrus’s decree. The first return to Judah for the Jews came shortly after the Persian conquest of Babylon, 538 BC (Ezra 1:1), led by Sheshbazzar. The second came 80 years later, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, 458 BC (Ezra 7:7), led by Ezra. And the third came 13 years after the second, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I, 444 BC (Neh. 2), led by Nehemiah. This return of the deportees to Judah during the approximate 100 year period is known as the return to Zion, an event by which Jews ever since have been inspired.
‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will break the yoke off their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners enslave them. Instead, they will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. – Jeremiah 30:8-9
This speaks of the time of Jewish restoration from 538 BC through the days of Jesus whom they were called to serve. Sadly, when their Messiah did show up as Jeremiah prophesied, they rejected Him and the consequential next judgement of God was to fall on Jerusalem again in 70 AD.
‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’ – Jeremiah 30:10-11
Futurists see this prophecy in Jeremiah as one fulfilled in the restoration of Judah from Babylonian captivity but also the restoration of Israel and Judah at a future time thousands of years later. They often base that interpretation on verse 2, ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.” They see this as evidence that Jeremiah was to write the words down as it would pertain to a future Israel restoration beyond the restoration from Babylon.
The prophet Daniel also saw a time of great distress.
At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered. – Daniel 12:1
The cataclysmic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was certainly a time of unequaled distress not happening before. Surviving Jews were carried off into captivity, but Christians who had fled the city earlier were delivered.
The prophet Joel also described the horrible events that took place at the close of the Jewish age.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand — a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste — nothing escapes them. They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle. – Joel 2:1-5