THE LORD'S PROPHECY ON MOUNT OLIVET
We come now to that great utterance of the Lord Jesus Christ which connects directly with the prophecies recorded in the last four chapters of the Book of Daniel.
We have seen that sixty nine weeks of the seventy mentioned by Gabriel in his message to Daniel reached "unto the Messiah," that is, unto what Edersheim calls "His first Messianic appearance," which was at His baptism; for then it was that He was anointed with the Holy Ghost, borne witness to by the Voice from heaven, and publicly proclaimed (or "made manifest to Israel") by John the Baptist (#Joh 1:29-34).
That great event marked the beginning of the Seventieth Week of the prophecy, the "one week" which is separately mentioned in Daniel 9:27, the "fulness of the time" of (#Ga 4:4) (cf. #Mr 1:15). That "week" was, beyond all comparison, the most momentous period in all the course of time; for it was the great and wonderful era of Christ's own personal ministry among men, "the days of His flesh," when He glorified God upon the earth, and finished the work He had given Him to do. It was the brief period of earth's history whereof the apostle Peter spake when he told to a company of Gentiles "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; Who went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him" (#Ac 10:3). Never had there been a "time" like that.
Towards the midst of that "week," the Lord, after having preached the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God, after having worked the works of God and spoken the words the Father had given Him to speak, went to Jerusalem in order to fulfil all that was written of Him, by offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His people. At that season, when Jerusalem was thronged with people for the observance of the passover, the Lord uttered His "woes" upon the scribes and Pharisees, closing with these words, which have an important bearing upon our subject:
"Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and Scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation" (#Mt 23:31-36).
These words call for close attention, because of their bearing upon the prophecy (the Olivet discourse) which immediately follows, and also because of their bearing upon the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which we have been studying.
The Lord here speaks distinctly of a terrible retribution which was to come upon that generation; and He sums up the several items of the wickedness for which they were thus to be punished. He declared that, in putting Him to death they were about to prove themselves to be the children of those who killed the prophets; and they were also about to fill up the measure of their fathers. Nor would the wickedness of that "generation of vipers" stop there. For when the messengers of Christ should come to them with the gospel of God's love and grace, they would scourge, persecute, kill and crucify them. Thus would they bring upon themselves a retribution of such terrible severity, that it would be as if they were visited for all the righteous blood that had ever been shed upon the earth. Most distinct and plain, and emphasized by His great "Amen" (Verily), are the Lord's words, "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation."
Here we have then a clear explanation of the words of (#Da 9:24,) "Seventy Weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression"; and also of the words of (#Da 12:10,) "The wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand."
Daniel's people were to be the agents, and his holy city the place, of the finishing of "the transgression;" and the seventieth week of the renewed national existence was to be the time when the transgression should be finished. We have also in these words of Christ, and in verses 38, 39, which follow, a clear affirmation of that part of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks which foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. We quote those heart melting words: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord" (#Mt 23:38,39).
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
It is greatly to be regretted that those who, in our day, give themselves to the study and exposition of prophecy, seem not to be aware of the immense significance of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which was accompanied by the extinction of Jewish national existence, and the dispersion of the Jewish people among all the nations. The failure to recognize the significance of that event, and the vast amount of prophecy which it fulfilled, has been the cause of great confusion, for the necessary consequence of missing the past fulfilment of predicted events is to leave on our hands a mass of prophecies for which we must needs contrive fulfilments in the future. The harmful results are two fold; for first, we are thus deprived of the evidential value, and the support to the faith, of those remarkable fulfilments of prophecy which are so clearly presented to us in authentic contemporary histories; and second, our vision of things to come is greatly obscured and confused by the transference to the future of predicted events which, in fact, have already happened, and whereof complete records have been preserved for our information.
Obviously we cannot with profit enter upon the study of unfulfilled prophecy until we have settled our minds as to the predicted things which have already come to pass.
A striking instance of the dislocation of great historic events which happened in accordance with, and in fulfilment of, prophecy, lies before us in the case of that unparalleled affliction which is called in (#Mt 24:21) the "great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world," and which is doubtless the same as that spoken of in (#Jer 30:7) as "the time of Jacob's trouble," and in (@Da 12:1) as "a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation." From the clear indications given in the three prophecies just mentioned, and from the detailed records that have been preserved for us in trustworthy contemporary history, it should be an easy matter to identify the period thus referred to with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. The Lord's own predictions and warnings concerning that event, which was then close at hand, were most explicit. And not only so, but He plainly said that "all these things shall come upon this generation." Besides all that, He specified the very sins for which that generation was to be thus punished beyond anything known before, or that should be thereafter, thus making it a simple impossibility that the "tribulation" and "vengeance" which He predicted could fall upon any subsequent generation.
Yet, in the face of all this, we have today a widely held scheme of prophetic interpretation, which has for its very cornerstone the idea that, when God's time to remember His promised mercies to Israel shall at last have come, He will gather them into their ancient land again, only to pour upon them calamities and distresses far exceeding even the horrors which attended the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is, we are convinced, an error of such magnitude as to derange the whole program of unfulfilled prophecy. Hence our present purpose is to set forth with all possible fulness and care the available proofs, from Scripture and from secular history, whereby it will be clearly established that the "great tribulation" of Matthew 24:21 is now a matter of the distant past.
First then, we direct attention to the fact that, according to the words of Christ, spoken to the leaders of that generation of Jews (#Mt 23:32-39), the punishment, which was then about to fall upon the city and people, was to be of an exhaustive character. His words utterly forbid the idea of another and more severe national calamity reserved for a future day. Nobody (so far as we are aware) questions that the Lord's lament over Jerusalem, recorded in (#Mt 23:37 and Lu 13:34), was wrung from His lips in view of her approaching devastation by the Romans. But if so, then clearly His words to His own disciples, which immediately follow (#Mt 24), and which include the reference to the "great tribulation," refer to the same matter.
But before taking up His discourse to His four disciples, on Mount Olivet, we would call attention to some additional passages of Scripture which tend to show what a tremendous event in the history of God's dealings with the Jews, and in the carrying out of His purposes for the whole world, was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
We have referred already to our Lord's lamentation on leaving the city, as recorded by Matthew. From the Gospel by Luke we learn that, upon approaching Jerusalem on that last visit, He was so distressed in His heart at the realization of the awful calamities soon to overtake the beloved city, that He wept over it (#Lu 19:41). Although His own Personal sufferings, His shame and agony, were much closer at hand; yet it was not for Himself, but for the city, that His heart was torn with grief, and His eyes flowed with tears. This is the record:
"And when He was come near, He beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round (cf. #Lu 21:20), and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Lu 19:41-44).
Here is a wonderfully vivid, accurate and detailed prediction of what was about to befall the beloved city. But we cite the passage at this time for the special purpose of showing how great a matter, in the Lord's view, was the approaching destruction of Jerusalem--great in its historical relation to the Jewish nation, great in the completeness of the overthrow, and great in the unspeakable sufferings that were to attend it.
Once more, when our Lord was being led forth to be crucified, and there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him, He turned to them and said:
"Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall upon us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a (the) green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" (#Lu 23:28-31).
Thus we perceive that, even in that hour, the sufferings which were to come upon Jerusalem were more to the Lord Jesus than were His own.
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES CONCERNING JERUSALEM
Let us also call to mind that in the Old Testament there are many pages of prophecy concerning the capture and desolation of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, showing that, in God's eyes, that was an event of much importance. It was, however, an affair of small magnitude in comparison with the destruction and desolation wrought by the Romans under Titus, whether we regard it from the point of view of the sufferings of the people, or of the numbers who were tortured and slain, or of the extent of the captivity which followed, or of the extinction of the nation, or of the "desolation" of the city, or of the sins for which these judgments were respectively the punishment. For the captivity in Babylon involved only a relatively small number of people; it lasted only seventy years; and the people were removed only a short distance from home. That foretold by Christ involved the complete extermination of national Israel, the scattering of the survivors to the very ends of the earth, and "desolations" of the land and city which have already lasted for nearly two thousand years.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah (especially chapters 4 and 5) show how distressing were the desolations of Jerusalem in those days, and how they grieved the heart of God, of Whom it is written, "In all their affliction, He was afflicted" (#Isa 63:9); and of Whom it is also written that He "doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (#La 3:33). But the afflictions and desolations wrought by the Romans were incomparably greater.
WRATH TO THE UTTERMOST
But the greatness of the calamity which Christ foretold can best be understood by consideration of the gravity of the sin which brought it upon the city and people, incomparison with that for which God used Nebuchadnezzar as the instrument of His vengeance. Christ laid to the charge of the fathers that they had "killed the prophets," and stoned the messengers God had sent to them. This agrees with the record found in (#2Ch 36:14-17:)
"Moreover all the chief of the priests and the people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes and sending; because He had compassion on His people and His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought upon them the King of the Chaldees," etc.
But now (in Christ's day) they despised the words of God spoken by His Son; they mocked Him; and finally they betrayed Him and put Him to death. Who can measure the enormity of this crime? But there was even more. For not only did they reject Christ in Person, but they subsequently rejected, persecuted, killed, and crucified those whom the risen Lord sent to them with the offer of mercy in the Gospel. Christ included this in the iniquity He charged against them; and He said that thereby they would fill up the measure of their fathers.
The apostle Paul was one of those messengers who thus suffered at their hands. Speaking of this wickedness of the Jews he said:
"Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, TO FILL UP THEIR SINS ALWAY; FOR THE WRATH IS COME UPON THEM TO THE UTTERMOST" (#1Th 2:16).
Thus we are distinctly informed, both by the Lord Himself, and by His servant Paul, (1) that the sin and iniquity of that generation of Jews went far beyond the evil deeds of their fathers; and (2) that the "wrath" which was then about to be poured out upon them was to be "to the uttermost."
Such being the facts of the matter, we would ask, first, if there is to be a future generation of Jews upon which is to fall a yet greater tribulation, what is to be the occasion thereof? and what is to be the crime for which that future generation of Israelites is to be punished? What crime can they commit which would be in any way comparable to that of betraying and crucifying their Messiah?
Second, if indeed such a terrible punishment yet awaits "Israel's long afflicted race," how is it that every prophecy which speaks of God's future dealings with that people, holds out the prospects not of wrath to the uttermost, but--of mercy? For we are not aware of any prophecy concerning the remainder of Israel, that gives any hint of such a thing as the greatest of all afflictions being yet in store for them, but rather blessing through believing the Gospel (cf. #Ro 11:23).
For example, we have in Isaiah 51 a prophecy which plainly has its fulfilment in this present era of the gospel; for God there says: "My righteousness is near; My salvation is gone forth," and again, "My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished" (#Isa 51:5,6); and He refers to "the people in whose heart is My law," saying to them, "Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings" (#Isa 51:7). Then comes this promise: "Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away" (v. 11). My opinion is that this verse has its fulfilment in those who are now being saved through the gospel; but we cite it to show that the era to which this prophecy relates is not that which began with the return from Babylon. Hence what is written in the succeeding verses cannot refer to the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, but must refer to that by Titus.
"Awake, Awake! stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and hast wrung them out ..... These two things are come unto thee: who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine and the sword; by whom shall I comfort thee? Thy sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net (are they taken); they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God" (#Isa 51:17-20).
Here is a strikingly accurate description of what took place at the capture of Jerusalem by Titus; and that must be the event referred to, because none would claim that there is yet another "desolation" and "destruction" in store for Jerusalem. This being so, there can be no uncertainty as to the meaning of what follows:
"Therefore, hear now this, thou afflicted and drunken, but not with wine: Thus saith thy Lord, Jehovah, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of His people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of My fury; THOU SHALT NO MORE DRINK IT AGAIN; but I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee" (#Isa 51:21-23).
From this it is dear that Jerusalem and the people of Israel will never suffer again as in the days of the siege by the armies of Titus.
FUTURE TROUBLES FOR MANKIND
We do not lose sight of the fact foretold by the last words of the prophecy we have just quoted, and by many other prophecies, that there are to be sore troubles for the world, distress of nations, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes; these being the final "birth pangs," of whose "beginning" the Lord spake in Matthew 24:8. (#Mt 24:8) No doubt there will be grievous tribulations and persecutions in the "latter days"; and we recall the predicted "woes" of the last three trumpets, the outpourings of the vials of wrath, and !'the hour of trial" which is to "come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth." But those yet future distresses (which were a new revelation given by the risen Christ to His servant John) were not what He spoke of to the disciples on Mount Olivet. What He then predicted was that "great tribulation," exceeding everything of the sort before or since, which was to come upon that generation of Jews, which most of those disciples would live to see, and concerning which they would need, and would thankfully avail themselves of, the warnings and instructions He then gave them.
The yet future troubles for mankind are distinctly mentioned by the Lord in this prophecy, and they are clearly distinguished from the "great tribulation"; for He tells what will happen "after the tribulation of those days" (#Mt 24:29), and then passes on to the subject of His second advent, in connection with which He says, "and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn" (#Mt 24:30). The distinction is perfectly clear.
We do not understand that any comparison is to be made, or was intended by our Lord, between the distresses of the siege of Jerusalem and those which are yet to come upon "all them that dwell upon the earth." The two cases are too widely different for any comparison to be made. The fact is, and it fully verifies the words of Christ, that no city and no people have ever endured such terrible sufferings as those which attended the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman armies (whereof we shall speak more particularly later on); and we may well be thankful for His assurance that none of greater severity will ever befall a city and a people hereafter.
Further discussion of the troubles of the last days will be in order after we have examined our Lord's prophecy on Mount Olivet. We only wish at this point to guard against giving to any of our readers the impression that we are undertaking to show that there is no time of affliction and woe for the inhabitants of the earth at the end of this present age. We are not questioning at all that there will be "tribulation and wrath" during the closing days of this dispensation. Our contention is merely that our Lord, in His Olivet discourse, was not warning His disciples concerning the distresses of that far off period, but concerning those which were close at hand.