Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Is the “Great Tribulation” Really in the Future?
What does the Bible teach about the “great tribulation”? Will it take place during the last seven years of this age -- as Christians who follow the Futurist interpretation believe? Others believe that these things happened before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. The two interpretations cannot be reconciled -- which one is correct?
John D. Keyser
It was a shocking statement that caught the attention of the disciples as they left the Temple in Jerusalem. Certain of them remarked about what a magnificent Temple it was and how remarkable were its stones. But Yeshua said the time would come when one stone would not be left upon another that would not be thrown to the ground! This startling pronouncement aroused immediate questions from the disciples. As they sat upon the Mount of Olives -- opposite the Temple compound -- they asked Yeshua when these things would happen and what sign would be given when these things were about to be fulfilled. In reply to these questions, Yeshua talked about deceivers, wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, the “abomination of desolation” -- and GREAT TRIBULATION!
Those among the Churches of God who hold to the FUTURIST point of view apply the verses about deceivers, wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences to our time -- to the time leading up to the tribulation period which they believe will be the last seven years of this age. The abomination of desolation is regarded as an idol of the Antichrist (or the Antichrist himself) to be set up in the Holy of Holies of a rebuilt Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. When this happens -- according to this scenario -- the Jews will flee into the mountains around Jerusalem to avoid the impending great tribulation.
The FULFILLED interpretation, on the other hand, portrays the deceivers, wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilences as events which Yeshua said would SOON happen -- things that happened before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. When parallel accounts are compared, the abomination of desolation was clearly Gentile armies that surrounded Jerusalem in order to cause its desolation. As a result of Yeshua’s warning, the disciples fled from Jerusalem and Judea. What Yeshua termed the “great tribulation” referred to the judgment that fell upon the Jewish nation -- resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. and the death of over 1,100,000 Jews.
Needless to say, the two scenarios or interpretations (the FUTURIST and the FULFILLED) are eons apart. Many have accepted the futurist view simply because they have not been fully aware of the historical fulfillment. The prophecy in question is recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. In order to get the complete picture, we must read ALL three accounts. Sometimes a detail not fully explained in one is explained further in the other.
The statement Yeshua made about the Temple being destroyed is recorded in all three accounts -- notice:
"As Yeshua left the Temple and was going away, his talmidim [disciples] came and called his attention to its buildings. But he answered them, 'You see all these? Yes! I tell you, they will be totally destroyed -- not a single stone will be left standing!'” (Matthew 24:1-2, Jewish New Testament).
"As Yeshua came out of the Temple, one of the talmidim [disciples] said to him, 'Look, Rabbi! What huge stones! What magnificent buildings!' 'You see all these great buildings?' Yeshua said to him, 'They will be totally destroyed -- not a single stone will be left standing!'” (Mark 13:1-2, ibid.).
"As some people were remarking about the Temple, how beautiful its stonework and memorial decorations were, he said, 'The time is coming when what you see here will be totally destroyed -- not a single stone will be left standing!'” (Luke 21:5-6, ibid.).
“Tell us, WHEN will these things happen?” the disciples then asked, “and what sign will show when all these things are about to be accomplished?” In addition to the questions about the destruction of the Temple, Matthew -- and only Matthew -- recorded the question: “What shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?” Yeshua answered ALL of these questions. However, the primary questioning (recorded by all the writers) was about the destruction of the Temple: “When will these things happen?”
First, Yeshua warned about deceivers in Matthew 24:4-5; Mark 13:5-6 and Luke 21:8. Notice --
"Yeshua replied: 'Watch out! Don’t let anyone fool you! For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Messiah!" and they will lead many astray'” (Matthew 24:4-5 -- Jewish New Testament).
"Yeshua began speaking to them: 'Watch out! Don’t let anyone fool you! Many will come in my name, saying, "I am he!" and they will fool many people'” (Mark 13:5-6 -- ibid.).
"He answered, 'Watch out! Don’t be fooled! For many will come in my name, saying, "I am he!" and, "The time has come!" Don’t go after them'” (Luke 21:8 -- ibid.).
All three accounts warn about deceivers -- but Luke’s account alone explains when these things would occur: “The time HAS COME! Don’t go after them.” This was not something that would take place hundreds or thousands of years into the future! Yeshua was clearly warning his disciples about something that was about to happen in their time!
Did “many” deceivers deceive “many” people in the days of the original disciples? Indeed they did! According to the Jewish historian Josephus, twelve years after Yeshua’s death on the tree a certain impostor by the name of Theudas persuaded a large number of people to follow him to the river Jordan -- which he claimed would part like the Red Sea for them to cross. At the time of Felix (who is mentioned in the Book of Acts), Judea was filled with impostors who Felix had to put to death EVERY DAY -- a statement that indicated there were very many of them! An Egyptian who “pretended to be a prophet” claimed he would show “how” the walls of Jerusalem would fall down at his command. He managed to gather 30,000 disciples to watch the event which, of course, failed to come to pass.
Another prominent deceiver was Simon the sorcerer -- who we read about in Acts 8. He led people to believe that he was the great power of YEHOVAH God. According to Irenaeus, he claimed to be the Son of God and the creator of angels. Justin further tells us he traveled to Rome and was recognized as a god by means of his magical powers. This man was the REAL “Peter” that the Roman Catholics claim was the first pope.
Origen mentions a certain wonder-worker by the name of Dositheus. This deceiver claimed he was the Messiah foretold by Moses. Another such man was Barchochebas -- who claimed he could vomit flames! Bar-jesus -- mentioned in Acts 13:6 -- was a sorcerer and false prophet. These are a few examples of the many deceivers of whom history says there were “a great number,” and of whom Yeshua had prophesied there would be “many.”
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Next, Yeshua remarked in Matthew 24:6-7; Mark 13:7 and Luke 21:9-10:
“You will hear the noise of wars nearby and the news of wars far off; see to it that you don’t become frightened. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come. For peoples will fight each other, nations will fight each other...” (Matthew 24:6-7 -- Jewish New Testament).
“When you hear the noise of wars nearby and the news of wars far off, don’t become frightened. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come” (Mark 13:7 -- ibid.).
“And when you hear of wars and revolutions, don’t panic. For these things must happen first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he told them, “Peoples will fight each other, nations will fight each other...” (Luke 21:9-10 -- ibid.).
When Yeshua gave this prophecy the Roman Empire was experiencing a general peace within its borders; but Yeshua boldly stated that they would soon be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. And they did! Within a very short time the Empire was filled with strife, insurrections and wars.
Before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., four different emperors experienced violent deaths within a space of 18 months. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero “drove a dagger into his throat” and Galba was run down by horsemen who cut off his head. “Thrusting his thumb into the mouth” a soldier carried the horrible trophy about. Otho “stabbed himself” in the breast. Vitellius was killed by slow torture and then “dragged by a hook into the Tiber.” Tacitus, writing of this period in history, used such expressions as “disturbances in Germany,” “commotions in Africa,” “insurrections in Gaul,” “intrigues among the Parthians,” “the war in Britain” and the “war in Armenia.”
Among the Jews it was a turbulent and terrible time. Fifty thousand Jews were killed in Seleucia. There was an uprising against them in Alexandria -- with many killed. In a battle between the Jews and Syrians in Caesarea, 20,000 were killed. During this period the mad emperor Caligula ordered his statue placed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews refused -- and lived in constant fear the armies of Rome would be sent into Palestine. In fact, the fear was so great that many Jews did not even bother to till their fields.
Although there were to be wars and commotions, Yeshua explained to his disciples: “See that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the END is not yet.” Sermons have often been preached in the Churches of God about deceivers, wars, rumors of wars and other things mentioned in Matthew 24 -- as though they were signs of the soon coming return of the Messiah! But instead of these things being signs of the end, Yeshua clearly said: “The end is not yet!” Wars and commotions are of a general nature and, as such, could not provide a definite sign that the end was at hand.
There is something else we should notice: the word “end” in this verse is not the same Greek word used in the expression “end of the world.” When the disciples spoke of “the end of the world” in Matthew 24:3, the word used is sunteleia (Strong’s Concordance, #4930). But in verses 6 and 14, the word translated “end” is telos (Strong’s Concordance, #5056). Not realizing or understanding this, some have taken “end” in verses 6 and 14 to mean the end of the world. However, the primary “end” in these verses -- understood in context -- would be the destruction of Jerusalem. Later, when Yeshua answered the question about the end of the world, he used the term “that day” -- when “heaven and earth shall pass away.” Considering the setting, Barnes is no doubt correct when he says the end here is “the end of the Jewish economy; the destruction of Jerusalem.”
Famines, Pestilences, Earthquakes
Next in order are famines, pestilences and earthquakes. All three of the gospel writers record the words of Yeshua regarding this in Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8 and Luke 21:11:
“...there will be famines and earthquakes in various parts of the world” (Matthew 24:7 -- Jewish New Testament).
“...there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the ‘birth pains’” (Mark 13:8 -- ibid.).
“There will be great earthquakes, there will be epidemics and famines in various places, and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11 -- ibid.).
Now the Bible records a famine “throughout all the world...in the days of Claudius Caesar” (Acts 11:28). Judea was especially hit hard at this time and “the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea” (verse 29). 1 Corinthians 16:1-5 and Romans 15:25-28 mentions that they took up collections of food for the saints there. Historians such as Suetonius mention famine during those years and Tacitus speaks of a “failure in the crops, and a famine consequent thereupon.” Eusebius mentions famines during this time in Rome, Judea and Greece.
Along with famines, Yeshua talked about pestilence, i.e. plagues -- the spread of disease epidemics. Of course, famine and pestilence go hand in hand. Suetonius wrote of pestilence in Rome during the days of Nero which were so severe that “within the space of one autumn there died no less than 30,000 persons.” Josephus records that pestilences raged in Babylonia in 40 A.D. and Tacitus tells of pestilences in Italy in 66 A.D.
During this same period Yeshua said there would be earthquakes in many places as well. Once again, this is verified by the historians. Tacitus records frequent earthquakes at Rome “by which many houses were thrown down” and that “twelve populous cities of Asia fell in ruins from an earthquake.” The Roman financier Seneca -- writing in the year 58 A.D. -- noted: “How often have cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! how many cities have been swallowed up in Syria! how many in Macedonia! how often has Cyprus been wasted by this calamity! how often has Paphos become a ruin! News has often been brought us of the demolition of whole cities at once.” He mentions the earthquake at Campania during the reign of Nero. Hierapolus, Colosse and Laodicea were overwhelmed by an earthquake in 60 A.D. Pompeii was greatly damaged in 63 A.D. -- and there were earthquakes in Crete, Apamea, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos and Judea.
Persecution Against the Disciples
Yeshua warned that his disciples would be afflicted, hated, imprisoned, beaten, killed and brought before rulers and kings for his name’s sake. But he added that they would speak wisdom that their enemies could not gainsay or resist -- notice Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9-13 and Luke 21:12-17:
"At that time you will be arrested and handed over to be punished and put to death, and all peoples will hate you because of me" (Matthew 24:9 -- Jewish New Testament).
"But you, watch yourselves! They will hand you over to the local sanhedrins, you will be beaten up in synagogues, and on my account you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. Indeed, the Good News has to be proclaimed first to all the Goyim. Now when they arrest you and bring you to trial, don’t worry beforehand about what to say. Rather, say whatever is given you when the time comes; for it will not be just you speaking, but the Ruach HaKodesh. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn against their parents and have them put to death; and everyone will hate you because of me. But whoever holds out till the end will be delivered" (Mark 13:9-13 -- ibid.).
"But before all this, they will arrest you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons; and you will be brought before kings and governors. This will all be on account of me, but it will prove an opportunity for you to bear witness. So make up your minds not to worry, rehearsing your defense beforehand; for I myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that no adversary will be able to resist or refute. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends; some of you they will have put to death; and everyone will hate you because of me" (Luke 21:12-17 -- ibid.).
That such persecution came upon the followers of Yeshua in those years is well known. They faced “great persecution” (Acts 8:1) and were “imprisoned and beat in every synagogue” (Acts 22:19). When called upon to answer charges, they were given a wisdom that their persecutors simply could not resist (Acts 6:9-10). Also, they were hated and some were even put to death (Acts 7:59; 12:2).
Adding to all this chaos, it was revealed by Yeshua that “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:11). Peter, who was present when Yeshua gave this prophecy, later wrote about “false prophets” that has risen and of “many” that followed their deceiving ways (2 Peter 2). The apostle John -- who also heard Yeshua give this prophecy -- recorded its fulfillment in 1 John 4:1: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Paul clearly spoke of “false apostles, deceitful workers” in 2 Corinthians 11:13. He reveals in 2 Timothy 2:17-18 that Hymenaeus and Philetus taught false doctrines and overthrew the faith of many. By the time Paul wrote to Titus, there were “many...deceivers...who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not” (Titus 1:10-11).
The true message of Yeshua and the disciples was perverted by betrayals, false prophets, iniquity and the love of many waxing cold. “But he that shall endure [such things] unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13) -- both now and hereafter. The word “end” here is to be understood in a GENERAL SENSE, for unlike the use of this word in verses 6 and 14, this particular reference does not have the definite article in the Greek text.
Gospel to Be Preached to the Nations
In Matthew 24:14 we read -- “And this Good News about the Kingdom will be announced throughout the whole world as a witness to all the Goyim. It is then that the end will come” (JNT). Unless we remove this verse clear out of its setting, “the end” written about here is the end or DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM! When the disciples spoke of “the end of the world in Matthew 24:3, the word used is sunteleia (Strong’s Concordance, #4930). However, in verses 6 and 7, the word translated ”end" is telos (Strong’s Concordance, #5056). Not realizing this, many have taken “end” in verses 6 and 14 to mean the end of the world! But the primary end in these verses -- understood in context -- is the DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM. Later, when Yeshua answered the question about the end of the world, he used the term “that day” -- when “heaven and earth shall pass away.” This clearly was the question that Yeshua was answering in the verses before -- and the verses that follow are still speaking about Jerusalem and Judea. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but “first” the Good News of the Kingdom of God would be preached to all nations -- see Mark 13:10.
It was a fantastic prophecy! Picture the scene in your mind’s eye: Here, on the Mount of Olives, Yeshua spoke these words to unknown, insignificant men. Who would have supposed, in their wildest dreams, that their names would become known around the known world of the time -- and that even in our day (almost 2,000 years later) the seeds of YEHOVAH’s truth they planted would still be producing fruit? Who would have even supposed that their message would ever have spread beyond that immediate area?
Such a vast evangelical program reaching all nations seemed almost impossible of fulfillment -- but it was! In a very real sense the gospel message did indeed go to all nations of the time BEFORE the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.!
The seed was sown on the day of Pentecost in 31 A.D. There were present in Jerusalem “devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) who heard the Good News preached by Peter. Three thousand were converted and many of these returned to their various homelands and shared the gospel. Later -- when persecution raised itself against the Ecclesia of YEHOVAH God at Jerusalem -- believers were scattered and “went everywhere preaching the word” throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1, 4). Philip took the message to Samaria with great results and was later directed by YEHOVAH to a high ranking government official from Ethiopia who was converted on the spot. Tradition records that this man took the Good News to the African continent where many others were converted because of his inspiring testimony.
Peter took the gospel to the “Gentiles” at the house of Cornelius -- an event that was a turning point in the missionary activities of the church (Acts 10, 11). Eventually Peter took the message to Rome itself -- see our article Did the Apostle Peter Ever Visit Rome? By the time of emperor Nero the Christians in Rome had grown so numerous that they aroused the jealousy of the government. The story of the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D. -- for which the Christians were falsely accused -- is well known. In his letter to the Christians at Rome, Paul opens by saying: “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8). In his closing words of this letter he speaks of the gospel as having been “made known to all nations” (Romans 16:26).
This even included far away England. Records Newton: “There is absolute certainty that Christianity was planted in this country in the days of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem.” Eusebius -- and also Theodoret -- recorded that the apostles preached the gospel in all the world and that some of them “passed beyond the ocean to the Britannic isles.” By the time that Paul wrote his epistle to the Colossians, he could rightfully say: “The gospel...is come unto you, as it is in all the world...the gospel which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Colossians 1:6, 23). By 70 A.D., the gospel had gone forth to the world for a witness. No longer was YEHOVAH’s message to man limited to one nation or race!
The Abomination of Desolation
When Yeshua prophesied of the Temple being destroyed, the disciples then asked: “...Rabbi, if this is so, WHEN will these events take place? And WHAT SIGN will show that they are about to happen?” (Luke 21:7). As we have just seen, Yeshua mentioned things of a general nature that would occur first. Now, at this juncture, he gives a specific sign -- when they would see “the abomination of desolation,” they would know that the destruction of Jerusalem was “nigh.” Upon seeing this, they were to flee quickly into the mountains.
Matthew 24:15-16: “So when you see the abomination that causes devastation spoken about through the prophet Dani’el standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand the allusion), that will be the time for those in Y’huda to escape to the hills” (Jewish New Testament).
Mark 13:14: “Now when you see the abomination that causes devastation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand the allusion), that will be the time for those in Y’hudah to escape to the hills” (ibid.).
Luke 21:20-24: “However, when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies, then you are to understand that she is about to be destroyed. Those in Y’hudah must escape to the hills, those inside the city must get out, and those in the country must not enter it. For these are the days of vengeance, when everything that has been written in the Tanakh will come true. What a terrible time it will be for the pregnant women and nursing mothers! For there will be great distress in the Land and judgment on the people. Some will fall by the edge of the sword, others will be carried into all the countries of the Goyim, and Yerushalayim will be trampled down by the Goyim until the age of the Goyim has run its course” (ibid.).
Notice now -- step by step — the information contained in these parallel accounts:
1/. Where Matthew and Mark record: “when you see the abomination of devastation...that will be the time for those in Y’huda to escape to the hills,” Luke writes: “...when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies, then you are to understand that she is about to be destroyed. Those in Y’huda must escape to the hills...” What was to become a devastation or desolation, then, was JERUSALEM!
A comparison of the parallel accounts in the gospels, and the fact that Yeshua was answering questions about the destruction of Jerusalem -- all clearly show that what was to become a devastation was the city of Jerusalem.
2/. Looking again at the parallel accounts you will notice that what Matthew and Mark refer to as the “abomination” that would devastate Jerusalem, Luke (using plain language) shows this would be accomplished by ARMIES -- “Gentile” armies: “However, when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies, then you are to understand that she is about to be destroyed....and Yerushalayim will be trampled down by the Goyim” (Luke 21:20-24).
“Abomination” is a word that denotes anything that is especially loathsome or detestable. This certainly fits the Jewish feelings towards idol-worshipping Gentiles -- intent on destruction -- taking a stand against their beloved city.
3/. In Matthew’s account we find that the abomination (Gentile army) would be “standing in the Holy Place” and he adds the words: “let the reader understand the allusion.” Mark’s account also uses language that is somewhat veiled and includes the words; “let the reader understand the allusion;” but Luke -- on the other hand -- writes his account in plain language saying: “However, when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies...” Luke gives the explanation for the veiled language; and so -- it should be carefully noted -- does not include the phrase “let the reader understand the allusion.”
By comparing scriptures we can clearly see that the term Holy Place in Matthew 24:15 refers to Jerusalem. Even after Yeshua was rejected there Jerusalem was still commonly referred to as the holy city -- see Matthew 27:53.
What is called the Holy Place is explained by Luke as the area that would be occupied by armies surrounding Jerusalem. The Matthew Henry Commentary says it well: “Jerusalem was the holy city, Canaan the holy land, the Mt. Moriah, which lay about Jerusalem, for its nearness to the temple was, they thought, in a particular manner holy ground; on the country lying round about Jerusalem the Roman army was encamped, THAT WAS THE ABOMINATION THAT MADE DESOLATE” (Vol. 5, p. 352).
According to Yeshua, Jerusalem was destined for destruction. But a few days after Yeshua made these chilling pronouncements, he commissioned his disciples to wait in this very city -- to be imbued with power from heaven. They were to be his witnesses throughout the known world -- including Jerusalem -- where their work would start from (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:49). But if the city was to be destroyed, how could the disciples witnessing there survive? Were they to perish along with those who rejected the Messiah and screamed “Crucify him, crucify him”? Or would there be a way of escape? According to the Bible their witness in the city of Jerusalem was to continue up to a certain point -- only until they saw a certain sign -- and then they were to flee from the city!
Everyone knows the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by Roman armies in 70 A.D. However, before this happened, and in obedience to Yeshua’s warning, every Christian fled and therefore escaped death at the hands of the Romans. How this took place is truly amazing!
In 65 A.D., Florus, the most notorious of Caesar’s procurators, took over control of Judea and goaded the Jews to the point of rebellion -- a rebellion he found he could not handle. To control the situation, Cestius Gallus took over and marched his armies into Palestine. After subduing a number of towns he advanced toward to Jerusalem and began to assault the city after camping nearby for three days.
Seeing the city compassed with armies, the disciples then knew its destruction was near -- exactly according to Yeshua’s statement. They realized this was their sign to flee! But how could they flee when the city was surrounded by the Romans? Yeshua had not explained this in his prophecy -- but notice what happened!
A Way of Escape
When Cestius was at the point of taking the city, suddenly, as Josephus says, “without any reason in the world,” he withdrew his forces and hurriedly departed! The Jews, who were about to open the gates in surrender, couldn’t believe their eyes! Filled with courage, they pursued the retreating army, inflicting on it a major disaster. Following this retreat there was a brief interlude before the armies of Rome would return with reinforcements to destroy the city. During this interval there was time for Yeshua’s followers to flee Jerusalem. What took place is summed up by Thomas Newton:
"We learn from ecclesiastical histories, that at this juncture all who believed in Christ departed Jerusalem, and removed to Pella and other places beyond the river Jordan; so that they all marvelously escaped the general shipwreck of their countrymen; and we do not read anywhere that so much as one of them perished in the destruction of Jerusalem" (Dissertations on the Prophecies [London: 1754], p. 389).
According to Adam Clarke, “it is very remarkable that not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem though there were many there when Cestius Gallus invested the city” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 5, p. 228). Without a doubt it was a marvelous escape! What a remarkable confirmation of Yeshua’s words! What an amazing fulfillment of prophecy!
After Cestius Gallus had retreated with his troops, Nero ordered Vespasian to take over. He, in turn, ordered his son Titus to go to Alexandria and bring the fifth and tenth legions from Egypt to subdue the rebellious Jews. But a crisis in Rome caused Vespasian to return there -- where he was hailed as the new Emperor in 70 A.D. As result, the job of capturing Jerusalem was left in the hands of Titus who swiftly brought about its destruction.
In the verses where Matthew and Mark use the same somewhat veiled expression “the abomination that causes devastation,” Luke -- using plain language -- shows this to be Gentile armies compassing Jerusalem to bring about its devastation. This interpretation is solidly founded upon the Bible. With it the gospel accounts are COMPLIMENTARY -- not contradictory. It is confirmed by history and it glorifies Yeshua the Messiah. It plainly demonstrates how his words were fulfilled and his warning heeded -- thus providing a great deliverance and blessing for the Christians of that time!
The Futurist Interpretation
Having laid out the exact and only possible fulfillment of Yeshua’s words, let us consider the now-popular FUTURIST interpretation -- that the “abomination that causes devastation” will be an idol placed in the Holy of Holies of a rebuilt Jewish temple. One publication expresses it this way:
“The Jews -- who will have...restored Herod’s Temple, and be in league with Antichrist -- will have a visit by the False Prophet who shall bring an image of the Antichrist into Jerusalem and wheel it into the Temple....When this image of the Antichrist is taken into the Jewish Temple, that will be the sign Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24, the Abomination of Desolation” (Oral Roberts, How to be Personally Prepared for the Second Coming of Christ, p. 38).
Another equally misguided writer has this to say: “This image will be placed in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and is the ‘abomination of desolation’ to which the Lord made reference in his Olivet discourse” (Richard W. De Haan, The Antichrist and Armageddon, p. 13).
William F. Dankenbring, in his book The Last Days of Planet Earth adds to these misconceptions:
“Here we need to understand a basic and fundamental Bible truth. In prophecy, type often blends subtly into antitype. That means, there is often a comparatively minor fulfillment of a major prophetic event pictured for the 'last days.' Even so, the wicked Antiochus Ephiphanes, who desecrated the temple, and abolished the daily sacrifice, is merely a TYPE of a king in these latter days, who will once again invade the Middle East, conquer Jerusalem, and raise up the abomination of desolation!" (p. 182).
There are some very serious objections to these opinions --
1/. The setting up of an idol in the Holy of Holies is something the enemy could not do until such a time as the Temple would be in the enemies’ possession. Since the Temple would be the LAST THING yielded to an enemy in battle, by this time the city would have ALREADY BEEN CAPTURED. It would be too late for Christians to flee then! An effective sign to warn Christians to flee would need to come BEFORE the capture of the city -- not afterward!!
2/. The prophecy indicates that “the abomination” would destroy Jerusalem AND the Temple -- would cause devastation. This is EXACTLY what the Roman armies did. But with the teaching that “the abomination” will be some sort of idol set up in the Temple, there is a definite contradiction. HOW in the world could the abomination be an idol set up in the Temple -- when the Temple was to be destroyed BY the abomination?! We all know that idols are abominations in YEHOVAH’s eyes, but they are NOT capable of destruction!
3/. “The abomination” that causes devastation was to be something that could be SEEN by the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem. “Now when you see the abomination”; that is, “when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies,” then, “that will be the time for those in Y’huda to escape to the hills.” It is quite evident that Yeshua was not talking about an idol in the Holy of Holies -- for such could not be seen by the population of Jerusalem and Judea! Only the high priest entered the Holy of Holies -- and that was only on the Day of Atonement. None of the ordinary Jews would dare enter the Holy of Holies.
4/. The futurist interpretation regarding the abomination that causes devastation requires a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Some, strangely, even offer this as proof that the Temple will be rebuilt. This, of course, is circular reasoning! Their scenario goes something like this: Since “the abomination that causes devastation” will involve the inner sanctum of the Temple, “it is certain that the Temple will be rebuilt. Prophecy demands it” (Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, p. 56). This is absolute nonsense!! The Bible makes no such demand -- for WHAT Temple was the subject of Matthew 24 and the parallel gospel accounts? Was Yeshua talking about the Temple of his day or a rebuilt Temple 2,000 years later?
It is quite evident that Yeshua spoke of the Temple that was then standing IN HIS DAY; he talked about the stones that it contained, had the disciples look at it, and answered questions about it! Are we -- in all seriousness -- expected to believe that he was not actually speaking of that Temple at all, but of a rebuilt Temple -- a different Temple, a Temple made of different stones, a Temple to be built 2,000 years later? The answer should be evident! Yeshua was speaking of the Temple of his day and it was that Temple which was to be destroyed by Gentile armies -- a prophecy that was dramatically fulfilled in 70 A.D.
The disciples asked when the Temple would be destroyed and what sign would be given them in warning. “Yeshua replied...” -- he told them when, he gave them a sign -- as we have seen. But those who think the prophecy of Matthew 24 refers to a future Temple are at a COMPLETE LOSS to show one verse in this chapter where Yeshua ever answered questions pertaining to a future Temple!
The misguided teaching that the abomination that causes devastation is sometime yet future not only requires a future and different Temple, but such a Temple -- instead of being destroyed -- is pictured as a place where the Antichrist will set up an idol for worship. If so, this would be a preserved Temple -- a place of false religion -- not a destroyed Temple. The prophecy of Matthew 24 and the parallel accounts NEVER make mention of a future Temple. That is a FACT, pure and simple!
As for Dankenbring’s statements about the prophecy being dual -- a type and antitype -- just where in YEHOVAH’s word is such an idea promulgated? You can search the Bible from cover to cover and you will not find a statement indicating that prophecy is dual.
Flee to the Mountains
The area from which the disciples were to flee was Judea -- and especially Jerusalem. They were to flee into the mountains. The setting is definitely Palestine, and the time -- as indicated by the prophecy itself, as well as the historical fulfillment -- was back in the FIRST CENTURY!
There are a number of popular books on prophecy that make the following wild claims: “Where will the place of safety be? Some have speculated it might be Petra, the Rose-red City of Rock....an indication that this may be so is found in Isaiah, chapter 16. We read: ‘Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion’” (William F. Dankenbring, The Last Days of Planet Earth, pps. 335-336). Talk about stretching scripture to promote the idea of Petra!
Another book -- The Late Great Planet Earth -- makes this equally ridiculous statement: “The residents of Israel who believe in Jesus will flee to the mountains and canyons of Petra for divine protection” (Hal Lindsey, p. 56) -- as though what Yeshua mentioned is still in the future! And why in the world Petra? The Bible nowhere says this! William Blackstone, in 1935, even sent workers to Petra where they placed Hebrew Bibles (encased in copper boxes) in some of the caves in that area. He believed the Jews would flee there during the tribulation period and read his Bibles!!
Futurism commonly takes verses that were fulfilled long ago and applies them to some current event. People unfortunately take Biblical passages OUT OF CONTEXT and minimize or ignore the historical fulfillment that is clearly intended. WHY were the disciples given a sign to flee into the mountains prior to 70 A.D.? The Bible goes on to explain.
Then Shall Be Great Tribulation
"For there will be trouble then worse than there has ever been from the beginning of the world until now, and there will be nothing like it again! Indeed, if the length of this time had not been limited, no one would survive; but for the sake of those who have been chosen, its length will be limited" (Matthew 24:21-22 -- Jewish New Testament).
"For there will be worse trouble at that time than there has ever been from the very beginning, when God created the universe, until now; and there will be nothing like it again. Indeed, if God had not limited the duration of the trouble, no one would survive; but for the sake of the elect, those whom he has chosen, he has limited it" (Mark 13:19-20 -- ibid.).
Luke’s account reads as follows: “For these are the days of vengeance, when everything that has been written in the Tanakh will come true. What a terrible time it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers! For there will be great distress in the Land and judgment on the people. Some will fall by the edge of the sword, others will be carried into all the countries of the Goyim, and Yerushalayim will be trampled down by the Goyim until the age of the Goyim has run its course” (Luke 21:22-24, Jewish New Testament).
Unless we choose to totally ignore the setting, it is manifestly evident that the tribulation or “trouble” mentioned here is that which was to envelop the people of Jerusalem and Judea -- trouble that would result in the destruction of their city and Temple. General things like wars, famines, pestilence and earthquakes would occur -- none of which would be the SPECIFIC SIGN of the impending destruction. But -- when they would see Jerusalem surrounded by armies -- then they would know the desolation was near. This would be the SIGN for them to flee into the mountains, “then you are to understand that she is about to be destroyed.”
The Jewish historian, Josephus, was an eye-witness to the unparalleled calamity that ended in the fall and devastation of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. His detailed and scholarly account -- Wars of the Jews -- was published around 75 A.D. -- while the events of which he wrote were still fresh in the memory of thousands. His history provides an incredible confirmation of the prophecy Yeshua gave, even down to fine details. Since he was not a Christian, no one can accuse him of slanting his material to match the prophecy.
The trouble in Jerusalem began over differences between the Jews and the Roman Empire. There were also differences between the Jews themselves -- some favored a revolt against Roman rule, while others hoped for a peaceful settlement. Those who favored revolt took a violent turn and began killing those who disagreed with them. Troops were sent in to control the mob. War was inevitable -- not only was there unrest at Jerusalem, but also throughout the land.
Records Josephus --
“Every city was divided into two armies, and the preservation of the one part was in the destruction of the other; so the daytime was spent in shedding blood, and the night in fear -- which was of the two the more terrible....It was then common to see cities filled with dead bodies, still lying unburied; those of old men mixed with infants, all dead and scattered about together; women also lay amongst them, without any covering for their nakedness: You might then see the whole province full of inexpressible calamities while the dread of still more barbarous practices which were threatened, was everywhere greater than what had been already perpetrated” (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co., 1957 edition), 2, 18:2).
Jews in Alexandria (Egypt) that revolted against the Romans “were destroyed unmercifully; and this, their destruction, was complete...houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and fifty thousands of them lay dead upon heaps” (ibid., 2, 18:8).
In one hour, according to Josephus, over 20,000 were killed in Caesarea and the battle continued until “all Caesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants...Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood, nor was it exempted from any kind of misery or calamity” (ibid., 3, 4:1). So much horror was in the land that one prominent man took a sword and killed first his aged father and mother, his wife and children, then took his own life in order to save his family from a worse fate. His family willingly submitted to their deaths at his hand.
In Jerusalem, those of the revolting party were known as Zealots. In their fanaticism they “fell upon the people [who disagreed with them] as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” In this manner 12,000 of the more eminent inhabitants perished. “The terror that was upon all the people was so great, that no one had courage enough either to weep openly for the dead man that was related to him, or bury him...those that mourned for others soon underwent the same death with those whom they mourned for” (ibid., 4, 5:3).
Slaughter continued until “the outer temple was all of it overflowed with blood, and that day they saw 8,500 dead bodies there.” Included in this number were “those that a little before had worn the sacred garments and presided over the public worship, which were cast out naked to be the food of dogs and wild beasts.” Even those who came with sacrifices were slain, “and sprinkled that altar...with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves” (ibid., 5, 1:3).
“The noise also of those that were fighting was incessant, both by day and by night; but the lamentations of those that mourned exceeded the other...their calamities came perpetually, one upon another....But for the seditious themselves, they fought against each other, while they trod upon the dead bodies as they lay heaped one upon another, and taking up a mad rage from those dead bodied that were under the feet, became the fiercer thereupon...and when they had resolved upon anything, they executed it without mercy, and omitted no method of torment or of barbarity” (ibid., 5, 1:5).
Little wonder Yeshua said: “Daughters of Yerushalayim, don’t cry for me; cry for yourselves and your children!” (Luke 23:28) -- knowing that all these things would come upon that generation! It is a fact that many Jews were killed by Jews -- not by the enemy outside the walls. Josephus states that the Jews “never suffered from the Romans anything worse than they made each other suffer.” Such insanity shows the validity of Yeshua’s words when he likened that generation to a man possessed of demons -- see Matthew 12:43-45).
Food became scarce within the walls of Jerusalem, and many who ventured out by night to search for food were caught by the Romans, “tormented with all sorts of torture” -- and then crucified in the sight of those on the walls. Incredible as it may sound, about 500 people were killed in this manner EVERY DAY until the number finally became so great that there was not enough room for all the crosses -- nor enough crosses for all the victims. Often, to save room, several victims were nailed to the same stake or tree. Imagine the torment of those who could see or hear their loved ones being tortured in such a manner just a short distance from the walls. Many had their hands cut off (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5, 11:1-2).
“Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city....Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day...the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench” (ibid., 5, 12:3; 6, 1:1).
Josephus goes on to record --
“The number of those that perished by famine in the city was prodigious, and their miseries were unspeakable. For if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear, a war was commenced presently, and the dearest friends fell fighting one another about it....Children pulled the very morsel that their fathers were eating, out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do to their infants: and when those that were almost dead were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives....
“The seditious...also invented terrible methods of torture to discover where any food was, and they were these: to stop up the passage of the privy parts of the miserable wretches, and to drive sharp stakes up their fundamentals! and a man was forced to bear what it is terrible even to hear” (ibid., 5, 10:3).
In one horrible instance recorded by Josephus, a woman of prominence killed and roasted her infant son. When she had eaten half, she hid the other half. When certain rebellious Jews smelled the scent of roasted flesh, they threatened to cut her throat if she did not reveal to them where it was. She then uncovered the remaining half of the little body, saying: “Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother.” But even those hardened men, horrified at the sight, left the house trembling (ibid., 6, 3:4).
Without a doubt these horrifying incidents fulfilled the prophetic warning given years before in Deuteronomy 28:49-57:
“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from afar...which shall not regard the person of the old, nor show favor to the young....And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters....The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward...her young one...and toward her children...for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, where with thine enemy shall distress thee.”
Many, attempting to escape from the city, swallowed pieces of gold in order to take them unnoticed. Once the Romans realized this, soldiers cut these unfortunate people open searching for gold. “Nor does it seem to me that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night about 2,000 of these deserters were thus dissected” (ibid., 5, 13:4).
The Destruction of the Temple
Finally the Roman legions broke through the wall of the Temple and an enraged soldier set it alight.
“While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity; but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests, were all slain in the same manner....The flame was also carried a long way and made an echo, together with the groans of those that were slain...nor can one imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise...one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething-hot, as full of fire on every part of it” (ibid., 6, 5:1).
As the Temple burned, the Jews knew that all hope for deliverance was gone. Out of desperation people crowded into the aqueducts and city sewers -- only to be discovered by the Romans and put to death.
It is highly significant that the very date the Temple was torched by the armies of Titus, was the same date that Nebuchadnezzar had burned it centuries before! “But, as for that house, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire, and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages; it was the tenth day of the month Ab, upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon”! (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6, 4:5).
In Deuteronomy 28:68 the Bible warned: “The LORD will send you back to Egypt in galleys, by a route which I told you you should not see again. There you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but none will buy.” Josephus tells how those that survived the conflagration of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas were led away captives -- some being taken into Egypt! “As for the rest of the multitude that were above 17 years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines...and sold the rest of the multitude with their wives and children, and every one of them at a low price, and that because such were sold were very many, and the buyers few” (ibid., 6, 8:9).
There were 97,000 that were sold as slaves and 1,100,000 people that perished during the terrible TRIBULATION of those days, “the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation, but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were suddenly shut up by an army....The multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destruction that either men or God ever brought upon the world” (ibid., 6, 9:3,4).
Josephus continues —
"I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly:-- that neither did any other city suffer such miseries, or did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world" (ibid., 5, 10:5).
These terrible calamities that engulfed the Jews were “the GREATEST of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that EVER were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations...it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were.”
In a footnote to this passage in Josephus, the translator adds this comment —
"That these calamities of the Jews, who were our Savior’s murderers, were to be the GREATEST that had ever been since the beginning of the world, our Savior had directly foretold (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19; Luke 21:23, 24) and that they proved to be such accordingly, Josephus is here a most authentic witness" (ibid, Preface).
Writes Loraine Boettner:
“There have been, of course, other periods of tribulation or suffering in which greater numbers of people were involved, and which continued for longer periods of time. But considering the physical, moral, and religious aspects, suffering never reached a greater degree of awfulness and intensity than in the siege of Jerusalem. Nor have so many people ever perished in the fall of any other city. We think of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima as causing the greatest mass horror of anything in modern time. Yet only about one-tenth as many people were killed in Hiroshima as in the fall of Jerusalem. Add to the slaughter of such a great number the bestiality of Jews to Jews and of Roman to Jews and the anguish of a people who knew they were forsaken of God, and we see the justification for Christ’s words, ‘For then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been seen from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be!‘” (The Millennium, 1957, p. 202).
When Yeshua spoke of tribulation “worse than there has ever been from the beginning of the world until now” he was using a proverbial form of expression. Similar expressions can be found throughout the scriptures, such as: “I will give thee [Solomon] riches, and wealth, and honor, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like” (II Chronicles 1:12). Some might argue that there have been greater times of tribulation since 70 A.D. They could also argue that there have been kings with more wealth and honor than Solomon. But understanding how this expression was used in the Bible, we should not try to press it beyond its intended meaning. Without a doubt, the HISTORICAL fulfillment fully meets the requirements of the prophecy about great tribulation and devastation upon the land of Judea and its people.
Knowing fully well the intensity of that trouble or tribulation, Yeshua had prophesied:
"Indeed, if the length of this time had not been limited, no one would survive; but for the sake of those who have been chosen, its length will be limited" (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20 -- Jewish New Testament).
We must keep in mind that the reference here is to the area upon which the tribulation or trouble of those days fell -- Judea and Jerusalem. We should not attempt to wrest it from its proper setting!
In a passage from the Old Testament concerning judgment that fell upon this same area, we read: “Your land is a waste, your cities burnt down; before your eyes, the yield of your soil is consumed by strangers -- a wasteland as overthrown by strangers!....Had not the LORD of Hosts left us some survivors, we should be like Sodom, another Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:7, 9). In the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, of course, no flesh was saved alive. It was total destruction.
There is an obvious similarity here. In the Old Testament, “had not the LORD” left a remnant (some survivors), no flesh would have been saved alive. In the New Testament, “if God” had not limited the duration of the trouble, no one would survive. The meaning is basically the same in both cases. It is not necessary (as some would do) to read atomic bombs, biological warfare and modern times into this passage. Josephus informs us that “the population was almost annihilated...there was no part of Judea, which did not partake of the calamities of the capital city.”
Though the Christians had successfully escaped into the mountains, living without housing or provisions, they too could have eventually been destroyed by sword or famine. So -- for their sake -- those terrible days were shortened. YEHOVAH God had placed definite, foreordained limits: “Yerushalayim will be trampled down by the Goyim [Gentiles -- Roman armies] until the age of the Goyim has run its course” (Luke 21:24 -- JNT).
Some people pull these five words, “the age of the Goyim” right out of their setting and try to stretch them far into the future. H. A. Ironside wrote that this is “the entire period during which the nation of the Jews, the city of Jerusalem, and the land of Palestine are under Gentile domination. This began with Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Palestine and will end at the Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven at the close of the Great Tribulation” (The Great Parenthesis, 1945, p. 94). Unfortunately, this is nothing but Scofield dispensationalism at its worst. There is simply NO SCRIPTURAL BASIS for this interpretation. Figuring from the time Vespasian received his commission from Nero and declared war on Jerusalem (February, 67 A.D.) until the end of the siege and destruction of the city and Temple (August, 70 A.D.), this treading down of Jerusalem -- in actual time -- was three and a half years.
Signs in the Sun, Moon and Stars
“But immediately following the trouble of those times, the sun will grow dark, the moon will stop shining, and the stars will far from the sky, and the powers in heaven will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29 -- Jewish New Testament).
Luke’s account of these events states: “There will appear signs in the sun, moon and stars; and on earth, nations will be in anxiety and bewilderment at the sound and surge of the sea, as people faint with fear at the prospect of what is overtaking the world; for the powers in heaven will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26 -- Jewish New Testament).
We are now seeing a description of the state of things after the tribulation or “trouble of those times.” There is no doubt that the trouble referred to here is the SAME as the one mentioned previously. Yeshua said there would be great tribulation and except “those days” were shortened no flesh would be saved alive. And then we read: “...immediately after the tribulation of those days.” Mark’s testimony says: “But in those days after that tribulation...” Are we to understand, then, these expressions about the darkening of the sun, moon and stars literally or figuratively? Clearly, Yeshua used these expressions the SAME WAY as the Old Testament prophets did: figuratively. They commonly used these expressions as part of literary devices to describe various disasters: the sun shall go down, sun darkened, light darkened in the heavens, no light in the heavens, the moon shall not give her light, stars shall fall, stars darkened, cloudy day, darkness at noon day, etc.
This same type of wording was used to describe the destruction that came upon Egypt: “Thus saith the Lord God: I will also make the multitude of Egypt to cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He and his people...shall be brought to destroy the land...the day shall be DARKENED...a cloud shall cover her, and her daughters shall go into captivity” (Ezekiel 30:6-18). “And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the SUN with a cloud, and the MOON shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make DARK over thee, and set DARKNESS upon thy land...I shall bring thy destruction...I shall make the land of Egypt desolate” (Ezekiel 32:2-15).
The same type of wording was used to describe the destruction that came upon Idumea:
“All the host of heaven shall MOLDER. The heavens shall be ROLLED UP like a scroll, and all their host shall WITHER like a leaf withering on the vine....Its streams shall be TURNED TO PITCH and its soil TO SULFUR. Its land shall become BURNING PITCH....Through the ages it shall lie in ruins; through the aeons none shall traverse it” (Isaiah 34:4-10).
In the prophecy about the fall of Babylon, which was to come “as destruction from the Almighty,” we read:
“Lo! The day of the LORD is coming...to make the earth a desolation, to wipe out the sinners upon it. The stars and constellations of heaven SHALL NOT GIVE OFF THEIR LIGHT; the sun shall be DARK when it rises, and the moon SHALL DIFFUSE NO GLOW...Therefore shall heaven BE SHAKEN, and earth LEAP OUT OF ITS PLACE...Behold, I stir up the Medes against them...and Babylon...shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah overturned by God” (Isaiah 13:9-21).
The fulfillment of this prophecy is evident -- the kingdom was given to that ancient people known as the Medes (Daniel 5:28-31). This was not an end-of-the-world-prophecy -- even though it was described in language about the sun, moon and stars being darkened.
This same type of wording or literary device was used in describing the Old Testament destruction of Jerusalem: “I will stretch out My arm against Judah and against all who dwell in Jerusalem...that day shall be a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of calamity and desolation, a day of DARKNESS and deep GLOOM, a day of DENSEST CLOUDS...the whole land shall be consumed” (Zephaniah 1:4, 15, 18).
“Now, then, dwellers of Jerusalem and men of Judah...in that day, a roaring shall resound over him like that of the sea; and then he shall look below and, behold, distressing DARKNESS, with light; DARKNESS, in its lowering clouds” (Isaiah 5:3, 30).
“For thus said the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem...I look at the earth, it is UNFORMED and VOID; at the skies, and their LIGHT IS GONE...for this earth MOURNS, and skies are DARK above...” (Jeremiah 4:3, 23, 28).
Jeremiah warned them to turn to YEHOVAH in repentance “before He brings DARKNESS, and...while you look for LIGHT, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross DARKNESS” (Jeremiah 13:9, 10, 16-19). “Assuredly, it shall be NIGHT for you...and it shall be DARK for you...the SUN shall set on the prophets...and the day shall be DARKENED for them...and Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins” (Micah 3:6, 12).
Now, obviously -- when Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and others -- it was not the literal sun, moon and stars that were darkened. When Idumea became a desolation it was not the literal stars of heaven that were dissolved. And again, when Egypt and Jerusalem were overthrown and became desolate under the attack of Nebuchadnezzar, it was not the literal sun, moon or stars that were darkened. These expressions or literary devices symbolized very dark times for those various places. The bottom line is, if YEHOVAH God saw fit to use these symbols in the Old Testament, WHY would we suppose He would inspire the Messiah to use different terms in talking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives?
As we have clearly seen, the prophecy of Yeshua about the tribulation or trouble pertained to a CERTAIN CITY — Jerusalem; to a CERTAIN LAND -- Judea; to a CERTAIN PEOPLE -- the Jewish nation. What would be the condition of things for that city, nation and people “immediately after the tribulation of those days”? Would they experience only a passing tribulation after which conditions would return to normal? No -- absolutely not! Transferring the expression about the darkened sun, moon and stars from symbol to fact, the picture is one of a complete overthrow, destruction and desolation! This interpretation is solidly built upon the Bible and its accuracy is soundly confirmed by history.
The Return of the Son of Man
“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, all the tribes of the Land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with tremendous power and glory. He will send out his angels with a great shofar; and they will gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31 -- Jewish New Testament).
“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with tremendous power and glory. He will send out his angels and gather together his chosen people from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27 -- ibid.).
“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with tremendous power and glory. When these things start to happen, stand up and hold your heads high; because you are about to be liberated!” (Luke 21:27-28 -- ibid.).
It would seem that we have here before us a description of the second coming of the Messiah. For this reason, futurists start here and work backward through Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. By this method they then place the tribulation, abomination of desolation, earthquakes, famines, pestilences and wars as end-time events. But in so doing, the very foundational theme of the prophecy -- THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE -- must be ignored!
Some fringe elements argue that the coming of the Messiah did occur at this time -- resurrection, rapture and all -- in 70 A.D. However, the weakness of this scenario is the total lack of any history to confirm it! It tends to leave us hanging in its absurdity!
Others feel Yeshua came figuratively or spiritually in 70 A.D. -- to judge Jerusalem. In a sense, this is true, because YEHOVAH had given Yeshua all authority to execute judgment -- see John 5:22-27). This would have included his judgment upon Jerusalem. According to Josephus, a strange omen appeared at that time:
“I suppose the account of it would seem to be fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds” (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6, 5:3).
Were these angels? Was this a sign of the Messiah coming in judgment upon Jerusalem?
Being so closely associated with the apocalyptic language about the darkened sun, moon and stars, it is not impossible that the coming of the Son of man in the clouds (Matthew 24:30-31, etc.) could be understood in the same way. However, this has problems of interpretation. In this scenario, the sending forth of angels with the sound of a trumpet to gather the elect, is taken to mean sending the apostles to preach the gospel so that people could be gathered into the church. But -- even granting that the word translated “angels” can be translated “messengers” -- we would normally think of the apostles being sent forth at the ascension of Yeshua -- not at his return. By 70 A.D. these men had already gone forth into all the world with the gospel message.
Because of many second coming verses about angels coming with the Messiah, believers being gathered unto him, the sound of the trumpet, etc. it is quite clear that Matthew 24:30-31 refers to the return of the Messiah in power and glory shortly before the return of YEHOVAH God the Father at the end of this age. This, of course, raises an objection. In verse 29 we read about the condition of things “immediately following the trouble of those times.” And the very next verse says: “Then...they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with tremendous power and glory.” Would this not indicate that the second coming was to occur right then? It would, on the surface, seem so. However, we must be aware that the word “THEN” (used by Matthew more than all other New Testament writers put together) can mean an event will happen right away, OR it can indicate the order in which events will take place.
Applied in this latter sense, we could understand Matthew 24 in the following way: Yeshua spoke of general events that were to occur before the overthrow of Jerusalem and then the specific sign of that destruction or devastation -- Gentile armies surrounding Jerusalem. The invading armies would bring about great tribulation or trouble for the people left in Jerusalem and Judea. The condition of things immediately after that tribulation or trouble would be that of desolation. All of these things would happen first, “then” -- in the order of events mentioned -- “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with tremendous power and glory.” Many other verses justify this position:
1/. The second coming was not to be at the fall of Jerusalem because Yeshua expressly warned the disciples about any who would say that the Messiah had come in those days -- and was in the desert or in some secret place (Matthew 24:23-27).
2/. Yeshua stated that Jerusalem would be destroyed; and the Jews who were not killed in the tribulation or trouble would be led captive into all nations -- see Luke 21:24. This could not be the same time as the second coming of the Messiah at the end of the age -- for the Jews will not be led away captive into all nations then. It was following the events of 70 A.D. that they were led away captive. The one event was the end that came upon Jerusalem; the other will be the end of the age.
3/. In a later part of Matthew 24, Yeshua clearly stated that no man knows the time of the second coming, the end of the age (Matthew 24:35-36). But, and realize this, Yeshua knew the time of the overthrow of Jerusalem and said that it would be BEFORE that generation then living would pass away. They had asked him when this destruction would take place -- and he told them. But the time of the second coming was NOT REVEALED. There is a distinct contrast here. The possibility that a long period of time might pass before the coming of the Messiah is suggested by the story of the bridegroom that did not appear until the midnight hour or the master who “AFTER A LONG TIME” returned -- Matthew 25:5, 6, 19.
4/. The destruction of Jerusalem was preceded by a SPECIFIC SIGN -- Jerusalem surrounded by Gentile armies. But the second coming will be “as a thief in the night”; we are exhorted to be ready at all times; there will be no specific sign (such as a huge cross in the sky!) to warn people a few minutes before the Messiah returns. People will be eating and drinking and getting married -- the routine things of life, just as in Noah’s day -- and will not be expecting anything unusual to happen. SUDDENLY -- the Messiah will come! The sign preceding the fall of Jerusalem was SPECIFIC; the signs or warnings about the second coming are GENERAL -- nothing to reveal the day or hour!!
5/. At the time of the fall of Jerusalem, the disciples were to escape into the mountains. Then, there was time to flee; but when the Messiah comes there will be NO TIME to flee or make preparations to meet him. At the second coming, believers will not flee into the mountains, but will be caught up to meet Yeshua in the clouds. In the first century, they scattered -- at the second coming they will be gathered. It is CONTRAST all the way through.
The Meaning of “Generation”
In Matthew 23 Yeshua warned that generation of Jews:
“Go ahead then, finish what your fathers started!....Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and Torah-teachers -- some of them you will kill, indeed, you will have them executed on stakes as criminals; some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so, on you will fall the guilt for all the innocent blood that has ever been shed on earth, from the righteous blood of innocent Hevel [Abel] to the blood of Z’kharyah Ben-Berekhyah (Zacharias son of Barachias], whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. Yes! I tell you that ALL THIS WILL FALL ON THIS GENERATION!” (Matthew 23:32-38 -- Jewish New Testament).
In commenting on this passage, C.I. Scofield correctly wrote: “It is the way also of history: judgment falls upon one generation for the sins of centuries. The prediction was FULFILLED in the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.” (Scofield Reference Bible [New York: Oxford University Press, 1917], p. 1032). Unfortunately, however, Scofield tries to make “generation” mean “race, kind, family, stock, breed” in the verses in Matthew 24 where Yeshua said: “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” -- a statement which would place the great tribulation or trouble back then! Then, based on this erroneous definition, concludes: “The promise is, therefore, that the generation -- nation, or family of Israel -- will be preserved unto ‘these things’” (ibid., p. 1034).
But, if we go back through the book of Matthew, we can clearly see by context how Yeshua used the word “generation”. First, there is Matthew 1:17: “ Thus there were fourteen GENERATIONS from Avraham to David...” This reference is not to 14 different races, but to 14 different generations of that race -- each generation following the other in logical sequence. Yeshua asked: “Whereunto shall I liken this GENERATION?” -- a reference to that generation then living. Yeshua called it “an evil and adulterous GENERATION,” and likened it to a man possessed of demons whose latter end was worse than the first. The people of Nineveh “will stand up at the Judgment with this GENERATION and condemn it” (Matthew 12:38-45). It was a “faithless and perverse generation” (Matthew 17:17).
Then, in Matthew 23, Yeshua sternly rebuked the hypocrisy of his day and proclaimed that they were no better than their fathers (former generations) that had killed the prophets; judgment upon Jerusalem was certain; their house would be left desolate -- “all these things shall come upon this GENERATION.” Finally we read in Matthew 24:34: “Yes! I tell you that this people will certainly not pass away before all these things happen.”
It is totally arbitrary to take “generation” in all these other verses in Matthew to mean the generation living at one time, and then -- in Matthew 24 -- try to make it mean the whole race of Jews over a period of 2,000 years or more! This is illogical and preposterous! Only someone trying to uphold a pet “theory” would attempt to do this.
Strangely enough, those who say “generation” means the Jewish people as a race in Matthew 24, also say the Jewish race will never pass away! So if Yeshua meant the Jewish race will not pass away until these things are fulfilled -- and if the Jewish race will never pass away -- his words were totally meaningless! But if we take the word “generation” in its normal and primary meaning -- the generation of people living at one time -- Yeshua did indeed answer the question: “WHEN shall these things be?”
The End of the Age
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away. Concerning that day and hour NOBODY KNOWS, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:35-36).
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Concerning that day or the hour NOBODY KNOWS, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:31-32).
To this, Luke’s account adds --
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away. But keep watch on yourselves, or your hearts will become dulled by carousing, drunkenness and the worries of everyday living, and that Day will be sprung upon you SUDDENLY like a trap! For it will close in on everyone, no matter where they live, throughout the whole world” (Luke 21:33-35).
Now, up to this point, Yeshua spoke of things leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem. Twice he briefly left his original line of thought to contrast those events with the second coming (Matthew 24:27 and 30-31). After explaining what would happen in that generation, the entire discourse now shifts to the question about the second coming and the end of the world. Yeshua said that heaven and earth shall pass away -- the end of the age -- and that the TIME of “that day” is not revealed -- see Matthew 24:40-42:
“Then there will be two men in a field -- one will be taken and the other left behind. There will be two women grinding flour at the mill -- one will be taken and the other left behind. So stay alert, because you don’t know on what day your Lord will come” (Jewish New Testament).
Dispensationalists who suppose these verses describe a pre-tribulation rapture, face serious difficulties of interpretation! We are all the way down at verse 40. To harmonize with the dispensational scenario, these verses should have been way back in the early part of Matthew 24 -- before the tribulation, before the abomination of desolation, before the flight into the mountains! But, no matter how hard you look, there is NO HINT of a secret rapture anywhere in those early verses. Not until “after the tribulation” -- regardless of how we understand the tribulation of Matthew 24 -- do we read of Yeshua’s coming when one will be taken and the other left!
New Testament References for “Tribulation”
The word that is translated “tribulation” or “trouble” in Matthew 24 is thlipsis (Strong’s Concordance, #2347). This Greek word is also translated "affliction, anguish, persecution, and burdened." An in-depth study of all references in which this word appears can be summed up in the following categories --
First, tribulation upon the Jews. As we have seen, Yeshua spoke of “great tribulation” or trouble (Matthew 24:21). Luke’s account states: “There shall be great distress in the land” -- JUDEA -- “and wrath upon this people -- THE JEWS -- ”and JERUSALEM shall be trodden down of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:23-24). We know this tribulation CAME TO ITS END IN 70 A.D.
Second, tribulation against Christians. “In the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom” (Acts 14:22). “Tribulation works patience” (Romans 5:3). Tribulation will not separate us from the Messiah (Romans 8:35-37). We are exhorted to be “patient in tribulation” Romans 12:12), “joyful in all our tribulations” (2 Corinthians 7:4), and faint not at tribulation (Ephesians 3:13 and 2 Thessalonians 1:4). In the book of Revelation we find that the Ecclesia of YEHOVAH God at Smyrna suffered tribulation -- see 2:9-10. The apostle John, the writer of the book of Revelation, refers to himself as “your brother and companion in tribulation” (Revelation 1:9). This type of tribulation SPANS THE ENTIRE GOSPEL AGE.
Third, tribulation upon the wicked. To the believers in Thessalonia who were enduring “persecutions and tribulations” (2 Thessalonians 1:4), Paul wrote: “For it is justice for God to pay back trouble to those who are troubling you” (verse 6). WHEN? “When the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in a fiery flame. Then he will punish those who don’t know God, that is, those who don’t listen to the Good News of our Lord Yeshua and obey it. They will suffer the just penalty of eternal destruction, far away from the face of the Lord and the glory of his might. On that Day, when he comes to be glorified by his holy people and admired by all who have trusted, you will be among them, because you trusted our witness to you.”
When YEHOVAH God descends from heaven, his people will be caught up to meet Him in the air -- and “sudden destruction” will fall upon the wicked “and they shall not escape.” It is concerning THIS WRATH -- not a seven year tribulation period -- that we read: “For [YEHOVAH] God has not intended that we should experience His fury [wrath], but that we should gain deliverance through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” -- see 1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:9. True Christians are not appointed to wrath, but only a few verses before Paul did say they are appointed to tribulation! “...none of you would let these persecutions [tribulation -- thlipsis] unsettle him. For you yourselves know that these are bound to come to us; even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were about to be persecuted; and indeed it has happened, as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
One prophecy remains to be considered here -- the time of Jacob’s trouble! “Ah, that day is awesome; there is none like it! It is a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be delivered from it” (Jeremiah 30:7). Because this description in some translations uses the terms “great” and mentions trouble “is awesome; there is none like it,” dispensationalists ASSUME this refers to a final seven year tribulation period. And since this “is a time of trouble for Jacob” -- not the church’s -- it is further ASSUMED the church will be raptured before this time! Such conclusions cannot be justified when taken in context.
Because the book of Jeremiah is a long book -- the second longest in the scriptures -- many people are simply not familiar with the SETTING in which this prophecy was given. Jeremiah repeatedly warned the Israelites that enemy armies would come against them; they would be taken into captivity; they would be punished by YEHOVAH -- if they did not repent. They did not repent -- and the time of trouble came upon them. They were then taken into captivity by the king of Babylon. But notice -- the prophecy said, “but he [Jacob -- Israel] will be delivered from it.” This took place when YEHOVAH God allowed the people to RETURN from the Babylonian captivity.
"We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even THE TIME OF JACOB’S TROUBLE; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck...I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return...I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents...and the city shall be builded upon her own heap" (Jeremiah 30).
1/. The prophecy about Jacob’s trouble mentioned “a voice of trembling” (verse 5). Was this the case when the king of Babylon came against Israel? Yes -- notice: “We have sinned against the LORD. We looked for peace...and for a time of health, and behold trouble! The snorting of his horses was heard...the whole land trembled” (Jeremiah 8:14-16).
2/. Jacob’s trouble would be a time of fear (verse 5). Did fear come upon the people in those days? You bet! “Behold, a people cometh from the north country...they ride upon horses....We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble...fear is on every side” (Jeremiah 6:22-26). “Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction” (Lamentations 3:47).
3/. The prophecy said peace would be taken from them (verse 5). Was their peace taken away in those days? Indeed -- notice: “I have taken away my peace from this people....We looked for peace...and behold trouble” (Jeremiah 8:15; 16:5).
4/. The prophecy compared Jacob’s trouble to the travail of a woman giving birth to a child. This also happened at this time: “What will thou say when he shall punish thee?...sorrows shall take thee as a woman in travail” (Jeremiah 13:21). Also: “Pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail...for now shalt thou go forth out of the city...even to Babylon” (Micah 4:9-10).
5/. It would be a time of trouble so “that none is like it” (verse 7). Does this phrase properly describe the trouble that enveloped that people? Yes! Ezekiel -- using language very similar to that of Jeremiah -- said: “...assuredly, thus said the LORD God: I, in turn, am going to deal with you, and I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. On account of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have never done, and the like of which I will never do again” (Ezekiel 5:8-9).
When this punishment descended upon them, Jeremiah stated that it “exceeded the iniquity of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment” (Lamentations 4:6). Daniel wrote of that time of trouble in the following words: “All Israel have transgressed thy law...therefore the curse is poured upon them...God hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us...by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:11-12). Such proverbial wording and literary techniques were used by the prophets to describe times of trouble that were uniquely severe.
6/. Even though this time of trouble would come upon Jacob (Israel), the prophecy had some light at the end of the tunnel: “But he shall be delivered from it. In that day -- declares the LORD of Hosts -- I will break the yoke from off your neck and I will rip off your bonds...I will deliver you from far away, your folk from their land of captivity” (Jeremiah 30:7-8, 10). They had the promise that “after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you...in causing you to return...I will turn away your captivity...I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:10-14). “Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you fear; do not be afraid of him -- declares the LORD -- for I am with you to save you and to rescue you from his hands” (Jeremiah 42:11). “Fear not thou, O my servant Jacob...I will save thee from afar...Jacob shall return” (Jeremiah 46:27). The fulfillment of these verses and the return from the seventy years captivity at Babylon are spelled out in the book of Ezra.
Here, then, we have the prophecy about Jacob’s trouble and deliverance -- complete with other scriptures that record the fulfillment. In most cases the wording is precisely the same. It all fits perfectly together. But some misguided modern-day “prophets” and “ministers” have set all of this aside, claiming that this prophecy is still future, because of the closing words: “...in the latter days you shall consider it” (Jeremiah 30:24). In reading the expression “the latter days” it is easy for some to ASSUME the very end of this age is intended. However, the word latter -- which is used several times in Jeremiah -- simply expressed an undefined future: “in the future” or “later on you will consider it.”
When these things had all taken place, they were able to “consider” or understand the fulfillment of what had been prophesied. In this case, the “latter” days were those days AFTER THEIR CAPTIVITY. The house of YEHOVAH (the Temple) that they built upon their return was the “latter house” or Temple as compared to the “former” house or Temple before the captivity -- see Haggai 2:9. After their return, the prophets that had warned them before the captivity were referred to as “the former prophets” (Zechariah 1:4; 7:7, 12) which would mark the days after the captivity (in comparison) as the later or latter days. Therefore, it is in this sense that the expression is used in Jeremiah 30. What Jeremiah labeled “the time of Jacob’s trouble” is now ANCIENT HISTORY -- not an end-time tribulation period!
A Seven-Year Tribulation Period?
With so much talk in “Christian” circles about a future seven-year Tribulation Period -- and all the discussion as to whether the rapture will be pre-trib or post-trib -- it is simply amazing that one simple fact has been completely overlooked: There is not one single verse anywhere in the entire New Testament that mentions a seven-year tribulation period!
Are we, therefore, implying that there will be no tribulation at the end of the age? All through the centuries there have been times of tribulation experienced by Christians -- to one degree or another. We have, of course, no guarantee that the last days will be any exception. But we certainly DO NOT believe there will be the type of tribulation period that is commonly expounded in dispensational circles.
The Bible clearly teaches that at the time of the second coming -- the end of the age -- people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, planting and building, buying and selling -- in other words, life will be going on as it normally does! (Luke 17:26-30). Life will be continuing in what will be considered a NORMAL, routine pattern. People will be saying, “Peace and safety” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Surely, if “all hell will break lose” upon this earth in the way some have proclaimed, after undergoing this for seven years people clearly would not be saying, “Peace and safety”!!
Writing more than a hundred years ago, H. Grattan Guiness said it well —
If such signs as are imagined by some people to precede the advent, the state of society predicted in these passages could not by any possibility exist. If monstrous, unheard of, supernatural, portentous events were to transpire, would they not be telegraphed the same day all over a startled world, and produce such a sense of alarm and expectation that buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage, would all be arrested together, and ‘peace and safety’ would be far from anyone’s lips? (Light for the Last Days, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1893).
In view of the things we have presented in this article, the only conclusion possible is that there WILL NOT be the type of tribulation during the last years of this age as some have envisioned. We don’t know the day or the hour of Yeshua’s return. The important point to remember is that we should watch and be ready for his return at all times -- “while continuing to expect the blessed fulfillment of our certain hope, which is THE APPEARING OF THE SH’KHINAH [GLORY] OF OUR GREAT GOD [YEHOVAH] AND the appearing of our Deliverer, Yeshua the Messiah” (Titus 2:13 -- Jewish New Testament).
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Preparing the Way for the Return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah!
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