But when you shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not…
I. IMMEDIATELY PROXIMATE SIGNS. Hitherto we have had the signs, more or less remote, of Christ's coming at the fall of Jerusalem, and so an answer to the second part of the question contained in ver. 4. Here, however, we have the immediately proximate sign, or rather an answer to the first part of the question of that same verse, namely, "When shall these things be?" Along with the sign here intimated, we have instructions about the ways and means of escape. But with respect to the immediately proximate sign or time of the destruction of Jerusalem, we read that it is "the abomination of desolation" foretold by Daniel. The expression is regarded as relating to the Roman army, that brought desolation on the holy city; but whether the actual reference be to the besieging host itself, or to their standards, the eagles, as objects of idolatry, or to the outrages of the Zealots in the sacred courts, is not so certain. The parallel expression in Luke 21:20, "When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh," is deemed by some conclusive for the reference being to the Roman armies; most commentators understand the expression of the Roman eagles planted in a holy place, that is, round Jerusalem, first by Cestius Callus A.D. , then by Vespasian two years after, and two years later still by Titus; while a third explanation refers the sign to the atrocities of the Zealots at this time. In this way the sign was twofold - internal and external; the latter consisting of the Roman legions now drawn round the city, the former of the abominations of the Zealots, causing the cup of Jewish iniquity to overflow, and thus directly leading to the desolation that immediately ensued. Two circumstances seem to favor this last view of the matter: the holy place is properly referable to the temple, and the sign of the Roman eagles would be rather indefinite, as they had been seen in Palestine for a considerable period previously. Inward desecration caused by sin in some way issued in outward desolation.
II. PRECAUTIONS SUGGESTED. It is not the duty of Christians more than of non-Christians to rush unnecessarily into peril any more than into temptation; we are not to endanger life and limb recklessly and negligently. Our first duty is self-preservation when no principle is compromised and no matter of spiritual moment is at stake; we are required to use all legitimate means for the preservation of our own lives and the lives of others. Confessors, indeed, have taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and martyrs have cheerfully shed their blood, rather than surrender a jot of truth or renounce their allegiance to the Savior; but there are special occasions and particular circumstances when our duty is to escape from, not court, danger. The disciples, when persecuted in one city, were to flee to another. Our Lord himself, passing through the midst of the wicked Nazarenes, went his way, when they had led him to the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, and would have cast him down headlong. And now he gives directions beforehand for his followers not to imperil their lives needlessly and uselessly, when, by signs of which he forewarns them, they should know that the ruin of Jerusalem was imminent and inevitable, and when the wrath of God was about to be poured out on their unbelieving countrymen. The methods of escape were various. Those who found themselves in Judaea were to flee to the mountains. These, with caves and rocky fastnesses, were favourite places of refuge in time of danger in the land of Palestine; thus, Lot was. urgently pressed by the angel to flee to the mountain. "Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed;" David was hunted by Saul as "a partridge in the mountains." Such as were already on the house-top, or could readily reach it by the steps outside, were not to return into the house to carry off with them any article of property, however prized or valuable, but to hasten their flight with all speed along the fiat roofs of the houses till they reached the city walls, and thence make good their escape. Persons engaged in field labor, at which the outer garment (ἱμάτιον) was usually stripped off and laid aside, were not to act so indiscreetly as to run the risk of life itself by returning for the sake of saving an article of raiment probably of no great value.
III. THE THIRD GREAT MORAL LESSON. This, as we have already stated, is prayerfulness. Our Lord, after the particular directions enumerated, bethought himself of other cases to which those directions were inapplicable owing to the inability of the persons concerned to comply with them. With tender females in such circumstances of delicacy as precluded the possibility of flight, and with nursing mothers whose womanly affections forbade the thought of abandoning their offspring - with persons thus unfitted for flight, so encumbered as to retard it except through an impossible sacrifice - our Lord expresses the deepest sympathy and tenderest compassion. If, however, we may trace the sequence of thought in the mind of the Savior as in the human mind in general, the thought of weakness by the law of contrast suggests a power which the weakest can wield and the strongest cannot dispense with, and which in the most untoward circumstances commands success. "And pray ye," says our blessed Lord, "that your flight be not in the winter. "St. Matthew adds," neither on the sabbath day." The same God who has appointed the end has appointed the means that conduce to that end. One great means is prayer. The end and means are connected as links of the same chain. Other means of escape, had been prescribed, and even urged on such as could employ those means; some there would be who, from circumstances already indicated, would be precluded from availing themselves of those means; besides, both these classes must, in the dark outlook into the future, anticipate circumstances over which they could have no possible control, such as the season of the year, or the day of the week when the predicted calamities might suddenly burst over them. What, then, was the course to be pursued? Where means were available, prayer was a leverage which imparted to the means a potency multiplied manifold; where the means were not available, prayer was the only element of power that could be employed; while in both cases there were certain obstacles which human power could not overcome, and certain circumstances with which it was incompetent to grapple. It was only by prayer that difficulties of this sort could be vanquished. The subject-matter of the prayers our Lord graciously condescends to suggest. They were to pray for the avoidance of the winter, when its cold and inclemency would greatly aggravate the general distress, or when its heavy rains, swollen streams, and winter torrents might render flight or escape impossible. They were to pray that they might not be necessitated to infringe the sanctity of the sabbath, on which a lawful journey did not exceed a mile; and when, the city gates being closed, would either shut them in or shut them out, and in either case cut them off from a place of safety; or when they might expose themselves to punishment from the cruelty of fanatics for a breach of the sabbath law. Our Lord suggested to them such topics of supplication, putting desires into their hearts and words on their lips.
IV. GOD'S GOODNESS TO HIS CHOSEN. "For the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." His elect are his chosen - chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, chosen of God and precious, a chosen generation, called, chosen, and faithful. The privileges of God's people are very many and very great. God avenges his own elect; nothing shall be laid to the charge of God's elect; he will gather them at last from the four winds; while here we learn that those days of direst disasters and unspeakable horrors were shortened for their sake. How great the blessedness of being children of God! The psalmist had affirmed the blessedness of such centuries before; he had affirmed it on the highest authority and for the best of reasons. "Blessed," he said, "is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation."
V. GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. The dispensations of God's providence prove, while they illustrate, his goodness to his people. In the present instance the Savior warned his followers; this was the first link in the chain of his love. Acting on this warning, they fled; and God, in his mercy, favored their flight and facilitated it. In answer to the petitions previously taught them and presented, we may be sure, by them, their flight was not in winter, or at least needed not to be so, for the siege commenced in the October of ; the final siege began in the April or May of the year of our Lord 70. Thus they had the opportunity of flight before or at the beginning of the siege, and consequently before the rigours of winter had set in; or, if perchance any delayed their flight and lingered on till near the concluding catastrophe, they in like manner avoided the winter. The consequence was that the Christian Jews effected their escape to Pella, now Tabathat Fakkil, near the northern border of Peraea, among the hills of Gilead, on the other side of Jordan, and a hundred miles from the besieged city. The merciful dealings of Divine providence were also manifested by the curtailment (ἐκολόβωσε) of the period of distress. In the midst of wrath he remembered mercy, and for his elect's sake he so overruled matters that the siege was brought to a speedy termination. So terrible was the time that, in the words of the evangelist, "except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved." The Scripture statement is fully confirmed by the historical details of Josephus, who makes it abundantly evident that the wretchedness of men and the wickedness of men had then culminated. Unprecedented before, they have remained without parallel since. It was Passover time, and multitudes thronged the city. What from this state of matters inside the city and the siege outside, famine ensued; its usual attendant, pestilence, followed. Men and women seemed to have divested themselves of the instincts of humanity; nameless barbarities were perpetrated. The city was torn by sedition within - three factions being in constant conflict with each other; war raged without, hundreds of Jewish prisoners being crucified in sight of their friends. More than a million Jews perished in the siege, and ninety-seven thousand were taken captive - some of them sold into slavery, some sent to Egyptian mines, and others reserved for the gladiatorial games. "Those days shall be affliction," according to the correct rendering; and never was prediction fulfilled with more terrible literality. But two circumstances, under Providence, abridged this reign of terrors: one was the terrible energy of the besieger, who pressed the siege and at last stormed the city; and the other was the fearful infatuation of the besieged. The city, which had withstood Nebuchadnezzar more than a year and a quarter, fell before the power of the Roman general in less than five months. Had things continued much longer, Judaea itself would have been desolated, and its inhabitants, including, no doubt, many sincere Christians, would have perished. But God, for his people's sake, shortened those days of shocking suffering and unspeakable sadness. The Savior again, and for the third time, repeats his exhortation to heedfulness against those who at such a crisis deceived, either consciously or unconsciously, themselves, and who should deceive others by holding forth hopes of deliverance by the coming of the Christ. - J.J.G.
Parallel VersesKJV: But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: