- WARNING: The sign of natural catastrophes: During the days of the prophet Amos, God had to reveal through Amos that the great locust plague that brought great suffering upon the people at the time was actually judgment sent from God. The people thought it was just another natural plague. But God wanted the people to know that the plague was His doing in order to urge the people of the northern kingdom of Israel to repent.
This seems to be the same connecting of the dots in reference to what Jesus said in the context of the final years of the Jewish civilization: “And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Mt 24:7). Famines and earthquakes in various places have existed throughout the world since the beginning of time. But there was something unique about these “famines and earthquakes” that would alert the disciples that something was up.
The “various places” was within their ability to know that they were occurring. Therefore, if they connected the dots between the “wars and rumors of was,” with the “famines and earthquakes,” then they would be reminded of what Jesus said in this specific prophecy concerning the end of national Israel. They would understand that these physical catastrophes of the world of nature were not accidental, but God sent. Therefore, these were certainly regional “famines and earthquakes” that would sensitize the people to the coming fulfillment of what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24.
- WARNING: Painful consummation: Jesus continued, “All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Mt 24:8). There would indeed be sorrow in the final consummation. The end would be painful. There is social pain in the collapse of a civilization. In this context, those who were citizens of the Jewish state would suffer the sorrows of a number of family members who were not Christians, and thus would not heed the warning to stay away from Jerusalem in its final hours. There was great sorrow throughout the Jewish world among family members who believed Jesus, and thus stayed home and did not make the fateful Pentecost journey to Jerusalem, for it was on the Pentecost of A.D. 70 that Rome marched against Jerusalem. Many Jews who believed Jesus and stayed home said good bye to their unbelieving family members whom they would never see again as they journey to Jerusalem for Pentecost. During the three-month onslaught of Rome against the city of Jerusalem on the Pentecost of A.D. 70, and according to Josephus, the Roman army slaughtered over one million Jews. Great sorrow spread throughout the Roman Empire as the news of the death of so many loved ones filtered back home.
- WARNING: Politicalization of society: During the times before the fall of Jerusalem, there was great pressure imposed on the Jewish society by loyalist Jews who urged all Jews to join the ranks of the resistance. If one did not join in opposition against the unbelievers (Rome), then he or she was as the unbelievers.
Patriotism to Judaism became radical. Therefore, “they [radical Jews] will deliver you [Christian Jews] up to be afflicted and will kill you. And you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Mt 24:9). Those Christians who would not join in the rebellion were despised by their fellow Jews throughout the Roman Empire. Because faithful Jewish Christians would remain loyal only to the name of Jesus, they would be hated by those Jews who took up arms against Rome.
- WARNING: Social pressure invokes apostasy: “And then many will be offended and will betray one another and will hate one another” (Mt 24:10). When the great persecutions came, the disciples should not be surprised that some Jewish Christians would think more of themselves and their safety, than standing for the name of Jesus. In view of this one prophecy of Jesus, we can better understand why Paul wrote the following words to Christians who lived in the seat of command of the Roman government that would commission the destruction of Jerusalem: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation …” (Rm 1:16).
Even while Paul was in prison in Rome only ten years before A.D. 70, some brethren disassociated themselves from him. They spoke out to bring apposition against Paul (Ph 1:15-18). Their lack of love for him was revealed in their unwillingness to stand by him in his darkest hour. This was the very thing about which Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24. Some Christians in Palestine also forgot this when the Roman army marched toward Jerusalem. The social turmoil of the time revealed that they had little loyalty to the name of King of kings when they gave in to the social intimidation of the times.
Those who denied Christ went even further. When an oppressing army is trying to flush out all rebels, they will through torture demand the names of other rebels. And because some succumbed to torture, they betrayed others. In a collapsing civilization, one’s own self-preservation becomes more important than one’s loyalty to his neighbor. At least this is what happened while Paul was in prison in Rome in A.D. 61,62.
[More Matthew 24 warnings in next post.]