15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
“The reader should understand this.”
It’s as though Matthew is saying to each of his readers “I know this bit is confusing and distressing, but you need to pay attention. This bit is for you.”
Assuming an early date for when Matthew wrote this (some scholars think it was quite late), some of his first readers would have been in Jerusalem when the revolt started in 66. They would have been comfortable there. The temple still featured heavily in their worship.
They would have been there as Titus’s Roman army approached Jerusalem in 70 to lay siege to it. They needed to know that they had to flee right away. (They did.)
They also needed to understand that the place of God’s presence was not a building. The Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of his people. Jesus died to make that most intimate of relationships possible. (Paul spells it out in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”) They had to leave behind the symbol of God’s presence and take the real place of God’s presence, his people, to safety.
That’s in the past for me, but Jesus’ other warnings that I need to always be ready for him to come back are about my future. I need to take his warning just as seriously as the first readers needed to take his warning about Jerusalem. I need to live every day in the expectation, and hope, that he might come back today.
Thank you, Jesus that your promises (and your warnings) are sure.
Written by David Cornell