CHAPTER 5 - Unfulfilled Prophecy - the abomination of desolation

 

The Lord's reference to "the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet," gives the clue to the right interpretation of the unfulfilled portion of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. If the Sermon on the Mount is commonly misread. no less so is this " Second Sermon on the Mount," in which that reference occurs. (Matthew 24:15.) To understand it aright we must remember that it is a prophecy; and, as already suggested, we must put ourselves in the place of those to whom it was addressed, and study it as though the present "mystery" dispensation had never intervened, and the predicted events had run their course during the lifetime of the Apostles .

His words were in reply to their inquiry, of verse 3; "What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the winding up of the age" And, of course, the" Coming" to which they refer is that of Messianic prophecy, and the "age" is that of Gentile supremacy, which is to last until that Coming. In verse 3 He speaks of the sunteleia of the age; and in verse 14 of its telos (or end). And then, as is so usual in the prophetic Scriptures, He goes back upon the period already covered in brief outline; and in verse 15 He gives them the sign by which they will know that the warned-against terrors of the Great Tribulation are about to break upon them. (v. 21.)

Although the events of the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Titus may well be within the scope of the Lord's words, surely no one who studies them in connection with Daniel's prophecy, which the Lord expressly cites, and the other Scriptures relating to the same era, can entertain a doubt that their fulfilment awaits the future restoration of the Covenant People to their own land and to Divine favour.

For the words which theLord spoke that day upon the Mount of Olives were not "spent (to use a legal term) when the Jewish disciples to whom they were addressed became, so to speak, "denationalised" by being raised to the heavenly relationship of the Body of Christ, in which "there is neither Jew nor Gentile." Like all the words He spoke on earth, they are eternal; and in an age to come they will be read and pondered by an "elect remnant "of Israel, gathered in their own land. We are always keen to mark how clearly the Lord had us in view in much of His teaching; but Christians seem never to realise that, in a passage such as this, He was thinking of His saints in the coming days of the fiercest trial which His people have ever known. If even in this time of their impenitence and rejection "they are beloved for the fathers' sakes," how deep and solicitous must be that love, in view of the coming age of their repentance and faith! Can we doubt that, when the Lord gave utterance to this forecast, His Divine omniscience had in view His Jerusalem saints of that future age in which it will be all fulfilled? Nor can we doubt that, as they scan the newspapers, and watch the gathering clouds of the storm that is about to break upon them, it will be with mind and heart intent upon these sacred words of warning. And thus they will await the dreaded signal for immediate flight- "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place."

"History repeats itself." The first holder of the Imperial sceptre of Gentile supremacy demanded divine worship for a statue of himself. And the last great Kaiser of the evil line will set up his image, to be worshipped by all, under penalty of death for refusing to render it divine homage. And the language of Daniel ix. 27 is explicit that it will be "upon the Temple" not inside the shrine where none but the priests would see it, but in some prominent position, coram populo. And as Satan will be the instigator of this, surely the suggestion is neither wild nor fanciful that the site on which the statue of the Antichrist shall be erected may be "a pinnacle of the Temple," corresponding to that on which the Lord Jesus stood when tempted of the Devil."
The "text-card system" of prophetic study has tended to discredit the Bible. And a knowledge of "dispensational truth" is a safeguard against this influence. For it teaches us, as Bacon quaintly phrased it, "to sort every prophecy of Scripture with the event fulfilling the same." And thus it brings to light the hidden harmony of Holy Writ; and prophetic study, instead of being a pastime for mystics, becomes a comfirmation of our faith. As already noticed, "the doctrine of the second advent" is a by-product of this text-card system of exegesis. Every passage that speaks of the Lord's coming again is separated from its context; and all are thrown together, as though they referred to the same event, and are to be fulfilled at the same epoch.
What concerns us here, however, is the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks; and at the cost of some repetition a restatement of the problem may be opportune. That era has to do with Daniel's city and people. The 69th week ended with "the cutting off " of Messiah. Israel was then set aside, and the course of the era was interrupted. And the unfulfilled 70th week will not begin to run until the covenant people are again Divinely recognised. And, as already noticed, that recognition implies a. thorough "change of dispensation." The reign of grace must end. and the members of the heavenly election of this age must be called away from earth before the earthly people can be restored to their own again. (See page 84 ante.)

The epoch of the whole era was "the issuing of a decree to restore and build Jerusalem." And the epoch of the final week of the era will be the signing of a treaty by the last great Kaiser- the coming Prince of Daniel 9:27 - guaranteeing to the Jews their national rights, with special reference, apparently, to the observance of their national religion. And in the middle of the week he will violate that treaty by the desecration of the Temple; an event that will be followed immediately by "the Great Tribulation." The duration of that persecution is definitely specified as three and a half years, forty-two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days. And it will be brought to a sudden end by the terrible convulsions in the sphere of nature which are to herald the day of wrath.

The Lord's words recorded in Matthew 24:6, ff., have their precise counterpart in the Apocalyptic visions of the Seals (Rev. vi.). His first warning note is of "wars and rumours of wars "; and when the first seal is opened, a white-horsed rider goes forth "conquering and to conquer."

The Lord next indicates wars of a more terrible character; and this has its parallel in the appearance of the red-horsed rider of the second seal, to whom is given "a great sword" and "power to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another." The wars of the first seal are apparently of the type to which we are accustomed; but those of the second seal will be an orgy of ruthless slaughter. It is not a mere repetition of the preceding vision.

The Lord's next word is "famines "; and when the third seal is broken, the black-horsed rider appears with a pair of balances in his hand, to weigh out the necessaries of life at famine prices. As famines are natural sequence to wars of the type here indicated, no less certainly does pestilence follow famine. And " pestilence" is the word the Lord next utters; so the rider in the vision of the fourth seal is empowered to kill with " death "-a word that needs no interpreting to any who realise the horrors of epidemic plague. But the judgments of the seals are cumulative, and this rider, whose name is Death, "kills with the sword and with hunger and with pestilence."

No rider appears when the fifth seal is broken; but neither the meaning of the vision, nor its place in the scheme of prophecy, is open to doubt. In Matt. 24:8, the Lord describes the judgments of the first four seals as "time beginning of sorrows "; and in verse 9 we read "then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all the nations for My name's sake." The Lord's words in verse 21 teach explicitly that this is tile Tribulation, the "time of trouble "of Daniel xii. 1; and in the vision of the fifth seal are seen under the altar the souls of the martyred victims of that awful persecution. No less certain is the identity of the events of the sixth seal with those portrayed by the Lord in verse 29. All the events of the preceding seals are such as men can account for on natural principles. But now, in view of the unparalleled sufferings of His people in the great Tribulation, and in response to the prayers of the martyrs of that awful time (Rev. 6:9-10), God at last puts forth His power; appalling portents in the sphere of nature strike terror into the hearts of the impenitent of every class, from kings to bond-men, and in a universal panic they seek to hide from the coming wrath.
The Lord's words in verse 29 are explicit that the terrors of the sixth seal follow immediately after tile Tribulation; and, as the period of the Tribulation is the latter half of the 70th week of Daniel, the events of these seals fall within the chronology of prophecy. But it is a common error to suppose that the events foretold in verses 30 and 31 will immediately follow the close of the 70th week. The vision of the seventh seal is yet to be fulfilled. The theu (toto) of verse 30 does not refer to the telos of the age, but to its sunteleia- not to a definite point in time, but to the whole period here in view-a sense which the word bears in three other verses in this same chapter. And the Lord's teaching in the passage beginning with verse 32 deals with that very period.

And here another parallelism with the vision o the seals suggests itself. In Revelation 8:1, we read: "When he had opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven about the space of half-an-hour." May not this mysterious lull symbolise the very period here in view? What its duration will be we know not, save that it will be within the life-time of that generation, and yet that it will be sufficiently prolonged to make the world forget the preceding terrors, and to make His people need exhortations to sustained watchfulness. "As in tile days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage," so will it be then. Signs and portents in abundance mark the sunteleta of that age, but its telos will be unheralded and sudden. In answer to His disciples' question, I again repeat, He warned them to watch, not for His coming, but for the events which must precede it. But now that these events are all fulfilled, his word is "Watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." For time day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man is a secret unrevealed.