by Paul George
Jesus said the second three and a half year period will not only be “tribulation,” as noted of the first half (Matthew 24:9), but a time of “great tribulation.” In fact, it will be the greatest time of tribulation since the beginning of creation (Mark 13:19), or will ever be. The focus of this time of tribulation will revolve around the Jewish people and their land of Israel.
Verse 21 starts with a reference back to the preceding section. Jesus tells the Jewish remnant in Jerusalem and Judea why they need to immediately head for the hills when they learn of the abomination of desolation event (Matthew 24:15) has taken place. Evidently, this will be the last possible moment for escape, if they do not escape, they will be caught in this great and terrible trouble. It will come so suddenly that they do not have time to get their things together to get out.
Previously, we have seen that the word “tribulation” was used to refer to the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Matthew 24:9). The term “tribulation” is used in several different ways in Scripture. It is used to refer to any time of suffering or testing into which one goes. It is used to refer to the whole period of the seven years of tribulation, as in Revelation 2:22 or Matthew 24:29. It is also used in reference to the last half of this seven-year period, as in Matthew 24:21
The tribulation period is not exclusively a New Testament doctrine. The tribulation period is a topic that has a rich Old Testament background and the events of this time are directed toward and involve the nation of Israel. The Old Testament speaks of a time of tribulation that Israel is destined to endure, in the latter days, but when this period is past it will result in national repentance and the nation in a right relationship with the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:30; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; ). In fact, Paul writes about Israel’s deliverance from tribulation in Romans 9- 11. Romans 10:11-15 tells us that one day Israel will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. This redemption will occur one day to national Israel, but it will come during the tribulation period- the great tribulation.
The great tribulation is the last three and a half year period of the tribulation, which will culminate in the second advent of Christ. The great tribulation, accordingly, is a specific period of time beginning with the abomination of desolation and closing with the second coming of Christ, in the light of Daniel’s prophecies and confirmed by reference to forty-two months. In Revelation 11:2 and 13:5, the great tribulation is a specific three-and-a-half-year period leading up to the second coming.
The “great tribulation” is to be the greatest since the world began, or ever will be for the Jewish people. Mark 13:19 is even clearer where our Lord says, “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, and never shall.” “Since the beginning of the creation” makes it very clear that this time period will be the greatest time of tribulation for the Jewish people in all history. No time or event in the history of Israel fits the description of the holocaust Jesus is here speaking of. The horrifying time is further described in some detail in Revelation 6- 16, where the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments exhibit the escalating intensity of God’s wrath upon sinful, rebellious mankind. Both the books of Revelation and of Daniel make clear that the Antichrist will tyrannize the world for “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 12:14), that is, a year, two years, and a half year, or three and one half years (Revelation 11:2; 13:5). Clearly, the events described by our Lord, by Daniel, and by John must refer to the same great holocaust at the end time, just before the millennial kingdom is established on earth
It is significant that in both of these passages, the time of tribulation results in the redemption of the Jewish remnant. Just such redemption is described in Matthew 24:29-31 where it says, “But immediately after the tribulation of those days . . .He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
The purpose of the tribulation, especially the great tribulation, in relation to the nation of Israel is to prepare her for final redemption. This is taught in the passages cited above about her deliverance from tribulation. We also find in passages, like Ezekiel 20 and 22, the Lord providing an overview of Israel’s entire history. Often the prophet recounts the nation’s history of disobedience and then predicts that there will come a time in the future when the nation will finally become obedient to the Lord. Usually this will come after the nation has gone through a time of great trial and tribulation as we see in Ezekiel 20:33-38. However, the significant thing is that at the end of this process the nation is brought into “the bond of the covenant.”
“As I live,” declares the Lord God, “surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you. And I shall bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out; and I shall bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I shall enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. And I shall make you pass under the rod, and I shall bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I shall purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I shall bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 20:33-38)
Zechariah 13- 14 records a similar scenario, “And it will come about in all the land,” declares the Lord, “that two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘the Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:8-9).
In Matthew 24:21 Jesus speaks of a yet future time that will be the worst time in the history of the world for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, He will deliver those who come to faith in Him as their Messiah from this terrible time (Matthew 24:31). These things must take place in order that God’s plan for history to work out issues of good and evil. How do we know this? Matthew 24:21 is a quote by Jesus from Daniel 12:1. The entire context of Daniel 12 provides further information about what Jesus has said in Matthew 24:21. Daniel’s response is not surprising to the revelation of the tribulation as we see in Daniel 12:8: “As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?’” Often this question comes into our mind when we read of the events of the tribulation. God’s answer through the angel is as follows: “And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. Many will be purged, purified and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand’” (Daniel 12:9-10)
God’s purpose of the tribulation, especially the great tribulation, last three and a half years, is to purge out those unbelieving Jews through the events of this time and to bring to faith the elect Jewish remnant. We know that the events described in both Matthew and Daniel have not yet led to the mass conversion of the Jews as these passages indicate. That the conversion of the Jews is yet to occur, no Christian would doubt. Since the tribulation precedes and gives rise to their conversion, there is no doubt that, it too lies in a time future to our own day.
Matthew 24:22 has a number of interesting issues, they include; the cutting short of days, no life would be saved, and who are the elect?
First of all, only Mark (13:20) has a parallel passage to Matthew, while Luke does not. Luke’s omission of this verse is because his focus is upon a.d. 70, thus this statement relating to the future tribulation would not be appropriate. Mark tells us “the Lord” will cut short those days. Otherwise, there is no significant difference in the two passages.
The Greek word for “cut short” has the core meaning, “to cut off,” or, when applied to time “to cut short.” When interpreters claim that the Great Tribulation will be cut short of its divinely decreed 1260 days is not Biblical supported. Since the decree of the Tribulation was issued in the past, even before the creation of the heavens and earth, God had already shortened the Great Tribulation. He did so in the sense that in the past He determined to cut it off at a specific time rather than let it continue indefinitely. In His omniscience, God knew that if the Great Tribulation were to continue indefinitely, all flesh would perish from the earth. To prevent that from happening, in the past God sovereignty set a specific time for the Great Tribulation to end. In His omniscience, God knew that if He let the Great Tribulation go more than 1260 days then all flesh would be wiped out. Therefore, in eternity past when God was planning this time of history, He cut it short to 1260 days, so that the elect would in fact be saved.
Satan and the Antichrist goal for these events is to destroy the Jewish people. Why does the Devil want to do that? He believes that if he can destroy the Jews, then He will be able to prevent the second coming, since Christ’s return is a response to the converted Jewish remnant’s request for physical deliverance. Satan believes that if he can prevent a key event in God’s predestined plan for history from occurring then he will have proven God is not worthy of His exalted position. He cannot succeed because God is faithful to fulfill His word.
Therefore, what does the phrase “no life would have been saved” mean in light of Jesus’ predictions? There are two views worthy of consideration and they revolved around the meaning of the term “no life.” Does it refer to the Jewish remnant, which is destined for salvation during this time, or humanity? First, salvation in this phrase refers to physical deliverance and not salvation from one’s sins because the danger in the tribulation is physical, not spiritual. Second, the phrase “no life” or “no flesh” includes all humanity and not a certain group. It appears that Satan’s effort to destroy the Jews would result in the total annihilation of all humanity, were it not for Christ’s intervention at the Second Advent. This fact provides us with further insight into the purposes of Christ’s return. Third, the term “the elect” is used three times by Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Matthew 14:22, 24, 31; also in Mark 13:20, 22, 27), all three refer to the same entity. They clearly refer to some group of believers during the tribulation. Since the church has been ruptured, it cannot refer to her. Therefore, does “the elect” refer to saved Jews and Gentiles, or only the Jewish remnant?
While it is true that the term “the elect” is used in the New Testament Epistles of church age believers, both Jews and Gentiles, (Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1), it is also true that this term is used in a variety of other ways, (1) Rufus, a choice man (Romans 16:13). (2) Angels (1 Timothy 5:21). (3) Jewish believers (1 Peter 1:1; 2:9). (4) Christ a choice building stone (1 Peter 2:4, 6). (5) A chosen lady (2 John 1). (7) A chosen sister (2 John 13). In the Old Testament the term “elect” is used in the following references to Israel: Isaiah 42:1; 43:20; 45:4; 65:9; 65:15; 65:22; Psalm 89:3; 105:6, 43; 106:5; 1 Chronicles 16:13. The verbal form of “to choose” is used dozens of times in relation to Israel in the Old Testament. Even though a majority of the biblical occurrences refers to Israel, usage of the term must be determined by how it is used in a specific context. In this context, it is most likely used regarding the nation, Daniel identifies this time as a “decreed for your people and your holy city,” indicating that Israel, not the church or mankind in general, will be the center of the Tribulation suffering.
The term “the elect” is most likely used because Jesus looks forward to those belonging to the Jewish remnant, though not yet saved; they are chosen to such a destiny.