|The Great Apostasy||WhyProphets.com|
Matthew 24 and Christian
The Great Apostasy foretold by Jesus
and how most Christians have tried to deny this
The traditional Christian world has major disagreements over every point of prophecy. None of their interpretations fits neatly. Why? Because they are trying to paper over an enormous crack. The scriptures plainly teach of a total apostasy from the truth, but the modern churches - fruits of that apostasy - will never face up to it.
|Matthew 24:15-22 refers to AD 70|
To understand Matthew 24, we have to start at the beginning. The chapter starts with two questions - about the destruction of the temple, and the signs of Christ's Second Coming. Jesus answers both questions, in that order.
Early on, Jesus said that he was taking about the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. What was this abomination?
A review of Daniel chapter 9
In Daniel chapter 9, seventy "weeks" (490 years) are given for a number of events to occur.
- It starts with the decree to return to Jerusalem (457 BC)
- Takes us to the ministry of the messiah (the last seven year period)
- At the end of this period the prince of this world (Satan) begins to gain power.
- Abominations (which usually means abominations committed by the chosen people) leads to Jerusalem being laid desolate.
All this was fulfilled by history:
- The Jews did return from captivity.
- Christ did minister as described.
- When he died, and especially after the apostles died, a process of apostasy began.
- The sins of the nation led to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
But Daniel spoke about more than just 490 years. In Chapters 2, 7, 8, 11 and 12, Daniel wrote of the bigger picture, the sequence of events right up to the Second Coming of Christ:
- Daniel tells of the great empires - Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Europe
- The church would be "in the hand of" Satan for 1260 years.
- Then the church would begin to roll forth like the stone in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and fill the earth.
- The ancient of days would return, and Christ would come and reign personally on the earth.
With that background, let us look again at the prophecies of Matthew 24:
Matthew 24 speaks of the same things
- Verses 4-15 give an overview of what the disciples are to look for: an apostasy from the truth, wars, and the gospel being preached to the whole earth.
- Verses 16-22 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, as spoken of by Daniel.
|This is the crucial point. These verses refer to AD
- Verses 23-26 refer to false Christs and false prophets (apparently the period dominated by the false church and false teachers under the "little horn" described by Daniel).
- Verses 27 and onward speak of the Second Coming.
The problem for traditional Christianity
The scripture clearly teaches about the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70), the Second Coming (some time after AD 2000), and a period of false prophets in between, including 1260 years when the church was "in the hand of" Satan.
This is a huge problem for traditional Christianity, because all the Catholic and Protestant churches trace their origins to this period. To maintain any credibility, they have to somehow merge the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 with the desolations of the last days. But it cannot be done. No wonder they get confused! The Bible is clear, and fully supported by actual history.
Verses 21 and 29
Some confusion may arise because verse 29 refers to "the tribulation of those days." Some people think this refers to the word "tribulation" in verse 21. But "tribulation" is not some kind of secret code word. It simply means any period of trouble. In verse 29 the trouble seems to be over false prophets. In verse 21 the trouble was over the destruction of Jerusalem.
In Matthew 24, the word translated as "tribulation" is the Greek "thlipsis." It appears 44 times in the New Testament, and it always refers to religious trials such as were suffered in New Testament Times. It is not generally used to describe the Second Coming.
Verse 21 and Daniel 12:1
Words like "trial" and "tribulation" occur so often in scripture that sometimes you get two different verses that sound the same. Many people have jumped on the coincidence that Matthew 24:21 sounds a little like Daniel 12:1.
Daniel: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book."
Matthew: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."
Looks the same at first glance, doesn't it? But let us look in more detail:
|Daniel 12:1: general devastation||Matthew 24:21 - specific to Jerusalem|
|"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people:"||This does not happen in the events described by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.|
|"there shall be a time of trouble"- the word translated as "trouble" is elsewhere used in terms of trouble in general, not just religious persecution.||"then shall be great tribulation," - the word translated as "tribulation" is almost always used to describe religious persecution such as was experienced in New Testament times.|
|"such as never was since
there was a nation even to that same time:" -
all the evidence suggests that this applies to Judea in
general, and also to the world. Even the mountains are
See also Isaiah 40:4 ("every mountain and hill
shall be made low") and Revelation 16:20
hence it is fair to say that Judea has never experienced anything like it. But whatabout Jerusalem in particular? The destruction just before the Second Coming is described in Revelation 11:13-15:
"And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly. And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever."
This is certainly bad. It is consistent with the destruction of Judea as a whole, but one tenth destroyed and 7000 dead is nothing compared with what happened in AD 70: One million were killed or carried away captive, and the city was left virtually uninhabited.
|"such as was not since the
beginning of the world" - this applies to
Jerusalem in particular.
It is not so bad in the rest of Judea, as the mountains are still safe: "Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains" (verse 21).
|All the evidence suggests that Daniel is talking about the end of history.||"was not since the beginning of the world, no, nor ever shall be" - Jesus is not talking about the end of history - there is plenty more yet to come.|
|"and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book."- Daniel is talking about a time of deliverance, when the book of life is going to be opened and everyone judged.||Luke 21:24 (which parallels Matthew 24): "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." - Jesus is talking about a time of captivity, when the Jews are going to suffer for a long time yet.|
These verses are discussing different things. To compare them is like comparing apples and oranges.
Verse 22: "Days shortened"
The word translated as "shortened" is the Greek word "koloboo," which means "to mutilate." hence the emphasis is not on length of time, but in restrictions and limitations in general. If we look at the history of Israel at about that time, we can see how the Lord stepped in to help the Christians.
The mid 60s AD were dominated the Roman emperor Nero. The future looked very bad for both Jews and Christians. The Jews finally revolted and defeated the Syrian governor Cestius Gallus. But Gallus sent word to Nero (in AD 67) , and Nero sent Vespasian to crush the Jews. This was to lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, just as foretold. But the Christians were no better off. Nero had blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome, and had killed Peter and Paul. It looked like events were going to see both Jews and Christians destroyed.
But then God stepped in to "shorten" the days. By the Autumn of AD 68, Vespasian had cut off Jerusalem from the East. So, for the sake of the elect, God shortened the days of Nero. When Vespasian heard of Nero's death, he returned to Rome, and the war was delayed for a year. This was enough time for Christians (and probably the Dead Sea Scrolls community) to get out of Jerusalem. Next, God shortened the days in Rome. After a hundred years of relative stability, Rome had four emperors in quick succession. This took their minds off the problems with Jews and Christians. Finally, Vespassian got the jonb of emperor. He sent his son Titus to finish the job at Jerusalem, but he did not hate or persecute the Christians as Nero did.
Hence the Christians had been saved by the "shortening" of days.
Verses 23-26: between AD 70 and the Second Coming
Why did the Lord dismiss the whole period between AD 70 and the Second Coming so briefly? Probably because he did not want to focus on negative events - the disciples needed optimism, not pessimism. At this time they needed a message of hope. They did not need to know too much about how they would die horrible deaths, how the church would slip into apostasy, or how the world would suffer its longest and most awful age of darkness. Yet that is precisely what happened, according to history.
Verse 34 "This generation"
The phrase "this generation shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled" has been used to link the AD 70 events with the Second Coming events. But that is easily explained. "This generation", the generation in verse 34, had been defined in the previous verse as the one that first saw the signs. See verses 29 to 35, a separate paragraph according to the marks in the KJV. All we can be sure is that the Second Coming will be within one generation of the signs in heaven, which occur after the apostasy described in verses 21 to 24.
JSM: LDS readers may like to compare Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:18-21. This apparently confirms that these verses refer to AD 70. Sometimes people get a little confused because later prophets have applied the same language to events that are still in the future, but this is not a problem. Living prophets have every right to apply scriptures to more than one set of circumstances.
|Ten examples of the twisting and squirming to avoid the truth|
The traditional Christian interpretations all share two problems;
- First, by ignoring the space between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming, they tend to confuse the two.
- Second, they try to squash all the apostasy scriptures into a short "Great Tribulation" period just before the Second Coming.
With these blind spots regarding prophecy, the attempts at understanding are doomed to confusion and failure. The following quotations are from the Ellwel Evangelical Dictionary. They give ten different interpretations of the prophecy in Matthew 24, demonstrating the traditional Christian confusion.
Note the first of the ten explanations: after the deaths of the apostles, the Christians saw clearly that the prophecies were being fulfilled. The tribulation (the apostasy) was already upon them and they knew it. But later Christians would not accept this plain fact.
And so on. All this confusion, just because the traditional Christian world will not accept the scriptures that testify of the universal apostasy after the deaths of the apostles!
How did traditional Christianity evolve? The historical changes have been recorded in books such as "The Great Apostasy" (by Talmage). A closer look at the death of prophecy after New Testament times is in "The World and the Prophets" by Nibley. I particularly recommend the latter book for its treatment of Augustine (mentioned below). Other books deal with similar issues. Items in quotation marks are from a non-LDS source, the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, in the Bible Library CD-ROM version 1.1, 1988. The Elwell dictionary leans toward the myth of a personal antichrist, but is otherwise an excellent and balanced resource. It is highly recommended.
the bottom line
The prophecies are simple: destruction of Jerusalem - apostasy - restoration - Second Coming. Why must modern Christians make it confusing by adding separate and distinct tribulation, rapture, wrath, Beast, Antichrist, and a dozen theories in between?