“A time of great tribulation such as has not been …”
‘The Olivet Prophecy’ – as most of today’s reading of Matthew 24 is known – is full of challenging language about events future to that time. Is it good to think that we have the ‘interpretation’ of its words exactly sorted out? The phraseology is puzzling in parts and we must recognize some aspects of prophecy only become clear as events start to take place.
It is like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together and it is exciting as the overall picture becomes more evident, this was the experience during the last two centuries. There are still parts that It is unwise to be too dogmatic about; we must have patience.
The key question the disciples asked Jesus was, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (verse 3). Part of his answer is to say, “if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved, but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (verse 22). The previous verse says, “there will be a time of great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now” (verse 21).
So there will be still “the elect” living at the time of the greatest crisis in human history. Verse 31 tells us the angels will be sent out to gather the elect! Are the “elect” only the true and faithful believers that then exist? If so, we can compare this with the time of Noah, when there were only seven God was willing to save. But Christ is not returning to destroy the world!
When we consider that Israel is also called God’s “elect” (see Isaiah 42:1; 45:4; 65:9,22) and they now exist again after 1,900 years in oblivion, we are inclined to see the reference by Jesus to “the elect” as being primarily to them – it is for the sake of Israel that “those days will be cut short” – while the christian “elect” will be gathered by the angels.
Jesus said, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (verse 29). If this is to be taken literally is this work of God or of man exploding nuclear devices? Either way this could initiate “the time of “great tribulation” – but God will act for “the elect’s sake” but there may well be awesome events to occur as “the angels gather his elect” (verse 31).
What will Israel’s situation be at this time of world crisis? In Micah 7:18,19 are the words, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance … He will again have compassion on us”.
For ourselves, let us live in a way that will ensure we are among “the elect” whom the angels gather – while those “in the tombs will hear his voice” (John 5:28) – those who, in their mortal lives, have established a relationship with Jesus as their Lord – which essentially began when they took on his name in baptism.