God tells Israel that He will not bring another calamity on Jerusalem like the one He brought in Ezekiel’s day: “And because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done, and the like of which I will never do again” (Ezek. 5:9). One commentator who believes that there is yet to be a future Great Tribulation to surpass all the tribulations brought upon Israel writes the following:
Verses 8–9 [in Ezekiel 5] give the principal statement of God’s verdict. He would execute the judgments pronounced in the Mosaic covenant on Jerusalem in the sight of the nations. Never again would God execute a judgment like this. He would withdraw himself from the sanctuary (v. 11b; cf. 10:4; 11:22–23) to pour out his judgment without pity. One-third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would die in the city through disease and famine; one-third would die by the sword. (Ralph H. Alexander, “Ezekiel,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 6:773. Emphasis added.)
Ezekiel is describing events that took place during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 25). He tells the people that the “day is near,” that is, near for those who first read the prophecy (Ezek. 7:7). In the twelfth year of the exile, refugees came to Ezekiel, saying, “The city has been taken” (33:21). So then, the description of the siege in Ezekiel 5 is a description of events that occurred in the lifetime of Ezekiel, not a distant destruction of the city. Ezekiel was indicating “the impending destruction of the people by massacre.” (S. Fisch, Ezekiel: Hebrew Text and English Translation (London: Soncino Press,  1976), 24.) Are we to assume, if we take the futurist view, that what is being described in Ezekiel 5:9 skips over the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70 and refers to a yet future destruction of Jerusalem? Those who claim that Matthew 24:21 is describing a judgment after AD 70 have no evidence to offer for this view since there is not a New Testament verse that mentions anything about a rebuilt temple.
But we know that Jerusalem was destroyed again in AD 70, and the language found in Ezekiel 5:9 is used by Jesus to describe its judgment in their generation. That judgment was worse than the one in Ezekiel’s day. More than a million Jews were killed in the holocaust at the hands of the Romans. The temple was destroyed and has not been rebuilt. The temple in Ezekiel’s day was destroyed and rebuilt. Futurists claim that Matthew 24:21 describes a greater tribulation than that of the destruction of the first and second temples. There is no need to force Jesus’ words to mean this. The language is hyperbolic since it is used numerous times in the Old Testament to describe different catastrophic events.
The words come from Daniel xii.1. One who reads the narrative of Josephus will hardly hesitate to adopt his language, “that all miseries that had been known from the beginning of the world fell short” of those of the siege of the Holy City (Wars, v.13.4, 5). Other sieges may have witnessed, before and since, scenes of physical wretchedness equally appalling, but nothing that history records offers anything parallel to the alterations of fanatic hope and frenzied despair that attended the breaking up of the faith and polity of Israel. (Edward Hayes Plumptre, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, ed. Charles John Ellicott, 3 vols. (London: Cassell and Company, 1897), 1:148.)
The Bible and the testimony of eyewitnesses like Josephus affirm that the language of Matthew 24:21 fits with the events of AD 70. Considering the futurist scenario, the logic of Matthew 24:21 makes little sense. “That Jesus in v. 21 promises that such ‘great distress’ is never to be equaled implies that it cannot refer to the Tribulation at the end of the age [a yet future tribulation period]; for if what happens next is the Millennium or the new heaven and the new earth, it seems inane to say that such ‘great distress’ will not take place again.” (D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositors Bible Commentary, 8:501.) The first-century destruction of the temple was in view. There is no need to futurize the text beyond its intended reference given the meaning of “this generation” (Matt. 24:34).
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No Greater Crime
The severity of the punishment and the seemingly exaggerated language used by Jesus are evidence that these condemnations were made in response to the criminal act of crucifying God’s promised Redeemer. George Murray writes that “it was the nature, rather than the magnitude of the tribulation that our Lord had in mind and which he said was to be without equal in all of history.” (George Murray, Millennial Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1948), 107.) No other crime was as heinous as killing the “Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8; cf. Luke 24:20; Acts 3:12–26; 1 Thess. 2:15). Consider these passages:
• “The blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation” (Luke 11:50–52).
• “They therefore cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ’We have no king but Caesar’” (John 18:15).
• “And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves!’ And all the people answered and said, ’His blood be on us and on our children!’ [This self-malediction (self-curse) was a single generation in length, that is, down to AD 70. It does not extend throughout the centuries. This means that present-day Jews are not cursed for crucifying Jesus.] Then he released Barabbas for them; but Jesus he scourged and delivered over to be crucified” (Matt. 27:24–26).
• “And He was casting out a demon…. and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, ’He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’” (Luke 11:14–15).
• “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:31–32).
• “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same suffering at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Thess. 2:14–16).
No generation of Jews living in Israel will ever experience a punishment as severe as the one that happened to the unbelieving Jews at the hands of the Romans because their crime could never be as great. There have been wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes in various places, but a tribulation of this magnitude has never and will never come on the world again because Jesus can never be rejected and crucified again!
Even so, in a demonstration of mercy, God temporarily overlooked even the crucifixion of His own Son because of their ignorance (Luke 23:34; cf. Lev. 4). He gave them a generation—forty years—to repent and embrace their Savior. Nineveh was only given forty days (Jonah 3:4). Peter, in his second post-Pentecost sermon, recognizes that the Jews “acted in ignorance” when “they disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer … and put to death the Prince of life” (Acts 3:14–17). But the time of ignorance was over (cf. Acts 17:23, 30). “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent, therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:17–19).
Many did repent and embrace Jesus as the promised Messiah. But many did not. While many theologians in our day believe that Rome was the great persecutor of the first-century church, the book of Acts tells a different story. W.H.C. Frend writes that “down to AD 64 danger threatened the Christian Church from the Jews and the Jews alone.” (W.H.C. Frend, The Early Church (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1982), 29.) We read how the Jews were the great persecutors of the church (e.g., Acts 7:54–60; 13:45, 50; 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5, 13; 18:6, 12–18; 19:8–9; 21:27–32, 36; 22:22–23; 23:12–22). Paul describes the Jews who “drove us out” as “not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men.” They hindered Paul “from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Thess. 2:15–16). The generation of Jews who lived between AD 30 and 70 compounded and elevated their sin by assaulting His Bride, the church.
God Sues Israel
God’s judgment upon Jerusalem was prompted by a “covenant lawsuit.” Hosea describes it as the Lord having a “case against the inhabitants of the land” (Hosea 4:1):
The LORD also has a dispute with Judah,
And will punish Jacob according to his ways;
He will repay him according to his deeds (Hosea 12:2)
Jeremiah says it this way:
“Therefore will I yet bring charges
against you,” says the LORD,
“And against your children’s children
I will bring charges.” (Jer. 2:9, NKJV)
God calls on the mountains as a witness against Israel:
Listen, you mountains, to the indictment of the LORD,
And you enduring foundations of the earth,
Because the LORD has a case against His people;
Even with Israel He will dispute. (Micah 6:2)
Israel had broken the demands of the covenant: Faith-filled obedience brings life, while faithless disobedience brings death (Deut. 28). The rejection of Jesus as God’s promised anointed Savior brings God’s covenant wrath upon all those who reject Him: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Israel was given “the adoption as sons and the glory of the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Rom. 9:4).
Jesus was rejected as the promised Messiah early in His ministry (Luke 4:14–20). The chief priests and the elders of the people were always looking for ways to murder Him. They were hindered because of His popularity with the people (Matt. 21:46; 26:5). These were Jesus’ parting words as He left the temple: “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD’” (Matt. 23:38–39). (For a detailed study of these verses see my book Wars and Rumors of Wars.) When Jesus left the temple for the last time, He was leaving it empty and desolate, just as when the shekinah glory departed from the temple in Ezekiel 8–11.
The desolate temple was shortly filled with demons (Luke 11:20–26). What was spiritually true in AD 30 became visibly true 40 years later:
The temple and the city were made desolate. Jesus told His disciples that all these things would come upon “this generation.” The savagery, slaughter, disease, and famine (mothers eating their own children) were monstrous (cf. Jos. Wars V, 424–38 [x.2–3]), “unequaled from the beginning of the world until now,” and, according to Jesus, “never to be equaled again.” There have been greater numbers of deaths—six million in the Nazi death camps, mostly Jews, and an estimated twenty million under Stalin—but never so high a percentage of a great city’s population so thoroughly and painfully exterminated and enslaved as during the fall of Jerusalem. (Carson, “Matthew,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:501.)
We know that not even the predicted future great tribulation of dispensationalism would be greater than the flood that left only eight people alive (Gen. 8:8–12). Jesus is using a figure of speech—hyperbole—common to the Jewish ear to stress His point of certain and near-total destruction. In terms of this single generation’s great sin of crucifying the Savior and persecuting His Bride, the Church, the judgment that was poured out upon the once-holy city was fitting. The language that Jesus used to describe those “days of vengeance” (Luke 21:22) fits the magnitude of the offense.
The English translator of the Works of Josephus makes the following comment about what Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:1–34: “That these calamities of the Jews, who were our Saviour’s murderers, were to be the greatest that had ever been since the beginning of the world, our Saviour had directly foretold, Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19; Luke 21:23–24; and that they proved to be such accordingly, Josephus is here a most authentic witness.” (William Whiston, “Preface” to The Wars of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 544 note c.)
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation alone. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. Everything Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.Buy Now