Running for the Hills
“Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak” (vv. 17–18). - Matthew 24:15–22
In addition to wars, false messiahs, and the preaching of the Gospel to the Roman empire, Jesus also said martyrdom, famines, earthquakes, and apostasy would precede the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:4–14). And as our Savior predicted, all these things occurred prior to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Earthquakes shook Laodicea and Pompeii in 60–61 and 62, respectively. Agabus, an early Christian prophet, predicted a famine (Acts 11:27–30) that did take place in the years 45–47. The book of Hebrews offers warnings to the early Christian community, imploring God’s people not to let their love grow cold and apostatize (3:7–4:13; 6:4–8; 10:26–31; 12:25–29). Finally, many Christians were martyred for their faith in the decades leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction. Acts records the deaths of Stephen (7:54–60) and James, the brother of John (12:1–2). James the Just, brother of Jesus and author of the New Testament epistle of James was stoned to death in the year 62. Reliable church tradition says Nero crucified Peter upside down and beheaded Paul in the mid-60s.
Let us focus on Jesus’ instructions to His disciples regarding what to do when this sacrilege appears. The abomination will signify that the end is near for Jerusalem and portends great destruction and loss of life. Believers, therefore, must flee in haste, not pausing to rescue their possessions or grab their cloaks before leaving the city (vv. 15–18). Jesus laments the pregnant and nursing women who will have to flee, for their children will hamper their ability to escape quickly (v. 19). He also tells the disciples to pray that they will not have to travel during times that will slow down those fleeing to the hills: the cold, rainy, Palestinian winter or the Sabbath, when provisions are not obtainable (v. 20).
Ancient history confirms that the remaining Jewish Christians in Jerusalem did indeed flee the city before it fell. This fact shows that the earliest believers knew that Matthew 24:1–35 applied directly to their situation, and therefore supports our view that these verses apply primarily to Jerusalem’s destruction.
Jesus words in today’s passage indicate that it is not necessarily wrong for believers to flee when calamity comes or when men rise to persecute the church. Certainly, if we are caught we must be willing to die for Jesus; however, there is nothing commendable about looking for martyrdom specifically. Pray today for the suffering church around the world to have wisdom to know when to stay and when to flee persecution.
Passages for Further Study
- 1 Samuel 27:1–7
- Zechariah 14:1–5
- Matthew 10:16–25
- Acts 11:19–26
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