Before I begin, I will provide some stipulations:
(1) I am not a prophet, nor do I presume some special word from God. The office of prophet is a very important one, and the Bible has a very hard command for such a one: a perfect batting average. A lot of folks today like to run their mouths on current events, throw in some Scripture, and then claim prophetic status. Count me out of that circus, as I have no use for those types. I am simply providing an educated assessment based upon what we know to be true from Scripture, as well as our own history.
(2) My politics tend to be empathetic with the Tea Party, before it was hijacked by the Republican establishment. This is not incompatible with Scripture, either: our fundamental liberties, from our common law to our Constitution, have significant roots in Scripture, and even the Old Testament law, in its most primitive understanding, was in point of fact quite conducive to fundamental liberties, as the tax structure was light, and–as long as you weren’t defrauding anyone, committing murder, violating property rights, or engaging in various perversions–were free in the life, liberty, and property sense.
(3) What I say here applies to the current situation, and I pass no judgment on prior revolutions. I believe that the American Revolution was valid. The issue here is whether the matters over which we rightly took up arms against the Brits back then are appropriate triggers in our current milieu.
Now, to Matthew 24…
The chapter begins with a very terse word from Jesus:
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
This statement is huge. As the Disciples were showing him the temple buildings, we need to remember the heritage behind those buildings:
(1) the first Temple was quite the elaborate structure that stood for hundreds of years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 587 B.C.
(2) While Temple 2.0 was not quite as sophisticated as Temple 1.0, Herod had invested no small amount of energy building a wall around the Temple, as well as buildings around the Temple. He was a very bloodthirsty ruler, but definitely had a keen eye for buildings. You could say he was not far-removed from Donald Trump in his leanings, only with a penchant for murder.
(3) Jesus is speaking to a people who are in the midst of a political powder keg, and who are themselves not unfamiliar with revolt and revolution. Not even 200 years prior, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in a brazen affront to the Jewish people, entered the Temple, entered the Holy Place–which was reserved for the High Priest–and erected a statue of Zeus. (This was called the “abomination of desolation”, and was forecasted by Daniel.) This set off what would be known as the Maccabean revolts, in which Jews took up arms against the forces of Antiochus and, after a very bloody war, reclaimed the Temple.
In the years since then, the Romans had gone to great lengths to keep the Jewish revolutionary sentiments in check: Pilate was a brutal governor who was known to crucify Jews as examples to anyone considering a revolt. Likewise, Herod–in an effort to show that he could control matters and did not need Pilate’s help–was known for his own brutality.
The Jews, between Herod (state government) and Caesar (federal government), were saddled with Big Government, and the Tea Party of that day–while popular–was on a short leash. Even talking about revolution could get you killed.
And we must remember, at the top of Matthew 24, Jesus was in Jerusalem, and Passover–the Israelite equivalent of the 4th of July–was fast-approaching.
So when Jesus says, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down,” it is a knockdown pitch that would have offended the would-be Jewish patriots of that day, the ranks of whom included several of the Disciples.
The Disciples, as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives–asked him, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
What proceeded was the mother of all sobering pep-talks.
He warned that false messiahs would come out of the woodwork, and not to give them heed as many others would.
He warned that things would get progressively worse: wars between nations and even kingdoms. He warned them not to get wrapped up in those matters.
He warned them of natural disasters, particularly earthquakes. He told them that would simply commence the beginning of proverbial labor pains.
He warned them that social order would break down, even to the point where people would betray one another.
He warned them that they would be persecuted during this time. Their own families might turn them in; their neighbors might turn them in; their co-workers may turn them in. The situation would become very tenuous and dangerous, and many followers of Jesus would pay the ultimate price on this earth.
Then, Jesus delivers the sternest of warnings:
“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
When Jesus said that, remember that he was speaking to people who, in the last instance of an “abomination of desolation”, successfully took up arms against their government.
And yet, this time, Jesus had a different message. In effect, he was saying, “Next time, when that happens, this is NOT THE TIME TO FIGHT. You need to get out of Dodge, because there’s gonna be a world of hurt coming down on this city and you don’t want to be near this place when it blows up.”
The words of Jesus here are similar to the admonishments provided by Jeremiah to the Judaeans, as the Babylonians took over the region. One prophet, Hananiah, predicted revolt and freedom. Jeremiah, on the other hand, called out Hananiah as a false prophet and predicted Hananiah;s own death within a year. Jeremiah, in turn, exhorted Judaeans to settle down, work hard, don’t fight the Babylonians, repent of their sins, and–eventually–this would pass.
Instead, Zedekiah, perhaps paying attention to Hananiah, revolted, and the Babylonians would move in and crush Jerusalem–destroying the Temple that Solomon had built–and taking much of the population into exile while leaving the weak and poor behind in relative anarchy.
Likewise, many people in Jesus’s generation would take up arms against the Romans, following the lead of would-be messiahs against whom Jesus had warned, and would fail miserably.
What does that have to do with us today?
Here in the United States, we are a nation born in revolution. We are the children of 1776, just as the Jews of Jesus’ time were the children of 168 B.C. We pride ourselves in our fathers–Washiington, Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Hancock–just as the Jews of Jesus’ day prided themselves in their heritage from Abraham to David to Maccabee, and their allegiance to the prophets.
And yet, when Jesus gave them “The Talk” in Matthew 24, he told them that, when they see what is supposed to be a trigger for revolution, the time will be to RUN, not fight.
The question we must face as Americans is this: as our liberties–particularly our religious liberties–come under increasing attack, what ought to be the response of the Christian?
One school of thought says we should take up arms and fight off the tyrants, because our Founders have given us that means in the Declaration of Independence and the Second Amendment. And while our Founders did indeed design such prerogatives in our founding documents, the issue is whether the fact that we have such a prerogative constitutes an obligation?
One school of thought says that we should just forsake all weaponry, eschew the Second Amendment, and kowtow to every pronouncement of government. After all, this earth is not our home.
I would suggest that the answer is in the middle: the Christian must not take up an offensive war with his government. In other words, don’t pick that fight. Make every effort–as far as it depends on you–to live peaceably with your government.
In the Early Church, government was far more oppressive than the United States is today. Christians were often targeted for prison, torture, and execution in the most sadistic fashions. Taxes were high, property rights were nebulous by today’s standards, government was corrupt at every level, every emperor was known for varying levels of hedonistic debauchery and hubris.
And yet you don’t see Paul or Peter (who had brandished a sword in defense of Jesus at one point) calling for insurrection.
But that begs the question: is there a point where taking up arms is an acceptable option for the Christian?
I would say yes. And here is where I would suggest that this becomes acceptable if not necessary:
(a) government is clearly engaging in genocidal practices. Any rounding up of Citizens for prisons or camps, and it’s time to shoot to kill. Without mercy. Deportations are one thing, as people who are here illegally need to leave the country and, if they wish to come here, enter through the front door with a valid visa. But internment camps and concentration camps and gulags are a whole ‘nother ballgame. We know where that leads, and we cannot afford to let our government go there.
(b) in the event of breakdown in local order. When these things happen, various posses often arise. Some of them good, others not so much. In such an event, the armed Christian can keep a check and balance against such parties whose designs may be malevolent and despotic.
But the crux here is this: if the progressive erosion of our liberties is a product of the judgment of God–and given the death toll exceeding 60 million from the abortion mills, that may certainly be the case–then fighting it is an exercise in futility.
In Matthew 24, the Jews were in the process of rejecting Jesus, and the fall of Israel 2.0 was, arguably, an act of judgment. (I would suggest that it signified the end of the Temple paradigm, the final shoe to drop on that era after the death and resurrection of Jesus.)
We are likely in a similar situation. And that is why what was appropriate in 1776, or 168 BC, is, in my assessment, not the formula for today.