Would you please explain Matthew 24:20?


In Matthew 24, containing the famous “Olivet prophecy,” Jesus Christ explained the “sign of His coming and the end of the age” (verse 3). After discussing the “beginning of sorrows” (verse 8), He pointed at the worldwide preaching of the gospel (verse 14), followed by the Great Tribulation (beginning with verse 15). In that context, Jesus said, in verses 19-22:

“(19) But woe to those who are pregnant and to those with nursing babies IN THOSE DAYS. (20) And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. (21) For THEN there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until THIS TIME, no, nor ever shall be. (22) And unless THOSE DAYS were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake THOSE DAYS will be shortened… (29) Immediately after the tribulation of THOSE days the sun will be darkened… (30) THEN the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and THEN all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Even though some commentaries state that Jesus’ sayings were restricted to the time of 69 A.D. and 70 A.D., when true Christians fled to the city of Pella before the Romans invaded and destroyed Jerusalem, it is clear from the context that those events, even though constituting a forerunner, did not describe the final fulfillment of the prophesied events. There was no “Great Tribulation” at the time of 70 A.D.–worse than it ever had been or will be–nor did those events precede “the end of the age”–this present civilization–and “the coming of Christ.”

It is true that Christ specifically addressed first “THOSE who are in Judea,” telling them to “flee to the mountains” (verse 16). But then, His statement is all-encompassing, stating in verse 20: “And pray that YOUR flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.”

Regarding His statement that the flight should not be in winter, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible remarks about the winter season:

“When days are short, and unfit for long journeys, and roads are bad, and sometimes not passable, through large snows, or floods of water; and when to dwell in desert places, and lodge in mountains, must be very uncomfortable: wherefore Christ directs to pray to God, who has the disposal of all events, and of the timing of them, that he would so order things in the course of his providence, that their flight might not be in such a season of the year, when traveling would be very difficult and troublesome.”

Christ was clearly saying in verse 20 that the Sabbath (as well as “winter”) would still be in existence “in those days,” just prior to His return. Notice this: The Sabbath will still be in force and effect just prior to Christ’s Second Coming! The notion that Christ came to abolish the law of the Ten Commandments (including the commandment to keep holy the Seventh-Day Sabbath), is utterly false. Paul said in Hebrews 4:9: “It is therefore the duty of the people of God to keep the sabbath” (Lamsa translation). The New King James Bible translates, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God,” but in the Greek, the word for “rest” is “sabbatismos” and means, literally, “keeping of the Sabbath” or “Sabbath-rest.” The time of the Sabbath rest referred to here begins Friday evening, at sunset, and lasts to Saturday evening, at sunset, according to the Hebrew calendar.

At the same time, the Bible makes it clear that it is not a sin to “flee” on the Sabbath. The Bible says that the ancient people of Israel left Egypt on the First Day of Unleavened Bread (an annual Sabbath or Holy Day), and, according to tradition, they crossed the Red Sea during their flight from the Egyptians on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread (another annual Holy Day). Also, according to tradition, the Israelites invaded and conquered Jericho on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread.

Again, what Jesus says is to pray that our flight not occur during either of these times. Implicit in His instructions is the fact that should the flight fall during these periods, then real difficultly would follow. Also, His warnings do act as a preparation for us–watching and being ready to escape from the horrific events that will follow is something we must pay attention to. Examples from the Word of God do show that God warned righteous people in advance, and that He also saw to their safety and deliverance.

However, it would most certainly not be easy “in those days” to have to flee “in winter or on the Sabbath.” Remember, Christ said in Matthew 24:19: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those with nursing babies in THOSE days.” A flight under those conditions might be very burdensome, and Christ was encouraging His end-time disciples who would be aware of the signs of the time, to pray that their flight would NOT be in winter or on the Sabbath.

Christ focused specifically on the Sabbath for several reasons:

At the time of the end, the Satan-induced governments of this world will have begun a thorough persecution of all those who keep the Sabbath. We read of a worldwide martyrdom of God’s disciples, who will keep the Sabbath. These martyrs will include those who will have rejected the “mark of the beast.” This “mark of the beast” includes those who keep Sunday, instead of the Sabbath, and man-made holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, instead of God’s annual Sabbaths or Holy Days.

As happened before in history, the followers of “orthodox Christianity” will persecute all those who don’t keep holy their “weekly day of worship”–Sunday, the day of a pagan sun-god, as well as their annual “holidays” such as Christmas or Easter–days originally dedicated to pagan sun-gods–and who instead insist on keeping holy God’s weekly Sabbath and His annual Holy Days.

The “mark of the beast”–designating those working or not working on certain days–will identify all those who belong to the universal “Christian” church in existence “in those days.” By extension, it will also single out those who do NOT belong to that universal church. For more information on the “mark of the beast,” please read our free booklets, “Europe in Prophecy” and “Is That in the Bible–The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation.”

We read that Satan will influence the governments of this world to persecute those who will be fleeing to a place of safety here on earth (compare Revelation 12:14-16). Those who keep the Sabbath and have probably already been under surveillance by the governments, will be in danger of additional persecution, and the governments might step in to prevent their flight. If that were to happen on the Sabbath, one can easily see how difficult, even mentally and spiritually, the conditions would be for the continuation of the flight.

Christ also prophesied that some outside the Church of God would keep the Sabbath. For instance, the Sabbath is being kept even today–more or less–in the state of Israel. Since it is possible that the place of safety will be located in the Middle East, it would be difficult to flee there, if it somehow involved a route through the state of Israel. According to prophecy, the Jews in Israel will have begun, by that time, to become more zealous in their religion; to build the Third Temple; and to re-institute the daily sacrifices. It stands to reason that true Christians would have to encounter resistance even from certain Jews if they had to flee on the Sabbath. (Since most Jews reject the New Testament, they would not take Christ’s warning seriously to flee to a place of safety to escape the Great Tribulation).

If most of the Jews in the state of Israel were to re-institute their (unbiblical) traditions regarding the Sabbath, which is highly likely, it would be very difficult to pass through their region on the Sabbath day. Note what the commentary of Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible has to say about the ancient traditions of the Jews:

“Long journeys were prohibited… The law of Moses did not mention the distance to which persons might go on the Sabbath, but most of the Jews maintained that it should not be more than 2000 cubits. Some supposed that it was 7 furlongs, or nearly a mile. This distance was allowed in order that they might go to their places of worship. Most of them held that it was not lawful to go further, under any circumstances of war or affliction. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that their flight might not be on the Sabbath, because, if they should not go farther than a Sabbath-day’s journey, they would not be beyond the reach of danger, and if they did, they would be exposed to the charge of violating the law [as interpreted by the Jews–not taught by the Bible]. It should be added that it was almost impracticable to travel in Judea on that day, as the gates of the cities were usually closed.”

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible gives a similar explanation, which, even though referring to the time of Jesus’ First Coming, might be applicable to a renewed, but misguided zeal of the Jews in the future:

“And the reason why our Lord put them on praying, that their flight might not be on the Sabbath day, was, because he knew not only that the Jews, who believed not in him, would not suffer them to travel on a sabbath day more than two thousand cubits; which, according to their traditions…, was a sabbath day’s journey; and which would not be sufficient for their flight to put them out of danger… And though the Jews did allow, that the sabbath might be violated where life was in danger, and that it was lawful to defend themselves against an enemy on the sabbath day; yet this did not universally obtain; and it was made a question of, after the time of Christ, whether it was lawful to flee from danger on the sabbath day.”

We read that Christ’s true disciples will be hated by all nations in those days (Matthew 24:9). This would include professing Christians, because true Christians won’t accept the pagan concepts and worship which have become part of orthodox Christianity. This would also include the Jews, because true Christians won’t accept Jewish traditions and they will confess Jesus Christ as the ONLY Savior of the world, which concept the Jews (as well as the Arabs and other non-Christian religions) universally reject. True disciples will become the target of worldwide persecution from every corner, and fleeing on the Sabbath would contribute to additional hostilities.

Christ’s statement also shows that the specific day of the flight is not yet fixed, but that it is within the Father’s authority to decide when exactly the day of the flight will occur. So let us pray then, that our flight will not occur in winter or on the Sabbath day.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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