being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. ...When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. ... when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. ... Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.'" (Luke 21:20-36 NIV)
How are we to understand these answers? Part of Jesus' response dealt with the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple which took place according to secular history in the year seventy A.D. At that time Roman armies under general Titus destroyed the city and the temple, leaving not even a stone upon a stone, as Jesus said. Surviving Jews were sold into slavery or sent into exile.
What about the portions of Jesus' answer that dealt with the end of this world and his future return in power? This is the more difficult part to interpret.
Have there been signs in the sun, moon and stars? Our modern age has had its share of meteor showers and spectacular comets. But those recent events don't really qualify as being unique or outstanding. Perhaps the signs Jesus was referring to are the manned space flights, the construction of an international space
station, and human landings on the moon. Those truly are signs never seen before in world history. "The powers of heaven will be shaken" (Matt. 24:29 Jerusalem Bible), and the powers of the heavens have been shaken, indeed, in the sense that the heavens above us have lost their power over mankind. The heavens are no longer out of reach. For roughly a hundred years now man has been sending airplanes up into the sky. More recently men have gone to the moon, and have inhabited a space station circling in the heavens above the earth. Yes, it can certainly be said that there have been "signs in the sun, moon and stars" and that the heavens have been shaken.
Some associate "'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel" with the Roman armies and the idolatrous insignia they carried when they undermined the Temple walls in 66 A.D., before withdrawing and giving those in Judea the opportunity to "flee to the mountains" before returning in 70 A.D. and destroying the Jewish capital. Others might point to the Islamic mosques that presently occupy the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Still others might see a future fulfillment in a rebuilding of the Temple during the coming tribulation and its subsequent desecration by the antichrist. Time will tell which view is correct.
A key part of Jesus' prophecy, however—and a part that definitely applies to the end of this world, rather than to the end of the Jewish system of temple worship—is this statement: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matt. 24:14 NIV) The apostles reached throughout the Roman empire with the gospel message, and Christian missionaries down through the ages have spread the Good News to every continent. But it is only recently that it can truly be said that the gospel is being preached in the whole world.
Aside from the nations of Christendom, where there are churches proclaiming the gospel in every city and town, there are Christian missionaries and native churches nearly everywhere. Even in communist China there are millions of believers. And, in fundamentalist Islamic states where Christian preaching is strictly prohibited, the population still