Matthew 24, JST Matt 1, D&C 45
Death and Return of Christ
Jesus was speaking more and more of his impending death. The apostles could sense the tension created by such a teaching. Yet they would have to deal with it. He spoke openly of the destruction of Jerusalem and of his own death. To this end, the disciples privately asked him regarding the end of the world and Jesus’ return.
Jesus did not know when his return would be (Matt 24:36). Only God the Father knows this. For Jesus, it could very well have been in that same generation, and so he tells the apostles that some in that generation may still be alive when these things occur:
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt 24:34).
For some, this shows Jesus made a mistake in his prophesy. That may be true, however there are other possible reasons for his statement. First, we are looking at statements written down decades after the death of Jesus, which may not be fully accurate. However, I do believe that this is an accurate statement of Jesus, which leads to a second possibility: that Jesus’ prophesy has a double conclusion, one in his time, and then again in the latter days. For Jesus and other prophets, the people of their day did live in a “last days”, whether it would be the very final “last days” before Jesus’ Second Coming OR a day in which judgment and destruction would come upon the people. For all people, their final judgment IS imminent at death, if not before.
The Last Days of Jerusalem and of the World
He first warned the disciples not to be deceived. Many would come claiming to be the Christ, but the true Savior would come with power and glory. It would be in a time when there would be “wars and rumors of wars” and natural disasters of all types. We are told not to be troubled by these things. Why?
Because these are only the “beginning of sorrows.” Yes, it gets worse.
Then the world will turn against the church of Christ. It will provide its own prophets of salvation to show the path out of the destructions going on around everywhere. However, we must note that just because there will be false Christs and prophets, does not mean they are all false. For the true Christ will come, and assuredly he will prepare the way of his coming through true prophets.
“The love of many will wax cold.” True love, the love of Christ, is replaced by a cheap substitute, lust. People no longer stay married, developing the kind of love and trust that carries a couple through both thick and thin. Instead, physical attraction causes an intense feeling, but it isn’t actually love. Chemical reactions replace choice whenever Lust kills off true Love.
Abomination of Desolation
In Matthew 24:16, the Lord warns them to watch for the “Abomination of Desolation” prophesied by Daniel. His disciples are to flee to the mountains when they see it come to pass. He told them, “stand in the holy place” (v. 15).
For Jerusalem, the Abomination of Desolation began with the war against Rome (66 AD). As Rome’s imperial power pushed Jews further and further away from their own roots, radical elements sprang up. Many of these belonged to the Jewish sect called the Zealots (named after Simon Zealotes). These Jews pushed the Romans out of Jerusalem, forcing the Roman general Titus to lay siege to the city for 1 ½ years.
Titus was ingenious in his siege. He allowed over one million Jewish pilgrims to enter Jerusalem for Passover, only to refuse letting them out again. Those who sought to sneak away had their throats cut by the leaders of the Zealots. Food and water became scarce. By the time the Romans successfully took the entire city, Josephus claims that over one million Jews died from starvation, disease, or the sword.
Inside the city, the rich were as bad off as the poor. Mobs of robbers roamed the streets, looking for food and bounty. Josephus tells us:
“The madness of the seditious did also increase together with their famine, and both those miseries were every day inflamed more and more; for there was no corn which any where appeared publicly, but the robbers came running into, and searched men's private houses; and then, if they found any, they tormented them, because they had denied they had any; and if they found none, they tormented them worse, because they supposed they had more carefully concealed it. The indication they made use of whether they had any or not was taken from the bodies of these miserable wretches; which, if they were in good case, they supposed they were in no want at all of food; but if they were wasted away, they walked off without searching any further; nor did they think it proper to kill such as these, because they saw they would very soon die of themselves for want of food. Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort; but of barley, if they were poorer. When these had so done, they shut themselves up in the inmost rooms of their houses, and ate the corn they had gotten; some did it without grinding it, by reason of the extremity of the want they were in, and others baked bread of it, according as necessity and fear dictated to them: a table was no where laid for a distinct meal, but they snatched the bread out of the fire, half-baked, and ate it very hastily....children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives: and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing; but the seditious every where came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating almost up out of their very throats, and this by force: the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten; and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown either to the aged or to the infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor. “ (Josephus Flavius, War of the Jews, , Book 5,Ch 10).
Even worse things happened in the city, however. The mobs drove many of the people to suicide, murder, and cannibalism. Josephus tells of a wealthy woman named Mary, who was plundered, raped, and pillaged so often by the mobs that she turned to insane actions:
“She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, "O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews." As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, "This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also." After which those men went out trembling, being never so much aftrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries” (Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3).
When Titus finally did take the city, a fire was started that went out of control. It was not his intention to destroy the temple, but to convert it for use by the Roman gods. But the fire spread throughout King Herod’s temple complex, bringing it to destruction.
So we see just what the Abomination of Desolation was all about. The story is that the Christian Jews foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem and did flee into the wilderness and mountains, escaping the terror and horror of the Abomination of Desolation of 70 AD.
Indeed, the Savior told them, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)” (Matt 24:15). For the disciples, this meant fleeing to the mountains for safety. Interestingly, when Titus made his final assault on Jerusalem, many Jews fled to the temple, believing it was a holy place which would save them. However, the temple had long ago been desecrated and rejected by the Lord. There would be no sanctuary in Jerusalem anymore, at least not until the end times.
Modern Prophesy of the End Times
D&C 45, 87, 88, 133
Joseph Smith’s revelations contain additional information regarding the destructions and trials of the last days, preparing us for the Second Coming of Christ.
“89 For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
90 And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
91 And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88).
In the last days, the world will be divided into following Christ and the Anti-Christ. In LDS parlance, we call it Zion and Babylon. These will be religious/political ideologies that are very different from on another. In the last days, the world (Babylon) will establish itself in many places with great power. Yet, regardless of its attempts at control, will actually cause much chaos in many places.
Even America will go through a period of chaos and mobs. In such a time, righteous people of many faiths will gather together to form Zion. Zion is any place where righteous people of Christ gather. For Latter-day Saints, we religiously set up such locations throughout the world, and call them “stakes”. These are gathering places for times of destruction, war, and chaos. There will be a center stake or city to Zion. It is to such places that the righteous will flee for refuge in the last days:
“66 And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God;
67 And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.
71 And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy” (D&C 45:66-71).
We are frequently told in the Bible and other LDS scripture to “stand in holy places, and be not moved” (D&C 87:8). Such places for our day may be in our homes, if we keep them sacred. But they are also the stakes of Zion, and in holy temples established in the midst of those stakes.
Christ’s prophecy of the last days happened in the days of his disciples, but will also happen in our day. When the Abomination of Desolation flows over the earth, we must stand in holy places.
What is heaven like, and how does one make it in? Jesus shares a few parables to explain these.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
In a June 2007 Ensign article by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy, we are encouraged to think of the Parable of the Ten Virgins as connected to the temple. Elder Robbins remarked, “When speaking of His Second Coming, the Lord has said, ‘I will suddenly come to my temple’ (D&C 36:8; see also D&C 42:36; 133:2; Malachi 3:1; 3 Nephi 24:1). Because He will come to His temple, we would be wise to prepare to meet Him by being temple worthy.”
There is much we may consider in light of the modern temple experience and the Parable of the Ten Virgins:
1. The Virgins are good people. They are, after all, virgins. The question is, will they remain steadfast in their purity until they are called forth? Or will they allow their purity dim before they arrive at the marriage feast?
2. The temple is the House of the Lord. It is where we prepare to see the Face of God and be in His Presence (Shekinah). To become part of the Groom’s family (i.e., his bride) means you have full access to Him, his presence, and the blessings of his riches.
3. The temple is a place for marriage, particularly eternal marriage, but also where we bind ourselves to God through sacred oaths and covenants of obedience and faithfulness.
4. To enter the temple, one must be worthy. While we do not have to be virgins, we must be chaste and holy. Our light must shine and not be distinguished. We must endure to the end and not falter or let our lights dim prior to our appearance before the Lord.
5. There is a “keeper of the gate” in both the parable and in the temple. This person ensures only those properly prepared may enter. Brigham Young taught that "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell." (Journal of Discourses 2:31). This “keeper of the gate” is well attested to in ancient Jewish and Christian writings (see Apocalypse of Paul).
6. The lamps of oil were used as part of the procession. They lit the way to the actual wedding, and were a necessary part of the procession. To have one’s light go out while going to the wedding was an insult to the groom and his family. In modern terms, we have to provide righteous desires and acts to establish our character and worthiness to be a member of the wedding party.
In choosing to be a wise Virgin, we prepare for the wedding of the Bridegroom and to enter into His Presence. As with the Virgins, there should be no other thing more important than to prepare and wait for him to call for us.
Parable of the Talents
Bryce Anderson notes not only Elder Robbins’ connections regarding the Ten Virgins, but also in his second blog post on Matthew 25, a relationship between the Parable of the Talents and the temple.
He explains that Christ is the man who has traveled far from home (heaven), leaving his treasures and business in the hands of his servants. God “endowed” each of us with certain talents or gifts, and charged us to do something useful and productive with those gifts. Whether we think of these talents in terms of money, artistic abilities, or spiritual endowments of knowledge and power, it is the same.
Anderson notes regarding the person with five talents: “The first disciple was true and faithful to the talents that he had been given of the Lord, and upon giving them back to the Lord was allowed into the Lord’s presence, the celestial kingdom, to be made a ruler, a king and a priest.”
In considering the Parable of the Talents, we may consider it in another way. God gives to Latter-day Saints callings and responsibilities. Not everyone will be an apostle, stake president or bishop. Each is given a responsibility, however. Whether it is a large task, where 5 talents is given to be an apostle, or a smaller task as nursery leader requiring two talents, it is the same to God. When both individuals performed faithfully and did their best, both were promised great rewards in the kingdom of God. This is practiced in the temple. Righteous members enter the House of the Lord dressed in their best, whether it is a $500 dress from Neiman-Marcus, or the best one can find at Goodwill. All enter and change into simple white clothing that makes all of us equal before God. All receive identical ordinances. All receive the blessing of entering into the celestial room, representing the Presence (Shekinah) of the Lord. All are promised eternal lives and exaltation.
It doesn’t matter to God how many talents each of us receives, but what we do with what we have. And in being faithful, we will receive of His fullness.
For the last servant, God did not attempt to overburden him. He gave him just one small responsibility or talent to develop. But the servant rejected the call to serve and develop that talent. As with the foolish virgins, he allowed his light to go out. He intentionally buried the gifts of God, so that he would not have to work and produce and become holy. There are many members of the Church that promise and covenant to keep commandments, serve, and obey. Yet there are few who actually follow through. Only a small percentage of members enter into the temple and receive all its promises. The only reason why so few enter, is that most bury their spiritual gifts. People do not wish to pay tithes, live the Word of Wisdom, obey the law of chastity.
In rejecting and not developing the talents and covenants given them, they have shut the door on their exaltation. When the gifts are so fully rejected that we bury them completely away where we do not have to deal with them at all, the person has become an enemy to Christ, and is not worthy of his kingdom. There is only one place for a son of perdition, who has despised the spiritual gifts and promises made to him. Even if he had partially worked with the talent given him, he would have been worthy of some reward in the heavens. But he not only ignored the talent, he intentionally buried it, called the Lord a hard man (blaming the Lord and setting up an adversarial relationship).
In the temple, we learn that we may develop a loving and eternal relationship with God. However, we also learn that some choose to be an adversary instead. Such are sent away, not allowed into the wedding chamber, nor rewarded with greater blessings of the Lord.
Jesus taught that heaven is a great feast, where we are made rulers over many things. However, to enter into the feast, one must be prepared. We must take the lamp we are given and fill it with oil, with enough to spare, so that it does not go out. We must not bury the lamp or talents, but do the best we can to develop and grow. Our light must shine before the world as a witness to the Bridegroom, so that others may see our good works and glorify in God as well (Matt 5:14-16). As with the wise Virgins, we are to invite others to the wedding, encouraging them to go out and obtain their own oil and good works, so that when the Lord does come, we will all be ready to enter into His Presence.
Siege of Jerusalem (wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(70)
Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews Book 5, Ch 10:
Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3
Doctrine and Covenants 45
Doctrine and Covenants 87, the Prophecy on War
Doctrine and Covenants 88, the Olive Leaf
For my personal understanding of D&C 87 as a prophecy leading up to the last days, go here:
Elder Lynn G. Robbins, “Oil in Our Lamps”, Ensign, June 2007
Bryce Hammond’s Temple Study blog, “Temple Imagery in the Parables of Matthew 25”:
Part One: http://www.templestudy.com/2008/03/06/temple-imagery-in-the-parables-of-matthew-25-part-1/
Apocalypse of Paul (gatekeeper in the heavens):