8. The Sabbath and Flight

Some Sabbatarian Christians use Jesus' warning to His followers that they pray that their flight be not in the winter or on a Sabbath (Matthew 24:20) as proof that the Sabbath was still meant to be kept, that it would still be a binding commandment even after Christ had ascended to heaven. But there is another probable reason that Christ said this. Recall the custom of closing and guarding the gates to the city of Jerusalem on the Sabbath so that no business could be done. This goes back to the time of Nehemiah.

There is no reason to believe that this custom was not in force at Christ's time and years after. One attempting to flee the city, especially if one were of the hated Christians, would have more than a little trouble getting out of Jerusalem on the Sabbath! The same could be said of getting out of Judea as well.

Another point is that the context of Matthew 24:20 is not a teaching on the Sabbath, but an answer Jesus was giving His disciples in response to a question they asked in verse 3 regarding the destruction of the temple and the sign of His coming. One can learn a few things from this passage.

The Gospel of Matthew was written to Christians of Jewish background. Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels to mention the Sabbath at all in this passage. The others did not speak of the Sabbath most likely because the Gentile Christians, to whom they were writing, were not observing the Sabbath and most of them did not live in Jerusalem or in the surrounding areas. So this warning would have been unnecessary for them.

Interesting parallels exist between passages in 1 Maccabees 1-2 and Jesus' words in Matthew 24:15-21.

The "abomination of desolation" in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary (Matthew 24:15)

1 Maccabees 1:54-55 (Septuagint (LXX) with Apocrypha)
"Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side; and burnt incense at the doors of their houses, and in the streets."

The leaving behind of possessions and fleeing to the mountains (Matthew 24:16-18)

1 Maccabees 2:27-28 (Septuagint (LXX) with Apocrypha)
"And Mattathias cried throughout the city with a loud voice, saying, Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me. 28 So he and his sons fled into the mountains, and left all that ever they had in the city."

The woe to pregnant women and those who are nursing their infants (Matthew 24:19)

1 Maccabees 2:6-14 (Septuagint (LXX) with Apocrypha)
"And when he saw the blasphemies that were committed in Juda and Jerusalem, he said, Woe is me! wherefore was I born to see this misery of my people, and of the holy city, and to dwell there, when it was delivered into the hand of the enemy, and the sanctuary into the hand of strangers? Her temple is become as a man without glory. Her glorious vessels are carried away into captivity, her infants are slain in the streets, her young men with the sword of the enemy. What nation hath not had a part in her kingdom, and gotten of her spoils? All her adornments are taken away; of a free woman she has become a bondslave. And, behold, our sanctuary, even our beauty and our glory, is laid waste, and the Gentiles have profaned it. To what end therefore shall we live any longer? Then Mattathias and his sons rent their cloths, and put on sackcloth, and mourned very sore."

The prayer for flight not to take place during the winter or on a Sabbath (Matthew 24:20)

Casleu 15, or Chislev 15, in the year 145 (1 Maccabees 1:54) corresponds approximately with December 6 of 167 B.C. So the "abomination of desolation" was set up during the winter.

1 Maccabees 2:29-41 (Septuagint (LXX) with Apocrypha)
"Then many that sought after justice and judgment went down into the wilderness, to dwell there: both they and their children, and their wives, and their cattle; because afflictions increased sore upon them. Now when it was told the king's servants, and the host that was at Jerusalem, in the city of David, that certain men, who had broken the king's commandment, were gone down into the secret places in the wilderness, they pursued after them a great number. and having overtaken them, they camped against them, and made war against them on the sabbath day. And they said unto them, Let that which ye have done hitherto suffice; come forth, and do according to the commandment of the king, and ye shall live. But they said, We will not come forth, neither will we do the king's commandment, to profane the sabbath day. So then they gave them the battle with all speed. Howbeit they answered them not, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid; but said, Let us die all in our innocency: heaven and earth shall testify for us, that ye put us to death wrongfully. So they rose up against them in battle on the sabbath, and they slew them, with their wives and children, and their cattle, to the number of a thousand people. Now when Mattathias and his friends understood hereof, they mourned for them right sore. And one of them said to another, If we all do as our brethren have done, and fight not for our lives and laws against the heathen, they will now quickly root us out of the earth. At that time therefore they decreed, saying, Whosoever shall come to make battle with us on the sabbath day, we will fight against him: neither will we die all, as our brethren that were murdered in the secret places."

A great tribulation (Matthew 24:21)

1 Maccabees 1-7 describes the horrible three and a half year war between Antiochus IV and those Jews who remained true to God's word instead of submitting to his rule.

Jesus, in giving this warning to His disciples, made a close connection between the "abomination of desolation" (1 Maccabees 1:54-55) made by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) in the temple of Jerusalem in 167 B.C. and the ensuing persecution of the Jews (1 Maccabees 1-7), and the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem by the Romans to come in 70 A.D. and the hardships the Jews would face as a result. 1 Maccabees, while a noncanonical book that forms a part of the Apocrypha, contains much valuable historical information regarding the Jewish people during the time of their revolt against their Greek oppressors. The Jewish historian, Josephus, spoke of this time in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book 12, Chapter 7, Paragraph 6), saying that "the temple was made desolate by Antiochus...And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel [Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11], which was given four hundred and eight years before ..."

Jesus knew that many Jews and Jewish Christians would continue observing the Sabbath at the time of the destruction of the temple by the Romans. So Matthew 24:20 does not really prove that Sabbath observance was required or practiced by all Christians.

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