“Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains!” Matthew xxiv.16
God rescued Noah and his family from the flood He sent to destroy the whole world. In answer to Abraham’s prayers, God rescued Lot before raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. “This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings and to punish evil people while they wait for the day of judgment.” (2 Peter ii.ix CEV)
When the Lord Jesus taught His disciples about the imminent outpouring of “wrath against [Jewish] people,” (Luke xxi.23) He made a provision for the deliverance of Christians in Judea. Jesus had predicted that there would be “great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen” (Matthew xxiv.21).
Jesus commanded his disciples to flee to the hills of Judea the moment they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Matt 24:16, Mk 13:14, Lk 21:21). Luke interprets the “abomination that causes desolation” mention in Matthew and Mark as “armies.” The presence of pagan soldiers around Jerusalem was the clear sign Jerusalem would be destroyed soon (Luke xxi.20). Jesus’ command to ‘flee’ was contrary to popular wisdom. People usually left their fields and ran into a fortified city whenever they saw an army approaching. Jesus asked them to do just the opposite. “Let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (Luke xxi.21b, 22). Besides, Jesus had said, “those in Judea must flee to the mountains! A man on the housetop must not come down to get things out of his house. And a man in the field must not go back to get his clothes. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.” (Matthew 24:16-20)
When a column of the Roman army marched into Jerusalem in 66AD, under the leadership of Cestius, they came into the city, turned around and marched out without causing any harm. Josephus, the Jewish historian wrote that Cestius retired from the city, without any reason in the world.” To this day, historians wonder why Cestius turned away. However, William Whiston, (1737) the translator of Josephus noted in a footnote that had Josephus been a Christian, he would have recognized that Cestius’ march into Jerusalem and his quick retreat was a sign provided by Jesus to Christians so that they could flee into the mountains.
Christians in Jerusalem who remembered Jesus’ warning in Luke 21:20 recognized the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ in their city. When the army marched out, they seized the opportunity and fled to the east. Jesus had opened up a way, as if, through the mountains for the rescue of his church. Eusebius, a church father who lived in the fourth century wrote, “For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan. It is said to belong to Decapolis (Eusebius, de Mens. et Pond., 15).
Let us pray that the Lord will preserve His people as forces of destruction threaten to annihilate Christianity from certain regions of the earth. Let us also be careful to show mercy and hospitality to those who are forced to migrate to safer regions. “The Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings.”