|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)
The leaving behind of possessions and fleeing to the mountains (Matthew 24:16-18)
1 Maccabees 2:27-28 (Septuagint (LXX) with Apocrypha)
The woe to pregnant women and those who are nursing their infants (Matthew 24:19)
1 Maccabees 2:6-14 (Septuagint (LXX) with Apocrypha)
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)
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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