A reply to critics regarding Matthew 24:20
by Edwin M. Cotto
The following text proves that the Sabbath will still be both present and relevant to believers after the crucifixion:
‘Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter; neither on the Sabbath day.
While admitting the context of Matthew 24:20 is not regarding the Sabbath specifically, Adventists see in this text a hint that the Sabbath would still be relevant and sacred to believers up to forty years after the cross of Christ. Even some of the brightest of the critics of the seventh day Sabbath admit that early Christians kept the Sabbath after the cross. In talking about the book of Acts, D.A. Carson as editor of the book “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day,” a book against Sabbath keeping, admits:
“The Sabbath was an institution too central to Judaism for it to have been tampered with without provoking hostile reaction ad persecution, but there’s no record of persecution on this account. Instead, the early Jewish Christians appeared to have taken advantage of Sabbath observance to preach Jesus the Messiah” -A.T. Lincoln, “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: a Biblical and Theological Perspective,” From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. Carson, p. 365.
Now, D.M. Canright in his book renouncing Adventism wrote an objection to this that we see regurgitated by Anti-SDAs all over the internet. Consequently therefore, refuting his claims will simultaneously refute everyone else’s.
Canright argues that the reference is about not being able to leave Jerusalem because the gates were always closed on the Sabbath. And that is the only reason why Jesus referenced the Sabbath. We quote from his book:
And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.
Former Seventh Day Adventist, Dirk Anderson says:
Let us now proceed with examining this claim by providing THREE reasons why this argument just will not work:
FIRST REASON: ALL OF JUDEA: As Jesus began his prediction regarding the Temple, his warning to flee was for believers also in Judea, who were outsidethe city gates. How then could city gates hinder their flight?
SECOND REASON: THE GATES WERE OPEN: In context, Jesus was talking about both the Temple and also Jerusalem and Judea. With regards to the Temple however, if closed gates would have been his concern, he’d have had the Temple gates in mind as well, not just the city gates. But actually to the detriment of our critics, the Temple gates were miraculously OPENNING during the siege and before, and also the gates of the city walls.
THIRD REASON: NO GUARDS AT THE CITY GATES: When Cestius the Roman chief had approach the City for battle he suddenly withdrew his army. The Jews left the city in pursuit of them, which in turn gave the Christians the liberty to flee without any enemies to hinder their flight. Thus in the providence of God, a way was made for them to flee at liberty and NO GATES were closed nor guarded when this took place! Did not Jesus see that this is how it would take place, especially throughout his prophecy wherein he was already looking down the future? If he did, then that would explain why he didn’t specifically warn against closed gates.|
Finally we will answer the ultimate question which all critics ask:
How could observing the Sabbath hinder believers from fleeing?
We will now begin to expound on the FIRST REASON. So far, we see that Jesus was speaking about believers who would have to flee from the Temple. However, he was also concerned with believers in…
(15) 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:)
(16) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.
Now, it would not make any sense for Jesus to have been worried about the JERUSALEM gates being closed, when his warning to flee was ALSO for believers OUTSIDE the gates of Jerusalem. How would those outside the city gates be hindered by the city gates?
J.N. Andrews in “History of the Sabbath and the First Day of the week” says:
“An assertion so often and so confidently uttered should be well founded in truth; yet a brief examination will show that such is not the case. 1. The Saviour’s language has reference to the whole land of Judea, and not to Jerusalem only: “Let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains.” The closing of the city gates could not therefore affect the flight of but a part of the disciples.” -page 74 (LINK: http://www.sabbathtruth.com/portals/20/documents/History_of_the_Sabbath.pdf)
We move forward to the SECOND REASON, that, in case our critics assume it would be the gates of the Temple that would be closed, pointing to the verses that show believers within the Temple gates, we will see that…
When Jesus made his prophecy he was talking about ALL of Jerusalem including its Temple, and as we have seen above, Judea. We get this impression most profoundly from the parallel passages in Luke 19:
(41) And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
(42) Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
(43) For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,
(44) And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
Yet in the immediate context, we note he first talks about the Temple. Notice:
(1) And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
(2) And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
So if gates were a concern for Jesus, he would have had not only the city gates in mind, but also the Temple Gates in mind. Now according to history, the Temple gates were OPENING, and this causes a direct problem with the notion that Jesus was concerned with closed Temple gates. As you know, his prophecy in Matthew 24 was of him seeing 40 years down the future, and no doubt he would have seen that these gates would be miraculously opened. This may explain why he didn’t even specifically mention any gates!
Now let us look at the historical record. Prior to the destruction in 70 AD, we read of the following:
The historian Josephus records the report of the people that miracles began taking place some time before the temple was destroyed. One of those miracles was the gates of the temple being opened.
Here is more from another historical document saying the same thing, the talmud:
The miracles of gates being opened were happening all the time before the destruction. We note that the bible itself records an instance when a gate was opened for the apostle Peter. To make matters worse for our critics, this was not the Temple gate… it was one of the CITY gates!
When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
The gates, therefore, were not an issue in Jesus’ mind when he referenced the Sabbath, because Jesus knows the future, and knew very well that those gates would soon be opened to help fulfill aspects of his prophecy. Do we assume every gate was being opened? We make no assumptions. But the evidence suggests that closed gates would not be a factor for believers during that time.
The third and final reason why our critic’s objection does not work is because when the flight actually did take place, there were…
NO GUARDS AT THE CITY GATES
And if there were no Jewish guards guarding the gates, those gates were not closed or locked. Notice the following historical accounts. First, when the Roman general Gaius Cestius Gallus began marching towards Jerusalem with his army of about 30,000 men and encamped but a few miles from it, he noticed there were no Jewish men in the country sides, for they had all left to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which required the presence of every male in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:12):
There were no Jews that could hinder the flight of the Christians in these areas as they saw the army approaching, for the Jews had all gone to Jerusalem. But most remarkable is that when the Jews in Jerusalem saw the army camped not too far from the city, the Jewish soldiers LEFT Jerusalem to fight against the army! And this was the sign for the believers of Christ to at that moment flee the city without the hindrance of the Jews guarding the gates! Notice the next paragraph following the quote above:
” It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world. But when the robbers perceived this unexpected retreat of his, they resumed their courage, and ran after the hinder parts of his army, and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen: and now Cestius lay all night at the camp which was at Scopus, and as he went off farther next day, he thereby invited the enemy to follow him, who still fell upon the hindmost and destroyed them.” – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/works/files/war-2.htm
Again they left the city going after Cestius and his army when he had suddenly “retired from the city, without any reason in the world.” Josephus may not have known the reason, but we know the reason. It was in the providence of God that this took place; that the city may be left empty of zealous Jews and the believers may see the sigh of the retreat, see that the gates were abandoned, and take flight!
Note the following from yet another historian who comments on Josephus’s account of the events:
“The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea: the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evil-doers from the earth.” –Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius ofCaesarea, Bishop of Caesarea.
A the moment when the believers of Christ saw the sign of the army as foretold by Jesus, the Jewish zealots abandoned the city and its gates, and the believers saw opportunity to leave the city UNHINDERED BY CLOSED GATES. As a result, not one Christian perished in the entire siege that took place.The real question critics do not want to be asked is: If closed gates were to be a factor, why didn’t Jesus just say so? Why didn’t he specifically mention the gates, even though he gave so many details about other things?
They cannot answer these questions, but we can. Jesus knew full well how everything was going to transpire, and he knew that closed gates would not be a factor! And as we have seen from the historical accounts, it truly wasn’t!
LET US SUMMERIZE BRIEFLY THE THREE REASONS WHY CLOSED GATES WERE NOT A FACTOR FOR BELIEVERS:
-THE PROPHECY encompassed all of Jerusalem and Judea. Jesus could not have been worried about closed gates at believers in Judea would be outside the city gates
-THE BIBLE AND HISTORY records the accounts of gates being miraculously opened both in the Temple and in Jerusalem. Jesus knew this would take place.
-HISTORY RECORDS that the Jews would leave the towns and the city of Jerusalem while battling the Roman army, and that while they were away from the City the believers would flee without any Jew guarding or keeping closed the city gates.
Now that we have dismantled the objection, we will now answer the following question:
Yes, we do know why. Jesus referenced the Sabbath, along with the winter and with pregnant women, because during those THREE THINGS it would certainly be difficult to escape. But the REASON why it would be difficult to escape during the siege on the Sabbath was not because of closed gates… it was because of a more important reason: The sacredness of Sabbath observance.
But the critic would ask, “yet how can sacredness hinder their flight?” We answer. Keeping the Sabbath sacred entitled three things:
1) Not working, resting.
Of the first may be seen directly from the commandment itself:
(8) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
(9) Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
(10) But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work…
A Psalm orSong for the sabbath day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High.
And in the same Psalm, he speaks about God’s people flourishing “in the house of the Lord” and “in the courts of our God” –verse 13. Which leads us to the third way of keeping is sacred, or holy. The Lord commanded that upon his holy day his people were to worship together in a “holy convocation” which means “holy assembly.”
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.
It’s the reason why in the New Testament, the Jews, along with Jesus, the disciples and Paul, gathered together on the seventh day in synagogues. Now note it says HOLYconvocation, meaning that gathering together was sacred, it was to be a SACRED GATHEREING.
Here we see how Sabbath observance could hinder their flight:
1) Keeping the Sabbath “sacred” meant to not work, but rest. Sabbath keeping believers in Judea and Jerusalem would there be home, in Jerusalem, when the siege took place. They would not be away from their home town working. They’d be home resting with their families.
2) Keeping the Sabbath “sacred” meant also to worship upon that day, which in turn would have them together, in their homes in Jerusalem with friends and families, when the siege took place.
3) Finally, not only would they be home, in their home towns upon the Sabbath, but keeping the Sabbath “sacred” meant also that for a few hours during the Sabbath they’d be gathered together in an assembly as a church. If the siege took place upon the Sabbath, believers would have been found in Jerusalem assembled reading from the Torah and praising the Lord as a church.
All of this could prevent them from fleeing successfully upon the Sabbath day without hindrance as the Romans would have easily found them gathered in their homes and swept them away in within
their crusade against the Jews. Imagine they had been caught in the midst of the siege on the Sabbath. THEN perhaps gates would stop their flee, as well as Jewish and Roman soldiers.
Canright argued that the issue was that they would have to violate the sacredness of the Sabbath day during the flight. That is correct. If the believers were caught in the midst of the siege gathered together as a church, the sacredness of their assembly would be interrupted and it would be a higher death toll! It is less risky if the siege takes place on another day other than the day where they’d all be gathered together!
Interestingly enough, critics always argue from Exodus 16:29 that one of the requirements was actually to stay home during the Sabbath, but even if this was the case (although as stated above, we do not agree. See Question #4 below) it only provides yet ANOTHER reason why Sabbath observance could hinder their flight because they would all be inside their homes in Jerusalem if the siege happens on the Sabbath! THEREFORE, in light of the reasons why closed gates were not a factor, the critics now have two dilemmas. If they were to choose either one of these, which are the only two options, it would force them to admit that Sabbath “observance” would hinder their flight:
FIRST DILLEMA: Either claim Sabbath keepers were to stay home during the Sabbath. But this would provide a reason why it would hinder their flight.
SECOND DILLEMMA: Or claim that Sabbath keepers assembled during the Sabbath. But this would also provide a reason why it would hinder their flight.
Which of these two will the anti-sabbatarian claim? Let him answer if he is able.
Hence the sacredness of the Sabbath was indeed a reason to pray their flight take place on another day instead as their flight would have been less risky.
We have also seen three reasons why the whole argument regarding closed gates upon the Sabbath is not based on biblical or historical context, the whole of Judea and the open and unguarded gates of the Jerusalem walls. We conclude therefore that these three supply sufficient reason why Jesus did not, in his prophecy as recorded in any of the gospel accounts, even mention the closed gates.
Dudley M. Canright was very adamant about his convictions against the Sabbath. Research the anguish he experienced during the death of his old friend Ellen G. White, and how his hate towards the truth led him to severe depression, where even his new found Baptist friends left him to his craziness and misery. May it not be so for our critics and our former Adventist brethren.
QUESTION 1: Isn’t it true that the only reason for referencing the Sabbath was because according to Jeremiah, no burden could be carried on the Sabbaths?
ANSWER: We’ve heard this claim before. The idea is that Christians would have had to carry their belonging if the siege took place on the Sabbath, but the rule not to carry would have impeded their flight, and therefore, that is the only reason why Jesus mentioned the Sabbath day.
It should be noted, however, that God makes the rules, not man. And it was God himself, Jesus Christ, who in the prophecy of Matthew 24 said NOT to carry anything with them during their flight, whether it takes place on the Sabbath or no:
(17) Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
(18) Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
Will we argue with God?
QUESTION 2: Would you agree that the only reason why Jesus warned to pray regarding the Sabbath is because of the Sabbath day’s journey, which would prohibit them from fleeing more than 8000 feet?
ANSWER: Again, as Jesus did not mention gates, he also did not mention the Sabbath day’s journey. It should also be remembered that the rule about how many feet one can travel on the Sabbath was created by the Jewish leaders, not by the God. The rule is nowhere found in the Torah, and therefore, the believers would not have had a problem violating that particular rule.
Would the Jews see them walking more than 4000 to 8000 feet on the Sabbath and create a hindrance for them? Based on the finding in this article, the answer is no. Jesus well knew that a way would be made for their escape, and as can be seen from history, a way was indeed made when the Jews left their city to battle the Roman army.
For a brief explanation about the Sabbath day’s journey, click HERE http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/sabbath.html
QUESTION 3:You said that one of the reasons why Sabbath observance could hinder believers from fleeing is because the Sabbath is sacred, but didn’t Jesus teach that the life of a man was worth more than the Sabbath day?
Indeed, however the misunderstanding is in regards to the purpose of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made “for” man (Mark 2:27) and therefore, it was made to serve him. And Jesus said “it is lawful to do WELL on the Sabbath day” –Matthew 12:12. Doing good deeds, therefore, is in keeping with the Sabbath and what it is all about. A good deed, of course, would include saving your own life or the life of another.
Therefore, having to flee on the Sabbath day to save your own life is in harmony with the Sabbath commandment. In fact, the Sabbath in a way signifies redemption and life. We see in Genesis it given after life is created. And in Deuteronomy, it was given the additional meaning of representing the rest from Egyptian bondage.
Furthermore, Jesus said he came to give believers “rest” (Matthew 11:28) and in Hebrews (click HERE) we read how the Sabbath is but a taste of the heavenly rest we will one day experience when the end of sin finally takes place.
Therefore, the Sabbath actually encourages good works, and saving one’s own life is a good work in it of itself.
QUESTION 4: You referenced Exodus 16:23 which teaches Sabbath keepers should stay home during the Sabbath. How would you respond to that?
ANSWER: The word “place” in the Hebrew does not specifically mean “home.” The Hebrew word translated home (beit) is absent from the text. The Hebrew word used here is actually maqowmwhich simply means a “standing place.”
In context, the Israelites technically didn’t have permanent homes. They had just made it to the foot of Mount Sinai after traveling and abode in tents. The idea is not that they should not travel from their homes, otherwise there would be a contradiction when later God commanded the Israelites to leave their homes in order to have a “holy assembly” –Leviticus 23:3.
A critic would here respond that they had the Sabbath day’s journey. However that specific ordinance, which is manmade, came much later.
QUESTION 5: If Jesus was also talking about the Temple, isn’t it true that no one was allowed into the Temple, except the priests?
ANSWER: The Temple was not only the Holy and Most Holy place. It was all of the buildings including the court yard. Jews were allowed to enter therein on a daily basis and Jesus knew that there would be many believers in the Temple!
Take a look at a few verses that show how believers had access in and out of the Temple:
(12) And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
(13) And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
(14) And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
(15) And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased.
(42) And DAILY in the TEMPLE, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Peter and John were present when Jesus was giving the prophecy of Matthew 24 (see the parallel passages in Mark 13:1-4). Now look at these two believers IN THE TEMPLE:
(1) Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
(2) And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
(3) Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alm.
(29) And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
(28) Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all menevery where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
If then believers had access in and out of the Temple, it makes sense to warn those believers regarding the Temple.
QUESTION 6: Wouldn’t thousands of believers marching out of Jerusalem alarm the Jews and cause them to create a hindrance for the believers as they tried to leave the city?
ANSWER: That is certainty possible, but the evidence as shown in this study reveals that the Jews which would have cause an alarm at the believers were busy away from the city fighting the Romans when the flight actually took place. Everything worked out in the providence of God to provide a way of escape. Nothing was to hinder their flight unless they did not leave at the moment they saw the sign as forewarned by the Lord. Because they heeded the warning, and left at the moment they saw the sign of the Roman army encamped round about Jerusalem, God:
-Had gates opening throughout those years
-Removed the Jews from the city
Because they obeyed the Lord’s command, God provided a way, and neither Jews, nor closed gates, nor the Jewish ordinance of the “Sabbath day’s journey” stood in their way.