The Desolating Sacrilege
"But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.
Gloss. - After speaking of the things which were to happen before the destruction of the city, the Lord now foretells those which happened about the destruction itself of the city, saying, "But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand)."
Augustine, de Con Evan, ii, 77 - Matthew says, standing "in the holy place;" but with this verbal difference Mark has expressed the same meaning; for He says "where it ought not" to stand, because it ought not to stand in the holy place.
Bede - When we are challenged to understand what is said, we may conclude that it is mystical. But it may either be said simply of Antichrist, or of the statue of Caesar, which Pilate put into the temple, or of the equestrian statue of Adrian, which for a long time stood in the holy of holies itself. An idol is also called abomination according to the Old Testament, and He has added "of desolation" because it was placed in the temple when desolate and deserted.
Theophylact - Or He means by "the abomination of desolation" the entrance of enemies into the city by violence.
Augustine, Epist., cxcix, 9 - But Luke, in order to shew that the abomination of desolation happened when Jerusalem was taken, in this same place gives the words of our Lord, "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh." [Luke 21:20]
It goes on: "Then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains."
Bede - It is on record that this was literally fulfilled, when on the approach of the war with Rome and the extermination of the Jewish people, all the Christians who were in that province, warned by the prophecy, fled far away, as Church history relates, and retiring beyond Jordan, remained for a time in the city of Pella under the protection of Agrippa, the king of the Jews, to whom mention is made in the Acts, and who with that part of the Jews, who chose to obey him, always continued subject to the Roman empire.
Theophylact - And well does He say, "Who are in Judaea," for the Apostles were no longer in Judaea, but before the battle had been driven from Jerusalem.
Gloss. - Or rather went out of their own accord, being led by the Holy Ghost.
It goes on: "And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house;" for it is a desirable thing to be saved even naked from such a destruction.
It goes on: "But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days."
Bede - That is, they whose wombs or whose hands, overladen with the burden of children, in no small measure impede their forced flight.
Theophylact - But it seems to me, that in these words He foretells the eating of children, for when afflicted by famine and pestilence, they laid hands on their children.
Gloss. - Again, after having mentioned this double impediment to flight, which might arise either from the desire of taking away property, or from having children to carry, He touches upon the third obstacle, namely, that coming from the season; saying, "And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter."
Theophylact - That is, lest they who wish to fly should be impeded by the difficulties of the season. And He fitly gives the cause for so great a necessity for flight; saying, "For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be."
Augustine, Epist., cxcix, 9 - For Josephus, who has written the history of the Jews, relates that such things were suffered by this people, as are scarcely credible, wherefore it is said, not without cause, that there was not such tribulation from the beginning of the creation until now, nor shall ever be. But although in the time of Antichrist there shall be one similar or greater, we must understand that it is of that people, that it is said that there shall never happen such another. For if they are the first and foremost to receive Antichrist, that same people may rather be said to cause than to suffer tribulation.
Bede - The only refuge in such evils is, that God who gives strength to suffer, should abridge the power of inflicting.
Wherefore there follows: "And except that the Lord had shortened those days."
Theophylact - That is, if the Roman war had not been soon finished, "no flesh should be saved;" that is, no Jew should have escaped; "but for the elect's sake, whom He hath chosen," that is, for the sake of the believing Jews, or who were hereafter to believe, "He hath shortened the days," that is, the war was soon finished, for God foresaw that many Jews would believe after the destruction of the city; for which reason He would not suffer the whole race to be utterly destroyed.
Augustine - But some persons more fitly understand that the calamities themselves are signified by days, as evil days are spoken of in other parts of Holy Scripture; for the days themselves are not evil, but what is done in them. The woes themselves therefore are said to be abridged, because through the patience which God gave they felt them less, and then what was great in itself was abridged.
Bede - Or else; these words, "In those days shall be affliction," properly agree with the times of Antichrist, when not only tortures more frequent, and more painful than before are to be heaped on the faithful, but also, what is more terrible, the working of miracles shall accompany those who inflict torments. But in proportion as this tribulation shall be greater than those which preceded, by so much shall it be shorter.
For it is believed, that during three years and a half, as far as may be conjectured from the prophecy of Daniel and the Revelations of John, the Church is to be attacked. In a spiritual sense, however, when we see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, that is, heresies and crimes reigning amongst them, who appear to be consecrated by the heavenly mysteries, then whosoever of us remain in Judaea, that is, in the confession of the true faith, ought to mount the higher in virtue, the more men we see following the broad paths of vice.
Pseudo-Jerome - For our flight is to the mountains, that he who has mounted to the heights of virtue may not go down to the depths of sin.
Bede - Then let him who is on the house-top, that is, whose mind rises above carnal deeds, and who lives spiritually, as it were in the free air, not come down to the base acts of his former conversation, nor seek again those things which he had left, the desires of the world or the flesh. For our house either means this world, or that in which we live, our own flesh.
Pseudo-Jerome - "Pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on the sabbath day," that is, that the fruit of our work may not be ended with the end of time; for fruit comes to an end in the winter and time in the sabbath.
Bede - But if we are to understand it of the consummation of the world, He commands that our faith and love for Christ should not grow cold, and that we should not grow lazy and cold in the work of God, by taking a sabbath from virtue.
Theophylact - We must also avoid sin with fervour, and not coldly and quietly.
Pseudo-Jerome - But the tribulation shall be great, and the days short, for the sake of the elect, lest the evil of this time should change their understanding.
- text taken from by Saint Thomas Aquinas, translated by William Whiston, 1842