Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew has continually puzzled scholars about the theme of ancient times versus modern times, but could it be both?
Bryon R. Merrill said yes as he spoke at Education Week. He explained Joseph Smith–Matthew was reorganized by Joseph Smith to reflect the correct order of events in Matthew 24.
“Joseph Smith made a lot of additions to Matthew 24,” said Merrill. “But the biggest thing Joseph Smith did was to rearrange the text to make sense of them.”
Jesus prophesied in verse three that the temple would be left desolate.
Merrill while quoting, Joseph Smith–Matthew, explains things happened in 70 A.D. that will in our day. For example, verses 30-32 all say “And again” referring to repetition.
What happened in 70 A.D.? Merrill gives an overview.
For one generation after Christ died, things remained stable between Jews and the Romans, Merrill said.
But in 64 A.D., the Romans appointed a man named Nero, who hated the Jews and his reign was characterized by wickedness, violence and prejudice, no longer allowing the sacred Jewish ritual of circumcision. This cruel reign incited later rebellions.
In 76 A.D. a group of Jews called zealots, who were zealous for the law of Moses, attacked a Roman man and butchered every man he was with.
When Rome heard of this, they sent their general to go stop these Jewish rebellions. He realized he didn’t have nearly enough men to take Jerusalem so he turned back toward Damascus, Merrill explained.
The Zealots in Jerusalem saw the Romans and fled out and attacked them. The Romans dropped their weapons and fled to Demascus. The Jews killed many Romans in a short period of time.
Four Roman legions were then sent, 20,000 soldiers, and began killing Jews. But as they were engaged in battle with the Jews, the general received word that Rome was burned and the Roman emperor committed suicide.
The General returned to Rome and left his son in control of the army. The former general became emperor of Rome.
Christ prophesied in Matthew 24 for everyone to flee Jerusalem when wars began occurring after his death, continued Merrill. False prophets told the people to stay in Jerusalem for refuge. A million Jews gathered in its walls.
The new Roman general arrived in Jerusalem and held the city hostage. No one could come or go. Then famine struck the city and devoured it. Dead bodies lay everywhere and thieves stripped them for gold.
Merrill said in six months the city was destroyed.
Merrill pointed out in verse 22, false Christs may be a philosophy or an idea. “Governments all over the Earth are promising salvation if we just give them our freedom,” Merrill said.
Merrill quotes verse 23 in Joseph Smith–Matthew, that false Christs and false prophets will arise. Merrill points out the verse reads, “if possible they shall deceive the very elect.” Merrill said, they may be tempted to believe but will not.
He continues with verse 37 saying, “whosoever will treasure my word will not be deceived.”
Merrill then said, “Do you read your scriptures because you love them? Or because you have to? Do you love to drink of the fount of knowledge and wisdom?”
We avoid deception by doing the basics like reading our scriptures, praying for the gift of discernment and obeying the commandments, Merrill said.
He then quoted President Heber C. Kimball:
“After a while, the Gentiles will gather by the thousands to this place and Salt Lake City will be classified as one of the most wicked cities in the world. A period of speculation and extravagance will take place among the saints and the results will be financial bondage… Before the Lord comes the Saints will be put to test that will try the best of them.”
“Are you prepared temporally and spiritually? Merrill asked. “What are you doing to reach out to the world?”
Ezra Taft Benson, then member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was worried about the persecution of the Christians in the Soviet Union while he was there with the government after World War II.
He asked if they could stop and visit a church before they left. The people in the congregation reached out and grabbed the Americans hands as a loved relative. The pastor asked Elder Benson to say a few words. He stood up at the podium and gave the people hope. He brought tears to most in the audience.
Reporters who were with him said it was one of the greatest moments of their life.
“Elder Benson is the supreme example that we can be happy in the mists of wars and tumults,” Merrill interjected to the audience. There are signs of the time daily, but it doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to a more excellent future.