Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day?

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Matt 24:20

Mat 24:3-21 KJV:
(3) And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
(4) And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
(5) For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
(6) And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
(7) For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
(8) All these are the beginning of sorrows.
(9) Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
(10) And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
(11) And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
(12) And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
(13) But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
(14) And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
(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 Judea flee into the mountains:
(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.
(19) And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
(20) But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
(21) For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Adventists and other Sabbath observers claim that verse 20 in this passage shows that Jesus foretold the keeping of the Sabbath by Christians. To walk too far on the Sabbath was to break the Sabbath, and Christians should pray not to break the Sabbath by having to flee Jerusalem on that day. Even today, several of these groups frown on walking an excessive distance, and consider it to be work, and therefore constituting a breaking of the Sabbath commandment.

But is that really what Jesus meant? He, who permitted the saving of a sheep’s life on the Sabbath by pulling it from a pit, who told the paralysed man to get up and carry away his bed on the Sabbath, said we should pray not to have to break the Sabbath by saving our own lives? Isn’t that just a little absurd?

To get to an understanding of what Jesus really meant, all we need to do to find the answer is look at history, and look at the other examples Jesus uses in that verse, and then examine the actual context – what was Jesus really talking about?

This prophecy refers primarily to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but may also refer to future events near the end of time.

First, Jesus knew that the Pharisees locked the gates to Jerusalem (and other cities) on the Sabbath to prevent people from walking too far, which was considered work. Therefore, anyone in Jerusalem at the time the Romans attacked, if that day were a Sabbath, would be locked in and would not be able to flee. Jesus cannot be telling us that we may not save our lives by fleeing on the Sabbath, because he himself said we could heal on the Sabbath. So if Sabbath keepers were following his own example, they would not have a problem with saving their lives by fleeing on the Sabbath – they would have a proper perspective, and have no qualms with running away. Jesus knew that the gates would be locked on the Sabbath and they would not be able to escape – and this is why they had to be concerned, but because it was contrary to God’s law to walk too far to save your life on that day.

Second, we get to the other examples of things they should hope/pray to avoid. If we draw a parallel between them, and compare them, we see they all follow the same pattern. Winter … a physical problem making travel unpleasant and difficult and more dangerous due to extreme cold, not disobedience to God’s law if they travelled in winter. Pregnancy … the further into pregnancy you go, the more difficult it becomes to run, hide, and sleep in the bush – a physical problem, and not disobedience to God’s law to travel while pregnant. Having a young child – they are difficult to control, to care for, and are more vulnerable to the elements, and no parent would want to put a child through the physical and emotional trauma of running away from soldiers – again, a physical problem, and not disobedience to God. So … when we get to the Sabbath, do we classify it as a physical problem (locked gates, pregnancy, nursing young children) or do we really believe that Christ is saying that his followers should pray not to have to offend him by fleeing certain death on the Sabbath, when Jesus told the Jews it was not unlawful to heal and save lives and even pick grain or fish a sheep out of a hole on the Sabbath?

Is Jesus really upholding the laws of the Pharisees here, and are we expected to live by these laws too?

I believe that the Adventist position goes against the principle of the Gospel. Jesus was not contradicting his own teaching, and proclaiming that we should worry about breaking the Sabbath by fleeing for our lives. He was simply being practical. So, then, should we.

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