What does it mean when the Bible says, "Unless those days were shortened no flesh would survive?" ... does it mean that the 7 year tribulation is shortened somehow? Very curious about this. Thanks!
Answer: There are a couple of interpretations that have been offered for Matthew 24:22. First, let me restate the verse:
But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath; for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. (Matthew 24:20-22 NASB).
Interpretation 1 - Short, meaning “shorter than 24 hour day.”
One interpretation is that the days will be shortened to less than a 24 hour day.
The great Baptist Jewish scholar John Gill wrote of this verse:
“The shortening of those days is not to be understood literally, as if the natural days, in which this tribulation was, were to be shorter than usual. The Jews indeed often speak of the shortening of days in this sense, as miraculously done by God: so they say (Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel, & Targum Hieros. in Gem xxviii. 10), that "five miracles were wrought for our father Jacob, when he went from Beersheba to go to Haran. The first miracle was that, ‘the hours of the day were shortened for him’, and the sun set before its time, because his word desired to speak with him.''
They also say (R. Sol. Jarchi in Isa. xxxviii. 8.),
"that the day in which Ahaz died, was shortened ten hours, that they might not mourn for him; and which afterwards rose up, and in the day that Hezekiah was healed, ten hours were added to it.''
But the meaning here is, that the siege of Jerusalem, and the calamities attending it, should be sooner ended: not than God had determined, but than the sin of the Jews deserved, and the justice of God might have required in strict severity, and might be reasonably expected, considering the aggravated circumstances of their iniquities. A like manner of speech is used by the Karaite Jews (Chilluk M. S. apud Trigland. de sect. Karaeorum, c. 9. p. 147), who say, "if we walk in our law, why is our captivity prolonged, and there is not found balm for our wounds? and why are not "the days" of the golden and silver kingdom "lessened", for the righteousness of the righteous, which were in their days?''
This view seems to suggest that God could not have meant He would shorten the Great Tribulation period. Though that does not necessarily have to be the conclusion of the word “shorten.”
Interpretation 2 - Short, meaning “short in duration.”
The second interpretation says that the Lord will stop it by shortening (hastening) His coming.
Dr. Wilkins writes in support of this view, “A proverbial way of indicating that God is in control even of these days of horror. If the wickedness of humanity and the wrath of God were allowed to run unchecked, there would be no end to the horror and no one would survive. This is a promise that the time of tribulation will not last indefinitely, because God is in control.” (Michael Wilkins in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary)
Another proponent of this view is Dr. Walvoord as he writes, “This does not mean that the period will be less than three-and-a-half years, but that it will be definitely terminated suddenly by the second coming of Christ.” (John Walvoord, Matthew)
Dr. Glasscock gives a good summary as he writes, “The issue is not necessarily that the number was reduced from a previous number but was limited, shortened, from a greater possible number that would annihilate the human race. (Ed Glasscock, Moody Gospel Commentary: Matthew)
I agree with Dr. Glasscock. My interpretation from the Greek is this:
“And if not those days be shortened (Aorist Passive) no flesh at all would be saved; but those days will be shortened (Future Passive) for the elect.”
The first phrase is an aorist passive verb expressing a 'statement of fact,' while the second phrase uses a future passive (will be shortened) expressing a future reality.
The word in the Greek for “short” is only used here (and the equivalent verse in Mark 13:20) in the New Testament. The word is “koloboo” meaning, “to mutilate,” from the verb “to prune,” and denotes “to cut off,” or “amputate,” (cf., 2 Sam 4:12 in the Greek OT) hence our translation “to shorten.”
I believe the verse is not referring to a shortening of the 24 hour day or less days in the tribulation period, but rather, that God will intervene before Israel’s enemies kill all the Jews. The remnant of Israel will come through the Tribulation as promised.
Thanks for asking,
Dr. John Pappas