Don’t even go back to get your stuff.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 January 2023

Mk 13.15-16, Mt 24.17-18, Lk 17.31.

So in his Olivet Discourse, Jesus spoke about “the abomination of desolation,” as the KJV calls it: Something—probably something nasty and disgusting—which’ll make it impossible to worship in temple anymore. Something that’d ultimately happen when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE, although Jesus didn’t tell his kids specifically when all this stuff would happen—although he indicated it’d happen within their lifetime, and for a few of them, it did.

When that happened, Jesus said, run for the hills. Mk 13.14 Get out of there before you’re overtaken by it. And in the next two verses, he makes it clear he’s not kidding about getting out of there as quickly as possible. You can interpret these verses as hyperbole if you wanna, but I don’t think that’s wise. When you hear the tornado siren, you don’t go digging around for all your favorite photo albums; you get in the basement. Same thing here. Run.

Mark 13.15-16 KWL
15 “One on the roof: Don’t come back in!
Never go inside, to take up what’s in the house!
16 One who’s gone to the field: Don’t return to what’s behind,
even to take up your clothing.”
Matthew 24.17-18 KWL
17 “One on the roof: Don’t come back in
to take up what’s in the house!
18 One in the field: Don’t come back
to take up your clothing.”

Luke doesn’t include this warning in its version of the Olivet Discourse, but it does have this Jesus-saying elsewhere in the gospel… specifically when he’s talking about his second coming. That’s most of the reason a lot of Christians confound the Olivet Discourse warning about the destruction of Jerusalem, with the End Times and second coming: They think it’s all the same thing. It’s not. The Luke passage is indeed about the second coming, but the Mark and Matthew passage is about the destruction of Jerusalem. I’ll quote the relevant verse anyway:

Luke 17.31 KWL
“On that day, whoever’s on the roof
and their stuff is in the house:
Don’t come back in to take it up!
And likewise one in the field:
Don’t return to what’s behind!”

In the Olivet Discourse, the warning is to ignore your stuff and run from disaster. In Luke, the warning is to ignore your stuff and run to Jesus. In both cases, you’re not gonna need your stuff! But it’s for whole different reasons, and just because the verses are parallel doesn’t mean we’re to pluck them out of context and claim they’re all about the destruction of Jerusalem. Or the second coming.

If you’re on the roof.

In ancient Israel, custom was for people to use the roofs of their houses as a deck. And just like those neighbors who sit on their porch or patio or garage all day, Israelis would spend all day on their roofs. Commentators like to list all the practical reasons people might do stuff on their roofs—it’s semi-private, it’s a flat stone surface, you could dry vegetables on it, you had a good view—but honestly, it wasn’t even about practicality. It was just the fact they were used to living on the roof. It’s where you hung out.

So every house would have a wooden ladder to get up there. Sometimes they built stairs, but stairs weren’t safe back then, ’cause stone is slippery, especially when wet… and they didn’t build rails. (I know, right? But for whatever dumb reason, rails weren’t a thing till the 1400s.) Ladders were somewhat safer and certainly cheaper, so that’s what people often went with. So no, there weren’t stairs from the inside of the house to the roof, like you see in some movies. You go outside the house and climb the ladder.

If you saw something from your roof, some threat in the distance, it wouldn’t really be that great of a distance. Think about how far you can see from your upstairs bedroom window: If you can see it, it’s actually kinda close! Do you even have time to rush down the ladder, run into the house, grab a spare change of clothing, and get out of there? Nope; you gotta leave right now. As fast as your little legs can carry you.

So, like Jesus is describing. If the Romans are coming and you’re on the roof, don’t be foolish and go into the house first. Run.

Yeah, you might already be too late. Then again your neighbors, who hadn’t listened to Jesus’s warning, were probably barricading themselves into their houses, figuring that would be enough. The Romans would be too busy smashing their doors down to deal with you. You’d have time to safely get away. Your neighbors, not so much.

But if they stayed behind, who knows what the Romans might do to them? If they resisted, the Romans would definitely kill them. If they didn’t… well the Romans might still harass them, or take them away as slaves. Two women might be grinding grain together, and the invading Romans might take one and leave the other behind… Lk 17.35 but that’s another part of Jesus’s discourse, which I’ll get to in time. Point is, don’t take your chances with the Romans, and hope they leave you alone or leave you behind. Flee.

If you’re in the field.

Two men might be in the field, and the invading Romans might take one and leave the other behind, Lk 17.36 which is why Jesus warned his students here too: If you see disaster coming, run for the hills. If you’re in the field, don’t bother to go back home for your robe; run. You won’t have time!

You gotta treat the coming disaster of the Roman armies as if it’s a natural disaster. There’s no negotiating with a lava flow. Nor with a hurricane, a tsunami, an earthquake, a herd of stampeding bison, a swarm of boll weevils, a meteorite, an out-of-control tractor-trailer, an atomic bomb. There’s no, “Wait, I have just enough time to get my mother’s locket in my bedroom. I have to! I promised her I’d always keep it with me. It’s got sentimental value.” No, you moron, run. You’re trying to escape your own death here.

And of course you know there’d be certain Christians who convinced themselves the Lord would protect them no matter what, who’d run back into their houses to get stuff regardless of Jesus’s warnings. There always are such people. Sometimes they survive anyway, ’cause dumb luck. But sometimes they die, ’cause dumb decision-making skills. Jesus himself warned ’em to flee this particular disaster, and naming and claiming some other special hedge of protection round yourself ’cause you imagine you’re special, isn’t consistent with anything in the scriptures, nor anything Jesus teaches. God promises us eternal life in his kingdom, not a long life in the present age despite natural and manmade disasters. Don’t delude yourself otherwise. Be wise.