Question: What is meant in Matthew 24 where Jesus says “those days will be shortened for the sake of the elect”? Is this a reference to the seasonally shorter days of Autumn / Winter, or something else?
In Jesus’ description of His Return in power and glory in Matthew 24, verse 22 records these words: “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
If, as the question suggests, these shortened days refer to the annual shortening of days known as the Winter Solstice, wouldn’t that give us an approximate timing of Jesus’ Return in terms of the season?
This is not the case, however. The shorter days of winter, when the North Pole’s tilt away from the sun reaches its peak (23.5 degrees) also puts earth’s southern hemisphere that much closer to the sun. Consequently, the shorter winter days in the north are also the longest summer days in the south. Jesus describes days that are “shortened” simultaneously for the entire planet.
When Jesus says “those days will be shortened,” He is talking about “the Great Tribulation” in the preceding verse:
Matt. 24:21 For then there will be great distress [i.e. “great tribulation” -KJV], unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
Jesus said this “Great Tribulation” will be triggered by the Antichrist setting up the “abomination that causes desolation” prophesied by Daniel, referring to the prophecy in Dan. 9:27.
Matt. 24:15 So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand…
According to Daniel 9:24ff., a period of seven years at the end of history as we know it—known as Daniels’s 70th Week—will conclude with this final 31/2 year period Jesus calls “the Great Tribulation.” Many have incorrectly assumed that the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord are the same thing. That is not the case. The Tribulation decribes the wrath of the Antichrist against God and the Church. The Day of the Lord is the wrath of God against the Antichrist and all rebellious mankind.
Jesus taught in Matthew 24:22 that the Great Tribulation period of 3 ½ years would be shortened “for the sake of the elect”—His Church. Those days of great persecution against the Church will be so brutal that “no one would survive” if Jesus did not shorten this 31/2 year period of horror. Jesus goes on to teach in Matthew 24 that the Great Tribulation is cut short by the appearing of Jesus at His Return and the rapture of the Church:
Matt. 24:30-31 At that time [i.e., cutting short the Great Tribulation, v. 22] the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory [i.e, the Second Coming of Jesus]. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect [i.e., the Rapture] from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.