In His discourse about the end times, Jesus said, "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matthew 24:22). "And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days" (Mark 13:20). What does this mean?
Three possible interpretations are: 1) the individual days are shortened, 2) the tribulation period is shortened, and 3) Satan's days are cut short. You may know of others, but we'll discuss these three. And finally, we'll discuss the pre-wrath variation on this.
Of these three interpretations, one of them has other Scriptures to support it, one has other Scriptures against it, and one has no direct Scriptures that I know of either for it or against it.
Let's take the last one first. If this means that Satan's days are cut short, I know of no direct Scriptures on either side. Of course, Scripture contains general principles that may apply here. God's plans will succeed while Satan's plans will fail. God will cut Satan's plans short. Note that the Mark passage puts it in the past tense. The cutting short is a done deal. Antichrist has got his 42 months and that's all. This is one possible interpretation, and it may be right.
Another interpretation has Scriptures against it. The tribulation period cannot be shortened, because the midpoint of the tribulation period initiates a precise countdown. The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Jesus (Matthew 24:15) and Daniel (Daniel 9:27), coincides with the revealing of the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:8) and the fleeing of Israel (Matthew 24:16). Israel finds protection in the wilderness for 1260 days (Revelation 12:6) and the man of sin has power for 42 months (42 months times 30 days equals 1260 days) (Revelation 13:5). Revelation 12:14 defines the 1260 days in terms of years (compare Daniel 12:7). Since Revelation, the unsealed book, gives the time in three different ways (days, months, years) so that there would be no doubt about it, and since this three-fold emphasis comes after Jesus spoke of shortening the days, then we know that the precise countdown still stands. I don't know about you, but I don't think I have the right to nullify all these clear Scriptures on the basis of one little obscure statement.
A third interpretation has Scriptures to support it. Shorter days. After all the passage does say the days are shortened, doesn't it? Some say the tribulation is shortened, because the previous verse mentions tribulation. If proximity is the criteria, then days occurs in the same verse, in fact, in the same phrase. And other Scriptures confirm shorter days. Amos 8:9 says:
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.
We who believe in Noah's flood should have no trouble believing in such global changes like those described in Isaiah 24:20:
The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.
Revelation 8:12 says:
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
Have you noticed the paradox? If the day is shorter, we would expect the night to be longer, right? But the night is shorter likewise. Shorter days and shorter nights. If this is not what this verse means, then what does it mean?
Would you like to hear an even stranger paradox? And this one I can't figure out. Why would someone interpret Jesus' "shortened days" statement in a way that leaps right over Revelation 8:12, offering no explanation of it whatsoever, and landing right on top of several clear passages, squishing them out of shape. That mystifies me.
A more recent explanation from the pre-wrath folks retains the 1260 days and 42 months, but it shortens the time before the rapture. In other words, the rapture occurs sometime during the 1260 days. For them it solves the problem and harmonizes Scripture. But the more I ponder it, the more the problems appear.
First, according to the Jesus' statement, the shortening of the days somehow affects the survival of all flesh, not just believers. So how does shortening the elect's time on earth help out anybody else? The time span must, therefore, be the same for all.
Second, of the powers given antichrist for 42 months, one of them is "to make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (Revelation 13:7). No mention of a rapture interrupting that power. Daniel agrees, writing, "When he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished" (Daniel 12:7). Both passages give antichrist full power for the full time without any abatement.
Third, if the 1260 days of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3) fall into this same period, then we would have a rapture of all believers except the two witnesses.
Place the "shortened days" Scripture on its edge, like a coin on a table. Don't push it one way or the otherjust watch which way it falls.
What theological framework necessitates passing over the one that Scripture supports, also passing over the one that Scripture at least allows, and finally picking the one that Scriptures disallow? It comes from a necessity to fit the unknown day into their time frame.
"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36). We all face the question, how can the day be unknown in light of the 1260-day countdown starting from the abomination of desolation and ending with the return of Christ? Reducing the number of days attempts to solve this problem.
But does it really solve anything? All it claims to do is take away a specific day, but it still leaves the general time. That solution is not strong enough to explain verses like Matthew 24:44 and Mark 13:33. "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." "Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time [season] is."
With patience the pieces will fit naturally. We don't need to file down the odd-shaped edges.
The context in Matthew 24 itself offers another solution. This solution allows the unknown day its fullest and deepest meaning and at the same time preserves the 1260-day countdown so that not one jot nor one tittle of Scripture is destroyed.
In Matthew 24 maybe we haven't the right answers because we haven't asked the right questions. Have you asked yourself why Jesus likens the disciples to the flood victims instead of to Noah? Have you asked yourself why He tells the disciples to watch for the opposite reason that the goodman (watchman) watches? Answer these questions, and then every piece of the puzzle falls into place, and every breath of Scripture retains its full strength.