I was reading in my bible recently (that's not me in the photo) when I came across Mark chapter 13. This is the chapter in Mark's account of the gospel that is very similar to Matthew chapter 24. It is often referred to as the "Olivet Discourse," where Jesus tells his disciples about the end of the age.
I came to the following paragraph, verses 14-23 of Mark 13. Jesus is speaking:
"But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand."
As I was reading, I was not looking for anything in particular. However, I could not ignore Jesus' statement, "But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days."
What does this mean? It means that God has shortened the length of the tribulation for the sake of the elect, presumably so that they would not all be killed off. Who are the elect? They are followers of Jesus Christ.
I want to address one other question that the above statement brings up. The question is: What does "whom he chose" mean? Ever since the Reformation, there have been two primary answers to this question. It is, quite frankly, a simple issue. One answer says that God chose who the elect will be based up His sovereign will. A second answer says that God looked into the future, saw who would choose (elect) Him, and then he chose them.
The first answer indicates that God is free to choose whomever He wills. The second answer says that man is free to choose God if he wills. One of these options could be correct, but they cannot both be correct.
Now, when we try to interpret scripture, we must attempt to get at what the original author meant. We must avoid bringing presuppositions to the biblical text.
So, what does "whom he chose" mean? One basic principle of interpretation is that the reader should assume that the writer literally meant what he wrote unless there is a good reason to not do so. If the reader does not do this, then almost any interpretation is up for grabs. If that is the case, then we literally might as well throw out the bible and just make up our own belief system (something far too many churches are doing these days.)
A literal reading of "whom he chose" must mean that God chose the elect. The statement is clear and straightforward. This is not the writer's primary emphasis in this paragraph; he is discussing the future terrible time of tribulation. However, Mark still takes the time to point out that God chose the elect.
Let's also look at what Mark does not say. He doesn't say anything about God looking into the future to see what the elect will do. He doesn't write anything about the free will of man, or about anything man will believe or do. What is implied is that God is free to choose the elect.
Another rule when interpreting scripture is that all scripture agrees. This means that other passages must agree with this one. The passage that immediately comes to mind is Ephesians 1:3-6. In that passage, Paul writes "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world." As with the Mark 13 passage, Paul writes simply that God chose "us." This is referring to Christians, or the elect.
Like Mark, Paul in no way even implies that God looked into the future to see who would choose Him. It is simply not there. In fact, I have never been shown one place in scripture that says that God's choice of the elect is based on any future actions of man. I'm still waiting.
Based upon the writings of Mark and Paul (not to mention others), I conclude based upon a fair and straightforward reading of the bible, that God chose the elect with no strings attached. God did this "before the foundation of the world" out of his sovereign good pleasure.
This is no way negates the need for a person to repent and trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in order to be saved. This in no way negates the need for missions work all around the globe.
I do not claim to fully understand the will of God. Nor do I have any idea how God determined who the elect would be. However, I do trust God to do what is right because He is perfectly good, pure, and righteous.