And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. -Matt 24:22
This verse is part of the Lord's discourse on the coming Great Tribulation and the last days. It is often taught that this means that the terrible days only continue for so long, but the number of days is shortened to preserve life (that is, The Lord makes fewer days). In reading a number of commentaries on this verse, it is so assumed that this is the case that the writer either just uses "shortened" as obviously meaning "fewer" or the verse is skipped altogether. Here is just one example:
The elect's, God's people the Jews. So the tribulation will be so horrible, the war and all that will break out. The great battle of Armageddon, so fierce, so great, that unless God would shorten those days, no flesh would remain. And so for the elect"s sake, God will shorten those days. (Chuck Smith Bible Commentary, Matthew 24, excerpt)
Chuck Smith makes no attempt to address the word "shortened." It is just assumed to mean fewer. On Smith's Calvary Chapel network, HisChannel, hosts such as Mike Macintosh and Don Stewart regularly treat the word "shortened" this way. Of course, they are not alone in this. On first blush, that conclusion seems reasonable. And this understanding is certainly not limited to Classic Dispensationalists. All across the theological spectrum "shortened" is read as "fewer days than there could be." I am not saying conclusively that inference is wrong, that very well may be the case.
But since we already have the specific number of days for the Great Tribulation, how could the number of days be shortened? How can there be "fewer" days?
From the time the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. -Dan 12:11 (CJB)
And let us look at the longer passage from Matthew 24 in light of this statement from Daniel:
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
The Lord is pointing us to Daniel.
So to what could the Lord be pointing us? Could it be the length of the days themselves? Let us look at the parallel book to Daniel which lays out the Great Tribulation, The Revelation:
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. And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound! -Rev 8:12-13
If a third part of the day and night are smitten, the 24-hour day would be "shortened" to a 16-hour day. And this would be true everywhere on earth. If you have one third of a 22-hour day and a one third of 2-hour night in northern Russia taken away, it would still come out to a 16-hour day as it would on the opposite end of the earth (with a 22-hour night, etc).
The Greek word translated "shortened" is "κολοβόω" which has the sense of being "docked" or "abridged" (Strong's #2856). Thayer's definition lists "mutilate" as the primary meaning. This does not necessarily rule out "fewer," but it leans more towards a truncating of the days themselves.
Some have proposed that before the Noahic flood, the length of a day and a night and of a year was shorter. Of course, I am not stating this is proven fact, but it does make for an intriguing possibility. This is certainly not a doctrine central to the faith, but it does allow us, once again, to realize that we should allow the scriptures to speak for themselves and no amount of tradition or commonality of belief should prevent us from "searching the scriptures whether these things are so."