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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 24

 

 

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Verse 4

THE END OF THE AGE

‘Take heed that no man deceive you.’

Matthew 24:4

To understand the drift of this chapter we must carefully keep in view the question which gave rise to our Lord’s discourse—‘When shall these things be?’ The first fourteen verses apply with equal force to the close of both Jewish and Christian dispensations. What lessons have they to teach us?

I. A warning against deception.—Many false Christs and false prophets arose before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the eyes of man are continually blinded in the present day as to things to come. Be not deceived—

(a) As to the leading facts of unfulfilled prophecies, or (b) as to the manner in which they will be brought to pass, or (c) as to the time when they will be accomplished.

II. A warning against over-sanguine expectations.—As to the things which are to happen before the end comes. Do not expect—

(a) A reign of universal peace (Matthew 24:6); or,

(b) A time of universal purity of doctrine (Matthew 24:11); or,

(c) A universal acceptance of the Gospel (Matthew 24:14).

III. Look up.—Yet, whatever may happen, look up, and pray daily, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Matthew 22:20).

—Bishop J. C. Ryle.


Verse 13

HINDRANCES TO ENDURANCE

‘But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.’

Matthew 24:13

What are the causes which make endurance to the end difficult in so very many Christian lives?

I. Persecution because of the Word.—There is the ‘persecution that ariseth because of the word.’ In some shape or other this is inevitable. Men who have done much for Christ have sometimes given way at last under the stress of relentless persecution.

II. False teaching.—And then there are the ‘false Christs’ and the ‘false prophets.’ Our faith is undermined by people who talk and write in the very best English, and who have so much about them that is winning and agreeable that we cannot believe what is really going on.

III. Weariness in well doing.—And then there is the weariness which steals over thought and heart with the lapse of time. Human faculties, after all, are finite. They spend themselves and they fall back into lassitude and exhaustion.

IV. Trifling with conscience.—And once more, there is the trifling with conscience, not necessarily in great matters, but in a number of little matters.

V. How endurance may be secured.—Perseverance is likely to be secured by three things especially—

(a) By a sense of constant dependence on God.

(b) By prayer for perseverance.

(c) By keeping the mind fixed as much as possible on the end of life and on that which follows it.

—Canon Liddon.


Verse 14

THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM

‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached.’

Matthew 24:14

Christianity was left with Christians to be transmitted. God has appointed that men should be instructed by their fellows, and Revelation lays us under the obligation of communicating its message to others. Christianity is a trust for our own good, but also for that of others. No one has a right to be called a Christian who does not do something towards the discharge of this obligation.

I. This is our duty.—

(a) Towards non-Christians in our colonies and possessions. As fellow-subjects with us; as having intercourse with us by commerce and other relations.

(b) Towards other races. As of one family with ourselves. That, however low and debased their condition, they may be helped to rise.

II. For this reason navigation and commerce should be consecrated to the service of religion; by helping in its propagation; as a discharge of our trust. Remembering that—even the bare establishment of Christianity in a place has its value; as a witness before and call to men. We can see but a little way ahead, and must be content to sow in faith, leaving the increase with God.

III. Societies are needed to bring men together, that their united efforts may do what they could not singly perform. Such work for foreign missions has a reflex benefit to us at home: strengthening faith here; making the Gospel a witness here also. If all this were seen, how little more persuasion would be needed! If the Gospel had its proper influence on Christians, then it would speedily settle Christianity in every land.

—Bishop Butler.

Illustration

‘Into the charter of the East India Company, when renewed in 1813, Wilberforce and other friends of missions succeeded in introducing the following resolution amongst others: “That it is the duty of this country to promote the interest and happiness of the native inhabitants of the British dominions in India, and that such measures ought to be adopted as may tend to the introduction among them of useful knowledge and of religious and moral truth; and further, that in furtherance of the same objects sufficient facilities should be afforded by law to persons desirous of going to and remaining in India, for the purpose of accomplishing these beneficent designs.”’


Verse 34-35

ABIDING WORDS

‘Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.’

Matthew 24:34-35

We know how truly all the things mentioned in the earlier part of this chapter were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem before the passing of that generation. But our thoughts are to be centred upon Christ’s words. We know how true it is literally that Christ’s words are not passing away.

I. True of the Bible.—We see the copies fly from the presses of the Bible Society at the rate of a Bible per minute, and when we see that God’s Word is being distributed to the ends of the earth, we see how, in God’s marvellous providence, it is being fulfilled that His words are not passing away.

II. True of Christ’s promises.—And again, in reference to the promises of Christ, all are being fulfilled. These predictions about the end of Jerusalem were literally fulfilled, and is it not equally true that those who come to Christ Jesus find in Him pardon and peace? Not one of His words has passed away.

III. True of Christ’s principles.—It is true also in reference to the principles of Christ. Christ here gives to his disciples a kind of pledge as regards the fulfilment of His promise. ‘Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.’ Christ has given two standing pledges with reference to the fulfilment of His promise, so that when it seems to us that our Master delayeth His coming, we may look to the right and to the left, and rest upon Christ’s pledges that His words shall not pass away, e.g. the existence of the Jewish people on the one hand and the Christian Church on the other.

IV. True of God’s Word in the heart.—If that incorruptible seed of the Kingdom be implanted in the heart, and quickened by God’s Holy Spirit, it will never pass away.

Bishop J. W. Bardsley.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE WORDS OF CHRIST

These words are found also in St. Mark 13:31, and in St. Luke 21:33.

There are three things which specially strike us in the Words of Christ. The first is—

I. Strength.—They are ‘sharper than any two-edged sword’ (Hebrews 4:12). The two edges are either for conviction or destruction. Millions have lived in the light and died in the strength of the Promises of Christ.

II. Sweetness.—Tenderness is wedded to strength. There is bread, and honey on the bread. No wonder they brought tears to so many eyes. No wonder St. Peter said, in answer to our Lord’s question, ‘Will ye also go away?’—‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the Words of eternal life.’

III. Simplicity.—Butler truly said, no man could say beforehand what a Divine Revelation would be. How thankful we should be that Christ’s Words are sublime in their very simplicity! Christ’s Words are to be used. Nineteen centuries have not found all the meaning of these Words. ‘The Bible,’ said Bishop Butler, ‘contains many truths as yet undiscovered.’

—The Rev. F. Harper.

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE WORDS OF CHRIST FOR THE WORLD’S NEED

I. The position and claim of the speaker.—Uttered by an ordinary mortal, or even by the greatest and the most gifted of the sons of men, the words of the text would have been felt to be an empty boast, an intolerable pretension, and even something worse. The words imply that Christ’s teachings were to be inexhaustible and unchangeable. He had just foretold His own death. Yet almost in the very same words He foretells for His utterances immortality. And why? Because those words of His are the words of truth, and truth is imperishable and unchangeable.

II. The work they have to do.—Christ’s words are imperishable and unchangeable because they have a great and enduring work to fulfil.

(a) In the promotion of peace. Europe is one vast military camp. What is the real remedy for this alarming state of things? Will culture, or legislation, or education avail? Will even the well-meant efforts of philanthropy produce anything like a permanent impression? Depend upon it that the Church of the living God is the one true peace-preservation society; the prevalence of the principles of that gospel which teaches us to love one another, to love even our enemies, and to pray for them who despitefully use us; and we are assured, on an authority that we cannot question, that these principles are destined in the end to prevail.

(b) In the regeneration of society. Society in the present day no doubt presents a fair exterior, and civilisation is high-wrought and refined; but is there no dark fringe to the glittering fabric? And what will be effectual in combatting the evils? Revealed religion, Christianity, those words of the Lord Jesus Christ are the essential safeguards of public morality, as they present the only strong and reliable rules for right action.

(c) In the cure of lawlessness. Admittedly there is a spirit of lawlessness abroad; there is—explain it how we will—prevalent a rebellion in men’s minds against authority of every kind and description. And what is to be the remedy? The one efficacious remedy is the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; that which respects the individual in the best and highest sense; that which preaches true liberty, and equality, and fraternity; that which recognises the unspeakable importance of the individual.

The world never needed the words of Christ as much as it needs them now.

—Dean Forrest.

Illustration

‘Livingstone once said to Stanley: “All that I am I owe to Christ Jesus, revealed to me in His Divine Book. O Stanley, Stanley! here is the source of strength and the transforming power.”’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

THINGS WHICH ENDURE

I. A grand antithesis.—‘Heaven and earth’—‘my words.’ The terms ‘heaven and earth’ had a lesser and a larger significance: that of prophetic symbolism, which referred to rulers and subjects, etc., and that which refers to the whole world of which we are the inhabitants. But what is true of the one may because of that be presumptively true of the other. In either case a wonderful opposition—on the one hand a vast world-power, on the other a Galilean peasant. All efforts to explain away the person and work of Christ on merely natural grounds, or His doctrine concerning Himself, so as to leave unimpaired our respect for His wisdom, truthfulness, or sanity, have successively failed. It is in the fulness of His personality and pretensions that He is to be accepted or rejected.

II. A suggested test.—‘Shall pass away,’ ‘shall not pass away.’ In the first interpretation of His words, viz., as the language of prophetic hyperbole, the means of proof or disproof lay at hand. What was then still future to them, they lived to see. The world’s history of the Church, has since observed the very course which He indicated. The evidence is therefore crescent and cumulative. And what has been proved to be true through our partial experience in the past, is rendered overwhelmingly probable and trust worthy as regards the whole future of the world.

III. A consequent claim.—This is not expressed, but implied. The veracity and prescience of Christ have a practical bearing. His words assert themselves as laws, principles of the world, forces securing their own fulfilment. This is the deep source and ground of His authority. Such a Prophet could be none other than the Lord of all things. And He reveals Himself as the Saviour of the world.

—The Rev. St. John A. Frere.

Illustration

‘There is an oft-told story of the last hours of Sir Walter Scott. He lies on a sofa in his library that looks out on the Tweed, and asks his son-in-law to read to him. There are twenty thousand beautiful volumes round the walls. “What book would you like?” says Lockhart. “Why do you ask?” replies Sir Walter: “there is but one.” And so the Bible was brought, and His sweet sayings read Who spake as never man spake. The philosophies of the world die and are forgotten like the dead leaves of autumn, but Christ’s Words still guide countless lives, comfort countless sorrows, and crown countless death-beds with sure and certain hope.’

(FIFTH OUTLINE)

CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRIST’S WORDS

I. Their authority.—The scribes were masters of a kind of reasoning which, however little suited to Western and modern tastes, was in its way subtle and effective. It was the instrument with which they worked; and they only succeeded at all if they could get people to attend to it. With our Lord it was otherwise. He, generally speaking, takes no account whatever of those means of producing conviction which, in merely human speakers, command success. He is careful indeed to teach as men are able to bear; but, if they are able, He is indifferent to the inward opposition which His words arouse. He ignores or He defies it; He makes no concessions to passion; He awes rather than satisfies the reason. He does not reason, at least as a rule; He affirms the truth, leaving it to make its own way in the soul.

II. Their elevation.—Christ’s words rise high above the prejudices and passions of the people, on whose goodwill a human teacher in His position would have felt himself to be entirely dependent. Contrast Him with the great names in ancient philosophy, who kept their best thoughts about truth for a few choice spirits. The chosen motto of His work was, ‘The poor have the Gospel preached to them.’ As we listen to Him we are conscious always and everywhere of matchless elevation. He is far above His countrymen,—far above the wisest wisdom of His time,—far above the wisest wisdom of all succeeding ages of which He has not been directly or indirectly the Author. As we listen to Him we feel that He lives and speaks in an atmosphere to which we only ascend at rare intervals.

III. Their awful depth.—Many of Christ’s words were addressed to the people, and they were correspondingly simple in form; they were without any of the apparatus of learning, or the pretence of culture; they attracted by their studied simplicity: ‘the common people heard Him gladly.’ Yet they have depths in them which are explored sometimes by theology, sometimes by the experiences of life, but which elude complete investigation. They have about them that character of infinitude which belongs to the more than human mind from which they proceed.

Canon Liddon.

Illustration

‘When a man is strong and in good spirits he likes to toy with speculations; but when he is sick, and suffering, and has another state of existence looming, however indistinctly, before him, he desires truth;—a truth, too, which dares to assert itself as truth, which knows its responsibilities, its frontiers, its premises and its consequences, its foes and its supporters. To talk at the bedside of a dying man as if you were doubtful about everything, but above all afraid of offending the literary susceptibilities of some very cultivated sceptics, would be clearly impossible.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 24:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/matthew-24.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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