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Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple as he takes his final leave of it, and teaches what were the signs of his coming. These predictions are also recorded in Mark 13:0; Luke 21:5-38.
And Jesus went out - He was going over to the Mount of Olives, Matthew 24:3.
The buildings of the temple - The temple itself, with the surrounding courts, porches, and other edifices. See the notes at Matthew 21:12. Mark says that they particularly pointed out the “stones” of the temple, as well as the buildings. “In that temple,” says Josephus, the Jewish historian, “were several stones which were 45 cubits in length, 5 in height, and 6 in breadth;” that is, more than 70 feet long, 10 wide, and 8 high. These stones, of such enormous size, were principally used in building the high wall on the east side, from the base to the top of the mountain. They were also, it is said, beautifully painted with variegated colors.
There shall not be left here one stone upon another - At the time this was spoken, no event was more improbable than this. The temple was vast, rich, splendid. It was the pride of the nation, and the nation was at peace. Yet in the short space of 40 years all this was accomplished exactly. Jerusalem was taken by the Roman armies, under the command of Titus, 70 a.d. The account of the siege and destruction of the city is left us by Josephus, a historian of undoubted veracity and singular fidelity. He was a Jewish priest. In the wars of which he gives an account, he fell into the hands of the Romans, and remained with them during the siege and destruction of the city. Being a Jew, he would of course say nothing designed to confirm the prophecies of Jesus Christ; yet his whole history appears almost like a running commentary on these predictions respecting the destruction of the temple. The following particulars are given on his authority:
After the city was taken, Josephus says that Titus “gave orders that they should now “demolish the whole city and temple,” except three towers, which he reserved standing. But for the rest of the wall, it was laid so completely even with the ground by those who “dug it up from the foundation,” that there was nothing left to make those believe who came hither that it had ever been inhabited.” Maimonides, a Jewish writer, has also recorded that “Terentius Rufus, an officer in the army of Titus, with a plowshare tore up the foundations of the temple, that the prophecy might be fulfilled, ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field,’” Micah 3:12. This was all done by the direction of divine Providence. Titus was desirous of preserving the temple, and frequently sent Josephus to the Jews to induce them to surrender and save the temple and city. But the prediction of the Saviour had gone forth, and, notwithstanding the wish of the Roman general, the temple was to be destroyed. The Jews themselves first set fire to the porticoes of the temple. One of the Roman soldiers, without any command, threw a burning firebrand into the golden window, and soon the temple was in flames. Titus gave orders to extinguish the fire; but, amid the tumult, none of the orders were obeyed. The soldiers pressed to the temple, and neither fear nor entreaties, nor stripes could restrain them. Their hatred of the Jews urged them on to the work of destruction, and thus, says Josephus, the temple was burned against the will of Caesar. - Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 4, section 5-7.
He sat upon the Mount of Olives - See the notes at Matthew 21:1. From that mount there was a magnificent view of the whole city.
The disciples came unto him privately - Not all of them, but Peter, James, John, and Andrew, Mark 13:3. The prediction that the temple would be destroyed Matthew 24:2 had been made in the presence of all the apostles. A “part” now came privately to know more particularly when this would be.
When shall these things be? - There are three questions here:
1.When those things should take place
2.What should be the signs of his own coming
3.What should be the signs that the end of the world was near
To these questions He replies in this and the following chapters. This He does, not by noticing them distinctly, but by intermingling the descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the end of the world, so that it is sometimes difficult to tell to what particular subject his remarks apply. The principle on which this combined description of two events was spoken appears to be, that “they could be described in the same words,” and therefore the accounts are intermingled. A similar use of language is found in some parts of Isaiah, where the same language will describe the return from the Babylonian captivity, and deliverance by the Messiah. See Introduction to Isaiah, section 7.
Sign of thy coming - Evidence that thou art coming. By what token shall we know that thou art coming?
Take heed ... - Jesus, in reply to their question, first gives them a caution to beware of deception. They were to be constantly on their guard, because many would arise to deceive the people.
Many shall come in my name - Not in the name or by the authority of Jesus, or claiming to be His followers, and to be sent by him, but in the name of the Messiah, or claiming to be the Messiah.
I am Christ - I am the Messiah. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. The Messiah was expected at that time, Matthew 2:1-2. Many would lay, claims to being the Messiah, and, as He was universally expected, multitudes would easily be led to believe in them. There is abundant evidence that this was fully accomplished. Josephus informs us that there were many who pretended to divine inspiration; who deceived the people, leading out numbers of them into the desert. “The land,” says He “was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitudes and deserts, to see I the signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God.” Among these are mentioned particularly Dositheus, the Samaritan, who affirmed that He was Christ; Simon Magus, who said He appeared among the Jews as the Son of God; and Theudas, who persuaded many to go with him to the river Jordan, to see the waters divided. The names of 24 false Messiahs are recorded as having appeared between the time of the Emperor Adrian and the year 1682.
And ye shall hear of wars ... - It is recorded in the history of Rome that violent agitations prevailed in the Roman empire previous to the destruction of Jerusalem. Four emperors, Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, suffered violent deaths in the short space of eighteen months. In consequence of these changes in the government, there were commotions throughout the empire. Parties were formed, and bloody and violent wars were the consequence of attachment to particular emperors. This is the more remarkable, as at the time that the prophecy was made, the empire was in a state of peace.
Rumours of wars - Wars declared or threatened, but not carried into execution. Josephus says that Bardanes, and after him Vologeses, declared war against the Jews, but it was not carried into execution, Antig. xx. 34. He also says that Vitellius, governor of Syria, declared war against Aretas, king of Arabia, and wished to lead his army through Palestine, but the death of Tiberius prevented the war, Antiq. xviii. 5. 3.
The end is not yet - The end of the Jewish economy; the destruction of Jerusalem will not immediately follow. Be not, therefore, alarmed when you hear of those commotions. Other signs will warn you when to be alarmed and seek security.
Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom - At Caesarea the Jews and Syrians contended about the right to the city, and twenty thousand of the Jews were slain. At this blow the whole nation of the Jews was exasperated, and carried war and desolation through the Syrian cities and villages. Sedition and civil war spread throughout Judea; Italy was also thrown into civil war by the contests between Otho and Vitellius for the crown.
And there shall be famines - There was a famine foretold by Agabus Acts 11:28, which is mentioned by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Eusebius, and which was so severe in Jerusalem, Josephus says, that many people perished for want of food, Antiq. xx. 2. Four times in the reign of Claudius (41-54 a.d.) famine prevailed in Rome, Palestine, and Greece.
Pestilences - Raging epidemic diseases; the plague, sweeping off multitudes of people at once. It is commonly the attendant of famine, and often produced by it. A pestilence is recorded as raging in Babylonia, 40 a.d. (Josephus, Antiq. xviii. 9. 8); in Italy, 66 a.d. (Tacitus 16. 13). Both of these took place before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Earthquakes - In prophetic language, earthquakes sometimes mean political commotions. Literally, they are tremors or shakings of the earth, often shaking cities and towns to ruin. The earth opens, and houses and people sink indiscriminately to destruction. Many of these are mentioned as preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. Tacitus mentions one in the reign of Claudius, at Rome, and says that in the reign of Nero the cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colosse were overthrown, and the celebrated Pompeii was overwhelmed and almost destroyed by an earthquake, Annales, 15. 22. Others are mentioned as occurring at Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, and Samos. Luke adds, “And fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven,” Luke 21:11. Josephus, who had probably never heard of this prophecy, and who certainly would have done nothing designedly to show its fulfillment, records the prodigies and signs which He says preceded the destruction of the city.
A star, says he, resembling a sword, stood over the city, and a comet that continued a whole year. At the feast of unleavened bread, during the night, a bright light shone round the altar and the temple, so that it seemed to be bright day, for half an hour. The eastern gate of the temple, of solid brass, fastened with strong bolts and bars, and which had been shut with difficulty by twenty men, opened in the night of its own accord. A few days after that feast, He says, “Before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.” A great noise, as of the sound of a multitude, was heard in the temple, saying, “Let us remove hence.” Four years before the war began, Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, came to the feast of the tabernacles when the city was in peace and prosperity, and began to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegroom and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He was scourged, and at every stroke of the whip He cried, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” This cry, Josephus says, was continued every day for more than seven years, until He was killed in the siege of the city, exclaiming, “Woe, woe to myself also!” - Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 9, section 3.
The beginning of sorrows - Far heavier calamities are yet to come before the end.
To be afflicted - By persecution, imprisonment, scourging, etc.
“They shall deliver you up to councils” (Mark). To the great council, or Sanhedrin - for this is the word in the original. See the notes at Matthew 5:22. This was fulfilled when Peter and John were brought before the council, Acts 4:5-7. Mark further adds Mark 13:9 that they should be delivered to synagogues and to prisons to be beaten, and should be brought before rulers and kings for his name’s sake. All this was remarkably fulfilled. Peter and John were imprisoned Acts 4:3; Paul and Silas were imprisoned Acts 16:24, and also beaten Acts 16:23; Paul was brought before Gallic Acts 18:12, before Felix Acts 24:24, and before Agrippa Acts 25:23.
And shall kill you - That is, shall kill some of you. Stephen was stoned Acts 7:59; James was killed by Herod Acts 12:2; and, in addition to all that the sacred writers have told us, the persecution under Nero took place before the destruction of Jerusalem, in which were put to death, with many others, Peter and Paul. Most of the apostles, it is believed, died by persecution.
When they were delivered up, Jesus told them not to premeditate what they should say, for he would give them a mouth and wisdom which all their adversaries would not be able to gainsay or resist, Luke 21:14-15. The fulfillment of this is recorded in the case of Stephen Acts 6:10, and of Paul, who made Felix “tremble,” Acts 24:25.
Ye shall be hated of all nations - This was fulfilled then, and has been in all ages. It was judged to be a crime to be a Christian. Multitudes for this, and for nothing else, were put to death.
For my name’s sake - On account of attachment to me, or because you bear my “name as Christians.”
Many shall be offended - See the notes at Matthew 5:29. Many shall stumble, fall, apostatize from a profession of religion. Many who “professed” to love me will then show that they had no “real” attachment to me; and in those trying times it will be seen that they knew nothing of genuine Christian love. See 1 John 2:19.
Shall betray one another - Those who thus apostatize from professed attachment to me will betray others who really love me. This they would do to secure their own safety, by revealing the names, habitations, or places of concealment of others.
Shall hate one another - Not that real Christians would do this, but those who had professed to be such would then show that they were not his true followers, and would hate one another. Luke adds that they should be betrayed “by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends,” Luke 21:16. They would break over the most tender ties to surrender Christians to punishment. So great would be their hatred of Christianity, that it would overcome all the natural endearments of kindred and home. This, in the persecutions of Christians, has often occurred, and nothing shows more fully the deep and deadly hatred of the human heart to the gospel. Compare the notes at Matthew 10:21.
And many false prophets - Many men pretending to be prophets or foretellers of future events. This refers not to the false “Messiahs” of which he had spoken Matthew 24:5, but to prophets who should appear during the siege of the city. Of them Josephus says: “The tyrannical zealots who ruled the city suborned “many false prophets” to declare that aid would be given to the people from heaven. This was done to prevent them from attempting to desert, and to inspire confidence in God.” - “Jewish Wars,” b. 6 chapter 5, section 2, 3.
And because iniquity ... - The word “iniquity” here seems to include the cruelty of the Jews and Romans in their persecutions; the betraying of Christians by those who professed to be such; and the pernicious errors of false prophets arid others. The effect of all this would be, that the ardor of feeling of many Christians would be lessened. The word “wax” means to “become.” It is an old Saxon word, not used now in this sense except in the Bible. The fear of death, and the deluding influence of false teachers, would lessen the zeal of many timid and weak professors; perhaps, also, of many real but feeble Christians.
He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved - The word “end,” here, has by some been thought to mean the destruction of Jerusalem, or the end of the Jewish economy, and the meaning has been supposed to be “he that perseveres in bearing these persecutions to the end of the wars shall be safe. God will protect his people from harm, so that not a hair of the head shall perish.” Others, with more probability, have referred this to final salvation, and refer the end to the close of life. “He that bears afflictions and persecutions faithfully that constantly adheres to his religion, and does not shrink until death shall be saved, or shall enter heaven.” So Luke Luke 21:18 says, “there shall not an hair of your head perish” - that is, they would be saved. “An hair of the head,” or the smallest part or portion, is a proverbial expression, denoting the “certainty and completeness” of their salvation. Luke Luke 21:19 adds further: “In your patience possess ye your souls” - that is, keep your souls “patient;” keep proper possession of patience as your own. It is a part of religion to teach it, and in these trying times let it not depart from you.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world - The evidence that this was done is to be chiefly derived from the New Testament, and there it is clear. Thus Paul declares that it was preached to every creature under heaven Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23; that the faith of the Romans was spoken of throughout the whole world Romans 1:8; that he preached in Arabia Galatians 1:17, and at Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum Romans 15:19. We know also that He traveled through Asia Minor, Greece, and Crete; that he was in Italy, and probably in Spain and Gaul, Romans 15:24-28. At the same time, the other apostles were not idle; and there is full proof that within thirty years after this prophecy was spoken, churches were established in all these regions.
For a witness unto all nations - This preaching the gospel indiscriminately to “all” the Gentiles shall be a proof to them, or a witness, that the division between the Jews and Gentiles was about to be broken down. Hitherto the blessings of revelation had been confined to the Jews. They were the special people of God. His messages had been sent to them only. When, therefore, God sent the gospel to all other people, it was proof, or “a witness unto them,” that the special Jewish economy was at an end.
Then shall the end come - The end of the Jewish economy; the destruction of the temple and city.
The abomination of desolation - This is a Hebrew expression, meaning an abominable or hateful destroyer. The Gentiles were all held in abomination by the Jews, Acts 10:28. The abomination of desolation means the Roman army, and is so explained by Luke 21:20. The Roman army is further called the “abomination” on account of the images of the emperor, and the eagles, carried in front of the legions, and regarded by the Romans with divine honors.
Spoken of by Daniel the prophet - Daniel 9:26-27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11, see the notes at those passages.
Standing in the holy place - Mark says, standing where it ought not,” meaning the same thing. All Jerusalem was esteemed “holy,” Matthew 4:5. The meaning of this is, when you see the Roman armies standing in the holy city or encamped around the temple, or the Roman ensigns or standards in the temple. Josephus relates that when the city was taken, the Romans brought their idols into the temple, and placed them over the eastern gate, and sacrificed to them there, “Jewish Wars,” b. 6 chapter 6, section 1.
Whoso readeth ... - This seems to be a remark made by the evangelist to direct the attention of the reader particularly to the meaning of the prophecy by Daniel.
Then let them ... - Then Christians may know that the end is come, and should seek a place of safety. Destruction would not only visit the “city,” but would extend to the surrounding part of Judea.
The mountains - The mountains of Palestine abound in caves, a safe retreat for those who are pursued. In all ages these caves have been the favorite places of robbers, and they were also resorted to by those in danger, 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 22:1; 2 Samuel 23:13; Joshua 10:16. In those mountains they would be safe.
Him which is on the house-top - The roofs of the houses in Eastern countries were made flat, so that they were favorable places for walking and retirement. See the notes at Matthew 9:1-8. The meaning here is, that He who should be on the house-top when this calamity came upon the city “should flee without delay;” He should not even take time to secure any article of apparel from his house. So sudden would be the calamity, that by attempting to do this He would endanger his life.
Return back to take his clothes - His clothes which, in “working,” He had laid aside, or which, in fleeing, he should throw off as an encumbrance. “Clothes” here means the “outer” garment, commonly laid aside when men worked or ran. See the notes at Matthew 5:40.
These directions were followed. It is said that the Christians, warned by these predictions, fled from Jerusalem to Pella, and other places beyond the Jordan; so that there is not evidence that a single “Christian” perished in Jerusalem - Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., lib. 3 chapter 6.
But pray ye ... - The destruction was certainly coming. It could not be prevented; yet it was right to pray for a mitigation of the circumstances, that it might be as mild as possible. So we know that calamity is before us; sickness, pain, bereavement, and death are in our path; yet, though we know that these things must come upon us, it is right to pray that they may come in as mild a manner as may be consistent with the will of God. We must die, but it is right to pray that the pains of our dying may be neither long nor severe.
In the winter - On account of the cold, storms, etc. To be turned then from home, and compelled to take up an abode in caverns, would be a double calamity.
Neither on the sabbath-day - Long journeys were prohibited by the law on the Sabbath, Exodus 16:29. The law of Moses did not mention the distance to which persons might go on the Sabbath, but most of the Jews maintained that it should not be more than 2000 cubits. Some supposed that it was 7 furlongs, or nearly a mile. This distance was allowed in order that they might go to their places of worship. Most of them held that it was not lawful to go further, under any circumstances of war or affliction. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that their flight might not be on the Sabbath, because, if they should not go farther than a Sabbath-day’s journey, they would not be beyond the reach of danger, and if they did, they would be exposed to the charge of violating the law. It should be added that it was almost impracticable to travel in Judea on that day, as the gates of the cities were usually closed, Nehemiah 13:19-22.
There shall be great tribulation - The word “tribulation” means calamity or “suffering.” Luke Luke 21:24 has specified in what this tribulation would consist: “They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled.” That is, until the time allotted for the Gentiles “to do it” shall be fully accomplished, or as long as God is pleased to suffer them to do it.
The first thing mentioned by Luke is, that they should fall “by the edge of the sword” - that is, would be slain in war, as the sword was then principally used in war. This was most strikingly fulfilled. Josephus, in describing it, uses almost the very words of our Saviour. “All the calamities, says he, which had befallen any nation from the beginning of the world” were but small in comparison with those of the Jews. - Jewish Wars, b. i. preface, section 4.
He has given the following account of one part of the massacre when the city was taken: “And now, rushing into the city, they slew whomsoever they found, without distinction, and burned the houses and all the people who had fled into them; and when they entered for the sake of plunder, they found whole families of dead persons, and houses full of carcasses destroyed by famine, then they came out with their hands empty. And though they thus pitied the dead, they had not the same emotion for the living, but killed all they met, whereby they filled the lanes with dead bodies. “The whole city ran with blood,” insomuch that many things which were burning were extinguished by the blood.” - “Jewish Wars,” b. 6 chapter 8, section 5; chapter 9, section 2, 3. He adds that in the siege of Jerusalem not fewer than “eleven hundred thousand” perished (Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 9, section 3) - a number almost half as great as are in the whole city of London. In the adjacent provinces no fewer than “two hundred and fifty thousand” are reckoned to have been slain; making in all whose deaths were ascertained the almost incredible number of “one million three hundred and fifty thousand” who were put to death.
These were not, indeed, all slain with the sword. Many were crucified. “Many hundreds,” says Josephus (“Jewish Wars,” b. v. chapter 11, section 1), “were first whipped, then tormented with various kinds of tortures, and finally crucified; the Roman soldiers nailing them (out of the wrath and hatred they bore to the Jews), one after one way and another after another, to crosses, “by way of jest,” until at length the multitude became so great that room was lacking for crosses, and crosses for the bodies.” So terribly was their imprecation fulfilled - “his blood be on us and on our children,” Matthew 27:25. If it be asked how it was possible for so many people to be slain in a single city, it is to be remembered that the siege of Jerusalem commenced during the time of the Passover, when all the males of the Jews were required to be there, and when it is estimated that more than “three million” were usually assembled. See Josephus, Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 9, section 3, 4.
A horrible instance of the distress of Jerusalem is related by Josephus. The famine during the siege became so great that they ate what the most sordid animals refused to touch. A woman of distinguished rank, having been plundered by the soldiers, in hunger, rage, and despair, killed and roasted her own babe, and had eaten one half of it before the deed was discovered. - Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 3, section 3, 4. This cruel and dreadful act was also in fulfillment of prophecy, Deuteronomy 28:53, Deuteronomy 28:56-57.
Another thing added by Luke Luke 21:24, was, that “they should be led away captive into all nations.” Josephus informs us that the captives taken during the whole war amounted to “ninety-seven thousand.” The tall and handsome young men Titus reserved for triumph; of the rest, many were distributed through the Roman provinces to be destroyed by wild beasts in theaters; many were sent to the works in Egypt; many, especially those under seventeen years of age, were sold for slaves. - Jewish Wars, b. vi. chapter 9, section 2, 3.
Except those days should be shortened - If the calamities of the siege should be lengthened out. If famine and war should be suffered to rage.
No flesh be saved - None of the nation would be preserved alive. All the inhabitants of Judea would perish. The war, famine, and pestilence would entirely destroy them.
But for the elect’s sake - The “elect” here doubtless means “Christians.” See 1 Peter 1:2; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4. The word “elect” means “to choose.” It is given to Christians because they are “chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,” 1 Peter 1:2. It is probable that in Jerusalem and the adjacent parts of Judea there were many who were true followers of Christ. On their account - to preserve them alive, and to make them the instruments of spreading the gospel Jesus said that those days should not be lengthened out so as to produce their destruction. It is related by Josephus (Jewish Wars, b. 1 chapter 12, section 1) that Titus at first resolved to reduce the city by famine. He therefore built a wall around it to keep any provisions from being carried in, and any of the people from going out. The Jews, however, drew up their army near the walls, engaged in battle, and the Romans pursued them, provoked by their attempts, and broke into the city. The affairs of Rome, also, at that time demanded the presence of Titus there; and, contrary to his original intention he pressed the siege and took the city by storm, thus “shortening” the time that would have been occupied in reducing it by famine. This was for the benefit of the “elect.” So the designs of wicked people, intended by them for the destruction of the people of God, are intended by God for the good of his chosen people. See the notes at Isaiah 10:7.
Lo, here is Christ - The Messiah. The Jews expected the Messiah to deliver them from Roman oppression. In the time of these great calamities they would anxiously look for him. Many would claim “to be” the Messiah. Many would follow those who set up that claim. Many would rejoice to believe that he was come, and would call on others, Christians with the rest, to follow them.
Believe it not - You have evidence that the Messiah has come, and you are not to be deceived by the plausible pretensions of others.
False Christs - Persons claiming to be the Messiah.
False prophets - Persons claiming to be “the prophet” spoken of by Moses Deuteronomy 18:15; or persons pretending to declare the way of deliverance from the Romans, and calling the people to follow them. See Matthew 24:5.
Shall show great signs and wonders - That is, shall pretend to work miracles. They will so nearly resemble prophets in their miraculous power as to render it difficult to detect the imposture. Josephus represents the false Christs and prophets that appeared as “magicians and sorcerers.” He says they led the people out into the deserts, and promised to work miracles to deliver them, Antiq. b. 20 chapter 8, section 6.
If it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect - So nearly would their pretended miracles resemble true miracles as to render it difficult to detect the imposture; so much so, that if it were possible they would persuade even true Christians that they were the Messiah. But that was not possible. His real friends would be too firmly established in the belief that he was the Christ to be wholly led away by others. Christians may be sometimes led far astray; they may be in doubt about some great doctrines of religion; they may be perplexed by the cavils and cunning craftiness of those who do not love the truth, but they cannot be entirely deceived and seduced from the Saviour. Our Saviour says that if this “were possible,” it would be done then; but it was not possible. Compare the notes at John 10:28-29.
Behold, I have told you before - Mark adds Mark 13:23, “take ye heed.” The reason why he told them before was that they might be on their guard, and be prepared for those calamities.
Behold, he is in the desert - The Jews had formed the expectation that the Messiah would appear suddenly from some unexpected quarter; hence, many would be looking to desert places, expecting that he would come from them. Accordingly, most of the impostors and pretended prophets led their people into the deserts.
Go not forth - Do not follow them; they will only deceive you.
In secret chambers - Concealed in some house, or some retired part of the city. Many would, doubtless, pretend that the Messiah was concealed there, and, either for the purpose of encouraging or deceiving the people, would pretend that they had discovered him.
For as the lightning cometh out of the east ... - This is not designed to denote the quarter from which he would come, but the manner. He does not mean to affirm that the “Son of man” will come from the “east,” but that he will come in a rapid and unexpected manner, like the lightning. Many would be looking for him in the desert, many in secret places; but he said it would be useless to be looking in that manner; it was useless to look to any particular part of the heavens to know where the lightning would next flash. In a moment it would blaze in an unexpected part of the heavens, and shine at once to the other part. So rapidly, so unexpectedly, in so unlooked-for a quarter, would be his coming. See Luke 10:18; Zechariah 9:14.
The coming of the Son of man - It has been doubted whether this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, or to the coming at the day of judgment. For the solution of this doubt let it be remarked:
1.That those two events are the principal scenes in which our Lord said he would come, either in person or in judgment.
2.That the destruction of Jerusalem is described as his coming, his act.
3.That these events - the judgment of Jerusalem and the final judgment in many respects greatly resemble each other.
4.That they “will bear,” therefore, to be described in the same language; and,
5.Therefore, that the same words often include both events, as properly described by them.
The words had, doubtless, a primary reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, but they had, at the same time, such an amplitude of meaning as also to express his coming to judgment. See the introduction to Isaiah, section 7, (3).
Wheresoever ... - The words in this verse are proverbial. Vultures and eagles easily ascertain where dead bodies are, and hasten to devour them. So with the Roman army. Jerusalem is like a dead and putrid corpse. Its life is gone, and it is ready to be devoured. The Roman armies will find it out, as the vultures do a dead carcass, and will come around it to devour it. This proverb also teaches a universal truth. Wherever wicked people are, there will be assembled the instruments of their chastisement. The providence of God will direct them there, as the vultures are directed to a dead carcass.
This verse is connected with the preceding by the word “for,” implying that this is a reason for what is said there that the Son of man would certainly come to destroy the city, and that he would come suddenly. The meaning is that he would come, by means of the Roman armies, as “certainly;” as “suddenly,” and as unexpectedly as whole flocks of vultures and eagles, though unseen before, see their prey at a great distance and suddenly gather in multitudes around it. Travelers in the deserts of Arabia tell us that they sometimes witness a speck in the distant sky which for a long time is scarcely visible. At length it grows larger, it comes nearer, and they at last find that it is a vulture that has from an immense distance seen a carcass lying on the sand. So keen is their vision as aptly to represent the Roman armies, though at an immense distance, spying, as it were, Jerusalem, a putrid carcass, and hastening in multitudes to destroy it.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days - That is, immediately after these tribulations, events will occur that “may be properly represented” by the darkening of the sun and moon, and by the stars falling from heaven. The word rendered “immediately” - εὐθέως eutheōs - means, properly, “straightway, immediately,” Matthew 8:3; Matthew 13:5; Mark 1:31; Acts 12:10; then “shortly,” 3 John 1:14. This is the meaning here. Such events would “shortly” or “soon” occur In the fulfillment of the predictions they would be “the next in order,” and would occur “before long.” The term here requires us to admit that, in order to the fulfillment of the prophecy, it can be shown, or it actually happened, that things “did” soon occur “after the tribulation of those days” which would be “properly represented or described” by the images which the Saviour employs. It is not necessary to show that there could not have been “a more remote” reference to events lying far in the future, in which there would be a more complete fulfillment or “filling up” of the meaning of the words (compare the notes at Matthew 1:22-23); but it is necessary that there should have been events which would be “properly expressed” by the language which the Saviour uses, or which would have been in some proper sense “fulfilled,” even if there had not been reference to more remote events. It will be seen in the exposition that this was actually the case, and that therefore there was a propriety in saying that these events would occur “immediately” - that is, “soon, or the next in order.” Compare the notes at Revelation 1:1.
Shall the sun be darkened ... - The images used here are not to be taken literally. They are often employed by the sacred writers to denote “any great calamities.” As the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, would be an inexpressible calamity, so any great catastrophe - any overturning of kingdoms or cities, or dethroning of kings and princes is represented by the darkening of the sun and moon, and by some terrible convulsion in the elements. Thus the destruction of Babylon is foretold in similar terms Isaiah 13:10, and of Tyre Isaiah 24:23. The slaughter in Bozrah and Idumea is predicted in the same language, Isaiah 34:4. See also Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 60:19-20; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 3:15. To the description in Matthew, Luke has added Luke 21:25-26, “And upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; people’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” All these are figures of great and terrible calamities. The roaring of the waves of the sea denotes great tumult and affliction among the people. “Perplexity” means doubt, anxiety; not knowing what to do to escape. “Men’s hearts should fail them for fear,” or by reason of fear. Their fears would be so great as to take away their courage and strength.
The sign of the Son of man - The “evidence” that he is coming to destroy the city of Jerusalem. It is not to be denied, however, that this description is applicable also to his coming at the day of judgment. The disciples had asked him Matthew 24:3 what should be the sign of his coming, and “of the end of the world.” In his answer he has reference to both events, and his language may be regarded as descriptive of both. At the destruction of Jerusalem, the sign or evidence of his coming was found in the fulfillment of these predictions. At the end of the world, the sign of his coming will be his personal approach with the glory of his Father and the holy angels, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Luke 21:27; Matthew 26:64; Acts 1:11.
All the tribes of the earth mourn - That is, either all the “tribes or people” of the land of Judea shall mourn at the great calamities coming upon them, or all the nations of the world shall wail when he comes to judgment. All the wicked shall mourn at the prospect of their doom, Revelation 1:7. The cause of their wailing at the day of judgment will be chiefly that they have pierced, killed, rejected the Saviour, and that they deserve the condemnation that is coming upon them, John 19:37; Zechariah 12:12.
And they shall see the Son of man - The Lord Jesus coming to judgment. Probably this refers more directly to his coming at the last day, though it may also mean that the “evidence” of his coming to destroy Jerusalem will then be seen.
In the clouds of heaven - He ascended in a cloud, Acts 1:9. He shall return in like manner, Acts 1:11. “The clouds of heaven” denote not the clouds in heaven, but the clouds that appear to shut heaven, or the sky, from our view.
With power - Power, manifest in the destruction of Jerusalem, by the wonders that preceded it, and by the overturning of the temple and city. In the day of judgment, power manifest by consuming the material world 2 Peter 3:7, 2Pe 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12; by raising the dead John 5:29-30; 1 Corinthians 15:52; by changing those who may be alive when he shall come - that is, making their bodies like those who have died, and who have been raised up 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:52; by bringing the affairs of the world to a close, receiving the righteous to heaven Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 15:57, and sending the wicked, however numerous or however strong, down to hell, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46; John 5:29.
Great glory - The word “glory” here means the visible display of honor and majesty. This glory will be manifested by the manner of his coming Matthew 26:64, by the presence of the angels Matthew 25:31, and by the wonders that shall attend him down the sky.
And he shall send his angels - “Angels” signify, literally, “messengers,” Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52. The word is often applied to inanimate objects, or to anything that God employs to rescue his people from danger Psalms 104:4; but it most commonly refers to the race of intelligent beings more exalted than man, who are employed often in the work of man’s rescue from ruin, and aiding his salvation, Hebrews 1:14. In either of these senses it might here refer to deliverance granted to his people in the calamities of Jerusalem. It is said that there is reason to believe that not one Christian perished in the destruction of that city, God having in various ways secured their escape, so that they fled to Pella, where they lived when the city was destroyed. But the language seems to refer rather to the end of the world, and, no doubt, its principal application was intended to be to the gathering of his elect at the day of judgment:
With a great sound of a trumpet - The Jewish assemblies used to be called together by the sound of a trumpet, as ours are by bells, Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 10:2; Judges 3:27. Hence, when they spoke of convening an assembly, they spoke also of doing it by sounding a trumpet. Our Saviour, speaking to Jews, used language to which they were accustomed, and described the assembling of the people at the last day in language which they were accustomed to use in calling assemblies together. It is not certain, however, that he meant that this would be literally so, but it may be designed only to denote the certainty that the “world would be assembled together.” Similar language is often used when speaking of the judgment, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52. A trump, or trumpet, was a wind instrument, made at first from the horns of oxen, and afterward of rams’ horns, cut off at the smaller extremity. In some instances it was made of brass, in the form of a horn. The common trumpet was straight, made of brass or silver, a cubit in length, the larger extremity shaped so as to resemble a small bell. In times of peace, in assembling the people, this was sounded softly. In times of calamity, or war, or any great commotion, it was sounded loud. Perhaps this was referred to when our Saviour said, with a great sound of a trumpet.
They shall gather together his elect - Elect. See the notes at Matthew 24:22. The word means Christians - the chosen of God. If this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, it means, “God shall send forth his messengers - whatever he may choose to employ for that purpose: signs, wonders, human messengers, or the angels themselves - and gather Christians into a place of safety, so that they shall not be destroyed with the Jews.” If it refers to the last judgment, as it doubtless in a primary or secondary sense does, then it means that he will send his angels to gather his chosen, his elect, together from all places, Matthew 13:39, Matthew 13:41-43. This shall be done before the living shall be changed, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
From the four winds - That is, from the four quarters of the globe - east, west, north, and south. The Jews expressed those quarters by the winds blowing from them See Ezekiel 37:9. See also Isaiah 43:5-6. “From one end of heaven, etc.” Mark says Mark 13:27, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. The expression denotes that they shall be gathered from all parts of the earth where they are scattered. The word “heaven” is used here to denote the “visible” heavens or the sky, meaning that through “the whole world” he would gather them. See Psalms 19:1-7; Deuteronomy 4:32.
Now learn a parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3. The word here means, rather, “an illustration” make a “comparison,” or judge of this as you do respecting a fig-tree.
Fig-tree - This was spoken on the Mount of Olives, which produced not only olives, but figs. Possibly one was near when he spoke this.
When his branch ... - When the juices return from the roots into the branches, and the buds swell and burst, “as if tender,” and too feeble to contain the pressing and expanding leaves when you see that, you judge that spring and summer are near.
So likewise ye ... - In the same manner, when you see what I have predicted the “signs” around Jerusalem - then know that its destruction is at hand,
Is near - Luke says Luke 21:28, “your redemption draweth nigh, and Luke 21:31 the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” Your deliverance from the dangers that threaten the city approaches, and the kingdom of God will be set up in the earth; or your everlasting redemption from sin and death will come at the day of judgment, and his eternal kingdom will be established in the heavens.
This generation ... - This age; this race of people. A generation is about 30 or 40 years. The destruction of Jerusalem took place about forty years after this was spoken. See the notes at Matthew 16:28.
Till all these things ... - Until these things shall be accomplished. Until events shall take place which shall be a fulfillment of these words, if there were nothing further intended. He does not mean to exclude the reference to the judgment, but to say that the destruction of Jerusalem would be such as to make appropriate the words of the prediction, were there nothing beyond. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:22-23. So when “death” was threatened to Adam, the propriety of the threatening would have been seen, and the threatening would have been fulfilled, had people suffered only temporal death. At the same time the threatening had “a fullness of meaning” that would cover also, and justify, eternal death. Thus the words of Christ describing the destruction of Jerusalem had a fulness of signification that would meet also the events of the judgment, and whose meaning would not be “entirely filled up” until the world was closed.
Heaven and earth shall pass away ... - You may sooner expect to see the heaven and earth pass away and return to nothing, than my words to fail.
But of that day and hour - Of the precise time of the fulfillment. The “general signs” of its approach have been given, as the budding of the fig-tree is a certain indication that summer is near; but “the precise time” is not indicated by these things. One part of their inquiry was Matthew 24:3 when those things should be. He now replies to them by saying that the precise time would not be foretold. Compare the notes at Acts 1:7.
Knoweth no man, no, not the angels - See the notes at Mark 13:32.
Noe - The Greek way of writing “Noah.” See Gen. 6–9. The coming of the Son of man would be as it was in the days of Noah:
- In its being sudden and unexpected, the “precise time” not being made known, though the “general” indications had been given.
- The world would be found as it was then.
For as in the days ... - The things mentioned here denote attention to the affairs of this life rather than to what was coming on them. It does not mean that these things were wrong, but only that such was their actual employment, and that they were regardless of what was coming upon them.
They knew not - That is, they knew not the exact time until it came upon them. So, says he, it shall be when the Son of man shall come. They shall not know “the precise time” until he comes, and then they will be found engaged in the ordinary business of life unconcerned.
Then shall two be in the field ... - The calamity will come suddenly. There will be no escape for those whom it overtakes.
One shall be taken - The word “taken” may mean either to be taken away from the danger - that is, rescued, as Lot was Luke 17:28-29, or to be taken away “by death.” Probably the latter is the meaning.
Two women ... - Grinding in the East was performed, as it is now, chiefly by hand. The millstones were about 2 feet in diameter and 12 foot in thickness. The lower one was fixed, and the upper one was turned by a handle or crank. This was done by two persons, who sat opposite to each other. One took hold of the mill-handle and turned it half-way round; the other then seized it and completed the revolution. This was done by women - by servants of the lowest order - and was a very laborious employment. See Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10; Isaiah 47:2; Judges 16:21. The meaning of this verse is similar to the former. Of two persons sitting near each other, one shall be taken and the other. left. The calamity would be sudden, and would come upon them before they were aware.
Watch - Be looking for his coming. Be expecting it as near; as a great event; as coming in an unexpected manner. Watch the signs of his coming, and be ready.
But know this ... - If a man knew the hour, or “about the hour,” when a robber would come, he would be ready for him. So you know not the exact hour, but you know it is near, when the Son of man will come. He will come suddenly, as a thief comes, without giving previous warning, 1Th 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15. “Goodman.” See the notes at Matthew 20:11.
Thief - A robber. A thief, with us, means one who takes goods without doing violence - secretly, silently. The original word means one who does it by housebreaking, or by highway violence, Luke 10:30.
Broken up - Broken into either by the doors or windows. See the notes at Matthew 6:19.
In what watch - In which of the four quarters of the night. See the notes at Matthew 14:25.
Be ye also ready - Luke Luke 21:36 says that he charged them to pray always, that they might be accounted worthy to escape those things - the judgments coming upon the wicked - and to stand before the Son of man - that is, to stand there approved by him, or to be admitted to his favor. He also charged them Luke 21:34 to take heed and not to suffer their hearts to be overcharged with surfeiting, or too much eating, or drunkenness, or the cares of this life, lest that day should come upon them unawares; things improper if there were no judgment - especially mad and wicked when the judgment is near.
This passage is, in fact, “a parable,” though it is not expressly so called. The design is to show that his disciples should act as if they were each moment expecting his return. This he illustrates by the conduct of a servant who did not expect his master soon to return, who acted with great impropriety, and who was accordingly punished.
Who, then, is a faithful and wise servant ... - By the conduct of a faithful and wise servant Jesus intends to denote a faithful Christian, a servant of God, or a teacher of religion.
Whom his lord - His master.
The word here has no reference to God. It means the “lord” or master of the servant. Applied to Christian teachers, in the spiritual meaning of the parable, it refers to “Christ,” who has appointed them as teachers, and who is their Lord and Master, John 13:13-14.
Over his household - His family. Christian ministers are the servants of God appointed over the church, the family of Christ, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 1Co 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 12:28.
Meat in due season - The word “meat” here means food of all kinds. When the Bible was translated into English, the word included, as the original does, all kinds of provisions requisite to support and nourish life.
In due season - As they need it, or in the accustomed times. This was the office of a steward. Among the ancients this office was often filled by a “slave” - one who had shown himself trusty and faithful. The duty was to have a general superintendence over the affairs of the family. Applied to Christian ministers, it means that they are to feed the flock of God, to “minister” to their needs, and to do it as they need it, John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.
Shall make him ruler ... - Shall confirm his appointment over his household, and, as a reward, shall place him over all his property.
This does not mean that ministers will have a higher rank or office, but is a circumstance of “the parable” or story, designed to show the effect of faithfulness. Faithful servants of Christ shall be rewarded. This will be done by His approbation, and by the rewards of the heavenly world.
That evil servant - If that servant, so appointed, having this office, should be evil or wicked.
Say in his heart - Secretly suppose.
Delayeth his coming - Will not return in a long time; or does not return as soon as was expected, and perhaps may not at all.
Smite his fellow-servants ... - This is the conduct of a wicked servant, who, supposing he would not be called to account, and abusing his authority, gave himself up to oppression, carousing, and debauchery.
It is designed to represent the conduct of ministers who are unfaithful and overbearing, and who abuse their trust in the church.
Shall cut him asunder - This kind of punishment was anciently practiced.
Sometimes it was done by the sword. sometimes by saws. It was practiced among the Chaldeans Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29, and among the Hebrews, 2 Samuel 12:31; 1Sa 15:33; 1 Kings 3:25; Hebrews 11:37. It was also practiced by the Egyptians and Romans. It is not, perhaps, here to be taken literally, but signifies that the wicked servant should be severely punished.
Hypocrites - See the notes at Matthew 6:2. They are spoken of here as the worst of people.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth - See the notes at Matthew 8:12-13. The unfaithful and wicked minister of God, who lives without expectation or fear of judgment, shall suffer the severest punishment inflicted on sinners in the world of woe.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29