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Matthew 24:1.And Jesus went out. The disciples undoubtedly perceived that Christ was paying, as it were, his last adieu to the temple. It remained, therefor that he should erect a new temple far more magnificent, and that he should produce a more flourishing condition of the kingdom, as had been foretold by the Prophets; for he had nothing to do with that temple, in which every thing was opposed to him. But again, the disciples could not believe that the magnificent splendor of the temple would give way to Christ. And it ought to be carefully observed that, owing to the prodigious costliness of the temple, their eyes were so dazzled by the splendor of its present aspect, that they could scarcely entertain the hope that the kingdom of Christ would arise. They do not, indeed, in express terms acknowledge their hesitation, but they tacitly throw out a suggestion of it, when they allege, in opposition to Christ, the mass of stones which must be got out of the way, and which must indeed be utterly laid low if he intended to reign. Many simple persons of our own day are carried away by a similar admiration of Popery; for, perceiving it to be supported by very great wealth and by immense power, they are filled with absolute amazement, so as to despise a Church of mean and slovenly aspect. Many even think that we are mad in laboring to effect its destruction, as if this were nothing less than an attempt to draw down the sun out of heaven. And yet, there is no reason to wonder that a spectacle so imposing held the disciples of Christ in astonishment; for how great expense that building cost Herod, may be concluded from the single fact, that he kept ten thousand workmen employed on it for eight successive years. Nor is it without reason that they admire the stones which, Josephus tells us, were superlatively beautiful, and were fifteen (125) cubits in length, twelve in height, and eight in breadth. Besides, so great was the reverence entertained for the temple even in remote districts, that scarcely any person would venture to suppose that it could ever be destroyed.
(125) Instead of fifteen, Josephus states the length of each of the stones to have been twenty-five cubits, (Ant. XV. xi. 3) — Ed.
2.Verily I say to you. As the vast size and wealth of the temple, like a veil hung before the eyes of the disciples, did not permit them to elevate their faith to the true reign of Christ, which was still future, so he affirms with an oath, that those things which occupy their attention will quickly perish. This prediction of the destruction of the temple, therefore, opened up a path for the ignorant and weak. (126) Now, though it was advantageous that the temple should be destroyed, lest its services and shadows might exercise an undue influence on the Jews, who were already too much attached to earthly elements, yet the chief reason was, that God determined, by this dreadful example, to take vengeance on that nation, for having rejected his Son, and despised the grace which was brought by him. And, therefore, this threatening must have intimidated the disciples from taking part with a rebellious people; as the punishments which Scripture denounces against the wicked ought now to deter us from those crimes which provoke the wrath of God. Every thing that it tells us, even about the fading and transitory aspect of the world, ought to correct the vanity of our senses, which too eagerly follow pomp, and luxury, and pleasure. But more especially, what it declares respecting the fearful destruction of Antichrist and his followers, ought to remove every obstacle which hinders us from pursuing the right course of faith.
3.And while he was sitting. Mark mentions four disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew But neither he nor Luke states the matter so fully as Matthew; for they only say that the disciples inquired about the time of the destruction of the temple, and — as it was a thing difficult to be believed — what outward sign of it God would give from heaven. Matthew tells us that they inquired about the time of Christ’s coming, and of the end of the world. But it must be observed that, having believed from their infancy that the temple would stand till the end of time, and having this opinion deeply rooted in their minds, they did not suppose that, while the building of the world stood, the temple could fall to ruins. Accordingly, as soon as Christ said that the temple would be destroyed, their thoughts immediately turned to the end of the world; and—as one error leads to another—having been convinced that, as soon as the reign of Christ should commence, they would be in every respect happy, they leave warfare out of the account, and fly all at once to a triumph. They associate the coming of Christ and the end of the world as things inseparable from each other; and by the end of the world they mean the restoration of all things, so that nothing may be wanting to complete the happiness of the godly.
We now perceive that they leap at once to various questions, because they had given way to these foolish imaginations, that the temple could not fall without shaking the whole world; that the termination of the shadows of the Law, and of the whole world, would be the same; that it would be immediately followed by the exhibition of the glory of Christ’s kingdom, which would make the children of God perfectly happy; that a visible renovation of the world was at hand, which would instantly bring order out of a state of confusion. But above all, a foolish hope which they entertained, as to the immediate reign of Christ, drove them to hasten to the attainment of happiness and rest, without attending to the means. Just as, when they see that Christ is risen from the dead, (Acts 1:6,) they rush forward to grasp at that happiness, which is laid up for us in heaven, and which must be attained through faith and patience.
Now though our condition is different, because we have not been educated among the shadows of the Law, so as to be infatuated by that superstition of an earthly kingdom of Christ, yet scarcely one person in a hundred is to be found who does not labor under a very similar disease. For since all men naturally shrink from annoyances, combats, and every kind of cross, the dislike of these things urges them, without moderation and without hope, to rush forward unseasonably to the fruit of hope. Thus no man wishes to sow the seed, but all wish to reap the harvest before the season arrives. To return to the disciples, they had indeed formed in their minds some good seed of faith, but they do not wait till it arrive at maturity; and holding, at the same time, erroneous views, they confound the perfection of Christ’s reign with the commencement of it, and wish to enjoy on earth what they ought to seek for in heaven.
4.And Jesus answering said to them. They received an answer very different from what they had expected; for whereas they were eager for a triumph, as if they had already finished their warfare, Christ exhorts them to long patience. As if he had said, “You wish to seize the prize at the very outset, but you must first finish the course. You would draw down to earth the kingdom of God, which no man can obtain till he ascend to heaven.” Now while this chapter contains admonitions highly useful for regulating the course of our life, we see that, by a wonderful purpose of God, the mistake into which the apostles fell is made to turn to our advantage. The amount of the present instruction is, that the preaching of the Gospel is like sowing the seed, and therefore we ought to wait patiently for the time of reaping; and that it arises from improper delicacy or effeminacy, if we lose courage on account of the frost, or snow, or clouds of winter or other unpleasant seasons.
Take heed lest any man deceive you. There are two charges which Christ expressly gives to the disciples, to beware of false teachers, and not to be terrified by scandals. By these words he gives warning that his Church, so long as its pilgrimage in the world shall last, will be exposed to these evils. But they might be apt to think that this was inconsistent, since the prophets gave a widely different description of the future reign of Christ. Isaiah predicts that all will then be taught of God, (Isaiah 54:13.) The words of God are:
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;
your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,
A still more abundant light of understanding is promised by Jeremiah.
No longer shall any man teach his neighbor, nor a man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me from the least to the greatest, (Jeremiah 31:34.)
And, therefore, we need not wonder if the Jews expected, that when the Sun of righteousness had arisen, as Malachi (Malachi 4:2) had predicted, they would be entirely free from every cloud of error. Hence, also, the woman of Samaria said,
When the Messiah cometh, he will teach us all things,
Now we know what splendid promises of peace, righteousness, joy, and abundance of all blessings, are to be found everywhere in Scripture. We need not, therefore, wonder if they expected that, at the coming of Christ, they would be delivered from commotions of war, from extortions and every kind of injustice, and, in short, from famine and pestilence.
But Christ warns them, that false teachers will henceforth give no less annoyance to the godly than false prophets gave to the ancient people; and that disturbances will be not less frequent under the Gospel than they formerly were under the Law. Not that those prophecies which I have just mentioned will fail to be accomplished, but because the full accomplishment of them does not immediately appear in one day; for it is enough that believers now obtain a taste of those blessings, so as to cherish the hope of the full enjoyment of them at a future period. And, therefore, they were greatly mistaken, who wished to hay at the commencement of the Gospel, an immediate and perfect exhibition of those things which we see accomplished from day to day. Besides, that happiness which the prophets ascribe to the reign of Christ, though it cannot be altogether annihilated by the depravity of man, is retarded or delayed by it. It is true that the Lord, in contending with the malice of men, opens up a way for his blessings through every obstacle; and, indeed, it would be unreasonable to suppose that what is founded on the undeserved goodness of God, and does not depend on the will of man, should be set aside through their fault.
Yet, that they may receive some punishment for their ingratitude he drops upon them in small measure his favors, which would otherwise flow on them in the richest abundance. Hence arises a labyrinth of evils, through which believers wander all their life, though they are pursuing the straight road to salvation, having Christ for their guide, who holds out to them the torch of his Gospel. Hence arises a multitude of combats, so that they have a hard warfare, though there is no danger of their being vanquished. Hence arise disturbances so numerous and so sudden, that they are kept in perpetual uneasiness, though, resting on Christ, they remain firm to the end. And since Christ enjoins his disciples to beware of impostures, let us know that the means of defense will not be wanting, provided that they are not wanting to themselves. (127) And therefore, whatever arts Satan may employ, let us entertain no doubt that we shall be safe from them, if every one of us keep diligent watch on his own station.
5.For many shall come in my name. He does not as yet speak generally of false and perverse doctrines, but refers to one class which was sort of introduction to all errors, by which Satan has attempted, in various ways, to corrupt the pure doctrine of the Gospel. For shortly after Christ’s resurrection, there arose impostors, every one of whom professed to be the Christ. And as the true Redeemer had not only been removed from the world, but oppressed by the ignominy of the cross, and yet the minds of all were excited by the hope and inflamed with the desire of redemption, those men had in their power a plausible opportunity of deceiving. Nor can it be doubted, that God permitted such reveries to impose on the Jews, who had so basely rejected his Son. Though those mad attempts speedily disappeared, yet God determined that disturbances of this kind should arise among the Jews; first, that they might be exposed to infamy and hatred; secondly, that they might altogether abandon the hope of salvation; and, lastly, that having been so frequently disappointed, they might rush to their destruction with brutal stupidity. For when the world turned away from the Son of God, to whom it belonged to collect them into holy union, it was right that it should be driven hither and thither by tempests; and by the same vengeance of God it was brought about, that more were carried away by a foolish credulity, than were brought by a right faith to obey God. This circumstance, too, was expressly stated by Christ, that believers might not faint at perceiving the crowd of madmen; for we know how prone we are to follow a multitude, especially when we are few in number.
6For you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. He describes here those commotions only which arose in Judea, for we shall find him soon afterwards saying that the flame will spread much wider. As he had formerly enjoined them to beware lest any man deceived them, so now he bids them meet with courage rumors of wars and wars themselves; for they would be in danger of giving way when surrounded by calamities, especially if they had promised to themselves ease and pleasure.
For all these things must take place. He adds this, not for the purpose of assigning a reason, but of warning them that none of these things happened accidentally, or without the providence of God, that they may not uselessly kick against the spur; for nothing has a more powerful efficacy to bring us into subjection, than when we acknowledge that those things which appear to be confused are regulated by the good pleasure of God. True, indeed, God himself never wants proper causes and the best reasons for allowing the world to be disturbed; but as believers ought to acquiesce in his mere good pleasure, Christ reckoned it enough to exhort the disciples to prepare their minds for endurance, and to remain firm, because such is the will of God.
But the end is not yet. He now states in plainer terms the threatening which I have already mentioned, that those events which were in themselves truly distressing would be only a sort of preparation for greater calamities; because, when the flame of war has been kindled in Judea, it will spread more widely; for ever since the doctrine of the Gospel was published, a similar ingratitude prevailing among other nations has aroused the wrath of God against them. Hence it happened that, having broken the bond of peace with God, they tore themselves by mutual contentions; having refused to obey the government of God, they yielded to the violence of their enemies; not having permitted themselves to be reconciled to God, they broke out into quarrels with one another; in short, having shut themselves out from the heavenly salvation, they raged against each other, and filled the earth with murders. Knowing how obstinate the malice of the world would be, he again adds,
8.But all these things are the beginnings of sorrows. Not that believers, who always have abundant consolations in calamities, should consume themselves with grief, but that they should lay their account with a long exercise of patience. Luke adds likewise earthquakes, and signs from heaven, with respect to which, though we have no authentic history of them, yet it is enough that they were predicted by Christ. The reader will find the rest in Josephus, (Wars of the Jews, VI. 5:3.)
Matthew 24:9.Then will they deliver you up to be afflicted. Christ now foretells to the disciples another kind of temptation, by which, in addition to ordinary afflictions, their faith must be tried; and that is, that they will be hated and detested by the whole world. It is painful and distressing enough in itself that the children of God should be afflicted in such a manner as not to be distinguished from the reprobate and the despisers of God, and should be subjected to the same punishments which those men endure on account of their crimes; and it appears to be still more unjust that they should be severely oppressed by grievous calamities from which the ungodly are exempted. But as wheat, after having been beaten by the flail along with the chaff, is pressed down and bruised by the millstone, so God not only afflicts his children in common with the ungodly, but subdues them by the cross even beyond others, so that we might be apt to think them more unhappy than the rest of mankind.
But Christ treats here strictly of the afflictions which the disciples had to endure on account of the gospel. For, though what Paul stays is true, that those whom God hath elected are likewise appointed by him to bear the cross,
that they may be conformed to the image of his Son,
yet he does not distinguish all by this special Mark of enduring persecution from the enemies of the gospel. It is of this species of the cross that Christ now speaks, when it becomes necessary that believers should incur the hatred, meet the reproaches, and provoke the fury, of the ungodly for the testimony of the gospel. For he intended to warn his disciples that the doctrine of the gospel, of which they were to be witnesses and messengers, would never be pleasant or agreeable to the world, as he had formerly explained to them. He foretells not only that they will have to contend with a few enemies, but that, wherever they come, all nations will oppose them.
But it was monstrous and incredible, and was fitted to astonish and shake even the strongest minds, that the name of the Son of God should be so infamous and hateful, that all who professed it would be everywhere disliked. Accordingly, the words of Mark are, take heed to yourselves. By this expression he points out the end and use of the warning, which is, that they ought to be prepared for endurance, lest, through want of caution, they might be overwhelmed by temptation. The same Mark adds, that this will be for a testimony to kings and rulers, when the disciples of Christ shall be brought before their tribunal. Luke expresses it a little differently, this will happen to you for a testimony, but the sense is quite the same; for Christ means that his gospel will be so much the more fully attested, when they have defended it at the risk of their lives.
If the apostles had only given their attention to preaching the gospel, and had not stood so firmly in defending it against the furious attacks of enemies, the confirmation of it would not have been so complete. But when they did not hesitate to expose their lives, and were not driven from their purpose by any terrors of death, their unshaken constancy made it manifest, how firmly they were convinced of the goodness of their cause. It was therefore an authentic seal of the gospel, when the apostles advanced without terror to the tribunals of kings, and there made an open profession of the name of Christ. Accordingly, Peter calls himself
a witness of the sufferings of Christ, (1 Peter 5:1,)
whose badges he wore; and Paul boasts that he was
placed for the defense of the gospel, (Philippians 1:17.)
This is eminently worthy of attention, that those on whom God bestows so great an honor as to make them defenders of his truth, may not through base treachery fall from the faith.
Matthew 24:10.Then will many be offended. He now enumerates the temptations which will arise from bad examples. Now this is an exceedingly violent temptation, and difficult to overcome; for Christ is to many a stone of offense, (1 Peter 2:8,) on which some dash themselves, or by meeting which some are thrown back, and others fall away. In this expression Christ appears to me to include many kinds of troubles; for not only do they that had entered into the right course fall away, but many are exasperated against Christ; others, forgetful of moderation and justice, break out into rage; others grow profane, and lose every feeling of piety; and others, amidst the confusion which prevails, take upon themselves a liberty to commit crimes.
11.And many false prophets will arise. This warning differs from the former, in which Christ foretold that many would come in his name. For there he spoke only of impostors, who, shortly after the commencement of the Gospel, gave out that they were the Christ; but now he threatens that in all ages false teachers will arise, to corrupt sound doctrine, as Peter tells us (2 Peter 2:1) that the Church will be no less exposed to this evil under the Gospel than it anciently was under the Law. There is therefore no reason why error, and certain impostures of the devil and corruptions of piety, should strike pious minds with dismay; since no man is properly founded on Christ, who has not learned that we must stand firm against such attacks; for this is the undoubted trial of our faith, when it is in no degree shaken by the false doctrines which arise, or does he only say that false prophets will come, but likewise that they will be so crafty as to deceive and draw away sects after them. (133) No ordinary caution is necessary here; for the multitude of those who are going astray is like a violent tempest, which compels us to leave the course, if we are not firmly fixed on God. On this subject something was said but lately.
12Because iniquity will abound. How far and wide this evil extends every person ought to know, but there are very few who observe it. For in consequence of the superior clearness with which the light of the gospel discovers the malice of men, even good and properly regulated minds grow cool, and almost lose the desire to exercise benevolence. Each of them reasons thus with himself, that the duties which they perform to one person, or to another, are thrown away, because experience and daily practice show that almost all are ungrateful, or treacherous, or wicked. This is unquestionably a weighty and dangerous temptation; for what could be more unreasonable than to approve of a doctrine, by which the desire of doing good, and the rigor of charity, appear to be diminished? And yet when the gospel makes its appearance, charity, which ought to kindle the hearts of all men with its warmth, rather grows cool. But we must observe the source of this evil, which Christ points out, namely, that many lose courage, because through their weakness they are unable to stem the flood of iniquity which flows on every hand. Christ requires from his followers, on the other hand, such courage as to persist in striving against it; as Paul also enjoins us not to be weary of performing deeds of kindness and beneficence, (2 Thessalonians 3:13.) Although, then, the charity of many, overwhelmed by the mass of iniquities, should give way, Christ warns believers that they must surmount this obstacle, lest, overcome by bad examples, they apostatize. And therefore he repeats the statement, that no man can be saved, unless he strive lawfully, (2 Timothy 2:5,) so as to persevere to the end
14.And the gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world. Our Lord, having delivered a discourse which gave no small occasion for sorrow, seasonably adds this consolation, to raise up minds that were cast down, or to uphold those which were falling. Whatever may be the contrivances of Satan, and how numerous soever may be the multitudes which he carries away, yet the gospel will maintain its ground till it be spread through the whole world. This might indeed appear to be incredible; but it was the duty of the apostles, relying on this testimony of their Master, to cherish hope against hope, and, in the meantime, to strive vigorously to discharge their office. As to the objection brought by some, that to this day not even the slightest report concerning Christ has reached the Antipodes and other very distant nations, this difficulty may be speedily resolved; for Christ does not absolutely refer to every portion of the world, and does not fix a particular time, but only affirms that the gospel —which, all would have thought, was immediately to be banished from Judea, its native habitation would be spread to the farthest bounds of the world before the day of his last coming.
For a testimony to all nations. He describes this to be the end of preaching; for although
God has never left himself (
and although in special manner he testified to the Jews concerning himself, yet it was a testimony remarkable beyond all others when he revealed himself in Christ; and therefore Paul says, that he was manifested in due time, (1 Timothy 2:6,) because this was the proper season for calling the whole world to God. Let us, therefore, learn that, wherever the gospel is preached, it is as if God himself came into the midst of us, and solemnly and expressly besought us, that we may not wander in darkness, as if we knew not where to go, and that those who refuse to obey may be rendered inexcusable.
And then will the end come. This is improperly restricted by some to the destruction of the temple, and the abolition of the service of the Law; for it ought to be understood as referring to the end and renovation of the world. Those two things having been blended by the disciples, as if the temple could not be overthrown without the destruction of the whole world, Christ, in replying to the whole question which had been put to him, reminded them that a long and melancholy succession of calamities was at hand, and that they must not hasten to seize the prize, before they had passed through many contests and dangers. In this manner, therefore, we ought to explain this latter clause: “The end of the world will not come before I have tried my Church, for a long period, by severe and painful temptations,” for it is contrasted with the false imagination which the apostles had formed in their minds. Hence, too, we ought to learn that no particular time is here fixed, as if the last day were to follow in immediate succession those events which were just now foretold; for the believers long ago experienced the fulfillment of those predictions which we have now examined, and yet Christ did not immediately appear. But Christ had no other design than to restrain the apostles, who were disposed to fly with excessive eagerness to the possession of the heavenly glory, and to show them the necessity of patience; as if he had said, that redemption was not so close at hand as they had imagined it to be, but that they must pass through long windings.
Matthew 24:15.When you shall see the abomination of desolation. Because the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, together with the overthrow of the whole Jewish government, was (as we have already said) a thing incredible, and because it might be thought strange, that the disciples could not be saved without being torn from that nation, to which had been committed the adoption and the covenant (Romans 9:4) of eternal salvation, Christ confirms both by the testimony of Daniel As if he had said, That you may not be too strongly attached to the temple and to the ceremonies of the Law, God has limited them to a fixed time, (136) and has long ago declared, that when the Redeemer should come, sacrifices would cease; and that it may not give you uneasiness to be cut off from your own nation, God has also forewarned his people, that in due time it would be rejected. Such a prediction was not only well adapted for removing ground of offense, but likewise for animating the minds of the godly, that amidst the sorest calamities—knowing that God was looking upon them, and was taking care of their salvation—they might betake themselves to the sacred anchor, where, amidst the most dreadful heavings of the billows, their condition would be firm and secure.
But before I proceed farther, I must examine the passage which is quoted by Christ. Those commentators are, I think, mistaken, who think that this quotation is made from the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel (137) For there we do not literally find the words, abomination, of desolation; and it is certain that the angel does not there speak of the final destruction which Christ now mentions, but of the temporary dispersion which was brought about by the tyranny of Antiochus. (138) But in the twelfth chapter the angel predicts what is called the final abrogation of the services of the Law, (139) which was to take place at the coming of Christ. For, after having exhorted believers to unshaken constancy, he fixes absolutely the time both of the ruin and of the restoration. (140)
From the time, says he, that the daily sacrifices shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation set up, there will be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he who shall wait till he come to the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days, (Daniel 12:11.)
I am aware that this passage is tortured in a variety of ways on account of its obscurity; but I consider the natural meaning of it to be, that the angel declares that, after the temple has been once purified from the pollutions and idols of Antiochus, another period will arrive when it will be exposed to a new profanation, and when all its sacredness and majesty will be for ever lost. (141) And as that message was sad and melancholy, he again recalls the prophet to one year, and two years, and six months. These words denote both the duration and the close of the calamities; for, in an interrupted succession of calamities, the course of one year appears to us very long, but when that space of time is doubled, the distress is greatly increased. The Spirit therefore exhorts believers to prepare themselves for the exercise of patience, not only for a single year, that is, for a long period, but to lay their account with enduring tribulations through an uninterrupted succession of many ages. There is no small consolation also in the phrase, half a time, (Daniel 12:7) for though the tribulations be of long continuance, yet the Spirit shows that they will not be perpetual. And, indeed, he had formerly used this form of expression: The calamity of the Church shall last through a time, times, and half a time, (Daniel 7:25.) But now he reckons the period of three years and six months by days, that believers may be more and more hardened by a very long continuance of calamities; for it is customary with men in adversity to compute time, not by years or months, but by days, a single day being, in their estimation, equal to a year (142) He says that those will be happy who bear up to the end of that period; that is, who with invincible patience persevere to the end.
Now Christ selects only what suited his purpose, namely, that the termination of sacrifices was at hand, and that the abomination, which was the sign of the final desolation, would be placed in the temple. But as the Jews were too strongly attached to their present condition, and therefore paid little attention to the prophecies which foretold the abolition of it, Christ, as if endeavoring to gain their ear, bids them read attentively that passage, where they would learn that what appeared to them difficult to be believed was plainly declared by the Prophets. (143) Abomination means profanation; for this word denotes uncleanness, (144) which corrupts or overturns the pure worship of God. It is called desolation, because it drew along with it the destruction of the temple and of the government; as he had formerly said, (Daniel 9:27,) that the pollution introduced by Antiochus was, as it were, the standard of temporary desolation; for such I conceive to be the meaning of the wing, or, “spreading out.” (145) It is a mistake to suppose that this expression denotes the siege of Jerusalem, and the mistake receives no countenance from the words of Luke, who did not intend to say the same thing, but something quite different. For that city having been formerly delivered, when it appeared to be in the midst of destruction, lest believers should expect something of the same kind in future, Christ declares that, as soon as it would be surrounded by armies, it was utterly ruined, because it was wholly deprived of divine assistance. The meaning therefore is, that the issue of the war will not be doubtful, because that city is devoted to destruction, which it will not be able to escape any more than to rescind a decree of heaven. Accordingly, Luke shortly afterwards adds, that Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, a mode of expression which denotes utter ruin. But as it might appear to be strange that the holy city should be thus given up to the Gentiles, to do with it as they pleased, he adds a consolation, (146) that it was only for a time that so much liberty was allowed to the Gentiles, till their iniquity was ripe, and the vengeance which had been reserved for them was fully displayed.
(137) The passage here referred to, and from which CALVIN thinks that the quotation is not made, is Daniel 9:27, And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifices and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading or abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. The other passage, from which he supposes the quotation to have been actually made, is Daniel 12:11, And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. We have given both passages, as they stand in the authorized version. — Ed.
(138) Antiochus, known in history by the surname Epiphanes, or, Illustrious, but more frequently denominated by the Jews who had beheld his cruelties, and by others who were shocked at the indecency of his public life, Antiochus Epimanes, or, Furious. — Ed.
(142) In prophetic language one day stands for a year, a Jewish month (of thirty days) for thirty years, and a Jewish year (of three hundred and sixty days) for three hundred and sixty years. Thus a time, or Jewish year, stood for three hundred and sixty years; times, or two Jewish years, stood for seven hundred and twenty years; and half a time, or half of a Jewish year, stood for one hundred and eighty years; so that the time, times, and half a time, (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 12:14,) or three years and a half, represented one thousand two hundred and sixty years. By a similar computation, forty-two months, (Revelation 11:2,) of thirty days each, denoted the same period. — Ed.
16.Then let them who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Having shown by the testimony of the prophet that, when the temple had been profaned, the services of the Law would soon afterwards be abolished, he adds, that fearful and appalling calamities will soon overtake the whole of Judea, so that there will be nothing more desirable than to withdraw a distance from it; and, at the same time, he states that they will be so sudden, that time will scarcely be time allowed for the most rapid flight. For such is the import of the expressions, Let not him who is on the house-top enter into the house; let not him who is in the field turn back; that is, lest, by attempting to save their property, they themselves perish. Again, Woe to the women with child, and to them that give suck; for they will not be in a fit condition for flight. Again, Pray that your fight may not be in the winter; that is, that neither a regard to the sacredness of the day, nor the roughness of the roads, nor the shortness of the clays, may prevent or retard your flight. The design of Christ therefore was, first, to arouse his followers, that they might no longer indulge the hope of ease and repose, and the enjoyments of an earthly kingdom; and, secondly, to fortify their minds, that they might not give way under ordinary calamities. Such an admonition, no doubt, was fir from being agreeable, but, in consequence of their stupidity, and the great weight of the calamities, it was highly necessary.
21For there will then be great tribulation. Luke says also, that there will be days of vengeance, and of wrath on that people, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. For since the people, through obstinate malice, had then broken the covenant of God, it was proper that alarming changes should take place, by which the earth itself and the air would be shaken. True, indeed, the most destructive plague inflicted on the Jews was, that the light of heavenly doctrine was extinguished among them, and that they were rejected by God; but they were compelled—as the great hardness of their hearts made it necessary that they should be compelled—to feel the evil of their rejection by sharp and severe chastisements. Now the true cause of such an awful punishment was, that the desperate wickedness of that nation had reached its height. For not only had they haughtily despised, but even disdainfully rejected the medicine which was brought for their diseases; and, what was worse, like persons who were mad or possessed by the devil, they wreaked their cruelty on the Physician himself. (147) Since the Lord executed his vengeance on those men for their inveterate contempt of the Gospel, accompanied by incorrigible rage, let their punishment be always before our eyes; and let us learn from it, that no offense is more heinous in the sight of God, than obstinacy in despising his grace. But though all who in like manner despise the Gospel will receive the same punishment, God determined to make a very extraordinary demonstration in the case of the Jews, that the coming of Christ might be regarded by posterity with greater admiration and reverence. For no words can express the baseness of their criminality in putting to death the Son of God, who had been sent to them as the Author of life. Having committed this execrable sacrilege, they did not cease to incur the guilt of one crime after another, and thus to draw down upon themselves every ground of utter destruction. And, therefore, Christ declares that never afterwards will there be such tribulation in the world; for, as the rejection of Christ, viewed in itself, and especially as attended by so many circumstances of detestable obstinacy and ingratitude, was worthy of abhorrence above all the sins committed ill all ages, so also it was proper that, in the severity of punishment with which it was visited, it should go beyond all others.
22And unless those days had been shortened. He presents an appalling view of those calamities, but at the same time mingles it with this consolation, that they would be sufficient to exterminate the very name of the Jews, if God did not look to his elect, and on their account grant some alleviation. This passage agrees with that of Isaiah:
Unless the Lord had left us a small seed, we would have been as Sodom, and we would have been like Gomorrah, (Isaiah 1:9.)
For it was necessary, as Paul assures us, that the vengeance of God, which had been displayed in the Babylonish captivity, should be again fulfilled at the coming of Christ, (Romans 9:29.) Nay more, in proportion as our wickedness was greater, it deserved a greater severity of punishment. And therefore Christ says that, unless God put a period to those calamities, the Jews will utterly perish, so that not a single individual will be left; but that God will remember his gracious covenant, and will spare his elect, according to that other prediction of Isaiah,
Though thy people were like the sand of the sea,
a remnant only shall be saved, (Isaiah 10:22.)
This affords us a striking proof of the judgment of God, when he afflicts his visible Church to such a degree, that we would be ready to conclude that it had altogether perished; and yet, in order to preserve some seed, he miraculously rescues from destruction his elect, though few in number, that, contrary to expectation, they may escape from the jaws of death. For, on the one hand, it is fitted to alarm hypocrites, that they may not, through reliance on the title and outward appearance of a Church, cherish the vain hope that they will pass unpunished, for the Lord will find some means of delivering his Church, when those men have been given up to destruction; and, on the other hand, it conveys a wonderful consolation to the godly, that God will never allow his wrath to proceed so far as not to provide for their safety. Thus, in punishing the Jews, the wrath of God burned to an extent which was truly awful, and yet, contrary to the expectation of men, he restrained it in such a manner, that not one of the elect perished. And it was a miracle which almost exceeded belief; that, as salvation was to proceed from Judea, out of a few drops of a fountain which was dried up God formed rivers to water the whole world; for, in consequence of the hatred of all nations which they had drawn upon themselves, they narrowly escaped from being murdered in all places, by a preconcerted signal, in one day. Nor can it be doubted, that when many persons entreated that they should be slaughtered in this manner, Titus was restrained by God from giving permission to his soldiers and to others who were excessively desirous to carry such a design into execution; and, therefore, when the Roman Emperor at that time prevented the utter destruction of the whole nation, that was the shortening here mentioned, for preserving some seed, (Isaiah 1:9.)
Yet it ought to be observed, that it was on account of the elect that God restrained the fierceness of his anger, that he might not consume them all. For why did he determine that a few should remain out of a vast multitude? and what reason had he for giving them a preference above others? It was because his grace dwelt in the people whom he had adopted; and, that his covenant might not fail, some were elected and appointed to salvation by his eternal purpose. Hence Paul ascribes to free election (Romans 11:5) the reason why out of an immense nation a remnant only was saved. Away then with human merits, when our attention is directed exclusively to the good pleasure of God, that the distinction between some persons and others may depend solely on this, that those who have been elected must be saved. To state the matter more clearly and fully, Mark uses a superfluity of words, (148) expressing it thus, on account of the elect, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. Certainly the use of the word elect might have been sufficient, if he had not intended to state expressly that God is not induced by external causes to bestow his favor on some rather than on others; but that, because he has elected those whom he will save, he ratifies the secret purpose of his grace in their salvation.
But a question arises, how was it on account of the elect that God set a limit to these calamities, so as not utterly to destroy the Jews, when many of those who were saved were reprobate and desperate? The reply is easy. A part of the nation was preserved, that out of them God might bring his elect, who were mixed with them, like the seed after the chaff has been blown off. So then, though temporal safety was bestowed equally on the reprobate and on the elect, yet, as it was of no advantage to the reprobate, it is justly ascribed to the elect alone, for it was to their benefit that the wonderful providence of God was directed.
23.If any one shall then say to you. He again repeats what he had said about impostors, and not without reason; for there was great danger arising from this temptation, that wretched men, while their affairs were in a troubled and desperate condition, would be deceived by false pretenses, would seek phantoms instead of Christ, and would embrace the delusions of Satan, as if they were assistance from God. As the Jews, when they were so severely oppressed on account of having despised redemption, needed, at least, violent remedies to restrain them from treachery, Satan cunningly held out to them new hopes, which would withdraw them still farther from God. And certainly, when we are left without direction in adversity, nothing is more pernicious than to be deceived, under the disguise of the name of God, by falsehoods which not only shut against us the door of repentance, but increase the darkness of infidelity, and at length overwhelm us with despair, and drive us to madness. The repetition of the statement, therefore, was far from being superfluous, when the danger was so great; and especially when Christ warns them that false prophets will come prepared with no ordinary instruments of deception, with signs and wonders fitted to confound weak minds. For since it is by miracles that God attests the presence of his power, and since they are therefore seals of the true doctrine, we need not wonder if impostors gain credit by them. By this kind of delusion God revenges the ingratitude of men, that they who rejected the truth may believe a lie, and that they who shut their eyes against the light which was offered to them may be plunged deeper and deeper in darkness. He exercises, at the same time, the constancy of his followers, which comes to shine with greater brightness, when they give way to no kind of impostures.
Again, since our Lord declares that antichrists and false prophets would be armed with miracles, there is no reason why the Papists should talk so haughtily on this ground, or why we should be terrified by their boasting. In support of their superstitions they plead miracles, — those very miracles which, the Son of God predicted, would corrupt the faith of many, and which, therefore, wise men ought not to hold in such estimation as to be sufficient of themselves to prove either one or another kind of doctrine. If it be objected, that such reasoning would overthrow and set aside the miracles by which both the Law and the Gospel were ratified, I reply, that the Spirit engraved on them an undoubted mark, which removed from believers all doubt and fear of being mistaken. For when God displayed his power for the purpose of confirming his people, he did not act in so confused a manner as not to manifest the true and infallible distinction. Besides, the manner in which miracles seal doctrine is such, that the doctrine itself mutually shines before them, and dispels all the clouds by which Satan darkens the minds of the simple. In short, if we wish to guard against impostures, let us preserve the connection between miracles and doctrine unbroken.
24.So that even the elect (if it were possible) will be led into error. This was added for the purpose of exciting alarm, that believers may be more careful to be on their guard; for when such unbounded freedom of action is allowed to false prophets, and when they are permitted to exert such powers of deceiving, those who are careless and inattentive would easily be entangled by their snares. Christ therefore exhorts and arouses his disciples to keep watch, and at the same time reminds them that there is no reason for being troubled at the strangeness of the sight, if they see many persons on every hand led away into error. While he excites them to solicitude, that Satan may not overtake them in a state of sloth, he gives them abundant ground of confidence on which they may calmly rely, when he promises that they will be safe under the defense and protection of God against all the snares of Satan. And thus, however frail and slippery the condition of the godly may be, yet here is a firm footing on which they may stand; for it is not possible for them to fall away from salvation, to whom the Son of God is a faithful guardian. For they have not sufficient energy to resist the attacks of Satan, unless in consequence of their being
the sheep of Christ, which none can pluck out of his hand,
It must therefore be observed, that the permanency of our salvation does not depend on us, but on the secret election of God; for though our salvation is kept through faith, as Peter tells us, (1 Peter 1:5,) yet we ought to ascend higher, and assure ourselves that we are in safety, because the Father hath given us to the Son, and the Son himself declares, that
none who have been given to him shall perish (John 17:12.).
25.Lo, I have foretold it to you. Mark expresses our Lord’s meaning more fully. But take heed: lo, I have foretold you all things. By these words we are taught that they who are dismayed by the stumbling-blocks which Christ predicted are altogether inexcusable; for since the will of God ought to be our rule, it is sufficient that we have received timely warning that such is his pleasure. Again, as he declares that
he is faithful, and will not suffer us to be tempted beyond
what we are able to bear, (1 Corinthians 10:13,)
we shall never be in want of strength to resist, provided that our weakness be not nourished by indifference.
26.Lo, he is in the desert. Luke connects this discourse with another reply of Christ; for, having been interrogated by the Pharisees about the coming of the kingdom of God, he replied, thatit would not come with observation; and then follows in Luke’s narrative that, turning to his disciples, he informed them that the days would come when they would no longer see a day of the Son of man. By these words he intended to charge them
to walls in the light before the darkness of the night overtook them, (John 12:35;)
for this ought to have been a very powerful excitement to endeavor to make progress, so long as they enjoyed the presence of Christ, when they 1earned that very serious disturbances were at hand. Whether or not Christ admonished his disciples twice on this subject is uncertain; but I think it. probable that Luke, while he was speaking of the coming of the kingdom of God introduced sentences taken from a different occasion, which he frequently does, as we have seen in other instances.
But as this passage has been, through ignorance, tortured in various ways, that the reader may ascertain the true meaning, he must attend to the contrast between a state of concealment and that extension of the kingdom of Christ far and wide, and which would be sudden and unexpected, as the lightning dashes from the east to the west. For we know that the false Christs —in accordance with the gross and foolish hope of that nation—drew along with them as large bodies of men as they could collect into the recesses of the desert, or into caverns, or other places of retirement, in order to throw off the yoke of the Roman government by force and by arms. The meaning therefore is, that every one who collects his forces into a secret place, in order to regain the freedom of the nation by arms, falsely pretends to be the Christ; for the Redeemer is sent to diffuse his grace suddenly and unexpectedly through every quarter of the world. But these two things are quite contrary, to shut up redemption within some corner, and to spread it through the whole world. The disciples were thus reminded that they must no longer seek a Redeemer within the small enclosure of Judea, because he will suddenly extend the limits of his kingdom to the uttermost ends of the world. And, indeed, this astonishing rapidity, with which the gospel flew through every part of the world, was a manifest testimony of divine power. For it could not be the result of human industry, that the light of the gospel, as soon as it appear, darted from one side of the world to the opposite side like lightning; and therefore it is not without reason that Christ introduces this circumstance for demonstrating and magnifying his heavenly glory. Besides, by holding out this vast extent of his kingdom, he intended to show that the desolation of Judea would not hinder him from reigning.
28Wheresoever the carcass is. The meaning is, that by whatever methods Satan endeavors to scatter the children of God in various directions, still in Christ himself is the sacred bond of union, by which they must be kept united. For whence comes the dispersion, but that many depart from Christ, in whom alone our strength lies? Here then is a method laid down for promoting a holy union, that the separations produced by errors may not tear in pieces the body of the Church; and that method is, when we remain united to Christ. This ought to be carefully observed; for Christ does not restrict us either to the primacy of the Roman See, or to any other foolery, but employs this method alone for binding his Church together, that all in every quarter should look to him as the only head. Hence it follows, that those who are united to him by pure faith are beyond the risk of schism. Let the adherents of Rome now go, and exclaim that all are schismatics who do not allow themselves to be separated from Christ, that they may transfer their allegiance to a robber.
There also will the eagles be gathered together. When the Papists interpret the word carcass to denote the company of those who profess the same faith, and allegorically explain the eagles to represent acute and sagacious men, (149) it is excessively absurd, (150) for Christ had manifestly no other design than to call to himself, and to retain in union to him, the children of God, wherever they were scattered. Nor does Christ simply employ the word body, but (
Matthew 24:29.And immediately after the tribulation of those days. Christ comes now to speak of the full manifestation of his kingdom, about which he was at first interrogated by the disciples, and promises that, after they have been tried by so many distressing events, the redemption will arrive in due time. The principal object of his reply was, to confirm his disciples in good hope, that they might not be dismayed on account of the troubles and confusion that would arise. For this reason, he does not speak of his coming in simple terms, but employs those modes of expression which were common among the prophets, by which, the more attentively they were considered, so much the more severe would be the contest of temptation experienced by the reader, in consequence of the opposite character of the event. For what could be more strange than to see the kingdom of Christ not only despised, but oppressed by the cross, loaded with many reproaches, and overwhelmed by every kind of tribulation, that kingdom which the prophets had frequently described in such magnificent language? Might it not be asked, where was that majesty which would darken the sun, and moon, and stars, shake the whole frame of the world, and change the ordinary course of nature? Our Lord now meets these temptations, declaring that, though these predictions are not immediately fulfilled, they will at length be fully justified by the event. The meaning therefore is, that the predictions which had been formerly made about the miraculous shaking of heaven and earth, ought not to be restricted to the commencement of redemption, because the prophets had embraced the whole course of it, till it should arrive at perfection.
Having now ascertained Christ’s intention, we shall have no difficulty in perceiving the meaning of the words to be, that heaven will not be darkened immediately, but after that the Church shall have passed through the whole course of its tribulations. Not that the glory and majesty of the kingdom of Christ will not appear till his last coming, but because till that time is delayed the accomplishment of those things which began to take place after his resurrection, and of which God gave to his people nothing more than a taste, that he might lead them farther on in the path of hope and patience. According to this argument, Christ keeps the minds of believers in a state of suspense till the last day, that they may not imagine those declarations which the prophets made, about the future restoration, to have failed of their accomplishment, because they lie buried for a long period under the thick darkness of tribulations.
The tribulation of those days is improperly interpreted by some commentators to mean the destruction of Jerusalem; for, on the contrary, it is a general recapitulation (
30.Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man. By this term Christ points out more clearly the difference between the present condition of his kingdom and its future glory; for it is a sort of admission that, amidst the darkness of tribulations, the majesty of Christ will not fully appear, and men will not perceive the redemption which he has brought. The confused mixture of things which we now perceive does certainly, on the one hand, darken our minds, and, on the other hand, bury the grace of Christ, and make it almost vanish from our sight, so that the salvation obtained by him, so far as relates to the perception of the flesh, is not comprehended. And therefore he declares that he will appear openly at his last coming and, surrounded by the heavenly power, which will be a sign erected on an elevated spot, he will turn the eyes of the whole world upon himself. (153)
Perceiving that the greater part of men would despise his doctrine and oppose his reign, he threatens also against all nations mourning and lamentation; because it is proper, that by his presence he should crush and destroy the rebels, who, while he was absent, despised his authority. He says this, partly to bring the haughty and refractory to repentance, by striking them with terror; and partly to confirm the minds of his followers amidst so great obstinacy existing in the world. For it is no slight ground of offense to see the ungodly living without concern, because they think that their mockery of God will remain unpunished; and again, there is nothing to which we are more prone than to be captivated by the allurements of the prosperity which they enjoy, so as to lose the fear of God. That the joy by which they are intoxicated may not excite the envy of believers, Christ declares that it will at length be turned into mourning and gnashing of teeth.
He alludes, I think, to Zechariah 12:11, where God, informing them that a striking display of his judgment will soon be made, declares that there will be lamentation in every family, such as is not usually seen at the funeral of a first-born son. There is no reason, therefore, why any person should expect the conversion of the world, for at length—when it will be too late, and will yield them no advantage—
they shall look on him whom they pierced,
Next follows the explanation of that sin, that they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds, who at that time was living on earth in the garb of a despised servant. And thus he warns them that the glory of his kingdom will be heavenly, and not earthly, as the disciples had falsely imagined.
And he shall send his angels. He describes the effect of his power, that he will send his angels to gather his elect from the most distant parts of the world; for by the extremity of heaven is meant the most distant region. But Christ speaks hyperbolically, in order to show that the elect, even though they were carried away from the earth and scattered in the air, will again be gathered, so to be united in the enjoyment of eternal life under Him as their head, and enjoy the expected inheritance; for Christ intended to console his disciples, that they might not be altogether discouraged by the lamentable dispersion of the Church. Whenever, therefore, we perceive the Church scattered by the wiles of Satan, or torn in pieces by the cruelty of the ungodly, or disturbed by false doctrines, or tossed about by storms, let us learn to turn our eyes to this gathering of the elect. And if it appear to us a thing difficult to be believed, let us call to remembrance the power of the angels, which Christ holds out to us for the express purpose of raising our views above human means. For, though the Church be now tormented by the malice of men, or even broken by the violence of the billows, and miserably torn in pieces, so as to have no stability in the world, yet we ought always to cherish confident hope, because it will not be by human means, but by heavenly power, which will be far superior to every obstacle, that the Lord will gather his Church.
Matthew 24:32.Now learn a similitude from the fig-tree. I do not suppose the meaning of this to be merely that, during the state of confusion which has been mentioned, there will be as evident a sign that the coming of Christ is nigh, as that by which we know with certainty that the summer is at hand, when the trees begin to grow green; but, in my opinion, Christ expresses something else. For as in winter the trees, contracted by the severity of the cold, show greater vigor, but in spring lose their toughness, and appear more feeble, and are even cleft asunder to open up passage for fresh twigs, so the afflictions by which, according to the perception of the flesh, the Church is softened, do not in any way impair its vigor. As the inward sap diffused through the whole tree, after having produced this softness, collects strength to throw itself out for renovating what was dead, so the Lord draws from the corruption of the outward man the perfect restoration of his people. The general instruction conveyed is, that the weak and frail condition of the Church ought not to lead us to conclude that it is dying, but rather to expect the immortal glory for which the Lord prepares his people by the cross and by afflictions; for what Paul maintains in reference to each of the members must be fulfilled in the whole body, that
if the outward man is decayed the inward man is renewed day by day, (2 Corinthians 4:16.)
What Matthew and Mark had stated more obscurely, know you that it is nigh at the door, is more fully explained by Luke, know you that the kingdom of God is at hand; and in this passage the kingdom of God is not represented—as in many other passages—at its commencement, but at its perfection, and that according to the views of those whom Christ was teaching. For they did not view the kingdom of God in the Gospel as consisting in the peace and joy of faith and in spiritual righteousness, (Romans 14:17,) but sought that blessed rest and glory which is concealed under hope till the last day.
34.This generation shall not pass away. Though Christ employs a general expression, yet he does not extend the discourses to all the miseries which would befall the Church, but merely informs them, that before a single generation shall have been completed, they will learn by experience the truth of what he has said. For within fifty years the city was destroyed and the temple was razed, the whole country was reduced to a hideous desert, and the obstinacy of the world rose up against God. Nay more, their rage was inflamed to exterminate the doctrine of salvation, false teachers arose to corrupt the pure gospel by their impostures, religion sustained amazing shocks, and the whole company of the godly was miserably distressed. Now though the same evils were perpetrated in uninterrupted succession for many ages afterwards, yet what Christ said was true, that, before the close of a single generation, believers would feel in reality, and by undoubted experience, the truth of his prediction; for the apostles endured the same things which we see in the present day. (155) And yet it was not the design of Christ to promise to his followers that their calamities would be terminated within a short time, (for then he would have contradicted himself, having previously warned them that the end was not yet;) but, in order to encourage them to perseverance, he expressly foretold that those things related to their own age. The meaning therefore is: “This prophecy does not relate to evils that are distant, and which posterity will see after the lapse of many centuries, but which are now hanging over you, and ready to fall in one mass, so that there is no part of it which the present generation will not experience.” So then, while our Lord heaps upon a, single generation every kind of calamities, he does not by any means exempt future ages from the same kind of sufferings, but only enjoins the disciples to be prepared for enduring them all with firmness.
35Heaven and earth shall pass away. In order to secure greater confidence in his statements, he illustrates their certainty by this comparison, that it is more firm and stable than the entire structure of the world. (156) But this form of expression is explained by commentators in a variety of ways. Some refer it as the passing away of heaven and earth at the last day, by which their frail constitution will be brought to an end; while others explain it to mean, that sooner shall the entire structure of the world perish than the prophecy which we have just heard shall fail to be accomplished. But as there can be no doubt that Christ expressly intended to raise the minds of his followers above the contemplation of the world, I think that he refers to the continual changes which we see in the world, and affirms, that we ought not to judge of his sayings by the changeful character of the world, which resembles the billows of the sea; for we know how easily our minds are carried away by the affairs of the world, when it is undergoing incessant change. For this reason, Christ enjoins his disciples not to allow their attention to be occupied by the world, but to look down, from what may be called the lofty watch-tower of divine providence, on all that he foretold would happen. Yet from this passage we draw a useful doctrine, that our salvation, because it is founded on the promises of Christ, does not fluctuate according to the various agitations of the world, but remains unshaken, provided only that our faith rises above heaven and earth, and ascends to Christ himself.
36.But of that day and hour. By this sentence, Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word. That men may not feel uneasy at not knowing that day, Christ represents angels as their associates in this matter; for it would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven. (157)
Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account. But many persons, thinking that this was unworthy of Christ, have endeavored to mitigate the harshness of this opinion by a contrivance of their own; and perhaps they were driven to employ a subterfuge by the malice of the Arians, who attempted to prove from it that Christ is not the true and only God. So then, according to those men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to men. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to Christ as is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable. Before stating it, however, I shall briefly dispose of the objections of those who think that it is an insult offered to the Son of God, if it be said that any kind of ignorance can properly apply to him.
As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, (158) whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefor in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (John 21:17) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us, (Hebrews 2:17.) Again, the objection urged by some—that ignorance cannot apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin — is beyond measure ridiculous. For, first, it is prodigious folly to assert that the ignorance which is ascribed to angels proceeds from sin; but they discover themselves to be equally foolish on another ground, by not perceiving that Christ clothed himself with our flesh, for the purpose of enduring the punishment due to our sins. And if Christ, as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal.
I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Matthew 20:23; Mark 5:40.) For (as I explained under that passage (159)) he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him, (Matthew 28:18.)
(159) Harmony, vol. 2, p. 421
Matthew 24:37.But as the days of Noah were. Although Christ lately expressed his desire to keep the minds of his followers in suspense, that they might not inquire too anxiously about the last day; yet, lest the indifference arising out of the enjoyments of the world should lull them to sleep, he now exhorts them to solicitude. He wished them to be uncertain as to his coming, but yet to be prepared to expect him every day, or rather every moment. (163) To shake off their sloth, and to excite them more powerfully to be on their guard, he foretells that the end will come, while the world is sunk in brutal indifference; just as in the days of Noah all the nations were swallowed up by the deluge, when they had no expectation of it, but rioted in gluttony and voluptuousness, and shortly afterwards, the inhabitants of Sodom, while they were abandoning themselves without fear to sensuality, were consumed by fire from heaven. Since indifference of this sort will exist about the time of the last day, believers ought not to indulge themselves after the example of the multitude.
We have now ascertained the design of Christ, which was, to inform believers that, in order to prevent themselves from being suddenly overtaken, they ought always to keep watch, because the day of the last judgment will come when it is not expected. Luke alone mentions Sodom, and that in the seventeenth chapter, where he takes occasion, without attending to the order of time, to relate this discourse of Christ. But it would not have been improper that the two Evangelists should have satisfied themselves with a single example, though Christ mentioned two, more especially when those examples perfectly agreed with each other in this respect, that at one time the whole human race, in the midst of unbroken indolence and pleasure, was suddenly swallowed up, (164) with the exception of a few individuals. When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change. And though we shall immediately find him commanding the disciples to guard against surfeiting and earthly cares, yet in this passage he does not directly condemn the intemperance, but rather the obstinacy, of those times, in consequence of which, they despised the threatenings of God, and awaited with indifference their awful destruction. Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not scruple to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And in itself it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not with gross stupidity opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven. So now Christ declares that the last age of the world will be in a state of stupid indifference, so that men will think of nothing but the present life, and will extend their cares to a long period, pursuing their ordinary course of life, as if the world were always to remain in the same condition. The comparisons are highly appropriate; for if we consider what then happened, we shall no longer be deceived by the belief that the uniform order of events which we see in the world will always continue. For within three days of the time, when every man was conducting his affairs in the utmost tranquillity, the world was swallowed up by a deluge, and five cities were consumed by fire.
39.And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Hebrews 11:7.) And here Christ compares Noah with the rest of the world, and Lot with the inhabitants of Sodom, that believers may learn to withdraw, lest they wander and be cut off along with others. But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a salutary warning to beware in proper time. Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation. Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails. For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this ground, that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Peter 3:20.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.
40.Two men shall then be in the field. Before mentioning this, Luke inserts some sentences; the first of which is presented by Matthew as belonging to the destruction of Jerusalem, Let not him who shall be on the house-top go down into his house to carry away his furniture. But it is possible that Christ applied the same words to various subjects. Luke states also a warning, that the disciples should remember Lot’s wife; that is, that they should forget those things which are behind, (Philippians 3:13) and advance towards the end of the heavenly calling. For Lot’s wife was changed into a pillar of salt, (Genesis 19:26,) because, hesitating whether there were good reasons for departing from the city, she looked behind her, by which she gave the lie to the heavenly oracle. Perhaps, too, regret at leaving her nest, in which she had dwelt with comfort, induced her to turn her head. Since, therefore, God intended that she should remain as an everlasting demonstration, our minds ought to be strengthened by the constancy of faith, that they may not hesitate and give way in the middle of the course; and they ought also to be trained to perseverance, in order that, bidding adieu to the fascinations of a transitory life, they may rise cheerfully and willingly towards heaven.
Luke adds a third sentence, whosoever shall seek to save his soul will lose it, that the desire of an earthly life may not prevent believers from passing rapidly through the midst of death, to the salvation laid up for them in heaven. And Christ employs a strong expression to denote the frailty of the present life, when he says that souls (
42.Watch therefore. In Luke the exhortation is more pointed, or, at least, more special, Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life. And certainly he who, by living in intemperance, has his senses overloaded with food and wine, will never elevate his mind to meditation on the heavenly life. But as there is no desire of the flesh that does not intoxicate a man, they ought to take care, in all these respects, not to satiate themselves with the world, if they wish to advance with speed to the kingdom of Christ. The single word watch — which we find in Matthew — denotes that uninterrupted attention which keeps our minds in full activity, and makes us pass through the world like pilgrims.
In the account given by Mark, the disciples are first enjoined to take heed lest, through carelessness or indolence, ruin overtake them; and next are commanded to watch, because various allurements of the flesh are continually creeping upon us, and lulling our minds to sleep. Next follows an exhortation to prayer, because it is necessary to seek elsewhere the supplies that are necessary for supporting our weakness. Luke dictates the very form of prayer; first, that God may be pleased to rescue us from so deep and intricate a labyrinth; and next, that he may present us safe and sound in presence of his Son; for we shall never be able to reach it but by miraculously escaping innumerable deaths. And as it was not enough to pass through the course of the present life by rising superior to all dangers, Christ places this as the most important, that we may be permitted to stand before his tribunal.
For you know not at what hour your Lord will come. It ought to be observed, that the uncertainty as to the time of Christ’s coming — which almost all treat as an encouragement to sloth — ought to be felt by us to be an excitement to attention and watchfulness. God intended that it should be hidden from us, for the express purpose that we may keep diligent watch without the relaxation of a single hour. For what would be the trial of faith and patience, if believers, after spending their whole life in ease, and indolence, and pleasure, were to prepare themselves within the space of three days for meeting Christ?
Matthew 24:43.If the householder had known. Luke relates this discourse of Christ at a different place from Matthew; and we need not wonder at this, for in the twelfth chapter, where (as we have formerly explained) he collects out of various discourses a summary of doctrine, he inserts also this parable. Besides, he introduces a general preface that the disciples should wait for their master, with their loins girt, and carrying burning lamps in their hands. To this statement corresponds the parable, which we shall soon afterwards find in Matthew 25:1 about the wise and foolish virgins.
In a few words Christ glances rapidly at the manner in which believers ought to conduct their pilgrimage in the world; for first he contrasts the girding of the loins with sloth, and burning lamps with the darkness of ignorance. First, then, Christ enjoins the disciples to be ready and equipped for the journey, that they may pass rapidly through the world, and may seek no fixed abode or resting-place but in heaven. The warning is highly useful; for though ungodly men have likewise in their mouth this form of expression, “the course of life,” yet we see how they lay themselves down in the world, and remain unmoved in their attachment to it. But God does not bestow the honorable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, and who not only are at all times prepared to leave it, but likewise move forward, in an uninterrupted “course,” towards the heavenly life. Again, as they are surrounded on all sides by darkness, so long as they remain in the world, he furnishes them with lamps, as persons who are to perform a journey during the night. The first recommendation is, to run vigorously; and the next is, to have clear information as to the road, that believers may not weary themselves to no purpose by going astray; for otherwise it would be better to stumble in the way, than to perform a journey in uncertainty and mistake. As to the expression, girding the loins, it is borrowed from the ordinary custom of Eastern nations in wearing long garments.
Matthew 24:44.But know this. Another similitude is now employed by Christ, in exhorting his disciples to keep diligent watch; for if any person shall hear that robbers are prowling in the night, fear and suspicion will not allow him to sleep. Since, therefore, we are informed that Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected, like that of a robber, and since we are expressly forewarned that we must always watch, lest he come upon us when asleep, and we be swallowed up with the ungodly, there is no excuse for our indolence; more especially since there is reason to dread not only a breach of the wall, and a loss of our property, but a deadly wound to ruin our soul, unless we are on our guard. The tendency of these words therefore is, that the warning of Christ should arouse us; for, though the last judgment be delayed for a long time, yet it hangs over us every hour; and, therefore, when there is ground for alarm, and when danger is near, it is unreasonable that we should be sluggish.
45.Who is the faithful and wise servant? This passage is more distinctly explained by Luke, who inserts Peter’s question, which gave rise to a new parable. Christ having declared that the suddenness and uncertainty of his coming led to such danger as left no room for sloth, Peter asked, if this doctrine was general, or if it belonged to the twelve alone. For the disciples—as we have formerly seen—were always in the habit of thinking that they were unjustly treated, unless they were exempted from the common lot, and greatly excelled all others. When our Lord now represents to them a condition which is far from being pleasant or desirable, they look around them on every hand, like persons astonished. But the object of Christ’s reply is, to show that, if each of the common people ought to watch, much less ought it to be endured that the apostles should be asleep. As Christ had formerly exhorted the whole family in general to watch for his coming, so now he demands extraordinary care from the principal servants, who had been appointed over others for the purpose of pointing out, by their example, the path of sobriety, watchfulness, and strict temperance. By these words he reminds them that they were not elevated to high rank for the purpose of indulging in ease, indolence, and pleasure; but that, the higher the rank of honor which they had obtained, the heavier was the burden which was laid on them; and therefore he declares that it is especially demanded from such persons that they exercise fidelity and wisdom.
Let all who are called to an honorable office learn from this, that they are so much the more strongly bound, not only to bestow their labor faithfully, but to strive with their utmost zeal and industry to discharge their duty. For while it is enough for ordinary servants to go through their daily toil, stewards, whose office embraces the care of the whole family, ought to go much farther. Otherwise Christ charges them with ingratitude, because, while they have been chosen before others, they do not answer to their honor; for why does our Lord prefer them to the rest, but in order that they may excel all by extraordinary fidelity and wisdom? True, indeed, all are enjoined, without exception, to be sober, and to give earnest attention, but drowsiness would be peculiarly disgraceful and inexcusable in pastors. He next holds out even the hope of a reward to encourage them to diligence.
48.But if that wicked servant shall say in his heart. By these words, Christ briefly points out the source of that carelessness which creeps upon wicked servants. It is because they trust to a longer delay, and thus of their own accord involve themselves in darkness. They imagine that the day when they must render an account will never come; and, under the pretext of Christ’s absence, they promise themselves that they will remain unpunished. For it is impossible but that the expectation of him, when it does occur to our minds, shall shake off sleep, and still more, that it shall restrain us from being carried away by wicked sensuality. No excitement of exhortation, therefore, can be more powerful or efficacious, than to represent to us that rigid tribunal which no man will be able to escape. That each of us may be careful to discharge his duty earnestly, and keep himself strictly and modestly within his own limits, let us constantly make our minds familiar with the thought of that last and sudden coming of the Lord, the neglect of which leads the reprobate to indulge in wickedness.
At the same time, Christ takes a passing glance at the ease with which insolence grows, when a man has once shaken off the bridle, and given himself up to sinning. For Christ does not represent to us a servant who is merely dissolute and worthless, but one who rises up in an outrageous manner to disturb the whole house, who wickedly abuses the power committed to him, exercises cruelty on his fellow-servants, and wastefully spends the property of his master, whom he treats with open ridicule. Lastly, to excite terror, he adds the punishment, which is of no ordinary degree; for severe punishment is due to such unbounded wickedness.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26