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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 24

Verses 1-99

Ch. 24: 1 22 . Prediction of the Fall of Jerusalem

Mark 13:1 end. Luke 21:5-36

This chapter opens with the great discourse of Jesus, which is continued to the end of ch. 25. That discourse contains (1) a prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, (2) a prediction of the end of the world, (3) Parables in relation to these predictions.

It is difficult to determine the limits of the several portions. The division adopted below has the sanction of Chrysostom and Jerome, and is followed by Maldonatus.

Another arrangement of the prophecy is: (1) A general answer of the question to the end of v. 14; (2) a specific reference to the fall of Jerusalem, 15 28; (3) in v. 29 a resumption of the subject of (i).

The view that the two predictions are inextricably intermingled seems the least probable.

1 . went out, and departed from the temple ] Read, on the highest MS. authority, “went out from the temple, and was going on his way.” On leaving the Temple Jesus would descend into the valley of Kedron and ascend the opposite slope of the Mount of Olives. Then full in view the Temple would rise with its colonnade of dazzling white marble, surmounted with golden roof and pinnacles, and founded on a substructure of huge stones. Milman writes ( History of the Jews , ii. 322) “At a distance the whole Temple looked literally like a mount of snow, fretted with golden pinnacles.”

2 . There shall not be left here one stone upon another ] Compare with the complete ruin of the Temple at Jerusalem, the still magnificent remains of temples at Karnak and Luxor, Baalbec, and Athens. The Temple was destroyed by fire, notwithstanding every effort made to save it by Titus. For a vivid description of this last awful scene in the history of the Temple, see Milman, History of the Jews , ii. Bk. xvi.

the disciples ] St Mark names the four, Peter and James and John and Andrew.

3 . when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming ] The twofold question points to the nearer and the more distant event. See note at beginning of chapter.

thy coming ] Rather, thy presence ( parousia ). The precise word “coming,” or “advent,” which the Church has adopted in reference to the second “presence” of Christ, does not occur in this prophecy.

the end of the world ] See ch. 13:39, 40.

5 . saying, I am Christ ] Rather, the Christ, the Messiah. The appearance of false Messiahs shall be the first sign. St John bears witness to the fulfilment of this sign: “Even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time,” 1 John 2:18 .

6 . wars and rumours of wars ] The second sign. Philo and Josephus describe the disturbed state of Judæa from this date to the siege of Jerusalem. Massacres of the Jews were perpetrated at Cæsarea, at Alexandria, in Babylonia and in Syria. See Milman’s History of the Jews , Bks. xii. xv. Tacitus, characterising the same period, says “opus adgredior opimum casibus, atrox præliis, discors seditionibus, ipsa etiam pace sævum.” Hist. i. 2.

7 . famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes ] The commentators enumerate instances of all these calamities recorded by the contemporary historians.

8 . sorrows ] Literally, pains of travail , that preceded the birth of a new order of things, a fresh æon .

10 . offended ] Disappointed hopes will bring about a disruption of Christian unity and love.

11 . false prophets ] At the siege of Jerusalem “false prophets suborned by the Zealots kept the people in a state of feverish excitement, as though the appointed Deliverer would still appear.” Milman’s History of the Jews , ii. 371.

12 . iniquity ] Literally, lawlessness .

shall abound ] Translate, hath abounded .

the love of many ] Rather, of the many , i. e. of “the majority.” Love or agapé became the leading virtue and grace of the Christian life, yet this is the only instance of the word in the Synoptic Gospels, except Luke 11:42 , “the love of God.” The noun itself is not classical, and therefore lent itself the more readily to Christian use. But the thought connected with the word, “family affection,” was beautiful before it was spiritualised by Christianity. The E. V. has two renderings, “love” and “charity,” (see especially 1 Corinthians 13:0 ). The first seems to be too wide, the second too restricted, denoting a principal tendency or function of agapé rather than agapé itself. The use of the word by our Lord to express Christian unity is itself prophetic. St Paul experienced this “coldness of love:” “at my first answer no man stood with me,” 2 Timothy 4:16 .

13 . he that shall endure ] Cp. “In your patience possess ye your souls,” (rather, “by patience ye shall win your lives,”) Luke 21:19 .

14 . preached in all the world ] Cp. ch. 10:23 and Colossians 1:5 , Colossians 1:6 , “the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world.” The principle is at last established that the Gospel may be preached to Jew and Gentile alike.

15 . the abomination of desolation ] i. e. “the abomination that maketh desolate,” “the act of sacrilege, which is a sign and a cause of desolation.” What special act of sacrilege is referred to cannot be determined for certain. The expression may refer (1) to the besieging army; cp. the parallel passage in Luke, “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies.” Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. , translates Daniel 9:27 in this sense: “Until the wing (or army) of abominations shall make desolate.” (2) The Roman eagles; the E.V. margin, Daniel 9:27 , reads: “Upon the battlements shall be the idols of the desolator.” (3) The excesses of the Zealots. See Josephus, B.J . iv. 6. 3, “They (the Zealots) caused the fulfilment of the prophecies against their own country; for there was a certain ancient saying that the city would be taken at that time … for sedition would arise, and their own hands would pollute the Temple of God.”

in the holy place ] i. e. within the Temple area.

whoso readeth, let him understand ] These words are almost beyond a doubt an insertion of the Evangelist, and not part of our Lord’s discourse.

16 . let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains ] Many Christians, warned by this prediction (according to Euseblus, H.E. iii. 5, “by a certain oracle”), took refuge at Pella in Peræa during the siege of Jerusalem.

17 . not come down to take any thing out of his house ] i. e. either (1) pass from the roof to the entrance, and thence to the street, without entering any apartments, or (2) escape along the flat roofs from house to house.

18 . return back to take his clothes ] The Greek word signifies the outer garment, which the field labourer would throw off while at work, wearing the tunic only. Cp. “Nudus ara, sere nudus.” Georg. i. 299.

20 . not in the winter ] when swollen streams, bitter cold and long nights would increase the misery and danger of the fugitives.

on the sabbath day ] when religious scruples might delay the flight. The extent of a Sabbath day’s journey was 2000 cubits. Here, however, the question meets us, how far Jewish observances would affect the Christians. Probably the early Christians observed both the Sabbath and the Lord’s day. But in any case many impediments would arise against flight on the Sabbath day. St Matthew alone records these words of warning.

21 . great tribulation ] “Jerusalem, a city that had been liable to so many miseries during the siege, that had it enjoyed as much happiness from its first foundation, it would certainly have been the envy of the world.” Josephus, B. J. vii. 6. 5.

No words can describe the unequalled horrors of this siege. It was the Passover season, and Jews from all parts were crowded within the walls. Three factions, at desperate feud with each other, were posted on the heights of Sion and on the Temple Mount. These only united to fling themselves at intervals upon the Roman entrenchments, and then resumed their hate. The Temple-courts swam with the blood of civil discord, which was literally mingled with the blood of the sacrifices. Jewish prisoners were crucified by hundreds in view of their friends, while within the city the wretched inhabitants were reduced by famine to the most loathsome of food and to deeds of unspeakable cruelty. Jerusalem was taken on the 10th August, a. d. 70. 1,100,000 Jews perished in the siege, 100,000 were sold into slavery. With the fall of Jerusalem Israel ceased to exist as a nation. It was truly the end of an æon .

22 . those days should be shortened ] Several circumstances concurred to shorten the duration of the siege, such as the scanty supply of provisions, the crowded state of the city, the internal dissensions, and the abandonment of important defences. So strong did the place seem to Titus that he exclaimed, “We have certainly had God on our side in this war; and it was God alone who ejected the Jews from these fortifications.” Josephus vi. 9. 1.

23 . Then ] The transition is marked by this word, it was possibly also marked by a pause in the Saviour’s discourse.

23 31 . The Second Coming of Christ

Mark 13:21-27 ; Luke 21:24-28

The following scheme, intended to shew a parallelism between the two Predictions, is borrowed from an interesting monograph by the Rev. W. Sherlock, who argues for the division of the prophecy at v. 22:

the fall of jerusalem ( vv. 5 22). the second advent ( vv. 23 31). 1. False Christs and false prophets ( vv. 5, 11). 1. False Christs and false prophets ( vv. 23, 24). 2. Persecution and apostasy ( vv. 9, 10, 12). 2. Dangers even to the elect ( v. 24). 3. Wars, famine, pestilence ( vv. 6, 7). 3. Distress of nations ( v. 29). 4. Great tribulation ( v. 21). 4. The sun and moon darkened ( v. 29). 5. The abomination of desolation ( v. 15). 5. The sign of the Son of man ( v. 30). 6. The escape of the Christians ( vv. 16 18). 6. The salvation of the elect ( v. 31). 24 . shall deceive the very elect ] Compare this with the less dangerous influence of false prophets before the siege of Jerusalem, “shall deceive many.”

26 . in the desert … in the secret chambers ] i. e. whether the false Christ shall go forth into the desert and draw men to him by an ascetic life, or shall influence by teaching in the “schools” of the synagogues, be not deceived.

secret chambers ] one word in the original. The same word is translated “closet” (ch. 6:6), that is the place for prayer on the top or in the upper part of an Eastern house.

27 . as the lightning ] All-pervading, swift, sudden and of dazzling brightness; such shall be the coming of the Son of man.

shineth ] Translate, appeareth . The flash is instantly visible in the remotest quarter.

28 . wheresoever the carcase is ] The spiritual perception will discern when the Lord comes and where, by a subtle sense like that by which the vulture is cognisant of his distant prey.

Another interpretation fixes upon the idea of corruption in the body, and taking the “eagles” to mean the eagles of the Roman standards reads the sense thus: “where the corrupt body of sin lies there will the eagles of vengeance be gathered.”

This view is excluded by the division of the prophecy adopted in these notes.

29 . Immediately after the tribulation of those days ] i. e. the tribulation which shall precede the second advent of Christ.

shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light ] Such figurative language is frequent with the Hebrew prophets; it implies (1) the perplexity and confusion of a sudden revolution, a great change; the very sources of light become darkness. Cp. Isaiah 13:10 , “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine;” and (2) the darkness of distress as Ezekiel 32:7 , Ezekiel 32:8 , “All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.”

30 . the sign of the Son of man in heaven ] What this shall be it is vain to conjecture, but when it appears its import will be instantly recognised by the faithful.

in the clouds ] Translate, on the clouds .

31 . with a great sound of a trumpet ] Omit “sound” on high MS. authority, translate with a great trumpet . The image would be suggestive to the Jews, who were called together in the camp by silver trumpets (Numbers 10:2 foll.). Moreover, the great festivals, the commencement of the year, and other celebrations were announced by trumpets.

32 35 . The Parable of the Fig Tree

Mark 13:28-31 ; Luke 21:29-33

32 . learn a parable of the fig tree ] More accurately, learn from the fig-tree its parable , the lesson that the fig-tree teaches. The parable relates to the siege of Jerusalem and the ruin of the Jewish nationality, illustrating vv. 4 22.

It was spring time, and the fig tree was putting forth its leaf-buds; no more certainly does that natural sign foretell the coming harvest than the signs of Christ shall foretell the fall of the Holy City. The sequence of historical events is as certain as the sequence of natural events. And the first, at least to some extent, is within the range of the same human intelligence that discerns the promise of summer. Thus Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not discerning the signs of the times as they discerned the face of the sky.

When his branch is yet tender ] Translate, as soon as its branch becomes tender , i. e. ready to sprout. Observe his for the modern its .

ye know ] Rather, recognise ; as also in the following verse; in v. 36 a different Greek word is rightly translated knoweth .

that summer is nigh ] Or, “that harvest time is nigh,” i. e. the cornharvest, not the fig-harvest (Meyer). This is a probable rendering, because the sprouting of the fig-tree would coincide with the barley harvest, rather than with the summer; it gives force to our Lord’s words, when it is remembered that the barley harvest was actually nigh; the omer, or first sheaf, being offered on the day following the Passover. Again, the siege of Jerusalem prefigured by this “parable” took place at the time of harvest (see note, v. 21).

33 . know that it is near ] it =the harvest time of God the end of this æon or period at the fall of Jerusalem.

34 . This generation ] See note, ch. 16:28.

35 . This verse was originally omitted in the Sinaitic MS., but is inserted by a later hand.

36 End of Ch. 25. Parables and Teachings concerning the Second Advent

36 51 . The Coming of Christ; the Need of Watchfulness

More briefly reported in Mark 13:32-37 ; Luke 21:34-36 .

36 . But of that day and hour ] the Day of Judgment. The discourse turns from the type the fall of Jerusalem to the antitype the Day of Judgment, and continues on this subject to the end of the following chapter.

37 . Noe ] This, the Greek form of the name, appears in E. V., Luke 17:26 ; “Noah” is read in the other passages where the name occurs, 1 Peter 3:20 ; 2 Peter 2:5 ; Hebrews 11:7 .

The Last Day will surprise men occupied in their pleasures and their business, as the Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:27-29 ) surprised all except those who “watched.” All such great and critical events are typical of the End of the World.

coming ] See v. 3.

40, 41 . Instances like these serve to bring out the reflection that the world’s work will be going on then as now; there is also the thought of a real separation in this life beneath an external sameness.

40 . shall be taken ] Properly, is taken or withdrawn. For this present for future of certainty see ch. 27:63.

41 . Two women shall be grinding at the mill ] In southern Palestine, where there are no mill-streams, hand-mills are to be seen and heard in every village. “Two women sit at the mill facing each other; both having hold of the handle by which the upper is turned round on the nether mill-stone.” Land and Book , p. 526.

shall be taken ] See preceding verse.

43 45 . The Lord cometh as a Thief in the Night

Luke 12:39 , Luke 12:40

43 . know this ] The same word as in v. 33, see note. The word is probably indicative, “ye know this,” not imperative.

the goodman of the house ] “The master of the house.” “Goodman” is probably a corruption for gummann or A. S. guma , a man ( Bible Word Book ).

in what watch ] See ch. 14:25.

the thief would come ] Cp. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night,” 1 Thessalonians 5:2 ; see also 2 Peter 3:10 .

would come ] Rather, doth come , as in the preceding verse.

to be broken up ] Rather, dug through ; see ch. 6:19, 20.

45 51 . The Stewards of God

Luke 12:41-48 , where this parable is joined on to the preceding one by a question of St Peter, “Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” Mark 13:37 has “what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Here, and throughout the discourse, the disciples are specially addressed.

45 . Who then is a faithful and wise servant ] The steward was generally a slave whom his master had chosen on account of his trustworthiness and intelligence to be the steward of his estate, his villicus or dispensator . The word “ dispensation ,” in such expressions as “the present dispensation,” “the Christian dispensation,” has passed into religious language from this and the parallel passages.

his household ] all his other slaves, Lat. familia .

to give them meat in due season ] The daily (diarium) or monthly (menstruum) allowance; cp. “Cum servis urbana diaria rodere mavis?” Hor. Ep. i. 14. 41. This imagery, drawn from a large Roman estate (latifundium), has given rise to the often-recurring thought of the Stewardship of the Apostles and Ministers of Christ. “Stewards of the mysteries of God,” 1 Corinthians 4:1 ; “blameless, as the steward of God,” Titus 1:7 .

51 . shall cut him asunder ] See Daniel 2:5 and 3:29. “The angel of God waiteth with the sword to cut thee in two,” (Susanna, 59.) Comp. also “Multos honesti ordinis aut ad bestias condemnavit, aut serra dissecuit.” Sueton. Calig. 17, quoted by Wetstein, who gives other instances.

his portion with the hypocrites ] St Luke has “with the unbelievers.” Such adaptations of the Gentile Evangelist to his readers are always interesting. Hypocrisy was especially a Jewish sin. St Luke adds our Lord’s words on the degrees of punishment, varying with the degrees of responsibility.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 24". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.