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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 24

Verses 1-51

The Destruction of Jerusalem and the End of the World Foretold

1. Jesus went out] RV ’Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way, and his disciples,’ etc.

The buildings] The magnificent buildings, a mass of marble and gold, were not yet finished (see John 2:20). The rabbis said, ’He who has not seen the temple of Herod, has never seen a beautiful building. The sanctuary was made of green and white marble... Herod intended to have the building covered with gold, but the rabbis dissuaded him, saying that it was sufficiently beautiful as it was, for it appeared like the waves of the sea.’ Josephus says, ’The front of the temple was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and at the first rising of the sun reflected back a fiery splendour, etc... The temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for those parts of it which were not gilt were exceedingly white. Of its stones some were 45 cubits in length, 5 in height, and 6 in breadth.’ (A cubit = 18 in.)

2. One stone] Josephus, an eyewitness, says ’Cæsar (i.e. Titus) now gave orders to demolish the whole city and temple, except the highest towers and the west wall. All the rest was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those who came thither believe that it had ever been inhabited.’ The Talmud says, ’On the ninth day of Ab (July-Aug.) the city of Jerusalem was ploughed up.’

3-51. Great prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world (Mark 13:8; Luke 21:7). Many of the most serious difficulties of this great discourse disappear when it is realised that our Lord referred in it not to one event but to two, and that the first was typical of the second. This is especially clear in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The disciples ask Jesus (Matthew 24:3) for information on two subjects: (1) the date of the approaching destruction of the Temple, (2) the sign that will precede His second coming at the end of the world. That these two events were clearly distinguished in the mind of Christ Himself, and, therefore, in this discourse as He delivered it, admits of demonstration. Luke 21:24 especially, which speaks of ’the times of the Gentiles,’ during which Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the heathen, and the Jews dispersed into all lands ’till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled,’ places an indefinite interval between the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. Similarly in St. Matthew and St. Mark, Jesus declares that He is ignorant of, or is not allowed to reveal, the date of the end of the world (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32), but expressly says that the fall of Jerusalem will take place within the lifetime of the Apostles (Matthew 10:23). Again the statement that the end will not come till the gospel has been preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14) postpones the end indefinitely: cp. also Luke 22:1-14. The reasons why the two events are not equally distinguished in the discourse as we have it, are mainly four: (1) Our Lord’s words, as in other cases, are condensed. We have not a full report of the speech, but its most striking passages, which being isolated from their context, are naturally somewhat difficult to interpret. (2) At the time when the speech was committed to writing, the apostles believed that Christ’s second coming would occur in their lifetime, and that the fall of Jerusalem and the Last Judgment would be coincident: see on 1 Thessalonians 4:15. This belief would affect, if not the faithfulness of their report, at any rate the arrangement of it. It would cause the evangelists to group together, as if referring to the same event, sayings which really referred to events widely sundered in time. (3) The discourse perhaps contains some sayings not spoken at this time, but inserted here because believed to refer to the same events. The hypothesis of extensive additions cannot indeed be admitted. Nevertheless, it is quite in the manner of the evangelists, and especially of St. Matthew, to group together in a single discourse utterances delivered at different times. (4) Our Lord for devotional reasons desired His disciples always to regard His coming as if it were near. The time of it was purposely not revealed, in order that Christians might live in a state of continual watchfulness, looking for their Lord’s coming. Such continual exhortations to watchfulness were easily understood to imply that the Second Coming was near.

Other views of the scope of the discourse are, (1) that it refers entirely to the destruction of Jerusalem; (2) or entirely to the Last Judgment; (3) or that ’the coming’ of Christ is a continuous process lasting from the fall of Jerusalem to the Second Advent; (4) or that Christ’s’ coming’ represents the extension of His kingdom which followed the Resurrection, or Pentecost, or the fall of Jerusalem; (5) or that His coming refers to the coming of the Comforter, in whom Christ Himself returns to earth.

Some suppose (but without sufficient warrant) that the sections Mark 13:7-9, Mark 13:14-20, Mark 13:24, Mark 13:27, Mark 13:30-31 were not spoken by Christ, but formed part of a short Christian apocalypse composed shortly before the fall of Jerusalem.

3. Olives] A magnificent view of the site of the Temple is obtained from this hill. The disciples] viz. Peter, James, John, Andrew (Mk). These things] i.e. the overthrow of the Temple. The end of the world] i.e. the Last Judgment. But those who refer the discourse entirely to the destruction of Jerusalem, understand by it the end of the Jewish dispensation.

4-14. Ebrard regards this section as referring to the last judgment, but in the opinion of most it refers to the fall of Jerusalem, with the possible exception of Matthew 24:14, q.v.

5. I am Christ] RV ’I am the Christ,’ i.e. the Messiah. The false Messiahs who appeared before the fall of Jerusalem were Simon Magus, Menander, Dositheus, and perhaps Theudas, who raised a rebellion in 45 or 46 a.d.

6. Wars, etc.] There were three threats of war against the Jews by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, as to the first of which Josephus remarks that the death of Caligula ’happened most happily for our nation in particular, which would have almost utterly perished, if he had not been suddenly slain.’ There was also a war between Bardanes king of Parthia and Izates king of Adiabene, and between the same Izates and Bardanes’ successor, Vologases. War was also continually threatened between Rome and Parthia. The end] according to the ordinary view is the end of the troubles, i.e. the fall of Jerusalem, not the end of the world.

7. Nation shall rise] i.e. there will be massacres and civil tumults. One fearful massacre happened at Seleucia on the Tigris, where dwelt three hostile nations, Greeks, Syrians, and Jews. The Greeks and Syrians joined together against their common enemies the Jews, and slew about 50,000 of them. Similarly at Cæsarea, in one hour’s time about 20,000 Jews were massacred. Famines] Acts 11:28. The whole reign of Claudius (41-54 a.d.) was a time of great scarcity. Josephus mentions a famine in Palestine about 46 a.d. in which many died of starvation.

Pestilences] omitted by RV. Earthquakes] There was an unexampled number at this period devastating the provinces of Asia, Achaia, Syria, Macedonia, Campania, etc. Josephus mentions one in Palestine accompanied by ’amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth—a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men.’

8. Beginning of sorrows] RV ’of travail.’ Jewish writers speak frequently of the socalled ’sorrows of the Messiah,’ which are to last nine months, and to be the birthpangs of the coming age. They would be a period of internal corruption, and outward distress, famine, and war, of which Palestine was to be the scene, and Israel the chief sufferers. Some of these sorrows would fall upon the Messiah Himself (Edersheim).

9, 10. See on Matthew 10:17-23.

11. False prophets] see on Matthew 24:5. Josephus speaks of ’a body of wicked men, who deceived and deluded the people under pretence of divine inspiration, who prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, pretending that God would there show them the signals of victory’: see also 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:1.

12. Cp. Hebrews 10:25; Revelation 2:4.

13. Shall endure] i.e. shall resist the enticements of false prophets, stand firm in persecution, and not suffer his love of Christ to grow cold. Unto the end] viz. of the tribulation; but it may mean unto the uttermost, or, unto death. Shall be saved] i.e. either literally by flight to Pella (Matthew 24:16), or, more probably, saved spiritually.

14. Since the gospel had not been preached to the whole world, or even to the whole Roman world by 70 a.d., as indeed Christ Himself indicated (Matthew 10:23), many suppose that ’the end’ here is the last judgment. Those who understand it to refer to the fall of Jerusalem, point out that by that time the gospel’had been preached not only in the East, but at Rome, and perhaps in Spain and Gaul (Romans 15:24, Romans 15:28).

15-28. The flight of the Christians before the fall of Jerusalem.

15. The abomination of desolation] i.e. the abomination which makes the Temple desolate, by causing God to forsake it (Daniel 9:27). Some definite event is meant, because it is the signal of instant flight (Matthew 24:16-20). It is to happen before the fall of Jerusalem, and in ’the holy place,’ i.e. in that part of the Temple, which only the priests could enter. The only event which answers this description is the capture of the Temple by the Zealots, or Assassins, 66 or 67 a.d., and the abominations which then ensued. The Zealots turned the Temple into a camp, defiled it with blood, made a creature of their own high priest, and finally caused the daily sacrifices to cease.

St. Luke’s version, ’when ye see Jerusalern encompassed by armies,’ is not an interpretation of ’the abomination of desolation,’ but another sign outside Jerusalem, which took place at the same time as the desolation within. Jerusalem was encompassed with armies, (1) in 66 a.d. by the troops of Cestius Gallus; (2) in 68 a.d. by those of Vespasian; (3) in 70 a.d. by those of Titus. The first investment is St. Luke’s signal for flight. Soon after this the Zealots seized the Temple and the city, guarded the gates, and prevented all escape. The prophecy in Daniel originally referred to the profanation of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, 169-168 b.c., but its application to the events of 66-70 a.d. is very suitable.

Other views of the nature of the ’abomination of desolation’ worthy of notice are that it is, (1) the Roman eagles, or standards; (2) a statue of Titus erected on the site of the Temple; (3) the appearance of Antichrist at the end of the world: cp. 2 Thessalonians 2:4.

Whoso readeth, let him understand] not ’let him that readeth the prophet Daniel imderstand,’ for the reference to Daniel is absent from St. Mark (see RV), but ’let him that readeth this prophecy of Christ’s understand.’ The occurrence in both evangelists is a proof that the common authority used by St. Matthew and St. Mark was not oral tradition, but a written document.

16. Flee into the mountains] Eusebius says, ’But the members of the Church in Jerusalem, having been commanded before the war in accordance with a certain oracle given by revelation to the men of repute there, to depart from Jerusalem, and to inhabit a certain city of Persea called Pella, all the believers in Christ in Jerusalem went thither, and when now the saints had abandoned both the royal metropolis itself and the whole land of judæa, the vengeance of God finally overtook the lawless persecutors of Christ and His Apostles.’

17. Not come down] but escape by the outside staircase, or over the roofs of the houses: see on Matthew 9:2.

20. On the sabbath day (peculiar to St. Matthew, the Jewish evangelist). Alford says, ’That they were not said as any sanction of observance of the Jewish sabbath is most certain; but merely as referring to positive impediments which might meet them on that day, the shutting of the gates of cities, etc., and their own scruples about travelling further than the ordinary sabbath day’s journey (about a mile English); for the Jewish Christians adhered to the Law till the destruction of Jerusalem’ (see Intro. § 6).

21. See Daniel 12:1. Josephus says, ’The multitude of those that perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world.’ ’The number of those that perished during the whole siege was 1,100,000.’

22. Those days] i.e. of the siege of Jerusalem, which occupied less than five months. No flesh] i.e. no inhabitants of the theatre of war, Palestine. Be saved] i.e. be left alive. The elect] i.e. the Christians.

23-26. Chrysostom and others, translating then ’afterwards’ (which it may mean), refer these vv. to the Last Judgment, but it is better to suppose that the fall of Jerusalem is still spoken of.

24. False Christs, and false prophets] see on Matthew 24:5, Matthew 24:11. Signs and wonders] J. Lightfoot illustrates from the Talmud the magical practices of the Jews. ’The senior who is chosen into the council, ought to be skilled in the arts of astrologers, jugglers, diviners, sorcerers,’ etc. ’The chamber of Happarva (in the Temple) was built by a certain magician by art magic’ ’Rabbi Joshua outdoes a magician in magic and drowns him in the sea.’

26. (Luke 17:23.) If they] i.e. they who are deluded by false Messiahs. Behold, he] viz. the Messiah. In the desert] Some of the false prophets did actually lead out their dupes to the desert. In the secret (RV ’inner’) chambers] a poetical expression for ’in hiding.’

27, 28. Whether these vv. describe Christ’s coming to destroy Jerusalem, or His second coming to judge the world, or both, is doubtful. The context suggests that the destruction of Jerusalem is meant, but it is just the context which is doubtful, for St. Mark omits both vv., and St. Luke gives them in quite a different connexion. As originally spoken, they probably referred to Christ’s second coming.

27. (Luke 17:24) The second advent of the Son of man will be confined to no one locality, but will be manifested instantaneously to the whole universe. But if the reference is to the destruction of Jerusalem, this v. describes the conspicuous and world-renowned nature of the event.

28. A parable or proverb (Luke 17:37). Just as, wherever a carcase may happen to be, eagles or vultures will invariably be found; so at Christ’s second coming, wherever a man dead in trespasses and sins is found, there also will Christ be revealed as an avenging judge. Thus ’the carcase’ represents the- wicked, and ’the eagles,’ Christ and His avenging angels of judgment. Those who suppose the fall of Jerusalem to be meant, understand by ’the carcase,’ the Jews, and by ’the eagles,’ the Roman armies.

29-42. Most commentators refer these vv. (in the main) to the Second Advent, though some think that the fall of Jerusalem is still meant.

29. Immediately] RV ’But immediately.’ This discourse, in the form in which it has come down to us, seems to place the Second Advent immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. Solutions of the difficulty: (1) Plumptre considers ’the boldest answer as the truest and most reverential,’ and finds the explanation in Christ’s ignorance of ’that day and hour’ (Mark 13:32). But although Christ was ignorant, as man, of the exact day and hour of His Second Advent, He at least knew that it was separated from the fall of Jerusalem by an immense interval (see intro. to this discourse). Even if we assume, with Plumptre, His complete ignorance of the date, we are no nearer a solution; for if He did not know the date, He would not attempt to fix it. (2) Stier maintains the theory of ’prophetic perspective.’ As men.gazing from a distance on two distant mountain peaks, one behind the other, see them in close proximity, so Christ saw the two events ’in close proximity, overlooking the wide intervening space.’ A legitimate hypothesis, but inconsistent with the fact that Christ was fully aware of the ’wide intervening space.’ (3) That ’immediately ’is to be interpreted with prophetic latitude, and may mean after an interval of thousands of years, as when our Lord says, ’And behold I come quickly’ (Revelation 22:20: see 2 Peter 3:8-9). This is the best explanation of the passage as it stands (4) That ’immediately after’ means immediately after the premonitory signs of Christ’s second coming, which have been omitted in the evangelists’ report of the speech, which is doubtless condensed. The sun, etc.] prophetic imagery for the fall of earthly empires, thrones, and powers, and human pride (Isaiah 13:10).

30. The sign of the Son of man] As Christ does not explain this sign, it is useless to guess what it will be. In tradition it is the Cross. ’Then shall appear the Cross in the sky, shining more brightly than the sun, to convict the Jews’ (Theophylact). This interpretation is already found in the ’Didache.’

Moum] lamenting their unbelief and disobedience: cp. Zechariah 12:12; Daniel 7:13; Revelation 1:7.

31. Usually explained of the gathering of believers into heaven at the last day. Those who think that the fall of Jerusalem is meant, explain it of the gathering of the heathen into the Church from all quarters of the world after that event, or of the flight of the Christians from all quarters of Palestine to Pella.

34. This generation] i.e. Jerusalem will be destroyed within the lifetime of men now living. This literal meaning is not to be evaded, as, for example, by regarding ’this generation ’as the human race, or the Jewish nation, or the Christian Church, or the universe.

36. But of that day] i.e. the Day of Judgment. Not the angels of heaven] RV adds, ’neither the Son,’ which, however, RM omits: see on Mark 13:32.

40, 41. The general idea is that, though to human eyes the righteous and the wicked will appear exactly the same, the angels in the judgment will be able to distinguish.

40. One shall be taken] viz. into glory, by the angels. The other left] viz. for reprobation, or punishment. But if the fall of Jerusalem is meant, the ’taking’ means the successful flight from Judæa and Jerusalem; the being ’left’ means failure to flee.

43-51. An exhortation to faithfulness and watchfulness addressed specially to the Apostles and other chief ministers of the Church (Luke 12:39-46). It appropriately closes the discourse, but whether it really belongs here may be doubted. St. Luke introduces it in a quite different connexion.

43. The goodman (RV ’master’) of the house] i.e. in the application of the parable, the Apostles, and their successors in posts of authority in the Church. The thief] i.e. on account of the suddenness and unexpectedness of His coming, our Lord: see 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15. Although the second coming is chiefly in view, it must be remembered that Christ comes in judgment to the individual soul at death.

Broken up] RV ’broken through’: see Matthew 6:19.

45. A faithful and wise servant (RM ’bond-servant’)] though referring primarily to the Apostles and ministers of the Church, may be extended to all who have the care of the souls of others, or exercise spiritual influence over ’others (the ’household’).

46. When he cometh] viz. at the Second Advent, or at the servant’s death.

47. Make him ruler] RV ’set him over all that he hath,’ i.e. make him great in the future Kingdom of Heaven, and sharer of His own throne. Our Lord implies that in heaven there will be various degrees of authority: cp. Luke 19:11-27.

49. To smite] a metaphor for the abuse of authority: cp. Acts 20:29; 1 Peter 5:8.

51. Cut him asunder] RM ’severely scourge him,’ i.e. consign him, to the place of final punishment.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.