THE VISION OF THINGS TO COME (Matthew 24:1-31)
We have already seen that it is one of the great characteristics of Matthew that he gathers together in large blocks the teaching of Jesus about different subjects. In Matthew 24:1-51 he gathers together things that Jesus said about the future and gives us the vision of things to come. In so doing Matthew weaves together sayings of Jesus about different aspects of the future; and it will make this difficult chapter very much easier to understand if we can disentangle the various strands and look at them one by one.
Matthew's interweaving of the sayings of Jesus lasts throughout Matthew 23:31. It will be best if, first of all, we set down these verses as a whole; if, next, we set down the various aspects of the future with which they deal; and if, last, we try to assign each section to its place in the pattern. We cannot claim certainty or finality for the pattern which we obtain; but, the general picture will become clear.
First then, we set down the verses, and we shall number them to make easier their assignment to their place in the pattern.
The Vision Of The Future (Matthew 24:1-31)
24:1-31 1. When Jesus had left the precincts of the Temple, he was going away; and his disciples came to him to point out to him the 2. buildings of the Temple area. He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? This is the truth I tell you--one stone will not be left here upon another that will not be thrown down." 3. His disciples came to him privately when he was sitting on the Mount of Olives. "Tell us," they said, "when these things shall be. And tell us what will be the sign of your coming, and of the 4. consummation of the age." Jesus answered, "Be on the look-out 5. lest anyone lead you astray, for many will come in my name saying, 'I am God's Anointed One,' and they will lead many 6. astray. You will hear of wars and reports of wars. See that you are not disturbed; for these things must happen; but the end is not 7. yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various 8. places. All these things are the beginning of the agonies. Then 9. they will deliver you to affliction, and they will kill you, and you 10. will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will stumble, and will betray each other, and will hate each other. 11. And many false prophets will arise, and they will lead many 12. astray. And the love of many will grow cold, because lawlessness 13. will be multiplied. But it is he who endures to the end who will be 14. saved. And the gospel will be proclaimed to the whole inhabited world, for a testimony to all nations--and then the end will come. 15. When you see the desolating abomination, which was spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place (let him who 16. reads understand), then let him who is in Judaea flee to the 17. mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not come down to 18. remove his goods from his house; and let him who is in the field 19. not come back to remove his cloak. Alas for those who in those days are carrying children in the womb, and who are suckling 20. children. Pray that your flight may not be in the winter time, nor 21. on a Sabbath. For at that time there will be great affliction, such as has never happened from the beginning of the world until now, 22. and such as never will happen. And, if the days had not been shortened, no human being would have survived. But the days 23. will be shortened for the sake of the elect. At that time, if anyone says to you, 'Look you, here, or here, is the Anointed One of 24. God,' do not believe him. For false Messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will produce great signs and wonders, the consequences of which will be, if possible, to lead astray the elect. 25. Look you, I have told you about these things before they happen. 26. If anyone says to you, 'Look you, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out. 'Look you, he is in the inner chambers,' do not believe him. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as 28. the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of Man. Where the 29. body is, there the vultures will be gathered. Immediately after the affliction of these days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the 30. powers of heaven will be shaken. Then there will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the tribes of the earth will lament, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the 31. clouds of heaven with power and much glory. And he will send his angels with a great trumpet call, and they will gather the elect from the four winds, from one boundary of heaven to the other."
The Interweaving Of The Strands
There then is the composite vision of the future which Matthew collects for us; we must now try to disentangle the various strands in it. At this stage we only indicate the strands and leave fuller explanation for the detailed commentary.
(i) Some verses which foretell the terrible days of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, the Roman general, a siege which was one of the most terrible in all history. These are Matthew 24:15-22.
(ii) Some verses tell of the ultimate complete destruction of Jerusalem and its reduction to a heap of ruins. These are Matthew 24:1-2.
(iii) Some verses paint pictures taken from the Jewish conception of the Day of the Lord. We have spoken about that conception before but we must briefly outline it again. The Jews divided all time into two ages--this present age, and the age to come. The present age is wholly bad and beyond all hope of human reformation. It can be mended only by the direct intervention of God. When God does intervene the golden age, the age to come, will arrive. But in between the two ages there will come the Day of the Lord, which will be a time of terrible and fearful upheaval, like the birth-pangs of a new age.
In the Old Testament itself there is many a picture of the Day of the Lord; and in the Jewish books written between the Old and the New Testaments these pictures are further developed and made still more vivid and still more terrible.
It will be a time of terror. "A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Zephaniah 1:14-18). The pictures of that terror became ever more lurid.
It will come suddenly. "The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). "Three things," said the Rabbis, "are sudden--the coming of the Messiah, a discovery, and a scorpion."
The universe will be shattered to pieces. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood (Joel 2:30-31; Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13).
It will be a time of moral chaos, when moral standards will be turned upside down, and when even nature will act contrary to herself, and when wars and violence and hatred will be the common atmosphere of life.
Schurer (The Jewish People in the Time of Christ ii, 154) sums up the Jewish ideas of the day of the Lord, ideas with which Jewish literature was full and which everyone knew in the time of Jesus. "The sun and moon will be darkened, swords appear in heaven, trains of horses and foot march through the clouds. Everything in nature falls into commotion and confusion. The sun appears by night, the moon by day. Blood trickles from wood, the stone gives forth a voice, and salt is found in fresh water. Places that have been sown will appear as unsown, full barns be found empty, and the springs of wells be stopped. Among men all restraints of order will be dissolved, sin and ungodliness rule upon earth. And men will fight against each other as if stricken with madness, the friend against the friend, the son against the father, the daughter against the mother. Nation will rise against nation, and to war shall be added earthquake, fire and famine, whereby men shall be carried off."
Such were the terrible pictures of the day of the Lord.. The verses are Matthew 24:6-8 and Matthew 24:29-31.
(iv) Some verses deal with the persecution which the followers of Christ will have to endure. These are Matthew 24:9-10.
(v) Some verses deal with the threats which will develop against the life and purity of the Church. These are Matthew 24:4-5, Matthew 24:11-13 and Matthew 24:23-26.
(vi) Some verses speak directly of the Second Coming of Christ. These are Matthew 24:3, Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 24:27-28.
So, in this amazing and difficult chapter of Matthew, we have in Matthew 24:1-31 a kind of sixfold vision of the future. We now go on to look at this vision, not taking the verses of the chapter consecutively, but taking together in turn those which deal with each strand.
The Doom Of The Holy City (Matthew 24:1-2)
24:1-2 When Jesus had left the precincts of the Temple, he was going away; and his disciples came to him to point out to him the buildings of the Temple area. He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? This is the truth I tell you--one stone will not be left here upon another that will not be thrown down."
It may well be that at least some of the disciples had not been very often to Jerusalem. They were Galilaeans, men of the highlands and of the country, fishermen who knew the lakeside far better than they knew the city. Some of them at least would be like country folk come up to London for a visit, staggered by what they saw; and well they might be, for there was nothing quite like the Temple in the ancient world.
The summit of Mount Sion had been dug away to leave a plateau of 1,000 feet square. At the far end of it was the Temple itself (the naos, Greek #3485). It was built of white marble plated with gold, and it shone in the sun so that a man could scarcely bear to look at it. Between the lower city and the Temple mount lay the valley of the Tyropoeon, and across this valley stretched a colossal bridge. Its arches had a span of 41 1/2 feet, and its spring stones were 24 feet long by 6 inches thick. The Temple area was surrounded by great porches, Solomon's Porch and the Royal Porch. These porches were upheld by pillars, cut out of solid blocks of marble in one piece. They were 37 1/2 feet high, and of such a thickness that three men linked together could scarcely put their arms round them. At the corners of the Temple angle stones have been found which measure from 20 to 40 feet in length, and which weigh more than 100 tons. How they were ever cut and placed in position is one of the mysteries of ancient engineering. Little wonder that the Galilaean fishermen looked and called Jesus' attention to them.
Jesus answered that the day would come when not one of these stones would be left standing upon the other--and Jesus was right. In A.D. 70 the Romans, finally exasperated by the rebellious intransigence of the Jews, gave up all attempt at pacification and turned to destruction, and Jerusalem and the Temple were laid waste so that Jesus' prophecy literally came true.
Here speaks Jesus the prophet. Jesus knew that the way of power politics can end only in doom. The man and the nation which will not take the way of God are heading for disaster--even in material things. The man and the nation which refuse the dream of God will find their own dreams shattered also.
The Grim Terror Of The Siege (Matthew 24:15-22)
24:15-22 "When you see the desolating abomination, which was spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place (let him who reads understand), then let him who is in Judaea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not come down to remove his goods from his house; and let him who is in the field not come back to remove his cloak. Alas for those who in those days are carrying children in the womb, and who are suckling children. Pray that your flight may not be in the winter time, nor on a Sabbath. For at that time there will be great affliction, such as has never happened from the beginning of the world until now, and such as never will happen. And, if the days had not been shortened, no human being would have survived. But the days will be shortened for the sake of the elect."
The siege of Jerusalem was one of the most terrible sieges in all history. Jerusalem was obviously a difficult city to take, being a city set upon a hill and defended by religious fanatics; so Titus determined to starve it out.
No one quite knows what the desolating abomination is. The phrase itself comes from Daniel 12:11. There it is said that the abomination that makes desolate is set up in the Temple. The Daniel reference is quite clear. About 170 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, determined to stamp out Judaism and to introduce into Judaea Greek religion and Greek practices. He captured Jerusalem, and desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Olympian Zeus in the Temple Court and by sacrificing swines' flesh upon it, and by turning the priests' rooms and the Temple chambers into public brothels. It was a deliberate attempt to stamp out Jewish religion.
It was the prophecy of Jesus that the same thing would happen again, and that once again the Holy Place would be desecrated, as indeed it was. Jesus saw coming upon Jerusalem a repetition of the terrible things which had happened 200 years ago; only this time there would arise no Judas Maccabaeus; this time there would be no deliverance and no purification; there would be nothing but ultimate destruction.
Jesus foretold of that siege that unless its days had been shortened, no human being could have survived it. It is strange to see how Jesus gave practical advice which was not taken, the disregarding of which multiplied the disaster. Jesus' advice was that when that day came men ought to flee to the mountains. They did not; they crammed themselves into the city and into the walls of Jerusalem from all over the country, and that very folly multiplied the grim horror of the famine of the siege a hundredfold.
When we go to the history of Josephus we see how right Jesus was about that terrible future. Josephus writes of these fearful days of siege and famine: "Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying of famine; and the lanes of the city were fun of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well were deterred from doing it by the great multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon they should die themselves, for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their coffins before the fatal hour was come. Nor was there any lamentation made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just. going to die looked upon those who were gone to their rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence, also, and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city. . . . And every one of them died with their eyes fixed upon the Temple" (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5. 12. 3).
Josephus tells a dreadful story of a woman who in those days actually killed and roasted and ate her suckling child (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6. 3. 4). He tells us that even the Romans, when they had taken the city and were going through it to plunder, were so stricken with horror at the sights they saw that they could not but stay their hands. "When the Romans were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses. .. . They then stood on a horror of this sight, and went out without touching anything" (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6. 8. 5). Josephus himself shared in the horrors of this siege, and he tells us that 97,000 were taken captive and enslaved, and 1,100,000 died.
That is what Jesus foresaw; these are the things he forewarned. We must never forget that not only men but nations need the wisdom of Christ. Unless the leaders of the nations are themselves led by Christ, they cannot do other than lead men not only to spiritual but also to physical disaster. Jesus was no impractical dreamer; he laid down the laws by which alone a nation can prosper, and by disregard of which it can do no other than miserably perish.
The Day Of The Lord (Matthew 24:6-8; Matthew 24:29-31)
24:6-8,29-31 "You will hear of wars and reports of wars. See that you are not disturbed; for these things must happen; for the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
"Immediately after the affliction of these days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then there will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the tribes of the earth will lament, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and much glory. And he will send his angels with a great trumpet call, and they will gather the elect from the four winds, from one boundary of heaven to the other."
We have already seen that an essential part of the Jewish thought of the future was the Day of the Lord that day when God was going to intervene directly in history, and when the present age, with all its incurable evil, would begin to be transformed into the age to come.
Very naturally the New Testament writers to a very great extent identified the Second Coming of Jesus and the Day of the Lord; and they took over all the imagery which had to do with the Day of the Lord and applied them to the Second Coming. None of these pictures is to be taken literally; they are pictures, and they are visions; they are attempts to put the indescribable into human words and to find some kind of picture for happenings for which human language has no picture.
But from all these pictures there emerge certain great truths.
(i) They tell us that God has not abandoned the world; for all its wickedness, the world is still the scene in which God's purpose is being worked out. It is not abandonment that God contemplates; it is intervention.
(ii) They tell us that even a very crescendo of evil must not discourage us. An essential part of the Jewish picture of the Day of the Lord is that a complete breakdown of all moral standards and an apparent complete disintegration of the world must precede it. But, for all that, this is not the prelude to destruction; it is the prelude to recreation.
(iii) They tell us that both judgment and a new creation are certain. They tell us that God contemplates the world both in justice and in mercy; and that God's plan is not the obliteration of the world, but the creation of a world which is nearer to his heart's desire.
The value of these pictures is not in their details, which at best are only symbolic and which use the only pictures which the minds of men could conceive, but in the eternal truth which they conserve; and the basic truth in them is that, whatever the world is like, God has not abandoned it.
The Persecution To Come (Matthew 24:9-10)
24:9-10 "Then they will deliver you to affliction, and they will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will stumble and will betray each other, and will hate each other."
This passage shows the uncompromising honesty of Jesus. He never promised his disciples an easy way; he promised them death and suffering and persecution. There is a sense in which a real Church will always be a persecuted Church, so long as it exists in a world which is not a Christian world. Whence comes that persecution?
(i) Christ offers a new loyalty; and again and again he declared that this new loyalty must surpass all earthly ties. The greatest ground of hatred in the days of the early Church was the fact that Christianity split homes and families, when one member decided for Christ and the others did not. The Christian is one who is pledged to give Jesus Christ the first place in his life--and many a human clash is liable to result from that.
(ii) Christ offers a new standard. There are customs and practices and ways of life which may be all right for the world, but which are far from being all right for the Christian. For many people the difficulty about Christianity is that it is a judgment upon themselves and upon their way of life in their business or in their personal relationships. The awkward thing about Christianity is that anyone who does not wish to be changed is bound to hate it and resent it.
(iii) The Christian, if he is a true Christian, introduces into the world a new example. There is a daily beauty in his life which makes the life of others ugly. The Christian is the light of the world, not in the sense that he criticizes and condemns others, but in the sense that he demonstrates in himself the beauty of the Christ-filled life and therefore the ugliness of the Christless life.
(iv) This is all to say that Christianity brings a new conscience into life. Neither the individual Christian nor the Christian Church can ever know anything of a cowardly concealment or a cowardly silence. The Church and the individual Christian must at all times constitute the conscience of Christianity--and it is characteristic of men that there are many times when they would wish to silence conscience.
Threats To The Faith (Matthew 24:4-5; Matthew 24:11-13; Matthew 24:23-26)
24:4-5,11-13,23-26 Jesus answered, "Be on the look-out lest anyone lead you astray, for many will come in my name saying, 'I am God's Anointed One,' and they will lead many astray.
"And many false prophets will arise, and they will lead many astray. And the love of many will grow cold, because lawlessness will be multiplied. But it is he who endures to the end who will be saved.
"At that time, if anyone says to you, 'Look you, here, or here, is the Anointed One of God,' do not believe him. For false Messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will produce great signs and wonders, the consequence of which will be, if possible, to lead astray the elect. Look you, I have told you about these things before they happen. If anyone says to you, 'Look you, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out. 'Look you, he is in the inner chambers,' do not believe him."
In the days to come Jesus saw that two dangers would threaten the Church.
(i) There would be the danger of false, leaders. A false leader is a man who seeks to propagate his own version of the truth rather than the truth as it is in Jesus Christ; and a man who tries to attach other men to himself rather than to Jesus Christ. The inevitable result is that a false leader spreads division instead of building up unity. The test of any leader is likeness to Christ.
(ii) The second danger is that of discouragement. There are those whose love will grow cold because of the increasing lawlessness of the world. The true Christian is the man who holds to his belief, when belief is at its most difficult; and who, in the most discouraging circumstances, refuses to believe that God's arm is shortened or his power grown less.
The Coming Of The King (Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:14; Matthew 24:27-28)
24:3,14,27,28 His disciples came to him privately, when he was sitting on the Mount of Olives. "Tell us," they said, "when these things shall be. And tell us what will be the sign of your coming, and of the consummation of the age."
"The gospel will be proclaimed to the whole inhabited world, for a testimony to all nations--and then the end will come.
"For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of Man. Where the body is, there the vultures will be gathered together."
Here Jesus speaks of his Second Coming directly. The New Testament does not ever use the phrase the Second Coming. The word which it uses to describe the return of Christ in glory is interesting. It is Parousia; this word has come into English as a description of the Second Coming; it is quite common in the rest of the New Testament, but in the gospels this is the only chapter in which it occurs (Matthew 24:3, Matthew 24:27, Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:39). The interesting thing is that it is the regular word for the arrival of a governor into his province or for the coming of a king to his subjects. It regularly describes a coming in authority and in power.
The remainder of this chapter will have much to tell us about it, but at the moment we note that, whatever else is true about the doctrine of the Second Coming, it certainly conserves two great facts.
(i) It conserves the fact of the ultimate triumph of Christ. He whom men crucified on a cross will one day be the Lord of all men. For Jesus Christ the end is sure--and that end is his universal kingship.
(ii) It conserves the fact that history is going somewhere. Sometimes men have felt that history was plunging to an ever wilder and wilder chaos, that it is nothing more than "the record of the sins and follies of men." Sometimes men have felt that history was cyclic and that the same weary round of things would happen over and over again. The Stoics believed that there are certain fixed periods, that at the end of each the world is destroyed in a great conflagration; and that then the same story in every littlest detail takes place all over again.
As Chrysippus had it: "Then again the world is restored anew in a precisely similar arrangement as before. The stars again move in their orbits, each performing its revolution in the former period, without any variation. Socrates and Plato and each individual man will live again, with the same friends and fellow-citizens. They will go through the same experiences and the same activities. Every city and village and field will be restored, just as it was. And this restoration of the universe takes place, not once, but over and over again--indeed to all eternity, without end." This is a grim thought that men are bound to an eternal tread-mill in which there is no progress and from which there is no escape.
But the Second Coming has in it this essential truth--that there is "one divine far-off event, to which the whole creation moves," and that event is not dissolution but the universal and eternal rule of God.
The Coming Of The King (Matthew 24:32-41)
24:32-41 "Learn the lesson which comes from the fig tree. Whenever the branch has become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you too see these things, know that he is near at the doors. This is the truth I tell you-- this generation shall not pass away, until these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"No one knows about that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For, as in those days before the flood they spent their time eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and were quite unaware of what was to happen until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time there will be two men in the field; one is taken, and the other is left. There will be two women grinding with the mill; one is taken, and the other is left."
Few passages confront us with greater difficulties than this. It is in two sections and they seem to contradict each other. The first (Matthew 24:32-35) seems to indicate that, as a man can tell by the signs of nature when summer is on the way, so he can tell by the signs of the world when the Second Coming is on the way. Then it seems to go on to say that the Second Coming will happen within the lifetime of the generation listening to Jesus at that moment.
The second section (Matthew 24:36-41) says quite definitely that no one knows the time of the Second Coming, not the angels, not even Jesus himself, but only God; and that it will come upon men with the suddenness of a rainstorm out of a blue sky.
There is a very real difficulty here which, even if we cannot completely solve it, we must nevertheless boldly face.
Let us take as our starting-point Matthew 24:34 : "This is the truth I tell you--this generation shall not pass away, until these things have happened." When we consider that saying, three possibilities emerge.
(a) If Jesus said it in reference to the Second Coming, he was mistaken for he did not return within the lifetime of the generation listening to his words. Many accept that point of view, believing that Jesus in his humanity had limitations of knowledge and did believe that within that generation he would return. We can readily accept that in his humanity Jesus had limitations of knowledge; but it is difficult to believe that he was in error regarding so great a spiritual truth as this.
(b) It is possible that Jesus said something like this which was changed in the transmitting. In Mark 9:1 Jesus is reported as saying, "Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power." That was gloriously and triumphantly true. Within that generation the Kingdom of God did spread mightily until there were Christians throughout the known world.
Now the early Christians did look for the Second Coming immediately. In their situation of suffering and persecution they looked and longed for the release that the coming of their Lord would bring, and sometimes they took sayings which were intended to speak of the Kingdom and attached them to the Second Coming which is a very different thing. Something like that may have happened here. What Jesus may have said was that his kingdom would come mightily before that generation had passed away.
(c) But there is a third possibility. What if the phrase until these things have happened has no reference to the Second Coming? What if their reference is, in fact, to the prophecy with which the chapter began, the siege and fall of Jerusalem? If we accept that, there is no difficulty. What Jesus is saying is that these grim warnings of his regarding the doom of Jerusalem will be fulfilled within that very generation--and they were, in fact, fulfilled forty years later. It seems by far the best course to take Matthew 24:32-35 as referring, not to the Second Coming, but to the doom of Jerusalem, for then all the difficulties in them are removed.
Matthew 24:36-41 do refer to the Second Coming; and they tell us certain most important truths.
(i) They tell us that the hour of that event is known to God and to God alone. It is, therefore, clear that speculation regarding the time of the Second Coming is nothing less than blasphemy, for the man who so speculates is seeking to wrest from God secrets which belong to God alone. It is not any man's duty to speculate; it is his duty to prepare himself, and to watch.
(ii) They tell us that that time will come with shattering suddenness on those who are immersed in material things. In the old story Noah prepared himself in the calm weather for the flood which was to come, and when it came he was ready. But the rest of mankind were lost in their eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage, and were caught completely unawares, and were therefore swept away. These verses are a warning never to become so immersed in time that we forgot eternity, never to let our concern with worldly affairs, however necessary, completely distract us from remembering that there is a God, that the issues of life and death are in his hands, and that whenever his call comes, at morning, at midday, or at evening, it must find us ready.
(iii) They tell us that the coming of Christ will be a time of separation and of judgment, when he will gather to himself those who are his own.
Beyond these things we cannot go--for God has kept the ultimate knowledge to himself and his wisdom.
Ready For The Coming Of The King (Matthew 24:42-51)
24:42-51 Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord comes. Understand this--that if the householder had known at what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have been awake, and he would not have allowed him to break into his house. That is why you, too, must show yourselves ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Who, then, is the dependable and wise servant whom his master put in charge over his household staff, to give them their food at the right time? Happy is the servant whom his master, when he has come, will find acting thus. This is the truth I tell you--he will put him in charge of all his belongings. But if that bad servant says to himself, 'My master will not be back for a long time yet,' and if he begins to beat his fellow-servants, and if he eats and drinks with drunkards, then the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not expecting him, and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the hypocrites. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there."
Here is the practical outcome of all that has gone before. If the day and the hour of the coming of Christ are known to none save God, then all life must be a constant preparation for that coming. And, if that is so, there are certain basic sins.
(i) To live without watchfulness invites disaster. A thief does not send a letter saying when he is going to burgle a house; his principal weapon in his nefarious undertakings is surprise; therefore a householder who has valuables in his house must maintain a constant guard. But to get this picture right, we must remember that the watching of the Christian for the coming of Christ is not that of terror-stricken fear and shivering apprehension; it is the watching of eager expectation for the coming of glory and joy.
(ii) The spirit which leads to disaster is the spirit which says there is plenty of time. It is the comfortable delusion of the servant that he will have plenty of time to put things to rights before his master returns.
There is a fable which tells of three apprentice devils who were coming to this earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and ruin men. The first said, "I will tell them there is no God." Satan said, "That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God." The second said, "I will tell men there is no hell." Satan answered, "You will deceive no one that way; men know even now that there is q hell for sin." The third said, "I will tell men there is no hurry." "Go," said Satan, "and you will ruin them by the thousand." The most dangerous of all delusions is that there is plenty of time. The most dangerous day in a man's life is when he learns that there is such a word as tomorrow. There are things which must not be put off, for no man knows if for him tomorrow will ever come.
(iii) Rejection is based on failure in duty, and reward is based on fidelity. The servant who fulfilled his duty faithfully was given a still greater place; and the servant who failed was dealt with in severity. The inevitable conclusion is that, when he comes, Jesus Christ can find us employed in no better and greater task than in doing our duty.
A negro poet writes:
"There's a king and a captain high,
And he's coming by and by,
And he'll find me hoeing cotton when he comes.
You can hear his legions charging in the regions of the sky,
And he'll find me hoeing cotton when he comes.
There's a man they thrust aside,
Who was tortured till he died,
And he'll find me hosing cotton when he comes.
He was hated and rejected,
He was scorned and crucified,
And he'll find me hoeing cotton when he comes.
When he comes! When he comes!
He'll be crowned by saints and angels when he comes.
They'll be shouting out Hosanna! to the man that men denied,
And I'll kneel among my cotton when he comes."
If a man is doing his duty, however simple that duty may be, on the day Christ comes there will be joy for him.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany