1, 2.] St. Mark expresses their remarks on the buildings; see note there:—they were probably occasioned by Matthew 24:38 of the last chapter. Josephus writes, B. J. vii. 1. 1, κελεύει καῖσαρ ἤδη τήν τε πόλιν ἅπασαν καὶ τὸν νεὼν κατασκάπτειν.… τὸν δʼ ἄλλον ἅπαντα τῆς πόλεως περίβολον οὕτως ἐξωμάλισαν οἱ κατασκαπτοντες, ὡς μηδὲ πώποτʼ οἰκισθῆναι πίστιν ἂν ἔτι παρασχεῖν τοῖς προσελθοῦσιν. There is no difficulty in οὐ here used interrogatively. See a similar case John 6:70. Meyer has abandoned his former view that we should read οὗ, “where ye see, &c.,” and takes the common interpretation. He notices some curious renderings in his note: “Do not look (so wonderingly) on.… ( μὴ βλ.),” Paulus; “Do ye not wonder at …?” Chrys. a(163)., and De W.: “Ye see not all this …” viz. not the desolation that shall come. Grulich, de loci Matthew 24:1-2, interp. Torg. 1839: “Ye do not see: all this, I say to you, shall not.…” Bornemann.
1–51.] PROPHECY OF HIS COMING, AND OF THE TIMES OF THE END. Mark 13:1-37. Luke 21:5-36. Matt. omits the incident of the widow’s mite, Mark 12:41-44. Luke 21:1-4.
3.] From Mark we learn, that it was Peter and James and John and Andrew who asked this question. With regard to the question itself, we must, I think, be careful not to press the clauses of it too much, so as to make them bear separate meanings corresponding to the arrangements of our Lord’s discourse. As expressed in the other Evangelists, the question was concerning the time, and the sign, of these things happening, viz. the overthrow of the temple and desolation of Judæa, with which, in the then idea of the Apostles, our Lord’s coming and the end of the world were connected. Against this mistake He warns them, Matthew 24:6; Matthew 24:14,—Luke 21:24,—and also in the two first parables in our ch. 25.
For the understanding of this necessarily difficult prophetic discourse, it must be borne in mind that the whole is spoken in the pregnant language of prophecy, in which various fulfilments are involved. (1) The view of the Jewish Church and its fortunes as representing the Christian Church and its history, is one key to the interpretation of this chapter.
Two parallel interpretations run through the former part as far as Matthew 24:28; the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment being both enwrapped in the words, but the former, in this part of the chapter, predominating. Even in this part, however, we cannot tell how applicable the warnings given may be to the events of the last times, in which apparently Jerusalem is again to play so distinguished a part. From Matthew 24:28, the lesser subject begins to be swallowed up by the greater, and our Lord’s second coming to be the predominant theme, with however certain hints thrown back as it were at the event which was immediately in question: till, in the latter part of the chapter and the whole of the next, the second advent, and, at last, the final judgment ensuing on it, are the subjects. (2) Another weighty matter for the understanding of this prophecy is, that (see Mark 13:32) any obscurity or concealment concerning the time of the Lord’s second coming, must be attributed to the right cause, which we know from His own mouth to be, that the divine Speaker Himself, in His humiliation, did not know the day nor the hour. All that He had heard of the Father, He made known unto His disciples (John 15:15): but that which the Father kept in His own power (Acts 1:7), He did not in His abased humanity know. He told them the attendant circumstances of His coming; He gave them enough to guard them from error in supposing the day to be close at hand, and from carelessness in not expecting it as near. (Regarding Scripture prophecy as I do as a whole, and the same great process of events to be denoted by it all, it will be but waste labour to be continually at issue, in the notes of this and the succeeding chapter, with Meyer and others, who hold that the Gospel prophecies are inconsistent in their eschatology with those after the Ascension, and those again with the chiliastic ones of the Apocalypse. How untenable this view is, I hope the following notes will shew; but to be continually meeting it, is the office of polemic, not of exegetic theology.)
4, 5.] Our Lord does not answer the πότε but by admonitions not to be deceived. See a question similarly answered, Luke 13:23-24.
πολλ. γάρ] This was the first danger awaiting them: not of being drawn away from Christ, but of imagining that these persons were Himself. Of such persons, before the destruction of Jerusalem, we have no distinct record; doubtless there were such: but (see above) I believe the prophecy and warning to have a further reference to the latter times in which its complete fulfilment must be looked for. The persons usually cited as fulfilling this (Theudas, Simon Magus, Barchochab, &c.) are all too early or too late, and not correspondent to the condition, ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόμ. μου, ‘with My name as the ground of their pretences.’ See Greswell on the Parables, ver. 380 note. Luke gives an addition (Luke 24:8) to the speech of the false Christs, ͅ καὶ ὁ καιρὸς ἤγγικεν.
6–8.] πόλεμοι and ἀκοαὶ πολέμων there certainly were during this period; but the prophecy must be interpreted rather of those of which the Hebrew Christians would be most likely to hear as a cause of terror. Such undoubtedly were the three threats of war against the Jews by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero; of the first of which Josephus says, Antt. xix. 1. 2, ἔθνει τε τῷ ἡμετέρῳ οὐδὲ εἰς ὀλίγον ἐξεγεγόνει μὴ οὐκ ἀπολωλέναι, μὴ ταχείας αὐτῷ ( γαίῳ) τελευτῆς παραγενομένης. Luke couples with πολ., ἀκαταστασίας,—and to this ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος seems also to point. There were serious disturbances,—(1) at Alexandria, which gave rise to the complaint against and deposition of Flaccus, and Philo’s work against him (A.D. 38), in which the Jews as a nation were the especial objects of persecution; (2) at Seleucia about the same time (Jos. Antt. xviii. 9. 8, 9), in which more than 50,000 Jews were killed; (3) at Jamnia, a city on the coast of Judæa near Joppa (Philo, legat. ad Caium, § 30, vol. ii. p. 575 f.). Many other such national tumults are recorded by Josephus. See especially B. J. ii. 17. 10; 18. 1–8, in the former of which places, he calls the sedition προοίμιον ἁλώσεως, and says that ἕκαστος τῶν μετρίων ἐτετάρακτο: and adds, δεινὴ δὲ ὅλην τὴν συρίαν ἐπέσχε ταραχή, καὶ πᾶσα πόλις εἰς δύο διῄρητο στρατόπεδα.
λιμός, and λοιμός, which is coupled to it in (164) Luke, are usual companions: a proverb says, μετὰ λιμὸυ λοιμός. With regard to the first, Greswell (Parr. vol. v. p. 261 note) shews that the famine prophesied of in the Acts (Matthew 11:28) happened in the ninth of Claudius, A.D. 49. It was great at Rome,—and therefore probably Egypt and Africa, on which the Romans depended so much for supplies, were themselves much affected by it. Suetonius (Claud. 18) speaks of assiduæ sterilitates; and Tacitus (Ann. xii. 43) of ‘frugum egestas, et orta ex eo fames,’ about the same time. There was a famine in Judæa in the reign of Claudius (the true date of which however Mr. Greswell believes (Diss. vol. ii. p. 5) to be the third of Nero), mentioned by Josephus, Antt. iii. 15. 3. And as to λοιμοί, though their occurrence might, as above, be inferred from the other, we have distinct accounts of a pestilence at Rome (A.D. 65) in Suetonius, Nero 39, and Tacitus, Ann. xvi. 13, which in a single autumn carried off 30,000 persons at Rome. But such matters as these are not often related by historians, unless of more than usual severity.
σεισμοί] The principal earthquakes occurring between this prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem were, (1) a great earthquake in Crete, A.D. 46 or 47 [Philostr. Vita Apollonii iv. 34]; (2) one at Rome on the day when Nero assumed the toga virilis, A.D. 51 [Zonaras xi. 10, p. 565]; (3) one at Apamæa in Phrygia, mentioned by Tacitus (Ann. xii. 58), A.D. 53; (4) one at Laodicea in Phrygia (Tacitus, Ann. xiv. 27), A.D. 60; (5) one in Campania (Tacitus, Ann. xv. 22). Seneca, Ep. 91, § 9, in the year A.D. 58, writes: ‘Quoties Asiæ, quoties Achaiæ urbes uno tremore ceciderunt! quot oppida in Syria, quot in Macedonia devorata sunt! Cyprum quoties vastavit hæc clades! quoties in se Paphus corruit; frequenter nobis nuntiati sunt totarum urbium interitus.’ The prophecy, mentioning κατὰ τόπους (place for place,—i.e. here and there, each in its particular locality; as we say, “up and down”), does not seem to imply that the earthquakes should be in Judæa or Jerusalem. We have an account of one in Jerusalem, in Josephus, B. J. iv. 4. 5, which Mr. Greswell [Parr. ver. 259 note] places about Nov. A.D. 67. On the additions in Luke 21:11, see notes there; and on this whole passage see the prophecies in 2 Chronicles 15:5-7, and Jeremiah 51:45-46.
ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων] in reference to the παλιγγενεσία (ch. Matthew 19:28), which is to precede the συντέλεια τοῦ αἰῶνος. So Paul in Romans 8:22, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις.… συν ωδίνει ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν. The death-throes of the Jewish state precede the ‘regeneration’ of the universal Christian Church, as the death-throes of this world the new heavens and new earth.
9–13.] τότε, at this time,—during this period, not ‘after these things have happened.’ De Wette presses this latter meaning, that he may find a contradiction to Luke 21:12, πρὸ δὲ τούτων πάντων.… These words serve only definitely to fix the time of the indefinite τότε, here and in Matthew 24:10. The τότε in Matthew 24:14 is, from the construction of the sentence, more definite. For ἀποκτ. ὑμ. Luke has θανατώσουσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν, viz. the Apostles. This sign was early given. James the brother of John was put to death, A.D. 44: Peter and Paul (traditionally, Euseb. H. E. ii. 25) and James the Lord’s brother, before the destruction of Jerusalem: and possibly others.
ἔσεσθε μισ.] see Acts 28:22, ἡ αἵρεσις αὕτη.… πανταχοῦ ἀντιλέγεται: also Tacitus, Ann. xv. 44, where Nero, for the conflagration of Rome, persecutes ‘Christianos, genus hominum ob flagitia invisos:’ also see 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 4:14-16. In chap. Matthew 10:22, from which these verses are repeated, we have only ὑπὸ πάντων—here τῶν ἐθνῶν is added, giving particularity to the prophecy.
10.] See 2 Timothy 4:16, and the repeated warnings against apostasy in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The persons spoken of in this verse are Christians. ‘Primo conrepti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitude ingens.’ Tac. Ann. xv. 44. On μισ. ἀλλ., compare the deadly hatred borne to Paul and his work by the Judaizers. In the Apocryphal works called the Clementines, which follow teaching similar to that of the factions adverse to Paul in the Corinthian Church, he is hinted at under the name ὁ ἐχθρὸς ἄνθρωπος (Ep. Pet. to James 2:1-26, and Recognitions, i. 70, cited by Stanley, Essays on Apostolic Age, p. 377). These Judaizing teachers, among others, are meant by the ψευδοπροφῆται, as also that plentiful crop of heretical teachers which sprang up every where with the good seed of the Gospel when first sown. See especially Acts 20:30; Galatians 1:7-9; Romans 16:17-18; Colossians 2:17–end: 1 Timothy 1:6-7; 1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Timothy 3:6-8; 2 Peter 2:1-22 (and Jude): 1 John 2:18; 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 2:26; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7; ψευδαπόστολοι, 2 Corinthians 11:13. Even De Wette, who attempts to deny the historical fulfilment of the former signs (Matthew 24:7), confesses that this was historically fulfilled (Exeget. Handbuch in loc.).
12.] It is against this ἀνομία especially that James, in his Epistle, and Jude, in more than the outward sense the brother of James, were called on to protest,—the mixture of heathen licentiousness with the profession of Christianity. But perhaps we ought to have regard to the past tense of πληθυνθῆναι, and interpret, ‘because the iniquity is filled up,’ on account of the horrible state of morality (parallel to that described by Thucydides, iii. 82–84, as prevailing in Greece, which had destroyed all mutual confidence), the love and mutual trust of the generality of Christians shall grow cold.
τῶν πολλῶν,—thus we have ch. Matthew 25:5, ἐνύσταξαν πᾶσαι καὶ ἐκάθευδον. Even the Church itself is leavened by the distrust of the evil days. See 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
13.] The primary meaning of this seems to be, that whosoever remained faithful till the destruction of Jerusalem, should be preserved from it. No Christian, that we know of, perished in the siege or after it: see below. But it has ulterior meanings, according to which τέλος will signify, to an individual, the day of his death (see Revelation 2:10),—his martyrdom, as in the case of some of those here addressed,—to the Church, endurance in the faith to the end of all things. See Luke 21:19, and note.
14.] We here again have the pregnant meaning of prophecy. The Gospel had been preached through the whole ‘orbis terrarum,’ and every nation had received its testimony, before the destruction of Jerusalem: see Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23; 2 Timothy 4:17. This was necessary not only as regarded the Gentiles, but to give to God’s people the Jews, who were scattered among all these nations, the opportunity of receiving or rejecting the preaching of Christ. But in the wider sense, the words imply that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world, literally taken, before the great and final end come. The apostasy of the latter days, and the universal dispersion of missions, are the two great signs of the end drawing near.
15.] βδέλυγ. τ. ἐρημ.] The LXX rendering and that of Theod. ((165) omits τῆς) of שִׁקּוּץ שֹׁמֵם, Daniel 12:11. The similar expression in ch. Daniel 11:31, is rendered in the same manner by the LXX, but by Theod. βδέλ. ἠφανισμένον, and in ch. Matthew 9:27, LXX and Theod. τὸ βδέλ. τῶν ἐρημώσεων. To what exactly the words in Daniel apply, is not clear. Like other prophecies, it is probable that they are pregnant with several interpretations, and are not yet entirely fulfilled. They were interpreted of Antiochus Epiphanes by the Alexandrine Jews; thus 1 Maccabees 1:54 we read ᾠκοδόμησαν βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον. Josephus refers the prophecy to the desolation by the Romans: Antt. x. 11. 7, δανιῆλος καὶ περὶ τῆς τῶν ῥωμαίων ἡγεμονίας ἀνέγραψε, καὶ ὅτι ὑπʼ αὐτῶν ἐρημωθήσεται. The principal Commentators have supposed, that the eagles of the Roman legions are meant, which were βδέλυγμα, inasmuch as they were idols worshipped by the soldiers. These, they say, stood in the holy place, or a holy place, when the Roman armies encamped round Jerusalem under Cestius Gallus first, A.D. 66, then under Vespasian, A.D. 68, then lastly under Titus, A.D. 70. Of these the first is generally taken as the sign meant. Josephus relates, B. J. ii. 20. 1, that after Cestius was defeated, πολλοὶ τῶν ἐπιφανῶν ἰουδαίων, ὥσπερ βαπτιζομένης νέως, ἀνενήχοντο τῆς πόλεως. But, without denying that this time was that of the sign being given, I believe that all such interpretations of its meaning are wholly inapplicable. The error has mainly arisen from supposing that the parallel warning of Luke (Luke 21:20, ὅταν δὲ ἴδητε κυκλουμένην ὑπὸ στρατοπέδων ἱερ. τότε γνῶτε ὅτι ἤγγικεν ἡ ἐρήμωσις αὐτῆς) is identical in meaning with our text and that of Mark. The two first Evangelists, writing for Jews, or as Jews, give the inner or domestic sign of the approaching calamity: which was to be seen in the temple, and was to be the abomination (always used of something caused by the Jews themselves, see 2 Kings 21:2-15; Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 7:8-9; Ezekiel 8:6-16) which should cause the desolation,—the last drop in the cup of iniquity. Luke, writing for Gentiles, gives the outward state of things corresponding to this inward sign. That the Roman eagles cannot be meant, is apparent: for the sign would thus be no sign, the Roman eagles having been seen on holy ground for many years past, and at the very moment when these words were uttered. Also τόπος ἃγιος must mean the temple: see reff.
Now in searching for some event which may have given such alarm to the Christians, Josephus’s unconscious admission (B. J. iv. 6. 3) is important: ἦν γὰρ δή τις παλαιὸς λόγος ἀνδρῶν, ἕνθα τότε τὴν πόλιν ἁλώσεσθαι, καὶ καταφλεγήσεσθαι τὰ ἅγια νόμῳ πολέμου, στάσις ἐὰν κατασκήψῃ, καὶ χεῖρες οἰκεῖαι προμιάνωσι τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ τέμενος· οἷς οὐκ ἀπιστήσαντες οἱ ζηλωταὶ διακόνους ἑαυτοὺς ἐπέδοσαν. The party of the Zelots, as we learn from ib. ch. 3. 6, 7, had taken possession of the temple,— τὸν νεὼν τοῦ θ. φρούριον αὐτοῖς ποιοῦνται, καὶ καταφυγὴ καὶ τυραννεῖον αὐτοῖς ἦν τὸ ἅγιον. In the next section (8) he tells us that they chose one Phannius as their high-priest, an ignorant and profane fellow, brought out of the field,— ὥσπερ ἐπὶ σκηνῆς ἀλλοτρίῳ κατεκόσμουν προσωπείῳ, τήν τε ἐσθῆτα περιτιθέντες ἱεράν, καὶ τὸ τί δεῖ ποιεῖν ἐπὶ καιροῦ διδάσκοντες,— χλεύν δʼ ἦν ἐκείνοις καὶ παιδιὰ τὸ τηλικοῦτον ἀσέβημα,— τοῖς δὲ ἄλλοις ἱερεῦσιν ἐπιθεωμένοις πόῤῥωθεν παιζόμενον τὸν νόμον δακρύειν ἐπῄει, καὶ κατέστενον τὴν τῶν ἱερῶν τιμῶν κατάλυσιν. I own that the above-cited passages strongly incline me to think that if not this very impiety, some similar one, about or a little before this time, was the sign spoken of by the Lord. In its place in Josephus, this very event seems to stand a little too late for our purpose (A.D. 67, a year after the investment by Cestius): but the narrative occurs in a description of the atrocities of the Zelots, and without any fixed date, and they had been in possession of the temple from the very first. So that this or some similar abomination may have about this time filled up the cup of iniquity and given the sign to the Christians to depart. Whatever it was, it was a definite, well-marked event, for the flight was to be immediate, on one day ( μηδὲ σαββάτῳ), and universal from all parts of Judæa. Putting then St. Luke’s expression and the text together, I think that some internal desecration of the holy place by the Zelots coincided with the approach of Cestius, and thus, both from without and within, the Christians were warned to escape. See Luke 21:20; also Bp. Wordsw.’s note here, which however introduces much mystical and irrelevant matter, though coming to what I regard as the right conclusion.
ὁ ἀναγ. νοείτω] This I believe to have been an ecclesiastical note, which, like the doxology in ch. Matthew 6:13, has found its way into the text. If the two first Gospels were published before the destruction of Jerusalem, such an admonition would be very intelligible. The words may be part of our Lord’s discourse directing attention to the prophecy of Daniel (see 2 Timothy 2:7; Daniel 12:10); but this is not likely, especially as the reference to Daniel does not occur in Mark, where these words are also found. They cannot well be the words of the Evangelist, inserted to bespeak attention, as this in the three first Gospels is wholly without example.
16–18.] The Christian Jews are said (Euseb. H. E. iii. 5) to have fled to Pella, a town described by Josephus (B. J. iii. 3. 3) as the northernmost boundary of Peræa. Eusebius says they were directed thither by a certain prophetic intimation ( τινὰ χρησμόν), which however cannot be this; as Pella is not on the mountains, but beyond them (but in order to reach it would not they have to fly exactly ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη—over, along, across them? See note on ch. Matthew 18:12):—Epiphanius (de mensuris et pond. § 15, vol. ii. p. 171) that they προεχρηματίσθησαν ὑπὸ ἀγγέλου.
17.] A person might run on the flat-roofed houses in Jerusalem from one part of the city to another, and to the city gates. Perhaps however this is not meant, but that he should descend by the outer stairs instead of the inner, which would lose time.
19, 20.] It will be most important that so sudden a flight should not be encumbered, by personal hindrances ( τ. ἐν γ. ἐχ.), or by hindrances of accompaniment ( τ. θηλ.), see 1 Corinthians 7:26; and that those things which are out of our power to arrange, should be propitious,—weather, and freedom from legal prohibition. The words μηδὲ σαβ. are peculiar to Matthew, and shew the strong Jewish tint which caused him alone to preserve such portions of our Lord’s sayings. That they were not said as any sanction of observance of the Jewish Sabbath, is most certain: but merely as referring to the positive impediments which might meet them on that day, the shutting of the gates of cities, &c., 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 and customary observances till the destruction of Jerusalem.
21, 22.] In Matthew 24:19 there is probably also an allusion to the horrors of the siege, which is here taken up by the γάρ. See Deuteronomy 28:49-57, which was literally fulfilled in the case of Mary of Peræa, related by Josephus, B. J. vi. 3. 4.
Our Lord still has in view the prophecy of Daniel (ch. Matthew 12:1), and this citation clearly shews the intermediate fulfilment, by the destruction of Jerusalem, of that which is yet future in its final fulfilment: for Daniel is speaking of the end of all things. Then only will these words be accomplished in their full sense: although Josephus (but he only in a figure of rhetoric) has expressed himself in nearly the same language (B. J. proœm. § 4): τὰ γοῦν πάντων ἀπʼ αἰῶνος ἀτυχήματα πρὸς τὰ ἰουδαίων ἡττᾶσθαί μοι δοκεῖ κατὰ σύγκρισιν.
22.] If God had not in his mercy shortened (by His decree, to which the aor. refers) those days ( ἡμέρας ἐκδικήσεως, Luke 21:2), the whole nation (in the ultimate fulfilment, all flesh) would have perished: but for the sake of the chosen ones,—the believing,—or those who should believe,—or perhaps the preservation of the chosen race whom God hath not cast off, Romans 11:1,—they shall be shortened. It appears that besides the cutting short in the Divine counsels, which must be hidden from us, various causes combined to shorten the siege. (1) Herod Agrippa had begun strengthening the walls of Jerusalem in a way which if finished would have rendered them πάσης ἀνθρωπίνης κρείττονα βίας, but was stopped by orders from Claudius, A.D. 42 or 43, Jos. Antt. xix. 7. 2. (2) The Jews, being divided into factions among themselves, had totally neglected any preparations to stand a siege. (3) The magazines of corn and provision were burnt just before the arrival of Titus; the words of Josephus are remarkable on this, κατακαῆναι δὲ πλὴν ὀλίγου πάντα τὸν σῖτον, ὃς ἂν αὐτοῖς οὐκ ἐπʼ ὀλίγα διήρκεσεν ἔτη πολιορκουμένοις, B. J. ver. 1. 5. (4) Titus arrived suddenly, and the Jews voluntarily abandoned parts of the fortification (B. J. vi. 8. 4). (5) Titus himself confessed, (B. J. vi. 9. 1,) σὺν θεῷ γʼ ἐπολεμήσαμεν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ τῶνδε τῶν ἐρυμάτων ἰουδαίους καθελών, ἐπεὶ χεῖρές τε ἀνθρώπων ἢ μηχαναὶ τί πρὸς τούτους τοὺς πύργους δύνανται; (The foregoing particulars are from Mr. Greswell, ver. 343 ff. note.) Some such providential shortening of the great days of tribulation, and hastening of God’s glorious Kingdom, is here promised for the latter times.
23–26.] These verses have but a faint reference (though an unmistakable one) to the time of the siege (Jos., B. J. ii. 13. 4, says, πλάνοι γὰρ ἄνθρωποι καὶ ἀπατεῶνες προσχήματι θειασμοῦ νεωτερισμοὺς καὶ μεταβολὰς πραγματευόμενοι, δαιμονᾷν τὸ πλῆθος ἀνέπειθον …): their principal reference is to the latter days. In their first meaning, they would tend to correct the idea of the Christians that the Lord’s coming was to be simultaneous with the destruction of Jerusalem: and to guard them against the impostors who led people out into the wilderness (see Acts 21:38), or invited them to consult them privately, with the promise of deliverance. In their main view, they will preserve the Church firm in her waiting for Christ, through even the awful troubles of the latter days, unmoved by enthusiasm or superstition, but seeing and looking for Him who is invisible. On the signs and wonders, see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Deuteronomy 13:1-3.
27, 28.] The coming of the Lord in the end, even as that in the type was, shall be a plain unmistakable fact, understood of all;—and like that also, sudden and all-pervading. But here again the full meaning of the words is only to be found in the final fulfilment of them. The lightning, lighting both ends of heaven at once, seen of all beneath it, can only find its full similitude in (166) IS Personal coming, Whom every eye shall see, Revelation 1:7.
28.] The stress is on ὅπου ἐάν and ἐκεῖ, pointing out the universality. In the similar discourse, Luke 17:37, before this saying, the disciples ask, ‘Where, Lord?’ The answer is,—first, at Jerusalem: where the corrupting body lies, thither shall the vultures (literally) gather themselves together, coming as they do from far on the scent of prey. Secondly, in its final fulfilment,—over the whole world;—for that is the πτῶμα now, and the ἀετοί the angels of vengeance. See Deuteronomy 28:49, which is probably here referred to; also Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8. The interpretation (Theophylact, Euthym(167), Calvin, Bp. Wordsw., &c) which makes the πτῶμα our Lord, and the ἀετοί the elect, is quite beside the purpose. The mystical defence of it may be seen in Wordsw.’s notes. Neither is any allusion (Lightfoot, Ham., Wetstein, Wolf, &c.) to the Roman eagles to be for a moment thought of. The ἀετοί are the vultures (vultur percnopterus, Linn.), usually reckoned by the ancients as belonging to the eagle kind, Plin. Nat. Hist. ix. 3.
29. εὐθέως] All the difficulty which this word has been supposed to involve has arisen from confounding the partial fulfilment of the prophecy with its ultimate one. The important insertion in Luke (Luke 21:23-24) shews us that the θλῖψις includes ὀργὴ τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ, which is yet being inflicted: and the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, still going on (see note there): and immediately after that tribulation which shall happen when the cup of Gentile iniquity is full, and when the Gospel shall have been preached in all the world for a witness, and rejected by the Gentiles, ( πληρωθῶσιν καιροὶ ἐθνῶν,) shall the coming of the Lord Himself happen. On the indefiniteness of this assigned period in the prophecy, see note on Matthew 24:3. (The expression in Mark is equally indicative of a considerable interval; ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις μετὰ τὴν θλῖψιν ἐκείνην.) The fact of His coming and its attendant circumstances being known to Him, but the exact time unknown, He speaks without regard to the interval, which would be employed in His waiting till all things are put under His feet: see Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6-20.
In what follows, from this verse, the Lord speaks mainly and directly of His great second coming. Traces there are (as e.g. in the literal meaning of Matthew 24:34) of slight and indirect allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem;—as there were in the former part to the great events of which that is a foreshadowing:—but no direct mention. The contents of the rest of the chapter may be set forth as follows: (Matthew 24:29) signs which shall immediately precede (Matthew 24:30) the coming of the Lord to judgment, and (Matthew 24:31) to bring salvation to His elect. The certainty of the event, and its intimate connexion with its premonitory signs (Matthew 24:32-33); the endurance (Matthew 24:34) of the Jewish people till the end—even till Heaven and Earth (Matthew 24:35) pass away. But (Matthew 24:36) of the day and hour none knoweth. Its suddenness (Matthew 24:37-39) and decisiveness (Matthew 24:40-41),—and exhortation (Matthew 24:42-44) to be ready for it. A parable setting forth the blessedness of the watching, and misery of the neglectful servant (Matthew 24:45–end), and forming a point of transition to the parables in the next chapter.
ὁ ἥλιος σκοτ.] The darkening of the material lights of this world is used in prophecy as a type of the occurrence of trouble and danger in the fabric of human societies, Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 4:28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Amos 8:9-10; Micah 3:6. But the type is not only in the words of the prophecy, but also in the events themselves. Such prophecies are to be understood literally, and indeed without such understanding would lose their truth and significance. The physical signs shall happen (see Joel 2:31; Haggai 2:6; Haggai 2:21, compared with Hebrews 12:26-27) as accompaniments and intensifications of the awful state of things which the description typifies. The Sun of this world and the church (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78; John 1:9; Ephesians 5:14; 2 Peter 1:19) is the Lord Jesus—the Light is the Knowledge of Him. The moon—human knowledge and science, of which it is said (Psalms 36:9), ‘In thy light shall we see light:’ reflected from, and drinking the beams of, the Light of Christ. The stars—see Daniel 8:10—are the leaders and teachers of the Church. The Knowledge of God shall be obscured—the Truth nigh put out—worldly wisdom darkened—the Church system demolished, and her teachers cast down. And all this in the midst of the fearful signs here (and in Luke 21:25-26, more at large) recounted: not setting aside, but accompanying, their literal fulfilment.
αἱ δυν. τ. οὐρ.] not the stars, just mentioned;—nor the angels, spoken of by and by, Matthew 24:31 : but most probably the greater heavenly bodies, which rule the day and night, Genesis 1:16, and are there also distinguished from the ἀστέρες,—the λαμπροὶ δυνασταί of Æsch. Agam. init. See notes on 2 Peter 3:10-12, where the stars seem to be included in τὰ στοιχεῖα. Typically, the influences which rule human society, which make the political weather fair or foul, bright or dark; and encourage the fruits of peace, or inflict the blight and desolation of war.
30.] This τότε, so emphatically placed and repeated, is a definite declaration of time,—not a mere sign of sequence or coincidence, as e.g. in Matthew 24:23 :—when these things shall have been somewhile filling men’s hearts with fear,—THEN shall, &c.
It is quite uncertain what the σημεῖον shall be:—plainly, not the Son of Man Himself, as Some explain it (even Bengel, generally so valuable in his explanations, says ‘Ipse erit signum sui,’ and quotes Luke 2:12 as confirming this view; but there the swaddling clothes and the manger were the ‘sign,’ not the child), nor any outward marks on his body, as his wounds; for both these would confuse what the prophecy keeps distinct—the seeing of the sign of the Son of Man, and all tribes of the earth mourning, and afterwards seeing the Son of Man Himself. This is manifestly some sign in the Heavens, by which all shall know that the Son of Man is at hand The Star of the Wise Men naturally occurs to our thoughts—but a star would not be a sign which all might read.
On the whole I think no sign completely answers the conditions but that of the Cross:—and accordingly we find the Fathers mostly thus explaining the passage. But as our Lord Himself does not answer the question, τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας; we may safely leave the matter. I mention, just to shew how sensible expositors can be misled by a false interpretation of the whole, Wetstein’s strange paraphrase of τὸ σημεῖον τ. υ. τ. ἀνθ.,—‘fumus Hierosolymorum incensorum, qui interdiu solem, nocte vero lunam et Stellas obscurat.’
πᾶσαι αἱ φ. τ. γ.] see Zechariah 12:10-14, where the mourning is confined to the families of Israel:—here, it is universal: see reff. Rev.; also Matthew 6:15-17. This coming of the Son of Man is not that spoken of ch. Matthew 25:31, but that in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, and Revelation 19:11 ff.,—His coming at the commencement of the millennial reign to establish His Kingdom: see Daniel 7:13-14.
δύναμις is the power of this Kingdom, not, the host of heaven.
31.] In 1 Thess., as above, the voice of the Archangel and the trump of God are distinguished from one another, which seems to favour the reading which inserts καί here. This is not the great Trumpet of the general Resurrection (ref. 1 Cor.), except in so far as that may be spoken of as including also the first resurrection: see on this verse the remarkable opening of Psalms 50:1-23., which is itself a prophecy of these same times.
32, 33, 34.] τὴν παρ., not as E. V., ‘a parable,’ but the (not, its: the fig-tree may teach many lessons besides this; cf. reff. Matt. Luke) parable,—the natural phænomenon which may serve as a key to the meaning.
This coming of the Lord shall be as sure a sign that the Kingdom of Heaven is nigh, as the putting forth of the tender leaves of the fig-tree is a sign that summer is nigh. Observe πάντα ταῦτα, every one of these things,—this coming of the Son of Man included, which will introduce the millennial Kingdom.
As regards the parable,—there is a reference to the withered fig-tree which the Lord cursed: and as that, in its judicial unfruitfulness, emblematized the Jewish people, so here the putting forth of the fig-tree from its state of winter dryness, symbolizes the future reviviscence of that race, which the Lord (Matthew 24:34) declares shall not pass away till all be fulfilled. That this is the true meaning of that verse, must appear when we recollect that it forms the conclusion of this parable, and is itself joined by παρέλθῃ to the verse following. We cannot, in seeking for its ultimate fulfilment, go back to the taking of Jerusalem and make the words apply to it.
As this is one of the points on which the rationalizing interpreters (De Wette, &c.) lay most stress to shew that the prophecy has failed, it may be well to shew that γενεά has in Hellenistic Greek the meaning of a race or family of people. See Jeremiah 8:3 LXX compare ch. Matthew 23:36 with ib. Matthew 23:35, ἐφονεύσατε … but this generation did not slay Zacharias—so that the whole people are addressed: see also ch. Matthew 12:45, in which the meaning absolutely requires this sense (see note there): see also Luke 17:25; Matthew 17:17; Luke 16:8 (where γενεά is predicated both of the υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου and the νἱοὶ τοῦ φωτός): Acts 2:40; Philippians 2:15. In all these places γενεά is = γένος, or nearly so; having it is true a more pregnant meaning, implying that the character of one generation stamps itself upon the race, as here in this verse also.
This meaning of γενεά is fully conceded by Dorner; ‘omnes reor concessuros, vocem γ. si eam vertas ætas, multas easque plane insuperabiles ciere difficultates, contextum vero et orationis progressum flagitare significationem gentis, nempe Judæorum.’ (Stier, ii. 502.) The continued use of παρέρχομαι in Matthew 24:34-35, should have saved the Commentators from the blunder of imagining that the then living generation was meant, seeing that the prophecy is by the next verse carried on to the end of all things: and that, as matter of fact, the Apostles and ancient Christians did continue to expect the Lord’s coming, after that generation had part away. But, as Stier well remarks, “there are men foolish enough now to say, heaven and earth will never pass away, but the words of Christ pass away in course of time—; of this, however, we wait the proof.” ii. 505.
πάντα ταῦτα] all the signs hitherto recounted—so that both these words, and ὑμεῖς, have their partial, and their full meanings.
ἐγγύς ἐστιν] viz. τὸ τέλος. On Matthew 24:35 see Psalms 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 51:6; Psalms 102:26.
36.] ἡμ. ἐκ., viz. of heaven and earth passing away; or, perhaps referring to Matthew 24:30 ff.
ἡμ. κ. ὥρ., the exact time—as we say, ‘the hour and minute.’ The very important addition to this verse in Mark, and in some ancient MSS. here (but see digest), οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, is indeed included in εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ [ μου] μόνος, but could hardly have been inferred from it, had it not been expressly stated: ch. Matthew 20:23. All attempts to soften or explain away this weighty truth must be resisted; it will not do to say with some Commentators, ‘nescit ea nobis,’ which, however well meant, is a mere evasion:—in the course of humiliation undertaken by the Son, in which He increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52), learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8), uttered desires in prayer (Luke 6:12, &c.),—this matter was hidden from Him: and as I have already remarked, this is carefully to be borne in mind, in explaining the prophecy before us.
37–39.] This comparison also occurs in Luke 17:26-27, with the addition of ‘the days of Lot’ to it: see also 2 Peter 2:4-10; 2 Peter 3:5-6. It is important to notice the confirmation, by His mouth who is Truth itself, of the historic reality of the flood of Noah.
The security here spoken of is in no wise inconsistent with the anguish and fear prophesied, Luke 21:25-26. They say, there is peace, and occupy themselves as if there were: but fear is at their hearts;—‘surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis floribus angit.’
The expression πίνοντες may serve to shew that it is a mistake to imagine that we have in Genesis 9:20 the account of the first wine and its effects. On the addition in Luke 21:34-36, see notes there.
40, 41.] From this point (or perhaps even from Matthew 24:37, as historic resemblance is itself parabolic) the discourse begins to assume a parabolic form, and gradually passes into a series of formal parables in the next chapter.
These verses set forth that, as in the times of Noah, men and women shall be employed in their ordinary work: see Exodus 11:5 (LXX), Isaiah 47:2. They also shew us that the elect of God will to the last be mingled in companionship and partnership with the children of this world (see Mark 1:19-20). We may notice, that these verses do not refer to the same as Matthew 24:16-18. Then it is a question of voluntary flight; now of being taken (by the angels, Matthew 24:31 : the present graphically sets the incident before us; or perhaps describes the rule of proceeding. See on the sense of παραλαμβ. especially ref. John), or left. Nor again do they refer to the great judgment of ch. Matthew 25:31, for then (Matthew 24:32) all shall be summoned:—but they refer to the millennial dispensation, and the gathering of the elect to the Lord then. The “women grinding at the mill” has been abundantly illustrated by travellers, as even now seen in the East. See especially ‘The Land and the Book,’ pp. 526, 7.
ἐν, either because the pair of stones is the element in which the act of grinding takes place,—or, more probably, because that which is ground is within, between the stones.
42–44.] Our Lord here resumes the tone of direct exhortation with which He commenced. To the secure and careless He will come as a thief in the night: to His own, as their Lord. See Obadiah 1:5; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, where the idea is expanded at length. Compare Matthew 24:7 there with our Matthew 24:49, and on the distinction between those who are of the day, and those who are of the night, see notes, there.
45–47.] Our Lord had given this parabolic exhortation before, Luke 12:42-46. Many of these His last sayings in public are solemn repetitions of, and references to, things already said by Him. That this was the case in the present instance, is almost demonstrable, from the implicit allusion in Luke 12:36, to the return from the wedding, which is here expanded into the parable of ch. Matthew 25:1 ff. How much more natural that our Lord should have preserved in his parabolic discourses the same leading ideas, and again and again gathered his precepts round them,—than that the Evangelists should have thrown into utter and inconsistent confusion, words which would have been treasured up so carefully by them that heard them;—to say nothing of the promised help of the Spirit to bring to mind all that He had said to them.
τίς ἄρα ἐστ.] a question asked that each one may put it to himself,—and to signify the high honour of such an one.
πιστ. κ. φρ.] Prudence in a servant can be only the consequence of faithfulness to his master.
This verse is especially addressed to the Apostles and ministers of Christ. The δοῦναι τὴν τροφήν (= τὸ σιτομέτριον, Luke 12:42) answers to ἐργάτην ἀνεπαίσχυντον, ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθ. in 2 Timothy 2:15.
On Matthew 24:47, compare ch. Matthew 25:21 : 1 Timothy 3:13; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:21, which last two passages answer to the promise here, that each faithful servant shall be over all his master’s goods. That promotion shall not be like earthly promotion, wherein the eminence of one excludes that of another,—but rather like the diffusion of love, in which, the more each has, the more there is for all.
48–51.] The question is not here asked again, τίς ἐστιν κ. τ. λ., but the transition made from the good to the bad servant, or even the good to the bad mind of the same servant, by the epithet κακός.
On this graphic use of the demonstrative pronoun, see Kühner, Gramm. ii. 325.
χρονίζει] then manifestly, a long delay is in the mind of the Lord: see above on Matthew 24:29. Notice that this servant also is one set over the household—one who says ὁ κύριός μου—and began well—but now ἄρξηται τύπ., &c.—falls away from his truth and faithfulness;—the sign of which is that he begins (lit. shall have begun) to κατακυριεύειν τῶν κλήρων, 1 Peter 5:3, and to revel with the children of the world. In consequence, though he have not lost his belief ( ὁ κύρ. μου), he shall be placed with those who believed not, the hypocrites.
51.] διχ. refers to the punishment of cutting, or sawing asunder: see Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29; Sus. ver. 59; see also Hebrews 4:12; Hebrews 11:37. The expression here is perhaps not without a symbolical reference to that dreadful sundering of the conscience and practice which shall be the reflective torment of the condemned:—and by the mingling and confounding of which only is the anomalous life of the wilful sinner made in this world tolerable.
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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 24". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany