Saturday, June 3rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible Henry's Complete
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Matthew 24". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ mhm/ matthew-24.html. 1706.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Matthew 24". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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Christ's preaching was mostly practical; but, in this chapter, we have a prophetical discourse, a prediction of things to come; such however as had a practical tendency, and was intended, not to gratify the curiosity of his disciples, but to guide their consciences and conversations, and it is therefore concluded with a practical application. The church has always had particular prophecies, besides general promises, both for direction and for encouragement to believers; but it is observable, Christ preached this prophetical sermon in the close of his ministry, as the Apocalypse is the last book of the New Testament, and the prophetical books of the Old Testament are placed last, to intimate to us, that we must be well grounded in plain truths and duties, and those must first be well digested, before we dive into those things that are dark and difficult; many run themselves into confusion by beginning their Bible at the wrong end. Now, in this chapter, we have, I. The occasion of this discourse, Matthew 24:1-3. II. The discourse itself, in which we have, 1. The prophecy of divers events, especially referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the utter ruin of the Jewish church and nation, which were not hastening on, and were completed about forty years after; the prefaces to that destruction, the concomitants and consequences of it; yet looking further, to Christ's coming at the end of time, and the consummation of all things, of which that was a type and figure, Matthew 24:4-31. 2. The practical application of this prophecy for the awakening and quickening of his disciples to prepare for these great and awful things, Matthew 24:32-51.
1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
I. Christ's quitting the temple, and his public work there. He had said, in the close of the foregoing chapter, Your house is left unto you desolate; and here he made his words good; He went out, and departed from the temple. The manner of expression is observable; he not only went out of the temple, but departed from it, took his final farewell of it; he departed from it, never to return to it any more; and then immediately follows a prediction of its ruin. Note, That house is left desolate indeed, which Christ leaves. Woe unto them when I depart,Hosea 9:12; Jeremiah 6:8. It was now time to groan out their Ichabod, The glory is departed, their defence is departed. Three days after this, the veil of the temple was rent; when Christ left it, all became common and unclean; but Christ departed not till they drove him away; did not reject them, till they first rejected him.
II. His private discourse with his disciples; he left the temple, but he did not leave the twelve, who were the seed of the gospel church, which the casting off of the Jews was the enriching of. When he left the temple, his disciples left it too, and came to him. Note, It is good being where Christ is, and leaving that which he leaves. They came to him, to be instructed in private, when his public preaching was over; for the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. He had spoken of the destruction of the Jewish church to the multitude in parables, which here, as usual, he explains to his disciples. Observe,
1. His disciples came to him, to show him the buildings of the temple, It was a stately and beautiful structure, one of the wonders of the world; no cost was spared, no art left untried, to make it sumptuous. Though it came short of Solomon's temple, and its beginning was small, yet its latter end did greatly increase. It was richly furnished with gifts and offerings, to which there were continual additions made. They showed Christ these things, and desired him to take notice of them, either,
(1.) As being greatly pleased with them themselves, and expecting he should be so too. They had lived mostly in Galilee, at a distance from the temple, had seldom seen it, and therefore were the more struck with admiration at it, and thought he should admire as much as they did all this glory (Genesis 31:1); and they would have him divert himself (after his preaching, and from his sorrow which they saw him perhaps almost overwhelmed with) with looking about him. Note, Even good men are apt to be too much enamoured with outward pomp and gaiety, and to overvalue it, even in the things of God; whereas we should be, as Christ was, dead to it, and look upon it with contempt. The temple was indeed glorious, but, [1.] Its glory was sullied and stained with the sin of the priests and people; that wicked doctrine of the Pharisees, which preferred the gold before the temple that sanctified it, was enough to deface the beauty of all the ornaments of the temple. [2.] Its glory was eclipsed and outdone by the presence of Christ in it, who was the glory of this latter house (Haggai 2:9), so that the buildings had no glory, in comparison with that glory which excelled.
Or, (2.) As grieving that this house should be left desolate; they showed him the buildings, as if they would move him to reverse the sentence; "Lord, let not this holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, be made a desolation." They forgot how many providences, concerning Solomon's temple, had manifested how little God cared for that outward glory which they had so much admired, when the people were wicked, 2 Chronicles 7:21. This house, which is high, sin will bring low. Christ had lately looked upon the precious souls, and wept for them,Luke 19:41. The disciples look upon the pompous buildings, and are ready to weep for them. In this, as in other things, his thoughts are not like ours. It was weakness, and meanness of spirit, in the disciples, to be so fond of fine buildings; it was a childish thing. Animo magno nihil magnum--To a great mind nothing is great. Seneca.
2. Christ, hereupon, foretels the utter ruin and destruction that were coming upon this place, Matthew 24:2; Matthew 24:2. Note, A believing foresight of the defacing of all worldly glory will help to take us off from admiring it, and overvaluing it. The most beautiful body will be shortly worms' meat, and the most beautiful building a ruinous heap. And shall we then set our eyes upon that which so soon is not, and look upon that with so much admiration which ere long we shall certainly look upon with so much contempt? See ye not all these things? They would have Christ look upon them, and be as much in love with them as they were; he would have them look upon them, and be as dead to them as he was. There is such a sight of these things as will do us good; so to see them as to see through them and see to the end of them.
Christ, instead of reversing the decree, ratifies it; Verily, I say unto you, there shall not be left one stone upon another.
(1.) He speaks of it as a certain ruin; "I say unto you. I, that know what I say, and know how to make good what I say; take my word for it, it shall be so; I, the Amen, the true Witness, say it to you." All judgment being committed to the Son, the threatenings, as well as the promises, are all yea, and amen, in him.Hebrews 6:17; Hebrews 6:18.
(2.) He speaks of it as an utter ruin. The temple shall not only be stripped, and plundered, and defaced, but utterly demolished and laid waste; Not one stone shall be left upon another. Notice is taken, in the building of the second temple, of the laying of one stone upon another (Haggai 2:15); and here, in the ruin, of not leaving one stone upon another. History tells us, that this was fulfilled in the latter; for though Titus, when he took the city, did all he could to preserve the temple, yet he could not restrain the enraged soldiers from destroying it utterly; and it was done to that degree, that Turnus Rufus ploughed up the ground on which it had stood: thus that scripture was fulfilled (Micah 3:12), Zion shall, for your sake, be ploughed as a field. And afterward, in Julian the Apostate's time, when the Jews were encouraged by him to rebuild their temple, in opposition to the Christian religion, what remained of the ruins was quite pulled down, to level the ground for a new foundation; but the attempt was defeated by the miraculous eruption of fire out of the ground, which destroyed the foundation they laid, and frightened away the builders. Now this prediction of the final and irreparable ruin of the temple includes a prediction of the period of the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial law.
3. The disciples, not disputing either the truth or the equity of this sentence, nor doubting of the accomplishment of it, enquire more particularly of the time when it should come to pass, and the signs of its approach, Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:3. Observe,
(1.) Where they made this enquiry; privately, as he sat upon the mount of Olives; probably, he was returning to Bethany, and there sat down by the way, to rest him; the mount of Olives directly faced the temple, and from thence he might have a full prospect of it at some distance; there he sat as a Judge upon the bench, the temple and city being before him as at the bar, and thus he passed sentence on them. We read (Ezekiel 11:23) of the removing of the glory of the Lord from the temple to the mountain; so Christ, the great Shechinah, here removes to this mountain.
(2.) What the enquiry itself was; When shall these things be; and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? Here are three questions.
[1.] Some think, these questions do all point at one and the same thing--the destruction of the temple, and the period of the Jewish church and nation, which Christ had himself spoken of as his coming (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 16:28), and which would be the consummation of the age (for so it may be read), the finishing of that dispensation. Or, they thought the destruction of the temple must needs be the end of the world. If that house be laid waste, the world cannot stand; for the Rabbin used to say that the house of the sanctuary was one of the seven things for the sake of which the world was made; and they think, if so, the world will not survive the temple.
[2.] Others think their question, When shall these things be? refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the other two to the end of the world; or Christ's coming may refer to his setting up his gospel kingdom, and the end of the world to the day of judgment. I rather incline to think that their question looked no further than the event Christ now foretold; but it appears by other passages, that they had very confused thoughts of future events; so that perhaps it is not possible to put any certain construction upon this question of theirs.
But Christ, in his answer, though he does not expressly rectify the mistakes of his disciples (that must be done by the pouring out of the Spirit), yet looks further than their question, and instructs his church, not only concerning the great events of that age, the destruction of Jerusalem, but concerning his second coming at the end of time, which here he insensibly slides into a discourse of, and of that it is plain he speaks in the next chapter, which is a continuation of this sermon.
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. 15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16 Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. 23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25 Behold, I have told you before. 26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The disciples had asked concerning the times, When shall these things be? Christ gives them no answer to that, after what number of days and years his prediction should be accomplished, for it is not for us to know the times (Acts 1:7); but they had asked, What shall be the sign? That question he answers fully, for we are concerned to understand the signs of the times,Matthew 16:3; Matthew 16:3. Now the prophecy primarily respects the events near at hand--the destruction of Jerusalem, the period of the Jewish church and state, the calling of the Gentiles, and the setting up of Christ's kingdom in the world; but as the prophecies of the Old Testament, which have an immediate reference to the affairs of the Jews and the revolutions of their state, under the figure of them do certainly look further, to the gospel church and the kingdom of the Messiah, and are so expounded in the New Testament, and such expressions are found in those predictions as are peculiar thereto and not applicable otherwise; so this prophecy, under the type of Jerusalem's destruction, looks as far forward as the general judgment; and, as is usual in prophecies, some passages are most applicable to the type, and others to the antitype; and toward the close, as usual, it points more particularly to the latter. It is observable, that what Christ here saith to his disciples tends more to engage their caution than to satisfy their curiosity; more to prepare them for the events that should happen than to give them a distinct idea of the events themselves. This is that good understanding of the time which we should all covet, thence to infer what Israel ought to do: and so this prophecy is of standing lasting use to the church, and will be so to the end of time; for the thing that hath been, is that which shall be (Ecclesiastes 1:5; Ecclesiastes 1:6; Ecclesiastes 1:7; Ecclesiastes 1:9), and the series, connection, and presages, of events, are much the same still that they were then; so that upon the prophecy of this chapter, pointing at that event, moral prognostications may be made, and such constructions of the signs of the times as the wise man's heart will know how to improve.
I. Christ here foretels the going forth of deceivers; he begins with a caution, Take heed that no man deceive you. They expected to be told when these things should be, to be let into that secret; but this caution is a check to their curiosity, "What is that to you? Mind you your duty, follow me, and be not seduced from following me." Those that are most inquisitive concerning the secret things which belong not to them are most easily imposed upon by seducers, 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The disciples, when they heard that the Jews, their most inveterate enemies, should be destroyed, might be in danger of falling into security; "Nay," saith Christ, "you are more exposed other ways." Seducers are more dangerous enemies to the church than persecutors.
Three times in this discourse he mentions the appearing of false prophets, which was, 1. A presage of Jerusalem's ruin. Justly were they who killed the true prophets, left to be ensnared by false prophets; and they who crucified the true Messiah, left to be deceived and broken by false Christs and pretended Messiahs. The appearing of these was the occasion of dividing that people into parties and factions, which made their ruin the more easy and speedy; and the sin of the many that were led aside by them, helped to fill the measure. 2. It was a trial to the disciples of Christ, and therefore agreeable to their state of probation, that they which are perfect, may be made manifest.
Now concerning these deceivers, observe here,
(1.) The pretences they should come under. Satan acts most mischievously, when he appears as an angel of light: the colour of the greatest good is often the cover of the greatest evil.
[1.] There should appear false prophets (Matthew 24:11-24; Matthew 24:11-24); the deceivers would pretend to divine inspiration, an immediate mission, and a spirit of prophecy, when it was all a lie. Such they had been formerly (Jeremiah 23:16; Ezekiel 13:6), as was foretold, Deuteronomy 13:3. Some think, the seducers here pointed to were such as had been settled teachers in the church, and had gained reputation as such, but afterward betrayed the truth they had taught, and revolted to error; and from such the danger is the greater, because least suspected. One false traitor in the garrison may do more mischief than a thousand avowed enemies without.
[2.] There should appear false Christs, coming in Christ's name (Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:5), assuming to themselves the name peculiar to him, and saying, I am Christ, pseudo-christs,Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:24. There was at that time a general expectation of the appearing of the Messiah; they spoke of him; as he that should come; but when he did come, the body of the nation rejected him; which those who were ambitious of making themselves a name, took advantage of, and set up for Christ. Josephus speaks of several such impostors between this and the destruction of Jerusalem; one Theudas, that was defeated by Cospius Fadus; another by Felix, another by Festus. Dosetheus said he was the Christ foretold by Moses. Origen adversus Celsum. See Acts 5:36; Acts 5:37. Simon Magus pretended to be the great power of God,Acts 8:10. In after-ages there have been such pretenders; one about a hundred years after Christ, that called himself Bar-cochobas--The son of a star, but proved Bar-cosba--The son of a lie. About fifty years ago Sabbati-Levi set up for a Messiah in the Turkish empire, and was greatly caressed by the Jews; but in a short time his folly was made manifest. See Sir Paul Rycaut's History. The popish religion doth, in effect, set up a false Christ; the Pope comes, in Christ's name, as his vicar, but invades and usurps all his offices, and so is a rival with him, and, as such, an enemy to him, a deceiver, and an antichrist.
[3.] These false Christs and false prophets would have their agents and emissaries busy in all places to draw people in to them, Matthew 24:23; Matthew 24:23. Then when public troubles are great and threatening, and people will be catching at any thing that looks like deliverance, then Satan will take the advantage of imposing on them; they will say, Lo, here is a Christ, or there is one; but do not mind them: the true Christ did not strive, nor cry; nor was it said of him, Lo, here! or Lo, there! (Luke 17:21), therefore if any man say so concerning him, look upon it as a temptation. The hermits, who place religion in a monastical life, say, He is in the desert; the priests, who made the consecrated wafer to be Christ, say, "He is en tois tameiois--in the cupboards, in the secret chambers: lo, he is in this shrine, in that image." Thus some appropriate Christ's spiritual presence to one party or persuasion, as if they had the monopoly of Christ and Christianity; and the kingdom of Christ must stand and fall, must live and die, with them; "Lo, he is in this church, in that council:" whereas Christ is All in all, not here or there, but meets his people with a blessing in every place where he records his name.
(2.) The proof they should offer for the making good of these pretences; They shall show great signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:24), not true miracles, those are a divine seal, and with those the doctrine of Christ stands confirmed; and therefore if any offer to draw us from that by signs and wonders, we must have recourse to that rule given of old (Deuteronomy 13:1-3), If the sign or wonder come to pass, yet follow not him that would draw you to serve other gods, or believe in other Christs, for the Lord your God proveth you. But these were lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9), wrought by Satan (God permitting him), who is the prince of the power of the air. It is not said, They shall work miracles, but, They shall show great signs; they are but a show; either they impose upon men's credulity by false narratives, or deceive their senses by tricks of legerdemain, or arts of divination, as the magicians of Egypt by their enchantments.
(3.) The success they should have in these attempts,
[1.] They shall deceive many (Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:5), and again, Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:11. Note, The devil and his instruments may prevail far in deceiving poor souls; few find the strait gate, but many are drawn into the broad way; many will be imposed upon by their signs and wonders, and many drawn in by the hopes of deliverance from their oppressions. Note, Neither miracles nor multitudes are certain signs of a true church; for all the world wonders after the beast,Revelation 13:3.
[2.] They shall deceive, if it were possible, the very elect,Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:24. This bespeaks, First, The strength of the delusion; it is such as many shall be carried away by (so strong shall the stream be), even those that were thought to stand fast. Men's knowledge, gifts, learning, eminent station, and long profession, will not secure them; but, notwithstanding these, many will be deceived; nothing but the almighty grace of God, pursuant to his eternal purpose, will be a protection. Secondly, The safety of the elect in the midst of this danger, which is taken for granted in that parenthesis, If it were possible, plainly implying that it is not possible, for they are kept by the power of God, that the purpose of God, according to the election, may stand. It is possible for those that have been enlightened to fall away (Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 6:5; Hebrews 6:6), but not for those that were elected. If God's chosen ones should be deceived, God's choice would be defeated, which is not to be imagined, for whom he did predestinate, he called, justified, and glorified,Romans 8:30. They were given to Christ; and of all that were given to him, he will lose none, John 10:28. Grotius will have this to be meant of the great difficulty of drawing the primitive Christians from their religion, and quotes it as used proverbially by Galen; when he would express a thing very difficult and morally impossible, he saith, "You may sooner draw away a Christian from Christ."
(4.) The repeated cautions which our Saviour gives to his disciples to stand upon their guard against them; therefore he gave them warning, that they might watch ( Matthew 24:25; Matthew 24:25); Behold, I have told you before. He that is told before where he will be assaulted, may save himself, as the king of Israel did, 2 Kings 6:9; 2 Kings 6:10. Note, Christ's warnings are designed to engage our watchfulness; and though the elect shall be preserved from delusion, yet they shall be preserved by the use of appointed means, and a due regard to the cautions of the word; we are kept through faith, faith in Christ's word, which he has told us before.
[1.] We must not believe those who say, Lo, here is Christ; or, Lo, he is there,Matthew 24:23; Matthew 24:23. We believe that the true Christ is at the right hand of God, and that his spiritual presence is where two or three are gathered together in his name; believe not those therefore who would draw you off from a Christ in heaven, by telling you he is any where on earth; or draw you off from the catholic church on earth, by telling you he is here, or he is there; believe it not. Note, There is not a greater enemy to true faith than vain credulity. The simple believeth every word, and runs after every cry. Memneso apistein--Beware of believing.
[2.] We must not go forth after those that say, He is in the desert, or, He is in the secret chambers,Matthew 24:26; Matthew 24:26. We must not hearken to every empiric and pretender, nor follow every one that puts up the finger to point us to a new Christ, and a new gospel; "Go not forth, for if you do, you are in danger of being taken by them; therefore keep out of harm's way, be not carried about with every wind; many a man's vain curiosity to go forth hath led him into a fatal apostasy; your strength at such a time is to sit still, to have the heart established with grace."
II. He foretels wars and great commotions among the nations, Matthew 24:6; Matthew 24:7. When Christ was born, there was a universal peace in the empire, the temple of Janus was shut; but think not that Christ came to send, or continue such a peace (Luke 12:51); no, his city and his wall are to be built even in troublesome times, and even wars shall forward his work. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword did never depart from their house, the sword of the Lord was never quiet, because he had given it a charge against a hypocritical nation and the people of his wrath, and by it brought ruin upon them.
Here is, 1. A prediction of the event of the day; You will now shortly hear of wars, and rumours of wars. When wars are, they will be heard; for every battle of the warrior is with confused noise,Isaiah 9:5. See how terrible it is (Jeremiah 4:19), Thou hast heard, O my soul, the alarm of war! Even the quiet in the land, and the least inquisitive after new things, cannot but hear the rumours of war. See what comes of refusing the gospel! Those that will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. God has a sword ready to avenge the quarrel of his covenant, his new covenant. Nation shall rise up against nation, that is, one part or province of the Jewish nation against another, one city against another (2 Chronicles 15:5; 2 Chronicles 15:6); and in the same province and city one party or faction shall rise up against another, so that they shall be devoured by, and dashed in pieces against one another, Isaiah 9:19-21.
2. A prescription of the duty of the day; See that ye be not troubled. Is it possible to hear such sad news, and not be troubled? Yet, where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid, no not of the evil tidings of wars, and rumours of wars; no not the noise of Arm, arm. Be not troubled; Me throeithe--Be not put into confusion or commotion; not put into throes, as a woman with child by a fright; see that ye be not orate. Note, There is need of constant care and watchfulness to keep trouble from the heart when there are wars abroad; and it is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts even in troublous times.
We must not be troubled, for two reasons.
(1.) Because we are bid to expect this: the Jews must be punished, ruin must be brought upon them; by this the justice of God and the honour of the Redeemer must be asserted; and therefore all those things must come to pass; the word is gone out of God's mouth, and it shall be accomplished in its season. Note, The consideration of the unchangeableness of the divine counsels, which govern all events, should compose and quiet our spirits, whatever happens. God is but performing the thing that is appointed for us, and our inordinate trouble is an interpretative quarrel with that appointment. Let us therefore acquiesce, because these things must come to pass; not only necessitate decreti--as the product of the divine counsel, but necessitate medii--as a means in order to a further end. The old house must be taken down (though it cannot be done without noise, and dust, and danger), ere the new fabric can be erected: the things that are shaken (and ill shaken they were) must be removed, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain,Hebrews 12:27.
(2.) Because we are still to expect worse; The end is not yet; the end of time is not, and, while time lasts, we must expect trouble, and that the end of one affliction will be but the beginning of another; or, "The end of these troubles is not yet; there must be more judgments that one made use of to bring down the Jewish power; more vials of wrath must yet be poured out; there is but one woe past, more woes are yet to come, more arrows are yet to be spent upon them out of God's quiver; therefore be not troubled, do not give way to fear and trouble, sink not under the present burthen, but rather gather in all the strength and spirit you have, to encounter what is yet before you. Be not troubled to hear of wars and rumours of wars; for then what will become of you when the famines and pestilences come?" If it be to us a vexation but to understand the report (Isaiah 28:19), what will it be to feel the stroke when it toucheth the bone and the flesh? If running with the footmen weary us, how shall we contend with horses? And if we be frightened at a little brook in our way, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan?Jeremiah 12:5.
III. He foretels other judgments more immediately sent of God--famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. Famine is often the effect of war, and pestilence of famine. These were the three judgments which David was to choose one out of; and he was in a great strait, for he knew not which was the worst: but what dreadful desolations will they make, when they all pour in together upon a people! Beside war (and that is enough), there shall be,
1. Famine, signified by the black horse under the third seal, Revelation 6:5,Revelation 6:6. We read of a famine in Judea, not long after Christ's time, which was very impoverishing (Acts 11:28); but the sorest famine was in Jerusalem during the siege. See Lamentations 4:9,Lamentations 4:10.
[3.] That then all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, Matthew 24:30. See Revelation 1:7. All the kindreds of the earth shall then wail because of him; some of all the tribes and kindreds of the earth shall mourn; for the greater part will tremble at his approach, while the chosen remnant, one of a family and two of a tribe, shall lift up their heads with joy, knowing that their redemption draws nigh, and their Redeemer. Note, Sooner or later, all sinners will be mourners; penitent sinners look to Christ, and mourn after a godly sort; and they who sow in those tears, shall shortly reap in joy; impenitent sinners shall look unto him whom they have pierced, and, though they laugh now, shall mourn and weep after a devilish sort, in endless horror and despair.
[4.] That then they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. Note, First, The judgment of the great day will be committed to the Son of man, both in pursuance and in recompence of his great undertaking for us as Mediator, John 5:22, John 5:27. Secondly, The Son of man will at that day come in the clouds of heaven. Much of the sensible intercourse between heaven and earth is by the clouds; they are betwixt them, as it were, the medium participationis - the medium of participation, drawn by heaven from the earth, distilled by heaven upon the earth. Christ went to heaven in a cloud, and will in like manner come again, Acts 1:9, Acts 1:11. Behold, he cometh in the clouds, Revelation 1:7. A cloud will be the Judge's chariot (Psalms 104:3), his robe (Revelation 10:1), his pavilion (Psalms 18:11), his throne, Revelation 14:14. When the world was destroyed by water, the judgment came in the clouds of heaven, for the windows of heaven were opened; so shall it be when it shall be destroyed by fire. Christ went before Israel in a cloud, which had a bright side and a dark side; so will the cloud have in which Christ will come at the great day, it will bring both comfort and terror. Thirdly, He will come with power and great glory: his first coming was in weakness and great meanness (2 Corinthians 13:4); but his second coming will be with power and glory, agreeable both to the dignity of his person and to the purposes of his coming. Fourthly, He will be seen with bodily eyes in his coming: therefore the Son of man will be the Judge, that he may be seen, that sinners thereby may be the more confounded, who shall see him as Balaam did, but not nigh (Numbers 24:17), see him, but not as theirs. It added to the torment of that damned sinner, that he saw Abraham afar off. “Is this he whom we have slighted, and rejected, and rebelled against; whom we have crucified to ourselves afresh; who might have been our Saviour, but is our Judge, and will be our enemy for ever?” The Desire of all nations will then be their dread.
[5.] That he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, Matthew 24:31. Note, First, The angels shall be attendants upon Christ at his second coming; they are called his angels, which proves him to be God, and Lord of the angels; they shall be obliged to wait upon him. Secondly, These attendants shall be employed by him as officers of the court in the judgment of that day; they are now ministering spirits sent forth by him (Hebrews 1:14), and will be so then. Thirdly, Their ministration will be ushered in with a great sound of a trumpet, to awaken and alarm a sleeping world. This trumpet is spoken of, 1 Corinthians 15:52, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. At the giving of the law on mount Sinai, the sound of the trumpet was remarkably terrible (Exodus 19:13, Exodus 19:16); but much more will it be so in the great day. By the law, trumpets were to be sounded for the calling of assemblies (Numbers 10:2), in praising God (Psalms 81:3), in offering sacrifices (Numbers 10:10), and in proclaiming the year of jubilee, Leviticus 25:9. Very fitly therefore shall there be the sound of a trumpet at the last day, when the general assembly shall be called, when the praises of God shall be gloriously celebrated, when sinners shall fall as sacrifices to divine justice, and when the saints shall enter upon their eternal jubilee.
[6.] That they shall gather together his elect from the four winds. Note, At the second coming of Jesus Christ, there will be a general meeting of all the saints. First, The elect only will be gathered, the chosen remnant, who are but few in comparison with the many that are only called. This is the foundation of the saints' eternal happiness, that they are God's elect. The gifts of love to eternity follow the thought of love from eternity; and the Lord knows them that are his. Secondly, The angels shall be employed to bring them together, as Christ's servants, and as the saints' friends; we have the commission given them, Psalms 50:5 Gather my saints together unto me; nay, it will be said to them, Habetis fratres - These are your brethren; for the elect will then be equal to the angels, Luke 20:36. Thirdly, They shall be gathered from one end of heaven to the other; the elect of God are scattered abroad (John 11:52), there are some in all places, in all nations (Revelation 7:9); but when that great gathering day comes, there shall not one of them be missing; distance of place shall keep none out of heaven, if distance of affection do not. Undique ad coelos tantundem est viae - Heaven is equally accessible from every place. See Luke 8:11; Isaiah 43:6; Isaiah 49:12.
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. 45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49 And shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We have here the practical application of the foregoing prediction; in general, we must expect and prepare for the events here foretold.
I. We must expect them; "Now learn a parable of the fig-tree,Matthew 24:32; Matthew 24:33. Now learn what use to make of the things you have heard; so observe and understand the signs of the times, and compare them with the predictions of the word, as from thence to foresee what is at the door, that you may provide accordingly." The parable of the fig-tree is no more than this, that its budding and blossoming are a presage of summer; for as the stork in the heaven, so the trees of the field, know their appointed time. The beginning of the working of second causes assures us of the progress and perfection of it. Thus when God begins to fulfil prophecies, he will make an end. There is a certain series in the works of providence, as there is in the works of nature. The signs of the times are compared with the prognostics of the face of the sky (Matthew 16:3; Matthew 16:3), so here with those of the face of the earth; when that is renewed, we foresee that summer is coming, not immediately, but at some distance; after the branch grows tender, we expect the March winds, and the April showers, before the summer comes; however, we are sure it is coming; "so likewise ye, when the gospel day shall dawn, count upon it, that through this variety of events which I have told you of, the perfect day will come. The things revealed must shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1); they must come in their own order, in the order appointed for them. Know that it is near." He does not here say what, but it is that which the hearts of his disciples are upon, and which they are inquisitive after, and long for; the kingdom of God is near, so it is expressed in the parallel place, Luke 21:31. Note, When the trees of righteousness begin to bud and blossom, when God's people promise faithfulness, it is a happy presage of good times. In them God begins his work, first prepares their heart, and then he will go on with it; for, as for God, his work is perfect; and he will revive it in the midst of their years.
Now touching the events foretold here, which we are to expect,
1. Christ here assures us of the certainty of them (Matthew 24:35; Matthew 24:35); Heaven and earth shall pass away; they continue this day indeed, according to God's ordinance, but they shall not continue for ever (Psalms 102:25; Psalms 102:26; 2 Peter 3:10); but my words shall not pass away. Note, The word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth. Hath he spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power, and virtue. See 1 Peter 1:24; 1 Peter 1:25. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Luke 16:17. Compare Isaiah 54:10. The accomplishment of these prophecies might seem to be delayed, and intervening events might seem to disagree with them, but do not think that therefore the word of Christ is fallen to the ground, for that shall never pass away: though it be not fulfilled, either in the time or in the way that we have prescribed; yet, in God's time, which is the best time, and in God's way, which is the best way, it shall certainly be fulfilled. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.
2. He here instructs us as to the time of them, Matthew 24:34; Matthew 24:36. As to this, it is well observed by the learned Grotius, that there is a manifest distinction made between the tauta (Matthew 24:34; Matthew 24:34), and the ekeine (Matthew 24:36; Matthew 24:36), these things, and that day and hour; which will help to clear this prophecy.
(1.) As to these things, the wars, seductions, and persecutions, here foretold, and especially the ruin of the Jewish nation; "This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled (Matthew 24:34; Matthew 24:34); there are those now alive, that shall see Jerusalem destroyed, and the Jewish church brought to an end." Because it might seem strange, he backs it with a solemn asseveration; "Verily, I say unto you. You may take my word for it, these things are at the door." Christ often speaks of the nearness of that desolation, the more to affect people, and quicken them to prepare for it. Note, There may be greater trials and troubles yet before us, in our own day, than we are aware of. They that are old, know not what sons of Anak may be reserved for their last encounters.
(2.) But as to that day and hour which will put a period to time, that knoweth no man,Matthew 24:36; Matthew 24:36. Therefore take heed of confounding these two, as they did, who, from the words of Christ and the apostles; letters, inferred that the day of Christ was at hand,2 Thessalonians 2:2. No, it was not; this generation, and many another, shall pass, before that day and hour come. Note, [1.] There is a certain day and hour fixed for the judgment to come; it is called the day of the Lord, because so unalterably fixed. None of God's judgments are adjourned sine die--without the appointment of a certain day. [2.] That day and hour are a great secret.
But Heaven has wisely hid from human sight The dark decrees of future fate, And sown their seeds in depth of nights.--HORACE.
No man knows it; not the wisest by their sagacity, not the best by any divine discovery. We all know that there shall be such a day; but none knows when it shall be, no, not the angels; though their capacities for knowledge are great, and their opportunities of knowing this advantageous (they dwell at the fountain-head of light), and though they are to be employed in the solemnity of that day, yet they are not told when it shall be: none knows but my Father only. This is one of those secret things which belong to the Lord our God. The uncertainty of the time of Christ's coming, is, to those who are watchful, a savour of life unto life, and makes them more watchful; but to those who are careless, it is a savour of death unto death, and makes them more careless.
II. To this end we must expect these events, that we may prepare for them; and here we have a caution against security and sensuality, which will make it a dismal day indeed to us, Matthew 24:37-41; Matthew 24:37-41. In these verses we have such an idea given us of the judgment day, as may serve to startle and awaken us, that we may not sleep as others do.
It will be a surprising day, and a separating day.
1. It will be a surprising day, as the deluge was to the old world, Matthew 24:37-39; Matthew 24:37-39. That which he here intends to describe, is, the posture of the world at the coming of the Son of man; besides his first coming, to save, he has other comings to judge. He saith (John 9:39), For judgment I am come; and for judgment he will come; for all judgment is committed to him, both that of the word, and that of the sword.
Now this here is applicable,
(1.) To temporal judgments, particularly that which was now hastening upon the nation and people of the Jews; though they had fair warning given them of it, and there were many prodigies that were presages of it, yet it found them secure, crying, Peace and safety,1 Thessalonians 5:3. The siege was laid to Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian, when they were met at the passover in the midst of their mirth; like the men of Laish, they dwelt careless when the ruin arrested them, Judges 18:7; Judges 18:27. The destruction of Babylon, both that in the Old Testament and that in the New, comes when she saith, I shall be a lady for ever,Isaiah 47:7-9; Revelation 18:7. Therefore the plagues come in a moment, in one day. Note, Men's unbelief shall not make God's threatenings of no effect.
(2.) To the eternal judgment; so the judgment of the great day is called, Hebrews 6:2. Though notice has been given of it from Enoch, yet, when it comes, it will be unlooked for by the most of men; the latter days, which are nearest to that day, will produce scoffers, that say, Where is the promise of his coming?2 Peter 3:3; 2 Peter 3:4; Luke 18:8. Thus it will be when the world that now is shall be destroyed by fire; for thus it was when the old world, being overflowed by water, perished, 2 Peter 3:6; 2 Peter 3:7. Now Christ here shows what were the temper and posture of the old world when the deluge came.
[1.] They were sensual and worldly; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. It is not said, They were killing and stealing, and whoring and swearing (these were indeed the horrid crimes of some of the worst of them; the earth was full of violence); but they were all of them, except Noah, over head and ears in the world, and regardless of the word of God, and this ruined them. Note, Universal neglect of religion is a more dangerous symptom to any people than particular instances here and there of daring irreligion. Eating and drinking are necessary to the preservation of man's life; marrying and giving in marriage are necessary to the preservation of mankind; but, Licitus perimus omnes--These lawful things undo us, unlawfully managed. First, They were unreasonable in it, inordinate and entire in the pursuit of the delights of sense, and the gains of the world; they were wholly taken up with these things, esan trogontes--they were eating; they were in these things as in their element, as if they had their being for no other end than to eat and drink,Isaiah 56:12. Secondly, They were unreasonable in it; they were entire and intent upon the world and the flesh, when the destruction was at the door, which they had had such fair warning of. They were eating and drinking, when they should have been repenting and praying; when God, by the ministry of Noah, called to weeping and mourning, then joy and gladness. This was to them, as it was to Israel afterwards, the unpardonable sin (Isaiah 22:12; Isaiah 22:14), especially, because it was in defiance of those warnings by which they should have been awakened. "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die; if it must be a short life, let it be a merry one." The apostle James speaks of this as the general practice of the wealthy Jews before the destruction of Jerusalem; when they should have been weeping for the miseries that were coming upon them, they were living in pleasure, and nourishing their hearts as in a day of slaughter,James 5:1; James 5:5.
[2.] They were secure and careless; they knew not, until the flood came,Matthew 24:39; Matthew 24:39. Knew not! Surely they could not but know. Did not God, by Noah, give them fair warning of it? Did he not call them to repentance, while his long-suffering waited? 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 3:20. But they knew not, that is, they believed not; they might have known, but would not know. Note, What we know of the things that belong to our everlasting peace, if we do not mix faith with it, and improve it, is all one as if we did not know it at all. Their not knowing is joined with their eating, and drinking, and marrying; for, First, Therefore they were sensual, because they were secure. Note, the reason why people are so eager in the pursuit, and so entangled in the pleasures of this world, is, because they do not know, and believe, and consider, the eternity which they are upon the brink of. Did we know aright that all these things must shortly be dissolved, and we must certainly survive them, we should not set our eyes and hearts so much upon them as we do. Secondly, Therefore they were secure, because they were sensual; therefore they knew not that the flood was coming, because they were eating and drinking; were so taken up with things seen and present, that they had neither time nor heart to mind the things not seen as yet, which they were warned of. Note, As security bolsters men up in their brutal sensuality; so sensuality rocks them asleep in their carnal security. The knew not, until the flood came. 1. The flood did come, though they would not foresee it. Note, Those that will not know by faith, shall be made to know by feeling, the wrath of God revealed from heaven against their ungodliness and unrighteousness. The evil day is never the further off for men's putting it far off from them. 2. They did not know it till it was too late to prevent it, as they might have done if they had known it in time, which made it so much the more grievous. Judgments are most terrible and amazing to the secure, and those that have made a jest of them.
The application of this, concerning the old world, we have in these words; So shall the coming of the Son of man be; that is, (1.) In such a posture shall he find people, eating and drinking, and not expecting him. Note, Security and sensuality are likely to be the epidemical diseases of the latter days. All slumber and sleep, and at midnight the bridegroom comes. All are off their watch, and at their ease. (2.) With such a power, and for such a purpose, will he come upon them. As the flood took away the sinners of the old world, irresistibly and irrecoverably; so shall secure sinners, that mocked at Christ and his coming, be taken away by the wrath of the Lamb, when the great day of his wrath comes, which will be like the coming of the deluge, a destruction which there is no fleeing from.
2. It will be a separating day (Matthew 24:40; Matthew 24:41); Then shall two be in the field. Two ways this may be applied.
(1.) We may apply it to the success of the gospel, especially at the first preaching of it; it divided the world; some believed the things which were spoken, and were taken to Christ; others believed not, and were left to perish in their unbelief. Those of the same age, place, capacity, employment, and condition, in the world, grinding in the same mill, those of the same family, nay, those that were joined in the same bond of marriage, were, one effectually called, the other passed by, and left in the gall of bitterness. This is that division, that separating fire, which Christ came to send,Luke 12:49; Luke 12:51. This renders free grace the more obliging, that it is distinguishing; to us, and not to the world (John 14:22), nay to us, and not to those in the same field, the same mill, the same house.
When ruin came upon Jerusalem, a distinction was made by Divine Providence, according to that which had been before made by divine grace; for all the Christians among them were saved from perishing in that calamity, by the special care of Heaven. If two were at work in the field together, and one of them was a Christian, he was taken into a place of shelter, and had his life given him for a prey, while the other was left to the sword of the enemy. Nay, if but two women were grinding at the mill, if one of them belonged to Christ, though but a woman, a poor woman, a servant, she was taken to a place of safety, and the other abandoned. Thus the meek of the earth are hid in the day of the Lord's anger (Zephaniah 2:3), either in heaven, or under heaven. Note, Distinguishing preservations, in times of general destruction, are special tokens of God's favour, and ought so to be acknowledged. If we are safe when thousands fall on our right hand and our left, are not consumed when others are consumed round about us, so that we are as brands plucked out of the fire, we have reason to say, It is of the Lord's mercies, and it is a great mercy.
(2.) We may apply it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the separation which will be made in that day. He had said before (Matthew 24:31; Matthew 24:31), that the elect will be gathered together. Here he tells us, that, in order to that, they will be distinguished from those who were nearest to them in this world; the choice and chosen ones taken to glory, the other left to perish eternally. Those who sleep in the dust of the earth, two in the same grave, their ashed mixed, shall yet arise, one to be taken to everlasting life, the other left to shame and everlasting contempt,Daniel 12:2. Here it is applied to them who shall be found alive. Christ will come unlooked for, will find people busy at their usual occupations, in the field, at the mill; and then, according as they are vessels of mercy prepared for glory, or vessels of wrath prepared for ruin, accordingly it will be with them; the one taken to meet the Lord and his angels in the air, to be for ever with him and them; the other left to the devil and his angels, who, when Christ has gathered out his own, will sweep up the residue. This will aggravate the condemnation of sinners that others shall be taken from the midst of them to glory, and they left behind. And it speaks abundance of comfort to the Lord's people. [1.] Are they mean and despised in the world, as the man-servant in the field, or the maid at the mill (Exodus 11:5)? Yet they shall not be forgotten or overlooked in that day. The poor in the world, if rich in faith, are heirs of the kingdom. [2.] Are they dispersed in distant and unlikely places, where one would not expect to find the heirs of glory, in the field, at the mill? Yet the angels will find them there (hidden as Saul among the stuff, when they are to be enthroned), and fetch them thence; and well may they be said to be changed, for a very great change it will be to go to heaven from ploughing and grinding. [3.] Are they weak, and unable of themselves to move heavenward? They shall be taken, or laid hold of, as Lot was taken out of Sodom by a gracious violence, Genesis 19:16. Those whom Christ has once apprehended and laid hold on, he will never lose his hold of. [4.] Are they intermixed with others, linked with them in the same habitations, societies, employments? Let not that discourage any true Christian; God knows how to separate between the precious and the vile, the gold and dross in the same lump, the wheat and chaff in the same floor.
III. Here is a general exhortation to us, to watch, and be ready against that day comes, enforced by divers weighty considerations, Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:42, c. Observe,
1. The duty required Watch, and be ready,Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44.
(1.) Watch therefore,Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:42. Note, It is the great duty and interest of all the disciples of Christ to watch, to be awake and keep awake, that they may mind their business. As a sinful state or way is compared to sleep, senseless and inactive (1 Thessalonians 5:6), so a gracious state or way is compared to watching and waking. We must watch for our Lord's coming, to us in particular at our death, after which is the judgment, that is the great day with us, the end of our time; and his coming at the end of all time to judge the world, the great day with all mankind. To watch implies not only to believe that our Lord will come, but to desire that he would come, to be often thinking of his coming, and always looking for it as sure and near, and the time of it uncertain. To watch for Christ's coming, is to maintain that gracious temper and disposition of mind which we should be willing that our Lord, when he comes, should find us in. To watch is to be aware of the first notices of his approach, that we may immediately attend his motions, and address ourselves to the duty of meeting him. Watching is supposed to be in the night, which is sleeping time; while we are in this world, it is night with us, and we must take pains to keep ourselves awake.
(2.) Be ye also ready. We wake in vain, if we do not get ready. It is not enough to look for such things; but we must therefore give diligence,2 Peter 3:11; 2 Peter 3:14. We have then our Lord to attend upon, and we must have our lamps ready trimmed; a cause to be tried, and we must have our plea ready drawn and signed by our Advocate; a reckoning to make up, and we must have our accounts ready stated and balanced; there is an inheritance which we then hope to enter upon, and we must have ourselves ready, made meet to partake of it, Colossians 1:12.
2. The reasons to induce us to this watchfulness and diligent preparation for that day; which are two.
(1.) Because the time of our Lord's coming is very uncertain. This is the reason immediately annexed to the double exhortation (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44); and it is illustrated by a comparison, Matthew 24:43; Matthew 24:43. Let us consider then,
[1.] That we know not what hour he will come,Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:42. We know not the day of our death,Genesis 27:2. We may know that we have but a little time to live (The time of my departure is at hand,2 Timothy 4:6); but we cannot know that we have a long time to live, for our souls are continually in our hands; nor can we know how little a time we have to live, for it may prove less than we expect; much less do we know the time fixed for the general judgment. Concerning both we are kept at uncertainty, that we may, every day, expect that which may come any day; may never boast of a year's continuance (James 4:13), no, nor of tomorrow's return, as if it were ours, Proverbs 27:1; Luke 12:20.
[2.] That he may come at such an hour as we think not,Matthew 24:44; Matthew 24:44. Though there be such uncertainty in the time, there is none in the thing itself: though we know not when he will come, we are sure he will come. His parting word was, Surely I come quickly; his saying, "I come surely," obliges us to expect him: his saying "I come quickly." obliges us to be always expecting him; for it keeps us in a state of expectancy. In such an hour as you think not, that is, such an hour as they who are unready and unprepared, think not (Matthew 24:50; Matthew 24:50); nay, such an hour as the most lively expectants perhaps thought least likely. The bridegroom came when the wise were slumbering. It is agreeable to our present state, that we should be under the influence of a constant and general expectation, rather than that of particular presages and prognostications, which we are sometimes tempted vainly to desire and wish for.
[3.] That the children of this world are thus wise in their generation, that, when they know of a danger approaching, they will keep awake, and stand on their guard against it. This he shows in a particular instance, Matthew 24:43; Matthew 24:43. If the master of a house had notice that a thief would come such a night, and such a watch of the night (for they divided the night into four watches, allowing three hours to each), and would make an attempt upon his house, though it were the midnight-watch, when he was most sleepy, yet he would be up, and listen to every noise in every corner, and be ready to give him a warm reception. Now, though we know not just when our Lord will come, yet, knowing that he will come, and come quickly, and without any other warning than what he hath given in his word, it concerns us to watch always. Note, First, We have every one of us a house to keep, which lies exposed, in which all we are worth is laid up: that house is our own souls, which we must keep with all diligence. Secondly, The day of the Lord comes by surprise, as a thief in the night. Christ chooses to come when he is least expected, that the triumphs of his enemies may be turned into the greater shame, and the fears of his friends into the greater joy. Thirdly, If Christ, when he comes, finds us asleep and unready, our house will be broken up, and we shall lose all we are worth, not as by a thief unjustly, but as by a just and legal process; death and judgment will seize upon all we have, to our irreparable damage and utter undoing. Therefore be ready, be ye also ready; as ready at all times as the good man of the house would be at the hour when he expected the thief: we must put on the armour of God, that we may not only stand in that evil day, but, as more than conquerors, may divide the spoil.
(2.) Because the issue of our Lord's coming will be very happy and comfortable to those that shall be found ready, but very dismal and dreadful to those that shall not, Matthew 24:45; Matthew 24:45, c. This is represented by the different state of good and bad servants, when their lord comes to reckon with them. It is likely to be well or ill with us to eternity, according as we are found ready or unready at that day for Christ comes to render to every man according to his works. Now this parable, with which the chapter closes, is applicable to all Christians, who are in profession and obligation God's servants; but it seems especially intended as a warning to ministers; for the servant spoken of is a steward. Now observe what Christ here saith,
[1.] Concerning the good servant; he shows here what he is--a ruler of the household; what, being so, he should be--faithful and wise; and what, if he be so, he shall be eternally-blessed. Here are good instructions and encouragements to the ministers of Christ.
First, We have here his place and office. He is one whom the Lord has made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season. Note, 1. The church of Christ is his household, or family, standing in relation to him as the Father and Master of it. It is the household of God, a family named from Christ, Ephesians 3:15. 2. Gospel ministers are appointed rulers in this household; not at princes (Christ has entered a caveat against that), but as stewards, or other subordinate officers; not as lords, but as guides; not to prescribe new ways, but to show and lead in the ways that Christ has appointed: that is the signification of the hegoumenoi, which we translate, having rule over you (Hebrews 13:17); as overseers, not to cut out new work, but to direct in, and quicken to, the work which Christ has ordered; that is the signification of episkopoi--bishops. They are rulers by Christ; what power they have is derived from him, and none may take it from them, or abridge it to them; he is one whom the Lord has made ruler; Christ has the making of ministers. They are rulers under Christ, and act in subordination to him; and rulers for Christ, for the advancement of his kingdom. 3. The work of gospel ministers is to give to Christ's household their meat in due season, as stewards, and therefore they have the keys delivered to them. (1.) Their work is to give, not take to themselves (Ezekiel 34:8), but give to the family what the Master has bought, to dispense what Christ has purchased. And to ministers it is said, that it is more blessed to give than to receive,Acts 20:35. (2.) It is to give meat; not to give law (that is Christ's work), but to deliver those doctrines to the church which, if duly digested, will be nourishment to souls. They must give, not the poison of false doctrines, not the stones of hard and unprofitable doctrines, but the meat that is sound and wholesome. (3.) It must be given in due season, en kairo--while there is time for it; when eternity comes, it will be too late; we must work while it is day: or in time, that is, whenever any opportunity offers itself; or in the stated time, time after time, according as the duty of every day requires.
Secondly, His right discharge of this office. The good servant, if thus preferred, will be a good steward; for,
1. He is faithful; stewards must be so, 1 Corinthians 4:2. He that is trusted, must be trusty; and the greater the trust is, the more is expected from them. It is a great good thing that is committed to ministers (2 Timothy 1:14); and they must be faithful, as Moses was, Hebrews 3:2. Christ counts those ministers, and those only, that are faithful,1 Timothy 1:12. A faithful minister of Jesus Christ is one that sincerely designs his master's honour, not his own; delivers the whole counsel of God, not his own fancies and conceits; follows Christ's institutions and adheres to them; regards the meanest, reproves the greatest, and doth not respect persons.
2. He is wise to understand his duty and the proper season of it; and in guiding of the flock there is need, not only of the integrity of the heart, but the skilfulness of the hands. Honesty may suffice for a good servant, but wisdom is necessary to a good steward; for it is profitable to direct.
3. He is doing; so doing as his office requires. The ministry is a good work, and they whose office it is, have always something to do; they must not indulge themselves in ease, nor leave the work undone, or carelessly turn it off to others, but be doing, and doing to the purpose--so doing, giving meat to the household, minding their own business, and not meddling with that which is foreign; so doing as the Master has appointed, as the office imports, and as the case of the family requires; not talking, but doing. It was the motto Mr. Perkins used, Minister verbi es--You are a minister of the word. Not only Age--Be doing; but Hoc age--Be so doing.
4. He is found doing when his Master comes; which intimates, (1.) Constancy at his work. At what hour soever his Master comes, he is found busy at the work of the day. Ministers should not leave empty spaces in their time, lest their Lord should come in one of those empty spaces. As with a good God the end of one mercy is the beginning of another, so with a good man, a good minister, the end of one duty is the beginning of another. When Calvin was persuaded to remit his ministerial labours, he answered, with some resentment, "What, would you have my Master find me idle?" (2.) Perseverance in his work till the Lord come. Hold fast till then,Revelation 2:25. Continue in these things,1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Timothy 6:14. Endure to the end.
Thirdly, The recompence of reward intended him for this, in three things.
1. He shall be taken notice of. This is intimated in these words, Who then is that faithful and wise servant? Which supposes that there are but few who answer this character; such an interpreter is one of a thousand, such a faithful and wise steward. Those who thus distinguish themselves now by humility, diligence, and sincerity in their work, Christ will in the great day both dignify and distinguish by the glory conferred on them.
2. He shall be blessed? Blessed is that servant; and Christ's pronouncing him blessed makes him so. All the dead that die n the Lord are blessed, Revelation 14:13. But there is a peculiar blessedness secured to them that approve themselves faithful stewards, and are found so doing. Next to the honour of those who die in the field of battle, suffering for Christ as the martyrs, is the honour of those that die in the field of service, ploughing, and sowing, and reaping, for Christ.
3. He shall be preferred (Matthew 24:47; Matthew 24:47); He shall make him ruler over all his goods. The allusion is to the way of great men, who, if the stewards of their house conduct themselves well in that place, commonly prefer them to be the managers of their estates; thus Joseph was preferred in the house of Potiphar, Genesis 29:4; Genesis 29:6. But the greatest honour which the kindest master ever did to his most tried servants in this world, is nothing to that weight of glory which the Lord Jesus will confer upon his faithful watchful servants in the world to come. What is here said by a similitude, is the same that is said more plainly, John 11:26, Him will my Father honour. And God's servants, when thus preferred; shall be perfect in wisdom and holiness to bear that weight of glory, so that there is no danger from these servants when they reign.
[2.] Concerning the evil servant. Here we have,
First, His description given (Matthew 24:48; Matthew 24:49); where we have the wretch drawn in his own colours. The vilest of creatures is a wicked man, the vilest of men is a wicked Christian, and the vilest of them a wicked minister. Corruptio optimi est pessima--What is best, when corrupted, becomes the worst. Wickedness in the prophets of Jerusalem is a horrible thing indeed, Jeremiah 23:14. Here is,
1. The cause of his wickedness; and that is, a practical disbelief of Christ's second coming; He hath said in his heart, My Lord delays his coming; and therefore he begins to think he will never come, but has quite forsaken his church. Observe, (1.) Christ knows that they say in their hearts, who with their lips cry, Lord, Lord, as this servant here. (2.) The delay of Christ's coming, though it is a gracious instance of his patience, is greatly abused by wicked people, whose hearts are thereby hardened in their wicked ways. When Christ's coming is looked upon as doubtful, or a thing at an immense distance, the hearts of men are fully set to do evil,Ecclesiastes 8:11. See Ezekiel 12:27. They that walk by sense, are ready to say of the unseen Jesus, as the people did of Moses when he tarried in the mount upon their errand, We wot not what is become of him, and therefore up, make us gods, the world a god, the belly a god, any thing but him that should be.
2. The particulars of his wickedness; and they are sins of the first magnitude; he is a slave to his passions and his appetites.
(1.) Persecution is here charged upon him. He begins to smite his fellow servants. Note, [1.] Even the stewards of the house are to look upon all the servants of the house as their fellow servants, and therefore are forbidden to lord it over them. If the angel call himself fellow servant to John (Revelation 19:10), no marvel if John have learned to call himself brother to the Christians of the churches of Asia, Revelation 1:9. [2.] It is no new thing to see evil servants smiting their fellow servants; both private Christians and faithful ministers. He smites them, either because they reprove him, or because they will not bow, and do him reverence; will not say as he saith, and do as he doeth, against their consciences: he smites them with the tongue, as they smote the prophet, Jeremiah 18:18. And if he get power into his hand, or can press those into his service that have, as the ten horns upon the head of the beast, it goes further. Pashur the priest smote Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks, Jeremiah 20:2. The revolters have often been of all others most profound to make slaughter,Hosea 5:2. The steward, when he smites his fellow servants, does it under colour of his Master's authority, and in his name; he says, Let the Lord be glorified (Isaiah 66:5); but he shall know that he could not put a greater affront upon his Master.
(2.) Profaneness and immorality; He begins to eat and drink with the drunken. [1.] He associates with the worst of sinners, has fellowship with them, is intimate with them; he walks in their counsel, stands in their way, sits in their seat, and sings their songs. The drunken are the merry and jovial company, and those he is for, and thus he hardens them in their wickedness. [2.] He does like them; eats, and drinks, and is drunken; so it is in Luke. This is an inlet to all manner of sin. Drunkenness is a leading wickedness; they who are slaves to that, are never masters of themselves in any thing else. The persecutors of God's people have commonly been the most vicious and immoral men. Persecuting consciences, whatever the pretensions be, are commonly the most profligate and debauched consciences. What will not they be drunk with, that will be drunk with the blood of the saints? Well, this is the description of a wicked minister, who yet may have the common gifts of learning and utterance above others; and, as hath been said of some, may preach so well in the pulpit, that it is a pity he should ever come out, and yet live so ill out of the pulpit, that it is a pity he should ever come in.
Secondly, His doom read, Matthew 24:50; Matthew 24:51. The coat and character of wicked ministers will not only not secure them from condemnation, but will greatly aggravate it. They can plead no exemption from Christ's jurisdiction, whatever they pretend to, in the church of Rome, from that of the civil magistrate; there is no benefit of clergy at Christ's bar. Observe,
1. The surprise that will accompany his doom (Matthew 24:50; Matthew 24:50); The Lord of that servant will come. Note, (1.) Our putting off the thoughts of Christ's coming will not put off his coming. Whatever fancy he deludes himself with, his Lord will come. The unbelief of man shall not make that great promise, or threatening (call it which you will), of no effect. (2.) The coming of Christ will be a most dreadful surprise to secure and careless sinners, especially to wicked ministers; He shall come in a day when he looketh not for him. Note, Those that have slighted the warnings of the word, and silenced those of their own consciences concerning the judgment to come, cannot expect any other warnings; these will be adjudged sufficient legal notice given, whether taken or no; and no unfairness can be charged on Christ, if he come suddenly, without giving other notice. Behold, he has told us before.
2. The severity of his doom, Matthew 24:51; Matthew 24:51. It is not more severe than righteous, but it is a doom that carries in it utter ruin, wrapt up in two dreadful words, death and damnation.
(1.) Death. His Lord shall cut him asunder, dikotomesei auton, "he shall cut him off from the land of the living," from the congregation of the righteous, shall separate him unto evil; which is the definition of a curse (Deuteronomy 29:21), shall cut him down, as a tree that cumbers the ground; perhaps it alludes to the sentence often used in the law, That soul shall be cut off from his people; denoting an utter extirpation. Death cuts off a good man, as a choice imp is cut off to be grafted in a better stock; but it cuts off a wicked man, as a withered branch is cut off for the fire-cuts him off from this world, which he set his heart so much upon, and was, as it were, one with. Or, as we read it, shall cut him asunder, that is, part body and soul, send the body to the grave to be a prey for worms, and the soul to hell to be a prey for devils, and there is the sinner cut asunder. The soul and body of a godly man at death part fairly, the one cheerfully lifted up to God, the other left to the dust; but the soul and body of a wicked man at death are cut asunder, torn asunder, for to them death is the king of terrors,Job 18:14. The wicked servant divided himself between God and the world, Christ and Belial, his profession and his lusts, justly therefore will he thus be divided.