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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 13:8. Beginnings of sorrows.—Beginning of travail-pangs—the throes that are to issue in the regeneration of the world.
Mark 13:9. Render: But look ye to yourselves; for they shall deliver you unto sanhedrins and unto synagogues; ye shall be beaten; and at-the-bar-of governors and kings ye shall stand on account of Me, for a testimony to them. Meaning of last clause: an opportunity will be given you of proclaiming the truth in the hearing of the highest in the land—those who, in the ordinary course of things, would be unlikely to come in contact with peasants of Galilee.
Mark 13:11. Take no thought beforehand.—Entertain no solicitude as to what, etc. Neither do ye premeditate.—Omitted in many first-rate MSS. and versions. Probably a marginal explanation of preceding clause, which eventually crept into the text.
Mark 13:13. He that shall endure unto the end.—“Here is the cardinal virtue of fortitude, the cheerful hardihood and loyal sense of duty, evinced by Christ’s faithful soldier and servant in meeting all shocks of temptation and all assaults of our enemies; for ὑπομένειν often means to bide the brunt of encounter in battle.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 13:1-13
(PARALLELS: Matthew 24:1-14; Luke 21:5-19.)
The destruction of the Temple.—
I. The function of a prophet.—Of the three characters, Prophet, Priest, and King, which are united in the person of Christ, the first is that in which He was commonly regarded while He lived among men. The original authority of a prophet is grounded, not on the truth of his declarations concerning future events, which can never be ascertained till the accomplishment of those events, but on the proofs of his Divine mission which he offers to his immediate hearers—the signs and wonders which, in connexion with the purity of his doctrine and the holiness of his life, plainly prove him to be a teacher come from God, a prophet at least, if not more than a prophet. When, however, the miracles have done their work, and convinced the men of that generation of the prophetic character of him who performs them, there still remains the test of prophecy, strictly so called—the predictions, if the prophet have uttered any such, relating to future events, to be accomplished in due season. Many such predictions might be gathered out of our Lord’s discourses, and compared with the course of subsequent events, from the time of their delivery unto this day. None, however, will be found more interesting or more convincing than those which He delivered relating to the destruction of that very city and Temple in or near which they were uttered.
II. The prediction of Christ concerning the Temple.—Jerusalem might be called, at that time, a prosperous and flourishing city, not indeed independent, but rather strengthened than weakened by that protection which was extended over it by the Roman power. It was surrounded with lofty walls, along which numerous strong towers were erected at certain distances, according to the best methods of fortification then practised. High above all rose the Temple, at once temple and fortress, to the buildings of which belonged those immense stones which were pointed out to Christ by His disciples on this occasion. Could a finer opportunity have been offered of delivering that prediction which He had always intended to leave behind Him of the approaching destruction of both city and Temple? Or could that destruction have been announced in terms better adapted to sink down into the ears of His disciples? When a building, especially one of the size and massive construction of the Temple, is suffered to fall into decay, its destruction is slow and gradual; and long after the more perishable portions have disappeared the walls remain standing, to shew the form and dimensions of the structure when entire. Even when these have fallen down the foundations continue unimpaired; and no degree of dilapidation, nothing but extreme violence and a deliberate intention to destroy, can ever reduce such an edifice to the state here described. It is manifest, therefore, and must have been manifest to Christ’s hearers, that He spoke of no ravages of time, no process of decay, but of brute force and hostile assaults, when He used this image.
III. The fulfilment of this prediction.—Pass over a period of forty years, and view Jerusalem, as had been foretold of it, compassed with armies, the armies of the Romans under Titus. After several delays, occasioned by the unsettled state of the Roman Government, Vespasian was at last confirmed in the imperial throne, and his son Titus was sent to command the armies in Judea. The days of Jerusalem were now numbered. Failing to take the city by assault, Titus proceeded to surround the entire compass of it with a wall, thereby fulfilling a part of our Lord’s description (Luke 19:43). The inhabitants being thus without the possibility of escape, and all supplies being cut off, the accomplishment of the rest of the prophecy could not be far off. It was hastened by the conduct of the people themselves. Instead of uniting, as one man, in the defence of the city, they weakened themselves by mutual factions and divisions, insomuch that within the short space of five months the city was taken, and the work of destruction begun. It is recorded that Titus himself was very desirous of preserving the Temple as a monument of Roman power and prowess, but was unable to restrain his own soldiers, who, in the heat and excitement of victory, set fire to it, and resisted all attempts to extinguish the conflagration. The preservation of these great buildings being thus rendered impossible, we read that the Roman general, foiled in his first design, now gave orders to complete the demolition both of the city and Temple by actually digging up and levelling the foundations of them; thus, almost literally, leaving “not one stone upon another.”
1. How differently would things strike us if we could only look forward a few years! What a world of changes do we live in! Desire and seek after “durable riches,” a “building of God,” a “good foundation laid up in store against the time to come.”
2. In connexion with the punishment inflicted on Jerusalem, reflect on our own responsibility as having succeeded to those privileges of which the Jews were dispossessed. Beware of defiling “the temple of the living God.”
3. Where is this temple to be seen in its perfection? Not, will each of us be ready to reply, not in me, nor in my sin-stained, blood-guilty soul. When I look into myself I see a temple indeed, but a temple in ruins; a shrine from which the Divinity has departed; a perverse will, unruly passions, wayward and unsanctified affections; in a word, of that noble fabric which was dedicated to God in baptism, and has been since adorned with so many “gifts of the Holy Ghost,” not one stone is left upon another. I see, and mourn; but I do not despair. The tears of the Christian over the breaches and decays of his spiritual temple are the appointed means by which, under God, those breaches are to be healed, and the whole building restored to its original use, and, if possible, to more than its original beauty.—F. Field, LL.D.
Warning, promise, and encouragement.—There is nothing in these words to encourage speculation, much to induce and strengthen that practical temper and habit, the habit of duty and loyal obedience, in which there lives far more real religion than in all the pious and laborious conjectures good men have framed, and which they sometimes attempt to palm off as infallible certainties on an astonished Church, or world.
I. The warning I take to be that we are to wait with patience for the orderly providential unfolding of the Divine counsel, instead of impatiently jumping at hasty and misleading conclusions. The conceited temper which speaks as though it had been admitted to the secret council-chamber of heaven; the curious temper which is for ever prying into futurity, and busies itself with speculation instead of with the rules of holy living and the problems of obedience; the hasty temper which is impatient for results, and wants to see trees bearing fruit as soon as they are planted; and the faithless temper which is always seeking proofs and signs, and confounds seeing with believing, are all rebuked by this grave and kindly warning.
II. The promise I take to be that to all faithful and obedient souls, thus waiting with patience on God amid many tribulations and disappointments, too occupied with duty and service to let their hearts grow sick with hope deferred, a Divine guidance and help will be vouchsafed, answering to every need. Loyalty to Christ under hard conditions, and when we fall on evil times, will expose us to many tribulations—to loss, contumely, and the alienation of friends. But these very tribulations are part of the discipline by which God is making us constant and making us perfect, by which He is preparing us for salvation and life. And meantime, even in our darkest hours and most dejected moods, He is with us to guide and sustain us, to teach us what to say and what to do.
III. The encouragement I take to be that the tribulations of this present time are designed to usher in, to prepare for us and to prepare us for, a better time, a golden age, which shall have no end. This regeneration is our great hope, our great encouragement, under the toils, often unrequited, of time, under all its changes and catastrophes, under the oppressive sense of its manifold evils, sorrows, wrongs. We look for a time, we believe it to be the purpose of God that a time shall come, in which evil will be overcome of good, and death be swallowed up of life, in which not we alone shall be blessed, but all men will be drawn into the service, love, and peace of God. And if we really believe this to be the end to which the love and providence of God are pressing forward through all the vicissitudes and tribulations of time, for the joy set before us, we may well rejoice in our tribulations and toils, even though we do not know when the end will be reached, or what will be the signs of its approach.—S. Cox, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 13:1-2. The spiritual temple.—
1. The world admires a stately and magnificent temple; but the temple which attracts the eyes and the heart of Christ, as worthy of God and framed by His Spirit, is a heart which resembles that of this poor widow, a heart consecrated by charity, wherein God makes His abode, and in which this virtue worships Him, sacrifices itself to Him, mourns continually in His presence, and there feeds upon His Divine Word.
2. Christ bears with the simplicity of His disciples, who would have Him admire a temple of which He was Himself the model, and which was only a figure of His body; but He makes use of this simplicity to instruct them, to take off their minds from this visible temple, and to give them a foresight of that justice which He was to exercise upon this building, on account of the Jews. Nothing of that which is to be destroyed is worthy to be the true temple of God. It is in a poor and humble heart that Hedelights to dwell.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 13:5-13. This prophecy a proof of Christ’s Divinity.—This prophecy is one of the clearest and surest in the Bible, and has ever been regarded by Christians as a decisive proof of the Divine mission of their Lord. In a time of peace He predicted war. When there were only visible signs of prosperity, He foretold speedy destruction. When the disciples were few, He declared that the gospel would soon be proclaimed to distant nations. When the apostles were about to forsake Him, seeking safety by flight, He said that ere long many would be willing to die for His name. When there were no outward indications of success, He spoke with perfect confidence of the establishment of His kingdom. He taught the disciples that its nature was different from their hopes, being more excellent; and the means of its promotion different from their expectations, being more effective. Knowing that after two days He should be crucified, and declaring this to the disciples, He expressed to them the full assurance of the triumph of His kingdom, by means of which the history of the world afforded no example; and of their salvation, through sufferings which they feared to anticipate. He gave them that knowledge, and only that, which was useful to them; and referred to their coming trials with the firmest faith and the most tender sympathy. He announced the retribution which would come on His adversaries, without any personal resentment, stating it to be the righteous judgment of God, but manifesting compassion even for those whose sins brought upon themselves destruction. Such were the words of Jesus; and His words were fulfilled. Looking only to this one prophecy, we say with those who witnessed the Crucifixion, “Truly this is the Son of God.”—J. H. Godwin.
Mark 13:5-6. The danger of being led astray.—It is quite as important not to be led astray by false religious teachers as by any other class of deceivers or deceived; and there is quite as much danger in this line as in any other. Sincerity on our part is no guard against deception or wandering; nor is sincerity a safeguard to a religious teacher. Those who are themselves both honest and sincere would lead us astray if we followed them in their wrong path. There is danger of our being led astray by the sermons we hear, the papers or the books we read, the counsel or example of those whom we have supposed to be godly, or by the impulses or convictions of our own minds and hearts. There is such a thing as conscientious error-teaching and devil-serving. The warning of Jesus is, that ye take heed that no man lead you astray in doctrine or morals, through holding up a false standard of conduct, or a false interpretation of God’s Word.
Mark 13:6. “I am Christ.”—Imposture will always take its clue from antecedent reality; its work is that of distortion, not of invention (Acts 19:13; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Peter 3:16).—J. Miller.
Mark 13:11. Divine source of apostolic sufficiency.—Christ chose poor fishermen to shew that however insufficient soever He received them, yet He received them into such a school, such an university, as would deliver them back into His Church, made fit by Him for the service thereof. Christ needed not man’s sufficiency; He took insufficient men. Christ excuses no man’s insufficiency; He made them sufficient (Mark 16:20; Acts 4:13; Exodus 4:10-12; 2 Corinthians 4:7).—John Donne, D.D.
Mark 13:12. Christianity the cause of division.—As Christianity gives birth to and cherishes the most perfect love, so it calls forth the most bitter hatred. It calls forth a love which is above nature, because it makes men love their enemies. Contrariwise it calls forth a hatred which is unnatural; for it made, and yet makes, men hate and betray, and, if they can, destroy their own flesh and blood. Thus we read that the Emperor Domitian, in his hatred of the Christian name, slew Flavius Clemens and his niece, or near relation Flavia Domitilla; the Emperor Maximin martyred Artemia, his own sister; and Diocletian slew his own wife and other relatives. St. Barbara also was killed by her own father; and if we had a full martyrology of obscure Christians, we should find multitudes of others similarly betrayed by their own flesh and blood. We are told by Indian missionaries that as soon as converts are baptised they become objects of hatred to their nearest relatives; even their wives often desert them. Now if this be so in a country where Christianity is the religion of the rulers, what would it be if heathenism were unchecked in its power of persecution?—M. F. Sadler.
Mark 13:13. Incentives to perseverance.—
1. Of all afflictions and troubles, those are the most comfortable to suffer and endure which are suffered for Christ.
2. By these kinds of sufferings we glorify God, and bring honour to the name of Christ, and credit to the gospel, more than by any other sufferings.
3. It is a most honourable thing unto us, yea, the greatest glory that may be in this world, to suffer anything for Christ.
4. Consider how much Christ has suffered for us, and for our salvation; how great reproach and shame; what bitter pain and torment of soul and body; and let this move us patiently and willingly to suffer any persecution and trouble for His sake.
5. Consider how much wicked men suffer in the practice of sin, and to satisfy their wicked lusts, and let this move us to suffer any persecution for Christ.
6. Consider the great and excellent reward promised to those who endure for Christ’s sake.—G. Petter.
Persecution a trial to perseverance.—There are persecutions and persecutions—great and bloody persecutions such as a Nero or a Decius could inaugurate on an imposing scale; and, as we know, petty persecutions, which are all that is permitted to the native ferocity of the persecuting temper by the milder manners of a more civilised age. But persecution, whatever its scale, is a trial to perseverance. Persecution is in any case friction; and, as we all know, friction, if only it be continued long enough, brings movement to a standstill, unless there be a new supply of the impelling force. Men who have done much for Christ have given up at the last under the stress of relentless persecution. And perhaps petty persecutions are more trying to perseverance, in some ways, than great ones. Men who have not flinched from the axe or from the stake will yield to the incessant worry of domestic or local tyranny—to the persecutions which make home wretched, or the office, or the shop, or the dormitory wellnigh intolerable. Why do we pray in the Church service that “the evils which the craft and subtlety of the devil or man worketh against us be brought to naught, and, by the providence of God’s goodness, may be dispersed?” It is that we, His servants, “being hurt by no persecutions, may evermore give thanks unto Him in His holy Church.” In other words, it is because persecution involves a serious risk to perseverance.—Canon Liddon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Mark 13:7-8. The sorrows of war.—The conqueror of Bonaparte at Waterloo wrote, on the day after June 19th, to the Duke of Beaufort: “The losses we have sustained have quite broken me down, and I have no feeling for the advantages we have acquired.” On the same day, too, he wrote to Lord Aberdeen: “I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me and contemplate the loss which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me, and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive as that no doubt remains that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then that the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.” He who could write thus had already attained a greater victory than that of Waterloo; and the less naturally follows the greater.
Mark 13:13. Endurance.—There was a period during the battle of Königgrätz when the attack of the Prussians seemed hopeless. Across the stream and up the long slope the battalions poured, only to be again and again repulsed by the Austrian army, and yet again and again they returned to the attack. And what was the secret that encouraged their persistence? An observer of the battle from a tall tower, at this crisis, looked eastward along the range of elevated ground which was the stronghold of the Austrians, and in the distance, from the edge of a wood, his eye caught the gleaming of bayonets. A strong body of Prussians had outflanked the Austrians, and was advancing rapidly on the rear of their position, and it was the knowledge of this flank movement of the other division of their army that gave courage and endurance to those Prussians who attacked in front. Just thus the Christian, though often disappointed with his failures in the spiritual life, yet persists in his efforts, for he knows that the irresistible force of God’s power will come to the help of His tried and tempted servants.
Constancy.—Some dyes cannot bear the weather, but alter colour presently; but there are others that, having something that gives a deeper tincture, will hold. The graces of a true Christian hold out in all sorts of weather, in winter and summer, prosperity and adversity, when superficial counterfeit holiness will give out.—R. Sibbes.
Perseverance.—“I know the way to heaven,” said little Minnie to little Johnny, who stood by her side, looking at a picture-book. “You do?” said little John. “Well, won’t you tell me how to get there?” “Oh yes! I’ll tell you. Just commence going up, and keep on going all the time, and you’ll get there. But, Johnny, you must not turn back.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 13:14. The abomination of desolation.—Hebraism for the abomination that makes desolate. See Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11. A comparison of this verse with the parallel passage in Matthew 24:15-16, makes it evident that the scene of this was to be the Temple. Once already had it been desecrated (1Ma. 1:54), when Antiochus Epiphanes set up the statue of Jupiter on the altar of burnt sacrifice. But a worse profanation was yet to follow. Josephus (Wars of the Jews, IV. vi. 3) mentions an ancient saying current among the Jews, that “Jerusalem would be taken, and the Temple be destroyed, when it had been defiled by the hands of Jews themselves”—a prophecy that was literally fulfilled when, during the first siege of Jerusalem under Cestius (A. D. 68), the Temple was taken possession of by a band of Zealots, who committed fearful outrages of lust and murder within its sacred precincts. Such, in the opinion of the writer, was the portent to which Christ pointed as the signal to His followers to lose no time in seeking a place of safety beyond Judea. Flee to the mountains.—History records that when the time came the Christians fled from Jerusalem and Judea to Pella, identified with the ruins of Fahil, among the hills of Gilead.
Mark 13:17. Woe to them.—Alas! for them … Cp. Luke 23:28-29; and see Josephus, Wars, VI. iii. 4.
Mark 13:18. In God’s mercy the prayer which the Christians doubtless offered in accordance with this injunction was heard, and the awful calamity of a winter flight averted. The Roman army first encompassed Jerusalem in October, when the weather is still mild; and the final siege took place in April or May.
Mark 13:19. Josephus unconsciously echoes these words: “All calamities, from the beginning of time, seem to me to shrink to nothing in comparison with those of the Jews.” He gives an awful description of these calamities in Wars, VI. iii.
3. See also Tacitus, History, Mark 13:13; Milman, History of the Jews, Mark 2:16; Merivale, History of the Romans, 6:59.
Mark 13:20. The city which had stood the siege of Nebuchadnezzar for sixteen months (2 Kings 25:1-6; Jeremiah 39:1-2) was taken by the Romans in less than five. Among the providential circumstances which combined to bring this about may be mentioned—
(1) the order of Claudius forbidding Herod Agrippa from completing the fortifications;
(2) the wars of factions in Jerusalem itself;
(3) the destruction by fire of large stores of provisions;
(4) the Jews’ abandonment of the towers on the approach of Titus;
(5) the swift and energetic measures of the Roman armies.
Mark 13:22. False Christs.—Not necessarily assuming the name of Christ, but pretending to a fuller revelation than Christ’s. Theudas; Simon Magus. False prophets.—See Josephus, Antiquities, XX. viii. 6; Tacitus, History, Mark 13:13. Cp. also 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10. To seduce.—With a view to leading astray. Whether or not successful in this, Christ leaves an open question for the future to decide.
Mark 13:28-29. See R. V. rendering.
Mark 13:30. This generation.—Always used by Christ of persons then living on earth (Matthew 11:16; Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 12:45; Matthew 23:36; Mark 8:12; Mark 8:38; Luke 7:31; Luke 11:30-32; Luke 11:50-51; Luke 17:25). Evidently, then, the terminus ad quem of “all these things” is the destruction of Jerusalem.
Mark 13:32. Neither the Son.—He who as Son of God possesses with the Father and the Holy Spirit the Divine attribute of omniscience, condescended as Son of Man to acquire during His earthly life only such instalments of knowledge (Luke 2:52) as were consistent with a creaturely form of existence (Philippians 2:6-7). The knowledge of the time of the Last Advent being wholly unnecessary to the Church, was not communicated to Him, its Head. The main thing to remember as to this limitation is that it was voluntary on our Lord’s part—a Self-emptying for the purposes of His Mission to our fallen race.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 13:14-32
(PARALLELS: Matthew 24:15-36; Luke 21:20-33.)
Christ’s manifestation in glory.—The manifestations of Christ are not exhausted yet. The Infant, the Child, the Man, the Worker of miracles, the Teacher by parables—He has been revealed to us as all these; but there is still another revelation of Him to come in the unknown future. He came once to visit us in great humility; He shall come again to judge us in glorious majesty.
I. There will be a manifestation of Christ in truth and unmistakable reality.—Till the moment of His coming it will be possible to deceive. False prophets were the bane of the old dispensation; false Christs are the bane of the new. We scarcely wonder that false Messiahs could command followers at a time like the siege of Jerusalem. It was just the crisis from which they would expect a Messiah to deliver them. But we do wonder, and we ought to wonder, that false Christs have arisen since, and that they arise still. That men who do not believe that Christ has come yet should be prepared to accept a self-styled Christ, if only his credentials satisfy them, is at least consistent, if not almost excusable; but for men who believe that Christ has already come, and then discredit His perfect life and Divine teaching by seeking elsewhere for light and guidance—for these we have no excuse, no explanation. Whatever may be said of the results of Christian effort in these days, there can be no question as to its tendencies. Give it full power and fair play, and it would reform the world. This is as much as to say that, so far forth as Christianity succeeds in exhibiting Christ, so far she is a trusted leader of society. Where she has failed to help the world, she has failed to represent Christ. Our contention is, and must be, this: that Christianity leads to Christ, and Christ to God; that the knowledge of God is the highest of all knowledge; that all which leads away from Him must end in nothingness, and can but be a loss to those who gain it. There is an inherent “deceivableness of unrighteousness”—an essential capacity for “strong delusion”—as to the highest of all truths which we are led by the Holy Spirit always to expect, and increasingly till the end of time, possibly that the contrast at the end might be the more marked. While they are all at their very busiest, and the “very elect” themselves almost dizzy with the whirl in the religious air, He will stand before them, true and unmistakable. “Every eye shall see Him” then; the mists from men’s minds and the cobwebs of men’s weaving will be swept away, and at that moment they shall know, even as they, are known. “I am the Truth” will be condemnation enough for millions in that day, if no other sentence were to proceed out of His mouth.
II. Christ will be manifested in universality.—At present it is here and there, as men carry the message. Dark corners have to wait till they can be attended to. “Go ye into all the world and preach” is the world’s only chance: for “how shall they hear without a preacher?” Nor is this all. It was not enough to light the lamp of the Tabernacle with heavenly flame; it required daily tending and replenishing with oil. We overcome the darkness of night with artificial light; and we keep up the gospel light in men’s hearts by human means. If Christ is our Sun of Righteousness, it is only to be expected that He should seem sometimes to set. The Church is His own devised system for arresting His beams and deriving His rays to ourselves. But the coming of the Son of Man shall be no longer, as it is now, like the coming and the going of the sun in the heavens—a sun, too, whose light can be admitted or excluded at will. It shall be rather like the lightning-flash, of which you say, “It is lightening in the east,” and yet, at the selfsame moment, it is in the west too—the lightning which seems to follow no law, but penetrates everywhere—awfully beautiful, irresistibly destructive, fearfully silent, and which has done its work, its irreparable work, before the roar of the thunder is heard. The highest attract it first, and yet it may pass the highest and strike the lowest. All that we can say for certain is, that whatsoever withstands it in its course will utterly be destroyed. Lightning always appals, though it leaves us unscathed. Its downward dart suggests a doomed mark, and its rapid zigzag forbids us to guess its aim; all are in peril where any one may be struck. It may well be that the suspense at the coming of the Son of Man will be the first instalment of the torments of the lost.
III. The awfull majesty in which He will appear.—This is set forth in the appalling changes that will come over the material heavens. The sun darkened, so that the moon can no longer shine with his reflected light—an image, surely, of the helplessness of the blinded followers of blind leaders. The stars falling from heaven, as not presuming to govern this night of no mere physical darkness, and in a dismay corresponding to the joy with which they sang together when the corner-stone of the earth was laid. The powers of heaven shaking, as in anticipation of their “passing away with a great noise.” And then the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man. What that sign shall be—whether, as Christian history leads us to suppose, the sign of the Fiery Cross, or whether rather a new sign, corresponding to the new heavens and the new earth—we cannot tell. Christian poetry may weave thoughts into scarcely understood words, so that for a time we think that we picture it; meditation may help us to forget ourselves, till we say, “I feel it, but I cannot put it into words”; we can approach it in similes and illustrations; but when all is done, we shall but have listened, felt, thought as men; and as men we still must confess at last, “We cannot bear it now.”
IV. Christ will be manifested then as in search of His own.—It were idle to ask, “Who would not be of the elect then?” It is more to the purpose to inquire, “What do men mean by being ashamed of Christ now?” It is to shew no faith, no love, no trust; it is to put man before God, to put worldly men before the saints; it is to give the lie to all our religious phrases, and falsify all our Christian hopes; it is to tempt God to take us at our word and say, “According to your faith, so be it done unto you.”—E. T. Marshall.
Mark 13:32. The limitations of our Lord’s manhood.—It has generally been considered very difficult to reconcile the passage before us with the doctrine of the Deity of Christ. The common explanation, which refers our Saviour’s ignorance of the date of the approaching judgment to His human nature only, is indignantly denounced as a miserable subterfuge by those who deny His Divinity. And even some of the ablest among the orthodox have abandoned this interpretation as unsatisfactory, if not evasive. To us, however, it seems perfectly just and Scriptural; while its supposed difficulties admit, we think, of solutions which are not only sound in logic, but are commonly applied in the interpretation of many other passages. We shall endeavour to support this opinion in the following argument.
I. Jesus Christ, while truly God, was also truly man, and therefore possessed a human soul.—Innumerable acts and feelings are attributed to Christ in the Scriptures, which, on the one hand, are incompatible with the nature of God, and, on the other, could not be asserted of any mere physical organisation. “He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” “He groaned in spirit and was troubled” at the grave of Lazarus. “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” “In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren.” He prayed unto the Father “with strong crying and tears, and was heard in that He feared.” “He increased in wisdom, and in favour with God and man.”
II. The union of the Divine and human natures in the person of our Lord did not extinguish or confound the essential attributes of either.—We can easily understand that two different natures, distinguished by the most opposite qualities, may yet be so connected as to constitute one person. We experience the truth of this in our own mysterious conformation. But this implies no confusion of their separate peculiarities. Because the body and the soul, in their present inexplicable conjunction, make up the individual man, does it follow that matter thinks, or that mind is extended in three dimensions? And if not, why should we imagine that the finite and the Infinite lost their respective differences and were merged into a common medium in the person of Immanuel, God with us? The widest possible diversity subsists between these two classes of attributes. And if we are justified in pronouncing the properties of the circle and the square to be intrinsically incompatible, we may surely maintain that the union of Deity and manhood in the person of the Lord left the essence of each undestroyed, unabsorbed, entire, and perfect in all its qualities.
III. Omniscience is one of the incommunicable attributes of God, in which, therefore, the reasonable soul of Christ had no participation.—Of God, and of God alone, can it be said that “His understanding is infinite.” When, therefore, omniscience is ascribed to the Redeemer, it must be understood of His Divine, not of His human nature. We may, indeed, with good reason believe that the rational soul of Christ received successive and great additions of knowledge from its connexion with the Eternal Word; but these, whatever their amount, did not exalt the creature into an equality with God. We have already quoted the scripture which declares that Christ “increased in wisdom.” Now that which is susceptible of increase is clearly at an infinite distance from infinity. If, then, the knowledge of the man Christ Jesus, however extended, was still the knowledge of a creature, and therefore finite, what inconsistency is there in believing that there were secrets in the counsels of God concealed even from Him?
IV. Though the union of the Divine and human natures in the Saviour involved no permutation or absorption of their respective peculiarities, it constituted Him one person, of whom, therefore, the attributes of God and man might be predicated indifferently.—The inspired writers affirm many things of Christ which are true only of His Divine nature—many which, in strictness of speech, apply only to His humanity. Yet they seldom mark the distinction. They did not think it necessary to say that “by Him,” in His Divine nature, “were all things created”—“by Him and for Him,” that is, as He was God; “and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist,” considering Him as Divine. They did not say that, as God, “He is Lord of all”—that, as one with the Father, He is “the First and the Last”—that “Thou, Lord, in the beginning,” by Thine eternal power and Godhead, “hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thine hands.” Nor did they usually adopt any such guarded phraseology in speaking of Jesus as man. We do not read that, in His human nature, “He was an hungered”—that, as man, “being wearied with His journey, He sat thus on the well”—that, as partaker of flesh and blood, “He was in the hinder part of the ship asleep on a pillow”—that, in His character as a creature, He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Sometimes, it is true, we meet with qualifying expressions in reference to His humanity—such as, “according to the flesh,” “the offering of the body of Jesus,” etc. But these instances are comparatively few, and easily accounted for by the context; while, in the current phraseology of the Scriptures, both Divine and human attributes are given to Christ without any express limitation of either to the one nature or to the other. Is it any harder to believe that the human soul of Jesus was left in ignorance of future times and seasons, than to believe that it sorrowed, complained, and prayed?
V. It may be asked, “But is not such a method of interpretation somewhat unnatural? Is it not assumed without proof?”—We think that in answering these questions we can produce a form of expression exactly parallel to that against which the objection is raised, yet employed in general conversation without ever incurring the charge of impropriety or any danger of misconstruction. No one will deny that, in the opinion of an immense majority, the body and the soul of man are two different natures, distinguished by opposite and incompatible qualities. It is equally clear, as we have already observed, that this conjunction involves no loss and no confusion of their characteristic peculiarities. There is a mutual influence of the two natures, we readily admit. The feelings and volitions of the mind act on the nerves of the body; and certain affections of the nerves produce sensations in the mind. But matter is still matter, mind is mind; and this reciprocal activity of both occasions no interchange or assimilation of their several powers. And yet we familiarly employ, with reference to man in general, language which is strictly true only of one part of his nature. We do this continually in common discourse, and in written style, without formally announcing the distinction; and we do it without any risk of misinterpretation. We say of any individual with whom we are acquainted that he is tall or short, light or heavy, brown or fair. Yet we never think of adding a prudent parenthesis to inform the company that we are speaking only of the body of the individual in question. On the other hand, we describe the same individual, it may be, as imaginative, choleric, or timid—as fond of reasoning, or deficient in memory, or conscientious even to scrupulosity. Yet we do not deem it necessary to restrict the application of these phrases to the spiritual nature of the man. The two classes of attributes are too distinct to be confounded. And were not the Divine and human natures of our Lord as perfectly distinct in all their powers? Are the qualities of the creature and the perfections of God so much alike as to be distinguished with difficulty, and perpetually liable to be confounded? Assuredly if error of this kind be rendered anywhere impossible, from the nature of the case, it is so in the incarnation of “the Mighty God.” It has been observed by an eminent writer that “the pet texts of a Socinian are quite enough for his confutation with acute thinkers. If Christ had been a mere man, it would have been ridiculous in Him to call Himself the Son of Man; but being God and man, it then became, in His own assumption of it, a peculiar and mysterious title.” The same remark may be applied, we think, to the passage now under consideration. Let the name of any of the prophets or apostles be substituted for the designation of Christ, and a sentence is produced at which even a Socinian might stagger. “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither Moses, but the Father.” It matters little what particular name is selected for the experiment. Isaiah, Daniel, Paul, or John, in such a collocation, would be alike incongruous with the whole phraseology and spirit of the Bible. Why, then, would such an announcement have revolted us, while the name of the Son, in this identical connexion, awakens no surprise? Manifestly because the human soul of Christ, from its conjunction with “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person,” was admitted to a knowledge of the counsel of God which is never ascribed to any other creature; manifestly because “in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The audacity of those who deny the possibility of such a union has been too often rivalled by the presumption of others who have pretended to explain it. On such a subject our only wisdom is to receive, with the faith of “little children,” the words “which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” not “adding to them, lest we be reproved.”—J. M. Mackenzie.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 13:14-18. A fruitful warning.—As they were not to linger in the guilty city, so we are to let no earthly interests arrest our flight—not to turn back, but promptly and resolutely to flee unto the everlasting hills. As they should pray that their flight through the mountains should not be in the winter, so should we beware of needing to seek salvation in the winter of the soul, when the storms of passion and appetite are wildest, when evil habits have made the road slippery underfoot, and sophistry and self-will have hidden the gulfs in a treacherous wreath of snow.—Dean Chadwick.
Mark 13:18. Winter flight.—How late is it to begin our flight from the world and sin in the winter of old age and death! In the winter the days are short, the ways bad, the season rainy, the night comes on before we are aware, and we meet with a thousand impediments and hindrances of flight and travelling: these are a lively representation of those hindrances of salvation which men find at the end of their lives. The grace to prevent them by a speedy conversion is obtained only by prayer.—P. Quesnel.
Mark 13:22. False Christs.—There have been many of them. David George, for instance, who ultimately settled at Basle, where he died in 1556. He claimed, according to the account of Dr. Henry More, to be the true Christ, the dear Son of God, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. He was to restore the house of Israel, and re-erect the tabernacle of God, not by afflictions and death, as the other Messiah, but by that sweetness, love, and grace that were given him of the Father. He had the power of the remission of sins, and had come to administer the last judgment. He averred that “the Holy Scriptures, the sayings and testimonies of the prophets, of Christ, and of His apostles, do all point, if rightly understood, in their true mystery, to the glorious coming of David George, who is greater than the former Christ, as being born of the Spirit, and not of the flesh” (Enthusiasmus Triumphatus, § 34). This David George, says Dr. More, was a man “of notable natural parts, of comely person, and a graceful presence.” And he had many adherents, who believed in him. In our own day there are persons—out of asylums—who put forth corresponding claims. There is lying before the writer a Tract on the Second Advent fulfilled, in which it is said that “the enrolling of the saints commenced on the anniversary of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles of the year 1868, that is, on the 9th of October, 1868. The following,” it is added, “is the declaration to be made and signed: ‘I believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah at His first coming and the antitypical Paschal Lamb who died for sin in allegory, and I believe John Cochran of Glasgow to be that Messiah at His second coming and the antitypical High Priest who has taken away sin in reality.’ ” Of all such persons it has, in consequence of their obscurity, to be said, “Lo, here! Lo, there!” “Believe not,” says our Saviour.—J. Morison, D.D.
False prophets.—They have been legion in number. Lodowick Muggleton, for instance, who, on the title-page of his True Interpretation of the whole Book of the Revelation of St. John (1746), describes himself as “one of the two last commissionated witnesses and prophets of the only high, immortal, glorious God, Christ Jesus.” Madame Antoinette Bourignon, before him, was a far nobler being, yet she declared to Christian de Cort: “I am sent from God to bring light to the world, and to bear witness to the truth. He has sent me to tell that the last times are come; that the world is judged, and the sentence is irrevocable; that the plagues are begun, and will not cease till all evil be rooted out; and that Jesus Christ will come shortly to the earth to finish this, and then He will continue to reign with ‘men of goodwill,’ who shall enjoy eternal peace. I am sent with a commission to declare all these things to men, to the end that peradventure some of them may be converted and repent, that they may reign with Jesus Christ in His glory.”—Ibid.
False Christs and false prophets.—In those days it was an adventurer who traded on the religious enthusiasm of his compatriots—led them out to some desert or to some mountain-side to enjoy for a moment the delirium of an impossible delusion, and then, perhaps, to suffer the punishment of a supposed political offence. In our days it is a sceptical friend, it is an article in a review, it is the general atmosphere of the social circle in which we live. Our faith is undermined by people who talk and write in the very best English, and who have so much about them that is winning and agreeable that we cannot believe what is really going on. Still, after a time, we find that we have less hold on the Unseen than we had, that prayer is more difficult, that conscience is more sluggish, that religious exertion of all kinds is more unwelcome; and this, I say, means that the soul’s hold of the central realities is, to say the very least, weakened, if that is, indeed, anything like a full and true account of what has taken place. We cannot go on breathing a bad air, and be as we were when we lived high up upon the mountain, unless we take very great precautions. Not to take them under such circumstances as these is to be in the fair way to forfeit perseverance.—Canon Liddon.
Mark 13:25-27. The Second Advent.—The second coming of Christ will be even as the first coming at His incarnation—an historical fact taking place on the world in which we live; not anything like a figure of speech, but breaking violently into the uniform and hitherto unbroken continuity of time and nature, and thus freeing the soul and spirit of man from those physical relations on which man is now dependent, and giving the soul fresh opportunities and hopes in a world where all will be glorious. Such will be the second coming of Christ—the perfecting of the first. Not partial, however, and gradual as His first coming, when Christ was revealed here to one and there to one; but seen and recognised by all the tribes of the earth. Not gradual, for it has taken long to spread the Church, and the work is very far from being done even now; but sudden and instantaneous—revealed as a flash of lightning. By one act and one appearance will He unite the greatest terror with the greatest glory; He will transform the world and nature and time; He will judge the living and the dead, and carry the children of God to the inheritance of eternal life.—Jas. Lonsdale.
Mark 13:30. Two horizons.—In that landscape of the future, of which our Lord permitted His disciples to catch a glimpse in this great discourse of “the last things,” there were two horizons—one near at hand, the other afar off. “The boundary line of either horizon marked the winding up of an æon; each was a great ending; of each it was true that the then existing generation, first in its literal sense, then in its wider sense of ‘race,’ should not pass away until all had been fulfilled.” One event was the end of the Jewish nationality, the other the end of the world. The former was in many respects the type of the latter. The signs, both in the natural and moral world, which preceded and accompanied the overthrow of Jerusalem are measurably the same as those which will characterise the last ages of the world. And hence it is not easy to determine with precision what signs are applicable solely to one event, and what are applicable solely to the other. In true prophetic style they are much intermingled. But we must not forget that they are the words of “One whose whole being moved in the sphere of eternity and not of time”; that moral warning rather than chronological indication is the real object of prophecy; and that “to the voice of prophecy, as to the eye of God, all time is but one eternal present.”
Mark 13:31. The perishable and the imperishable.—
I. The things which shall pass away—the perishable things, the destructible things, the things which in this visible economy seem never to continue in one stay, and at last shall perish for ever.
1. Thus see what traces of instability and decay are written on the things men chiefly love and live for. Riches, honours, comforts, friends—youth, beauty, genius, strength—the prospering enterprise, the unfolding hope, the fellowship of kindred minds, and the hallowed domestic ties,—how slight is our hold on the fairest and best of these things!
2. See the same truth inscribed on what we might have thought would have a more enduring life; namely, the triumphs of man’s intellectual nature—the inventions of art, the applications of science, the treasures of literature, the profound researches of the learned, and the ingenious discoveries of the wise: all these are found to be of the earth, earthy.
3. Again, how strikingly are we reminded of this law of mutability and decay, as applied to all earthly things, when we contemplate the history of nations.
4. But not to indications, in the history and moral circumstances of mankind only, are we to limit the application of our Lord’s words. As the foregoing verses shew, the final consummation will be preceded by a mighty disturbance among the elemental powers of nature. Who shall say how soon all visible and material things, consumed and scattered, as it were by the springing of some invisible mine, may be called upon to shed the light of their dissolving glory on the day of Christ, and testify to the imperishableness of His words?
II. Christ’s words shall not pass away.—
1. Because they are founded on eternal truth, and on the fixed purposes of the unchangeable Jehovah.
2. Because of the eternal power and Godhead of Him who spake them.
3. Because of their connexion with His own glory as the Divinely constituted Mediator.—D. Moore.
The permanence of Christ’s words.—
I. The words which Jesus spake while on earth are permanently associated with our whole life.
II. All our literature is enriched by these words.
III. That which is spiritual must always be more permanent than the material.
IV. Yet the material prepares the way for the spiritual application.—
1. A lesson of warning, since we are in danger of attaching too much importance to the form, and too little to the truth, which the form embodies.
2. A lesson of encouragement; opinions may change and interpretations differ, but the truth remains always the same.—F. Wagstaff.
Mark 13:32. Christ’s voluntary limitation of knowledge.—What forbids us to believe that His knowledge, like His power, was limited by a lowliness not enforced, but for our sakes chosen; and that as He could have asked for twelve legions of angels, yet chose to be bound and buffeted, so He could have known that day and hour, yet submitted to ignorance, that He might be made like in all points to His brethren? Souls there are for whom this wonderful saying, “The Son knoweth not,” is even more affecting than the words, “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”—Dean Chadwick.
To me this means that He who was to judge the world, who knew what was in man, and more, who alone knew the Father, was at that time content to have that hour hidden from Him—did not choose to be above the angels in knowing it—as He was afterwards content to be forsaken of the Father.—Dean Church.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Mark 13:15-16. The danger of delay.—
1. Opportunity is like a string of stepping-stones across a ford. The traveller, coming up to them, may find the river so swollen with the rains that the stones are all but covered. If he delay, though his home be on the opposite bank, and full in sight, it may be too late to cross, and he may have a journey of several miles to reach his home.
2. Opportunity is like a narrow passage in the Arctic Seas. Sometimes, in these northern regions, ships get enclosed in a narrow space between ice-islands. The floating rocks glide nearer the ship on every side, and the dismayed seamen behold their only chance of escape from the fatal crash lies in a narrow channel, that every moment grows still narrower. How hurriedly they press their vessel through that strip to reach the safety of the open ocean! Even so must we press along the narrow way that leads to eternal life; for who knows how soon that narrow way may be closed against him.
Mark 13:18. The horrors of a winter flight.—In the autumn of 1812 Napoleon entered Moscow with 120,000 soldiers, intending to pass the winter there in comfort. On October 13th (three weeks earlier than it had ever been known before) snow began to fall. The proud emperor looked out of his window in dismay, and decided to hasten back at once, and establish his winter quarters in the friendly cities of Poland. It was a march through a dreary and desolate region, of more than a thousand miles; but he put on a bold front, and the troops began to retire in good order. A week later, and the grand army was in full retreat. Bleak, chilly winds howled through the leafless trees; the weary soldiers were blinded by the flakes of snow and sleet; their embittered enemies attacked them in every unguarded point; order and discipline were forgotten; the ranks were broken, and each man struggled on as best he could; the dead and the dying were trodden down; hundreds of horses were slain for food; all ideas of conquest were banished; Napoleon himself left the army to its fate; and each day’s weary march was marked by heaps of broken waggons, and abandoned cannon, and white hillocks of snow, beneath which the frozen bodies of man and beast were buried. With such a dreadful picture of misery before you, it will be easy to understand the tender compassion which prompted the Saviour to say, “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.” Especially ought we to remember those who are suffering the sad privations of poverty, and be glad to relieve their wants when we are able.
Mark 13:22. Danger of deception by false Christs.—In the frescoes of Signorelli we have “The Teaching of Antichrist”—no repulsive figure, but a grand personage in flowing robes, and with a noble countenance, which at a distance might easily be taken for the Saviour. To him the crowd are eagerly gathering and listening, and it is only when you draw close that you can discover in his harder and cynical expression, and from the evil spirit whispering in his ear, that it is not Christ.
Mark 13:28. A sign of summer’s approach.—When Dr. Rees preached last in North Wales, a friend said to him, “You are whitening fast, Dr. Rees.” The old gentleman did not say anything then; but when he got to the pulpit he referred to it, and said, “There is a wee white flower that comes up through the earth at this season of the year—sometimes it comes up through the snow and frost; but we are all glad to see the snowdrop, because it proclaims that the winter is over and that the summer is at hand. A friend reminded me last night that I was whitening fast. But heed not that, brother; it is to me a proof that my winter will soon be over, that I shall have done presently with the cold east winds and the frosts of earth, and that my summer—my eternal summer—is at hand.”
Mark 13:32. Christ’s second coming is to be of awful suddenness, overtaking a careless world with surprise, and not wholly expected even by the faithful watchman. Of such a sudden and awful change perhaps a faint illustration may be found in the catastrophe which took place about a century ago, when in an Alpine valley the whole side of a mountain suddenly fell and overwhelmed the village below, crushing châlets and houses, burying the church, and covering with earth and stones a merry wedding-party that had just entered the doomed valley. To be without warning or preparation is the character of the Second Advent, as compared with the long-planned arrangements and the deep foundations laid for the First Coming.—Dr. Hardman.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Mark 13:35. Watch ye.—Be ye wakeful.—A military image. Don’t be caught napping at your post. Same word in Mark 13:37. At even, etc.—The Roman divisions of the night. The four watches, of three hours each, began at sunset and ended at sunrise.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mark 13:33-37
The command to watch.—In this brief parable the Church is compared to a great mansion, with many offices, duties, servants—a vast, complex, interior ministry, every function of which must be diligently discharged if the house is to be kept in order and the household are to live in comfort and peace.
I. The authority which the departing Master confers on all His servants.—We know that in a household where the father and master is served from love and not from fear, when he goes away for a time, the children and servants, if they are faithful, bestir themselves to shew that they are not unworthy of the trust he reposes in them. A pulse of quickened affection and activity spreads from heart to heart. A new and invigorating sense of responsibility stimulates them to a more steadfast and earnest discharge of duty. If our ruling motive and inspiration be love to Christ, we shall not dream of saying of any work which needs to be done, “This is no business of mine,” or “I am not bound to do that”; we shall be eager to do whatever we can for the general good. No task will be too mean for us, no detail too petty or trivial.
II. Besides this general authority, common to all, we have each of us a special task to do for Him and for the family named after Him. “To each one his own work,” i.e. the work he is specially fitted or called to do. And, indeed, the forms of service are so many, and the call for service so imperative, that no one need lack suitable employment if only he is bent on finding it. None is so weak or so poor in endowment but that he may do a little good, if only he be of a willing mind. In the Household of Faith, as in the world, there are many forms of service, many ways of gaining spiritual food and strength and skill; and there are many servants in it who do not feel that their gifts fit them for one kind of labour more than for another; some doubt whether they have any gifts, any calling, worthy of the name. But if necessity is laid upon them, what will they do? Naturally they will try this kind of work and that, till they find a work which they can do, and perhaps a work they can like as well as do; or they will take up the work that comes first to hand, and gradually make themselves fit for it by doing it. What we chiefly want, if at least we are doing little or nothing for Him, is more love, and of that kind of love which will make us feel that we must do something for Him who has done so much for us. As we get more love we shall do more work, and settle down into our proper vocation.
III. To work we must add watchfulness.—The porter is to look for his lord’s return; but so are all the servants: i.e. they are to expect it, to be ready for it, to desire it. We are not to be as drudges who have no pleasure in their work, nor as hirelings who care only for their wages. Our labour is to be bright with hope, with the hope of a great happiness to come, and that may come at any moment. The Lord is always coming to those who look for His appearing. We see His advent on a large scale in every crisis of the great human story. In revolution, in reformations, when the thoughts of men’s hearts are revealed, when they are summoned to accept new forms of truth or to enter on new spheres of duty, we know that Christ has come once more to try their works, to see whether they have been faithful to Him and are ready to greet Him with love and joy. And in like manner, though not so obviously, He comes to us in the crises of our individual history, when one page of our life is closed and a new page is opened. For each one of us there is an advent of Christ as often as new and larger views of truth are presented to us, or we are called to leave a familiar round of duty and to take up new duties and more laborious. If we are so absorbed in the mere routine of our previous service, or so attached to old forms of truth and labour, that we have no eye for new aspects of truth, and no ear for the call to new labours, we miss another happy chance; we are like servants who, stolidly plodding through a familiar drudgery, do not hear when the Master stands at the door and knocks, and are even flurried and vexed should He bid them do what they have never done before. But if, while going resolutely and happily about our accustomed tasks, we look alertly and hopefully for the joy of Christ’s return; if, because we know so little, we expect Him to teach us new truths; if, because our service is so imperfect, we expect to be called to new and better modes of serving Him, we are like servants who, living daily in hope of the Master’s return, catch the first signal of His approach, hurry out to welcome Him, and are rewarded for their watchful diligence by having greater authority committed to them, and ministries which bring them nearer to His person. And all these advents of Christ, in new truths and new duties, are but preludes of that great personal advent for which we look none the less earnestly because we know neither its day nor its hour. We know that He who once came and dwelt among us in great humility will come again, in the glory of the Father, to complete the work He then began—to finish our redemption, to reward every act of kindness as though it had been done to Him. And therefore we are watchful, and strengthen the things which are ready to die, not suffering any grace to perish out of our hearts in this world’s unkindly weather, but guarding and cherishing it for the summer of eternity; nor permitting any good enterprise to fail for lack of help, but breathing into it the life of our help till happier times arrive.—S. Cox, D.D.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Mark 13:33-36. The duty of watchfulness enforced.—
I. The duty inculcated.—Watchfulness and prayer are often united in the Holy Scriptures as duties of the first importance. In themselves they are different; but in their exercise they are inseparable: neither would be of any avail without the other: prayer without watchfulness would be hypocritical; and watchfulness without prayer presumptuous.
1. What we should watch and pray against. Here we must include everything which has a tendency to lull us asleep. We see how intent men are on all the things of time and sense: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life so occupy them that they find no time nor inclination for spiritual concerns.
2. What we should watch and pray for. To be found ready, at whatever moment our Lord shall call for us, should be the one object of our ambition.
II. The considerations with which it is enforced.—
1. The uncertainty of the time when our Lord shall call us. There is not a moment of our lives when we may sit down secure.
2. The awfulness of being found in a sleeping state. It will be to no purpose to plead that we were not engaged in any wicked projects. We were “slothful servants,” and therefore are justly regarded as “wicked.”
III. Our Lord’s concluding admonition, “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,” will lead us to address some different descriptions of persons.
1. The old. Is so much of your time gone, and will you not improve the remainder?
2. The young. What security have you against death, that you should delay so necessary a work?
3. The afflicted. God sends your afflictions on purpose to awaken you from your slumbers, and to stir you up to heavenly pursuits. What an aggravation will it be of your guilt if these dispensations pass away unimproved!
4. The backslidden. What an awful thing is it that, instead of having advanced in the Divine life, you have lost in a good measure the life which you once had! Attend to God’s admonition to the Church of Sardis, lest He execute upon you the judgment that He threatened to inflict on them (Revelation 3:2-3).
5. The more steadfast Christian. Experience proves that the exhortation to “watch” is not less necessary for you than for others. How many who are on the whole pious grieve, by their unwatchfulness, their Divine Master.—C. Simeon.
Mark 13:33. Watch and pray.—Two duties.
1. The activity of the eye earthward.
2. The emotion of the heart Godward. Watchfulness is like the hands of the clock that point; prayer is the weight that keeps the machinery in motion.—T. J. Judkin.
Mark 13:34. Fidelity and watchfulness.—The whole which our Blessed Master, when He ascended into heaven, recommended to the care of His servants, consisted in fidelity and watchfulness: fidelity, in doing everything well which is to be done in His house, in the heart, in the Church, according to the full extent of their duty; watchfulness, in suffering no stranger nor enemy to enter by the senses, which are the gates of the soul, in permitting nothing which belongs to the Master to go out without His orders, and in carefully observing all commerce and correspondence which the heart may have abroad in the world, to the prejudice of the Master’s service.—P. Quesnel.
Every man the porter of his own heart.—It is the business of each one of us to stop, by God’s help, evil thoughts from coming in and good aspirations from going out. We must watch and pray that we enter not into temptation.
Mark 13:36. Remissness and negligence, as well as the greater sins, are often the occasion of our being surprised by death. A porter asleep exposes the house to be robbed, and well deserves to be punished. A Christian whose faith is not watchful exposes his own heart to the enemy of his salvation, and to those who are continually watching, in order to steal away all the valuable things which God has laid up there, as in His own house.—Ibid.
Mark 13:37. Reasons for watchfulness.—
1. Because you are liable to drowsiness and slumber.
2. Because means are constantly being used to seduce you from the ways of saving peace.
3. Because you have given yourselves up as soldiers of the Cross.
4. Because you have many duties to perform.
5. Because you know not when the Master will come to demand an account.
1. To prevent evil.
2. To further good.
Watching for Christ.—He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honouring Him; who looks out for Him in all that happens; and who would not be surprised, who would not be overagitated or overwhelmed, if he found that He was coming at once.—J. H. Newman, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Mark 13:33. “Watch and pray.”—The sentinel picketed to watch the enemy does his duty by giving the alarm if the enemy approaches, not by advancing single-handed to the conflict. So the duty of a Christian, watchfully discerning the approach of temptation, is to convey the case to God. It is foolhardiness to adventure into the combat unsent and unprovided for.
Watchfulness and prayer.—“I often recall,” says an old sailor, “my first night at sea. A storm had come up, and we had put back under a point of land which broke the wind a little, but still the sea had a rake on us, and we were in danger of drifting. I was on the anchor watch, and it was my duty to give warning in case the ship should drag her anchor. It was a long night to me. I was very anxious whether I should know if the ship really did drift. How could I tell? I found that, going forward and placing my hand on the chain, I could tell by the feeling of it whether the anchor was dragging or not; and how often that night I went forward and placed my hand on that chain! And very often since then I have wondered whether I am drifting away from God, and then I go away and pray. Sometimes during that long stormy night I would be startled by a rumbling sound, and I would put my hand on the chain, and find it was not the anchor dragging, but only the chain grating against the rocks on the bottom. The anchor was still firm. And sometimes now, in temptation and trial, I become afraid, and upon praying I find that away down deep in my heart I do love God, and my hope is in His salvation. And I want just to say a word to my fellow-Christians: Keep an anchor watch, lest before you are aware you may be upon the rocks.”
Mark 13:34. Work for all.—Let us be thankful that there is a growing and more universal recognition of the Bible teaching, that each individual believer has some apportioned work in the Church of God, some appropriate niche assigned him to fill in God’s sanctuary. Just as it was of old in the Jewish Temple, extending from its outer gates and outer courts, to the rites of the Most Holy Place. Some were engaged in hewing fir and cedar logs for altar fuel: others disposing of the ashes of the sacrifices in the great conduits leading to the Kedron: some ministering as sacrificial priests; others occupied in ceremonial lustrations: some, more honoured, in bringing the golden bowl from Siloam at the Feast of Tabernacles. Here are the silver trumpeters who wake up the city at early morn to the duties of a new day, or at similar stated intervals proclaim the appearance of the new moon. Here are the sons of Korah mingling their voices with “kinnor” and cymbal-tones, chanting psalm and Hallel. Here the sympathetic and beneficent among the worshipping throng are seen as they retire, aiding with alms and deeds the cripples laid at “the Gate Beautiful.” Here are the aged Annas and Simeons coming in to wait for the salvation of Israel; or to present once more their lowly tribute-offering, and sing their nunc dimittis. Here are the children of the Temple twisting wreaths of olive, myrtle, and palm, to greet their Lord with glad hosannas. This daily acted parable of the old Temple dispensation needs no further interpretation. The Great Master gives it in His own laconic words: “To every man his work.”—J. R. Macduff, D.D.
The joy of working for Christ.—A beautiful incident in reference to Mr. Townsend is mentioned in the Life of John Campbell. “Finding him on Tuesday morning, shortly before his last illness, leaning on the balustrade of the staircase that led to the committee-room of the Tract Society, and scarcely able to breathe, I remarked, ‘Mr. Townsend, is this you? Why should you come in this state of body to our meetings? You have now attended them for a long time, and you should leave the work to younger men.’ The reply of Mr. Townsend was worthy of his character. Looking at his friend with a countenance brightened and elevated by the thoughts that were struggling for utterance, his words were, ‘Oh! Johnny, Johnny, man, it is hard to give up working in the service of such a Master!’ ”
This life the time for work.—“Are you not wearying for the heavenly rest?” said Whitefield to an old minister. “No, certainly not!” he replied. “Why not?” was the surprised rejoinder. “Why, my good brother,” said the aged saint, “if you were to send your servant into the fields to do a certain portion of work for you, and promised to give him rest and refreshment in the evening, what would you say if you found him languid and discontented in the middle of the day, and murmuring, ‘Would to God it were evening’? Would you not bid him be up and doing, and finish his work, and then go home and enjoy the promised rest? Just so does God require of you and me that, instead of looking for Saturday night, we do our day’s work in the day.”
The importance of vigilance.—The duty entrusted to the porter is of great importance. His negligence lays the house open to every intruder. If the sentinel falls asleep at his post, the whole army may be surprised and cut off. If the man stationed at the gate is unfaithful, the fortress may be taken without assault, and the whole garrison put to the sword. A man ignorant of the management of a ship, when he sees all hands busily at work, some climbing the mast, others hoisting the sails, and others plying at the pump, will be apt to look on the pilot as a lazy supernumerary who spends his time in gazing idly at the stars, and amusing himself with turning a piece of timber from side to side, not aware that this man’s services are of all others the most essential to the progress of the vessel on her way, and to the safety of all who are on board. In like manner, though there are Christian graces and duties which are of greater dignity, vigilance is of the greatest utility.
Each at his post.—An Arctic explorer found, floating helplessly about among the icebergs of that cold, lonely country, a ship. Going on board, he found that the captain was frozen, and sat dead at his log-book, while the helmsman stood at his post, and the men on watch still on duty, but cold in death. What happiness will it be when our Lord comes to know we have done our duty, and can welcome our Saviour as He bids us “come up higher”!
Mark 13:35-37. On the watch.—How many striking pictures this word brings before us! We may think of the old times when the first colonists settled in North America, when they had planted their log-wood cabin in the little clearing, but knew that the dark woods beyond might at any moment hide the fierce Red Indian. Dreading the treachery of the savage, how often the anxious settler would listen at night for any sound of danger, how carefully would he scan the shadowy edge of the forest! The loaded rifle is kept at hand, the faithful dog unchained. He is perpetually on the alert, watchful against the unseen but stealthy foe. Or the word suggests the watchfulness of a mother over a sick infant: how unweariedly she hangs over the cradle, how quickly she rises at the slightest sound! Or we may illustrate the word by the mariner who paces to and fro looking forth over the sea, lest his vessel should run upon some half-hidden and jagged rock; or the fisherman’s wife placing her little taper in the window as she counts the number of the returning boats.
In daily life how important is watchfulness! A sailing yacht was cruising about the entrance of the English Channel. It was night, but a night clear from mist and fog, when the crew saw a huge steamship approaching. She came on straight in their direction; but as their yacht had lights hung out they felt no alarm, though the yacht could not get out of the way. But still closer and closer came the great steamer. In terror those on the yacht raised their voices and shouted with all their power. There was evidently no watch kept on the bow of the large vessel. Secure in her own strength, she swept onwards, and the crew of the little pleasure-boat foresaw that instant death was imminent; the monster ship would crush them down and pass over them and leave no trace behind. But at the very last moment, by God’s mercy, she changed her course slightly, and passed close alongside instead of over them, and they could note by the many lights in the cabins how merriment and occupations had caused a want of watchfulness which nearly destroyed a number of their fellow-men!—Dr. Hardman.
Watchfulness constantly needed.—No number of false alarms cancels the duty of watchfulness. In the town of Amyclæ, in Italy, false reports of the approach of the enemy had been so often spread that a law was passed forbidding any one to pay attention to them. In consequence of this, when the attack was really imminent, no one felt at liberty to heed the warning that was given, and the city was taken. From this circumstance the epithet of “Tacitæ” (silent) was given to Amyclæ.
Watchfulness—how important to the soldier! In the Middle Ages a town, strongly fortified, had often resisted siege or capture, but one day the gate was thrown open to receive a train of waggons loaded with hay and corn. One of them, accidentally as it seemed, for some trifling cause, stopped under the arch of the gateway. The soldiers on guard observed nothing suspicious in the occurrence, nor marked that the waggon had so stopped that neither could the gate be closed nor the portcullis lowered. A moment afterwards the loads of hay were cast aside, and bands of armed men leapt out from their concealment beneath! And thus the city was captured for lack of watchfulness.
A Christian asleep.—The devil held a great anniversary, at which his angels and ministers were called together to report the result of their several missions. “I let loose the wild beasts of the desert,” said one, “on a caravan of Christians, and their bones are now bleaching on the sands.” “What of that?” said the arch-fiend; “their souls are all saved.” “I drove the east wind,” said another, “against a ship freighted with Christians, and they were drowned every one.” “What of that?” replied he again; “their souls were all saved.” Then stood up a third, and he said, “For ten years I tried to get a single Christian asleep, and at last I succeeded, and left him so.” Then the devil shouted, and the night stars of hell sang for joy.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Mark 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12