Tuesday, March 21st, 2023
the Fourth Week of Lent
the Fourth Week of Lent
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Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels Ryle's Exposiory Thougths
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 21". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ryl/ luke-21.html.
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 21". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
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WE learn, for one thing, from these verses, how keenly our Lord Jesus Christ observes the things that are done upon earth. We read that "He looked up and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites." We might well suppose that our Lord’s mind at this season would have been wholly occupied with the things immediately before Him. His betrayal, His unjust judgment, His cross, His passion, His death, were all close at hand; and He knew it. The approaching destruction of the temple, the scattering of the Jews, the long period of time before His second advent, were all things which were spread before His mind like a picture. It was but a few moments and He spoke of them.—And yet at a time like this we find Him taking note of all that is going on around Him! He thinks it not beneath Him to observe the conduct of a "certain poor widow."
Let us remember, that the Lord Jesus never changes. The thing that we read of in the passage before us is the thing that is going on all over the world. "The eyes of the LORD are in every place." (Proverbs 15:3.) Nothing is too little to escape His observation. No act is too trifling to be noted down in the book of His remembrance. The same hand that formed the sun, moon, and stars, was the hand that formed the tongue of the gnat and the wing of the fly with perfect wisdom. The same eye that sees the council-chambers of kings and emperors, is the eye that notices all that goes on in the laborer’s cottage. "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Hebrews 4:13.) He measures littleness and greatness by a very different measure from the measure of man. Events in our own daily life, to which we attach no importance, are often very grave and serious matters in Christ’s sight. Actions and deeds in the weekly history of a poor man, which the great of this world think trivial and contemptible, are often registered as weighty and important in Christ’s books. He lives who marked the gift of one "poor widow" as attentively as the gifts of many "rich men."
Let the believer of low degree take comfort in this mighty truth. Let him remember daily that his Master in heaven takes account of everything that is done on earth, and that the lives of cottagers are noticed by Him as much as the lives of kings. The acts of a poor believer have as much dignity about them as the acts of a prince. The little contributions to religious objects which the laborer makes out of his scanty earnings, are as much valued in God’s sight as a ten thousand pound note from a peer. To know this thoroughly is one great secret of contentment. To feel that Christ looks at what a man is, and not at what a man has, will help to preserve us from envious and murmuring thoughts. Happy is he who has learned to say with David, "I am poor and needy; yet the LORD thinketh upon me." (Psalms 40:17.)
We learn, for another thing, from these verses, who they are whom Christ reckons most liberal in giving money to religious purposes. We read that He said of her who cast in two mites into the treasury, "She hath cast in more than they all. All these of their abundance have cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." These words teach us that Christ looks at something more than the mere amount of men’s gifts in measuring their liberality. He looks at the proportion which their gifts bear to their property. He looks at the degree of self-denial which their giving entails upon them. He would have us know that some persons appear to give much to religious purposes who in God’s sight give very little, and that some appear to give very little who in God’s sight give very much.
The subject before us is peculiarly heart-searching. On no point perhaps do professing Christians come short so much as in the matter of giving money to God’s cause. Thousands, it may be feared, know nothing whatever of "giving" as a Christian duty. The little giving that there is, is confined entirely to a select few in the churches. Even among those who give, it may be boldly asserted, that the poor generally give far more in proportion to their means than the rich. These are plain facts which cannot be denied. The experience of all who collect for religious societies and Christian charities, will testify that they are correct and true.
Let us judge ourselves in this matter of giving, that we may not be judged and condemned at the great day. Let it be a settled principle with us to watch against stinginess, and whatever else we do with our money, to give regularly and habitually to the cause of God.—Let us remember, that although Christ’s work does not depend on our money, yet Christ is pleased to test the reality of our grace by allowing us to help Him. If we can not find it in our hearts to give anything to Christ’s cause, we may well doubt the reality of our faith and charity.—Let us recollect that our use of the money God has given us, will have to be accounted for at the last day. The "Judge of all" will be He who noticed the widow’s mite. Our incomes and expenditures will be brought to light before an assembled world. If we prove in that day to have been rich toward ourselves, but poor toward God, it would be good if we had never been born.—Not least, let us look round the world and ask where are the men that were ever ruined by liberal giving to godly purposes, and who ever found himself really poorer by lending to the Lord? We shall find that the words of Solomon are strictly true: "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth: and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty." (Proverbs 11:24.)
Finally, let us pray for rich men, who as yet know nothing of the luxury of "giving," that their riches may not be their ruin. Hundreds of charitable and religious movements are standing still continually for want of funds. Great and effectual doors are open to the church of Christ for doing good all over the world, but for want of money few can be sent to enter in by them. Let us pray for the Holy Ghost to come down on all our congregations, and to teach all our worshipers what to do with their money. Of all people on earth, none ought to be such liberal givers as Christians. All that they have they owe to the free gift of God. Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Gospel, the Bible, the means of grace, the hope of glory, all are undeserved, incomparable gifts, which millions of heathen never heard of. The possessors of such gifts ought surely to be "ready to distribute" and "willing to communicate." A giving Savior ought to have giving disciples. Freely we have received: freely we ought to give. (1 Timothy 6:18; Matthew 10:8.)
v1.—[Casting...gifts...treasury.] Major says, "In the second court of the temple, the court of the women, were fixed thirteen chests, with inscriptions, directing to what use the offerings in each were allotted. Into one of these the widow cast her two mites." This court was hence called occasionally "the treasury." (John 8:20.) These offerings were made at the three great feasts, to compound for tithes and dues, and to fulfil the precept, "Thou shalt not appear empty before the LORD." (Exodus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:16.) See 2 Kings 12:9.
v2.—[Poor widow.] Here, as in other places in the Bible, we must remember the exceedingly depressed and dependent condition of a poor man’s widow in the countries where our Lord was. The expression is almost proverbial for one very badly off, and most unlikely to contribute anything to a charitable purpose.
[Two mites.] A mite was the smallest coin in use among the Jews in our Saviour’s time. Major says that it was equal to about three-eighths of a farthing of our money.
v3.—[Hath cast in more.] "More," in this expression, does not of course mean a larger sum in reality, but more in God’s sight, a gift which God values more than one of far more value in man’s eyes;—more in the judgment of Him who looks at the motives of givers, and at the money they keep for themselves as well as the money they give;—more in proportion to her means.
v4.—[They have of their abundance cast in.] This means that what the rich gave, they gave out of a large and abundant store, and hardly felt what they gave, because much was left behind.
[She of her penury hath cast in.] This means that what the widow gave, she gave out of a store so small that, after giving, nothing seemed to be left.
[All her living.] The meaning of this expression is disputed. Some think that it means that the widow gave the whole of her property. Others think that it means that she gave the whole amount of her daily income. The latter view seems the more probable one. A person so poor as the widow would necessarily live from hand to mouth, and possess no capital or property, except what she received from one source or another day after day.
Let it be noted, in leaving this passage, that our Lord says not a word here against the lawfulness and propriety of giving money to these treasuries in the temple, though He doubtless knew that the money was often ill applied, and the temple dispensation soon passing away. An excessive censoriousness about the failings and infirmities of religious Societies which are sound in principle, is not to be praised. All institutions worked by man must needs be imperfect.
Finally, let us beware of lightly using the expression "giving our mite," in reference to giving money to religious or charitable causes. The phrase is often employed without thought or consideration. If people would "give their mite" really and literally as the widow gave her’s, many would have to give far more money than they ever give now. Her "mite" meant something that she gave with immense self-denial, and at great sacrifice. Most men’s "mite," now-a-days, means something that is not felt, not missed, and makes no difference to their comfort. If all people gave their "mite," as the widow gave her’s, the world and the Church would soon be in a very different state.
LET us notice in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ’s words about the temple at Jerusalem. We read that some spake of it, "how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts." They praised it for its outward beauty. They admired its size, its architectural grandeur, and its costly decorations. But they met with no response from our Lord. We read that he said, "As for these things which ye behold, the days will come in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down."
These words were a striking prophecy. How strange and startling they must have sounded to Jewish ears, an English mind can hardly conceive. They were spoken of a building which every Israelite regarded with almost idolatrous veneration. They were spoken of a building which contained the ark, the holy of holies, and the symbolical furniture formed on a pattern given by God Himself. They were spoken of a building associated with most of the principal names in Jewish history; with David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah. They were spoken of a building toward which every devout Jew turned his face in every quarter of the world, when he offered up his daily prayers. (1 Kings 8:44; Jonah 2:4; Daniel 6:10.)
But they were words spoken advisedly. They were spoken in order to teach us the mighty truth that the true glory of a place of worship does not consist in outward ornaments. "The LORD seeth not as man seeth." (1 Samuel 16:7.) Man looketh at the outward appearance of a building. The Lord looks for spiritual worship, and the presence of the Holy Ghost. In the temple at Jerusalem these things were utterly wanting, and therefore Jesus Christ could take no pleasure in it.
Professing Christians will do well to remember our Lord’s words in the present day. It is meet and right beyond doubt that buildings set apart for Christian worship, should be worthy of the purpose for which they are used. Whatever is done for Christ ought to be well done. The house in which the Gospel is preached, and the Word of God read, and prayer offered up, ought to lack nothing that can make it comely and substantial.
But let it never be forgotten that the material part of a Christian Church is by far the least important part of it. The fairest combinations of marble, and stone and wood, and painted glass, are worthless in God’s sight, unless there is truth in the pulpit and grace in the congregation. The dens and caves in which the early Christians used to meet, were probably far more beautiful in the eyes of Christ than the noblest cathedral that was ever reared by man. The temple in which the Lord Jesus delights most, is a broken and contrite heart, renewed by the Holy Ghost.
Let us notice for another thing in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ’s solemn warning against deception. His striking words about the temple drew from His disciples an important question: "Master, when shall these things be? and what sign will there be, when these things shall come to pass?" Our Lord’s reply to that question was long and full. And it began with a pointed caution, "Take heed that ye be not deceived."
The position which this caution occupies is very remarkable. It stands in the forefront of a prophecy of vast extent and universal importance to all Christians,—a prophecy reaching from the day in which it was delivered, to the day of the second advent,—a prophecy revealing matters of the most tremendous interest both to Jews and Gentiles,—and a prophecy of which a large portion remains to be fulfilled. And the very first sentence of this wondrous prophecy is a caution against deception, "Take heed that ye be not deceived."
The necessity of this caution has been continually proved in the history of the Church of Christ. On no subject perhaps have divines made so many mistakes as in the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy. On no subject have they shown so completely the weakness of man’s intellect, and confirmed so thoroughly the words of Paul, "We see through a glass darkly:—we know in part." (1 Corinthians 13:12.) Dogmatism, positiveness, controversial bitterness, obstinacy in maintaining untenable positions, rash assertions and speculations, have too often brought discredit on the whole subject of the prophetical Scriptures, and caused the enemies of Christianity to blaspheme. There are only too many books on prophetical interpretation, on the title-pages of which might be justly written, "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?"
Let us learn from our Lord’s warning words to pray for a humble, teachable spirit, whenever we open the pages of unfulfilled prophecy. Here, if anywhere, we need the heart of a little child, and the prayer "open thou mine eyes." (Psalms 119:18.) Let us beware, on the one side, of that lazy indifference which turns away from all prophetical Scripture, on account of its difficulties. Let us beware, on the other side, of that dogmatical and arrogant spirit, which makes men forget that they are students, and talk as confidently as if they were prophets themselves. Above all, let us read prophetical Scripture with a thorough conviction that the study carries with it a blessing, and that more light may be expected on it every year. The promise remains in full force, "Blessed is he that readeth." At the time of the end, the vision shall be unsealed. (Revelation 1:3; Daniel 12:9.)
v5.—[Some spake...temple.] The feeling with which all Jews, in our Lord’s time, regarded the temple, was something far beyond what we can imagine in the present day. This should be borne in mind, in order to estimate rightly the effect which our Lord’s words, in this place, must have produced on those who heard them.
[Goodly stones.] The enormous size of the stones with which the temple was built by Herod at its last restoration, is specially mentioned by Josephus. He says that "many of them were about twenty-five cubits in length, eight in height, and twelve in breadth." A cubit was about twenty-two inches of our measure.
[Gifts.] Tacitus, the Roman historian, and Josephus, the Jewish writer, both mention the enormous riches contained in the temple, consisting chiefly of offerings given by pious persons, or by rulers who wished to testify respect for the building. In particular there was a golden vine given by Herod, with clusters of grapes as tall as a man. Many of these offerings were suspended in the portico of the temple, so that all could see them.
v6.—[Not be left one stone upon another.] These words were literally fulfilled when Titus took Jerusalem, and Turrus Rufus, one of his officers, ploughed up the foundations of the temple.
It may be well to remember, that these words do not necessarily apply to the substructure on the side of the hill on which the temple stood. There are remains of a wall built of enormous stones still seen at Jerusalem, which the best informed travellers agree in thinking must have been standing when our Lord spoke this prophecy.
Burkitt remarks, "Sin will undermine and blow up the most magnificent and famous structure. Sin brings cities and kingdoms, as well as particular persons, to their end."
v8.—[Take heed...be not deceived.] The caution given by our Lord is very significant. The mistakes that theologians have made about the fulfilment of prophecy, in every age of the Church, have been many and great. In our own day we see some putting a literal meaning on figurative prophecy, and others putting a figurative meaning on literal prophecy.—Some can see nothing but "the Church" in passages where Israel is mentioned. Others can see nothing but Israel in every prophecy in the Bible.—Some say that nearly all prophecy is fulfilled. Others say that it is nearly all unfulfilled.—Some see the Church of Rome everywhere in prophecy. Others cannot see Rome in prophecy at all.—Some can see no anti-christ except the Pope. Others can see no antichrist except a future general anti-christ yet to be revealed.—Some think that events around us are fulfilling the book of Revelation. Others think that every word of Revelation remains yet to be fulfilled.—Amidst this tangled maze of discordant opinions, we need greatly the solemn warning of our Lord, "Take heed that ye be not deceived."
[Many shall come saying...I am Christ.] There were many impostors who appeared in the latter days of Jewish history, who pretended to be the Messiah. It must not surprise us if some in like manner shall arise and make similar claims about the time of the second advent of Christ.
v9.—[By and by.] The Greek word so rendered is almost always translated in the New Testament, "immediately," "forthwith," or "straightway." This is clearly the meaning in this place.
WE should notice, for one thing, in this passage, Christ’s prediction concerning the nations of the world. He says, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines and pestilences: and fearful sights, and great signs shall there be from heaven."
These words no doubt received a partial fulfillment in the days when Jerusalem was taken by the Romans, and the Jews were led into captivity. It was a season of unparalleled desolation to Judæa, and the countries round about Judæa. The last days of the Jewish dispensation were wound up by a struggle which for bloodshed, misery, and tribulation, has never been equaled since the world began.
But the words before us have yet to receive a more complete accomplishment. They describe the time which shall immediately precede the second advent of Jesus Christ. The "time of the end" shall be a time of war, and not of universal peace. The Christian dispensation shall pass away like the Jewish one, amidst wars, tumults, and desolation, amidst a general crash of empires and kingdoms, such as the eyes of man have never yet seen.
A thorough understanding of these things is of great importance to our souls. Nothing is so calculated to chill the heart and damp the faith of a Christian as indulgence in unscriptural expectations.—Let us dismiss from our minds the vain idea that nations will ever give up wars entirely, before Jesus Christ comes again. So long as the devil is the prince of this world, and the hearts of the many are unconverted, so long there must be strife and fighting. There will be no universal peace before the second advent of the Prince of peace. Then, and then only, men shall "learn war no more." (Isaiah 2:4.) Let us cease to expect that missionaries and ministers will ever convert the world, and teach all mankind to love one another. They will do nothing of the kind. They were never intended to do it. They will call out a witnessing people who shall serve Christ in every land, but they will do no more. The bulk of mankind will always refuse to obey the Gospel. The nations will always go on quarreling, wrangling, and fighting. The last days of the earth shall be its worst days. The last war shall be the most fearful and terrible war that ever desolated the earth.
The duty of the true Christian is clear and plain. Whatever others do, he must give all diligence to make his own calling and election sure. While others are occupied in national conflicts and political speculations, he must steadily seek first the kingdom of God. So doing he shall feel his feet upon a rock when the foundations of the earth are out of course, and the kingdoms of this earth are going to ruin. He shall be like Noah, safe within the ark. He shall be "hid in the day of the LORD’s anger." (Zephaniah 2:3.)
We should notice, for another thing, in this passage, Christ’s prediction concerning His own disciples. He does not prophesy smooth things, and promise them an uninterrupted course of temporal comfort. He says that they shall be "persecuted," put in "prison," "brought before kings and rulers," "betrayed," "put to death," and "hated of all men for His name’s sake."
The words of this prophecy were doubtless intended to apply to every age of the Church of Christ. They began to be fulfilled in the days of the apostles. The book of Acts supplies us with many an instance of their fulfillment.—They have been repeatedly fulfilled during the last eighteen hundred years. Wherever there have been disciples of Christ, there has always been more or less persecution.—They will yet receive a more full accomplishment before the end comes. The last tribulation will probably be marked by special violence and bitterness. It will be a "great tribulation." (Revelation 7:14.)
Let it be a settled principle in our minds that the true Christian must always enter the kingdom of God "through much tribulation." (Acts 14:22.) His best things are yet to come. This world is not our home. If we are faithful and decided servants of Christ, the world will certainly hate us, as it hated our Master. In one way or another grace will always be persecuted. No consistency of conduct, however faultless, no kindness and amiability of character, however striking, will exempt a believer from the world’s dislike, so long as he lives. It is foolish to be surprised at this. It is mere waste of time to murmur at it. It is a part of the cross, and we must bear it patiently. The children of Cain will hate the children of Abel, as long as the earth continues. "Marvel not, my brethren," says John, "if the world hate you." "If ye were of the world," says our Lord, "the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (1 John 3:13; John 15:18-19.)
We should notice, lastly, in this passage, Christ’s gracious promise to His disciples. He says, "there shall not a hair of your head perish." Our blessed Lord knew well the hearts of His disciples. He saw that the prophecy He had just spoken might well make them faint. He supplies them with a cheering word of encouragement—"Not a hair of your head shall perish."
The promise before us is wide and comprehensive, and one which is the property of all believers in every age. A literal interpretation of it is clearly impossible. It cannot apply to the bodies of disciples. To say that would be contradictory to the notorious fact that James and other of the apostles died violent deaths. A figurative interpretation must evidently be placed upon the words. They form a great proverbial saying. They teach us that whatever sufferings a disciple of Christ may go through, his best things can never be injured. His life is hid with Christ in God. His treasure in heaven can never be touched. His soul is beyond the reach of harm. Even his vile body shall be raised again, and made like his Savior’s glorious body at the last day.
If we know anything of true religion let us lean back on the words of the glorious promises in every time of need. If we believe in Christ, let us rest in the comfortable thought that Christ has pledged His word that we shall not perish. We may lose much by serving Christ, but we shall never lose our souls. The world may deprive a believer of property, friends, country, home, liberty, health, and life. It has done so in innumerable cases from the days of Stephen to the present time. The roll of the noble army of martyrs is a very long one. But one thing the world cannot do to any believer. It cannot deprive him of his interest in Christ’s love. It cannot break the union between Christ and his soul. Surely it is worth while to be a thorough-going believer! "I am persuaded," says Paul, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39.)
v10.—[Then said he unto them.] The part of the prophecy commencing here, and extending to the nineteenth verse, appears to admit of a double interpretation. Primarily it applies to the wars connected with the taking of Jerusalem, and the afflictions of Christians after our Lord’s death until the end of the Jewish dispensation. Secondarily it applies to the times immediately preceding the second advent of Christ and the end of the world.
[Nation shall rise, &c.] The times preceding the last Jewish war and destruction of Jerusalem were remarkable for repeated insurrections, and a most disturbed state of things in Judæa, and the countries immediately around Judæa. The "time of the end" just preceding our Lord’s second advent, will, in like manner, be a time of war, confusion and disorder among the nations of Christendom.
v11.—[Earthquakes...famines...pestilences.] These visitations of God were remarked to be specially frequent and severe in the last days of the Jewish dispensation. In particular, myriads died from famine and pestilence at Jerusalem during the siege, before the city was taken.
[Fearful sights and great signs.] The following note of Bishop Pearce deserves reading. "Josephus has given us a very particular account of the prodigies of this kind which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem. He speaks of a flaming sword seen over the city, and of a comet which appeared there for a twelvemonth. He mentions a light, which for the space of half an hour shone so bright in the night between the temple and the altar, that it seemed as if it was noon-day. He takes notice also, of what eyewitnesses had related to him, that chariots and armed troops were seen fighting in the sky upon a certain day. He adds, that on the day of Pentecost, when the priests entered into the inner temple, they heard a great noise and voice as of a multitude, crying out, ’let us depart hence.’ The substance of this account is also given by Tacitus the Roman historian."
There seems no reason to doubt the correctness of this report of Josephus. At any rate, being an unconverted Jew, he had no intention of confirming the statements contained in the Gospels.
It is in the highest degree probable that the second advent of Jesus Christ will be preceded by similar signs and unusual appearances in the framework of nature.
v12.—[Lay hands...persecute...&c.] This verse appears to have a special reference to the persecutions undergone by the early Christians, between the time of Christ’s ascension and the destruction of Jerusalem. The Acts of the Apostles describe the fulfilment of the verse.
v13.—[It shall turn...for a testimony.] The meaning of this verse seems to be, "that the sufferings of the Christians shall prove an evidence of the truth of Christianity."
It may be well to remark here, that if the first professors of Christianity had always received riches, and honor, and temporal rewards, as soon as they became Christians, the heathen world might fairly have doubted their sincerity, and the truth of their cause. But when the world saw thousands of them patiently enduring tremendous sufferings rather than give up their religion, the sight must have supplied a very strong proof that it was a religion which was true. A man here and there might be found who, in a fit of enthusiasm or fanaticism, might endure suffering and death for a false religion, which he foolishly believed to be true, or for a religion which he knew to be false. But when myriads suffered and died for Christianity, in the early days of the Church of Christ, an argument was supplied for the truth of Christianity, which infidels have never been able to overthrow.
v14.—[Settle it...not to meditate.] Here, as in other places, the right application of this precept must not be overlooked. It was not intended to encourage ministers in neglecting preparation for the pulpit. It does not apply to their case at all. It was spoken for the comfort of persecuted Christians. The promises connected with it were marvellously fulfilled in the case of the Apostles in the Acts, as well as in the trials of many martyrs in modern times.
v15.—[I will give you a mouth and wisdom.] Scott remarks on this promise that it is an incidental proof of the divinity of Christ. None but One who was very God could have made such a promise as this.
v16.—[Ye shall be betrayed.] We have no particular instances of such betrayal given to us in the Acts. But that they were far from uncommon in the persecutions of the early Church, is well known to all readers of ecclesiastical history.
v17.—[Ye shall be hated of all men.] These words should be carefully noticed. They show that universal popularity is not a thing that Christians should covet, nor yet value much if it should fall to their lot. The Christian of whom everybody speaks well, can hardly be a faithful man.
It is no reply to this to point to the honors paid to eminent Christians after their deaths, and the respect with which worldly men have attended their funerals and spoken of their memories. The world has always liked dead saints better than living ones. The Pharisees could build the tombs of the prophets, when they were dead.
v19.—[In patience...possess...souls.] We must not suppose that these words mean, "Keep your souls in a state of patience." This is a common interpretation, but not a correct one. The meaning appears rather to be, "Win, or procure, or keep in possession the salvation of your souls, through or by patience." Alford paraphrases it, "This endurance is God’s appointed way in and by which your salvation is to be put in your possession." The expression "Work out your own salvation," (Philippians 2:12,) will naturally occur to a Bible reader as somewhat similar.
Pearce takes the word "souls" to mean nothing more than "your lives," and thinks the verse may be paraphrased, "Your perseverance shall be rewarded with the preservation of your lives in the general ruin." Yet the expression of the verse preceding is so clearly a spiritual promise, that the verse before us seems to mean something more than the saving of mere bodily life.
THE subject of the verses before us is the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. It was meet and right that this great event, which wound up the Old Testament dispensation, should be specially described by our Lord’s mouth. It was fitting that the last days of that holy city, which had been the seat of God’s presence for so many centuries, should receive a special notice in the greatest prophecy which was ever delivered to the Church.
We should mark in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect knowledge. He gives us a fearful picture of the miseries which were coming on Jerusalem. Forty years before the armies of Titus encompassed the city, the dreadful circumstances which would attend the siege are minutely described. The distress of weak and helpless women,—the slaughter of myriads of Jews,—the final scattering of Israel in captivity among all nations—the treading down of the holy city by the Gentiles for eighteen hundred years, are things which our Lord narrates with as much particularity as if He saw them with His own eyes.
Foreknowledge like this is a special attribute of God. Of ourselves we "know not what a day may bring forth." (Proverbs 27:1.) To say what will happen to any city or kingdom in forty years from the present time, is far beyond the power of man. The words in Isaiah are very solemn: "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done." (Isaiah 46:10.) He who could speak with authority of things to come, as our Lord did in this place, must have been very God as well as very man.
The true Christian should continually keep in mind this perfect knowledge of Christ. Past things, present things, and things to come, are all naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. The recollection of the sins of youth may well make us humble. The sense of present weakness may make us anxious. The fear of trials yet to come may make our hearts faint. But it is a strong consolation to think that Christ knows all. For past, present, and future things we may safely trust Him. Nothing can ever happen to us that Christ has not known long ago.
We should mark, secondly, in this passage, our Lord’s words about flight in time of danger. He says respecting the days preceding the siege of Jerusalem, "Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto."
The lesson of these words is very instructive. They teach us plainly that there is nothing cowardly or unworthy of a Christian in endeavoring to escape from danger. There is nothing unbecoming our high vocation in a diligent use of means in order to secure our safety. To meet death patiently and courageously, if it comes on us in the path of God’s providence, is a duty incumbent on every believer. But to court death and suffering, and rush needlessly into danger, is the part of the fanatic and enthusiast not of the wise disciple of Christ. It is those who use all means which God has placed within their reach, who may confidently expect God’s protection. There is a wide difference between presumption and faith.
We should mark, thirdly, in this passage, our Lord’s words about vengeance. He says, with reference to the siege of Jerusalem, "These be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled."
There is something peculiarly awful in this expression. It shows us that the sins of the Jewish nation had been long noted down in the book of God’s remembrance. The Jews by their unbelief and impenitence, had been treasuring up wrath against themselves for many hundred years. The anger of God, like a pent-up river, had been silently accumulating for ages. The fearful tribulation which attended the siege of Jerusalem, would only be the outburst of a thunderstorm which had been gradually gathering since the days of the kings. It would only be the fall of a sword which had been long hanging over Israel’s head.
The lesson of the expression is one which we shall do well to lay to heart. We must never allow ourselves to suppose that the conduct of wicked men or nations is not observed by God. All is seen, and all is known; and a reckoning day will certainly arrive at last. It is a mighty truth of Scripture, that "God requireth that which is past." (Ecclesiastes 3:15.) In the days of Abraham "the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full," and four hundred years passed away before they were punished. Yet punishment came at last, when Joshua and the twelve tribes of Israel took possession of Canaan.—God’s "sentence against an evil work" is not always executed speedily, but it does not follow that it will not be executed at all. The wicked may flourish for many years "like a green bay-tree," but his latter end will be that his sin will find him out. (Genesis 15:16. Ecclesiastes 8:11. Psalms 37:35.)
We should mark, lastly, in this passage, our Lord’s words about the times of the Gentiles. We read that He said, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
A fixed period is here foretold, during which Jerusalem was to be given over into the hands of Gentile rulers, and the Jews were to have no dominion over their ancient city. A fixed period is likewise foretold which was to be the time of the Gentiles’ visitation, the time during which they were to enjoy privileges, and occupy a position something like that of Israel in ancient days.—Both periods are one day to end. Jerusalem is to be once more restored to its ancient inhabitants. The Gentiles, because of their hardness and unbelief, are to be stripped of their privileges and endure the just judgments of God. But the times of the Gentiles are not yet run out. We ourselves are living within them at the present day.
The subject before us is a very affecting one, and ought to raise within us great searchings of heart. While the nations of Europe are absorbed in political conflicts and worldly business, the sands in their hour-glass are ebbing away. While Governments are disputing about secular things, and Parliaments can hardly condescend to find a place for religion in their discussions, their days are numbered in the sight of God. Yet a few years, and "the times of the Gentiles will be fulfilled." Their day of visitation will be past and gone. Their misused privileges will be taken away. The judgments of God shall fall on them. They shall be cast aside as vessels in which God has no pleasure. Their dominion shall crumble away, and their vaunted institutions shall fall to pieces. The Jews shall be restored. The Lord Jesus shall come again in power and great glory. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and the "times of the Gentiles" shall come to an end.
Happy is he who knows these things, and lives the life of faith in the Son of God! He is the man, and he only, who is ready for the great things coming on the earth, and the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The kingdom to which he belongs, is the only kingdom which shall never be destroyed. The King whom he serves, is the only King whose dominion shall never be taken away. (Daniel 2:44. Daniel 7:14.)
v20.—[When ye shall see, &c.] From this verse down to the end of the 24th, our Lord’s prophecy is entirely confined to the last days of Jerusalem, and the duties of His disciples during that eventful period. Here at all events there is no reference to His second advent, and the last siege of Jerusalem, after its future restoration. The siege by Titus and destruction by the Romans are exclusively the subject under our eyes.
[Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know.] The following historical facts are well worthy of notice. They show in a remarkable manner how the words of our Lord in this verse were accomplished. It appears that three years before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, the Roman army under Cestius Gallus made a sudden attack upon Jerusalem, but most unaccountably and without any apparent reason, withdrew again, although the city might have been taken with ease. The consequence of this attack was that a large number of the inhabitants of Jerusalem took alarm, and withdrew from the city as soon as the Roman army had retired. To use the words of Josephus, they "swam away as from a ship about to sink." Among those who escaped were the Christians, some of them retiring to Pella, and some to Mount Libanus. The result of this was, that when the last great war, under Vespasian and Titus, broke out shortly afterwards, the Christians almost entirely escaped its desolation.
It seems a high probability that the Christians remembered the very words of our Lord which we are now considering, and that the remembrance of them was the preservation of their lives. They saw in the advance of the Roman army under Cestius Gallus the predicted sign of "desolation drawing nigh." They at once acted on the advice of their Master, and so escaped the miseries of the final siege.
v21.—[Flee to the mountains, &c.] Major remarks, "These were the mountains to the north-east of Jerusalem towards the source of the Jordan, which was in the territories of Agrippa. He continued faithful to the Romans; and hence the Christians avoided the destruction which overspread Judæa."
v21.—[Days of vengeance...things written fulfilled.] The "vengeance" spoken of here appears to me to be the righteous retribution of God on the Jewish nation, for all their sins against Him, from the time when they first entered Canaan. I cannot confine it to "vengeance" for the sins of the nation during the last few hundred years of their existence after the Babylonish captivity. The words of our Lord in Matthew 23:35-36, appear to confirm this view.
The "things written" appear to me to include all the heavy judgments foretold in the Old Testament as coming on the Jews, and to begin with the 26th chapter of Leviticus.
v23.—[Woe...them with child, give suck, &c.] The miseries of women in the siege of Jerusalem are specially foretold in Deuteronomy 28:56.
[In the land.] Here, as in many other places in the Gospels, "the land" seems specially to mean the land of Palestine.
v24.—[Fall by edge of sword, &c.] Josephus records that there perished in the siege of Jerusalem, by sword and by famine, no less than eleven hundred thousand Jews.
[Led away captives, &c.] Josephus records that in the course of the war ninety-seven thousand Jews were made captives. Most of them were sent as slaves into Egypt, or dispersed over the provinces of the Roman empire, to be cast to the wild beasts in the amphitheaters.
[Jerusalem trodden down of the Gentiles.] This expression means that the city of Jerusalem shall be possessed by Gentile nations, and cruelly oppressed as a captive city, until the Jews shall be restored to their own land. How literally and exactly these words have been fulfilled all readers of history know. In spite of all the efforts of the crusaders, Jerusalem has almost always been a city trampled under foot and cruelly oppressed, by Romans, Greeks, Saracens, and Turks, from the time of Titus down to the present day.
[Until...times of... Gentiles be fulfilled.] This expression is variously interpreted.
1. Some, with Bishop Pearce, put a vague general meaning on it, and say it signifies "till the Gentiles have done all which God intended them to do."
2. Some think, with Hammond, that it refers entirely to something already past, and that it was accomplished after the days of Adrian, when a church composed of Gentiles, Christians, and converted Jews was set up at Jerusalem, and flourished for a short time.
3. Some think, with Whitby and Newcome, that it refers entirely to things to come, and that the time of the Gentiles will be fulfilled when they are all fully converted to Christianity.
4. The true view I believe to be this. The "times of the Gentiles" I regard as the period between the first and second advents of Christ, during which the Gentile nations have a day of visitation and enjoy the privileges of the Gospel.—These times will come to an end at last, as the old Jewish dispensation did, because of the hardness and unbelief of the Gentile churches. They too, because they continue not in God’s goodness, will be cut off.—And when their time of visitation comes to an end, and they have been found as faithless and hardened as the Jews, then at last will the Jews be converted, and Jerusalem restored to its rightful possessors.
Our own times, be it remembered, are the "times of the Gentiles." They are times which seem rapidly drawing to an end. When they do end, the conversion of the Jews and the restoration of Jerusalem will take place.
THE subject of this portion of our Lord’s great prophecy is His own second coming to judge the world. The strong expressions of the passage appear inapplicable to any event less important than this. To confine the words before us, to the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans, is an unnatural straining of Scripture language.
We see, firstly, in this passage, how terrible will be the circumstances accompanying the second advent of Christ. Our Lord tells us that "there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud."
This is a singularly awful picture. It may not be easy perhaps to attach a precise meaning to every part of it. One thing however, is abundantly plain. The second coming of Christ will be attended by everything which can make it alarming to the senses and heart of man. If the giving of the law at Sinai was so terrible that even Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake," the return of Christ when He comes to earth in power and great glory shall be much more terrible.—If the hardy Roman soldiers "became as dead men," when an angel rolled the stone away and Christ rose again, how much greater will the terror be when Christ shall return to judge the world. No wonder that Paul said, "Knowing the terrors of the Lord we persuade men." (Hebrews 12:21. Matthew 28:4. 2 Corinthians 5:11.)
The thoughtless and impenitent man may well tremble when he hears of this second advent of Christ. What will he do when worldly business is suddenly stopped and the precious things of the world are made worthless?—What will he do when the graves on every side are opening, and the trumpet is summoning men to judgment?—What will he do when that same Jesus whose Gospel he has so shamefully neglected shall appear in the clouds of heaven, and put down every enemy under His feet?—Surely he will call on the rocks to fall on him and on the hills to cover him. (Hosea 10:8.) But he will call in vain for help, if he has never called on Christ before. Happy will they be in that day who have fled betimes from the wrath to come, and been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
We see, secondly, in this passage, how complete will be the security of true Christians at the second advent of Christ. We read that our Lord said to His disciples, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
However terrible the signs of Christ’s second coming may be to the impenitent, they need not strike terror into the heart of the true believer. They ought rather to fill him with joy. They ought to remind him that his complete deliverance from sin, the world and the devil, is close at hand, and that he shall soon bid an eternal farewell to sickness, sorrow, death and temptation. The very day when the unconverted man shall lose everything, shall be the day when the believer shall enter on his eternal reward. The very hour when the worldly man’s hopes shall perish, shall be the hour when the believer’s hope shall be exchanged for joyful certainty and full possession.
The servant of God should often look forward to Christ’s second advent. He will find the thought of that day a cordial to sustain him under all the trials and persecutions of this present life. "Yet a little time," let him remember, "and he that shall come will come and will not tarry." The words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled, "The Lord GOD shall wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall be taken away from off all the earth." One sure receipt for a patient spirit is to expect little from this world, and to be ever "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Hebrews 10:37. Isaiah 25:8. 1 Corinthians 1:7.)
We see, thirdly, in this passage, how needful it is to watch the signs of the times in the prospect of the second advent of Christ. Our Lord teaches this lesson by a parable: "Behold the fig tree and all the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." The disciples ignorantly supposed that Messiah’s kingdom would be ushered in by universal peace. Our Lord, on the contrary, tells them that the signs which shall immediately precede it shall be wars, confusions, perplexity, and distress.
The general duty which these words should teach us is very plain. We are to observe carefully the public events of the times in which we live. We are not to be absorbed in politics, but we are to mark political events. We are not to turn prophets ourselves, but we are to study diligently the signs of our times. So doing, the day of Christ will not come upon us entirely unawares.
Are there any signs in our own day? Are there any circumstances in the world around us which specially demand the believer’s attention? Beyond doubt there are very many. The drying up of the Turkish empire,—the revival of the Romish church,—the awakened desire of the Protestant churches to preach the Gospel to the heathen,—the general interest in the state of the Jews,—the universal shaking of governments and established institutions,—the rise and progress of the subtlest forms of infidelity,—all, all are signs peculiar to our day. All should make us remember our Lord’s words about the fig-tree. All should make us think of the text, "Behold, I come quickly." (Revelation 22:7.)
We see, lastly, in this passage, how certain it is that all our Lord’s predictions about the second advent will be fulfilled. Our Lord speaks as if He foresaw the unbelief and incredulity of man on this mighty subject. He knew how ready people would be to say "Improbable! impossible! The world will always go on as it has done." He arms His disciples against the infection of this skeptical spirit by a very solemn saying. "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."
We shall do well to remember this saying, whenever we are thrown into the company of those who sneer at unfulfilled prophecy. The sneers of unbelievers must not be allowed to shake our faith. If God has said a thing He will certainly bring it to pass, and the probability or possibility of it are matters which need not trouble us for a moment. That Christ should come again in power to judge the world and reign, is not half so improbable as it was that Christ should come to suffer and die. If He came the first time, much more may we expect that He will come the second time. If he came to be nailed to the cross, much more may we expect that He will come in glory and wear the crown. He has said it, and He will do it. "His words shall not pass away."
Let us turn from the study of these verses with a deep conviction that the second advent of Christ is one of the leading truths of Christianity. Let the Christ in whom we believe be not only the Christ who suffered on Calvary, but the Christ who is coming again in person to judge the earth.
v25.—[And there shall be signs, &c.] The prophecy, from this verse down to the end, takes a very wide range. It describes the last days of the world, the second personal advent of Jesus Christ, the circumstances which will attend that advent, and the duties which the prospect of that advent entails on all Christians.
[Sun...moon...stars...earth...sea...waves.] It is not agreed among commentators whether these expressions are to be interpreted literally or figuratively. It is undeniable that in symbolical prophecy the sea is an emblem of nations, and the heavenly bodies an emblem of the rulers of nations. (See Genesis 37:9; Ezekiel 32:8; Joel 2:10, Joel 2:30; Revelation 17:15.) But it must be remembered that the prophecy before us is not a symbolical one. Its predictions are plain, simple facts, and not clothed in figurative language. It seems, therefore, a high probability that the language before us will receive a literal fulfilment in the events preceding and accompanying the second advent of Christ. The frame of nature was convulsed when the law of God was given at Sinai, and when Christ died on the cross. It is surely not too much to expect that it will be convulsed when Christ returns to judge the world.
v26.—[Failing them.] The Greek word so translated is only found here in the new Testament. It means literally "fainting." Schleusner says that it signifies, "to faint from fear, to become not dead, but as if dead."
[Looking after.] The Greek word so rendered means literally "expectation." (Acts 12:11.) It seems to signify that state of anxious suspense in which the world will be when it sees the first symptoms of the approaching advent of Christ, and yet knows not, and is unwilling to know, what they mean.
[On the earth.] Let it be noted, that the Greek word so translated, in all the other fourteen places in the New Testament where it is used, is rendered, "the world."
[The powers of heaven.] The remarks made on Luke 21:25 apply to this expression. It seems safest to take it literally.
v27.—[See the Son of man coming, &c.] These words appear to me to admit of only one signification. They describe a literal, personal coming of that same Jesus Christ who ascended up in a cloud before the eyes of the disciples from Mount Olivet (Acts 1:9-12.)
v28.—[When these things begin...come to pass.] This expression deserves notice. It shows that although the advent of Christ will be a sudden advent at last, it will have been preceded by signs and symptoms which all intelligent and lively Christians may observe, however hidden they may be to the world.
[Your redemption.] The word "redemption" is here used in the same sense as in the following passages.—Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30. It signifies that full and complete redemption of the believer which will be accomplished when His body is raised again, and soul and body once more united. From the guilt and power of sin believers are redeemed already. But from all the humbling consequences of sin they will not be completely redeemed until Jesus comes again, and calls them from their graves at the last day.
v29.—[Fig tree and all the trees.] It admits of a question whether our Lord, by this expression, did not mean the Jewish and Gentile Churches. The fig tree, barren and cursed for its barrenness, was undoubtedly a figure of the Jewish Church. It seems not impossible that this was in our Lord’s mind, when we remember that His curse on the fruitless fig tree had been pronounced the very week when He spake this prophecy before us. See also Song of Song of Solomon 2:11-13.
v31.—[The kingdom of God...nigh at hand.] There is probably a reference in these words to the mistaken ideas of our Lord’s disciples about the kingdom of God. They looked for it to be set up at once, and expected their Master to be its King without delay. Our Lord here teaches them that His kingdom will not be nigh at hand until after a period of fearful wars and tribulation.
v32.—[This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.] The meaning of this sentence is a point on which commentators differ widely. An excellent summary of various opinions will be found in Gerhard’s Commentary.
1. Some think that "this generation," means simply "the present generation of men who were living when our Lord was speaking." This view is a favorite one with many modern Protestants, but it is very unsatisfactory. For one thing, nearly forty years passed away before the prophecy before us was even partially fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem. For another thing, it seems a most violent straining of the meaning of words to say that the destruction of Jerusalem at all fulfilled a very large part of the prophecy before us. The coming of the Son of man is surely a totally different th ing from the taking of a city.
2. Some think that "this generation" means "the heaven and earth," (as in the following verses,) and the whole frame of creation. This is the view of Maldonatus.
3. Some think that "this generation" means "the whole race of mankind." This is the view of Jerome and Barradius.
4. Some think that "this generation" means "this order of things," or dispensation, and that our Lord meant to teach us that the present dispensation was the last one, the "last time" of which John speaks. (1 John 2:18.)
5. Some think that "this generation" should have been rendered, "the same generation," and that it signifies, "the same generation which sees the beginning of the signs of my second advent, will also see the end of them and my personal appearing." I venture the remark that this rendering would not be the natural sense of the Greek words.
6. Some think that "this generation" means "the faithful, the believers, the company of Christ’s disciples," and that the general sense is that Christ shall always have a believing people even at the awful tribulations of the time of the end. The elect shall never be destroyed. This is a favorite opinion of the fathers. Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Euthymius and Theophylact all hold it.
7. The soundest and most satisfactory opinion to my mind, is that which makes "this generation" mean the Jewish nation. They had been spoken of by our Lord in this prophecy. Their captivity and scattering had been plainly predicted. The disciples might naturally wonder how such a prediction could be reconciled with the many promises of glory to Israel in the Old Testament prophets. Our Lord answers their thoughts by declaring that this nation, the "Jewish people," as a separate people, shall not pass away. Though cast down, they were not to be destroyed. Though scattered, they were yet to be gathered again before all things were fulfilled.
Of course the correctness of this view turns entirely on the question whether the Greek word translated "generation," will honestly bear the sense of "nation," or "people." My own belief is, that it will bear the sense, and that it does really bear it in many places of the New Testament. I mention as instances, Matthew 11:16; Matthew 12:39; Matthew 23:36. Luke 11:50-51. Acts 2:40. Philippians 2:15. In this last text our translators have actually translated the word "nation."
I will only add that the view I maintain is held by Mede, Flacius, Ravanellus, Aretius, and Bullinger. Mede’s argument in defence of the view will be found in his works, p. 752, fol 1672.
To point out how strikingly this view of the text is confirmed by the fact that the Jews are still a distinct and separate people all over the world, is of course needless.
v33.—[Heaven and earth...pass away.] This expression is a peculiarly strong and solemn mode of declaring the certainty of the whole prophecy being fulfilled. The heavens were to pass away like a scroll, at our Lord’s second coming. But His word was to stand forever. Nothing could prevent its being accomplished.
THESE verses form the practical conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s great prophetical discourse. They supply a striking answer to those who condemn the study of unfulfilled prophecy as speculative and unprofitable. It would be difficult to find a passage more practical, direct, plain, and heart-searching than that which is now before our eyes.
Let us learn from these verses, the spiritual danger to which even the holiest believers are exposed in this world. Our Lord says to His disciples, "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."
These words are exceedingly startling. They were not addressed to carnal-minded Pharisees, or skeptical Sadducees, or worldly Herodians. They were addressed to Peter, James, and John, and the whole company of the Apostles. They were addressed to men who had given up everything for Christ’s sake, and had proved the reality of their faith by loving obedience and steady adhesion to their Master. Yet even to them our Lord holds out the peril of surfeiting, and drunkenness, and worldliness! Even to them He says, "Take heed to yourselves"
The exhortation before us should teach us the immense importance of humility. There is no sin so great but a great saint may fall into it. There is no saint so great but he may fall into a great sin. Noah escaped the pollutions of the world before the flood; and yet he was afterwards overtaken by drunkenness.—Abraham was the father of the faithful; and yet through unbelief he said falsely that Sarah was his sister.—Lot did not take part in the horrible wickedness of Sodom; and yet he afterwards fell into foul sin in the cave.—Moses was the meekest man on earth; and yet he so lost self-command that he spoke angrily and unadvisedly.—David was a man after God’s own heart; and yet he plunged into most heinous adultery.—These examples are all deeply instructive. They all show the wisdom of our Lord’s warning in the passage before us. They teach us to be "clothed with humility." "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Peter 5:5; 1 Corinthians 10:12.)
The exhortation before us should teach us furthermore the great importance of an unworldly spirit. The "cares of this life" are placed side by side with surfeiting and drunkenness. Excess in eating and drinking is not the only excess which injures the soul. There is an excessive anxiety about the innocent things of this life, which is just as ruinous to our spiritual prosperity, and just as poisonous to the inner man. Never, never let us forget that we may make spiritual shipwreck on lawful things, as really and truly as on open vices. Happy is he who has learned to hold the things of this world with a loose hand, and to believe that seeking first the kingdom of God, "all other things shall be added to him"! (Matthew 6:33.)
Let us learn secondly from these verses, the exceeding suddenness of our Lord’s second coming. We read that "as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth." As a trap falling suddenly on an animal, and catching it in a moment,—as the lightning flash shining suddenly in heaven, before the thunder is heard,—as a thief coming suddenly in the night, and not giving notice that he will come,—so sudden, so instantaneous will the second advent of the Son of man be.
The precise date of our Lord Jesus Christ’s return to this world has been purposely withheld from us by God. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man." On one point however all the teaching of Scripture about it is clear and unmistakable. Whenever it shall take place, it shall be a most sudden and unexpected event. The business of the world shall be going on as usual. As in the days of Sodom, and the days before the flood, men shall be "eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage." Few, even among true believers, shall be found completely alive to the great fact, and living in a state of thorough expectation.—In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the whole course of the world shall be stopped. The King of kings shall appear. The dead shall be raised. The living shall be changed. Unbelief shall wither away. Truth shall be known by myriads too late. The world with all its trifles and shadows shall be thrust aside. Eternity with all its awful realities shall begin. All this shall begin at once, without notice, without warning, without note of preparation. "As a snare shall it come on the face of the whole earth."
The servant of God must surely see that there is only one state of mind which becomes the man who believes these things. That state is one of perpetual preparedness to meet Christ. The Gospel does not call on us to retire from earthly callings, or neglect the duties of our stations. It does not bid us retire into hermitages, or live the life of a monk or a nun. But it does bid us to live like men who expect their Lord to return. Repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness of conversation, are the only true habitual preparedness required. The Christian who knows these things by experience, is the man who is always ready to meet his Lord.
Let us learn, lastly, from these verses, the special duties of believers in the prospect of the second advent of Christ. Our Lord sums up these duties under two great heads. One of these two is watchfulness. The other is prayer. "Watch ye therefore," He says, "and pray always."
We are to "watch." We are to live on our guard like men in an enemy’s country. We are to remember that evil is about us, and near us, and in us,—that we have to contend daily with a treacherous heart, an ensnaring world, and a busy devil. Remembering this, we must put on the whole armor of God, and beware of spiritual drowsiness. "Let us not sleep as do others," says Paul, "but let us watch and be sober." (1 Thessalonians 5:6.)
We are to "pray always." We are to keep up a constant habit of real, business-like prayer. We are to speak with God daily, and hold daily communion with Him about our souls. We are to pray specially for grace to lay aside every weight, and to cast away everything which may interfere with readiness to meet our Lord. Above all, we are to watch our habits of devotion with a godly jealousy, and to beware of hurrying over or shortening our prayers.
Let us leave the whole passage with a hearty determination, by God’s help, to act on what we have been reading. If we believe that Christ is coming again, let us get ready to meet Him. "If we know these things, happy are we if we do them." (John 13:17.)
v34.—[Overcharged with surfeiting.] Let it be noticed that both the Greek words so translated, are only found here in the New Testament.
The whole verse is full of singularly searching expressions. The "heart" is the part which the Christian must guard, if he would live ready to meet Christ.—The heart is in constant danger of being "weighed down," or "pressed down."—Intemperance in eating and drinking is a fault against which even the best of men must watch. The most eat and drink far too much. It does not follow because Roman Catholics fast superstitiously, that Protestants are never to fast at all. The "cares of this life" may inflict great injury on the soul, as well as open sins.—All these things require diligent attention and unceasing watchfulness. The words of Matthew Henry are most true on this verse, "We cannot be safe, if we are secure."
[Unawares.] The Greek word so rendered is only found in one other place in the New Testament, and in the same connection. It is there translated "sudden." (1 Thessalonians 5:3.) Parkhurst defines it as "sudden, unexpected, unforeseen."
v36.—[Watch...pray always.] The Greek words so rendered are even more striking when translated literally. They would then be, "watch therefore, in every season praying."
[Accounted worthy to escape, &c...and to stand.] It admits of some question whether these words do not point to the possibility of some believers being allowed to pass through great tribulation in the last days, because of their sloth and inconsistency. There certainly are expressions in the New Testament which seem to indicate that all Christ’s people will not "stand" before Him with equal boldness in the day of His appearing. Peter speaks of an "abundant entrance." Paul speaks of some "saved so as by fire." (2 Peter 1:11. 1 Corinthians 3:15.)
v37.—[Day time...teaching in the temple.] Let it be noted, that from the time of our Lord’s public entry into Jerusalem up to His death, He never withdrew from His enemies, but did all openly, and before their eyes. He knew that His time was come.
[Abode.] The Greek word so rendered is only found in one other place, and there is translated "lodged." Matthew 21:17. Major says, that the expression, "abode in the Mount of Olives," means "at Bethany, because it was a town on the Mount of Olives." Comparison with the text just quoted in Matthew, makes this highly probable. It is not necessary to suppose that our Lord lodged in the open air.