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PROPHECY OF THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM, AND OF THE TIMES OF THE END. (Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36.)
There is no reason to think, with Olshauson, that St. Matthew or his editor has considerably amplified the original discourse of our Lord by introducing details and expressions from other quarters. The discourse, as we now have it (Matthew 24:1-51. and 25.), forms a distinct whole, divided into certain portions closely related to each other and it would have been unnatural in St. Matthew, and opposed to his simple and veracious style, to have put words into our Lord's mouth at this moment, which were not actually uttered by him on this solemn occasion.
Occasion of the discourse. (Mark 13:1-4; Luke 21:5-7.)
From the temple; Revised Version, went out froth the temple, and was going on his way (ἐπορευìετο). So the best manuscripts and versions. It was while he was proceeding on the route to Bethany that the disciples interrupted him with their remarks about the temple. He had now taken his final leave of the hallowed courts; the prophecy of the desolation of the house was beginning to be fulfilled (see on Matthew 23:38). His disciples came to him. They were disquieted by Christ's words recorded at the end of the last chapter, which spoke of a terrible retribution about to fall, of the desolation of the temple, of Christ's own departure for a time. St. Mark (Mark 13:3) tells us that Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately when these things should be, and what signs should forewarn of their approach, as in verse 3. St. Matthew records here that his disciples came to him for to show (ἐπιδεῖξαι, to display) him the buildings of the temple (ἱεροῦ, the whole sacred enclosure). They had gathered from his words that destruction awaited this edifice, but as they gazed upon it they could scarcely bring themselves to believe in its coming overthrow. So as they gained some commanding point of view, they drew Christ's attention to its beauty, magnificence, and unequalled solidity, desiring him to explain further the mode and time of the catastrophe. It was popularly said, "He who never saw the temple of Herod has never seen a fine building."
And Jesus said. The best manuscripts and the Revised Version give, but he answered and said. See ye not all these things? Vulgate, Videtis haec omnia? Our Lord, in turn, calls attention to the glorious structure in order to give added emphasis to his weighty denunciation. Not be left here one stone upon another. This prophecy was most literally fulfilled. Recent explorations have shown that not a stone of Herod's temple remains in situ. The orders of Titus, given with regret, for the total demolition of the walls of temple and city, were carried out with cruel exactness, so that, as Josephus testifies ('Bell. Jud.,' 7.1. 1), passers by would not have supposed that the place had ever been inhabited. When the apostate Julian, in the fourth Christian century, endeavoured to cast a slur upon prophecy by rebuilding the city and temple, his design proved to be an ignominious failure, and the sacred shrine has continued to this day a monument of Divine vengeance.
As he eat upon the Mount of Olives. On his way to Bethany towards the close of this day, he rested for a while and communed with the disciples, uttering the wonderful eschatological discourse which follows in this and the next chapter. It is noted that the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans began on the very spot where this prophecy of its destruction was delivered, strategical reasons compelling them to make their attack from this quarter. "A sudden turn in the road," writes Dr. Edersheim (2.431), "and the sacred building was once more in full view. Just then the western sun was pouring his golden beams on tops of marble cloisters and on the terraced courts, and glittering on the golden spikes on the roof of the holy place. In the setting, even more than in the rising sun, must the vast proportions, the symmetry, and the sparkling sheen of this mass of snowy marble and gold have stood out gloriously. And across the black valley, and up the slopes of Olivet, lay the dark shadows of those gigantic walls built of massive stones, some of them nearly twenty-four feet long. Even the rabbis, despite their hatred of Herod, grow enthusiastic, and dream that the very temple walls would have been covered with gold had not the variegated marble, resembling the waves of the sea, seemed more beauteous. It was probably, as they [the disciples] now gazed on all this grandeur and strength, that they broke the silence imposed on them by gloomy thoughts of the near desolateness of that house which the Lord predicted." Privately. Such questions were not to be asked openly in the hearing of any who might have followed him from the city. There was nothing more resented by the average Jew than any intimation of the destruction of the temple. It was one of the charges against Stephen that he had said that Jesus would destroy the temple (Acts 6:14). When, therefore, some of the apostles wished for more definite information on this subject, they took care to make their inquiry in private. Their questions were twofold—they desired to know the time of the events, and the signs which should precede Christ's coming and the end of the world. When shall these things be? "These things" refer to the destruction of the temple, and the course of events which, as they conceive, are dependent thereupon (comp. Matthew 23:36). To their minds, this catastrophe could only occur contemporaneously with the coming of Christ in glory and the end of the world. They saw in it a great revolution which should usher in the final consummation. But when should this come to pass?—in their own day, or after many ages? in the lifetime of this generation, or at some far-distant period? It was not mere wanton curiosity to know the future which prompted the question, but rather a reverent desire to prepare for these great events, of the certainty of which they were now fully assured. So the next question shows no doubt concerning the facts, and asks, not the mode of the accomplishment, but only what anticipatory warning and indication were to be given. Sign of thy coming (τῆς σῆς παρουσιìας), and of the end of the world (συντελειìας τοῦ αἰῶνος). They look upon these two events as synchronous, or very closely connected. The word parousia, which in classical Greek means "presence," or "arrival," is used in the New Testament specially for the second advent of Christ to set up his eternal kingdom in full power and glory. Referring to the same event, we find in some places the term "epiphany" used (see 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1), and in others "revelation" (ἀποκαìλυψις, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7); but the three expressions denote simply the open establishment of Messiah's kingdom, indefnitely as to time and manner. The phrase translated "the end of the world "means literally the consummation of the age (cf. Matthew 13:39; Hebrews 9:26); consummationis saeculi (Vulgate); i.e. the close of this present seen, in contradistinction from the future aeon, or the world to come. This is "the last time," "the last days," spoken of elsewhere (see 1 Peter 1:5; 1 John 2:18; and comp. Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1).
The first portion of the great prophecy.
Jesus answered and said. The succeeding prophecy has much exercised the minds of commentators from the earliest times unto the present. It is, indeed, full of mysteries, dark sayings, profundities, which our minds cannot fathom. Many of these are and must be inherent in the subject; but some difficulties have been created by the imperfect views taken by those who have applied themselves to explain the Lord's utterances. It is seen by all that we have here predictions concerning the fate of Jerusalem, concerning the parousia of Christ, and concerning the last times; it is the attempt to assign to these events separately certain definite portions of the address that has led to confusion and perplexity. Over-refinement and over-wisdom have marred the exposition of many critics. They have limited to one event that which was spoken of more than that one; confining their view to one point, they have excluded other points which were equally in the mind of the Revealer. It has been usual to divide the prophecy in this chapter into two sections, of which the first, extending to the twenty-ninth verse, is supposed to relate to the fate of Jerusalem itself; the second, comprising the rest of the chapter, to the parousia and the coming to judgment. But such definite partition will not stand investigation, and can be maintained only by doing violence to language or ignoring more natural explanations. The prophecy announces analogous events, the description of which has more than one application, and often passes from one to another with nothing to closely mark the transition. The combination of facts thus woven together cannot be coarsely unravelled. The same words, the same expressions, are used to denote the arrival or fulfilment of distinct occurrences. To limit these to one event only is to set bounds to the Omniscient. So it seems to be not only most expedient, but most reverent, to look on our Lord's eschatological address as one whole, of which the several parts are in full harmony and sequence (if we were only able to understand them), and to acknowledge that insuperable difficulties in the interpretation do exist and are meant to exist. The Lord had to prepare his followers for the overthrow of their city, and the dangers to life and faith which would accompany that judgment. He desired also to raise in them a constant expectation of his advent, so that Christians then and thenceforward might ever live in hope and watch for a great future. Herein will be found the key to the perplexities of the address; not that even this unlocks all the mysteries, but, it opens the drift of these wonderful utterances, and enables us to see light amid the gloom. This will appear more fully as we examine the details. Take heed that no man deceive you; πλανηìσῃ: lead you astray (so Matthew 24:5). Jesus does not answer the disciples' question as to the time when "these things" shall occur; that is purposely left uncertain. He proceeds to warn them against the dangers which would beset them in the coming crisis. He withdraws them from the speculative to the practical (see Matthew 24:23-25).
Here begins what has been called the first strophe of the oracle (Matthew 24:5-14), which indicates certain prognostics common to the close of the Jewish theocracy and to the end of the world. Many shall come in my Name (ἐπιì τῷ ὀνοìματιì μου), resting on my Name, grounding their pretensions thereon. Saying, I am Christ (the Christ). They who really desired to follow Christ should be tried by the temptation to see in other persons the Messiah. The warning could scarcely have been needed by the apostles themselves; it must have been meant primarily for their converts and the early Christians. And though we have no account in apostolic Church history of any such pretenders, yet in the age succeeding our Lord's death we read of many impostors who asserted themselves to be inspired prophets, if not the Messiah, and led astray many credulous persons (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20.5. 1; 8. 6, etc.). There were doubtless many false Messiahs whose names are little known, and critics have enumerated twenty-nine such. The pretensions of these persons were not generally admitted, and their adherents were commonly few and uninfluential. Our Lord probably did not allude to these in his monition. But we may observe that the warning may include such deceivers as Simon Magus and those many false teachers who vexed the early Church, and, without assuming the name of Christ, did Satan's work by undermining the faith. St. John speaks of there being "many antichrists" in his day (1 John 2:18), and St. Paul had occasion to warn his converts against "heretical seducers" (see 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17.; 1 Timothy 6:3, etc.). Since then the prophecy has been fulfilled in the heretics who, professing to come in the Name of Christ and to enunciate his doctrine, or, like Mohammed, to assume his place, have taught lies. These shall abound in the latter days, and shall be a sign of the approaching end.
Ye shall hear (μελληìσετε ἀκουìειν). Ye are about, ye are destined, to hear. "Futurum complicatum, audituri eritis" (Bengel). He addresses the apostles as representatives of the whole body of believers. Wars and rumours of wars; i.e. wars near at hand, and distant wars of which the rumour only reaches you, but which threaten to approach and menace your peace (cf. Jeremiah 4:19). The peace which reigned at Christ's birth was rudely shattered after his death, though the wars before the destruction of Jerusalem were of no great importance. We hear of an in. tended expedition against Aretas (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18.5. 3), of one of Caligula against the Jews (ibid., 18.8. 2), both of which, however, came to nothing. Then there were certain insurrections in the reigns of Claudius (ibid., 20.5, 3) and Nero (ibid., 20.8. 6-10). The Roman empire was disturbed; four emperors—Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius—died by violence within a short space of time; the restless Parthians were a continual source of trouble. But these and such-like occurrences do little to exhaust the meaning of Christ's prediction. He is looking forward to a distant future, and sees with prophetic eye the state of warfare which has prevailed from the disruption of the Roman empire, and which shall continue unto the end. See that ye be not troubled; rather, see, be ye not troubled, Look on it all, and yet be not affrighted. All these things (παìντα) must come to pass. All that I announce is sure to occur, not from any absolute necessity, but because of men's passions and perverseness, which will bring it to pass (see on Matthew 18:7; and James 4:1). The end is not yet. These signs might lead men to think that the final consummation was close at hand. Our Lord warns against such a conclusion. St. Paul speaks of "the end" as occurring in Christ's second advent (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Nation shall rise against nation, etc. This part of the prediction is inapplicable to the era preceding the ruin of Jerusalem, the disturbances that occurred then (e.g. at Alexandria, Seleucia, Jamnia, and other localities mentioned by Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18.9. 8, 9; 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.17. 10; 18.1-8; 4.3. 2; and by Philo, 'Legat. ad Caium,' § 30) could hardly have been indicated in such grand terms. More to the purpose is the sketch of the period given by Tacitus, at the opening of his history, though it embraces also details belonging to a somewhat later age: "I enter upon a work fertile in vicissitudes, stained with the blood of battles, embroiled with dissensions, horrible even in the intervals of peace. Four princes slain by the sword; three civil wars, more with foreign enemies, and sometimes both at once; prosperity in the East, disasters in the West; Illyricum disturbed; the Gauls ready to revolt; Britain conquered, and again lost; Sarmatians end Suevians conspiring against us; the Dacians renowned for defeats given and sustained; the Parthians almost aroused to arms by a counterfeit Nero. Italy afflicted with calamities unheard of, or recurring only after a long interval; cities overwhelmed or swallowed up in the fertile region of Campania; Rome itself laid waste by fire, the most ancient temples destroyed, the very capitol burned by its own citizens," etc. ('Hist.,' I. 2). But the Lord's words seem to refer to times when Rome's dominion had ceased, and nation warred against nation, as in later and modem days in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa So again the prediction must be extended far beyond events in the Jewish cycle. Famines. Besides the famine mentioned in Acts 11:28, there were others in Jerusalem and Judaea (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 3.15. 3; 20.2.6; 4. 2; 'Bell. Jud.,' yd. 3. 3). Suetonius ('Claud.,' 18) speaks of "assiduas sterilitates;" and Tacitus ('Ann.,' 12.43) records as happening at the same period, "frugum egestas, et orta ex eo fames." And pestilences; as consequent on famine. Hence the Greek paronomasia, λιμοιÌ και, in our text. But many editors expunge λιμοιì, considering it, with some reason, to have been introduced from the parallel passage in St. Luke, where it is certainly genuine. Of pestilences we have notice in Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 4.6, 1), in Tacitus ('Ann.,' 14.16), and Suetonius ('Nero,' 39), where we read that at Rome in a single autumn thirty thousand persons perished. Wordsworth refers to Tertullian ('Apol.,' 20.), Who sees in these predictions infallible proof of the inspiration of Scripture. "Hence it is that we come to be so certain of many things not yet come to pass, from the experience we have of those that are; because those were presignified by the same Spirit with these which we see fulfilling every day" (Reeve). Earthquakes. Commentators relate the occurrence of such commotions at Rome, in Crete, Laodicea, Campania, etc., and at Jerusalem (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 4.4. 5; Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 12.43, 58; 14.27; 15.22; Seneca, 'Ep.,' 91. 9; Philostraius, 'Vit. Apollon.,' 4.34; Zonaras, 'Ann.,' 11.10). Nosgen takes the term "earthquakes" in a metaphorical sense as equivalent to ταραχαιì, and implying mental perturbations; but it seems incongruous to admit a metaphysical prognostication in the midst of a notice of a series of material phenomena. In divers places; καταÌ τοìπους: per loca (Vulgate). Some render the words, "in all places," ubivis locorum, as in Luke 2:41, κατ ἐìτος, "every year." But it is better to take the preposition distributively, "place by place," like κατ ἀìνδρα: so equivalent to "here and there."
Beginning of sorrows; ὠδιìνων: labour pangs, travailings. The metaphor often occurs (see Isaiah 26:17; Jeremiah 13:21; Hosea 13:13, etc). These great events are called "labour pangs" because they usher in the new creation, "the regeneration" spoken of in Matthew 19:28 (see note there). St. Paul writes (Romans 8:22), "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." The tribulations and calamities which preceded and accompanied the overthrow of the Jewish polity are a sign and warning of the great and universal woes Which shall herald the day of judgment. Jewish writings speak of "the sorrows of Messiah," distresses, wars, famine, dissension, etc., which should herald his advent, and Christ may have used the popular opinion, true as far as it went, as a vehicle for conveying the further truth, that the coming age would be produced amid terrible agonies of men, peoples, and nature.
The Lord passes to the fate of his followers, or the corporate Church. Then. St Mark does not note the time; St. Luke writes, "before all these things." Hence we gather that the calamities now announced will precede, accompany, and follow those before mentioned. That which befell the apostles and early believers is an emblem of what Christianity will undergo at the hands of an antagonistic world. St. John, in the Revelation, has shadowed forth these things as doomed to fall upon the Church in the latter days. Shall they deliver you up to be afflicted (comp. Matthew 10:17, Matthew 10:18). Christ is speaking, not only of the apostles, but of disciples generally. They shall deliver you over to the authorities, civil and religious, to be punished. The Book of the Acts contains numerous examples of such afflictions (see Acts 4:3; Acts 8:1; Acts 12:4; Acts 13:50 : Acts 14:19, etc.). Kill. As Stephen (Acts 7:59), James the brother of John (Acts 12:2), Peter and Paul (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' Ecclesiastes 2:25), and many others. Hated of all [the] nations (Acts 28:22, "As concerning this sect, it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against"). Tacitus speaks of those "quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat" ('Ann.,' 15.44). The Romans seem to have placed Jews and Christians in the same category, and to have bestowed on the latter the hatred felt for the former. But the Lord's words point to some feeling more universal and permanent than this temporary animosity, even to the hatred which occasioned the death of martyrs in all ages, the warfare between good end evil, faith and unbelief, which shall continue and increase in virulence unto the end (John 15:20; John 16:2).
Shall many be offended. The persecutions directed against the disciples in general shall in many cases result in overcoming their steadfastness and sapping their faith. Shall betray one another. To curry favour with enemies and to secure their own safety in troublous times, Christians were found to inform against friends, and to deliver them up to the civil authorities. Tacitus notes instances of this degrading cowardice. "First those were seized who confessed that they were Christians; and then on their information a vast multitude was convicted" ('Ann.,' 15.44). Shall hate one another. Dissensions in religion cause the most bitter hatred, the very opposite of that love which is the essence of Christianity (John 15:17). Where one of a pagan family embraced Christianity, the convert was regarded as an outcast, and cut adrift from the nearest domestic ties. The same treatment obtains even now in India. The reference in the text chiefly concerns contentions among professing Christians; we see such effects every day; they appear in every page of ecclesiastical history; they have stained the annals of our own and every nation.
False prophets (Matthew 24:24). These were not necessarily predictors or soothsayers, but teachers having, as they said, a message from God. Such pretenders have arisen in every great crisis; but the Jews a few years later were deceived continually by fanatics or impostors, who professed to be inspired, and premised the infatuated people deliverance, urging them to resist the Romans, in expectation of the coming of Messiah to lead them to immediate victory (comp. Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 6.5. 2). The designation "false prophets" applies also to those heretical teachers who vexed the peace of the early Church, and of whom St. John expressly speaks, "Many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). These were Judaizing and Gnostic teachers, who tried to mar the good work of the apostles (see Acts 20:30; Romans 16:17, Romans 16:18; 2 Corinthians 11:13; Galatians 1:7-9; Colossians 2:18-23, etc.). Throughout the Christian ages heresiarchs have always raised their evil voices, and the history of the Church is very much composed of accounts of such teachers, and of the efforts made to suppress them and to correct their pernicious doctrines.
Because iniquity shall abound (πληθυνθῆναι, is multiplied). The word rendered "iniquity" is ἀνομιìα, "lawlessness," general immorality and licence. Impatience of rule and discipline, connivance at and imitation of heathen practices, reacted upon the faith of believers, undermined steadfast adherence to principle. Then was the power of "that wicked one" (ὁἀìνομος, 2 Thessalonians 2:8) exercised and seen in the lapse of the unstable. The love of many (τῶν πολλῶν, the many, the majority) shall wax cold. "Love" (ἀγαìπη) here is used in its general and comprehensive sense, as having God as its chief object and man in subordination thereto. The troubles and persecutions that shall beset believers, the spirit of worldliness and self-seeking that a timid faith encourages, will issue in loosening dependence upon God and trust in his providential care; and internal dissensions will destroy that brotherly love which ought to be characteristic of Christians. Of this lack of energetic love the Lord speaks in his warnings to the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:16), "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Matthew 10:22). Here is a note of consolation amid the refrain of woe. Patience and perseverance shall be crowned at the last. "The end" means primarily the destruction of Jerusalem, and the salvation promised is safety in that day of peril. It is believed that no Christians perished in the siege or after it (see Matthew 24:16). But τεìλος, being here used without the article (differently from Matthew 24:6 and, 14), must not be restricted to one allusion, but must be taken more generally, as indeed a universal axiom, equivalent to "finally," as long as endurance is needed. And the salvation must refer to the soul's sentence at the last day, not to any mere safety of body and life. What the maxim says is this: patient continuance in well doing, resignation under persecutions and afflictions, holding fast the one faith even though it lead to the martyr's death,—this shall win the crown of eternal blessedness. The Christian must not be led astray by false teachers nor offended by the prevalence of scandals, nor let his love be chilled, if he would gain the reward, share in Messiah's glory, and save his soul.
This gospel of the kingdom. The good news of the coming of Messiah's kingdom—what we call in short, "the gospel"—"that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). He calls it "this" (Matthew 26:13), because it is that which he preached, which it was the object of his incarnation to set forth. In all the world (ἐν ὁìλῃ τῇ οἰκουμεìνῃ, in all the inhabited earth). Before the taking of Jerusalem, the gospel had been carried into all parts of the then known world. We have very uncertain information about the labours of most of the apostles, but if we may judge of their extent from what we know of St. Paul's, we should say that very few quarters of the Roman world were left unvisited. "Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the inhabited world" (Romans 10:18). St. Paul testifies that the gospel was preached to every kingdom under heaven (Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23). He himself carried it to Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Illyricum, Rome, Spain (see Romans 15:19, Romans 15:24, Romans 15:28; Galatians 1:17; Philippians 1:13, etc.). A witness unto all [the] nations. That both Jews and Gentiles might have the opportunity of receiving or rejecting Christ. The witness should be for or against them according to the use made of this opportunity. If the gospel thus delivered contained this utterance of our Lord's, the fulfilment of the predictions would lead to belief in him, and could fail to win acceptance only by reason of invincible prejudice or wilful perversity. Shortly, the truth is that the gospel will be everywhere offered, but not everywhere received. And then, when all these signs, especially the one last named, shall have appeared, shall the end come, primarily of Jerusalem, secondarily of this world or this age. Nothing is said of the effect of missionary efforts in early days or in time to come. We know that there was no national conversion in the primitive era, however common individual conversion may have been. So in the present age we are not to expect more than that Christian missions shall reach the uttermost parts of the earth, and that all nations shall have the offer of salvation, before the final appearance of Christ. The success of these efforts at universal evangelization is a mournful problem. "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find the faith upon the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
In this second strain of the prophecy contained in Matthew 24:15-22, our Lord confines himself almost entirely to the fate of Jerusalem. Therefore. The illative particle carries us back to the signs given in the previous section (Matthew 24:5-14). By saying when ye shall see, he implies that some of his hearers shall behold this mysterious sign, and have the opportunity of profiting by the knowledge thereof. The abomination of desolation (τοÌ βδεìλυγμα τῆς ἐρημωìσεως). The term is from the Septuagint Version (with which Theodotion's agrees) of Daniel 12:11; in Daniel 9:27 we find βδεìλυγμα τῶν ἐρημωìσεων, where the Hebrew gives, Upon the wing [or, 'pinnacle'] of abominations shall come the desolater." Also in Daniel 11:31 we have the simple βδεìλυγμα. What is meant by the term in our text is a matter of unsettled dispute. The prophecy in Daniel 11:31 has been generally referred to the doings of Antiochus Epiphanes (see 1 Macc. 1:54), and the present is considered to relate to something analogous. "Abomination" in the Old Testament is generally connected with idolatry or sacrilege; "of desolation" is equivalent to "that causes desolation." Among the many explanation; of this passage which have been offered, two only seem worthy of consideration.
(1) The desolating abomination is referred to the Roman armies encamped around Jerusalem (Luke 21:20), of which the symbol was the legionaries' eagles, regarded with reverence by the soldiers. But in opposition to this view it may be said, if the holy place, without the article, signifies the Holy Land, then the presence of the Latin forces would be no new sign to the Jewish people, as they had been familiar with such a sight for many years. If the temple itself is meant, it is plain that it would be too late to fly from that doomed city when the Roman eagles were already in the hallowed courts.
(2) The alternative interpretation, which has seemed to many more probable, explains it of the sanguinary deeds of the Zealots, who, after the war had been carried on for some years, seized the temple, put a stop to the daily sacrifice, deluged the sacred courts with blood, and were guilty of most hideous crimes and excesses, which, as Josephus testifies, were the immediate cause of the city's, ruin (see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 4.3, 7, etc.; 5.1, 2; 6.3; 5.9, 4; 6.2; and Wordsworth's note on this Daniel 11:15). The presence and acts of these ruffians were to be the signal for the escape of the Christians. I must confess that neither of these explanations satisfies me. The primal fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy is found in the erection of the statue of Jupiter in the temple by the order of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the pollution of the altar by the sacrifice of swine thereon. Our Lord would seem to refer to something analogous which should give the Christians a signal for escape before the complete investiture of the city. The deeds of Zealots and assassins, however atrocious, could not with any propriety be described as "abomination that maketh desolate standing in the holy place." The term, according to scriptural analogy, must refer to some sacrilege and pollution connected with idolatry, of which certainly the Zealots were not guilty. The Fathers, recognizing this, have seen the fulfilment in the erection of images of the Roman emperors in the temple or its precincts. But we have no account of any such act preceding the final siege. Pilate's attempted introduction of the Roman ensigns was defeated by the threatening attitude of the people (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18.3. 1), and the actual setting up of these ensigns in the sanctuary, and the erection of the statue of Titus, were subsequent to the capture of the city and temple ('Bell. Jud.,' 6.6. 1). Our Lord is plainly referring to something that transpired before the conclusion of the siege, otherwise we might recognize an allusion to the insurrection of Bar-cochebas, which ended in the destruction of the partially rebuilt city, the abolition of its old name, the erection of a temple to Jupiter on the site of the holy place, and the placing of a statue of the emperor upon the altar, A.D. 135. What the "abomination" was cannot now be accurately determined, though its character may be divined from what has been said, and it was probably some anticipation of the antichrist who is to appear before the final consummation, who "exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:8). Spoken of by Daniel the prophet, in three passages (Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11), all obscure and difficult, and not necessarily referring to the same events. Christ takes it for granted that his auditors understand the allusion. Stand [standing] in the holy place. Those who take "the abomination" to be the Roman army, explain this clause to mean "posted on the holy soil." But τοìπος ἁìγιος, with or without the article, is never used but in reference to the temple and its adjuncts. Whatever the sign may be, it is to be seen within the temple. (Whoso readeth, let him understand.) There are three ways of regarding this parenthetical clause.
(1) Alford takes it as "an ecclesiastical note, which, like the doxology in Daniel 6:13, has found its way into the text" This is a mere conjecture which has nothing to support it.
(2) Others consider it to be a remark of St. Matthew, intended to call special attention to the warning; but such an observation is entirely without precedent in the synoptic Gospels, and it is found also in the parallel passage of St. Mark. It is scarcely probable that both these evangelists would have given the identical caution, if it arose from their own motion in respect of those who should read their words before the siege.
(3) It seems more natural to take the clause as uttered by Christ himself with a silent reference to the words of the angel to Daniel, "Know therefore and understand" (Daniel 9:25; comp. Daniel 12:10). The Lord would point emphatically to the prophecy of Daniel, and his own interpretation thereof (2 Timothy 2:7). He seems also to imply that the application is not at once obvious, and needs spiritual insight to discern it.
Then; i.e. when they shall see "the abomination of desolation," etc. Them which be in Judaea. Not only in Jerusalem, but in its vicinity, as most exposed to danger from the invading army. Flee into (ἐπιÌ, over) the mountains. The Christians seem to have taken this advice when the city was attacked by Costius Gallus, about A.D. 66, some three or more years before the siege under Vespasian. Gallus had appeared before the walls, and apparently had every hope of taking the city, when, for some reason not certainly known (either owing to a supposed defeat, or ignorance of his own success, or the advice of his generals), he suddenly withdrew his forces (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.19, 6, 7). The Christians, bearing Christ's warning in mind, and having, as we may conjecture, seen the predicted sign, took the opportunity of flight from the doomed city, and made their escape to Pella, a town of Decapotis, southeast of Bethshean, and the ruins of which are known now by the name of Fahil. Euschius probably refers to this migration ('Hist. Eccl.,' 3.5), narrating that, owing to a certain revelation given to holy men among them, the whole body of the Church, before the war, removed across the Jordan to Pella, and dwelt there in safety during those troublous times. We probably, however, do not know the exact time of the flight, as we are ignorant of what was the warning of imminent danger which rendered this hurried proceeding necessary.
Housetop. This was fiat, and used as a place of rest, meditation, and familiar concourse (Matthew 10:27). Come down … house. The roof was accessible by two staircases, one external leading from the street or the country, the other mounting from the apartments. The householder was not to descend by this latter to carry off anything from his chambers within, but to escape at once by the outer staircase (setup. Luke 5:19). The flight was to be precipitate, like that of Lot from Sodom (cf. Luke 17:32). The warning was necessary, as, when the Zealots and assassins bad the upper hand, they allowed no one to leave the city. The warning, however, applied to dwellers in any part of Judaea.
In the field. People in the open country would be in as great danger as those in the city, the hostile troops doubtless being dispersed on all sides, plundering, burning, and slaying. Return back. He who was working in the fields only partially clad was not to go to his house to fetch the rest of his garments, but to make good his flight just as he was. He would naturally lay aside his heavy burnous while engaged in work, but all considerations of propriety and comfort were to be put aside at the present emergency. The warning was to be regarded equally by those in doors or out of doors, at home or abroad.
Woe unto them that are with child! The Lord, while he counsels flight, has a word of compassion for those poor mothers who are forced to have recourse thereto. The circumstances mentioned would impede flight and greatly increase danger and distress. The sufferings of mothers and children in the siege are narrated by the historian, and even such horrors as are indicated in Deuteronomy 28:53-56 were not unknown (see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 5.10, 3; 6.3, 4; Eusobius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 3.6, 7).
Pray ye that, etc. (προσευìχεσθε ἱìνα). He bids them pray to and worship God, in order that he may give them a favourable time for flight. The clause introduced with the final particle does not directly denote the subject of the petition, as our version gives the impression, but rather the aim of the petitioners (Morison). Not in the winter. He spake of personal hindrances in the last verse; here he speaks of external circumstances over which man has no control, except by prayer. The weather in winter, which means the rainy season, might render the roads impassable, and would, of course, prevent any hope of obtaining food by the wayside from cornfield or fruit tree. The sabbath day, which precluded any work or the use of beast of burden, and restricted a journey to something less than a mile. We must remember that until the final catastrophe the Christians observed such Mosaic restrictions (see Exodus 16:29; Acts 1:12). A flight for such a short distance would have been of no avail under the imperious circumstances which rendered escape advisable.
Nor then. Jesus gives the reason why this precipitate flight (Matthew 24:16-20) was rendered necessary at the moment spoken of in Matthew 24:15. Great tribulation. The miseries suffered in the siege of Jerusalem were stupendous To the skilful and fierce attacks of the Romans from without were added from within dire famine and pestilence, dissensions, violence, and continual bloodshed and murder. Josephus estimates the number of those who fell in the siege and capture of Jerusalem at 1,000,000, the usual population being largely increased by the influx of pilgrims attending the Feast of the Passover, and by thousands of fugitives who had flocked in from the country (Josephus. 'Bell. Jud.,' 6.9, 3). He adds that 97,000 were carried away captive during and after the war. Such as was not … nor ever shall be (Daniel 12:1). This is not mere hyperbole, but sober fact. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' Proœm. 4) himself bears similar testimony: "Of all the cities under the dominion of Rome, ours was once the most happy, and afterwards the most utterly miserable. For the misfortunes of all the nations upon earth that have ever happened, if they are compared with the calamities to which the Jews were exposed, will, in my opinion, fall far short." Chrysostom sums up the matter thus: "Whence came there thus upon them wrath from God intolerable, and more sore than all that had befallen aforetime, not in Judaea only, but in any part of the world? Is it not quite clear that it was for the deed of the cross and for this rejection? Mark, I pray thee, the exceeding greatness of the ills, when not only compared with the time before, they appear more grievous, but also with all the time to come. For not in all the world, neither in all time that is past, and that is to come, shall any one be able to say such ills have been. And very naturally; for neither had any man perpetrated, not of these that ever have been, nor those to come hereafter, a deed so wicked and horrible" ('Hom.,' in loc.). The "affliction" spoken of refers not only to bodily sufferings, but to that anguish of mind occasioned by acute apprehension and. expectation of danger, such as was felt in the days before the Flood, and at the time of the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes.
Except these days should be shortened (ἐκολοβωìθησαν, had been shortened). In the midst of wrath God thinks on mercy. He providentially ordained that the days of vengeance should not be indefinitely prolonged; the siege was practically of short duration, the country was not wholly overrun and desolated. The natural causes that combined to produce this shortening of the siege have been recounted by commentators. These were—the divided counsels of the Jews themselves, the voluntary surrender of parts of the fortifications, the fierce factions in the city, the destruction of magazines of provisions by calamitous fire, the suddenness of the arrival of Titus, and the fact that the walls had never been strengthened, as Herod Agrippa had intended. There should no flesh be saved; i.e. the whole Jewish nation would have been annihilated. For the elect's sake. At the intercession of the escaped Christians, who offered up unceasing prayer for their brethren and countrymen, God lessened the duration of the calamities. "The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working" (James 5:16). Ten righteous would have saved Sodom; Lot's intercession did preserve Zoar (comp. Isaiah 6:13; Jeremiah 5:1; Acts 27:24). Some, not so suitably, explain "the elect" to be those Jews who should hereafter turn to the Lord; or the elect seed, "beloved for the fathers'sake" (Romans 11:28). We may well believe that the local tribulations, such as are intimated by Daniel and Christ, and their limitation in time, are a picture of what shall happen in the last days, the intermediate fulfilment being the prelude of the final accomplishment.
And then. The third section of the prophecy, contained in Matthew 24:23-35, passes from the fortunes of Jerusalem to the end of the world. To the Lord's hearers was conveyed the truth that the signs and events now indicated were to be subsequent to the destruction of the city. No further note of chronology was given. The uncertainty of the future caused a state of constant expectation and hope. And this is the feeling which we Christians are intended to embrace and cultivate. "The word 'then' relates not to the connection in the order of time with the things just mentioned,… not meaning what should follow straightway after these things, but what should be in the time when these things were to be done of which he was about to speak" (St. Chrysostom, 'Horn.,' in loc.). Lo, here is Christ! This refers to something different from the announcement in Matthew 24:5. Some analogous deceptions doubtless occurred at the siege of Jerusalem, but the Lord is predicting the remote events of the latter days, of which previous occurrences were types and anticipations. Believe it not. When Christ does come the second time, there shall be no doubt or ignorance of his appearance (see Matthew 24:27, and compare the warning in Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
False Christs. He shows the nature of the dangers to which believers will be subject. He does not confine his view to Jewish history; he foretells the appearance of pretenders who shall assume the part of Christ, and blasphemously assert that they are Messiah. False prophets. Without assuming the name of Christ, many impostors shall be found who, professing to be inspired or lawful teachers, shall lead hearers into false doctrine, or claim to possess a new revelation, or something additional and supplemental to the eternal gospel. Such was Mohammed; such were the founders of Buddhism, Mormonism, and other so called religions, who based their views on special revelation given from heaven for the purpose of improving the existing faith or introducing a new one. Shall show (δωìσουσι, shall give, as Acts 2:19) great signs and wonders. Two usual terms for miracles, the former regarding rather the evidence afforded by them, the latter the element of the marvellous inherent in them (comp John 4:48; Acts 2:22; Acts 7:36 etc.). That such men did work actual miracles, or what were regarded as such, cannot be reasonably doubted. Satan was on their side, and, as far as he was permitted, confirmed their teaching by supernatural assistance. St. Paul testifies that such should be the action of the antichrist, "whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9; comp. Revelation 13:13, Revelation 13:14). Many of these wonders may have been effectuated by natural forces unknown to the majority of men, and therefore considered as superhuman; others may have been derived from the spiritual world, but necessarily from that realm thereof which is under the control of evil demons. Whatever may have been their source, they were displayed in support of lies and errors, and had a certain success. Insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive (ὠìστε πλανῆσαι εἰ δυνατοÌν) the very (καιÌ, even) elect. The Authorized Version seems to make our Lord imply that such seduction was absolutely impossible. The translation ought to run, as in the Revised Version, so as to lead astray, if possible even the elect, signifying the difficulty, not the impossibility, of drawing them away from the truth. "The elect" are Christians, true followers of Jesus, and members of his Church. These may fall from the faith, for they are not yet finally safe, and on that chance Satan builds; but as long as they rest on Christ, looking to him for guidance and protection, trying the spirits by the Word of God and by the truths which they have learned in creed and worship, they stand firm against the strongest temptations.
I have told you before (see John 16:1-4). The warning was needed in the first age; it will be needed in the last. The prediction was known before the ruin of Jerusalem, and doubtless preserved many from falling victims to the seducers at that period; it must be used now and till the end to preserve Christians from the errors of infidelity, false philosophy, agnosticism. That such attacks on their faith shall be made is a proof of Christ's omniscience; that he gives here and in the next verses premonitions of danger, with counsel how to avoid it, is evidence of his love and care for his elect.
Wherefore if (ἐαÌν οὖν, if therefore). The Lord proceeds to make the matter more plain by entering into details which the "here" and "there" of Matthew 24:23 had not sufficiently denoted. He (Christ) is in the desert. If there was a partial fulfilment of this warning at the siege of Jerusalem, when some impostors tried to persuade the people that Messiah was in the wilderness, preparing to march to their relief, it is to have its chief accomplishment just before the final consummation. Go not forth. Be not deluded into following any local deceiver. The definite place of appearance proves its falsity (see Matthew 24:27). The secret chambers; in penetralibus (Vulgate). When Christ comes the second time, he will not come as at Bethlehem, in secret, in a corner. If any pretender should be announced under such conditions, they were to put no belief in him. These were simple tests which all could apply. To limit the Lord's appearance to particular persons or to a particular place, was to incur fatal error.
As the lightning … east … west. That is, shines from one end of heaven to the other. St. Chrysostom's comment explains the similitude: "How, then, shineth the lightning? It needs not one to talk of it, it needs not a herald, but even to them in chambers it shows itself in an instant of time throughout the whole world. So shall that coming be, showing itself at once everywhere by reason of the shining forth of his glory." We are told, "every eye shall see him." His advent shall be sudden, universal, unmistakable; in a moment he shall be present, visible in all his power and glory. From the language of this verse probably has been derived the orientation of churches, and the mode adopted of depositing the bodies of deceased Christians, so that they may at the resurrection face the Lord when he comes from the east.
For. The particle seems to be spurious, and is omitted by late editors. Christ applies a proverbial saying in confirmation of the certainty and universality of is appearance. He had used the same under other circumstances (Luk 17:1-37 :87); and analogous expressions are found in Job 39:30; Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8, etc. Wheresoever the carcase (πτῶμα) is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Eagles (ἀετοιÌ) do not live on carrion, so that here probably vultures are meant. The Hebrew word nesher, translated "eagle" in our version, often signifies "the vulture," as in Micah 1:16. This bird's keenness of sight is almost incredible; it will discern a prey at an enormous distance, and its movements being watched by others, all eager to secure food, a carcase is very quickly surrounded by a multitude of these rapacious birds, flocking from all quarters. What our Lord meant by this proverb has occasioned great disputation. If Christ were referring primarily and chiefly to Jerusalem, it would be easy to explain "the carcase" to be the corrupt city, "the eagles" the ministers of God's vengeance, especially the Roman armies, whose standards bore the image of this bird of prey. Or if it were a mere general truth, and to be taken entirely in a spiritual sense, the gnome would imply that moral corruption calls for heavenly chastisement. But neither of these interpretations would satisfy the context, which speaks of Christ's second advent. Hence many regard the sentence as altogether parallel to the preceding verse, expressing in metaphor that which was there set forth in more direct terms, viz. that all men shall assemble to the place where Christ shall summon them to be judged, as vultures congregate round a carcase. In this case the carcase is Christ, the eagles or vultures are the men to be judged. This exposition has satisfied commentators of reputation, but it has its weak points. One fails to see the propriety of describing men coming to the great assize as vultures gathering to devour a dead body, or how in this case the body can be Christ or the place of his appearance. More probable is the interpretation which regards the carcase as antichrist or the world power, and the eagles as the saints and angels who shall attend Christ when he comes in judgment (Revelation 19:17, Revelation 19:18). Others expound the clause entirely in a mystical sense. The carcase is Christ, or the body of Christ; the eagles are the saints, or true Christians; these, whatever happens, will, with keen spiritual sight, always be able to discern Christ and his body, and to flock thereto. He calls himself πτῶμα, because he saves us by his death, and feeds us by his body, in his Church, Word, and sacraments (see Wordsworth, in loc.). Such is the interpretation of many of the Fathers, and it has many analogies in other places of Scripture. Far be it from us to restrict the sphere of Divine prediction, or to assert that any legitimate reference which we may discover was not in the Lord's mind when he spake the words. But it is more simple to regard the proverbial saying in itself, without looking for abstruse or mystical meanings. As a carcase, fall where it may, is immediately observed by the vultures and attracts them, so Christ's coming shall at once be discerned by all men and draw them into it.
Immediately (εὐθεìως δεÌ, but immediately) after the tribulation of those days. The particle must not be disregarded, as it implies a caution with respect to the parousia. The Lord proceeds to announce some details of the final advent. Taking the tribulation to be the single fact of the ruin of Jerusalem, with its accompanying horrors, some have explained the Lord's word "immediately after" by the foreshortening process of prophecy, which makes the distant future seem close to the obtruding present, or by the consideration that in God's view time does not exist: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). But the truth is, the tribulation (Matthew 24:21) only began with the fall of Jerusalem; that was its first and partial fulfilment; and, am St. Luke implies (Luke 21:23, Luke 21:24), it has been going on ever since, and is not yet finished. The punishment of the Jews is still proceeding, Jerusalem is still trodden down by the Gentiles, wrath still lies upon the people, they are still dispersed over the world, and have been and are more or leas persecuted in many countries. This state of things is to continue "till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;" it is, then, "immediately after" this that the signs announced by the Lord shall be seen. He is, as we said above (see on verse 4), purposely indefinite, that the Church may learn to wait and watch for the return of the Saviour and Judge. This state of expectatation is to be its normal condition. It had its effect on the primitive Church before she Jewish catastrophe. St. Peter (Acts 3:19-21) tells of the times of refreshing, when Jesus shall come, as possibly close at hand; St. Paul more than once speaks in the same strain (1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 1:6, etc.), though he warns his converts not to omit ordinary duties in immediate expectation of the end (2 Thessalonians 2:2); St. James (James 5:9) tells of the Judge standing before the door. And since then often has this belief cropped up at various stages of the world's history, showing that Christ's warning has sunk deep into Christian hearts, and produced the temper of mind which he purposed to raise. Shall the sun be darkened, etc. There is no valid reason why the physical phenomena mentioned in this verso are not to be taken literally, even if we see also in them a spiritual significance. It is only reasonable to expect that the end of this world should be accompanied by stupendous changes in the realm of nature. The sun was miraculously darkened when Jesus hung on the cross. What wonder if similar catastrophes signal his coming to judgment? The apostle's words point to a literal fulfilment (2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12). Our Lord's prediction echoes announcements often found in the Old Testament, which are not always to be considered metaphorical (see Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:30, Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15, Joel 3:16; Amos 8:9). Anticipations of some of these terrible latter day signs occurred at Jerusalem, according to Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 6.5.3,4). Darkened … not give light. This is in accordance with Hebrew parallelism. The next clause is constructed in the same way. Fall from heaven. The Lord may be speaking of the apparent effect of these convulsions of nature, in accordance with popular ideas, as we talk of the sun rising and setting; or he may thus term the obscuration or extinction of the light of the stars. The powers of the heavens mean probably the heavenly bodies independent of the solar system, called elsewhere "the host of heaven" (Deuteronomy 4:19. etc.); or the phrase may signify (though the parallelism would not be so perfect) the forces and laws which control these bodies. An interruption in the action of these powers would occasion the most awful catastrophes (see Haggai 3:6, which makes a similar announcement). We must notice the spiritual application of this prediction, as it has obtained a wide acceptance. The words are sometimes taken in a bad sense. The sun is Satan, or Lucifer, who fell as lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18); "the powers of the heavens" are the hosts of the prince of the power of the air, "the spiritual wickednesses in high places;" the stars are all that exalt themselves, who shall be consumed and vanish at the brightness of the cross. But more generally the luminaries are explained in a good sense. The sun is Christ or his truth, which shall be obscured in the last days; the moon is the Church, darkened by heresy and unbelief, and borrowing no light from its sun; the stars are they who once were foremost in the faith, but now shall fall from their steadfastness, or be unable to diffuse light, owing to the gross darkness and mistiness of those evil days.
And then; i.e. after the great physical changes mentioned in the last verse. The sign of the Son of man. This has been differently interpreted
(1) as the appearance of Christ himself in the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64; Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:14), when the glory and majesty of his advent will prove that he is Saviour and Judge. But this explanation seems to confuse the sign and that which it represents, the token of Messiah and Messiah himself who cometh afterward. And the definite article, "the sign," seems to imply something already well known to denote him, whereas his appearance could not be known beforehand.
(2) A star, which shall herald his second coming, as a star announced his birth. This, which is Olshausen's suggestion, is entirely arbitrary, and has nothing to support it, especially as the meaning of the star would not be directly intelligible to all men.
(3) Meyer and De Wette suppose a bright light, or a kind of Shechinah. This, which doubtless will be manifested, was indeed a token of the presence of God, but could not be recognized at once as the sign of the Son of man.
(4) We come to what has been the almost universal interpretation of the Fathers and early commentators, who saw in the sign the cross of Christ, which is indeed the ensign and standard of the gospel. Nothing, equally with this, can characterize the Son of man, the emblem of his humiliation and his triumph. Then. When they behold this sign in the sky, and know unmistakably that Christ in person is about to appear. Shall all the tribes of the earth mourn (κοìψονται, shall beat the breast). Not alone the Jews, looking on him whom they pierced, shall bewail their blindness and impenitence (Zechariah 12:10-14; Isaiah 53:1-12), but all the nations, the races and peoples who have rejected him whom they ought to have received. The cross shows that he died for them, though they profited not by his sacrifice (comp. Revelation 1:7; Revelation 6:15-17). They shall see (ὁìψονται,, an echo of the preceding κοìψονται). The sign is followed by the advent of Christ in person. Coming in the clouds of heaven. Some have taken "clouds" to mean angels, comparing Matthew 16:27; but them is no need for considering the term here to be metaphorical. The accompaniments of the theophanies are always thus announced (see Psalms 18:10-12; Isaiah 19:1; Daniel 7:13, etc.; Matthew 26:64). He thus claims to be the God of whom these words are continually used, and he leaves his hearers to gather that he will come visibly, not spiritually to individual souls or Churches, but manifestly to the whole of mankind, whether quick or risen. With power. In his full omnipotence. Cum virtute multa (Vulgate). The expression must not be taken as denoting the attendant angels; they are named in the next verse. It denotes that he who on earth met with naught but pain and humiliation should be displayed to the same earth with that splendour and majesty which essentially belonged to him.
His angels. As the executors of his will, to bring before his throne all who have to be judged. They have the same office in the parable of the tares and the wheat (Matthew 13:41). With a great sound of a trumpet. Some manuscripts, with the Vulgate, read, "with a trumpet and a great voice;" others, "with a great trumpet," omitting "voice." All, however, agree in asserting the employment of the trumpet on this momentous occasion. The term may be metaphorical for a voice exceeding loud (comp. Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:1); but it is more probably to be taken in the obvious sense, with a reference to its use among the Jews in calling the assembly and giving the alarm. Of course, the occurrence is supernatural. It is, indeed, as great a miracle for a sound to be heard simultaneously in both hemispheres as it is for Christ to be seen at the same moment by all dwellers on the globe. This is a matter to be believed, not explained. Shall gather together his elect. The angels will infallibly select these from the mass of men, either by spiritual insight or Divine direction. The elect are not Israelites alone, but true believers of all nations (see Matthew 24:14 and John 17:20, John 17:21). These are first collected, and then the reprobate are summoned, according to Matthew 25:41. From the four winds. The four cardinal points, i.e. from every quarter of the earth. Four is the number of the world or the universe. From one end … the other; literally, from the ends of the heavens unto their end, as Deuteronomy 4:32—a parallel to the preceding clause. From horizon to horizon, though this expression, taken literally, is not extensive enough.
Learn a parable (τηÌν παραβαληìν) of (ἀποÌ) the fig tree; bettor, from the fig tree learns its parable. Learn ye the lesson which this tree can teach you; though, indeed, it might teach other lessons than the one which Christ would enforce. When his (its), branch is yet tender (ἠìδη . γεìνηται ἁπαλοÌς, is now become tender). This refers to the new shoots of unripened wood. Putteth forth leaves (τεÌ φυìλλα, its leaves). Copyists and editors vary between ἐκφυῇ, subj. aor. passive, and ἐκφυìῃ, active. The Vulgate has the passive, et folia nata. Summer is nigh. The fruit of the fig tree appears before the leaves, as we learned in the story of the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:19), which the Lord may have had in mind when he gave this illustration. Did he intend to symbolize the revival of the life of the withered Jewish race in the time of the end?
So likewise ye (οὑìτω καιÌ ὑμεῖς, so also ye, emphatic). As surely as buds and leaves prove the coming of summer, so ye, who have been taught, may gather from the fulfilment of the signs mentioned (Matthew 24:15-22, etc.) the approach of the end. Know that it is near (ὁìτι ἐγγυìς ἐστιν). The subject is not expressed, but it must be the Son of man (Matthew 24:30), so that the rendering ought to be, he is near. Many, however, take the understood nominative to be the judgment, or the kingdom of God, or the occurrences last spoken of. At the doors; as James 5:9, on the very threshold, and therefore about to enter.
This generation. Our Lord's assertion has given rise to sceptical observations, as if his prophecy had failed. Alford has endeavoured to remove objections by taking γενεαÌ as equivalent to γεìνος, a race or family of people, and referring it to the continued existence of the Jews. He cites Jeremiah 8:3; Matthew 12:45; Matthew 17:17; Matthew 23:36, etc., in confirmation of this signification. His examples, however, are not unassailable, though such use is certainly classical; but it the same time, it is unlikely that Christ should thus indefinitely postpone a period of infinite importance to his hearers. But there is no necessity for assuming any unusual meaning in the term "this generation." Its plain and obvious reference is to the contemporaries of the speaker, or those who shall live some thirty or forty years longer; this period would bring them to the siege of Jerusalem. And remembering that Christ has drawn no definite line between this crisis and the final consummation, we are justified in regarding all these things as meaning, primarily, the signs preceding or accompanying the downfall of the city. In a secondary sense, "this generation" may mean the spiritual Israel, the generation of them that seek the Lord (Psalms 24:6). "All these things shall surely come to pass," says Chrysostom, "and the generation of the faithful shall remain, cut off by none of the things that have been mentioned. For both Jerusalem shall perish, and the more part of the Jews shall be destroyed, but over this generation shall nothing prevail—not famine, not pestilence, not earthquake, not the tumults of wars, not false Christs, not false prophets, not deceivers, not traitors, not those that cause to offend, nor the false brethren, nor any other such-like temptations whatever." Some critics have combined the three meanings of "generation" given above, and have seen in Christ's words a threefold reference, first, to the contemporary people; secondly, to the Jewish nation; thirdly, to the Christian believers or dispensation. According to Lange, "this generation" means the generation of those who know and discern these signs.
Christ adds a solemn assurance that his words have in them a vitality and endurance which the mightiest works of nature do not possess. The facts and truths embodied in his words are sure and steadfast, and what he has promised or predicted shall inevitably be fulfilled. This verse is omitted by א but it is most probably genuine, as it undoubtedly has its place in the other two synoptists.
The apostles had asked (Matthew 24:3), "When shall these things be?" Christ does not now expressly answer this question; he puts forth strongly the uncertainty in the knowledge of these great events, and how this ignorance is disciplinary. Of that day (de die illa, Vulgate) and hour, viz. when Christ shall appear in judgment, The expression plainly, implies that a definite day and moment are fixed for this great appearing, but known only to God. Knoweth no man, no, not (οὐδεÌ, not even) the angels of heaven. A kind of climax. Man is naturally excluded from the knowledge; but even to the angels it has not been revealed. A further climax is added in St. Mark, and from that Gospel has been introduced by some very good manuscripts into this place, neither the Son (the Revised Version admits the clause). The words have given occasion to some erroneous statements. It is said by Arians and semi-Arians, and modern disputants who have followed in their steps, that the Son cannot be equal to the Father, if he knows not what the Father knows. Alford says boldly, "This matter was hidden from him." But when we consider such passages as "I and my Father are one;" "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John 10:30; John 14:11, etc.), we cannot believe that the time of the great consummation was unknown to him. What is meant, then, by this assertion? How is it true? Doubtless it is to be explained (if capable of explanation) by the hypostatic union of two natures in the Person of Christ, whereby the properties of the two natures are interchangeably predicated. From danger of error on this mysterious subject we are preserved by the precise terms of the Athanasian Creed, according to which we affirm that Christ is "equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood . one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person," etc. If, then, Christ asserts that he is ignorant of anything, it must be that in his human nature he hath, willed not to know that which in his Divine nature he was cognizant of. This is a part of that voluntary self-surrender and self-limitation of which the apostle speaks when he says that Christ "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7). He condescended to assume all the conditions of humanity, even willing to share the imperfection of our knowledge in some particulars. How the two natures thus interworked we know not, and need not conjecture; nor can we always divine why prominence at one time is given to the Divine, at another to the human. It is enough for us to know that, for reasons which seemed good unto him, he imposed restriction on his omniscience in this matter, and, to enhance the mysteriousness and awfulness of the great day, announced to his disciples his ignorance of the precise moment of its occurrence. This is a safer exposition than to say, with some, that Christ knew not the day so as to reveal it to us, that it was no part of his mission from the Father to divulge it to men, and therefore that he could truly say he knew it not. This seems rather an evasion than an explanation of the difficulty. But my Father only. The best manuscripts have "the Father." "But" is εἰ μηÌ, except. So Christ said to his inquiring apostles, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7). These words do not exclude the Son's participation in the knowledge, though he willed that it should not extend to his human nature. With this and such-like texts in view, how futile, presumptuous, and indeed profane, it is to attempt to settle the exact date and hour when the present age shall end!"
As the days of Noe were. In citing this example, the Lord has special reference to the fact that the warning then given was not heeded (Genesis 6:3). If, as seems probable, the antediluvians had more than a century's warning of the coming flood, it can hardly be only the suddenness of the calamity to which Christ would point (1 Peter 3:20). He has used the illustration elsewhere (Luke 17:26, Luke 17:27), where also the destruction of Sodom is adduced as a type of the last day. So shall also The parousia of Christ shall fall on a world incredulous and heedless.
They were eating, etc. The Lord describes the reckless way in which men went on their usual course, pursued their pleasures and avocations, with the doom. hanging over them, in spite of the warning given. The word for "eating" (τρωìγοντες) implies the idea of gnawing food greedily like an animal, hence eating gluttonously. They had learned to drink to excess long before Lot's time (Genesis 9:20, Genesis 9:21). The periphrastic form of expression, ἦσαν τρωìγοντες … πιìνοντες, denotes not a single act, but habitude. Until the day. Though they had watched Noah building the ark, and heard him preach righteousness for many a year, they took no heed. It must be observed that Christ here confirms the historical accuracy of this episode in Genesis.
Knew not. They would not comprehend the signs of the coming judgment, or, at any rate, refused to profit by them, preferring their own carnal pleasures to the care of their souls and the amendment of their lives. The Lord assures us that similar recklessness and unbelief will be found at his coming. Doubtless anguish and fear will fill many hearts, but the general feeling will be incredulity, and a false security which refuses to take warning. Sadler compares it to Belshazzar's feast at the very moment of danger, and the Athenians' insensibility at the time of the great plague, when the people seemed to be exemplifying the maxim, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:18). "For like as when the ark was making, they believed not; but while it was set in the midst of them, proclaiming beforehand the evils that are to come, they, when they saw it, lived in pleasure … so also now, antichrist, indeed, shall appear, after whom is the end, and the punishments at the end, and vengeance intolerable; but they that are held by the intoxication of wickedness [comp. Wis. 4:12] shall not so much as perceive the dreadful nature of the things that are on the point of being done. Wherefore also Paul saith, 'as travail upon a woman with child' [1 Thessalonians 5:8], even so shall those fearful and incurable evils come upon them" (Chrysostom, 'Hom.,' in loc.). Morisen considers that Christ is not blaming the antediluvians, but simply referring to the fact that up to the last moment they were ignorant of the impending catastrophe. But this seems inadequate.
The Lord gives two examples of the suddenness of his advent, and its effect in private life. Shall two be in the field. They shall be working together at their ordinary agricultural occupations, with nothing outwardly to distinguish one from the other, good and bad being mingled together. The one shall be taken (παραλαμβανεται is taken, the present implying certainty), and the other left (ἀφιìεται, is deft). Christ speaks as though he saw the scene before him. The "taking" implies separation from companions, as Matthew 17:1; Matthew 18:16, etc. This is the work of the angels (Matthew 18:31). There is some doubt as to the destiny of the two classes named. Are the good "taken" and the evil "left"? or are the evil "taken" and the good "left"? Some suppose that the terms allude to the sudden approach of a hostile army by which some are taken prisioners and others allowed to escape; or, since in the parable the tares are first gathered for the burning, those taken must be the wicked, those left are for storing in the everlasting garner. On the other hand, many commentators understand the verbs in a sense opposite to that mentioned above. As (Matthew 18:31) the angels are sent forth to gather the elect, the "taken" are of this class, who are caught away to meet the Lord and his saints (1 Thessalonians 4:17; John 14:3), while the others are left for judgment and reprobation (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Bengel, continuing the reference to the Flood, writes, "Assumitur in tutelam (Matthew 18:31), ut Noachus cum domo sua; sinitur in periculis, quicquid obveniat, ut homines in diluvio." The latter interpretation of the two seems to be the correct one. At any rate, it is plain that the nicest discrimination is exercised, and that among men and women, in all conditions of life, a final severance shall then be made, which shall apportion their lot in the other world.
Two women shall be grinding at (ἐν) the mill. In the absence of mills turned by wind or water, which were of much later invention, every household had its own little handmill, worked by women of the family or by slaves (Exodus 11:5; Judges 16:21; Isaiah 47:2). "Two stones, about eighteen inches or two feet across, rest one on the other, the under one slightly higher towards the centre, and the upper one hollowed out to fit this convexity; a hole through it, in the middle, receiving the grain. Sometimes the under stone is bedded m cement, raised into a border round it, to catch and retain the flour, or meal, as it falls. A stick fastened into the upper one served as a handle. Occasionally two women sit at the same pair of stones, to lighten the task, one hand only being needed where two work together, whereas a single person has to use both hands". "Two women were busy in a cottage at the household mill, which attracted me by its sound To grind is very exhausting work, so that, where possible, one woman sits opposite the other, to divide the strain, though in a poor man's house the wife has to do this drudgery unaided". St. Luke (Luke 17:34) adds a third situation to the cases mentioned by our Lord, viz. "two men in one bed," or on one dining couch.
Practical exhortation drawn from the uncertainty of the last day: Watch.
Watch therefore. The end will be sudden, the final separation will be then completed; be ye therefore always prepared. Few exhortations are more frequently and impressively given than this of the duty and necessity of watchfulness. Of course, the Christian has to watch against many things—his own evil heart, temptation, the world, but most of all he must watch and be always looking for the coming of his Lord; for whether he be regarded as Redeemer, Deliverer, or Judge, he will come as a thief in the night. What hour. Very many good manuscripts and some late editors read "on what day." This is probably the genuine reading, "hour" being an alteration derived from Matthew 24:44. What (ποιìᾳ) means of what kind or quality—whether sudden, immediate, or remote.
But know this; ἐκεῖνο δεÌ γινωìσκετε: illud autem scitote (Vulgate); or, this ye know. The Lord draws particular attention to what he is going to say, which is a strange and startling truth in a parabolic form (see Luke 12:39, etc.). The good man of the house; οἰκοδεσποìτης: the master of the house; paterfamilias (Vulgate). If … had known … he would have watched. The form of the sentence (ει) with indicative in the protasis, and ἀÌν with indicative aorist in the apodosis) implies that the result did not happen. The master may have made all secure as far as bolts and bars were concerned, but he did not keep awake, though he had reason to know that a thief was in the neighbourhood, and so was not ready to frustrate any attack made in an unsuspected manner. To be broken up; διορυγῆναι: to be digged through; perfodi (Vulgate). Houses constructed of sun-dried bricks, mud, or loose stones, could be easily pierced and entered without forcing shuttered window or barred door (comp. Job 24:16). The significance of the parable is easy to see. The householder is the disciple of Christ, the thief is Christ himself, who comes on the unwatchful when and where they expect him not. It is, indeed, a strange comparison, but one calculated to alarm the unwary, and to show the necessity of the caution enjoined. Similar warnings are found elsewhere; e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1Th 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15. The exposition which regards the thief as the devil is not so suitable to the context.
Therefore. Regarding the solemn example just given, taking it as applicable to spiritual things. The warning is of general obligation, and may be used by each individual Christian for his own benefit; for there is a sense in which the day of death is the coming of Christ, and as death leaves us so, as far as we know, judgment will find us.
Who then (τιìς ἀìρα;)? In Luke 12:41, etc, Christ utters this parabolic discourse in reply to Peter's question, "Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?" He now turns his exhortation to those in authority over the house, specially to the ministers and stewards of his mysteries, proposing it in an interrogative form, not only because the man he wants is difficult to find, but in order that each may put the question to himself, and see if he reaches the high standard suggested. Is a (ὁ, the) faithful and wise (φροìνιμος, prudens, practically wise) servant. The idea is that some good and true slave is raised to the stewardship of his master's household, like Eliezer whom Abram advanced to this position (Genesis 15:2). Hath made ruler (κατεìστησεν, hath set) over his household (ἐπιÌ τῆς θεραπειìας αὐτοῦ, see on Luke 12:47). The word θεραπειìα is used classically for a body of attendants, the servants that form the family, the menage. Christ asks—Where is one to be found fit for this position in his Church? It is the Lord who selects and appoints the steward; he is neither self-constituted nor appointed by those over whom he rules. To give them meat (τηÌν τροφηÌν, their food) in due season. It was the duty of such an officer to dispense the regular allowance of daily food to the members of the household. So the stewards of the mysteries of Christ have to feed his flock with spiritual food, with the Word and sacraments, and. to do this wisely and discreetly, according to the capacity, advancement, and circumstances of each recipient. The exhortation holds good for others as well as the clergy, civil rulers, the rich, all men. All our endowments, mental, spiritual, physical, material, are the gift of God, and are to be used in his service and to the good of others.
Blessed is that servant. The Lord had asked—Who is the faithful and wise servant? he virtually answers—It is the one whom his lord when he cometh shall find duly performing the duties of his office. Such a one he pronounces "blessed;" and what happier lot can befall a man in a responsible position, than to be taken while diligently and rightly performing his appointed work (see Matthew 25:21)?
He shall make him ruler over (καταστηìσει ἐπιÌ, with dative, denoting permanency of occupation; in Matthew 24:45 it is with genitive, as of temporary superintendence) all his goods; all that he hath. This is the reward. He who before was set over only a small part of his lord's possessions is now made superintendent of all his property; for "he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). How we are to take this promise as applied to the rewards of the kingdom of heaven, we know not yet. "Eve hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). There are similar mysterious statements elsewhere; e.g. Matthew 19:28; Romans 8:32; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:21. This may be one of those passages in which we are not meant to press or understand all the details of the parable.
But and if (ἐαÌν δεÌ). "And" is a remnant of an old use of the word, meaning "it'," so that it is here redundant, and the translation should he simply, but if; si autem. That evil servant (ὁκακοÌς δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος) is in a sense the same as he who, in Matthew 24:45, was regarded as faithful and prudent. The opposite case is here put; he is supposed to be wicked and untrustworthy; he no longer is always watching for his lord's coming and endeavouring to be always ready, because he knows that he may at any moment be called to account. My lord delayeth [his coming]. B, א, and other good manuscripts omit ἐλθεῖν as unnecessary. Revised Version, my lord tarrieth, he brings himself to believe that the day of reckoning is still distant, and that he will have plenty of time to prepare his accounts before the settlement is called for. So men put off the day of repentance, saying, "Tomorrow, tomorrow," when they ought to feel that the present alone is theirs in which to prepare for judgment.
Shall begin. As soon as he conceives the idea of the delay in his lord's arrival, he changes his conduct, plays the master, and uses his power for oppression and injustice. But he has only time to commence these unrighteous acts, when he is arrested by the very occurrence which he had willfully ignored. To smite his fellow servants; i.e. those who are faithful to their master. Applied to Christian ministers, such conduct would appertain to those who use their authority for oppression or self-aggrandizement, "lording it over the charge allotted to them" (1 Peter 5:3). And to eat (ἐσθιìῃ, and shall eat) and drink with the drunken. He indulges in luxury and intemperance, choosing as his companions men of dissolute habits. A self-indulgent minister, or one who is not discreet in choosing his friends and acquaintance, has little influence in checking the excesses of his flock, and is far from being, as he ought to be, "a pattern of good works" (Titus 2:7).
Shall come, either actually by his appearance, or virtually by calling the guilty soul to judgment. When he looketh not for him (οὐ προσδοκᾷ, expecteth not). He has put away all thought of the sudden advent of the Lord. That he is not aware of (οὐ γινωìσκει, be knoweth not). The awful hour was utterly unknown; but this has not made him watchful; hence be becomes unfaithful.
Shall cut him asunder διχοτομηìσει). This mode of death was inflicted in some cases (see 1 Samuel 15:33; 2 Samuel 12:31; Daniel 3:29; Hebrews 11:37; compare also the account of the execution of Mettius in Livy, 1.28; and Horace, 'Sat.,' I. 1.99). Thus in our own country "quartering," after hanging at least, was once a usual penalty for some offences, such as high treason. The term has been here interpreted to refer to the operation of the cruel scourge, which without metaphor might be said to cut a man to pieces; or "to dismiss from his employment," which seems to be hardly an adequate punishment. The difficulty is that the utter destruction of the malefactor implied in his literal cutting asunder is not consistent with his subsequent consignment to the lot of the hypocrites. Hence the Fathers have variously explained the term to signify separation from the company of saints, or from spiritual grace, or from all the blessings promised to the righteous. But we may take the Lord's words as applying first to temporal punishment—the unrighteous steward shall suffer death as horrible as dichotomy, a severance of body and soul, accompanied with unspeakable tortures; as in the History of Susanna, verse 55, "The angel of God hath received the sentence of God to cut thee in two." Appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. The Lord drops the parable, and speaks of the terrible reality. The hypocrites are the faithless and deceitful, who, while pretending to do their lord's work, are mere eye servants, and really neglect and injure it. The remissful steward shares their punishment in the other world. There (ἐκεῖ) shall be, etc.; i.e. in the place where the hypocrites receive their punishment (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30). The expression signifies measureless grief and despair.
The great prophecy: General predictions of coming sorrows.
I. THE TEMPLE.
1. The Lord's departure. Jesus went out. He had taught in the temple for the last time. He had greatly loved that holy house of God. He had shown a burning zeal for its honour. Twice he had expelled the crowd of traffickers who made it a house of merchandise, a den of thieves. He "would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple." He so strongly insisted upon the duty of regarding the house of prayer with solemn reverence. When but a child, he had spent in the temple the hours during which Mary and Joseph were seeking him. There was no need, he told them, for anxiety; they might have known where he was to be found. He was constantly in the temple during his visits to Jerusalem. At this last visit he had "looked round about upon all things," showing his deep interest in all that pertained to the worship of God. He had watched the people casting money into the treasury for the temple service. Now he went out. The rulers of the temple had rejected him. Chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, all who had authority in the temple, or were held in reverence as teachers and expounders of the Law, were ranged against him. He had uttered his last awful warnings, his last sorrowful lament for the hardness of their impenitent hearts. He "went out." Simple words, but very awful in the depth of their meaning; they are echoed in the Μεταβαιìνωμεν ἐντεῦθεν of Josephus, in the "Excedere deos" of Tacitus. "Behold," he said," your house is left unto you desolate." The temple is desolate when the Lord of the temple hath departed. The humblest church is glorious exceedingly when the Lord is present. The costliest and most gorgeous building is desolate in the sight of God when the Lord Jesus is not there. He is found of them that seek him; he is present when two or three are gathered together in his Name. Let us seek him in the Church, and we shall find him there. Let us take heed, whatever we do, never to lose sight of him whose presence gives the truest consecration.
2. Conversation with the apostles. They came to show him the buildings of the temple. They were proud, like all other Jews, of that magnificent structure, those enormous blocks of marble, those costly decorations. They called the Lord's attention to those goodly stones, those precious gifts. He could not share in the enthusiasm of his disciples. Costly offerings are precious in the sight of the Lord, only as the expression of faith and love. Outward magnificence was nothing to him when the beauty of holiness was gone. The very splendour of the temple saddened the Saviour's soul. It was like the religion of the Pharisees, fair outwardly; but the services there performed were formal and heartless. And the Lord saw, in the clear vision of his Divine foreknowledge, what in less than forty years was coming. "There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." That magnificence was soon to pass away. The holy city would sink in blood and fire, and that while some to whom the Lord was speaking were yet living on the earth. The temple buildings would be levelled with the ground; nothing would remain save those solid substructions, which even now excite the wonder of the pilgrim. The Lord knew all this; he could not take delight, like the apostles, in that short-lived splendour.
II. THE MOUNT OF OLIVES.
1. The question of the disciples. The Lord sat on the Mount of Olives, in full view of the holy city with its glorious temple. He sat there in sorrowful silence; his holy soul was filled with sadness as he thought upon his people's sin, and the coming judgments. The crowd had dispersed. Four of the apostles, Peter and James, John and Andrew, came privately to him. They had listened in awe and wonder to his stern condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. They had heard him say that they themselves, the Lord's messengers, would suffer many things, that the accumulated guilt of Jewish history would fall upon the present generation. He had told the Jews that their house was left unto them desolate; that they should see him no more till they, too, like the multitude whom they had blamed on Palm Sunday, should cry, "Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord!" Now he had prophesied in plainer terms the coming destruction of the temple. They were perplexed. "When shall these things be?" they asked; what sign would there be of that Parousia, that presence of which the Lord had spoken, and of the consummation of the age? The Prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:25-27) had taught the Jews to associate the times of the Messiah with the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. He had spoken of a consummation, of a desolation: when should these things be? It is a question which has been often asked, which we often ask ourselves in shuddering awe, in trembling expectation.
2. The Lord's answer. He does not answer the question directly; it was not his wont to satisfy speculative curiosity. When he was asked, "Are there few that shall be saved?" he said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." So now his first words are words of warning, "Take heed that no man deceive you." His answer is intended rather to guide the life of Christians than to disclose the awful secrets of the future. The date of the day of judgment is an unsolved and insoluble problem. It is known only to the Father. It is not his will that this mystery should be revealed; it is better for us to be ignorant. Knowledge of the time, if far hence in the remote future, might lull us into security; if near at hand, might fill us with intense excitement, and unfit us for our ordinary duties, as was the case with the Thessalonians when they thought that the day of the Lord was immediate. The Lord gives us no data for discovering when the end shall be. The bearing of his answer is practical; he shows us what ought to be the attitude of the Christian soul toward the solemn future; it should be that of calm and trustful expectation. The Christian should keep in view not only his own death, but the coming of the Lord. He should keep in his thoughts not only the possibility that today, any day, he may die, as he has seen others die; but also the possibility that today, any day, the Lord may come; and with the coming of the Lord may come the end of the world, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment. This is the purpose of the Lord's words, not to give us that knowledge which (verse 36) we cannot have, which, if we could have it, would not be for our good. The Lord speaks throughout this chapter in the mysterious tones of prophecy. He speaks of a nearer coming, and of one comparatively distant; of the end of the Jewish dispensation, and of the end of the world. The two comings, the two consummations, are blended together in the prophecy. It is not easy everywhere to disentangle them. In those passages which appear to relate to one only of the two tremendous catastrophes, we find features which seem to belong to the other. From the prophetical point of view, the two seemed nearer together than they now appear to us; the intervening distance was lost sight of. One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was the end of the Jewish dispensation. It might well seem to the Jews like the end of the world. It was so crushing, so tremendous, attended with sufferings so frightful, bloodshed so terrible. To us Christians it is a meet figure of the greater catastrophe which is to come. We are bidden to look forward. It is not simply our own death which we are told to expect. We may die before the coming of the day of the Lord; we may be soon called out of the world; and the world may go on its way for ages. But he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. This is the prospect which the Lord sets before us in this solemn discourse. We may be among the living when he shall come; we may hear the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; we may see the dead rising at the call of Christ; we may, yet alive, "be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." Then "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." St. Peter's memory, as he wrote these solemn warnings, seems to reproduce the words which he heard from Christ, when, along with James and John and Andrew, he came unto him privately on the Mount of Olives. The same apostle sums up the practical teaching of this great eschatological discourse in a few striking words. "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace,"—"looking for and hasting the coming of the day of God."
3. Warnings in detail.
(1) False Messiahs. Many shall come saying. "I am the Christ, the Messiah." Many such there were in New Testament times—Theudas, the Egyptian (Acts 21:38), Simon Magus. Many such arose afterwards, Barcochba, Manes, Mohammed, claiming the place and office, if not the name, of Christ. There have been many deceivers; some there are still. God's people must take heed; they must not believe every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; for many false prophets, St. John tells us, are gone out into the world.
(2) Wars, famines, earthquakes. These things there must be. There have been again and again in the progress of history times marked with a special intensity of troubles and horrors, when men's hearts have failed them, and the end of all things seemed close at hand. But the Lord says, "Be not troubled, be not scared, excited; the end is not yet. Be prepared for it, but be calm, collected." Alas! the curse of war is not yet removed. Still the earth which God created is reddened with the blood of men made in the image of God, shed by their brethren's hand. Yet the end cometh not. These things are the beginning of travail; they are dreadful, and yet they offer hope, for they are birth pangs. The end of the Jewish dispensation is the birth of the Christian Church; the yet more awful signs which are to attend the end of the world are the birth throes of the great regeneration (the παλιγγενεσιìα, Matthew 19:28), the birth of the "new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
(3) Persecutions. Besides the troubles destined to come upon all the world, the Church of Christ was to have its own special trials; his followers were to be afflicted and slain and hated of all nations for his Name's sake. And these persecutions would lead to worse things yet—to apostasies; and apostasies would produce mutual hatred and the betrayal of Christians by Christians; there would be false prophets, heretical teachers in the Church itself. Iniquity, lawlessness, would abound, as it did when St. Peter and St. Jude wrote their Epistles; and, in sad declension from the truth, the love of the many would wax cold. Christians would leave their first love, like the Church of Ephesus; they would sink into a routine of formal service without heart and without love. But some would remain steadfast even in that evil time; some would endure all these temptations, whether of persecution from without the Church or of evil example from within; their patience would have its perfect work; their endurance would, by God's grace, be complete, their perseverance final; and such should be saved. "The same shall be saved," the Lord says emphatically; not, alas! all professing Christians, but "he that endureth unto the end." How earnestly, then, should we pray and strive after perseverance! It is not a passing wish of "God forgive me!" that ensures our soul's salvation, it is not a rush of excited feeling, but the patient continuance in well doing. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
(4) The gospel must be preached in all the world. This gospel of the kingdom is the good news concerning the kingdom of heaven which Christ established upon earth, the good news of salvation through Christ promised to those who endure unto the end. That gospel was to be preached in all the world before the end should come. The world here, as in other places (e.g. Luke 2:1), may mean no more than the Roman empire. St. Paul seems to have regarded this prophecy as fulfilled even in his time. He says (Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23) that the gospel was present in all the world, that it had been preached to every creature which is under heaven. In a true sense it was fulfilled when the distinction between Jew and Gentile was abolished, when the apostles were commanded to make disciples of all nations, to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Thus the end of which the Lord speaks here might mean the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the Jewish dispensation. But as knowledge extends itself, as the known world becomes wider till it is coextensive with the surface of the earth, so the area of missionary operations is enlarged. And thus the prophecy acquires another and a wider meaning. "The gospel shall be preached in all the world, for a testimony to all the nations of the earth." Then the end in its most awful meaning, the end of the world, shall come.
1. The temple without Christ is desolate. Magnificent buildings have no beauty in God's sight if Christ is not found there.
2. We must, like the apostles, watch for the signs of Christ's coming.
3. But the truest wisdom is to live in constant expectation of it.
Predictions of the nearer end: The destruction of Jerusalem.
I. THE WARNINGS OF THE COMING END.
1. The sign. The Lord returns to the first question of the disciples, "When shall these things be?" His eye had been looking forward in prophetic vision through the process of the ages; now he returns to the nearer end, to that awful catastrophe which, to the Jews, seemed like the very end of the world—the destruction of the holy city and of the temple, the dwelling-place of God, the centre of their whole religious system. He warns his followers of the horrors of that awful time. The guilty city must perish; the Lord's people must come out of her, that they be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues. The end of Judaism was to be to the Christian Church the beginning of a more vigorous and independent life. The Jewish Christians must separate themselves from their unbelieving brethren; they must escape for their life, as Lot fled out of Sodom. They would know the time; for they would see the abomination of desolation, spoken of through Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place: this was to be the signal for their flight. The Lord emphatically asserts the authority of Daniel's prophecy. He bids us read it with care and thoughtfulness. He says that this prediction, difficult and perplexing as it may seem, was given by the Spirit of God, spoken through Daniel. We cannot now with absolute certainty say what "the abomination of desolation" was—whether some profanation of the temple by the Romans, or some awful deed of the Jews themselves, such as those horrors and blasphemies related by Josephus. Plainly it was some definite event understood by contemporary Christians, recognized as the fulfilment of the Lord's words and as the signal for departure.
2. Flight must be immediate. Christians were to flee at once to the mountains before the investment of the city, as we are told they did flee over the mountains of Gilead to Pella, in the north of Peraea. Not a moment was to be lost when once the abomination of desolation was seen in the holy place. All Christians, whether then in the city or in the surrounding country, were to flee at once for their lives; they were not to linger for any purpose, to remove their property or to fetch their clothes. The body is more than raiment. It was a warning to Jewish Christians then; it is a warning to all Christians still. No earthly considerations must keep the awakened soul from fleeing at once to Christ. We hear his warning words; they reach our hearts as perhaps they have never reached them heretofore. We see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. This world of ours was once holy; God pronounced it "very good." But the abomination of desolation is in it—sin in all its forms; uncleanness and dishonesty and cruelty, unbelief and selfishness. The converted Christian must arise at once; he must flee into the mountains, to the clear and lofty height of communion with God, into fellowship with Christ above the dull and heavy atmosphere of this wicked world. We must flee thither, and that at once. If we delay through lingering desires of earthly things, it may be too late.
3. Difficulties and horrors of the time. The flight would be sudden and without time for preparation; hindrances of whatever kind would be full of danger. The Lord expresses his compassion for the afflicted, "Woe unto them that are with child!" The "woe "here, as in some other places, is an utterance of sympathy. We may cast our care upon him in our troubles; he careth for us. And we may pray for the alleviation of those troubles; he allows it. Only before the prayer for present relief, for daily bread, let us pray, "Thy will be done;" then we may safely ask for such things as are needful for the body. The Jewish Christians in those times of distress might pray that their flight should not be in the winter nor on the sabbath day. The Lord, indeed, had not encouraged the superstitious observance of the sabbath; Christians afterwards were to keep the first day of the week in place of the seventh. But the early Jewish Christians were "all zealous of the Law" (Acts 21:20), and the scrupulousness of those among whom they lived would cause many hindrances and difficulties. It was in the highest degree desirable that their flight should be unimpeded, for the misery of those days would be awful. Such tribulation never was, nor would be ever again. The Lord's words are strong, but not stronger than those in which Josephus describes the actual horrors of the siege and fall of Jerusalem. Never, he says, did any other city suffer such miseries, nor did any age breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was from the beginning of the world. The destruction of life was enormous. It seemed as if the whole Jewish race would be swept away. But the days of tribulation were shortened for the elect's sake—for the sake of those among the Jews who believed or would hereafter believe (comp. Romans 11:5, Romans 11:7). "The Lord shortened those days," we read in St. Mark. God's providence so ordered circumstances that the siege was ended sooner than might have been expected (in five months), and thus the loss of life, though tremendous, was not so overwhelming as otherwise it might have been. "The Lord knoweth them that are his; he careth for them. The great events of history, the convulsions which shake society, are ordered by him for the good, for the salvation, of his elect. Monarchs and statesmen and warriors act from various motives, often from wicked and selfish ambition. But the Lord reigneth. He overruleth all things for the elect's sake. Let us give diligence to make our calling and election sure, and then trust ourselves in entire resignation to his blessed will.
II. WARNINGS CONTINUED.
1. Deceivers. Then, the Lord says. He looks onward again, beyond the destruction of the holy city. Jerusalem had fallen, but the Lord had not yet come. In a real sense, indeed, the fall of Jerusalem was a coming of the Lord (comp. Matthew 10:23 and Matthew 16:28). He came in that awful event to execute judgment upon the guilty, to bring the old dispensation to an end. But he had not come revealed in his majesty. He bids his people beware of false prophets, false Messiahs. Many such there have been, many such there will be down to the times of the antichrist described by St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). Like that antichrist, these false Christs will show signs and lying wonders, so as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. But that, thank God, is not possible, for we have Christ's word, "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." He warns us now—"I have told you before"—that we may be prepared in the day of temptation. There will be false Christs, the Lord says, repeating his warning; each will have his followers, who will try to draw people after him. "Behold, he is in the desert!" some will say. Christ's people must not listen. The true Messiah has come; we bear his name; we know him it we are his indeed; and that knowledge is life eternal. We need no other prophet; there can be no other Christ. When he cometh again men will not say, "Lo, here;" or" Lo, there." "Every eye shall see him." When he first came in great humility, men said to one another," We have found the Messias." But he cometh not thus again. In power and awful glory he shall come, a dreadful Judge. Then Christians must not allow themselves to be misled by false Messiahs. They must not believe the stories of ignorance or fanaticism. Some may say, "Behold, he is in the desert!" others, "Behold, he is in the secret chambers!" Some may tell us that we shall find Christ in the free air of the desert, away from creeds, and forms, and systems of doctrine, and antiquated Churches. Others may think to find him in the narrow, confined limits of this or that sect. Believe them not. "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." But seek not after the Christ here nor there, in the desert nor in the secret chambers; for the true Christ is found everywhere by those who seek him in simplicity and in truth, not only at Jerusalem or "in this mountain."
2. What Christ's coming will be. It will overspread the world at once. "Every eye shall see him." The sense of his presence will fill the whole universe, as the lightning fills the whole expanse of the sky. It cometh from the east, and is seen even to the west. So shall the coming of the Son of man be; in flaming fire, visible throughout the universe, startling quick and dead alike with its omnipresent energy. "Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." The carcase is the festering corruption of sin. There are high authorities for a very different interpretation; but both the fitness of words and the context, which speaks of God's awful judgment rather than of the means of grace and the Bread of life, seem to necessitate the explanation which is perhaps generally adopted. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." That revelation will burst at once upon the whole universe. Those mighty angels are the eagles. They shall gather the wicked from among the just. Wherever the carcase is, wherever there are impenitent sinners, dead unto God and holiness, corrupted with the pollutions of sin, there shall the messengers of judgment be gathered together; as the Roman eagles were once gathered round Jerusalem, to fulfil the awful behests of God. Wherever the carcase is, here, there, far and near, throughout the vast universe of the quick and dead, the angels of judgment will surely find the guilty and the reprobate. There will be no escape. The area of judgment will be coextensive with that of the vast multitude of souls. Then Christians should live in the expectation of that awful day, not eager for novelties, not listening to those who say, "Lo, here!" or "Lo, there!" but living soberly, righteously, and godly, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
1. Jerusalem must perish. The Church may not dare to trust in external privileges. It must abide in the love of Christ, in the life of Christ, or the candlestick will be removed.
2. Christians must flee from the world which passeth away to the city of God which abideth forever.
3. Live always in the thought of the judgment.
The end of the world.
I. ITS CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The heavens. The Lord had been glancing onwards into the future. There would be wrath upon the chosen people; it would last long; they would be led away captive into all nations. Jerusalem would be trodden down of the Gentiles; it would lie desolate long—even "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:23, Luke 21:24). The tribulation of those days is not yet ended; still Jerusalem is lying waste; still her children are scattered. Again and again the tribulation has seemed to come to its climax, and men have looked for the coming of the Lord. Christ would have his Church ever live in the attitude of expectation, as men that wait for their lord. But the end is not yet—it cometh immediately after that long tribulation. Then "shall the sun be darkened, the moon shall not give her light, the stars shall fall from heaven." Words like these were used by the Hebrew prophets as symbolical of the fall of earthly empires—of Babylon, of Edom, of Egypt (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7). The Prophet Joel (Joel 2:30, Joel 2:31), in a passage quoted by St. Peter (Acts 2:19, Acts 2:20), describes the like portents as ushering in "the great and terrible day of the Lord." St. John saw similar wonders, in vision, at the opening of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12, Revelation 6:13), when "the great day of his wrath wag come." We must receive the Lord's words with reverent awe, as foretelling the terrors of that tremendous day, when "the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." It is the grand, lofty language of prophecy; we need not attempt to bring the details down to the lower plane of science. Our part is rather to listen to the warning of St. Peter, "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?"
2. The sign. The Jews had more than once asked for a sign from heaven; the Lord would not give it. Now his apostles had inquired, "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" He does not define it. But such a sign, he tells us, there will be: "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." What that sign will be we know not certainly, it will be visible to all the world: "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn." It will be a sight awful exceedingly to the wicked; welcome, above all other visions, to the eye of faith. "Then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." It may well be, as very many have thought, a cross of dazzling splendour—the cross that is life to the believer, death to the sinner; the cross in which alone the followers of the Lord may glory. That cross, it may be, glittering high above, will be the token of his coming; then all kindreds of the earth shall wail, some, perhaps, even then with the godly sorrow of repentance (Zechariah 12:10-12), some with the wailing of despair and terror; for "they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory." Every eye shall see him then—they that love him as the very life of their souls, and they that have pierced him with their sins, and crucified the Lord afresh. What strange, wonderful words for him to utter, who then sat upon the Mount of Olives, rejected and despised by the leading men of his nation, with suffering and ignominious death in immediate prospect!
3. The angels. "He shall send forth his angels." They are his, for the Father had said, "Let all the angels of God worship him" (Hebrews 1:6); they are his, for he himself is God. He shall send them with a great sound of a trumpet—the trump of God. The voice of the trumpet at Mount Sinai was exceeding loud, so that all the people that were in the camp trembled. How much louder and more awful shall be that trumpet call which shall wake the dead, and summon quick and dead alike before the throne! The angels, the messengers of the Son of man, shall gather together his elect. The angels are his; the elect are his; they are Christ's, bought with his precious blood; his, for the Father who chose them and by his choice made them "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father," hath given them to the only begotten Son; they are his; none can pluck them out of his hand. His angels shall gather them together from the four winds—from one end of heaven to the other. Not one of them shall be lost—wherever they may be, in the remotest corners of the earth, or lying in long forgotten graves—the angels shall gather them together, from the cottage and from the palace, from the crowded city and the desolate wilderness, from below the green sods of the churchyard and from the fathomless depths of the sea; the angels shall bring every one of God's elect safe to the Lord who loved them and died for them, whom they believed in, and loved and trusted even unto death.
II. THE TIME.
1. The parable of the fig tree. The disciples had asked, "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" The Lord had spoken of the fall of Jerusalem and of the great day; he had told them of the abomination of desolation which should be the warning of the one, and of the sign of the Son of man which should announce the other. He now proceeds to the question of time; again he speaks first of the nearer end, the end of the temple and the holy city; then of the end of all things. He sat on the Mount of Olives; he pointed, it may be, to a fig tree then putting forth its leaves; those buds, those tender leaflets, were the earnest of approaching summer. So, the Lord said, "when ye shall see all these things [the signs which he had mentioned], know that it is near, even at the doors." They would see it, some of them; for that generation would not pass till all these things were fulfilled—all these things, that is, of which the Lord had spoken but just before in the temple: "Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:36); all those things of which the disciples had asked him, "Tell us, when shall these things be?"—the destruction of the temple, the ruin of Jerusalem, the scattering of the people of Israel. It was hard for Jews to realize; Jerusalem was all the world to them; their attachment to Jerusalem was more than patriotism—it was a religion to them. Jerusalem was the centre of their worship; the temple was the centre of Jerusalem, the house of God, the dwelling place, in ancient times, of his manifested glory. They regarded that glorious building with a national pride, with a deep religions interest, with a passionate love, which, perhaps, has had no parallel in the history of the world. They had watched the progress of Herod's restoration (or rather rebuilding), not without some feelings of suspicion, but yet with intense delight and enthusiasm. And now they heard that those goodly stones which they so much admired were all to be thrown down; there would not be left one stone upon another. It was like a death blow to them—like the very end of the world—strange and almost incredible in its terrible awfulness. But it was true; it was surely coming; "Heaven and earth shall pass away," said the Lord, "but my words shall not pass away." Mark the calm confidence of the assertion. Only a Divine Person could so speak; such words in the mouth of any human teacher would be presumptuous and intolerable; but Christ was meek and lowly in heart, for he is "King of kings, and Lord of lords."
2. The last day. The end of Jerusalem was soon to come, in the lifetime of some who then stood around the Lord; the end of the world was not yet. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only." It is not for us to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. That knowledge is hidden in the counsels of God; we may not presume to search into it. It is not given to the blessed angels, not even to the Son in his human nature, as he himself tells us (Mark 13:32). The finite and the infinite met in the one Person of Christ—human limitations on the one side; on the other the power, knowledge, and wisdom of God. The relations between those two natures are wholly beyond our comprehension; we cannot by any intellectual effort picture to ourselves the manner of their union—how the one affected the other. It is enough to know that the Lord, in his great love for us, condescended to submit to the conditions of our humanity; and one of those conditions was this, that on the human side of his Person he knew not, as we know not, the day, the hour, of his own second advent. Strange that men should have ever ventured to think that knowledge within their reach. It is bidden from us, for our good. It is God's will that we should live looking always for the judgment. What he wills is best for us. He willeth that all men should be saved; it is not his will that we should know the hour of the Lord's coming, or the hour of our own death; his will is best.
3. The hour will be unknown to the end. Noah was in the world a preacher of righteousness; God bad warned him of the coming judgment. Then the long suffering of God waited while the ark was a-preparing. All through that time Noah, we must suppose, was preaching, reproving, bearing witness of the wrath to come; but men heeded him not. For many years the huge structure of the ark was a standing warning to those who lived around. But they were immersed in the ordinary pursuits of life—in its business, pleasures, sins. They found no time to listen to the preacher's voice; it may be they mocked him, as the men of Sodom afterwards mocked the one righteous man who dwelt among them. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark. They saw him enter with his family and the great host of living creatures; they must have known something of the meaning of his conduct. But still they heeded not; they acted as though they knew nothing; they did not repent, they did not flee for their lives. And after seven days the Flood came and swept them all away. So shall it be at the time of the end: God's servants will preach, as Noah preached then; they will prepare to meet their God, as Noah then prepared. The world wilt be heedless still, absorbed in earthly things, unchanged, unthinking. Upon such idle thoughtless lives the coming of the Lord shall flash in awful suddenness.
4. It will cause strange separations. Two men shall be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. They are engaged in the like occupation, alike ignorant of the nearness of the judgment. Suddenly he cometh; one is taken and one is left. One is taken to be with Christ in the eternal blessedness; one is left to the awful judgment. They had seemed alike to the eyes of men; but God knoweth the secrets of the hearts. One had served him in the inner worship of the spirit, in sincerity, and faith, and holy love, and deep humility; the other had been worldly and selfish, his prayers had been but lip service, his worship but hypocrisy. That day will make strange revelations; it will tear away the mask of the hypocrites, it will show the holiness and the true nobility of the humble self-denying Christian, it wilt make an eternal separation between the godly and the ungodly, the saved and the lost.
III. THE SAVIOUR'S WARNINGS.
1. The need of watchfulness. The Lord urges this upon us strongly. He repeats it again and again. The warning is for all people and for all times: "What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." His apostles re-echo the Saviour's words, "Let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." The name Gregory, borne by so many holy men, witnesses to the deep impression which this solemn warning made on the minds of early Christians. The duty is one of paramount obligation; for the night is far spent, the day is at hand. This present life is night compared with the full burst of the resurrection day. The Christian must not slumber, pleasing himself with the shadowy dreams of earthly glories; he must keep vigil, watching always; for the day is at hand, the effulgent sunshine of the true life. "Therefore watch," saith the Lord: "for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."
2. The thief in the night. The thief comes stealthily in the dead of the night, when men are least expecting danger. Had they known the hour, they would have watched. "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night; in Such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." The Lord's words sank very deeply into the minds of the apostles: witness the frequent repetition of the illustration (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3 and Revelation 16:15). "Therefore be ye also ready." The Lord's earnest admonitions should bring home to our hearts the momentous importance, momentous above the power of language to express, of watching for his coming. Very blessed are those who know him now as a most loving Friend, a most gracious Saviour; and, alas! very intense must be the misery of those who neglect his solemn warnings, living without watchfulness, without prayer; who must, unless they repent, know him for the first time as an awful Judge, when he cometh suddenly upon the careless slumberers, as the thief cometh in the dead of night.
IV. THE PARABLE OF THE SERVANTS.
1. The faithful and wise servant. According to St. Luke (Luke 12:42), where the parable occurs in another connection, it was a question of St. Peter's which gave occasion to it, "Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?" It is plainly addressed in the first instance to the apostles, and to those who, in the providence of God, have been called to the like office and ministry. But it embraces in the range of its application all Christian men who have been placed in any position of trust, and have the power of influencing others for good. The Lord asks, "Who is the faithful and wise servant?" He answers his own question. It is he who feels and recognizes the duties rather than the advantages of his position. He has been set over a portion of the Lord's household. He knows the reason. It is not for his own enjoyment or profit, but that he should give them meat in due season. He must be a faithful dispenser of the Word of God and of his holy sacraments; and that in all humility and self-distrust, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He must take heed to the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made him overseer, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. And this he must do in constant watchfulness, looking always unto Jesus, waiting for the appearing of the Lord. "Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing"—blessed exceedingly above all that heart can conceive of rapture and of gladness; for thus saith the Lord, "He shall make him ruler over all his goods." He shall exalt him to the highest place in his kingdom. The highest places in heaven are not like those of earth; one man's exaltation does not exclude others. "To him that overcometh will I give to sit with me in my throne." That highest promise is for all who overcome; there is room for all faithful Christians in the throne of Christ. "Wherefore we labour [φιλοτιμουìμεθα, we are ambitious] that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him." This is the high ambition of the faithful Christian.
2. The evil servant. Alas! not all are watchful. Some who have been left in charge of the Lord's household think only of themselves. They say in their hearts, "My Lord delayeth his coming." They care nothing for their Lord's household, nothing for their fellow servants. They think only of their present ease and comfort, nothing of the awful future. They are hard, proud, tyrannical; they carry themselves as "lords over God's heritage." They are selfish, sensual, self-indulgent, absorbed in their own pleasures, their own emoluments. The doom of such, unless by God's mercy they repent, is dreadful exceedingly. "The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him." Then shall come the tremendous sentence shadowed forth in a most frightful form of punishment; but more fearful even than that frightful punishment, for it points to an eternal doom: "He shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
1. Let us mourn in true repentance now, that we mourn not in that day when the sign of the Son of man shall appear in heaven.
2. One is taken, one is left. Most awful words! "Watch ye therefore."
3. He cometh suddenly. None can know the hour of his coming; therefore watch always.
4. Blessed are the watchful; miserable exceedingly must the careless be. Therefore let us watch.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
It is a fact of history that pretenders appeared who claimed to be sent by God for the deliverance of the Jews, and practically usurped to themselves the position of the Christ. But all this belongs to far-distant ages. In a larger application of our Lord's idea, the world has seen many other false Christs down even to our own time, for whoever or whatever assumes to do the work of Christ or claims his honours is a false Christ. Let us look at some of these usurpers.
I. THE PRIEST. Men who come between us and God, so that we are shut off from the privileges of religion, excepting as we submit to their authority, are false Christs. Priests who offer to intercede with peculiar efficacy, claim to sacrifice on the behalf of others, and assert that they are the channels of sacramental grace, take on themselves functions which rightly belong to Christ. At the head of this great assumption is the pope; but the humblest minister who would have us look for salvation through his mystic grace shares in the same offence. In fairness it should be seen that Romanist priests and their imitators do not claim to set aside the work and honour of Jesus Christ, but merely to administer his grace. Yet practically their functions are substituted for Christ's, and the people are induced to look to them instead of going to Christ, the one High Priest, and to God, as themselves kings and priests.
II. THE CREED. Theologians only profess to interpret the mind and will of Christ. Nevertheless, the scholasticism of the Church has led to the exaltation of doctrinal statements into the place which of right belongs to Christ himself. Thus it was once a popular presentation of the gospel to describe it as a group of saving truths which a person was to believe. The great thing was for him to see the way of salvation clearly. The whole idea of salvation by orthodoxy was the substitution of dogma for Christ. It taught that men are saved by believing a Creed; but the New Testament teaches that salvation is dependent on faith in Christ alone.
III. THE CHURCH. This is an institution founded by Christ himself. It is his own body, the body of which he is the Head. But there is a great perversion when the body is put in the place of the Head, and is thought to perform its functions. The Churchly notion of religion is that men are saved through their connection with the Church. It is true that all Christians maintain that salvation is in and through Christ alone. There is no formal and confessed substitution of the Church for Christ. But the perversion is not the less real in practice. As a fact, multitudes of people are led to think much more of their inclusion in the Church than of their being in Christ. The assertion that there is no salvation outside the Church is soon twisted into the idea that there is salvation for all in the Church, and that membership therein is the primary condition of salvation. Against these and all other substitutes for Christ we have to be on our guard, that we may look alone to the living personal Saviour for grace and life.—W.F.A.
It is evident that our Lord was speaking with especial reference to the series of calamities that was to accompany the death throes of the Jewish state. In them are typified and illustrated the trials which test the fidelity of the Christian in many walks of life.
I. WE ARE WARNED TO EXPECT HEAVY TRIALS. No woes can]lave been greater than the troubles of that tragedy of history, the fall of Jerusalem. But Job justly tells us that "man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). It is foolish to anticipate calamity, for "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;" but it is equally foolish to deny its possibility, or to be astounded and amazed when we have our share of what, after all, is just the common lot of mankind. Most assuredly the feeble faith that will be swamped in the first gale of adversity is not fit to be launched on the uncertain seas of life.
II. THESE TRIALS WILL REQUIRE THE GRACE OF CONTINUOUS ENDURANCE. It might be possible to muster courage for the encounter with one huge calamity in a rare crisis of life. The exceptional necessity would call out exceptional energy, and the very excitement of the novel situation would help to brace the spirit of heroism. But in many lives the trial of faith is long and tedious. There is not one brief and brilliant hour of martyrdom, but there are years of repeated difficulties and renewed troubles. To face such experiences a gift of patience and stubborn endurance is requisite. For most of us this is needed, because in some form the whole of life is a course of discipline, although it is not the purgatory pessimists paint it.
III. THE ENDURANCE OF ADVERSITY AND TEMPTATION IS NOT INDEPENDENT OF OUR OWN EFFORTS. It is not solely dependent on those efforts. Nobody can stand firm in his own strength alone. If we are enabled to be faithful, this is because God is with us, our Strength and our Stay. There is no possibility of continuous endurance excepting through his presence and help. The trials are certainly too severe for unaided human strength. But this is not all. It is but one side of the situation. The Divine grace is given to those who seek it; it is given according to the measure of faith; and it is given to inspire and energize our efforts, not to supersede them. We must strive, or we shall fail.
IV. A GREAT DELIVERANCE WILL CROWN THE ENDURANCE THAT IS PERSEVERED IN TO THE END.
1. There will be an end.
"Now we fight the baffle."
But the battle will not last forever. Patience and courage! The affliction is but brief. It is foolish to risk all rather than stand out its short time.
2. It is necessary to endure to the end. The ship that has weathered many a storm on her long voyage must be prepared to face the last tempest, or she will perish in sight of her haven. It is not enough that we were victorious in bygone days. The fidelity of youth will not excuse the failure of later years. The battle is not over till it is won, and the battle of life is not won till life is finished.
3. Then will be the final victory. Faithful, persistent endurance will issue in the end of the trial and in the salvation of the sufferers. Salvation is perfect and secure for those who are "faithful unto death."—W.F.A.
Our Lord compares his coming to a great flash of lightning which blazes out in the east and illumines earth and sky as far as the west. This is in contrast to the notion of an obscure and doubtful appearance, or one that is local and limited, or one the coming of which is so gradual that it can scarcely be discerned. In opposition to these erroneous conceptions, the advent of Christ is to be lightning like. Let us consider its characteristics as they are suggested to us by this startling image.
I. VISIBILITY. Bursting out of the darkness of the storm, the lightning blinds us with the brilliancy of its illumination. There is no mistaking the fact that it has come. We may not observe the glow worm; we cannot ignore the lightning. The awful "day of God" at the destruction of Jerusalem has made its impress on all history. Other advents of Christ in judgment, as in the sack of Rome by the Goths, the wreck of the Spanish Armada, etc., have startled the world with their terror. The present more peaceful coming of Christ to heathen nations in the spread of his gospel produces most visible effects in the transformation of degraded fetich-worshipping cannibals into civilized, humane Christians. Our Lord's words lead us to anticipate that there will be no obscurity about his great final advent. Then every eye shall behold him.
II. BREADTH. The lightning flashes from east to west; or its flash is so splendid, that while for a moment it plays in the east, the far-off west is illumined by the radiance it spreads in all directions. There is a greatness in the appearance of Christ. Even when he came in humiliation, he was "a Light to lighten the Gentiles." Perhaps he had some thought of his first appearance in the East, and of the spread of his light to Europe, when he spoke of the lightning shining in this direction. But if it is a strain of fancy to assert that any such idea is to be found in this image, the notion of breadth is certainly there. Christ's life was lived in the open. As St. Paul boldly said, "This thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). Christ is the Light of the world, and his radiance is spreading over the earth. The last advent will be for all the world to see, and it will concern all mankind.
III. SUDDENNESS. Nothing is so sudden or so startling as the lightning. In its very silence it gives us a greater shock than the roaring thunder. There is something peculiarly awful in its momentary blaze of splendour, especially as we know that there is death and destruction in its shaft. In a moment the steeple is shattered, the stout oak is blasted and riven to its core, the strong man is scathed and flung down dead. It is not clear that our Lord meant us to attach any idea of destruction to his image of the lightning. We know that there is a terror in the wrath of the Son (Psalms 2:12). In his advent to judgment Christ must smite down his foes. He is not the incarnation of unruffled amiability which modern hymns represent, although he is not the stern Judge of Byzantine art. Part of the terror of his judgment is its suddenness. We know not when he will come. Yet if we are his true people we need not fear. His sudden advent will be our sudden joy.—W.F.A.
Matthew 24:36 (as in Revised Version)
The unknown day and hour.
This is one of the most striking words of our Lord. The record of it shows the veracity of the Gospel writers. No early Christian would have invented such a sentence as this. The words themselves testify to the truthfulness and to the humility of Christ. They are significant also in the light they throw on the limitations of knowledge.
I. THE FACT. No one but our Father in heaven knows the whole future. Some parts of it are revealed to all of us, some are within the perception of prophets, more may be specially known to angels, very much must have lain open before the eye of Christ. But God only knows the whole. The final judgment is known only to him. Why is this?
1. Perhaps the date is not fixed. To God, who is independent of time, all our uncertainties and contingencies must be visible and sure. But it is impossible for us to imagine the form of thought that comprehends such things. To us many things are uncertain, in part because they are dependent on changing conditions. Will a particular man be saved or lost? No one can say, because no fixed destiny determines his future. It will be conditioned by his conduct, by the action of his free will. It is open for him to repent at any time. So it may be that the date of the final judgment will be determined according to the conduct of men, according to the course of history. It may be hastened or it may be postponed, as the behaviour of the world changes.
2. Certainly full knowledge would be injurious. It is one of the greatest mercies of life that God hides the future. If any sorcery could reveal it, the depth of folly would belong to those people who resorted to that sorcery. The knowledge of future evil would crush us; the knowledge of future good would take the zest out of our joys and make the blessings of life stale and uninteresting. Moreover, God disciplines us by ignorances. This should not make us indifferent to truth; it must be our duty to learn what God teaches. But it cannot be healthy to attempt to pry into secrets which God means to keep to himself. Calculations of modern prophets about unfulfilled prophecy are here rebuked beforehand by our Lord.
II. INFERENCES IN REGARD TO JESUS CHRIST.
1. The distinction between Christ and his Father. Clearly they are here seen as two Persons. Yet it is the fashion of popular theology to "confound the Persons," and to speak of Jesus as if he were just the same as the Father.
2. The comparative subordination of Christ. We dare not say, with Cyril, that the ignorance of Christ was only apparent. That must be to represent him as an unreal Actor. He meant what he said in all honesty. It may be that Athanasius was right in applying all such passages as that before us to the earthly humiliation of our Lord. Still, the statements of Scripture as to the Son being sent by the Father (e.g John 20:21), applying as they do to the first advent and the very origin of the lncarnation, suggest something like a secondary position even prior to the earthly life, as we shall see if we reverse the phrases, and think of the Son sending the Father—a most improper notion. The Sender must be in some way superior to the Sent.
3. The Divinity of Christ. This is apparent even in this passage, where the secondary position is stated:
(1) Because Christ separates himself from all other men, and even places the angels between himself and them.
(2) Because Christ shows Divine knowledge of the fact of the ignorance of angels as well as men, and of the fact of his Father's unique consciousness.—W.F.A.
Matthew 24:40, Matthew 24:41
One taken, and another left.
What our Lord here somewhat obscurely applies to the time of the coming judgment is clearly seen in all ages and in every family where death is plying his erratic craft.
I. THE DISTINCTION. There are the greatest possible variations in providence. God does not follow any regimental orders. The ages do not march with the measured tramp of drilled battalions. Families are broken up. Aged men are left, while young men are snatched away. Bad people flourish to a green old age, and some" whom the gods love die early." The useless remain to cumber the ground, and the useful are cut down in the midst of their work.
1. Similarity of external conditions is no guarantee of similarity of fate. The two men are at the same field work, the two women are both alike grinding corn. Yet how different are their fates! We cannot judge of a man's future by his worldly position.
2. Association in life does not secure association in death. The family is grievously broken; old friends are parted; life partnerships come to an end. Two friends may be very near in life, yet death may make an awful separation, if one is called to the world of light and the other banished to the realm of darkness.
II. THE TWOFOLD FATE.
1. The one taken. Whither? There is an eerie vagueness in our Lord's language. The summons comes, and the most reluctant must obey without a shadow of resistance. But whither does it call? We vainly strive to follow the flight of the passing soul, and the utmost effort of imagination cannot trace it one step beyond the old familiar earthly scenes. A cloud receives the traveller out of sight the moment he takes his departure. Yet we know that there are tremendous possibilities in the unseen, and we know that the blessedness or woe of the future life depends on the conduct of this life. He who is taken has gone "to his own place."
2. The one left.
(1) To what is he left? To grief, desolation, and loneliness—but also to God who never leaves, to Christ who is never taken from us.
(2) Why is he left? Perhaps for further work, perhaps for finer chastening, perhaps to give one more opportunity for repentance. But let him consider that his time also must come. Before long all are taken. The distinction is temporal, not final; it is a matter of the postponement of the dreaded end, not of its avoidance.
III. THE UNCERTAINTY. Our Lord evidently desires to lay stress on this. We do not know when the final judgment will be. We do not even know when our own last day will come. This, too, may be swift and sudden as the lightning-flash, unexpected as the thief in the night. We never know which will be taken and which left. How often the feeble invalid outlives the strong man who is smitten down by some accident or fatal disease in the midst of his busy life! Such thoughts should not induce a morbid melancholy, or a listless indifference to life. They warn us to be always ready for the summons that shall call us hence. But then he is fit to die who is most truly equipped for the duties of life, and to him the sudden message will be no awful terror, but the trumpet of victory, or, better than that, the Father's voice calling his child home to himself.—W.F.A.
The two servants.
Our Lord here applies his teaching about the suddenness of the advent of the unforeseen judgment to the conduct of his servants. In view of the possibility of being called to account at any moment, what manner of men should we be? Jesus gives us contrasted pictures of two very different servants as they are found at his coming, and of their consequent fate.
I. THE FAITHFUL AND WISE SERVANT.
1. His character. No doubt his known fidelity and wisdom furnish the reasons for his appointment to an important office.
(1) The first requisite is fidelity. Our business is not to please ourselves, but to serve our Master.
(2) The second requisite is wisdom. This is more than acuteness of intellect. It is a moral faculty, the right use of the intellect.
2. His trust.
(1) A post of responsibility. God is the supreme Lord, yet he grants to the several provinces of his kingdom a considerable measure of" home-rule." He does not humiliate by driving us like cattle; he gives us scope for the exercise of our powers and the proof of our fidelity.
(2) A post of useful service. The servant is to provide food for the household. He is a steward of the previsions of the family. God trusts his servants to feed his family. If they are unfaithful, the children will starve.
3. His conduct. He simply does what is required of him. His Master finds him "so doing." He is not expected to devise novelties of self-willed service. He cannot exceed his duty. But it is enough if he does it. Christ looks for simple obedience—service according to his will.
4. His reward. This is in the form of promotion. The faithful servant is to serve still, but in a higher position. God does not reward service by granting idleness or selfish indulgence in luxury, which would mean no reward to the true servant. As it is a great honour to be permitted to serve, it cannot be a reward to be set aside from further service; the great reward is just the privilege of larger service.
II. THE EVIL SERVANT.
1. His excuse. "My lord tarrieth." This is but a thought of his heart, yet it bears fatal fruit in his life, Evidently the miserable man is an "eye servant." He has no sense of duty, no interest in his work. A lazy, dishonourable slave, he will not work if he can escape. The very delay of his master, which is meant to enlarge his honourable trust, he seems to regard as a mark of indifference, as though he would blame his lord for apparently neglecting the household. Here we see the hypocrisy of which the man is accused later.
2. His vile conduct.
(1) Cruelty. He beats his fellow servants. He abuses his position of trust. Instead of feeding the household, he flogs it. The very power that was given to him for good uses he turns to evil. The shepherd has become a wolf. So has it been in the Church of Christ with men in high office.
(2) Intemperance. The man is tyrannical and ill-tempered, because he is weak and self-indulgent. No men are at heart so cold and cruel as those who live for their own pleasures. Selfishness and sensuality lead directly to hardness and harshness in dealing with other people. All this is essentially degrading. The honoured steward becomes the boon companion of low drunkards.
3. His shock of surprise. Because his lord tarried, he began to think he should never be called to account. He was the more amazed and confounded with the sudden advent of his master. Christ will come in judgment to men who never expect him.
4. His awful doom. To such a man, and not to the abandoned outcast, Christ threatens the most fearful punishment. The professed servant of God, the man in trust and honour who abuses his privileges, will be the victim of the direst wrath of Heaven.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The coming of Christ.
After dooming the temple to desolation, "Jesus went out." The action was significant (see Luke 19:44). In every case the departure of the Saviour is a solemn event. "His disciples," viz. Peter, James, John, and Andrew, called his attention to the magnificence of the structure. Men are naturally influenced by material glories. They had especially noticed the greatness of the stones, and were astonished when Jesus declared that these should become disjointed and overthrown. How "slow of heart" are even good men "to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (see Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:18)! What havoc in the material world is wrought through moral obliquity! "And as they sat" in full view of the temple and city (verse 3), where the Shechinah had rested after leaving the temple and the city, and whence it ascended into the heavens—awful presage of the desolation of the temple and city by Nebuchadnezzar, and the captivity of the people by the Babylonians (Ezekiel 11:23):—the action of Jesus here therefore was not only the expression of a tender, sorrowful, patriotic, human sympathy, but moreover a parable and a prophecy of momentous import.
I. CHRIST WAS COMING IN HIS KINGDOM.
1. The advent of the King Messiah was the constant subject of ancient promise.
2. It was accordingly the chief expectation of the Jews.
3. But so dazzled were they with the splendour of the imagery, in which the coming of Messiah in his glory is set forth in prophecy, that they overlooked the predictions setting forth an earlier advent of Messiah in humiliation.
4. Hence, when Jesus came in that earlier advent his people were offended in him.
II. HE COMES IN SPIRIT AND POWER.
1. So he came upon the memorable Day of Pentecost. Jesus had been corporeally transiently present with his disciples as their Comforter, and he promised, after his removal from them in that capacity, to come again as their permanent or abiding Comforter in his Divine Spirit (see John 14:15-21).
2. That advent was quickly followed by the "end of the world," or, more properly, the "consummation of the age." The Levitical dispensation ended with the destruction of the temple. For the temple was the very centre of that system. "The temple was destroyed:
(1) Justly; because of the sins of the Jews.
(2) Mercifully; to take away from them the occasion of continuing in Judaism.
(3) Mysteriously; to show that the ancient sacrifices were abolished, and that the whole Jewish economy was brought to an end, and the Christian dispensation introduced" (Clarke).
3. The judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem was a figure of the judgment of the great day. The scattered Jew-Christians found relief in the judgment which brought desolation to their persecutors.
III. HE WILL YET COME VISIBLY, IN POWER AND GLORY.
1. He will then come "in the clouds."
(1) He will come upon a glorious throne.
(2) He will come with a myriad retinue. Clouds of angels. Clouds of spirits of just men made perfect (see Hebrews 12:1).
2. He will come to introduce the millennium.
(1) He will begin that reign with judgments upon the obstinately wicked. The antichristian nations will be overthrown.
(2) He will end that age with the final judgment upon the dead, small and great.
IV. HE COMES IN THE ARTICLE OF DEATH.
1. This is the "end of the age" to us as the term of our probation.
2. It is to us virtually the day of judgment.
3. Christ comes in person to receive to himself his own (see John 14:3).
4. Let us be admonished and prepare.—J.A.M.
Signs of the advent.
The coming of Christ in his kingdom being the great event of prophecy to be fulfilled, the time and signs of that coming became questions of intense interest to the disciples. The time is generally indicated by the signs. These are—
I. APOSTASY THROUGH THE INFLUENCE OF FALSE CHRISTS.
1. Many antichrists appeared before the destruction of Jerusalem.
(1) Even in apostolic days the mystery of iniquity was already working (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 John 2:18). Note: Antiquity is no certain evidence of truth. Error is very nearly as ancient. The spirit of falsehood invaded the garden of Eden.
(2) Many came professing to be the Christ. "Theophylact has recorded that one Dosatheus, a Samaritan, put himself forth as the prophet foretold by Moses; that Simon of Samaria also declared himself to be the great power, that is, the 'great power of God,' mentioned in the Acts. This prophecy also seems to contemplate Theudas, and 'that Egyptian' (see Acts 21:38), and another impostor mentioned, but not named, by Josephus, all of whom styled themselves prophets, though only rebels and deceivers. Manes, in later times, presumed to call himself the Christ, and to choose twelve apostles, in imitation of our Lord" (Joachim Camerarius). Since Christ in Christianity is all that is Divine and saving, so all false systems of Christianity are false Christs.
2. Many have since been deceived by the popes.
(1) The popes affect to be vicars of Christ, and usurp his prerogatives. They claim infallibility. They assert dominion over the faith of Christians. They undertake to forgive sins committed against God.
(2) Multitudes have apostatized through their deceptions. The state of Christendom was deplorable before the Reformation. The mischief is still extensive (see Revelation 13:3).
(3) This seems to be the apostasy indicated by Paul as that destined to be developed when the restraining power of the Roman emperors should be taken out of the way (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
3. Many have been deceived in the Mohammedan delusion.
(1) Mohammed was an antichrist, as he set himself above the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) He made converts by hundreds of thousands by the eloquence of his sword. How extensive were the conquests of the Saracens! What an empire was once that of the Turks!
(3) Mohammedan Mahdis are ever arising. We are warned to take heed against deceivers. "The colour of the greatest good is often the cover of the greatest evil" (Henry). Seducers are enemies more dangerous to the Church than persecutors.
II. EXCITEMENTS OF MILITARY COMMOTION.
1. These existed before the destruction of Jerusalem.
(1) When Jesus was born there was peace. The temple of Janus was shut.
(2) But think not that he came to continue such a peace (see Luk 13:1-35 :49-53). War comes of refusing the gospel.
(3) "Rumours of wars." When Caius [Caligula] resolved to erect his statue in the temple at Jerusalem, the consternation was so great that the people omitted to till the land.
(4) Christians were to "hear of wars." They are more apt to "hear" of them than to engage in them. Many of them submitted to die rather than serve in the armies.
(5) "Nation rising against nation." In Palestine, before the time of Joshua, there were "many nations and great." At this time there were many divisions in the land—Judaea with Samaria, Galilee, Ituraea, Abilene. These were in conflict and commotion (see Bishop Newton's 'Diss. on Prophecy').
2. They are to precede the millennial reign.
(1) The war spirit, born in depraved human nature, has become organized in these last times, viz. since the great prophetical era marked by the first French Revolution.
(2) Standing armies have now swollen to enormous proportions; and science has been taxed to render weapons of war terribly destructive.
(3) To support this system industry is oppressed. Ploughshares are beaten into swords—a process which was destined to precede the reverse operation of beating swords into ploughshares (cf. Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:9, Joel 3:10; Micah 4:3).
III. FEARFUL PUBLIC CALAMITIES.
(1) Such there were before the destruction of Jerusalem. One of these was foretold by Agabus (see Acts 11:28). Josephus and Eusebius mention two famines which took place in the days of Claudius; and Josephus expressly says, "There was a great famine throughout Judaea" ('Ant.,' Joshua 20:2).
(2) Such have occurred in modern times, and are likely to become increasingly destructive as the population of the world increases, and the war spirit increases with it.
2. Pestilences. These are the usual attendants of famines.
(1) Epidemic disorders are generally produced from the scarcity or badness of provisions.
(2) The carnage of the battlefield is also a source of epidemic disease.
(1) Such there were before the destruction of Jerusalem. The first of the series was that in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus. The histories of Claudius and of the following emperors notice many in Asia and the islands of the Aegean. They took place in Crete, in Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos; in Laodicaea in the consulship of Nero; at Hierapolis and Colosse. In all these places the Jews resided. Add to these that dreadful one in Judaea mentioned by Josephus ('Wars,' Joshua 4:4), accompanied by a furious tempest, with continual lightnings, thunders, and rain.
(2) The thoughtful observer of the signs of these times cannot overlook the earthquakes by which they are ever increasingly distinguished (see Mallett's tables).
IV. THE WIDE PUBLICATION OF THE GOSPEL.
1. The publication was at first limited to the Jews.
(1) Our Lord in Person came to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel."
(2) Occasionally, however, he presaged the publication of his gospel to the Gentiles.
(3) Though he commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature, he instructed them to begin at Jerusalem.
2. When the Jews rejected it, then the apostles turned to the Gentiles.
(1) It soon was carried throughout the Roman empire, then styled the world (see Romans 1:8; Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23). Then followed "the end" in the judgment upon Jerusalem.
(2) Now, through the great evangelistic societies—Bible societies and missionary societies—the testimony of the gospel is carried into "all the world" in the wider sense. May we not therefore look for the day of judgment upon the antichristian nations? Of all these things Christians are to take heed. For the confirming of their faith. For the inspiration of their hope. For their personal safety.—J.A.M.
Having announced the signs of his advent, first for the destruction of the Jewish antichrist, and secondly for that of its Gentile counterpart, Christ gives to his disciples salutary warnings suited to the crises.
I. IN RESPECT TO SECULAR EVILS.
1. We do well to take heed to the sure Word of prophecy.
(1) "The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet," equivalent to the Roman army with its ensigns. The פנך in Daniel 9:27 may denote the Roman wing or army (cf. Isaiah 8:8). Josephus shows that the ancient Jews understood this prophecy of Daniel to relate to the Romans. The ensign was an eagle, an unclean or abominable creature, and especially abominable as it was an idol. (cf. 1 Kings 11:5, 1 Kings 11:7). Images of the Caesars were inscribed in the shields on the ensigns. Our Lord fixes the interpretation in this sense (cf. Luke 21:20).
(2) "Standing in the holy place." This cannot be the temple, for the Romans did not stand there until after the opportunity for the flight had passed. The circuit of the holy city was in the holy place (cf. Acts 7:7). Before this time the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem, in deference to the scruples of the Jews, had ensigns without the effigies of Caesar. Pilate attempted to introduce the images, but yielded to the remonstrances of the Jews, and commanded them to be carried back to Caesarea.
(3) "Whoso readeth let him understand." Those who read the Scriptures should endeavour to understand them. We should have understanding of the times (cf. 1 Chronicles 12:32; Matthew 16:3). "The wise shall understand." Daniel is intelligible in the interpretations of Christ. When untoward things occur, the people of God should confer with the prophets.
2. Christ is a mountain of safety to those who fly to him for refuge.
(1) "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains." Cestius Gallus, Prefect of Syria, besieged Jerusalem for some years, and then raised the siege. This was the sign to the Christians to flee. They accordingly removed to Pella and other towns in the mountainous region of Gilead, east of the Jordan. In the territories of Agrippa, who remained faithful to the Romans, they were safe. When Titus came some months later, there was not one Christian remaining in the city. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly."
(2) "Let him which is on the house top not," etc. In the promptitude of obedience there is safety. Had the Christians delayed their flight when Cestius Gallus raised the siege, they must have suffered for their unbelief with the unbelieving Jews. Josephus relates that Titus completed his lines of circumvallation with incredible celerity. "None of the wicked shall understand." The Jews perished because they would not understand the salutary warning of Jesus.
(3) Life is more than property. If we sacrifice property to secure the life of the body, much more should we sacrifice it to secure the more precious life of the spirit. Flight must not be hindered by burdens. The Christian carries all his property in Christ. It is not to trust, but to tempt God, when we refuse to pass through the door which he opens for our escape.
3. Calamities are mitigated for the sake of the deer.
(1) "Woe unto them!" etc. (verse 19). Frightful accounts are found in Josephus of the sufferings of helpless women and children in those "days of vengeance."
(2) "But pray ye," etc. (verses 20-22). We must labour to make the best of the inevitable. The followers of Christ in times of calamity should be much in prayer. The prayer that anticipates may mitigate evil. "That your flight be not in the winter," when the ways would be scarcely passable. "Neither on the sabbath day," lest they should be exposed to the indignation of the Jews, or hindered by their own superstitions.
(3) "But for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." The prayers of the good are effective, and the wicked profit by their successes. As there is a community of suffering between the wicked anti the good, so is there a community of mitigations between the good and the bad. God rules in human affairs.
II. IN RESPECT TO SPIRITUAL DECEPTIONS.
1. He warns them against false Christs.
(1) There were many such about the time of the siege. Some before it (see Acts 5:36, Acts 5:37). Others soon after, as Jonathas, who formed an army in Cyrene; and Barchochebas, in the reign of Adrian.
(2) Those who observe the signs of our times cannot fail to see false Christs. Not only is there the Roman impostor (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10) and his Eastern rivals, but many minor deceivers are springing up.
(3) As the counterfeit presupposes the genuine coin, so do false Christs indicate the true. As the appearance of false Christs nearly two thousand years ago showed that the true Christ had then come (cf. Daniel 9:25), so do the appearance of false Christs now presage the approaching second advent of the true.
2. He warns them against false prophets.
(1) False Christs have also their false prophets. Every Mahomet has his Abubeker.
(2) Our Lord not only foretold the appearance of these deceivers, but the manner of their proceeding (cf. Acts 21:38; Josephus, 'Ant.,' Acts 20:7; 'War,' Acts 6:5; Acts 7:11).
(3) "If it be possible," etc., imports simply that it is difficult to deceive the elect of God (cf. Acts 20:16; Romans 12:18). "To fear the worst oft cures the worst" (Shakespeare). To be forewarned is to be forearmed. "A prudent man foreseeth the evil" (see Proverbs 22:3; Hebrews 11:7).
(4) Times of great trouble are times of great temptation.
3. He warns them against their deceptions.
(1) "Great signs and wonders." The Jews had magical arts, interpreted dreams, and pretended to work miracles and predict the future.
(2) The Roman antichrist comes "with all the deceivableness of unrighteousness" (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11; Revelation 13:13, Revelation 13:14). If not the elect, the infidels are deceived. They fly from the extreme of superstition into the opposite extreme of scepticism, and so miss the truth.
(3) The coming of the true Christ is a grand thing, like the sheet lightning. So the Roman armies came in public, as the executioners of the Judge, in contradistinction to the stealthy manner in which the false Christs came. They came suddenly, without any premonitory whispering as to the "secret chamber." They came universally, for they filled the land. Like the lightning shining from the east, they entered Judaea from that quarter, and carried their conquests westward.
(4) The coming of Christ here also refers to his second personal advent (cf. Luke 17:22-37). When a people do by their sins make themselves carcases, God will send his vultures among them (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Hebrews 8:1).—J.A.M.
The signs of the heavens.
The earlier verses of this chapter set forth principally the signs from the earth. The "tribulation" referred to here is that consequent upon the siege of Jerusalem in the first place, and in an extended sense may be viewed as continued through the whole period of the dispersion of the Jews.
I. THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IS PRECEDED BY REVOLUTIONS.
1. These are described under the figure of the shaking of the powers of the heavens.
(1) The mechanical heavens bear rule over the physical earth. They are therefore made emblems of government, whether political or religious or both. The shaking of the heavens imports the removal of such governments (see Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7, Ezekiel 32:8; Daniel 8:10; Joel 2:10, Joel 2:30, Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9, Amos 8:10).
(2) The sun is the symbol of the supreme power in the state, and of monarchy in particular. The darkening of the sun imports the humiliation, if not extinction, of the supreme civil rulers.
(3) The moon is the emblem of the ecclesiastical system, Anciently, the times and ceremonies of the Church were measured and ordered by the revolutions and changes of the moon. As the true Church, like the moon, borrows its light from the Sun, viz. "of righteousness," so have spurious religious systems borrowed theirs from civil rulers. The moon eclipsed represents a dispensational change in the true Church, and confusion to the false Churches.
(4) Stars represent particular rulers, as princes and leaders in the state; and "angels" or ministers in the Church. The stars leaving their orbits and falling obviously imports the effects of revolution upon he leaders of religious corporations.
2. Trace now the fulfilment of the prophecy.
(1) The Jewish system literally collapsed "immediately after the tribulation" of the days of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans took away their "nation." They also took away their "place," or temple. And the destruction of the temple involved the abolition of the Levitical system, of which the temple was the very centre. Thus the sun, moon, and stars of that people came to grief together.
(2) The prophecy had a further fulfilment in the calamities, revolutions, and ultimate overthrow of the Roman empire. We find the same figures applied in the Apocalypse, first to the overthrow of the pagan powers of the empire by Constantine; and next, to the subversion of the empire itself by the northern invaders (see Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:12). The application of the word "immediately" in reference to these events will not surprise when we take into account the character of prophetic language, and the vast range of time to which it is applied.
(3) The final instalments of fulfilment will take place when the antichristian powers, civil and ecclesiastical, shall come into judgment. This event will come "immediately after the tribulation" upon the Jews comes to its end in their restoration to their land and covenants.
(4) Who can say whether this prophecy may not also have a literal accomplishment in the mechanical heavens themselves? There is a remarkable relation between astronomical and political changes.
3. In all commotions Christ will be merciful to his people. "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet," etc. (verse 31).
(1) These words may be applied to the calling of the Gentiles. They are said to come from the "four winds" or "comers of the earth" (cf. Matthew 8:11, Matthew 8:12; Luke 13:28, Luke 13:29). God's message comes as the sound of a trumpet (cf. Numbers 10:1-36.; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 33:3, Ezekiel 33:6; Romans 10:18).
(2) They may be applied to the gathering of the Jews. They are still in a sense God's "elect." They are destined to be gathered out of all the nations into which God has driven them in his anger. The angels with the trumpet will be God's messengers in gathering them (cf. Daniel 8:10; Esther 8:16; Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9).
(3) They may be applied to the gathering together of the elect of God, who shall be called forth from their graves "by the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God" (cf. Exodus 19:13, Exodus 19:16; Le Exodus 25:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52).
II. THE "SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN," AND THE "COMING OF THE SON OF MAN IN THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN," ARE THE SAME.
1. This was the sign for which the sceptics clamoured.
(1) The Jewish rulers were offended at the mean appearance of Jesus. "The carpenter's Son!" "Of Nazareth!" "Have any of the rulers believed?" Pride has a natural antipathy to humility. But the pride of all false glorying must be stained.
(2) They overlooked, or refused to see, that Messiah was to come in this very quality of humiliation. The "Root out of a dry ground!". The antitype of "David in all his afflictions." So of the "prophets and righteous men" who suffered for righteousness'sake.
(3) The rulers had refused the "signs which Jesus did," most unreasonably accounting them insufficient. Men are not now sceptics for lack of cogent evidence. Unbelief is of the "evil heart" (cf. Psalms 14:1; Hebrews 3:12).
(4) The sign from heaven, for which they clamoured, was that of the Prophet Daniel (cf. Daniel 7:13; Matthew 16:1). That sign was not intended for this generation. The sign from the earth—that of the Prophet Jonah, was to be given to them (see Matthew 12:38-40).
2. They will receive it to their confusion.
(1) Confounded by their pride, they missed the event of the first advent of Messiah. Yet by that very pride which blinded them they were urged to fulfil the prophecies which they failed to see. So God makes the perversity of scepticism to praise him.
(2) They confounded the time of the second advent. They looked for Messiah as a King when they should have looked for him as a Priest. Here also their pride confused them.
(3) How will that pride be confounded when they shall see the very blessed Person whom they had rejected and crucified, "coming in the clouds, of heaven, with power and great glory"! As the "sign of the Prophet Jonah" was Jonah, so the "sign of the Son of man" is the Son of man. In the cloud, viz. of the Shechinah, Jesus went into heaven, and in the same cloud will he return (see Acts 1:9-11).
(4) Sooner or later, all sinners will "mourn." Those who have not mourned in contrition will "wail" in despair (cf. verse 30; Revelation 1:7). The cloud of the Presence was a pillar—support, viz. in union, of vapour and fire. As judgment came from that Presence in the water which destroyed the old world, so from the fire of the cloud will come forth those flames which will consume in the judgment to come.—J.A.M.
The event and the time.
Having unfolded to the disciples the manner and circumstances of the two great events respecting which they had inquired, our Lord now proceeds to speak more particularly of their certainty and of the time of their occurrence.
I. THE EVENT OF THE JUDGMENT IS CERTAIN.
1. This is asserted under a simile. (Matthew 24:32-35.)
(1) The fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish nation (cf. Joel 1:7; Matthew 22:19). To the literal Israel these things were primarily spoken. They have relevance also to the spiritual Israel, viz. in a future fulfilment. The outside world give no heed to sacred signs. "None of the wicked shall understand" (see Daniel 12:10).
(2) The teaching is that as the budding of the fig tree, then probably visible before them (cf. Matthew 21:19; Luke 21:29), was a sure presage of summer, so must the signs indicated in the preceding discourse be taken to pledge the near approach of the sequel, glorious to the righteous, disastrous to the wicked (cf. Matthew 16:3; Luke 21:31; Revelation 1:1).
(3) "The summer is nigh." When the trees of righteousness put forth the leaf of faithful promise, it is a happy presage of good times. But that which to the good is an enlivening light is to the wicked a scorching and consuming fire.
2. The assertion is repeated in the comment.
(1) The generation that witnesses the signs will also witness the sequel. This was literally so in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 16:28; Matthew 23:36). There is a distinction between "these things," which refer to the events of the destruction of Jerusalem, and "that day" (Matthew 24:36), which indicates the season of the final judgment. Yet was the judgment upon Jerusalem a type of the judgment of the last day.
(2) The "generation" destined to see the end of "all things" in the wider sense, is the Jewish race (see A. Clarke, Steir, and Alford). Therefore the preservation of that race amidst untoward circumstances pledges the certainty of the sequel.
(3) It is easier for the heavens and the earth to pass away than for the word of Christ to fail (see Luke 16:17). The creation had a beginning, so may have an end; but Christ's truth is from eternity, and cannot but abide. The failure of the truth of God would be, in other words, the failure of his existence, which is a supposition superlatively absurd.
II. THE TIME OF THAT EVENT IS NOT WHOLLY UNCERTAIN.
1. It is particularly known to God alone.
(1) To him it is known. It is therefore distinguished as "the day of the Lord." Christ, as God, therefore, knew it. "It is necessary to distinguish between the knowledge of Christ as a Divine Person and that which he possesses as the Prophet of his Church. As Divine he knows all things; but as a Prophet he receives his messages from the Father, and makes them known to us. In this sense he knew not the day of judgment; that is, it was no part of the revelation which God gave to him to make known to men" (A. Fuller). "To know" has the idiomatic sense of "make known" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 1:6, Acts 1:7; 1 Timothy 6:15).
(2) As it was not given to the Son to make it known, so neither was it given to the angels. They have great capacities for knowledge, and, dwelling at the fountain of light, have also great opportunities; but their prescience is limited, or at least it is not given to them to make it known.
(3) The day on which Titus was to invest Jerusalem was not known to the disciples when our Lord advised them to pray that their flight might not be on the sabbath. The hour or season was not known to them when he advised them to pray that it might not be in winter (verse 20). So are we without knowledge of the day and season of the great event of which the judgment upon the Jews was but a figure. Wisdom withholds particular revelations of the future to encourage prayer.
2. Yet is it generally made known to the wise.
(1) Many ancient prophecies contain approximate anticipations of the time. Light upon this subject was progressively increasing. Daniel gave intimation of the destruction of Jerusalem to the year in his period of four hundred and ninety years, though not the day or season.
(2) Our Lord himself speaks of great political revolutions that should happen before his return; and his language plainly implies that the event was then remote (see verse 48; Matthew 25:5, Matthew 25:19).
(3) Paul declares that before that great event there should occur a gradual development and subsequent gradual wasting of a great apostasy, the germs of which were already working in his day (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17.).
(4) Proceeding further, we find Peter using language evidently designed to prepare the Church for a long delay (see 2 Peter 3:1-18.).
(5) The series of intervening events is wonderfully disclosed in the course of the revelations given to John. The wise who study this series cannot be ignorant as to the approaching time.
3. But to the wicked it will come as a surprise.
(1) So the Flood came upon the men of that generation. "They knew not." They were warned, but did not heed. "Death never comes without a warrant, but often without a warning" (Anon.). Not knowing, i.e. acknowledging, is joined with eating and drinking and marrying. They were sensual because secure; but the ignorance of wickedness is an imaginary security. "The flood came." Those who will not know by faith shall be made to know by feeling. The evil day is never further off for men's putting it off. Judgments are most terrible to those who make a jest of them.
(2) "As in the days of Noah." The design here is to show that the desolation will be as general as it will be unexpected. The miserable Jews neglected the advice of Jesus to watch, and were destroyed, it is for us to learn wisdom by the things which they have suffered. The general neglect of religion is a more dangerous symptom to a people than particular instances of irreligion.
(3) The siege of Jerusalem surprised the Jews in the midst of their festivity at the Passover (cf. Judges 18:7, Judges 18:27; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Man's unbelief shall not make the truth of God's threatenings of none effect (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; Revelation 18:7). "The uncertainty of the time of Christ's coming is to those who are watchful a savour of life unto life, and makes them more watchful; but to those who are careless it is a savour of death unto death, and makes them more careless" (Henry).
4. It will be a time of separation.
(1) "Then shall two men be in the field," etc. (verse 40). Many who have been united in the closest earthly relations will then be found separated in their spiritual condition and eternal allotment.
(2) Those "taken" correspond to Noah and his family, who were taken into the ark, and to the disciples of Jesus, who removed to Pella. Those "left" correspond to the people shut out of the ark, and those shut into Jerusalem when it was devoted to destruction. In the last day the elect will be gathered out of the devoted world into the cloud of Christ's protecting presence.
(3) Here our Lord enjoins upon his disciples to watch, and that too in reference to his coming—an event so far remote that when it occurs they will be found among the dead. In like manner, we find the apostles exhorting their brethren to watchfulness, and urging the same reason, while they certainly knew that event to be remote. The lesson, then, is that it is manifestly the Divine purpose that the thoughts of the people of God should be carried forward to and fixed upon that momentous time when Christ shall come to judge the world.
1. That to live in a state of preparation for this event is also to live prepared for death.
2. That every exhortation of Scripture to watch for the former is alike applicable to the latter.
3. That in a most important respect the hour of death is to every man the hour of judgment.—J.A.M.
The two servants.
The "household" of God is his Church (see Ephesians 3:15). In the professing Church there are two classes of persons, viz. the "wise" and the "evil." In minor particulars there may be an infinite diversity, but ultimately all will be visibly separated into these great classes. This will hold in respect to both ministers and people.
I. "WHO, THEN, IS THE FAITHFUL AND WISE SERVANT?"
1. He that watches for the return of his Lord.
(1) "Wisdom" is a synonym for "religion." In this sense the term is commonly used in the Proverbs of Solomon. The "wise" servant, therefore, is he that has repented of his sin and has accepted his Saviour.
(2) True Christians are "of the day," and are instinctively watching for "that day" in which the Lord Jesus will appear in his glory (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6; 2 Peter 3:10-12).
(3) To such the advent of the Master can be no surprise. If Jesus threatens the angel of the Church at Sardis to come on him as a thief, it is because he was neither penitent nor watchful (see Revelation 3:3).
(4) "If the master of the house had known in what watch," etc. (verse 43). Life, like the night, is distributed into watches. A watch in Old Testament times was four hours; at this time it was three. The Christian's vigilance should be unslumbering.
2. He that is "ready" to welcome that return.
(1) "Therefore be ye also ready" (verse 44). Readiness is now substituted for watchfulness. To be ready we must not only look for the coming of Christ, but so to look as to be prepared for it (see 2 Peter 3:11-14).
(2) To be ready is to have such an assured faith in Christ as a present Saviour that whensoever he may come in his Lordship he will be welcomed.
(3) But the service of God is not limited to trust and worship; obedience is the complement of these. When the Master comes the servant must be found "doing." Doing the will of Christ is watching for him in readiness.
(4) He must be found "so doing." Note: There are activities in the Church which are mischievous. Ministers are in the Church rulers in the sense of being bishops or overseers to direct the work of Christ (see Hebrews 13:17). They have also to "give" or dispense the bread of life (see Ezekiel 34:8; Acts 20:35). For this they must not substitute the "stone" of profitless doctrine or the "serpent" of poisonous error. The "bread" must be sound and wholesome. It must also be given in fitting "portion" and in "due season." Note: There are certain portions of the bread of life which lose their effect by being administered to improper persons and out of proper season.
(5) He must be "found so doing," viz. when the Master comes. This implies constancy and perseverance. "It is expected of the steward that he be found faithful," so faithful that he cannot be surprised (see 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Timothy 1:12; 1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Timothy 6:14; Hebrews 3:2; Revelation 2:25).
II. WHO, THEN, IS THE EVIL SERVANT?
1. He that has little faith in the speedy coming of Christ.
(1) (Verse 48.) This is one who is nominally a Christian, but really a hypocrite. The first manifestation of the hypocrite is the heart reflection, "My Lord tarrieth." The thought, is in the heart; it is the offspring of desire. As when Jesus said to John, "Behold, I come quickly," meaning certainly, so the hypocrite saying, "My Lord tarrieth," expresses secret disbelief that his Lord would come at all.
(2) Christ knows what men say in their hearts.
(3) The evil servant through his unbelief neglects to get ready. Note: Faith influences practice.
(4) "But know this," etc. (verse 43). This is a description of what a man would do rather than of what he should do. He would indeed watch at the hour if he knew it, but not till then. The teaching here is a discouragement of death bed repentances. It is against all procrastination. Religion is not to be separated from the duties and enjoyments of common life. He leads a heavenly life who sanctifies his earthly deeds to heavenly ends.
2. He that governs with oppression.
(1) "And shall begin to beat his fellow servants." Here is the Ishmael in the family of Abraham.
(2) Evil ministers strike their fellow servants with the fist of office. They lord it over God's heritage. Fellow service is forgotten.
(3) Rich men tyrannize over their poorer brethren sometimes by shaking in their faces the golden fist. "Do not rich men oppress you?" Here also fellow service is too often forgotten.
(4) Could such things happen but for a disbelief in the speedy coming of the Lord? The dignity of the kingdom of Christ is service. Christ was among his disciples as one that served.
3. He that leads an irregular life.
(1) He does not love the company of the children of God. Their spiritual fellowship is distasteful to him.
(2) But he "eats and drinks with the drunken." Feasting together is the sign of fellowship.
(3) The fellowship of wickedness tends to wickedness. He becomes "drunken." Perhaps not with wine. All wickedness is intoxication.
(4) The evil minister "feeds himself without fear." So does his evil lay fellow servant.
(5) Could these things take place but for a disbelief in the speedy coming of the Lord? When the Israelites concluded that Moses, through his long absence in the mount, might never return, they set about making to themselves gods.
(6) The coming of the Lord in his mercy is indeed delayed by the wickedness of his professed servants, but his coming to them in judgment is thereby hastened.
III. HOW WILL THE LORD DEAL WITH THESE SERVANTS?
1. The faithful he will promote to honour.
(1) "Blessed is that servant." He is happy in the approbation of his Lord. The question, "Who is that wise and faithful servant?" may, perhaps, be taken as though Jesus had said, "I should very much like to know him, so rare, so valued, are such in my sight."
(2) Not only is he blessed in his present sense of the approval of Christ, but the happiness is reserved for him of a public approbation before an assembled universe: "Well done."
(3) He is blessed in the promotion which depends upon that public approbation. Having been faithful in his earlier opportunities, he is further trusted. "Verily I say unto you, He will set him over all that he hath." The bliss of heaven is not the fancied bliss of inactivity. The bliss of heaven is still the bliss of service.
2. The evil will be relegated to punishment.
(1) His death will be a degradation. It is separation from the communion of saints, and from all the gifts he had abused.
(2) "I will cut him asunder." Stone take this in the sense of severe scourging. It may be taken in the sense of discerning and exposing the thoughts of his heart. So the Word of God is compared to a sharp sword, which "pierces to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Such exposure to a hypocrite is a terrible mortification. Note: Death literally cuts asunder the animal soul and the rational spirit.
(3) "And appoint him his portion with the hypocrites." The hypocrite will be punished with his kind. The associations of perdition are monotonous. "If the devil ever laughs, it must be at hypocrites. They are the greatest dupes he has. They serve him better than others, and receive no wages; nay, what is still more extraordinary, they submit to greater mortifications to go to hell, than the sincerest Christian to go to heaven" (Colton).
(4) "There shall be weeping." Not, however, the weeping of contrition. It is the weeping that is associated with "gnashing of teeth." It is the weeping of helpless rage and of hopeless despair.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
"The end of the world."
This term is a figure of speech. It represents something. It does not describe something. The actual ending of the world is an almost impossible conception. So far as we are able to trace Divine dealings, there are no "endings;" there are stages. But what we call an "ending" from one point of view is a "beginning" when seen from another point of view. What we ought to inquire is—Was this a familiar figure of speech in the time of our Lord. and if it was, what ideas were attached to it as familiarly used? The patriarchal age came to an end, but there was no abrupt scene which can be called an ending. The same remark may be made concerning the closing of the Mosaic age. And we need imagine no catastrophe as the close of the Christian age. The coming of Messiah was, in Jewish thought, connected with the "end of the world," and vague, wild, and extraordinary were the things associated with that "coming" (see Stapler's 'Palestine in the Time of Christ,' Matthew 5:1-48.).
I. THE END OF THE WORLD IS THE END OF THE AGE. Distinctly present the truth that God ever works in stages, making each stage prepare the way for another and a higher. This may be shown by the revelations of the primeval ages made by geological researches; or by the history of separate nations; dynasties and royal houses represent distinct ages or dispensations. So we find stages within the history of Mosaism, the Jewish Church passing through several dispensations. Those who can read the philosophy of the Christian centuries can trace stages in them. One such stage was nearing completion in the time of Christ; and, with a very human tendency to exaggeration, men were imagining that an end of a particular polity for a small nation was to be the "end of the world."
II. THE END OF THE AGE IS ALWAYS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW AGE. If we did but fully grasp this idea, we should be delivered from many hindering mistakes.
1. Endings are always local. There never has been any ending that concerned the whole world.
2. Endings insensibly glide into the new scenes. Abrupt endings may belong to man's spheres, his dynasties, and his systems; but abruptness seldom, if ever, characterizes God's ending. His spring has an ending, but it is a gliding into summer. If we can think of an actual "end of the world," we must think of a gliding into the new and eternal age.—R.T.
The Christian attitude in times of civil commotion.
There is always a tendency to exaggerate their importance. It is strange to find Christian people able to find some high prophetic allusion forevery little war or social disturbance within the sphere of their knowledge. Every national trouble is manufactured into a sign of the "coming end." Precisely of this strange tendency our Lord so anxiously warned his disciples in this discourse. "Do not run away into extravagant imaginations under the impulse of every bit of local civil commotion. There will be a good deal of that sort of thing, but the "end is not yet." The world is not going to fall to ruin, even if Jerusalem should become a desolation." Our Lord bade the disciples take warning from passing events, so that they might secure their personal safety; but he intimated that they would be wise to leave the world's future altogether in God's hands, and not attempt to be wise above what was written.
I. CHRISTIANS SHOULD LET PASSING EVENTS HELP TO GUIDE THEIR CONDUCT. Our Lord commended observing the "signs of the times." Illustrate by reference to the anticipated siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Our Lord pointed out certain events which the disciples should take as distinct warnings. They should respond to them by instant flight; and, as a matter of fact, the Christians of Jerusalem did note those signs, and did effect their escape to Pella. For Christians civil commotion is warning and education. It decides conduct, and it develops and tests character. Through the Christian ages this has been fully illustrated. There have been times of faction fight, of civil war, of invasion and national ruin. Christ prepares his disciples for such times, which give them the chance of showing noble examples and exerting holy influences.
II. CHRISTIANS SHOULD AVOID TRYING TO FIT PASSING EVENTS INTO GOD'S SECRET PLANS.
1. Because Christians never can know God's secret, plans.
2. Because Christians could never fit their little pieces into the plan, even if they knew it. It is extraordinary that there has always been a strong disposition to expect a speedy termination of the whole system under which we live. It may be one of the forms of human conceit. We cannot imagine that things can last much longer after we are gone.
J.A. Alexander works out these two points.
1. So far as we have any means of judging, the "end is not yet."
2. So far as it remains a matter of doubt, it is better to assume that "the end is not yet," than to assume the contrary.—R.T.
The mission of religious persecution.
Religious persecution is an evil, and a serious evil, but it cannot be called an unmitigated evil. Persecutors come under Divine judgments; but persecutors, in the Divine overruling, are made to do the Lord's work. The Lord Jesus was persecuted, and we fully sympathize with him in those persecutions. And yet we only know him through them. His perfect obedience as a Son only comes to view on the background of the sufferings he endured. What is true of the Master is true of his Church. It has ever been sanctified through the persecutions it has been called to endure.
I. ITS MISSION IN RELATION TO THE TRUTH OF THE CHURCH. Illustrate two points.
1. The conflicts of the Church have helped to formulate the doctrine of the Church. Persecutions have dealt with opinion, and have helped to make right opinion. It may even be shown that the influence on truth has not been altogether good, because the strain of persecution has tended to exaggerate particular opinions, and put them out of the Christian harmony.
2. The martyrdoms of persecuting times have vivified the leading truths of the Church. The things men have died for are all-important. They must be worth dying for; they are primary truths of the "faith."
II. ITS MISSION IN RELATION TO THE SPIRIT OF THE CHURCH.
1. The ages of persecution have been spiritual ages. Then the critical spirit is wanting. Men easily believe. The underlying meaning of God's Word is more important than its literary form. Men find they need "the sincere milk of the Word."
2. The ages of persecution have been ages of brotherhood. The common peril ensures common service. There is mutual shielding, mutual sympathy, and the records tell of heroic acts of self-sacrifice done at such times. The story of such ages acts upon us today as an inspiration to brotherhood.
III. ITS MISSION IN RELATION TO THE SPREAD OF THE CHURCH. It has been, over and over again, as it was in the first Christian age. The disciples were "scattered abroad" in consequence of the persecution that arose over the preaching of Stephen, and they "went everywhere, preaching the Word."
1. At such times there is a secret spreading of the Church. Hidden, it works like leaven. Illustrate by history of the Church in Madagascar and Uganda.
2. At such times there is the entering of new spheres, and possession of new lands in the name of Christ (see story of the pilgrim Fathers).—R.T.
Matthew 24:12, Matthew 24:13
The difficulty of keeping on.
"Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." These verses are connected with Christ's prophecy of the history of his Church. There may be difficulty in fixing the precise references of his language, but he describes general features which are seen in every passing age. There is always a disposition to exaggerate or overestimate the evils of the age in which we happen to live, because they are specially prominent to us. But we may certainly say this much—we live in an age when outside wickedness and semi-wickedness are telling very directly and very injuriously on the Christian spirit. It cannot be said that there is general failing from the Christian profession; but there is a strange, sad "chilling of the Christian love," a "leaving of the first love." In some ages the separation of the Church from the world is more marked, and so the influence of the world on the Church is less felt. Illustrate by Slapton Sands in Devonshire. A freshwater lake well stocked with fish is divided from the sea only by a road and a narrow belt of sand. Usually the two are well kept apart. But when wind and tide unite, the sea rises, floods the sand and the road, and pours the defiling and destructive salt waters into the sweet lake.
I. EFFECT OF GROWING INIQUITY ON THE CHRISTIAN SPIRIT. "Love waxes cold." The true idea of Christian life is the sanctifying and ennobling power of a personal love to Christ. Iniquity, self-willedness, and self-willed ways chill this love
(1) by presenting to us other and rival claims to our love (preacher must be left to select illustrations of such claims);
(2) by undervaluing and putting slights on Christ. Show how human friendships are spoiled when our friends are satirized and scorned. Show how jealously, in these criticizing days, we need to watch over our high, adoring, admiring thoughts of Christ.
II. THE MASTERY OF SURROUNDING INIQUITY IS THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIAN STEADFASTNESS. "He that shall endure to the end." It will cost persistent and persevering effort if we are to keep loving Christ supremely. True endurance is not possible unless we have a strong grip of Christ. We must have and cherish warm feeling toward Christ. We must keep on
(5) working for Christ.
And if ever faint, it must be "taint, yet pursuing."—R.T.
The gospel witness.
The expression, "in all the world," can only mean the "world" as men then thought of it. Our Lord's statement is verified in the fact that there was "hardly a province of the vast Roman empire in which the gospel had not been preached before the destruction of Jerusalem." The "world" is an altogether larger idea to us; but the gospel has to be preached to "all the world" as we apprehend it. The Apostle Paul uses very broad terms. He speaks of the gospel as having gone out into all the earth (Romans 10:18); as being present in all the world; and as having been preached in the hearing of every creature which is under heaven (Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23). A difficulty is suggested. These representations do not seem to match the facts in the apostolic age or in any other age. The gospel has not actually reached every part of the earth yet; and it has been effective unto the salvation of but a minority of the human race. Some have thought they could find explanation in the limitation "for a witness;" as if the conversion of "all nations" were not the design of the gospel preaching. This idea may, however, be presented in an exaggerated form. We may see the reasonable senses in which the gospel is a witness to all nations.
I. THE GOSPEL WITNESS IS A WITNESS FOR GOD. The right knowledge of God comes, always has come, always must come, by revelation. A creature, limited by the senses and sense relations, cannot reach the apprehension of unseen things without help. Such a creature, having the help of revelation, is yet constantly disposed to materialize its apprehension: this is seen in the disposition to make visible symbols of the unseen God. This tendency takes the coarser forms of idolatry, and the more refined forms of philosophy. The gospel, then, is a witness, because it is a fresh and corrective declaration of what God is, what God thinks, and what God requires.
II. THE GOSPEL WITNESS IS A WITNESS AGAINST IDOLATRY. This may be illustrated by St. Paul's work at Lystra and at Athens. Take such points as these.
1. Preach the gospel, and men see that the true God asks for love. So it witnesses against all religions of fear.
2. Preach the gospel, and men see that the true God can only be served by righteousness. So it witnesses against all immoralities of rites and ceremonies.
III. THE GOSPEL WITNESS IS A WITNESS CONCERNING MEN. Preach it, and the "thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." It will prove everywhere a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." What is strange is that, wherever the gospel is preached, men are discovered to themselves, and know that they are sinners. That is the beginning of the gospel mission.—R.T.
The mischiefs wrought by antichrists.
"For there shall arise false Christs," i.e. false Messiahs. In the period between our Lord's ascension and the destruction of Jerusalem many so called prophets arose who claimed Divine authority. It is not clear that they claimed to be the Messiah; but after the fail of Jerusalem one appeared who called himself Barchochebas, the "Son of a star," and claimed to be Messiah, and deceived many. If we can get a proper meaning to the term "antichrist," we shall see that such have appeared in every age, and repeated in every age the same mischief making. An "antichrist" is any man or any woman who, in any sphere, undoes or resists the work of Christ, or compels men to think unworthy thoughts of Christ. Fitting introductory matter would be an account of the social and religious mischiefs wrought by the antichrists of the first century, especially of Barchochebas.
I. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST. That authority is not only absolute and supreme in Christ's Church, it is also in constant, immediate, and direct administration; to it the Church can always appeal. Antichrist
(1) withdraws us from the Divine authority;
(2) criticizes the Divine authority;
(3) substitutes something for the Divine authority.
Antichrist comes between the soul and Christ.
II. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE PURITY OF CHRIST. The sinless Christ has it as his supreme aim to make sinless disciples, and present his Church perfect even as he is perfect. Purity, therefore, is the great aim of Christ's Church; and to it purity is a high ideal. Any one whose influence tends to sully the Church's purity, or to lower the Church's standard, is an antichrist. There are those who teach a liberty which is licentiousness, and a self-indulgence which is disloyalty. "Ye are called unto holiness:" this will test all antichrists.
III. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE UNITY OF CHRIST. Sectarianism is the exaltation of opinion over truth. The Church could be one if it were only based on loyalty, love, and obedience to the Lord Jesus. The Church is broken up into sections, ever-multiplying sections, by the particular opinions of men, who presume to declare Divine authority for their opinions. Christ is one with the Father by his loyalty to him; and that is the way in which we must be one in Christ.
IV. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE CHARITY OF CHRIST. This may be opened in two ways.
1. There is the selfishness which shuts men up to what is called the "enjoyment" of religion, heedless of the ministry the world needs.
2. There is the bitterness of the heresy cry against those who do not happen to think exactly as we do.—R.T.
The figurative character of this verse is apparent. It does not describe actual events. It belongs to astrological rather than to astronomical associations. There is no literal interpretation of these words possible. Isaiah uses similar symbols in prophesying the Divine judgments on Babylon (Isaiah 13:10), and we may reasonably think that such a scriptural passage suggested our Lord's statement. "Even the common speech of men describes a time of tribulation as one in which 'the skies are dark,' and the 'sun of a nation's glory sets in gloom.'" The verse is plainly poetical and pictorial, but what it pictures is the series of terrible civil calamities and commotions and distresses which attended the Roman siege of Jerusalem. It is not necessary to suppose any allusion to a future breaking up of the framework of the earth in the last times. Of that no man really knows; and no precise description has been or could be given.
I. SKY SIGNS THAT TEACH GOD'S WORKING IN THE WORLD. Men might be disposed, even those disciples might be disposed, to look upon the events of the siege of Jerusalem as just ordinary national incidents. Jesus therefore used figures in relation to them which lifted them to a higher plane, and made the disciples think about them, discern their relation to the whole course of God's dealing with his ancient people, and trace his direct working in them. All the events connected with the history of the Jewish nation are designedly revelational; and it is their revelational value which disciples must be helped to discern. But when once we see that this is true for the Jewish nation, we begin to see that it is true for all nations. Men make much now of the "philosophy of history." They never can read history aright until they begin to study the "religion of history." Wars, migrations, changing dynasties, are not understood till they are seen to be "sky signs."
II. SKY SIGNS THAT TEACH GOD'S REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE FOR THE WORLD. Christ's way of referring to the overthrow of organized Judaism by the destruction of the sacred city fitted that historical fact into the Divine redemptive plan. It was the removing of the scaffolding, that the complete building might come into view. It was the withdrawal of dependence on material forms, in order that the spiritual reality might fully occupy men's minds and hearts.—R.T.
A key to our Lord's meaning.
"This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." The position in which these words stand is significant. Many writers see references to the commonly called "end of the world" in Matthew 24:29-31 because the imagery is so large as to seem unsuitable for a mere national desolation. Our Lord meets that difficulty, and distinctly declares that the figures picture events which belong to that generation. What needs to be clearly seen is, that this discourse of our Lord's is not a general discourse on the "last things," but a precise anticipation of the experiences through which his disciples were about to pass, and a gracious preparation for them. He was leaving those disciples to themselves. He had indications to the very last of their unfitness to be left. They were still so hampered by their notions of a material kingdom. They were Jews, full of Jewish ideas. It would be a distress to them that the Jewish system was to be put away, as having fulfilled its mission. It might even be overwhelming to them that the very city and temple were destroyed. Our Lord would forewarn them. Their knowledge of the fact would help them to think aright, and to act aright, when the time came. This is the key to our Lord's meaning.
I. THE DISCIPLES HELPED TO THINK ARIGHT. We know how great a strain on them was the opening of the gospel to the Gentiles. St. Peter had to explain his conduct in baptizing Cornelius. St. Paul had to give account of his teachings of the Gentiles. And we can understand how much greater must have been the strain, when not only were Gentile Churches formed, but the Jewish Church was broken up. suppose that our Lord had never spoken of this removing of organized Judaism. We can quite see that the Jewish Christians would have been altogether alarmed and overwhelmed. They could think aright, and realize the permanency of the Church as a spiritual institution, independent of, if related to, any material forms.
II. THE DISCIPLES HELPED TO ACT ARIGHT. Explain that, from a Jewish point of view, the centre for the new Christian mission must be Jerusalem. Those disciples would be likely to cling to Jerusalem in a way that would involve their personal safety. Our Lord therefore forewarned them. When certain events happened, they must finally and quickly forsake the sacred city. That there might be no self-delusions, no procrastinations, he made his meaning plain by the words of the text.—R.T.
The taken and the left.
This suggests suitable instruction for a time when sudden death visits a family or a Church. At such times there is gracious work to be done, in sympathizing with the smitten and bereaved, and in teaching solemn lessons.
I. Illustrate the text in cases of PRESERVATION FROM DANGER. Help toward the nourishing of devout gratitude. Take cases of the few spared from a shipwreck, or recovered from a mine accident. Or case of Luther's friend Alexis, who was smitten by lightning at his side. All of us can think of friends of our school time or our youth who have been called away. Wherefore are we spared? What is it that God has for us to do? Are we doing it?
II. Illustrate the text in cases of RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. Help toward nourishing religious anxiety. Take times of mission and revival; the saved and unsaved work together, sit together.
III. Illustrate the text in cases of FAMILY BEREAVEMENTS; so bring to view and impress spiritual consolations. Family separations always causing grief and distress. Different scenes at grave-sides beheld by ministers. Extreme distress may be shown only in noble self-restraints; see Abraham's sorrow over Sarah. What must it be to sever two souls that have grown together in loving, mutual dependence and service through long, long years? It is like tearing the climbing plant from the stem round which it has clung so hard that the two seemed to share a common life. There are three great sources of consolation that may be urged.
1. The "taken" are taken from toil and suffering to rest and peace. All life must be suffering toil; all heaven must be restful toil. Illustrate by the friendship of Christian and Faithful in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' Faithful was taken away to rest by the fire chariot at Vanity Fair.
2. Those "left" are left with abundant provisions of Divine grace. The Hebrew youths in the blazing furnace were not left alone. There are
(1) promises to cheer the sadness of the way;
(2) there is a lamp to lighten the darkness of the way; and
(3) there is a Friend to guide amid the dangers of the way.
3. The "taken" and the "left" will soon be reunited where there is no separation. "A little while;" "We shall know even as we are known; They go no more out foreverse"—R.T.
"Therefore be ye also ready." The one point which our Lord seeks to impress on his disciples is the uncertainty of the time of the great testing day, and of all testing days. The fact that a reckoning day for the Lord's servants must come has to be fully accepted. If there is any sense in which we are now in trust during our Lord's absence, it is certain that his absence can only be temporary. We can never cease to be servants in charge. We can never get a personal right in the things of which we are set in charge. Purposely our Lord withholds from his disciples of every age the date of his return. It is truest kindness to do so. It is moral training to do so. His disciples always go wrong when they try to fix dates. Christ distinctly refuses to allow any data on which such fixtures can be made. Prophets of the "second coming," and of the "end of the world," are wise above what is written, and let their imaginations run riot over Bible figures of speech.
I. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF FEELING THAT THE MASTER MAY COME AT ANY TIME.
1. It keeps the thought of the Master close, near to us at all times. So it takes us out of ourselves.
2. It keeps us thinking what the Master would like to see when he comes. So it makes us ever busy about our work.
3. It sets us upon thinking what pleasant surprises we can give our Master when he comes. So it lifts our work high above the drudgery of service.
4. It keeps in our hearts the ever-cheering confidence of the Master's smile, if he sees all has been right and is right in his home. Add that all this filling of our souls with the thought of our Master provides the healthiest deliverance from all self-centred sentimentalism. Illustrate from our Lord's picture of the good servant, who was found "watching," in the sense of being busy about his work.
II. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF FEELING THAT THE MASTER IS DELAYING HIS COMING. This represents the most striking contrast. The thought of the Master is lifted away, and self rises to fill the vacant space. No need to hurry preparations; it will be soon enough when he sends notice. Meanwhile there can be self-enjoyment. There is no fear of being taken at unawares. See the picture of the unworthy servant. Whether men think they can, or think they cannot, fix the time of Christ's coming, the fact for them all will be that he will come to them at unawares, and find them out.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent