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Our blessed Saviour being now ready to depart from the temple; never more, after this, entering into it; and his disciples shewing him with wonder and admiration the magnificent structures and buildings thereof, apprehending that in regard to its invincible strength it could not be destroyed, or that at least, in regard to its incredible magnificence, it was a great pity it should be destroyed; they say to Christ, Master, Behold what buildings are here; Not considering how sin would undermine and blow up the most famous structures. Sin brings cities and kingdoms, as well as particular persons, to their end; not one stone of that magnificent structure, says Christ, shall remain unpulled down: which threatening was exactly fulfilled after Christ's death, when Titus, the Roman emperor, destroyed the city, burnt the temple, and Turnus Rufus, the general of his army, ploughed up the very foundation on which the temple stood: thus was the threatening of God fulfilled, Zion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become an heap Jeremiah 26:18.
Learn hence, 1. That sin has laid the foundation of ruin in the most flourishing cities and kingdoms. That the threatenings of God are to be feared, and shall be fulfilled, whatever appearing improbabilities there may be to the contrary. It is neither the temple's strength nor beauty that can oppose or withstand God's power.
A double question is here propounded to our Savioiur by his disciples; namely, When the destruction of Jerusalem shall be? and, What shall be the sign of that destruction? See here, what an itching curiosity there is in the best of men to know futurities; to know things that shall come to pass hereafter; and when that hereafter is to come to pass.
O how happy were we, if as forward to obey the declaration of God's revealed will, as we are to pry into the hidden counsels of his secret will! Tell us, say the disciples, When shall these things be?
Here, and in the following verses, our Saviour gives his disciples the signs which should forerun the destruction of Jerusalem. The first of which was this, that there should arise false Christs, false prophets, and seducers; such as Theudas, and others, under the name and person of the Messiah, some affirming themselves to be Christ personal, or the promised Messiah; others to be Christ doctrinal, affirming their erroneous opinions to be the mind and doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Learn hence, That as there will be many seducers before the end of the world (for Jerusalem's destruction was a type and emblem of the world's destruction) and many will be seduced and misled by them: so it is the duty of Christ's own disciples to take heed lest they, being also led away by the error of the wicked, do fall from their own stedfastness: Take heed, says Christ, that no man deceive you: for many will come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and will deceive many.
The second sign of Jerusalem's destruction was, wars and rumors of wars; that is, civil broils, and intestine commotions among themselves; as also famines and earthquakes.
Whence note, That war and fire, earthquakes and famines, are judgments and calamities inflicted by God upon sinful people, for their contempt of Christ and gospel grace.
2. That although these be very terrible judgments, and desolating calamities, yet to an incorrigible and irreclaimable people are they the forerunners of worse judgments. These are, says Christ, the beginnings of sorrows.
The third sign of this approaching destruction, was a general persecution of the ministers of the gospel, for preaching the doctrine of the gospel to a lost world; Ye shall be beaten, and brought before kings for my sake, for a testimony.
From whence note, That the preaching of the gospel wherever it comes, will be for a testimony to them to whom it comes; either a testimony for them, or against them: to the humble it is a testimony for, to despisers and scorners it is a testimony against; if the dust of ministers feet bear witness against the despisers of the gospel, their sermons much more.
The word of God delivered in the scriptures, and dispensed in the ministry thereof, hath its divers and contrary effects upon different and contrary subjects; from both which ye Almighty God knows how to raise his own glory; to the humble and teachable, the gospel is in adjutorium: to some, the saviour of life unto life; to others, the saviour of death unto death.
Here our Saviour acquaints his disciples, that for preaching the gospel they should be brought before kings and rulers; but advises them, when they should be so brought, not to be anxiously thoughtful and solicitous what they shall say: for it should be suggested to them by the Holy Ghost what to say in that hour.
Note here, That this promise seems to be peculiar to the apostles, and that is belonged to them only, when they were brought before kings and rulers, to plead the cause of Christ.
Learn hence, That though the truth of Christ may be opposed, yet the defenders of it should never be ashamed: for rather than they shall want a tongue to plead for it, God himself will prompt them by his Holy Spirit, and suggest such arguments to them as all their enemies shall not be able to gainsay.
Observe, farther, How our Saviour describes the enmity of the world against the preachers of the gospel, to be such as would overcome and extinguish even the natural affection of the dearest relations one towards another: The brother shall betray the brother to death.
Observe, lastly, How our Saviour comforts his disciples, that there would be an end of these their sharp and bitter sufferings: assuring them, that if their faith and patience did hold out unto the end, they should be saved. This is our comfort, our sufferings for Christ must be sharp, but they shall be short; if our sufferings for Christ end not in our lifetime, they will end with our lives.
The sense is, "When ye shall se the Roman army, which is an abomination unto you, and an occasion of great desolation wherever it goes: when you shall see that abominable desolating army, begirting the city of Jerusalem, in order to her ruin and being laid waste, then call to mind the prophecy of Daniel, which primarily respected Antiochus, but secondarily Titus the Roman emperor, and shall now be fully completed; for the siege shall not be raised till both city and temple be razed to the ground."
From whence learn, 1. That God has instruments ready at his call to lay waste the strongest cities, and to ruin the most flourishing kingdoms, which do reject his Son, and refuse the tenders of his grace.
2. That God can, and sometimes doth, make use of those very persons whom sinners most abhor, to be the instruments of their punishment, and the occasions of their destruction. The Roman army, which was an abomination to the Jews, did God destroy them by.
The meaning is, "As soon as ye shall see the Roman army appear before the city of Jerusalem, let everyone that values his own safety fly, as far and as fast as he can, as Lot fled from the flames of Sodom; and be glad if by flight he can save his life, though he lose goods and clothes, and all things beside."
Whence learn, That when Almighty God is pouring forth his fury upon a sinful people, it is both lawful, and a necessary duty, by flight to endeavour to shelter and secure ourselves from the approaching calamity and desolation; when ye see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, flee to the mountains.
2. That in case of flight before an enraged enemy, and bloody army, if we lose all that we have, and our lives be given us for a prey, we fare well, and the Lord deals very graciously and mercifully with us.
Next, Our Saviour declares the doleful distress of those that could not flee from the Roman army encompassing Jerusalem, as women great with child, and others giving suck, who by that means are like to lose their lives: and adds farther, That it would increase the calamity, if their flight should happen to be in the winter; St. Matthew adds, on the sabbath-day, Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the sabbath-day Matthew 24:20. Flight in the winter is sad, because we can then fly neither fast nor far; and on the sabbath-day it is very sorrowful, that being the day of our spiritual labour, and of our bodily rest.
Learn thene, That it is a great addition to the trouble and disquiet of a good man's spirit, when the day of his spiritual rest is interrupted; and instead of enjoying communion with God in his house, he is driven from house and home.
The dreadful calamities which were coming upon the Jews in general, and Jerusalem in particular, are here foretold by our blessed Saviour, partly from the Roman army without, and partly from the seditions and factions of the zealots within; who committed such outrages and slaughters, that there were no less than an hundred thousand Jews that bought our Saviour for thirty-pence, were now themselves sold thirty for a penny. Now did the temple itself become a sacrifice, a whole burnt-offering, and was consumed to ashes.
Yet observe, Christ promises that those days of vengeance should be shortened for the elect's sake; God had a remnant which he designed should survive that destruction, to be an holy seed; and accordingly the providence of God so ordered it, that the city was taken in six months, and the whole country depopulated in eighteen.
From whence, observe, How the Lord intermixes some mercy with the extremest misery that doth befal a people for their sin on this side hell. No sinners can say, in this life, that they feel the strikes of justice to the utmost, or that they have judgement without mercy.
The Jews had all along cherished in themselves a vain expectation, that the promised Messias should be a temporal deliverer; and set them at liberty from the power and slavery of the Romans; and accordingly, our Saviour declares to his discples here, That, immediately before Jerusalem's destruction, several persons, taking the advantage of this expectation, would make themselves heads of parties; and pretend that they were the true Messiah, who should save and deliver them from their enemies, if they would follow them. Hereupon our Saviour cautions his disciples against such false Christs, and false prophets, and bids them not believe them, though they did ever so many great signs and wonders, and promise them ever such glorious deliverances.
From hence note, 1. That the church's great danger is from seducers, that come in Christ's name and pretend to work signs and wonders by his authority.
Note, 2. That such is the power of seduction and delusion, that, many, in all ages of the church, have been carried away with seducers and false teachers.
3. That the elect themselves, if left to themselves might be seduced; but being guarded by divine power against seduction and delusion, they shall be preserved from that fatal mischief; They shall seduce, if possible, even the elect.
Our Saviour goes on in figurative expressions, to set forth the calamities that should befall the Jewish nation immediately after Jerusalem's destruction. The sun shall be darkened; that is, all their glory and excellency shall be eclipsed, all their wealth and prosperity shall be laid waste, their whole government, civil and ecclesiastical, destroyed; and such marks of misery found upon them, as never were seen upon a people. Those that apply this to the general judgment, understand the word literally, that the sun and moon will then have their influences suspended; that the holy angels will be sent forth to gather the elect from all quarters of the world, with the sound of the trumpet, says St. Matthew. Prfobably, as there was an audible sound of a trumpet at the giving of law, so three shall be the like sound of a trumpet, when Christ shall summon the world to judgment, for transgressing of that law. A joyful sound will this be to the friends of Christ; a doleful, dreadful sound in the ears of his enemies.
Here our blessed Saviour declares two things with reference to his coming.
1. The certainty of the thing itself.
2. The uncertainty of the time. The certainty of his coming he sets forth by tihs similitude of the fig-tree, whose beginning to bud declares the summer at hand.
Thus our Saviour tells them, that when they should see the forementioned signs, they might conclude the destruction of their city and temple to be nigh at hand; and accordingly, some then living did see these predictions fulfilled.
Observe, 2. The uncertainty as to the precise time when this judgment should come; no angels in heaven, nor creature upon earth, could determine the time; only the glorious persons in the godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Learn hence, That all things are not revealed to the angels themselves; but such things only as it concerns them to know, and the time of the day of judgment is kept by God as a secret to himself; we are not to know the hour, to the intent we may be upon our watch every hour; Christ himself did not know it as a man, but as God only. The knowledge and revelation of this, was no part of Christ's prophetic office! it being one of those times and seasons which the Father has put in his own power, Acts 1:7. Consider Christ as God, or the second person in the Trinity, and to affirm that there is anything which he does not know, is blasphemy; but consider him as the Messias, and to say there were some things which Christ, as such, did not know, is not blasphemy. For though Christ as God was equal with the Father, yet as Messias, or God-man, he was inferior to the Father, his servant, or messenger, and could do nothing of himself, and did not know all things.
Our blessed Saviour takes occasion, from the foregoing doctrine of the certainty and suddenness of his coming to judgment, to enforce the duty of diligent and industrious watchfulness upon his disciples and followers; that is, to be upon their guard against all sin, and to be in an actual readiness for his appearance and approach.
Learn hence, That it is the indispensible duty, and ought to be the indefatigable endeavour, of every Christian, to stand upon his guard in a prepared readiness for Christ's appearance, both for his coming to them, and for their going to him. There is a twofold readiness for Christ's coming; namely, habitual and actual; an habitual readiness is a readiness of the person: when we are furnished with all the graces and virtues of a good life, when our lamps are burning, and our loins girded, our souls furnished with all the graces of God's Holy Spirit, our lives fruitful in good works: Blessed is that servant, who, when his Lord cometh, shall be found thus watching.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Mark 13". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19