Tuesday of Passion Week.
§ 118. — JESUS FORETELLS THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM, vv. AND DISTINGUISHES IT FROM THE FINAL JUDGMENT, Matthew 24:1-15, Matthew 25:1-30.
1.Jesus went out, and departed from the temple — It was probably near the close of the day. From the temple, where he closed the pathetic prediction of the desolation of Jerusalem at the end of the last chapter, he doubtless bent his course toward Bethany, over the Mount of Olives. And his disciples came to him — As he made a pause in his departure, probably they brought up before him, to call his attention to the magnificence of the temple. “Master, see,” was their animated language, according to Mark, “what manner of stones and what buildings are here.” And Luke notes how it was “adorned with goodly stones and gifts.” The stones of many ancient structures are called Cyclopean, from their stupendous size; and it is a matter of wonder and conjecture by what mechanism they were conveyed to the place they occupy. Robinson measured stones in the ruins of Baalbec, Syria, one sixty-four feet and another sixty three feet eight inches in length. And the gifts in the sacred depository were, many of them, offerings of kings. Must then so noble a pile be destroyed? If compassion could have saved it, doubtless it would have been saved. But even divine tenderness cannot save the incorrigibly impenitent.
2.See ye not all these things? — Our Lord echoes back their own question still more emphatically. Not merely its stones and gifts, but see its absolute whole. Shall not be left here one stone upon another — Every stone of that structure, built as the second temple, was completely thrown down. Titus at first tried to save it; but the decree of God was too strong for him. Later still Terentius Rufus ordered its site to be furrowed with the ploughshare. Our Lord’s prediction was thus fulfilled to the letter. Yet, as if to show that there was still some mercy for Israel for the fathers’ sake, there are still some of the deep substructions of Solomon’s original temple which no ploughshare could reach, and which the malediction of our Lord passed untouched. Thrown down — Literally, separated from each other. Of the huge stones in the ruins of Baalbec Dr. Thomson says: “The corresponding surfaces of these enormous stones are squared so truly, and polished so smoothly, that the fit is most exact. I was at first entirely deceived, and measured two as one, making it more than a hundred and twenty feet long. The joint had to be searched for, and when found, I could not thrust the blade of my knife between the stones. What architect of our day could cut and bring together with greater success gigantic blocks of marble more than sixty feet long and twelve feet square.”
3.As he sat upon the mount of Olives — We may suppose that toward the decline of Tuesday, of the Passion Week, our Lord lingered upon the Mount of Olives, and his disciples, perhaps in respect for his evident depth of grief, held themselves at a distance from him. But as he arrives at the point where the prospect of the city and temple is most unsurpassably gorgeous he takes a lonely seat. The disciples — That is, his three special disciples, Peter, James, and John; and also Andrew, as we learn by Mark. Came unto him privately — That is, they dared to put the question to him apart from the rest. Yet we may well suppose that, before the discourse itself was commenced, all the disciples gathered to hear its important announcement. Of the three evangelists who narrate the discourse, Matthew alone, we think, was present; and his report of it is by far the most complete and verbally exact.
Tell us — In order to comprehend this much misunderstood discourse, we must first well understand the question which drew it forth. Matthew states it with most completeness. And as he puts it there are TWO questions: the first is a simple, and the second a compound one. The first is, When shall THESE THINGS be? The second asks, What shall be the sign of the two events, (or one, as they may be,) namely, THY COMING, and the END OF THE WORLD? Here then are three points of inquiry; namely, THESE THINGS, THY COMING, and the END of the world.
In order to a full understanding of this most illustrious of prophecies, we require three things:
First, That we may be allowed to supply from one evangelist the omissions by another of important passages, and allow the parts so supplied to modify the meaning of the context which they supplement. Second, We must dismiss all self-contradictory double meaning in the words of our Lord. He spoke of momentous matters about which poetry deals; he described exciting events; but he spoke prose and no poetry. He delivered nought but literal descriptions. Third, We must make the meaning of the terms in the answer correspond with meaning of the terms in the question.
The main terms or points of the questions, as we have already remarked, are three:
A. THESE THINGS. The disciples ask When shall these things be? By this phrase in the question, and therefore in the answer, is clearly meant the events of the destruction of Jerusalem, of which he had just spoken.
He had just told them that the temple shall be totally demolished, and of the events attendant upon that matter they ask, When shall these things be? So in the discourse uttered an hour or so ago, (Matthew 22:36,) he had said of the selfsame events: “Verily I say unto you, all THESE THINGS shall come upon this generation.” Just parallel to this is the celebrated Matthew 24:34 of this chapter: “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all THESE THINGS be fulfilled.” And so Luke 21:9: “For THESE THINGS must first come to pass, but the end is not by and by.”
B. CHRIST’S COMING was the second point of inquiry. There can be no doubt what it means in the question; and, therefore, no doubt what it means in the answer. They meant to ask when would be his literal bodily coming; and if our Lord did not play with words, he also meant by these words in his answer his second personal appearing, and nothing else. And the word PAROUSIA, which the disciples used, never in the whole New Testament signifies anything else than a bodily presence. And the destruction of Jerusalem is never implied by that term. Nor is Christ ever represented as coming at the destruction of Jerusalem. In every instance, therefore, where the coming of our Lord is spoken of in this discourse, whether in the noun or verb form, common sense plainly dictates that the meaning should be the same, and the same as its meaning in the question, namely, the personal coming of our Lord at his second advent.
C. THE END. The disciples plainly ask about the END of the world. This our Lord plainly teaches will take place at his second advent, or PAROUSIA. So the disciples imply. The same common sense suggests, that in each of the cases where the word occurs, it should mean the end of the world at the judgment day.
With these postulates, we hope to clear this discourse of all artificial obscurities.
I. OUR LORD WARNS THEM NOT TO CONFOUND JERUSALEM’S DESTRUCTION WITH THE END OF THE WORLD, Matthew 24:4-6.
4.Take heed that no man deceive you — The disciples no doubt believed that the time when Jerusalem would be destroyed would be the end of the world. That they had some doubt of this, appears from the fact that they embraced the two events in two separate questions. Our Lord’s first care was, to set them right, in this paragraph, upon that point. He therefore warns them, that no future false Christ should tempt them to believe that his second advent had arrived; and that no commotion should induce them to fear that the end of the world was nigh.
5.Saying, I am Christ — In regard to the historical fulfilments of the details, consult our comments on Mark. But this caution clearly shows that it was of a literal coming which the discourse is to treat, and not a figurative.
The caution appears in more expanded form in the closing part of paragraph third, (Matthew 24:24-27,) and the same contrast is drawn. Surely no one can compare the two antitheses contained in Matthew 24:5-6 and in Matthew 24:24-27 without seeing that they contrast the same things, and that, therefore, the end in Matthew 24:6 is the coming of Matthew 24:27.
6.Wars and rumours of wars — Wars actually occurring, and wars rumoured as likely to take place. These things — These words are in italics, being added by the translators from the parallel passage in Luke. The phrase these things stands here in precise contrast with the end. The most obvious principles of interpretation require, as before stated, that this end in the answer should be the same as the end in the question asked but a moment ago. The meaning, moreover, is not that these troubles are not themselves the end; but (what is important) that they are not the tribulation which portends or precedes the end of the world. Our Lord denies that these troubles will be followed by the end. It was indeed a doctrine of the Jews, as it is of Scripture, that a terrible tribulation will precede the coming of the Messiah. But our Lord forewarns them that these troubles, though they must be, as foreseen and predicted, yet they are not the true tribulation that precedes the second advent.
7.For — Our Lord now proceeds to show what he means by saying that all these things must be. Commotions will spring up, both moral and physical.
II. THE COMMOTIONS PRECEDING THE DESTRUCTION CONTRASTED WITH THE MILLENNIAL EVANGELIZATION PREVIOUS TO THE END, Matthew 24:7-14
Our Lord farther cautions the disciples that the ensuing troubles are not the tribulation preceding the end, from the fact that the Gospel must have a universal sway before the world ends. Christ has not come into the world for nothing. His Gospel, his doctrines, and his religion, as well as his atonement, are calculated for the world. And as the atonement is for all the race, so the preached Gospel is for all the world. Hence the disciples, in supposing that the end of the world was nigh at hand, and confounding the tribulation of Jerusalem with the tribulation that precedes the end of the world, were destroying the true length and breadth of the Christian dispensation.
8.Beginning of sorrows — Those more distant troubles and tribulations, while they have no connection with the END of the world, are but the omens of the nearer catastrophe to the state and temple about which you have inquired.
9.Then shall they deliver you up — Our Lord now proceeds to describe the persecutions which they should suffer in the propagation of the Gospel previous to the downfall of the Jewish power. Hated of all nations — Under the terrible slanders of their Jewish enemies, the early Christians were considered as atheists and devourers of children. Tacitus, the Roman historian, charges them with being enemies of the human race. All nations —All with whom you come into contact.
10.Many — Many professing Christians. There shall be apostacies and scandals in the Church.
13.Shall endure unto the end — This is essentially the same end as is specified in the inquiry, namely, the end of the world. For he who endures through the day of his probation endures to the judgment day. Shall be saved — Not from the destruction of Jerusalem, but from the condemnation at the judgment. This is giving the words precisely the same meaning as in Matthew 10:22, where see note. Luke here adds, in view of the persecutions described in this paragraph: “But there shall not a hair of your head perish.” This cannot mean that none of them should be slain, for it is expressly said in Matthew 24:9, “They shall kill you.” But the dying martyr, under the express guidance of God, and with the certainty that heaven sees it good, is not perishing. And the reason why the martyr does not perish, and why he may possess his soul in patience, even in the midst of martyrdom, is given in the following verse, namely, his death is the source of triumph to the cause for which he chooses to die.
14.Gospel of the kingdom — The doctrines of Messiah’s universal kingdom. Shall be preached in all the world — In all nations, and thereby the Messiah’s universal kingdom, become universally acknowledged. Mark says the Gospel must be published among all nations. It is certainly difficult to study these various phrases, Gospel of the kingdom in all the world — unto all nations — among all nations, without seeing the necessity of bringing them into association with those many texts which describe the conversion of the world to Christianity. Certainly the narratives of the travels of the apostles into distant countries, as late tradition has specified, are too scanty, if not too apocryphal, to be quoted as the fulfilment of this verse. For a Witness — Witness that all men might believe. John 1:7. Our Lord does not here say, as some construe his words, that the Gospel shall be preached for a witness against all nations, but to all nations. Assuredly God does not send the Gospel to increase men’s condemnation. This would make it intentionally the poison rather than the bread of life. Then shall the end come — What end? Unless our Lord answered very deceptively, he meant the end about which they inquired, namely, the end of the world. Nor is it of the slightest consequence to argue that our Lord here does not say that all the world will be converted, and that its conversion will last a long mundane period. To describe the millennium is not his purpose. He alludes to it, in order to show his disciples that the tribulation of the destruction of Jerusalem is not the tribulation of the judgment; for the predestined universal spread of the Gospel stands between them. The millennium first, and then the second advent.
We may also add that there is a sort of perspective in prophecy. The nearer event, as in a painting, is drawn full size, but the more distant dwindles to a point. See note on Matthew 23:39.
On the whole, perhaps, all this paragraph is clear. Commotions and persecutions shall come, but these are not the tokens of the END. On the contrary, you shall be preserved from their power, that you may secure that universal Gospel diffusion for which the Church is founded and suffers, and which lies between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.
III. A DESCRIPTION OF THE TRIALS OF THE SIEGE, CLOSING WITH A CONTRAST BETWEEN THE COMING OF THE FALSE MESSIAHS AND THE TRUE LIGHTNING-LIKE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN, Matthew 24:15-27.
15.Abomination of desolation — The desolating abomination. The Roman army, which was an abomination as being pagan, and desolating as being conquering and devastating. Stand in the holy place — Luke says: “When ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed with armies.” Mark says: “When ye shall see the abomination, etc., stand where it ought not.” The amount of the whole would be, that Christians must understand that the beleaguering of the city by the Romans was a sign for flight. They must not for one moment cherish the hope of the false deluders, that the Jews would conquer. By the holy place the temple is usually understood; and such is its meaning here.
Daniel the prophet — Our Lord here testifies against some who call themselves Christians, and yet profess to doubt the authenticity of the prophecies of Daniel. Our Lord also authorizes us to hold the celebrated passage in Daniel 9:27, as predictive of his own times. (Whoso readeth, let him understand) — This seems a warning of the evangelist to his Christian reader to note the admonition to escape.
16.Let them which be in Judea — In the country and provincial towns and cities of Judea. When they shall see the Roman army, with its eagles and idolatrous images of the emperor standing at the very temple gates, let them know that the desolating abomination will soon be subduing and slaughtering in their own vicinity, and so let them escape to the mountains, where armies cannot follow them. Ecclesiastical history informs us that no Christians perished in the siege of Jerusalem. When the Roman general Cestius Gallus invested the city, and thus furnished the sign for the Christians’ flight, be again withdrew his armies, and thus, as if unconsciously overruled, gave the Christians full chance for escape. Warned by our Lord, they fled to a city called Pella, beyond the Jordan, and survived to hand the Gospel to future times.
17.On the housetop not come down — Our Lord is here still describing the troubles in the country, after the downfall of the city. He is drawing vivid pictures of the pursuit of Jews by the Romans by single instances and examples. For instance, many a man may be on the housetop when a pursuer arrives, and his best way is to rush down the stairs on the outside of the house without stopping to take anything from the inside. The stairs often also descended within, but near the porch so that the fugitive could escape without entering the rooms. Or he might escape by crossing neighbouring roofs.
18.In the field’ clothes — The labourer may be at work in the field, and so sudden may be the rush of the foes upon him that he must escape in his light labouring dress.
19.Woe’ with child’ give suck — Both the Jewish and the Christian female. The former would find their sufferings redoubled in the miseries of their offspring; the latter would find redoubled the difficulty of escape.
20.In the winter — Or season of storms, when you or your family may perish from the inclemency. On the Sabbath — The gates of Jewish cities were shut on the Sabbath, and so their flight might be arrested.
Nehemiah 13:19-22. The Jews might hinder them by requiring them to travel no more than a Sabbath day’s journey, which was but five furlongs.
21.Great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world — That is, in Jewish history. Yet the statement of Josephus would warrant a stronger interpretation than this. “Our city,” says he, “of all those subjugated to the Romans, was raised to the highest felicity, and was thrust down again to the lowest depth of misery. For if the misfortunes of all from the beginning of the world were compared with those of the Jews, they would appear much inferior in the comparison.”
It is important to note that this term “tribulation” covers, according to this verse, not merely the incipient parts of the downfall, but its height and close also. The “tribulation” which was the severest part of human history, must have been the severest part of the whole series of woes, and that was the late and latest stages. It is also evident from the fact that the Roman eagles are already in the temple in the fifteenth verse, and the consequences of that decisive event are the subject of the verses following, including this twenty-first verse and farther. The tribulation is then a term embracing the whole process of the downfall and desolation of Jerusalem.
22.Those days should be shortened — That is, terminated. Prevented from a perpetual continuance. Should no flesh be saved — Of the slaughtered Jewish nation. But for the elect’s sake — For the sake of the Christians among the Jews. This elect band were to be preserved, in order that the Gospel might be handed down to future ages.
23.Lo, here is Christ — The notion that the coming of Christ would be at the destruction of Jerusalem, was liable to lead them to credit the false deliverers, by which the Jews were deluded in immense numbers to their own destruction.
23-27.Our Lord now proceeds to give such warnings as should protect his followers from being deluded by false Christs, which should appear. Their coming would be on earth, while his next advent will be in the sky, like the lightnings flashing along the firmament.
24.Signs and wonders — Our Lord does not affirm here that any of these signs and wonders would be truly miraculous. If it were possible — They would do it if they were able. Deceive the very elect — Who have been previously forewarned by me, and are therefore beyond the reach of their deceptions. They are called elect, as being, in consequence of their faith in Christ, most specially selected from the Jewish nation, to be saved from the general destruction. They were God’s chosen ones, whom it was impossible for the juggling false Christs to deceive.
25.Behold, I have told you before — And therefore it shall be impossible to deceive you, my elect.
26.Believe it not — For my second coming is not of this earthly or terrestrial nature. We may here remark, that if the following verse is to be interpreted allegorically, as many commentators at the present day interpret it, it could be no protection against the wiles of false Christs. If the coming were invisible or figurative, and might be fulfilled in the Roman armies, or in Titus, why not in some promising heroic Jewish deliverer in the midst of the siege.
The contrast is between the personal coming of a false Christ and the personal advent of the true Christ. The one would be earthly and lurking; the other celestial and lightning-like, from east to west.
The common view would make the contrast lie between the coming of false Christs and the coming of the Roman armies! The former secret, the latter like lightning from heaven!
27.As the lightning’ out of east’ unto the west — May we not suppose that the unspeakable splendour of the Son of man (constituting the visible sign, as mentioned in verse thirtieth) will be suspended in the heaven during the entire of one revolution of the earth, so that its flash should extend from east to west, and be visible on all sides of the globe to the alarmed and watching nations? We thus discover in this paragraph one more contrast between the these things of the apostles’ first question, and the end of the world as specified in the second question.
28.For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles — It is perfectly obvious that this verse stands in isolation, having no clear connection with what precedes or follows. The for which commences this verse clearly refers to nothing in Matthew 24:27; while in our harmonizing below its reference is natural and convincing.
We may suggest that this arises from the fact that the sentence is but a part, which Matthew has preserved, of a passage which Luke presents more fully; in which the long train of calamities which succeeds the downfall of Jerusalem is briefly sketched, in order to present a contrast with the rapid consummation of the end.
If, in the usual manner of the harmonists, we incorporate Matthew and Luke together in this passage, it will read thus: “There shall be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword; for wheresoever the carcass is, there shall the eagles be gathered together. And they shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” On this passage we may remark,
1. That it traces with great clearness the sad train of wars which succeed the “these things” of the apostles’ question. Massacres and slaughters there would be at various periods, wherever the Roman army could find with its standard eagles a body of Jews, as an eagle finds a carcass; the dispersion through nations; the subjection of Jerusalem until a time of latter-day restoration.
2. The eagles are no doubt in some sense an allusion to the images of eagles which were upon the standards of the Roman armies. Yet not directly. It would be more correct perhaps to say that the adoption of the eagles by armies for their standard, and the adoption of the term by our Lord to designate the pitiless enemy falling upon his prey, are founded in the same natural symbol. Yet the coincidence is of the most striking character.
3. “Jerusalem shall be trodden down” is a phrase of the most abject subjection; but history furnishes its complete fulfillment. “The times of the Gentiles” are the times of Gentile pre-eminence in the kingdom of God. It is the period of the more exclusive Gentile Churchdom, lasting during the casting off of Israel until her restoration.
4. This brings us to the very millennial threshhold, when Israel is restored, and ages of Gospel reign commence. These millennial ages terminate in the tribulation of those days, and an immediate judgment, as described in the twenty-ninth verse.
5. This passage, as above harmonized, furnishes the first member of the contrast of which the second member is furnished in Matthew 24:29-31.
29.Immediately after the tribulation of those days — The words those days here refer to the latter days, implied in the passage in Luke above quoted, of which Matthew has preserved but a fragment. The those days of this verse, then, are the days of the great period of which the eagles and the carcass in the preceding verse are a fragmentary symbol. This symbol is a broken label of the whole period between the downfall and the advent, Luke supplying the condensed remainder of the label. The contrast lies between the slow expansion of that period and the suddenness of the advent to break and close it. Immediately, suddenly, after the “tribulation” following the those days of the treading down of Jerusalem, and the fulness of the Gentiles, shall the advent take place.
We have already shown that a tribulation before the judgment was a doctrine of the Jews, as well as that of the Scripture. See the note on Mark 13:24-27.
Thus the tribulation and destruction of Jerusalem, and the tribulation and judgment day, are parallel if not mutually typical.
This view is sustained by the parallel passage in Mark. His words are: “In those days, after that tribulation.” This language is inconsistent with the idea that the judgment immediately succeeds the tribulation of Jerusalem’s downfall.
The judgment is broadly described as being in those days after the Jerusalem tribulation. The those days of Mark may, by perspective, be made to cover the entire time of the dispersion, as described by Luke. So Bengel, and so Mr. Wesley has rendered Mark’s words. And we may here remark that the common interpretation, which makes Matthew 24:29 figurative, has no countenance from Mr. Wesley. His comment is thus on Mark 13:24: “But in those days — Which immediately preceded the end of the world. After that tribulation — Above described.” We may add that the translators of our version have omitted the word but or and before the word “immediately” in Matthew 24:29. Combining then the words of both Mark and Matthew, we should have: “But in those days, after that tribulation — and immediately after the tribulation of those days — the sun shall be darkened,” etc. The whole contrast, then, of the paragraph would be as follows: “There shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, for wheresoever the carcass is there shall the eagles be gathered together. And they shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. But in those days after that tribulation, and immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon,” etc.
This precise verbal adjustment, however, of Matthew and Mark, though apparently satisfactory, need not be insisted upon as necessary to our interpretation of the general passage.
Those who find it difficult to extend our Lord’s discourse over “a chasm” of centuries may be aided by the following points:
1. Our supplementary note, p. 301, shows that the leap of thought and language over the chasm of time to the judgment day is required in a whole class of passages; and will show, too, the principle upon which the leap is taken.
2. Our Lord’s words were intentionally susceptible of expansion and contraction so far as time was concerned, on the very principle that the true extension of time was even to himself unknown. He specifies events, not periods; events of unknown duration. How long or short should be the “fall by the edge of the sword,” or the “captivity among all the nations,” or the “times of the Gentiles,” or the later “tribulation of those days,” or the time in which the “gospel should be preached to all nations” before the final tribulation, he does not say. “Immediately after” this train of events the advent will take place; but the length of that train, like the whole scale of ante-judgment chronology, is professedly unknown.
IV. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE LENGTHENED CALAMITIES OF THE JEWS THROUGH AGES, AND THE SUDDEN CONSUMMATION OF THE END, 28-31.
After the tribulation of Jerusalem’s destruction, a long train of calamities follows till a later day of restoration. And then after the tribulation of the later day the world shall be dissolved.
29-31.We have obviously here a picture of the visible phenomena of the heavens, etc., at the visible appearance of Christ to judgment. As this whole passage has been allegorically interpreted, not only by Universalist commentators, but, what is much to be regretted, by many orthodox, we remark:
First. This entire passage (29-31) is evidently the fore part, of which Matthew 25:31-46 is the after part. Printed together, they are one continued narrative. They are both of a piece. They are one picture of one transaction, to be encased in the same frame. If either is figurative both are figurative. If either is literal both are literal. See more fully, comment on Matthew 25:31-46.
Secondly. This passage (29-31) embraces some six particular events: 1.
The visible firmamental convulsions; 2. The sign of Christ’s coming; 3. The visible Judges 4. The consequent wailing of the tribes of the earth; 5. The angels with the trumpet sound; 6. The gathering of the elect. None of these things took place at the destruction of Jerusalem, nor any literal events worthy to be described in these terms.
Thirdly. The contenders for a figurative interpretation quote instances of similar language, as they think, used in the Old Testament figuratively, as Isaiah 13:9; Ezekiel 32:7. But these passages are very poor parallels indeed; they simply describe an obscuration of the heavens, such as takes place when smoke or vapour fills the concave, as at an earthquake, or conflagration of a great city. Such passages present at best but the first of the above six particulars. In fact, they are far from filling out that. These false parallels describe an obscuration of the heavens; the present passage, a sensible convulsion of earth and heaven, with an outline of specific and peculiar events. Let any one study the clear specific import of the last five of the six particulars, (of which the first is a comparatively unimportant prelude,) and say whether anything in the supposed parallels quoted from the prophets at all meets this case. These five particulars are plainly an organic part with Matthew 25:31-46.
Fourthly. The suddenness of the event described in this passage is the entire point illustrated by 36-51. The suddenness of the judgment advent is one of the points frequently asserted in the New Testament. But the destruction of Jerusalem was not a sudden, but a very slow, long foreseen, well forewarned event. There was no suddenness or surprise about it. The war slowly approached; the city was gradually surrounded with an overpowering force; post after post was painfully taken, and there was no particular day on which the downfall could be dated. We might lay it down as a canon of interpretation, that whatever expresses slow and protracted process is to be applied to the destruction; but whatever expresses the sudden and the unforewarned is to be applied to the advent.
Fifthly. Some commentators defend the allegorical interpretation by finding here what they call a double sense. Both great events they think are described in the same language. Now we admit that prophecy does sometimes describe one event in terms that allusively picture another event. But the language ought in such case, when reduced to literality, not to express falsehood. Now if this passage describes the destruction of Jerusalem, it does contradict the truth of history. It describes it as a sudden incalculable event. History contradicts such prophecy.
Sixthly. If this passage be figurative, where do we find a literal description of the judgment day? If this be poetry, where is the prose of the matter? What passage describes or announces that event which may not be with equal propriety reduced to figure? This may not be an argument to the truth of the case; but it is an argument to the consistency of interpreters who believe in a judgment day, and yet reduce its strongest proof-text to a mysticism.
Seventhly. We have shown in our note on Matthew 24:21 that the term tribulation covers the entire period of Jewish downfall. But the firmamental phenomena were after that tribulation, and were no part of it, and had no connection with it, except to be some time subsequent to it. For Mark says that those phenomena take place “in those days which are after that tribulation.” They do not commence until a while after the tribulation has passed away. See note on Mark 13:24-27. This I take to be demonstration.
The sun be darkened — These firmamental appearances are optically pictured as seen by the eye of the human spectator. These phenomena are visible previous to the sign of the Judge, which is described in the next verse. As that great event is to be attended by the conflagration and renovation of the earth, (2 Peter 3, and Revelation 20,) so the organic convulsions and exhalations of the globe will darken the skies. To the eye of the spectator on the rocking earth the stars shall, optically, fall from heaven; and the ocular firmamental fixtures or powers of the heavens shall be shaken. The real motion is upon the earth; the apparent motion in the apparent firmament.
30.The sign — The token, the visible glory preceding the distinguishable person of the Son of man. The sign of his presence will appear before the outline of his form can be described. Tribes mourn because they see him, for his person soon becomes visible after the pomp of his glory has announced him.
31.Send his angels — To call the nations before his throne, where on different sides they all appear before him. 25-32. Angels are ever described as attending the judgment presence. Matthew 13:40; Revelation 1:7: 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Gather’ his elect — Separately, in a glorious resurrection order, both living and dead, at Christ’s right hand. Afterward the wicked are in like manner taken, perhaps by evil angels, to the left of the judge. The separation will be awfully sudden, as described in Matthew 24:40-41. From the four winds — The ancient mode of describing the entire globe was by the number four; as the earth was held to consist of four quarters, to be subject to the four points of compass, from which the four winds blowing are so called.
Thus the grand prelude is prepared, to be continued and consummated at Matthew 25:31-46.
But before proceeding to that finishing of the picture, our Lord pauses to illustrate what he has given, by parabolic images. In the remainder of this chapter, in contrast with the slow approach of the destruction of Jerusalem, he illustrates the unexpectedness of the advent to a revelling world by the parallel of the flood; its suddenness to the revelling individual by the parable of the drunken servant. In the next chapter he illustrates its inflexible suddenness to the sleeping dead by the slumbering virgins; its graduated justice to each man’s character by the talents; and then, closing chapter 25, does the END come.
32.A parable of the fig tree — More literally, Learn the parable from the fig tree. The fig is a native product of the East, and grows in spontaneous plenty in Palestine. In a warm climate fruit forms a very large proportion of customary food, and hence the fruit tree is a favourite source for illustration. Our Lord spoke this upon the Mount of Olives, where fig trees were growing all round him. He was near to Bethphage, (or Fig-ville,) so called, probably, from the abundance of this product. It was now about the twenty-third day of March, and though the time of figs was not yet, the trees were doubtless beginning to verify the words by opening signs of the season. Dr. Thomson, on sight of a fig tree leafing forth March 21, explains its maturity from the fact that it was in a sheltered spot, where summer comes early. Branch is yet tender — By the rising of the sap from the roots, rendering the branch succulent. Putteth forth leaves — The fig tree puts forth no visible blossom; the fruit should accompany the mature leaf.
V. — THE CALCULABILITY OF THE DESTRUCTION AND DOWNFALL CONTRASTED WITH THE INCALCULABLE SUDDENNESS OF THE END, Matthew 24:32-41.
This paragraph is divisible into two halves, namely, 32-35 and 36-41, which lie in contrast against each other. The two subjects in antithesis are THESE THINGS, on one side, and THAT DAY AND HOUR, on the other. The matter of contrast is that the former is a slow and graduated process, in which one step presages the other to the close; the latter is a sudden, unwarned event, of which the subjects knew not until it came. The former is illustrated mainly by the fig-tree, slowly maturing into its summer ripeness; the latter by the flood instantly descending upon its unsuspecting victims.
The former half paragraph is historically true of the destruction of Jerusalem. It was forewarned and indicated at every step; and so gradual was the process that no particular day or hour can be assigned to it. The latter half paragraph is as distinctively in accordance with all prophecy of the judgment day. It hardly seems necessary for us to prove here that suddenness, like a thief in the night, is the uniform attribute ascribed to that event. We should suppose it equally unnecessary to show how opposite is the illustration drawn from the fig tree.
33.These things — The these things specified in the apostle’s question, Matthew 24:3. It is near — There is no supplied antecedent to this it. The meaning, however, is plain. When ye see the train of calamitous events passing successively before your eyes, know that the ruin which is included in the train is near. At the doors — Like the Roman at the portal of the temple.
34.This generation shall not pass till all THESE THINGS be fulfilled — This celebrated verse has been quoted by many orthodox expositors, indeed by their great body in modern times, to show that all the events named in the discourse thus far take place in that generation. Certainly this cannot be true of Luke 21:24, for the events of that verse did not transpire during that generation. We trust that we have made it plain that the these things of this verse are simply the answer to the these things inquired about by the disciples in verse third. They ask when these things shall be. He is now prepared to answer: These things shall be before this present generation passes. But the these things of the question only comprehend the overthrow of the city and temple. This is identical with the these things of the thirty-third verse.
Precisely parallel to this verse is Matthew 23:36: “Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” And by the these things of that verse plainly were meant the destruction of the city and state. And this parallelism, it might be remarked by the way, goes to show the incorrectness of the interpretation which some have adopted, by which the word generation is made to signify race. Were it to signify race, what race is indicated by this race? It might mean the human race, or the Jewish race, or the Christians, as Dr. Clarke supposes; and thus we are thrown into a state of perfect vagueness. But this rendering of the word has met with but little favour among scholars.
Of the overthrow of the temple, the disciples ask: “When shall THESE THINGS be?” Of that same event the Lord replies, after giving its full attendant details: “This generation shall not pass till all THESE THINGS be fulfilled.”
35.My words shall not pass — That is, his predictions of the catastrophe so early as in that generation. Not only would the temple, Jerusalem, the Jewish state pass away, but even heaven and earth would pass rather than his prediction fail.
36.But — In contrast to this approaching and calculable catastrophe. Of that day and hour — The word day is a minutely specified point of time; the word hour is more specific still. Knoweth no man — Our Lord here will indicate even his own ignorance of the time of the judgment day. What wonder, then, that his inspired apostles should confess an equal ignorance! See supplementary note to next chapter. Prof. Owen says that, as man, Jesus might be as ignorant of the day and hour of the destruction of Jerusalem as of the judgment day. But unfortunately there was no day or hour to that destruction which could be ignored. It was a diffusive series. Our Lord, however, could be ignorant of the time of the destruction of Jerusalem only as he was ignorant of every future event; and so it would follow that he was ignorant of the judgment day only as he was ignorant of every future event. But that view stands in positive contradiction to the solemn emphasis with which it is the clear purpose of this verse to affirm that the judgment day is unknown to every being below God the Father Almighty.
For reply to the argument drawn from this passage against the divinity of Christ, see Mark 13:32.
37.Days of Noe — Noah. The same illustration is used in 2 Peter 3:5-6, and the parallelism shows that it is the judgment day alone that is the present subject. Coming of the Son of man — The word coming here is parousia, which we hold in all cases in the New Testament to signify a bodily presence. The suddenness of the flood here is in contrast with the graduality of the leafing forth of the fig tree. We are utterly at a loss to comprehend the interpretation which would hold the coming of the Son of man in these (37 and 38) verses not to be identical with the coming of the Son of man in Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 24:46, and with Matthew 25:13; Matthew 25:31.
38.Eating and drinking — That is, were going on in the regular and unsuspecting current of life. Marrying and giving in marriage — Expecting a distant posterity. The words do not necessarily imply special wickedness, but perfect security, anticipating no coming doom. Until the day — Narrowing the time to a point. No such day of unexpected and surprising doom came to Jerusalem or the Jewish state. Never did a city or nation die more truly by inches. There was no day of ruin, no hour of surprise.
Thus far the imagery has illustrated the judgment surprise upon the mass of mankind. Two images now, in the two following verses, illustrate the surprise upon individuals.
40.Then shall two be in the field — See comment on Matthew 24:31. The suddenness of separation at the judgment day is here most strikingly described. Two — One is a Christian, the other is a sinner. The holy angels come and snatch one, to bear him to the right hand of Christ. The other is left, to be borne by evil angels to his doom at the left hand.
41.Two women — A similar image in regard to the female sex for both shall alike pass the judgment test. Grinding at the mill — Meal was ground anciently between two stones, one being laid up on the other to crush the grain between them by friction. The stones were often turned by women.
42.Watch therefore’ Lord doth come — The same coming as in Matthew 24:39. They must not be like the world in the time of the flood, slumbering and revelling; but watch, for it will be a sudden event.
42-51.As the image of the flood illustrates the suddenness of the second coming to the careless world, so the image of the householder and the waiting servant illustrates its suddenness to the careless individual. Dr. Owen remarks that “here is an easy transition from the destruction of Jerusalem to the judgment day.” It would certainly puzzle any commentator to do, what he does not attempt, namely, show that the coming of the Lord in Matthew 24:42 was not the same as in Matthew 24:44, or to show that both were not the same as in Matthew 24:39; Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 24:27. It would puzzle him to show what common sense there is in making our Lord’s answer talk about a different coming from the disciples’ question.
43.Good man of the house — That is, householder simply. The word good implies here no moral character. In what watch — If the householder had been warned, as you are warned, that the thief would come. Especially he would watch if he knew at what watch of the night. Entire life is the hour of probation. It is the watch time in which you are to be on the alert for the coming of the Son of man.
44.Therefore be ye also ready — As, like the householder, ye know not at what hour, or at which watch, the spoiler will come, so all the night is watch time. Be ye, like the householder, at all time ready. For the individual death is the virtual coming of the Son of man. Not that the coming of the Son of man here is death, nor truly to be identified with death; but the being on the watch for judgment is pressed instead of the being on the watch for death, inasmuch as death is nothing but a passage to judgment. If a man live in preparation for judgment he is in preparation for death. Death is simply a transition into the world where retribution reigns, and where the virtual judgment throne of Christ is in spirit continually in session.
45.Servant — Our Lord now slightly changes the image from a householder watching for the thief, to a servant waiting for his master.
The family here is properly the Church of God, considered as a great congregation, through all ages, waiting for the coming of Christ. It is that Church of all ages to whom he said of the Lord’s supper: “Ye do show forth the Lord’s death until he come.” The servant seems to be more specially the ministry of Christ through the ages; to whom he said: “Lo, I am with you until the end of the world.”
46.When he cometh — To the judgment, the same coming as Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:29-30, etc.
47.Ruler over all his goods — Simply, the image of the favour of his master, drawn from the custom of appointing a competent or favourite servant to be head steward, as was Joseph in the house of Potiphar.
48.My lord delayeth his coming — There is a clear allusion to the coming of Christ to judgment implied under all these symbolical expressions of its conceptual nearness, yet real distance.
49.Shall begin to smite — The language is taken from the disposition of servants to be unruly and fighting in the long absence of their master, especially if all sense of responsibility is forgotten. Indifferent ages of the Church popes and prelates have tyrannized over their fellows, as if they were never to be called by the Lord to account for their doings. Because sentence was not speedily executed by the immediate coming of the Son of man, they set themselves to do all manner of evil.
51.Cut him asunder — Separating perhaps head from body; or, in the ancient mode, sawing asunder. Portion — Or place. Hypocrites — Because he was a false servant to his Lord.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 24". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter