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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Matthew 24

Verse 1

24:1 The speech of Jesus recorded in the preceding chapter took place in the temple that was the pride of the Jews. After going out, the disciples called his attention to the buildings (architecture) of the structure, evidently admiring its wonderful appearance which the Jews boasted of requiring "forty and six years" to construct as we may read in Joh 2:20.

Verse 2

24:2 The remarks of the disciples gave an opportunity that was appropriate for Jesus to make an important prediction. He made the simple statment that not one stone would be left resting upon another. In Luk 19:43-44 a more detailed account of the disaster is given, in which it is shown how it was to be accomplished.

Verse 3

24:3 The disciples had learned from the teaching of Jesus that the world was someday to come to an end. (See chapter 11:22, 24; 12:41, 42; 13:39.) Because of that teaching they erroneously concluded that the predictions about the destruction of the temple were to be fulfilled at the same time as the end of the world. They also understood that the destruction of the world was to occur when Jesus comes again. With these ideas in mind they asked him to tell them when shall these things be. That was the one and only question they intended to ask, and the rest of the verse is only a specification of the things they thought were to happen at the time of the end of the world. However, their intended single question involved two great events, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world which we now know to have been at least nineteen centuries apart. Because of the radical conditions and various human transactions to occur in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus knew that ambitious men would take advantage of the disturbed state of affairs to make statements about the coming of Christ the second time and thus de ceive the people. In order to prepare the disciples against being so deceived, he gave them the teaching that is in this memorable chapter. He gave a description of things to occur at the destruction of Jerusalem, then went ahead to his second coming and depicted some of the things to happen then. He alternated these two subjects throughout the chapter, going back and forth from one to the other in more or less detail, so that his disciples could see the difference between the two events and thus not be deceived. There are a few intervening verses not directly connected with either of the main subjects which will be explained as we come to them. With those exceptions, the chapter should be marked off as follows. Verses 4-26, destruction of Jerusalem; verse 27, 2nd coming of Christ; verse 28, destruction of Jerusalem; verses 30, 31, 2nd coming of Christ; verses 34, 35, destruction of Jerusalem; verses 36-51, 2nd coming of Christ. Trusting the reader will constantly observe which group of verses we are in, I shall now comment upon the verses in their order.

Verse 4

24:4 The warning to take heed indicates a condition that might be misunderstood or even unnoticed if it were treated with an attitude of indifference. By heeding the signs Jesus gave, the disciples would be able to detect the false prophets.

Verse 5

24:5 Come in my name means they will take upon themselves the name of Christ as they come among the people. Just because they will be wearing that name they will deceive many who will not look any farther into the subject than the sound of the name.

Verse 6

24:6 The destruction of Jerusalem was brought about by the war between the Jews and the Romans. That conflict did not begin in Judea but was going on farther up in Palestine for some time before. The report of the battles in the distance reached the ears of the people In Judea, and that is why Jesus said they would hear of wars and rumors of wars. Be not troubled . . . end is not yet. The first rumors of war will not mean that the end of Jerusalem is right upon them.

Verse 7

24:7 The Roman Empire was composed of many nations, and when the war against the Jews broke out it threw the whole empire into commo-tions. These various smaller units of governments in the empire were thrown into confusion and many of them began fighting each other. A state of war often produces shortages in the necessities of life which brings famine and pestilence. A literal earthquake is never caused by warfare, but God has brought them about at numerous times to mark His concern for the conditions. In the present case it was one of the signs the disciples were given by which they could see the approaching storm.

Verse 8

24:8 The word sorrows is from ODIN which Thayer defines, "the pain of childbirth, travail-pain, birth-pang." The suffering destined to come upon the nation and city of the Jews is compared to the pangs of childbirth. And as the full development of those pains are preceded by brief and comparatively light ones, warning the expectant mother that her time is near, so these rumors of wars reaching the ears of the people of Jerusalem are compared with the preliminary labor pains.

Verse 9

24:9 The preceding verse deals with the conditions a short time prior to the actual suffering in Judea, and the present one brings their history down upon the area itself. Deliver you up means the persecutions that were to be imposed upon the Jewish citizens by the Romans, especially those who had become Christians.

Verse 10

4:10 There will be several references in this chapter to Josephus' history of the wars of the Jews and Romans. That history is divided into books, chapters and paragraphs or sections. For the sake of brevity and also clearness, the reader should understand that the numbers used in the references will mean those three divisions respectively. The confusion caused by the war resulted in much violence even between the Jews. I shall quote from Josephus, 5-6-1. "Now while the factions fought one against another, the people were their prey, on both sides, as we have said already; and that part of the people who would not join with them in their wicked practices, were plundered by both factions. . . . And when the parts that were interposed between their possessions were burnt by them, they left a space wherein they might fight with each other; for this internal sedition did not cease even when the Romans were encamped near their very walls . . . for they never suffered anything that was worse from the Romans than they made each other suffer."

Verse 11

4:11 This is the same prediction that is made in verse 5.

Verse 12

4:12 Many people are affected by their surroundings whether good or bad. Iniquity means a state of lawlessness, and because that condition was coming upon the country a great number of disciples were going to become cold in their love for God.

Verse 13

4:13 Endure unto the end first means to remain faithful to the Lord until the end of that war. It would also be true of those who might be slain in the general turmoil provided they were faithful till death.

Verse 14

4:14 World is from a Greek word that Thayer defines, "The inhabited earth." The end means the end of Jerusalem as the climax of the war. That event occurred in 70 A. D., and the Gospel was to have been offered to all the nations of the (civilized) world by that time. Hence the great commission of the apostles (chapter 28:19 and Mar 16:15) was fulfilled in the first century, which agrees with Rom 10:18 and Col 1:23. The Lord was not willing for Jerusalem to be destroyed until the Gospel had been offered to the entire extent of human inhabitants on earth, hence He supervised the whole revolution as far as the dates were concerned.

Verse 15

4:15 The prediction referred to is in Dan 9:27; Dan 11:31. Abomination of desolation means the Roman army and it is so called because its presence and effects will bring a state of desolation to the city of Jerusalem. Stand in the holy place is referred to by the words standing where it ought not in Mar 13:14. It is so described because the area around Jerusalem was regarded as holy ground, and the presence of a hostile heathen army was considered as a desecration of the place.

Verse 16

4:16 However offensive the presence of a Roman army would seem, the Lord used it as a signal for his disciples to flee for safety while it was possible. In the church history of Eusebius, chapter 5, in a foot note is the following. "But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed [guaranteed as safe] to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella."

Verse 17

4:17. Houses had flat roofs and the buildings were joined one against another even unto the end of the street at the wall. If a man had gone up there for some reason and saw the army of the Romans near he did not need to come down, but could go from one roof to another until he reached the wall.

Verse 18

4:18 The man in a field should not regard his personal belongings at home of more importance than his safety, and hence it would be better to flee immediately for safety.

Verse 19

4:19 Women in the condition described could not well travel.

Verse 20

4:20 Wintry weather would not be convenient time to travel. Neither on the sabbath day. The law of Moses has nothing to say about a "Sabbath-Day's Journey," but that was a tradition of the Jews based on a strained interpretation of Exo 16:29 and Jos 3:4. On that ground the pious Jews in the time of Christ thought it was wrong to travel more than two thousand cubits on the sab-bath day. A person attempting to go further on that day would be hindered by these Jews who would seek to punish him for what they thought was a violation of the law. Jesus was not endorsing the tradition, but he knew it would be an obstacle against speedy traveling and hence expressed the prayerful wish on behalf of his disciples.

Verse 21

4:21 That the predictions of this verse were fulfilled can be proved by a number of historians. However, I shall quote from Josephus only on this point because he was a Jew and hence had a genuine interest in that nation. Moreover, not being a Christian, his testimony as a historian that so completely verifies the predictions of Jesus will be of special value. I will first quote direct from his own estimate of the sufferings of the Jews in Jerusalem in his preface to the history of the war. "Because it had so come to pass, that our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity [happiness] than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest calamities again. Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortune of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to those of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were; while the authors of them were not foreigners neither." If Josephus had intended to point out the exact fulfillment of Christ's predictions, he could not have used stronger language. That was not his purpose, for he was not a disciple of Jesus and hence had no personal interest in him. But he was an able and truthful historian and gave us the facts of history. In giving the readers some details of the sufferings endured by the people in the city I shall not quote verbatim as it would require too much space. Instead, I shall make the statements and give the references to his history of the Jewish war, that the reader may find them and see the full account by consulting the volume, The Wars of the Jews. The troubles of the people of Jerusalem during the war were many and great for they were divided into three seditious factions (5-1-1), provisions were wantonly destroyed (5-1-4), they ate corn unground and uncooked (5-10-2), children would snatch the last morsel from the parent, and the mother from the infant. Children were lifted from the ground by the food they held in their mouths. People were beaten who ate their food before the robbers arrived. Those who were suspected of having hidden some food were tortured by having sharp stakes driven up into their lower bowels (5-10-3), and the famine consumed whole families. Many died as they were burying others. There was no lamentation as the famine confounded all natural passions. A stupefying silence and awe overcame them (5-12-3). Some had swallowed their money, and then had their bodies ripped open by robbers (5-14-4). Some searched the sewers and manure piles for food (5-13-7) and ate hay, old shoes and leather (6-3-3). A mother roasted and ate her son (6-3-4); bloodshed was so great as to quench fire in the houses (6-8-5).

Verse 22

4:22. If the conditions in Jerusalem that have been predicted should continue indefinitely, no one would be able to survive the ordeal. Elect is from EKLEKTOS which Thayer defines in this and many other passages, "1. chosen by God, to obtain salvation through Christ," and other passages teach us that what one gets through Christ is to be accomplished through obedience to his commandments. When the siege and turmoil in Jerusalem came upon the city and surrounding territory, there were many men and women of both Jews and Gentiles who had become Christians and they are the ones meant by the elect. For the sake of these persons the Lord decreed to bring the conflict to a close as soon as the general purpose of it had been accomplished.

Verse 23

4:23 Then means while these times of tribulation were going on. The false prophets would use the disturbed condition as a pretext for pointing to some outstanding men and calling some one of them by the name of Christ and that the 2nd coming was upon the world. The warning was that such agitators were not to be believed.

Verse 24

4:24 These false prophets were to be able to make such an application of the unusual happenings that even the elect (the Christians) would almost be misled by it. The faith of these elect of God in the teaching of Christ was so great that it made them easy victims of the shrewd false prophets. If it were possible means that the elect would really be deceived had not Christ forewarned them.

Verse 25

4:25 This short verse is for the purpose of defeating the plots of the false prophets to mislead the elect, by impressing the seriousness of it on them beforehand.

Verse 26

4:26 On the basis of the general warning that was given by Christ, the disciples were not to pay any attention to the false prophets. They would think to mislead the multitudes by claiming that Christ had come for a certainty, but that it would be necessary to make a special search for him. They will even announce that Christ is hiding in some secret place or was strolling out in the desert. Jesus warned them not to believe any such statements because that was not to be the manner of his second coming.

Verse 27

4:27 Having warned against letting false prophets take advantage of the disturbed conditions at the time of the Jewish wars to announce the second coming, Jesus then goes over to that event to explain how it will be then. That is why this verse was listed in the comments at verse 3 as the "second coming of Christ." The universal and simultaneous appearance of Jesus at his second coming is compared to that of a flash of lightning. It does not appear in spots only and require that one's attention be called to it before it is observed. When Jesus comes he will be seen by all classes at the same time (Rev 1:7). There are false prophets in the world today who have been predicting the second coming of Christ, even setting the very date when it was to occur. But the dates all proved to be wrong, so in order to "save face" they have changed their story and now declare that he did actually come but was seen only by his "witnesses." The prophecy of Jesus and John contradicts the theory and shows that all of these so-called "witnesses" are frauds.

Verse 28

4:28 This verse comes back to the destruction of Jerusalem, in which Jesus uses a habit of birds hovering about a dead creature preparatory to devouring it. Were a bird seen flying around over a certain place we would understand that he scented something which he intended soon to attack for food. This very practice of an eagle is referred to in Job 39:30. The same is used figuratively in the case of our subject, because the eagle was inscribed on the banners of the Roman army. (Josephus, Wars, 3-6-2.) The fact was mentioned as another sign that would indicate the attack of the Romans upon Jerusalem, seeing their ensigns gathering round the city as a flock of eagles would hover, over a carcase.

Verse 29

4:29 The most of this chapter is in answer to the inquiry of the apostles which pertains to the two great events, the destruction of Jerusalem and the second coming of Christ. This verse is not on either of those subjects, but is a prediction of events that would concern the church and the world, beginning immediately after the events of the destruction of Jerusalem. Of course it is figurative for the literal sun and other heavenly bodies were not involved in the things predicted. The sun refers to Christ, the moon to the church, and the stars to teachers and other leading men in the church. Soon after the destruction of Jerusalem the influence of evil in the Roman government and the schemes of ambitious men in the kingdom of heaven combined and brought on the period known in religious literature as The Dark Ages, which lasted until the Reformation. During all that time there were faithful disciples in the world, but since the Bible was taken from the common people, it greatly interfered with the light of divine truth that comes from Christ through the church, and taught by faithful men in the church. All this is what is meant by the statements about the sun, moon and stars ceasing to shine. The same thing is meant by the words, the powers of heaven shall be shaken, for all of these sources of light were powers that originated in heaven, but they were shaken (agitated) by the revolution of the Dark Ages.

Verse 30

4:30 Then means after the period predicted in the preceding verse. The Dark Ages lasted until the work of Luther and the other Reformers. That was another revolution in the religious and political world that broke up the union of church and state. After that event the Lord took up the second one of the great subjects that he had been describing since the disciples made their inquiry in verse 3. The length of time that was to elapse before the second coming is not important, but what is of much concern is that the second coming of Christ was not to be until after the Dark Ages. But it is also important that it is to be the next major event in the list of those in the present schedule. The mourning of humanity at that time is the same as John predicted in Rev 1:7, and the coming in the clouds is the same as was predicted in Act 1:11 and Jud 1:14.

Verse 31

4:31 The prediction that a trumpet will be heard when Jesus comes again is also made in 1Co 15:52 and 1Th 4:16. We observe also that the second coming of Christ will occur at the same time the world is to come to an end. In this verse the coming of Christ is accompanied with the work of the angels in gathering the elect (saved ones) of Christ, and in Mat 13:39 we are told that the angels will do this at the end of the world.

Verse 32

4:32 This and the following verse are some of the "exceptions" mentioned at verse 3. They are thrown in to suggest to the disciples the use that should be made of the "signs of the times." He referred to the common fig tree that was so prevalent in Palestine. The preliminary appearance of leaves was observed and from the fact a conclusion was formed that a change of seasons was near.

Verse 33

4:33 By using the same kind of logic with the signs that Jesus had predicted, the disciples could know when the first of the two great events was about due. We know this verse has the application to that event, for the disciples were to be living so that they could see all these things, and of course we are sure that they were not to live to see, bodily, the signs of the near approach of the second coming of Christ.

Verse 34

4:34 In keeping with the preceding verse we may conclude that the present one is in the bracket of the destruction of Jerusalem. Generation is from GENEA, which Thayer defines at this place, "The whole multitude of men living at the same time." Jesus spoke these words in about 30 A. D., and the destruction of Jerusalem was in 70 A. D. We know that the entire population would not have died in 40 years, so the prediction was fulfilled according to the words of our Lord.

Verse 35

4:35 Heaven and earth means the objects composing the material universe such as the earth, sun, moon and stars. They are destined to pass away at the day of judgment, but the truths spoken by Jesus will not fail; they will always be the truth.

Verse 36

4:36 From this verse through the end of the chapter the subject is the second coming of Christ and things that will take place in connection with it. At the time Jesus spoke these words no angel even, much less any man, knew when the end of the world was to come. My Father only might mean that not even Christ knew it, but I would not be too positive about that. The intimacy between the everlasting Father and Son would suggest the possibility of their having this knowledge in common. However, we are sure that no man knows of it, so that men who presume to predict the date must be regarded as false prophets of whom Jesus warned the disciples to beware.

Verse 37

4:37 The comparison intimated is shown in the next verse.

Verse 38

4:38 None of the things mentioned in this verse were wrong. The great mistake was in being wholly absorbed in their temporal interests and not paying any attention to the admonitions of Noah "a preacher of righteousness" (2Pe 2:5).

Verse 39

4:39 Knew not means they were so concerned with the affairs of this life they did not realize their danger until the flood was upon them, and then it was too late to avoid the disaster. So the coming of Christ will be upon the world in a surprise event even as the flood was in the days of Noah. He and his family were not overtaken by the flood because that patriarch believed the warning of the Lord. Likewise when Jesus comes again there will be some righteous people looking for him and will riot be overtaken and found unprepared (1Th 5:1).

Verse 40

4:40 Taken is from PARALAM-BANO which Thayer defines at this and several other places "To take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self." So it does not mean that one man will be taken out of the field and the other left there. That will be im- possible since the field will be destroyed with the earth. It means one of the men will be taken to Christ as part of the good harvest, while the other will be rejected and gathered with the tares to be burned.

Verse 41

4:41 Grain was ground by rolling one millstone round over another by means of a lever fastened to the stone. The separation of these women will be done on the same basis as that of the two men in the preceding verse. Both cases show that the Lord's people and those of the world may engage together in any honorable occupation while performing work necessary to a livelihood. That is why Jesus said "Let both grow together until the harvest" [end of the world] (chapter 13:30).

Verse 42

4:42 To watch means to be alert and thoughtful concerning one's duty to the Lord, and then regardless of when he comes the servant will be ready.

Verse 43

4:43 Broken up is from DIORUSSO and the definition in Thayer's lexicon, is, "To dig through," referring to the attempt to force an entrance into a house. One difference between the coming of a thief and that of the Lord is that the householder did not have any warning that any such attempt would be made upon his house. But we do have warning that Christ is coming again to judge the world and we are not told when, hence the necessity of being always awake and watching. An incidental bit of information may be obtained from this illustration of Jesus. The householder would have been compelled to use force in protecting his home, and the Lord made a reference to the subject in an approving attitude. That shows that it is right for one to protect his home and family, even though he has to use force against force.

Verse 44

4:44 In such an hour as ye think not. Unlike the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, the second coming of Christ will not be heralded by specific signs. Instead, the world in general will be going on in the pursuit of earthly interests, feeling a sense of security and satisfaction, and hence will be taken by surprise as it is awakened to a sense of the awful doom just upon it (1Th 5:1-3).

Verse 45

4:45 Jesus finished his speech in parable form, likening himself to a householder who took his leave of the members of his house for a season, instructing them that he would return at some date not announced then. This householder appointed one of his servants to have charge of affairs during his absence, in seeing that the members were served their food at proper times. The practical application is to be made to the service that the disciples of the Lord are expected to render in the house of God.

Verse 46

4:46 The servant does not know when his lord will return, but if he is always faithful to his duty it will not matter when it occurs, for his faithfulness is what will bring him the blessing of the master of the house.

Verse 47

4:47 In the literal procedure of the parable the promotion of the faithful servant would be the thing usually expected. In its application it means that the faithful servants of Christ will be promoted to the higher enjoyment of heaven.

Verse 48

4:48 A servant might be attentive to his duties for a while, but if more time went by than was expected, he may conclude that his lord has postponed his coming for an indefinite period. (See 2Pe 3:3-4.)

Verse 49

4:49 Under the impression that. "there is plenty of time yet" this servant will relax his vigilance and turn the good treatment of his fellow servants into mistreatment of them; he will even join in the unrighteous practices of some of them. Likewise, some professed disciples of Christ often get tired of faithful service in the kingdom and give way to a life of sin.

Verse 50

4:50 Such a worldly life has the tendency of blunting the mind with regard to spiritual matters. It even may blot from his mind the memory of all the warnings of the Lord. In such a case his coming will be unexpected to him hence it will take him by surprise and find him not ready for a favorable meeting.

Verse 51

4:51 Cut him asunder means to sever him from the Lord's household. An unthinking and self-gratifying servant is not as bad in the abstract as a hypocrite, for such a character that professes to be what he knows he is not is among the worst of sinners. But since both of these individuals are to have their portion together, it teaches us that there is only one lot awaiting the unsaved at the day of judgment. We ordinarily think of a gnashing of the teeth as a much stronger demonstration than weeping. The use of the two is very significant as applied to those condemned in the lake of fire. Gnashing the teeth will be caused by the bodily pain, while weeping (also defined "lamenation") will be the expression of the mind, caused by the realization of what the person has missed of joy, and what he has brought upon himself by his life of sin while in the world.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 24". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.