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.
The first portion of the great prophecy.
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 ( οὐδε Ì , 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 μη Ì , 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!"
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 [ φιλοτιμου ì μεθα , 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.
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 .)
2 . The assertion is repeated in the comment.
II. THE TIME OF THAT EVENT IS NOT WHOLLY UNCERTAIN .
1 . It is particularly known to God alone.
2 . Yet is it generally made known to the wise.
3 . But to the wicked it will come as a surprise.
4 . It will be a time of separation.
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.