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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ mark-13.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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And as he went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him Master, behold, what manner, of stones and what manner of buildings! This would be in the evening. According to St. Luke (Luke 21:37), our Lord, during the early part of this week, passed his nights upon the Mount of Olives, taking his food at Bethany with Martha and Mary, and spending his days in the temple at Jerusalem, teaching the people. It is most probable that he left the temple by the golden gate on the east, from whence the view of the temple would be particularly striking. We learn from St. Matthew (Matthew 24:1-51.) that our Lord had just been predicting the fall of Jerusalem. It was, therefore, natural for the disciples to call his attention at that moment to the grandeur and beauty of the building and its surroundings. The temple at Jerusalem was one of the wonders of the world. Josephus says that it wanted nothing that the eye and the mind could admire. It shone with a fiery splendor; so that when the eye gazed upon it, it turned away as from the rays of the sun. The size of the foundation-stones was enormous. Josephus speaks of some of the stones as forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth. One of the foundation-stones, measured in recent times, proved to be nearly twenty-four feet in length, by four feet in depth. But all this magnificence had no effect upon our Lord, who only repeated the sentence of its downfall
There shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down. The word (ὧδε) "here" is rightly inserted; and the prophecy is justified by scientific investigation. The expression is not hyperbolic. Modern investigation shows that the present wall has been rebuilt, probably on the foundation of the older One.
And as he sat on the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? St. Matthew and St. Luke only mention his disciples generally. St. Mark, going more into detail, gives the names of those who thus asked him; namely, Peter and James and John, already distinguished, and Andrew, who enjoyed the distinction of having been the first called. These men appear to have been our Lord's inner council; and they asked him (κατ ἰδίαν) privately, or separately, not only from the multitude, but from the rest of the disciples. It was a dangerous thing to speak of the destruction of the temple, or even to inquire about such an event, for fear of the scribes and Pharisees. It was this accusation that led to the stoning of Stephen. It is evident from St. Matthew (Matthew 24:3) that the disciples closely associated together the destruction of the temple and his final coming at the end of the world. They knew from our Lord's words that the destruction of Jerusalem was near at hand, and therefore they thought that the destruction of the world itself, and the day of judgment, were also near at hand. Hence their questions.
Mark 13:5, Mark 13:6
Take heed that no man lead you astray. The Greek word is πλανήση. Their first temptation would be of this kind—that many would come in Christ's name, saying, "I am he;" claiming, that is, the title which belonged to him alone. Such were Theudas (Acts 5:36) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:10), who, according to Jerome, said, "Ego sum Sermo Dei, ego speciosus, ego Paracletus, ego omnipotens, ego omnia." Such were Menander and the Gnostics.
Wars and rumors of wars. "Rumours of wars" are mentioned, because they are often worse and more distressing than wars themselves; according to the saying, "Pejor est belle timer ipse belli." Be not troubled; be not troubled, that is, so as to let go your faith in me, through fear of the enemy, or through despair of any fruit of your apostolic labors; but persevere steadfastly to preach faith in me and in my gospel. These things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. There would be a succession of calamities, one leading on to another. But they must take courage, and prepare themselves for greater evils, not hoping for lasting peace on earth, but by patient endurance of evils here, reach onwards to a blessed and eternal rest in heaven. Our Lord, when his disciples asked him, as in one breath, about the destruction of their city, replied obscurely and ambiguously; mingling together the two events, in order that his disciples and the faithful through all times might be prepared, and never taken by surprise. Some of our Lord's predictions, however, clearly refer to the generation then living on the earth.
And the gospel must first be preached unto all the nations. St. Matthew (Matthew 24:14) says it shall be preached "in the whole world, for a testimony unto all the nations" (ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον). This literally took place, as far as the inhabited world was concerned at that time, before the destruction of Jerusalem. St. Paul (Romans 10:18) reminds us that "their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world;" and he tells the Colossians (Colossians 1:6) that the gospel was come unto them, and was bearing fruit and increasing in all the world. But even if we regard these expressions as somewhat hyperbolic, it is unquestionable that before the armies of Titus entered Jerusalem, the gospel had been published through the principal parts and provinces of the then inhabited world (οἰκουμένῃ). And it is certainly a wonderful fact that within fifty years after the death of Christ, Christian Churches had been planted in almost every district of the earth as then known to the Romans. But if we extend these prophetical sayings so as to reach onwards to the end of all things, we must then understand the expression, "all the nations," in its most unrestricted sense; so that the prophecy announces the universal proclamation of the gospel over the whole inhabited earth as an event which is to precede the time of the end. It is interesting to observe the difference in the amount of knowledge possessed by us of this earth and its population at the present time, as compared with the knowledge which men had of it at the time when our Lord delivered this prediction. It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century, nearly fifteen hundred years after Christ, that Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci laid open that other hemisphere which takes its name from Amerigo; and there are few facts more interesting to a philosophic mind than the discovery of this new continent, now so important to us in England as the chief receptacle, together with Australia, of our redundant population. But this new world, as we call it, although there are material evidences that portions of it at least were occupied in very remote times by men of high civilization, was present to the mind of our Lord when he said that "the gospel must first be preached unto all the nations." So that the prophecy expands, as the ages roll onwards and the population of this earth increases; and it still demands its fulfillment, embracing the vast multitudes now dwelling on the face of the earth to the number of about 1,450,000,000. Such a consideration may well lead us to the inference that we are now approaching sensibly nearer to the end of the world. There are no other new worlds like America or Australia now to be discovered. The whole face of the earth is now laid open to us; and there is now hardly any part of the world which has not at some time or other received the message of salvation.
And when they lead you to judgment, and deliver you up, be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak. Our Lord does not mean by this that they were not to premeditate a prudent and wise answer Rut he means that they were not to be too anxious about it. In St. Luke (Luke 21:15) he says, "I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to withstand or to gainsay." So here, it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost who shall inspire you with wisdom and courage. The words "neither do ye premeditate" (μηδὲ μελετᾶτε) are omitted in the Revised Version, as not having sufficient authority.
Our Lord further warns his disciples that they would have to suffer persecution even from their own relations, their brethren, and their fathers, who, forgetful of natural affection, would persecute the faithful even unto death. It is related of Woodman, a martyr in Sussex, in Queen Mary's time, that he was betrayed and taken by his father and his brother, and that he comforted himself with the thought that this very text of Scripture was verified in him. Bede says that our Lord predicted these evils, in order that his disciples, by a knowledge of them beforehand, might be the better able to bear them when they came.
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake (ὑπο πάντων). The faith and preaching of a crucified Savior was a new thing. Hence everywhere, the Jews, accustomed to their own Law, and the Gentiles, to their own idols, set themselves against the preachers of the gospel, and against those who were converted to it. "All men" means great numbers, perhaps the greater number. Just as, when we say, "The majority are doing anything," we say, in popular language, "Everybody does it." But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved (ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος). What is "the end" here referred to? Not, I imagine, the end of the age, but the end of the moral probation of the individual. The Greek word for "endureth" is very significant; it implies "a bearing up, and persevering under great trials." It is not enough once and again or a third time to have overcome, but, in order to obtain the crown, it is necessary to endure and to conquer, even to the end. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." The crown of patience is perseverance.
But when ye see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not. In the Authorized Version, after the word "desolation," the words "spoken of by Daniel the prophet," are introduced, but without sufficient authority. They were probably interpolated from St. Matthew, where there is abundant authority for them; and thus their omission by St. Mark does not affect the argument drawn from them in favor of the genuineness of the Book of Daniel, against those, whether in earlier or in later times, who reject this book, or ascribe it to some mere recent authorship. The "abomination of desolation" is a Hebrew idiom, meaning "the abomination that maketh desolate." St. Luke (Luke 21:20) does not use the expression; it would have sounded strange to his Gentile readers. He says, "When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand." This reference to the Roman armies by St. Luke has led some commentators to suppose that "the abomination of desolation" meant the Roman eagles. But this was a sign from without; whereas "the abomination of desolation" was a sign from within, connected with the ceasing of the daily sacrifice of the temple. It is alluded to by the Prophet Daniel in three places, namely, Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11. We must seek for its explanation in something within the temple. "standing in the holy place" (Matthew 24:15)—some profanation of the temple, on account of which God's judgments would fall on Jerusalem. Now, Daniel's prophecy had already received one fulfillment, when we read (1 Macc. 1:54) that they set up "the abomination of desolation upon the altar." This was when Antiochus Epiphanes set up the statue of Jupiter on the great altar of burnt sacrifice. But that "abomination of desolation" was the forerunner of another and a worse profanation yet to come, which our Lord, no doubt, had in his mind when he called the attention of his disciples to these predictions by Daniel. There is a remarkable passage in Josephus ('Wars of the Jews,' 4.6), in which he refers to an ancient saying then current, that "Jerusalem would be taken, and the temple be destroyed, when it had been defiled by the hands of Jews themselves." Now, this literally took place. For while the Roman armies were investing Jerusalem, the Jews within the city were in fierce conflict amongst themselves. And it would seem most probable that our Lord had in his mind, in connection with Daniel's prophecy, more especially that at Daniel 9:27, the irruption of the army of Zealots and Assassins into the temple, filling the holy place with the dead bodies of their own fellow-citizens. The Jews had invited these marauders to defend them against the army of the Romans; and they, by their outrages against God, were the special cause of the desolation of Jerusalem. Thus, while St. Luke points to the sign from without, namely, the Roman forces surrounding the city, St. Matthew and St. Mark refer to the more terrible sign from within, the "abomination of desolation "—the abomination that would fill up the measure of their iniquities, and cause the avenging power of Rome to come down upon them and crush them. It was after these two signs—the sign from within and the sign from without—that Jerusalem was laid prostrate. Therefore our Lord proceeds to warn both Jews and Christians alike, that when they saw these signs they should flee unto the mountains—not to the mountains of Judaea, for these were already occupied by the Roman army, but those further off, beyond Judaea. We know from Eusebius (3.15) that the Christians fled to Pella, on the other side of the Jordan. The Jews, on the other hand, as they saw the Roman army approaching nearer, betook themselves to Jerusalem, as to an asylum, thinking that there they would be under the special protection of Jehovah; but there, alas, they were imprisoned and slain.
Let him that is on the house-top (ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος) not go down, nor enter in, to take anything out of his house. The roofs of the houses were flat, with frequently a little "dome" (δῶμα) in the center. The people lived very much upon them; and the stairs were outside, so that a person wishing to enter the house must first descend by these outer stairs. The words, therefore, mean that he must flee suddenly, if he would save his life, even though he might lose his goods, he must escape, perhaps by crossing over the parapet of his own housetop, and so from house-top to house-top, until he could find a convenient point for flight into the hill country.
And let him that is in the field not return back to take his cloke (τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ ). This was the outer garment or pallium. They who worked in the field were accustomed to leave their cloak and their tunic at home; so that, half-stripped, they might be more free to labor. Therefore our Lord warns them that in this impending destruction, so suddenly would it come, they must be ready to fly just as they were. It was the direction given to Lot, "Escape for thy life; look not behind thee."
But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! Women in this condition would be specially objects of pity, for they would be more exposed to danger. The words, "Woe to them (οὐαι)!" are an exclamation of pity, as, though it was said, "Alas! for them." Josephus (Mark 7:8) mentions that some mothers, constrained by hunger during the siege, devoured their own infants!
And pray ye that it be not in the winter. According to the best authorities, "your flight" (ἡ φυγὴ ὑμῶν) is omitted, but the meaning remains very much the same. St. Matthew (Matthew 24:20) adds, "neither on a sabbath." But this would be comparatively of little interest to those to whom St. Mark was writing. Our Lord thus specifies the winter, because at that season, on account of the cold and snow, flight would be attended with special difficulty and hardship, and would be almost impossible for the aged and infirm.
For those days shall be tribulation, such as there hath not been the like from the beginning of the creation. These expressions are very remarkable. To begin with, the tribulation would be so unexampled and so severe that the days themselves would be called "tribulation." They would be known ever after as "the tribulation.'" There never had been anything like them, and there never would be again. Neither the Deluge, nor the destruction of the cities of the plain, nor the drowning of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, nor the slaughter of the Canaanites, nor the destruction of Nineveh, or of Babylon, or of other great cities and nations, would be so violent and dreadful as the overthrow of Jerusalem by Titus. All this is confirmed by Josephus, who says, speaking of this overthrow, "I do not think that any state ever suffered such things, or any nation within the memory of man." St. Chrysostom assigns the cause of all this to the base and cruel treatment of the Son of God by the Jews. The destruction of their city and their temple, and their continued desolation afterwards, were the lessons by which the Jews were to be taught that the Christ had indeed come, and that this was the Christ whom they had crucified and slain.
And except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he chose, he shortened the days. St. Matthew's record (Matthew 24:22) differs from that of St. Mark in the omission of the words "the Lord," and the clause "whom he chose." If the time of the siege of Jerusalem had lasted much longer, not one of the nation could have survived; all would have perished by war, or famine, or pestilence. The Romans raged against the Jews as an obstinate and rebellious nation, and would have exterminated them. But "the Lord" shortened the time of this frightful catastrophe, for the elect's sake, that is, partly for the sake of the Christians who could not escape from Jerusalem, and partly for that of the Jews, who, subdued by this awful visitation, were converted to Christ or would hereafter be converted to him We learn from hence how great is the love of God towards his elect, and his care for them. For their sakes he spared many Jews. For their sakes he created and preserves the whole world. Yea, for their sakes, Christ the eternal Son was made man, and became obedient unto death. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." It may be added that a number of providential circumstances combined to shorten these days of terror. Titus was himself disposed to clemency, and friendly towards Josephus. Moreover, he was attached to Bernice, a Jewess, the sister of Agrippa. All these and other circumstances conspired in the providence of God to "shorten the days."
Mark 13:21, Mark 13:22
And then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there, believe it not; for there shall arise false Christs and false prophets. Josephus mentions one Simon of Gerasa, who, pretending to be a deliverer of the people from the Romans, gathered around him a crowd of followers, and gained admission into Jerusalem, and harassed the Jews. In like manner, Eleazar and John, leaders of the Zealots, gained admission into the holy place, under pretense of defending the city, but really that they might plunder it. But it seems as though our Lord here. looked beyond the siege of Jerusalem to the end of the world; and he warns us that as the time of his second advent approaches, deceivers will arise, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. The word "to seduce" (ἀποπλανᾶν) is more properly rendered, as in the Revised Version, to lead astray. Every age has produced its crop of such deceivers; and it may be expected that, as the time of the end draws nearer and nearer, their number will increase. Sometimes those idiosyncrasies in them which show themselves in lying wonders, are the result of self-delusion; but still oftener they are deliberate attempts made for the purpose of imposing on the unwary. Sometimes they are a combination of both. In the cases to which our Lord refers there is evidently an intention to lead astray, although it may have had its origin in self-deceit. In our day there is a sad tendency to lead men astray with regard to the great fundamental verities of Christianity. And the words of St. Jerome may well be remembered here: "If any would persuade you that Christ is to be found in the wilderness of unbelief or sceptical philosophy, or in the secret chambers of heresy, believe them not."
But take ye heed (ὑμεῖς δὲ βλέπετε). The "ye" is here emphatic. The disciples were around him, hanging upon his lips. But his admonition is meant for Christians everywhere, even to the end of the world.
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light. St. Matthew (Matthew 24:29) has the word "immediately," before the words "after that tribulation." If this word "immediately" is to be understood literally, then the things spoken of subsequently must be understood in a figurative and spiritual sense. But it would seem more natural to understand "immediately" according to the reckoning of him with whom "a thousand years are as one day." Our Lord now passes away from the events connected with the overthrow of the Jewish polity, and proceeds to speak of things connected with the new dispensation. His mind is now turned to "the last time"—to the whole period between his first and his second advent. The things towards which he was now looking belonged, not to the end of the Jewish dispensation, but to the end of the present age and the present dispensation. Eighteen centuries have passed since the destruction of Jerusalem; and more years, it may be, will come and go before the end. Nevertheless, all this time, although it may seem long to us who are confined within the narrow limits of a short life, is nevertheless, when compared with the eternity of God, but as a moment. "The sun shall be darkened." The signs here enumerated are mentioned elsewhere as the signs that would appear before the second coming of Christ. (See Joel 2:31 and Luke 21:25, Luke 21:26.) St. Augustine (Eph 80, 'Ad Hesychium') says, "The light of truth shall be obscured; because in the great tribulation that shall come on the world, many will fall from the faith, who had seemed to be bright and firm, like the sun and the stars." "And the moon," that is, the Church, "shall not give her light."
And the stars shall be falling from heaven (ἔσονται ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πίπτοντες) and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. In the great events of the creation recorded in Genesis 1:1-31 the sun and the moon and the stars did not show their light until that period which is called the fourth day. So in the end of the world, the sun and the moon and the stars are represented as withdrawing their light, perhaps figuratively, but perhaps also literally, in the course of some of the unknown physical changes which shall accompany the winding up of the present dispensation. To this agree the next words, "the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken." The powers may here mean those great unseen forces of nature by which the universe is now held in equipoise. When the Creator wills it, these powers shall be shaken. (See Job 26:11, "The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof;" see also Isaiah 34:4, "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll.") As the end of the world approaches, the elements will quiver and tremble.
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. St. Matthew (Matthew 24:30) introduces here the words, "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." Many of the Fathers, as St. Chrysostom, Jerome, Bede, and others, think that this sign will be the cross. Josephus (5.3) says that shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, a portent like a sword, glittering as a star, appeared in the heavens. But surely the sign of the Son of man at the end of the world will be the Son of man himself coming in clouds. The clouds, covering the troubled heaven and now illuminated by the brightness of his coming, will constitute "the sublime drapery of his presence" (Dr. Morison).
And then shall he send forth the angels. This represents the great harvest at the end of the world, when the angel-reapers shall be sent forth to separate the wicked from the just. The elect will be gathered from the four winds (ἐκ τῶν πεσσάρων ἀνέμων); literally, out of the four winds—the winds representing figuratively every corner of the world; or, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. At its extremities, in the horizon, there appears to be the end alike of earth and of heaven, as though earth and heaven joined, and the heaven terminated by melting into the earth and becoming one with it. The expression simply means, "from horizon to horizon," or from every part of the earth.
Mark 13:28, Mark 13:29
Now from the fig tree learn her parable; that is, her own particular teaching. Our Lord makes frequent mention and use of the fig tree, as we have seen already. It is probable that a fig tree may have been near to them. When her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh. The branch (κλάδος) would be the young shoot, now become tender under the quickening influences of the spring; and this was an evident sign that the summer was at hand. The Asiatic fig tree requires a considerable amount of warmth to enable it to put forth leaves and fruit. Its rich flavour requires a summer heat to mature it. Aristotle says that the fig is the choice food of bees, from which they make their richest honey. Then the fig tree does not flower after the ordinary manner; but produces flower and fruit at once from the tree, and rapidly matures the fruit. The lesson, therefore, from the fig tree is this—the speed with which she ripens her fruit when she feels the warmth of summer. In like manner, as soon as the disciples perceived the signs of Christ's coming, they were to learn that he was close at hand, as certainly as the ripening fruit of the fig tree showed that summer was at hand.
This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished. This is one of those prophecies which admit of a growing fulfillment. If the word "generation" (γανεὰ) be understood to mean the sum total of those living at any time on the earth, the prediction would hold true as far as the destruction of Jerusalem was concerned. The destruction of Jerusalem took place within the limits of the generation living in our Lord's time; and there might be some of those whom he was then addressing who would live to see the event. His prediction amounted, in fact, to this, that the destruction of Jerusalem would take place within forty years of the time when he was speaking. But it may have a wider meaning. It may mean the Jewish people. Their city would be destroyed their power overthrown. They would be "peeled and scattered." But they would still remain a distinct and separate nation to the end of the world. And there are other prophecies which show that with their national conversion to Christianity will be associated all that is most glorious in the future Church of God.
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. Here is a distinct prediction that the present structure of the universe will pass away; that is, that it will be changed, that it will perish, as far as its present state and condition are concerned; but only that it may be refashioned in a more beautiful form. "We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13). With this declaration of our blessed Lord all the discoveries of science coincide. Astronomy and geology alike concur in the conclusion that the whole system of the universe is moving onwards to its change. Our blessed Lord did but affirm that which is demonstrated by science. But my words shall not pass away; not merely the words which with his full self-consciousness he had just uttered respecting Jerusalem, but all his other words—all the revelation of God, all the words of him who is the Truth.
But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. He who from all eternity has decreed the time when this day is to come, is pleased to hide it in the hidden depths of his own counsels. But the eternal Son, and the Holy Spirit, both alike one with the Father, are of his counsels. They are not excluded from this knowledge; they, equally with the Father, know the day and the hour of the end, since they are of the same substance, power, and majesty. Why; then, does St. Mark here add, "neither the Son"? The answer is surely to be found in the great truth of the hypostatic union. The eternal Son, as God, by his omniscience, and as man, by knowledge imparted to him, knows perfectly the day and the hour of the future judgment. But Christ as man, and as the Messenger from God to men, did not so know it as to be able to reveal it to men. The ambassador, if he is asked concerning the secret counsels of his sovereign, may truly answer that he knows them not so as to communicate them to others. For as an ambassador he only communicates those things which are committed to him by his sovereign to deliver, and not those things which he is bidden to keep secret.
These exhortations, which gather up in a succinct form the practical bearing of the parallel passages and parables in St. Matthew, must not be understood as implying that our Lord's coming in judgment would be during the lifetime of his disciples. The preceding words would teach them plainly enough that the actual time of this coming was hidden from the. m. But the intention was that, while by the certainty of the event their faith and hope would be quickened, by the uncertainty of the time they might be left in a continual state of watchfulness and prayer. According to the Jewish reckoning, there were only three watches—namely, the first watch, from sunset to 10 p.m.; the second watch, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and the third watch, from 2 a.m. to sunrise. But after the establishment of the Roman power in Judaea, these watches were divided into four; and were either described as the first, second, third, and fourth respectively; or, as here, by the terms even, beginning at six and ending at nine; midnight, ending at twelve; cockcrowing, ending at three; and morning, ending at six.
Mark 13:1, Mark 13:2
The downfall of the temple.
Our Lord's ministry in the temple was now over. Within those precincts he had taught the teachable, he had rebuked the selfish and profane, he had received the homage of the children, he had healed the afflicted, and he had denounced and warned the unfaithful and the hypocritical. How strange the contrast between the early days, when Jesus had taken his place in the midst of the rabbis, "both hearing them, and asking them questions," and these later days, when the same edifice witnessed his keen and truceless conflicts with the leaders of the nation, whose errors he exposed and whose vengeance he incurred! It was as Jesus left the gorgeous and consecrated building that his disciples, with national pride and affection, pointed out to his eyes the magnificence of the temple, the stupendous stones of which it was composed, and the costly gifts with which it was adorned. Upon this suggestion, Jesus uttered the prediction, which he could not have uttered without emotions of disappointment and distress, "Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down."
I. NOTHING EARTHLY AND HUMAN, HOWEVER STATELY AND SACRED, IS IMPERISHABLE. It was, no doubt, a splendid spectacle to which his disciples directed the gaze of Jesus. "They stopped to cast upon it one last lingering gaze, and one of them was eager to call his attention to its goodly stones and splendid offerings—those nine gates overlaid with gold and silver, and the one of solid Corinthian brass yet more precious; those graceful and towering porches; those bevelled blocks of marble, forty cubits long and ten cubits high, testifying to the toil and munificence of so many generations; those double cloisters and stately pillars; that lavish adornment of sculpture and arabesque; those alternate blocks of red and white marble, recalling the crest and hollow of the sea-waves; those vast clusters of golden grapes, each cluster as large as a man, which twined their splendid luxuriance over the golden doors. They would have him gaze with them on the rising terraces of courts—the court of the Gentiles, with its monolithic columns and rich mosaic; above this, the flight of fourteen steps which led to the court of the women; then the flight of fifteen steps which led up to the court of the priests; then, once more, the twelve steps which led to the final platform, crowned by the actual holy, and holy of holies, which the rabbis fondly compared for its shape to a couchant hen, and which, with its marble whiteness and gilded roofs, looked like a glorious mountain whose snowy summit was gilded by the sun" (Farrar). Majestic, however, as was the edifice, sacred as were its purposes, ennobling as were its associations, the temple at Jerusalem was not indestructible. All things finding their foundation upon this changing earth, all things reared and fashioned by human hands, are transitory and perishing. Nothing continueth in one stay. "The solemn temples," like "the great globe itself," are destined to decay and destruction. The material perishes, and that which is spiritual alone abides.
II. AN UNFAITHFUL NATION'S GLORY IS, IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD, MADE THE SYMBOL OF ITS SHAME. There was nothing which the Jews so valued and reverenced as their temple and all the paraphernalia of the temple-worship. The national life seemed to flow from that sacred spot as from a beating heart. Not only was it, in its situation, its structure, its services, priesthoods, and sacrifices, itself most majestic and imposing; but to the Hebrew mind it was the expression of the peculiar interest and favor of the Supreme. How could the Israelite think, without a shudder of horror and dismay, of the time when the noble building should be laid in the dust; when the chants should be silenced, the altars be overturned, the priests be slain, and the services and offerings be no more? Yet this was the doom which the last and greatest Prophet now foretold—a doom which they might have averted by timely repentance and by cordial faith, but which their rejection of the Christ of God made certain and irrevocable. Thus was Israel smitten in the most vulnerable, the most sensitive point; thus was the rule of the righteous Lord awfully and sublimely vindicated; thus was a lesson of Divine government and human subjection thereto published for the benefit of all generations to come.
III. ALL THAT IS MATERIAL IN RELIGION IS DESTINED TO VANISH AND DISAPPEAR. The temple at Jerusalem was the temple of the Lord; yet it served a temporary purpose, and when this purpose was accomplished it was superseded by the temple of the Lord's Body, and by the imperishable temple constituted by consecrated spiritual natures, and inhabited by the Holy Spirit of God. Human nature is such that men are prone to lay stress upon the outward, the visible, the tangible, the material. Even the truly religious are in danger of regarding the vestment of religion rather than the form it clothes, of hallowing places, observances, offices, and institutions. But Christ's whole teaching is a protest against this natural error and folly. The temple of Jerusalem disappeared; but its disappearance, so far from ruining the prospects and crippling the power of religion, was, in reality, the occasion of placing religion upon a sounder basis, and giving to religion a world-wide and an everlasting sway. Let not men cling too closely to the form; it is the spirit which quickeneth; it is the spirit which endures.
IV. SPIRITUAL TEMPLES ALONE ENDURE FOR EVER. Even the destruction of Jerusalem and its sacred buildings did not involve a universal ruin. What was good in Judaism, what was vital and hopeful in Israel, still survived. There were truths which outlasted the forms in which they had been embodied. There were pure and faithful souls which outlived the institutions amidst which and by means of which they had been called to virtue, to piety, to God. A new Israel arose, as it were, out of the ashes of the old. A temple statelier and sublimer, based upon a more enduring foundation, and rising to loftier spiritual heights, sprang into glorious being, as the armies of Titus levelled the glory of Moriah with the ground. The living stones of which this heaven-born fabric is composed can never crumble, and the services of this sanctuary shall never cease. Time and space are spurned; earthly forces are powerless; this temple groweth "an holy temple unto the Lord." It is imperishable, because it is spiritual; it is eternal, because it is Divine.
The witness of the persecuted.
It was natural enough that the disciples, when the Lord foretold the destruction of the temple, should wish to know when an event so stupendous and awful should occur. On their way to Bethany at eventide, the little party, composed of Jesus and his four most intimate friends, paused upon the crown of Olivet, and looked back upon the glorious but guilty city, and upon that edifice which was its proudest ornament and beast. The anxious, awed disciples took this opportunity of asking at what time the disaster foretold by the Lord should take place, and by what signs they might be led to expect its approach. Jesus did not state the exact date of the impending catastrophe, but he did mention certain signs by which his disciples might be forewarned; and he took occasion to forearm them against the troubles which were at hand. His words may not have gratified their curiosity, but they must have established their confidence in their Master, and they must have prepared them for the tribulation and the trial now so near. The great lesson is that Jesus would have his people prepared, especially in times and amid circumstances of affliction and probation, to bear a firm and faithful witness to himself. Our Lord, in this language, enjoins upon his disciples—
I. FIDELITY AMID TEMPTATION AND APOSTASY, Days of trial were at hand; impostors should appear, professing that the Messiah had only now arrived; and by such deceits and pretences many should be led astray from their allegiance to Jesus. Then should the faithfulness of the disciples be tested. It is always so. Rivals come forward at all periods in history, asserting claims which they cannot substantiate, but by which they impose upon the excitable and unstable. Teachers, leaders, systems, philosophies, are ever seeking to displace the Divine Christ from the throne of the human heart, of human society. Let every Christian, when exposed to such assaults, when staggered by the success with which these are too often directed against the professed followers of Jesus, be upon his guard, and listen to the voice of the rightful and authoritative Lord sounding across the ages, "Let no man lead you astray!"
II. PEACE OF MIND AMID WARS AND CALAMITIES. The troubles and conflicts which befell the nations during the period which elapsed between the crucifixion of Christ and the fall of Jerusalem, are well known from the records of history. It could have been no easy thing for the Christians to have preserved a quiet mind amidst such constant alarms; nor can we suppose that our Lord intended to forbid or blame the natural and proper sympathy and solicitude which such circumstances must have induced. But he warned them that these events must precede the end, and must not be allowed to fill the mind with dismay, to weaken faith in Divine providence, or to deter from the fulfillment of an appointed ministry. In every age there occur events which, taken and considered alone, might appal the stoutest, bravest heart. But it is for the follower of Christ to bear in mind that light and darkness will contend until the victory of the Redeemer is complete, that the Lord reigneth, and that the convulsions of the nations are the birth-throes of the kingdom of the Christ. It is he who admonishes us, "Be not troubled!"
III. STEADFASTNESS AMID THE HOSTILITY OF FOES. The first followers of Christ were forewarned that they should incur the enmity of authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical. Before councils and in synagogues, at the bar of governors and in the presence of kings, they should be arraigned upon charges true or false, but always with a temper of enmity and with purposes of malice. How were they to demean themselves in circumstances of peril? They were to remember that they were but treated as their Master had been treated before them, that they were honored by being summoned to act as his witnesses, that they were the spokesmen, so to speak, of the very Spirit of God. Amidst trials so severe, they were directed to take heed how they comported themselves—never to yield to fear, to dismiss all anxiety, and to trust to a heavenly inspiration for their defense. And there is no age in which servants of Christ are not exposed to some of the attacks of the foe, and in which there is not need for watchfulness, fortitude, and courage. Let the persecuted remember that the eye of the Divine Lord is upon them; and let them bear themselves as those who would honor their Leader and maintain his cause—quit them like men, and be strong.
IV. ENDURANCE AMID THE TREACHERY AND DESERTION OF FRIENDS. The great Prophet foretold that discords should reveal themselves among families and social communities; that one should rise up against another. In this way was fulfilled his saying, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword." To most hearts, treason within the camp is more painful and more trying than hostility without. Yet even against this our Lord would have us proof. It is a trial to which most faithful and consistent servants of the Lord Jesus are at some time exposed; it is a trial which shakes the faith and damps the zeal of not a few. Christ calls his people, when so tried, to exercise the grace of perseverance. Whoever forsake Jesus, let their desertion only drive us closer to him we love!
V. NOTWITHSTANDING OPPOSITION, THE GOSPEL MUST BE PREACHED. It is not enough to be steadfast ourselves; we have to think of and to care for others. The glad tidings the followers of Jesus have themselves freely received, it is for them freely to communicate to their neighbors, How devotedly and valiantly the first disciples fulfilled this trust we well know. Not only the twelve, but even more notably others who were raised up in the first age, preached the gospel to all nations whom they were able by any toil and hardship to reach. The light streamed upon many a dark, benighted land, and brought hope and peace, joy and life, to many a wretched heart. The labor of the apostles and their companions was not in vain in the Lord. Far from being deterred by opposition, this seemed to act as a stimulus to new exertions and to new daring. Nor is this function of the Church peculiar to the first age. So long as there are nations unvisited by the news of salvation, so long is there a summons to engage in missionary enterprise. If this can only be done in certain cases at the risk of safety, liberty, and life, so much the more do present circumstances correspond with the predictions of our Lord. "The more danger, the more honor." There is a crown to be gained by following Christ and his apostles in the perils of the holy war.
VI. PATIENCE UNTO SALVATION. It is well known that, whilst multitudes of Jews perished in the siege and the destruction of Jerusalem, the Christians escaped. Faithful to the instructions of their Lord, they were delivered from the ruin and the death which were the fate of their fellow-countrymen. Enduring in constancy and obedience to the end, they were saved. And their exemption from disaster and death was a symbol of the salvation of all those who retain their faith and allegiance amidst the temptations and the trials of this earthly life. Endure! endure unto the end! and the unfailing promise of your Divine Lord shall be fulfilled in your experience. You shall be saved!
Very clearly did our Lord foresee, and very plainly did he foretell, the consequences which the Jews were bringing upon themselves by their rejection of God's Messiah. The language here recorded is in itself sufficient to convince a candid mind of the justice of the claims of the Lord Jesus to be the Prophet and the Son of the Most High. He sets us an example here of the propriety of uttering truthful warnings, even though they may be painful to the speaker and unwelcome to the hearer.
I. AFFLICTIONS ARE FORETOLD. The severity and variety of these afflictions render this prediction one of the most awful to be met with in the whole compass of Scripture.
1. National disaster. It was upon the whole nation, and especially upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the upper and ruling classes, that the retribution fell.
2. Temple desecration. This is probably what is designated "the abomination of desolation." The fanatical pollution of the temple by the Zealots was doubtless one of the most distressing accompaniments of the awful siege.
3. Religious imposture. In times of general excitement, enthusiastic pretenders are safe to make their appearance. It was so during the uttermost calamity of Israel. And there is no age when the warnings of Mark 13:21, Mark 13:22, are not timely and appropriate.
4. Individual sufferings. Several circumstances here predicted, especially the distress in which miserable mothers should be involved (Mark 13:17), serve to deepen and darken the tone of this picture of calamity.
II. COUNSELS ARE IMPARTED. Christ was not a mere Prophet of evil. He exhibited the approaching dangers, but he provided for the safety and deliverance of those who, amidst general unfaithfulness, should be faithful to him.
1. He directed flight from the scene of distress. As Noah had been sent into the ark, as Lot had been hurried out of Sodom, so the primitive Christians were directed, when Jerusalem should be besieged, to forsake the guilty city and to take refuge in the mountains. There are times when flight is prudence, when life may be preserved for future service.
2. He advised disregard of impostors. To hold to Christ is a sufficient motive for rejecting antichrist. It is condemnation enough of any pretender that he professes to be what we know the Son of God alone can be.
3. He counselled general preparation and watchfulness. "Take ye heed!" Christians are to use their own powers of observation, to exercise vigilance, to meet all circumstances with preparation and discretion. No piety, no attachment to the Savior, can absolve us from the duty of using our own faculties, of being upon the alert. "Watch and pray!" These are admonitions which are never obsolete; for the need of them is never, whilst we are upon earth, left behind.
The second coming.
It is very difficult exactly to discriminate between some words of Christ which refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and others which refer to our Lord's coming to judge all mankind. There seems to be a designed blending of the references to these events. We are thus taught to remember that we are called to be as men that wait for their Lord.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF CHRIST'S COMING. If his words are to be accepted, this great event of the future is not to be denied or questioned. In the fulfillment of the special prediction regarding the downfall of Jerusalem in the lifetime of the generation then living, we have the pledge of the ultimate accomplishment of the larger prophecy. At his trial Jesus reported the assurance; and his inspired apostles have foretold that he shall come again the "second time without sin unto salvation."
II. THE UNCERTAINTY OF THE TIME OF CHRIST'S COMING. The words in Mark 13:32 are very distinct. The date of our Lord's return is known only to the Father. If neither the angels nor the Son himself could communicate this knowledge, how ridiculous and presumptuous is the conduct of those who, treating the Scriptures as a riddle, profess to have discovered the secret, and put forth their own fancies and follies as the declarations of the oracles of God! It is wisely hidden from us, and we show our wisdom by contented acquiescence in ignorance.
III. THE SIGNS OF CHRIST'S COMING. Changes on earth and in heaven are indications of the approaching day. As the leaves of the fig tree tell that summer is nigh, so events, will occur which to the understanding mind will herald the Lord's return. Yet even these events do not tell us when our Savior shall appear; but, since they remind us that he is at hand, they answer the purpose, for they put us upon our guard, and admonish us to be prepared.
IV. THE PREPARATION FOR CHRIST'S COMING.
1. Heedfulness and observation.
There can be no doubt as to the impression made by these and similar instructions and admonitions, uttered by the Lord Jesus towards the close of his ministry. It was understood by all his disciples that the Master, in leaving the world, retained his hold upon the world's heart and conscience. It was currently believed in the early Church, as it has been believed ever since by all Christians, that the Lord will come again, and will take account of his servants, and especially will inquire into the way in which they have acted as his representatives and ministers among men. Hence the stress which has always been laid upon the duty to watch. The apostles not only obeyed, they repeated the commandment of their Lord. Peter admonished his readers. "Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer;" John said, "Blessed is he that watcheth;" and Paul exhorted thus, "Watch ye, stand fast in your faith, be strong!" The very names which the early Christians gave to themselves and their children may be taken as an indication of the prevailing tone of feeling. Gregory among the Greeks, and Vigilantius among the Latins, both signify simply "The Watcher."
I. WATCH! FOR THIS IS THE CHARGE OF CHRIST IN THE PAST.
1. We are to consider from whom this charge proceeds. It is the word of the All-wise, and of One of unique authority. Coming from Christ, this is not counsel, it is command. The general has the right to station a guard, a sentry, and to expect vigilance and fidelity.
2. The occasion of the charge gives it a peculiar power and sacredness. It was when the Lord Jesus was leaving his house—to use the figurative language of the text—to sojourn in another country. "While I was with them," were his words in prayer, "I kept them in Thy Name .. Now come I to Thee." How can we do otherwise than attach an especial force of obligation to what our Master said when he was about to leave this world, for the salvation of whose inhabitants he had lived, and was about to die?
3. Look into the charge itself. He gives to each one his work. All his people are his servants; all have a task to accomplish, a service to render, an office to fill. And every one has his own work, for which he is individually qualified, and which is committed to him and to no other. It is a practical, an elevating view of the Christian life, this which is here unfolded to us. All whom Jesus saves and redeems, he commissions and consecrates. And so long as we live here we have a trust to fulfill, a work to do. He invests each one with authority. There must be in every community a source of power, a ruling mind; the father in a family, the magistrate or the king in a state. In the Church of the Lord Jesus, he himself is the Head, the Lawgiver, the Fountain of honor, the Judge. Yet he gives authority; not making an order of men lords over his heritage, but authorizing every servant to fulfill his own special duties. The bishop rules, the teacher teaches, the evangelist preaches the gospel, nay, every member of every congregation fulfils his duties, at the bidding and by the authority of the Lord. This conviction should give dignity and devotedness to our daily toil. We are where the Lord has placed us; we are doing what he commands. And he requires each one to watch. Working and watching go together; for Christians are like the Jews in the time of Nehemiah, who built the walls of Jerusalem, whilst they were armed and on their guard against the foe. Our Master has left us in the midst of dangers, not to depress our courage, but to quicken our vigilance. This duty devolves especially upon the porter, the janitor. The house contains precious treasures, and it must not be allowed to every stranger to enter, lest the Master's property should be stolen, and the careless keepers dispossessed, and the house occupied by foes. All must watch, that at the Lord's return it may appear that his charge has been kept, and his possessions have been faithfully guarded.
II. WATCH! FOR THERE IS A PROSPECT OF CHRIST'S REVELATION IN THE FUTURE. Whilst we look back to the Lord's departure, and his solemn injunctions and his sacred trust, we look forward to his return, according to his promise.
1. This is an assured fact. Our Lord's second coming has been declared by him under many figures, each having its own shade of spiritual meaning and practical profit. He is a Householder, who will come to take account of his servants; a Proprietor, who will come to learn how his agents have traded and what they have gained; a King, who will come to make inquiry into the conduct of his citizens and great officers of state; a Judge, who will come to summon the people before his tribunal.
2. At the same time, the period of the Lord's return is hidden from us, and we are informed that to the unprepared it will be sudden and unexpected. Men have been presumptuous enough to foretell, with foolish confidence, what neither the angels nor the very Son of God would communicate. And again and again, in the course of history, there have been out-breaks of millennial fanaticism. But it is easy to see why the close of the should be reserved as a secret in the Father's mind. Had the Church been told that the advent was near, Christians would have been unfitted for the sober discharge of the duties of life; had the Church been assured that it was remote, such an assurance would have prompted sloth and negligence.
3. Yet we may all live under a sense of the nearness of the Lord's return. The personal interest to us of that return lies in the glory of Christ's kingdom, and in the acknowledgment of our own faithfulness. This life we know is short, and the day of our account is not far off. And Christ would have us live as though he had but gone from us for a season, and were about again to come to us.
"And well I know
That unto him who works, and feels he works,
This same grand year is ever at the doors."
III. WATCH! FOR THIS IS THE PLAIN DUTY OF THE PRESENT. We have spoken of the past and of the future; of the charge given by our Lord whilst yet on earth, and of the prospect of our Lord's return from heaven. But both these aspects of our religion bear upon the life and duty of to-day.
"Trust no future, howe'er pleasant;
Let the dead past bury its dead:
Think, act, in the living present—
Heart within, and God o'erhead!"
1. Work! "Whatsoever thy band findeth to do, do it with thy might." Now, whilst strength of body and mind are continued, labor for the Lord who lived and died for you. Now, whilst you have control of your property, rise it as stewards for God. Now, whilst you have influence over your domestic and social circle, use that influence for Christ. Ministers of the gospel, parents and teachers of youth, officers of congregations, followers of Jesus in every, position of life,—be it yours to work for the Lord you love and honor! To-day is yours; to-morrow may be too late.
2. Pray This you will do, if you realize your dependence for spiritual impulse and power upon the great Source of spiritual grace and blessing. So far from there being any sistency between work and prayer, the two blend in perfect harmony. Prayer without work is mockery, and work without prayer is mechanical and powerless.
3. Watch! That is, keep guard over yourself and your trust; cherish an attitude of expectation and a feeling of responsibility. Oh for grace to live "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye"! "Ye know not when the time is." Watch! "lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping!"
"Watch, for the night is long;
Watch, for the foe is strong;
Watch, for the treasure's dear;
Watch, for the Lord is near!"
"Happy is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing!"
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Mark 13:1, Mark 13:2
In the case of the Jews a natural and venial fault, if not carried to excess. Esteemed the type and pattern of architectural excellence, and one of the wonders of the world. Herod's rebuilding was on a scale of magnificence unknown to their ancestors. The essential features of the temple of Solomon were restored, but these were "surrounded by an inner enclosure of great strength and magnificence, measuring, as nearly as can be made out, one hundred and eighty cubits by two hundred and forty, and adorned by porches and ten gateways of great magnificence; and beyond this, again, was an outer enclosure, measuring externally four hundred cubits each way, which was adorned with porticoes of greater splendor than any we know of attached to any temple of the ancient world; all showing how strongly Roman influence was at work in enveloping with heathen magnificence the simple templar arrangements of a Shemitic people" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible'). Josephus, in his 'Antiquities,' 15.11, 3, speaks of stones "each in length twenty-five cubits, in height eight, in breadth about twelve;" and in the 'Wars,' 5.5, 6, of "some of the stones as forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth." Many of these were of sculptured marble. The reply of Jesus may be read either affirmatively or interrogatively, or with a mixture of both assertion and question. The apodosis is, "There shall not be left here stone upon stone," etc. Thus their lingering gaze is quietly but grandly rebuked, and their thoughts directed with solemn, practical earnestness to the Divine future in which all that pomp of masonry and decoration was to have no place.
I. THE NATURAL MIND IS MOST IMPRESSED BY WHAT IS GREAT AND BEAUTIFUL IN OUTWARD APPEARANCE. The simple Galilean peasants were carried away with enthusiastic admiration of the princely buildings, so unparalleled in their experience. To such an extent was this the case that they were in danger of being ensnared.
1. Sensuous admiration is easily confounded with spiritual attachment. The mind, in order to correct this error, must dwell on the spiritual truths of which external objects are but the symbols, and realize that, whilst the latter shall pass away, the former must endure for ever.
2. The world, in its sensuous totality, is similarly pregnant with temptation to the soul that has not learnt to look through the visible into the invisible and eternal.
II. THAT WHICH FAILS OF ITS DIVINE IDEA, OR OPPOSES THE DIVINE PURPOSE, SHALL BE DESTROYED. The splendid building upon which they were gazing had ceased to minister to the higher spiritual life of the people, and had, through its officers and representatives, rejected the Son of God. It had thereby sealed the warrant of its own extinction: not one stone should stand upon another. So is it with the individual, institution, or nation which fails to realize its chief end.
1. This is penal. There was no process of natural decay, no growing beautiful with age—the sensuous slowly merging into the spiritual; no succession of normal changes ensuring expansion, adaptation, and continuity; but sudden, awful destruction, accompanied by unheard-of misery. God must witness to his righteousness even in judgment. The soul that sins shall die.
2. It is in order to give place to a worthier realization of the Divine will. The "house not made with hands" was nearer when this external sanctuary, which had been defiled, was removed. "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24). Not until the temple had been destroyed would the temple's Lord make advent to the world. Judgment must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). "But on all these points the first and great question is not what is to be done, but who is to do it. Is the reform of the Church to be consigned entirely to politicians and economists, who only look at the goodly stones and gifts of the temple, some with an anxious, others with a greedy eye, and care nothing about the service of the sanctuary nor the edification of the worshippers? Or will any part of the work be put into the hands of sincere and zealous and enlightened lovers of the Church? In the latter case we may securely hope for the best. In the other, it is to be feared that, if beneficial changes ever take place, they will have been purchased by great losses and a disastrous experience".—M.
(and the rest of the chapter generally)
The signs of the coming of the Son of man.
I. THERE IS A CURIOSITY CONCERNING THE FUTURE WHICH Is NATURAL AND LEGITIMATE. The disciples were not rebuked when they came with their inquiry. It was not so when Peter asked, "Lord, and what shall this man do?" (John 21:21). Some inquiries concerning the future are therefore lawful, others not. How are we to distinguish between them? We may ask concerning things the knowledge of which is necessary to the rational direction of spiritual aims and efforts. God has chosen to make known the general scheme of redemption in its evolution in the world's history. The prophecies of Scripture ought, therefore, to be studied in the light of contemporary events. The teaching of Christ on this occasion was manifestly the germ of the Apocalypse.
II. THIS CURIOSITY IS GRATIFIED BY OUR SAVIOUR FOR MORAL AND SPIRITUAL ENDS. The great discipline of the disciples was to take place after their Master's death, and before the general inauguration of his kingdom. The three general directions of Christ are:
(1) Take heed unto yourselves;
"It does not behove us to know time and hour, but to observe the signs antecedent to the judgment of God' (Starke). The Holy Spirit is promised, amid all trials and difficulties, to them who truly believe. The gospel itself was to receive universal proclamation, notwithstanding the perils and evils that were to take place. So that the disciples were assured, whatever might occur in the external life of the world, of ultimate glorious realization of all the spiritual ends of God's kingdom.
III. MANY TEMPORARY EVILS WERE TO FORESHADOW, AND TO PREPARE FOR, A PERMANENT DIVINE GOOD.
1. The catalogue of woe is long, detailed, and specific: spiritual delusions; wars, earthquakes, and famines; persecutions; pollution and destruction of the temple; political and cosmical revolutions.
2. These are all to pass, in their process tempered and modified by Divine mercy and guidance.
3. And they were to result in the advent of the Divine kingdom. The gospel was to be proclaimed and the universal communion of saints to be realized. The political and natural troubles were to be justified by their being made instrumental of moral and spiritual benefits. So in the general experience of Christians "all things work together for good.'—M.
Mark 13:30, Mark 13:31
The fulfilments of the kingdom of God an evidence of the truth of Christianity.
I. THE WHOLE SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND NATURAL CONSTITUTION OF THINGS WAS INFLUENCED BY, AND MADE SUBSERVIENT TO, ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. Compare the history of the world from the death of Christ to a.d. 70. A period of destruction, calamity, and revolution. Judaism deposed from its spiritual leadership, robbed of its prestige, discredited, stunted, and stultified by the very circumstance which awakened and intensified the spirit of Christianity, and (in the Roman empire) led to its world-wide diffusion. The suffering, uncertainty, and newly discovered solidarity of the race tended to prepare mankind for a more spiritual and universal religion. Through the Spirit of Christ the Jewish Christians conquered their conquerors and overcame the world. Witness the testimony of Tertullian as to the number of Christians in the Roman empire in his time.
II. THIS WAS FORETOLD BY JESUS CHRIST. It was a marvellous insight and foresight which could look through such a series of evils and destructions to the ultimate success of his kingdom. And it had not a little to do with the bringing about of the effect anticipated. The period can only be adequately explained from the standpoint of universal history or the philosophy of history, as one of spiritual evolution conditioned and determined by the peculiar doctrines Of Christianity.
III. THE VERIFICATION WAS COMPRISED WITHIN THE LIMITS OF INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE. "This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished." If the destruction of Jerusalem be the terminal point of the various series of events foretold in this chapter, then "this generation "must be literally understood as referring to the persons alive at the time Christ spoke. And, allowing for poetic hyperbole (as in the figurative expressions, "heaven and earth," "sun," "moon," and "stars, "earth- quakes," etc.) and the general style of prophetic imagery, the careful student must believe that in the destruction of Jerusalem the great, imminent coming of the Son of man was actually effected, as history proves that circumstances that might fittingly be described by the words of Christ took place and in the order he announced.—M.
The words of Christ and the world-revolution with which they were associated.
I. A PREDICTION OF IT. The date of these utterances and their authorship beyond all reasonable question. A daring forecast, identifying the fortunes of Christianity with vast cosmical movements. Insight such as this more than human; dependent upon perception of unseen principles and absolute faith in God. The immediate effect of the changes predicted is acknowledged to be adverse to the outward circumstances of his followers; yet inwardly and ultimately the result is regarded as beyond question, and declared with unfaltering authority. This predictive element in the gospel not accidental, but essential; its entire credibility as a word of God to man being made to depend upon its fulfillment as a prophecy.
II. A SUSTAINING PRINCIPLE THROUGH IT. The faith of Christians is fostered:
1. By the fact that all things were foretold: "I have told you all things beforehand."
2. By their intelligent. perception of the. signs, the method, and the outline of God's working.
3. By their experience of special Divine grace—
(1) in guidance and indwelling of the Holy Ghost;
(2) in experience or' special Divine favors, e.g. the shortening of the days of tribulation; and
(3) in the inward spiritual comfort and edification of the precepts and promises of the gospel.
III. A CAUSE OF IT. As representing the eternal moral principles which underlie and determine the historic evolution of the race. An exciting cause of the hatred to Divine things which was the motive of so much that was done. A directive influence in shaping the destinies of the new institutions and movements which were evolved from the chaos of the old world.
IV. A SURVIVAL FROM IT. Not one has passed away. The great doctrines of Christendom have slowly but surely formulated themselves in sympathetic relation to the experience and progress with which they have been associated. As a system of truth, they can be more comprehensively grasped now than at any previous time. The fulfillment of its predictions did not exhaust the moral fullness and depth of Christian truth, or its applicability to the extant problems of future ages. The gospel is thus seen to be, not only for a time, but for all time, the central principle of progress and destiny for the human race.—M.
The element of uncertainty in the Christian revelation.
I. TO WHAT IT RELATES. "That day or that hour." Proximately and very evidently these words refer to the precise date of the inauguration of Christ's kingdom, through the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70), about forty years subsequent to their utterance. Through that period it was possible for any of those addressed to continue alive, and consequently they were all admonished with respect to it. But, secondarily, the absolute, final coming of the Son of man is referred to adumbratively, and so also all intermediate advents connective of these two terms of the progress of his coming. That the attention of the hearers was specially or particularly addressed to this secondary coming does not appear. There were other words which more clearly indicated it.
II. WHOM IT AFFECTED. That it should affect believers could be understood, although at first to them it must have been an occasion of perplexity; that angels should not know might be explicable on the ground that it was an earthly evolution of events, and that although in a state of blessedness and spiritual illumination their nature is finite; but that the "Son" should be ignorant is a great mystery. Yet there are considerations which throw some light even upon this. "The Father's absolute omniscience, and his consequent absolute prescience, is assumed by the Savior, even although the object of the prescience is chronologically conditional on millions of intervening free acts on the part of millions of free agents. When absolute prescience, however, is denied by the Son on the part of himself, he is, of course, referring to himself as Son, begotten on a certain day (Psalms 2:7; Acts 13:33) in the Virgin's womb (Luke 1:35). He is, in other words, referring to himself, as he was self-realized in his finite nature, to be for ever distinguished from that infinite essence in which he made the worlds (John 1:3), sustains them (Colossians 1:17), sees the end from the beginning (John 6:64), and 'knows all things' (John 21:17) It is only when we proceed on a 'monophysist' hypothesis, and assume that our Savior's divinity was his only mind, and the soul of his humanity, that overwhelming difficulty is encountered" (Morison). Apart from this, although intimately connected with it, there were moral reasons for Christ's remaining ignorant. As "Christ's not knowing rests upon his knowing rightly (in a natural manner), or upon the holy extension of his range of vision (Lange), it follows that this ignorance, referring to a subject of such transcendent consequence in relation to his own work amongst men, must have formed an important element and condition of his moral and spiritual subjection to the Father. He rose through weakness, limitation of knowledge of Divine counsels (although not of Divine principles), and finitude of nature, to the full comprehension of the mind of God, and realization of the perfection of the Divine-human personality, beyond the cross. To the spiritual and perfect Christ, therefore, belongs all power; for he was made perfect through suffering and subjection. His obedience was perfect, and his gradual moral development in act and consciousness because of this limitation of knowledge.
III. HOW IT IS TO BE REGARDED BY BELIEVERS. The parabolic form of Christ's teaching here is very beautiful and striking. Mark 13:34, Mark 13:35 should be translated thus: "As a man away from home, having (or, who has) left his house, and given the authority to his servants, and to each his work, also commanded the porter to watch—'Watch, therefore' (i.e. so say I, 'Watch,' etc.), ' for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh,'" etc.
(1) With watchfulnsss; that is, sleepless vigilance, which comprehends and leads to
(2) prayer and
(3) diligence. And these duties are of universal obligation (Mark 13:37).—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
"To every man his work."
The circumstances under which these words were uttered imparted to them peculiar solemnity. Our Lord had left the temple for the last time, and in the waning light was walking home to Bethany, when he sat himself down to gaze with lingering love on Jerusalem. The evening sun was still glorifying her palaces; but the light was fading, darkness was coming; and he talked with his disciples of darker shadows about to fall, which would leave her bereft of the light of God. But he looked beyond that—to the time when he would return from the "far country," and, gathering his servants around him, would give each one recompense according as his work should be. During his absence he has given "to every man his work." This clause suggests several thoughts concerning Christian service.
I. THE UNIVERSALITY OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE. It is appointed for "every man" who is in the Lord's household. God works in us in order that we may will and do of his good pleasure. He gives us love to others, and understanding of his Word, an experience of his faithfulness, mental and spiritual faculties, in order to fit us for serving him. Science teaches us that natural agents are so closely related that they are mutually convertible. Motion passes into heat, heat into electricity, electricity into magnetism, magnetism into animal force, and so on in an endless circle. In the sphere of nature God arouses no force which does not arouse another; and though the primal energy passes on into many manifestations, it does not return to him void. So is it in the spiritual realm. He excites in your heart love to Christ, and that arouses thought about him, speech concerning him, activity for him; and these go forth like advancing waves of influence into the lives of others, and none can foresee the end. The Church is not meant to be like the phantom ship of which the poet sings, manned by a dead crew; but is likened to a living "household," in which all the servants are eager, watchful, and diligent; for their Lord has given "to every man his work." (Show the variety of capacities distributed amongst the old and young, the rich and poor, and the diverse forms of Christian service to which these point.)
II. QUALIFICATIONS FOR CHRISTIAN SERVICE.
1. Earnestness. Too often this is fitful. It passes from us uselessly when in contact with the worldly, just as electricity passes off when insulation has been neglected. We want insulation of spiritual force. A modern Christian, surrounded by symbols of idolatry, would not always have "his spirit stirred" within him as Paul did at Athens. The present age is enlightened rather than enthusiastic; self-complacent rather than self-sacrificing.
2. Love to Christ and love to souls is the true inspiration of successful Christian service. It is gained at the foot of the cross.
"A life of self-renouncing love
Is a life of liberty."
3. Constancy. Such as Paul had, who, amid temptations to indolence, and amid persecutions which might have made him falter, pressed forward steadfastly. "This thing I do" was the motto of his life. Is it ours?
4. Watchfulness. A special exhortation to this lies in the passage before us. Let us watch
(1) for opportunities of service,
(2) for results of work, and
(3) for the coming of the Lord.
III. THE RECOMPENSE OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE.
1. There is blessing to be found in doing it. On the inactive mind and irresolute will doubts will gather, as limpets do on a motionless rock. Powers fairly exercised, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual, develop by use.
2. There is blessing awaiting us when we have done it. It was not without reason that our Lord spoke (Mark 13:28) of the signs of his coming as being like the indications that "summer is nigh." His advent will be to his people not a winter, but a summer, from which gloom and death will be banished, and in which there will be fruit-gathering after toil, and manifestation of beauty and glory arising from the discipline of the past. That summer the faithful! The world is ripening for it. Our work is preparing for it. Then shall the faithful reap fruit unto life eternal.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
This chapter relates almost exclusively to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Yet in its testimony to the Divine power of foretelling future events, it has its evidential value to all students of the person of our Lord; while its central and simple lesson, "Watch! the day of your Lord's coming ye know not," may be profitably reiterated with frequency in the ears of all. One of the disciples, on passing out of the temple, drew the attention of the Master to the massiveness and grandeur of its building. How great! how stable! how wondrous! In this, as in so many instances, he saw what they saw not; and his thoughts were not as theirs. It must have been to their great surprise that he declared, "There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Sad and doleful words follow, as strikingly in contrast to the expectations of his questioners as were the former. The eager desire to know "when shall these things be," was met by threats of deception, war, earthquakes, and famines, the mere presages of trouble, to be followed by personal afflictions, persecutions, hatreds, and deaths, mingled with the uttermost national and religious confusion. The dire symbols were, "the sun shall be darkened," "the moon shall not give her light," "the stars shall be falling from heaven." We who read these words with the picture of Jerusalem's destruction before us, and in the light of modern Jewish history, see a depth of meaning in them which, the words being words of prophecy, the disciples failed to see. Pitifully do our hearts move towards Israel according to the flesh, and pray for the lifting up of the veil that is upon their eyes, that they in a true sense may "see and believe." The lesson is founded upon this prediction of judgment. In interpreting it in its application to ourselves we must see that it teaches—
I. THE EXTREME PERILOUSNESS OF HINDERING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BY UNFAITHFULNESS. The Jew was favored as was no other nation under heaven. Fidelity to the great trust reposed in that people would have been attended with unmeasured Divine blessing; while unfaithfulness resulted in the direst calamity and judgment. Who shall describe the bitterness to Israel of those dread days? A free and wider diffusion of the spiritual kingdom followed. But Israel, in giving birth to a gospel of blessing to the nations, suffered throes of travail "such as there hath not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and," happily, "never shall be."
II. IN OUR IGNORANCE OF THE TIMES OF GREAT AND SUDDEN CHANGES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, OUR HIGHEST WISDOM IS A DILIGENT ATTENTION TO THE DUTY OF THE HOUR. The hour is always uncertain when the Lord cometh to judgment. The indolent spirit that is deluded into neglect because there is no sign of his coming, will be inevitably found "sleeping." How often has the Church been lulled thus to slumber! How often have the most responsible trusts been unfaithfully held! Times of judgment awake the sleepers often to find their work neglected or undone. The watching spirit that momentarily devotes itself to the doing of the Lord's will is the only safe spirit. Such a spirit is never surprised, never taken unawares. It matters not when "the lord of the house cometh," whether "at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning." The watching servant hails and rejoices in his lord's approach.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE FINAL RECOGNITION OF HUMBLE, FAITHFUL, CONTINUOUS SERVICE.
1. The gracious words of warning stimulate to effort.
2. The help of the Divine Spirit is comfortingly promised to the suffering. "It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost."
3. The perseveringly patient one shall reap in due time. "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved."
4. The scattered ones whom cruel persecution has driven into all lands shall finally be restored, and the felicities of the heavenly life compensate for the sufferings of earth. "He shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven." The Lord's one command, holding all within itself, is "Watch? "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing."—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. "MATERIAL TEMPLES, POLLUTED BY MEN'S SINS, MUST PERISH."
II. "THE TEMPLE OF HUMAN MINDS, PURIFIED BY THE DIVINE SPIRIT, WILL ABIDE FOR EVER" (Godwin).
III. THE EDUCATION OF ILLUSIONS. (See F. W. Robertson's sermon on 'The Illusiveness of Life!') God in history is God in disguise. To detect his presence is not always easy. Surface and show are constantly taken for truth and reality.
IV. VAGUE TROUBLES PRECEDE GREAT CHANGES. We live in restless times. "Something is in the air." We know not what is meant; but something is meant. The beginning of a process must not be mistaken for the end.
V. A MORAL PRINCIPLE AND PURPOSE LIES IN ALL CHANGE. This is the secret leaven which occasions all the ferment. Deep was the truth expressed by the philosopher when he said, "War is the father of all things." Or in the myth, conflict and love are close companions. In convulsed times, be sure Divine love is profoundly working. Persecution represents the expiring struggles of error and its fellow, passion.
VI. THE CONSTANT HEART NEED FEAR NO EVIL. Nothing can bring us peace but loyalty to principle. Nothing can exempt us from unmanning fears but the sense that truth is on our side. The only secret of eloquence lies here. There is no salvation for the coward, the untrue, and the disloyal. For the true heart there is salvation from every possible danger.—J.
I. SACRED LITERATURE, LIKE NATURE, IS FULL OF HINTED TRUTH. "Truths in nature darkly join." So in Scripture. The mystic element in Daniel and Scripture generally was fully recognized by Christ.
II. PRUDENCE IN MEN IS THE REFLECTION OF PROVIDENCE IN GOD. It is the light within us. In unsettled times we must be more than usually on our guard. Keen love of truth will make the mind critical and sceptical of the talk that goes on. Let us not have to say, surprised by calamity, "We might have known this before."
III. THERE IS A METHOD AND A SELECTION IN THE WAYS OF PROVIDENCE. When the observer of physical nature finds a principle of "natural selection," he finds only the visible counterpart of a law in the kingdom of God. God, through all changes, "gathers his chosen" from the end of the land to the end of the sky.
IV. CHANGES IN THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM ARE NATURAL, AND THOSE THAT ARE NATURAL HAVE A SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE. Changes in plants visibly show forth changes in institutions. Below both is truth, is life. And as Christ is one with life and truth, his words abide. There is a moral conservation of force through all evolutions.—J.
I. AN ELEMENT OF UNCERTAINTY MINGLES WITH ALL THAT IS MOST CERTAIN. We know that certain things must happen, certain forces exert themselves, certain laws be executed in the course of things. But where, when, how? "The rest is silence." And this is spiritually profitable. Imagination and faith live and thrive in the clear-obscure of thought.
II. THERE WERE THINGS UNKNOWABLE EVEN TO JESUS. It is but a small portion of truth that can be rendered into definite conceptions and expressed in words. "Truth in closest words must fail." But Jesus "received from the Father all desirable knowledge" (Godwin).
III. THE MOOD AND HABIT OF MIND IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN DEFINITE KNOWLEDGE. Living is better than any theory of life. Being ready for any emergency is better than being certain about when this or that emergency will arise. "We should be ready every day for what may come any day."
IV. A BRIGHT AND QUICK INTELLIGENCE. IS ABOVE ALL NECESSARY FOR THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. We must not dare to "fall behind the times." We must be punctual. It was said of one that he was always "a day too late." Sleepy men and institutions will certainly be shocked out of their lethargy. Christ's warning has been unheeded. Ecclesiastical Christianity has always been a day too late; has risen later than science, than business energy, than private zeal. We lean on one another too much. It is as if each sentinel should go to sleep, trusting to the vigilance of his comrade. Every Christian worker and watcher should act as if the fate of the host depended on him alone.—J.
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 24:1-14; Luke 21:5-19.—
1. Distribution of prophetic intimations. Great diversity of opinion prevails in regard to the predictions contained in this chapter. About one part of it, however, there is unanimity; the early portion contains, as all admit, a prophecy about the destruction of the temple which was literally and actually fulfilled within forty years after it had been uttered. The remainder of the chapter is understood by the majority of interpreters to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world or present dispensation. In relation to this second part there are many divergent theories, but these in the main are reducible to two:
(1) that which regards these two subjects as separately and successively exhibited; and
(2) that which maintains their coexistence throughout, and according to which they. are so blended and intermingled that separation is all but impossible.
2. Practical observations. There is
(1) the duty of diligently studying prophecy, as a very important and deeply interesting portion of the Divine Word; thus St. Peter says, "We have the Word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place" (Revised Version). But while the study of prophecy is a pleasing duty, we may not forget that it is attended with special difficulties arising from the very nature of the subject. It is evident that the design of prophecy would be frustrated if it were fully understood beforehand; in such a case men would be found desirous, some of antedating, others of defeating, the predicted events.
(2) In the study of prophecy we must not strive to be wise above what is written, nor lean too much to our own understanding. We are to have in recollection that "the secret things belong unto the Lord: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children for ever." In our attempts at the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy, in addition to diligent comparison of Scripture under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, we are to pursue the study as far as possible along the lines of prophecies already fulfilled.
(3) Two uses of fulfilled prophecy are obvious. One is the corroboration of the truth of God's Word, and so a strong confirmation of our faith in that Word; the second is a guarantee for the future from the past. The predictions which have been already and actually fulfilled warrant the expectation that such as still wait for fulfillment shall one day be most certainly accomplished; and then shall the light shed by Divine providence shine so brightly on those portions of the Divine Word now mysterious, that they shall appear plain and clear as noonday.
3. Character of the disciples' observation. The object which the disciples had in view, when they called the attention of their Master to the great stones of the temple, is not quite clear. We may consider their remark a casual one, called forth by the sight of such huge structures—such immense stones, measuring, according to Josephus, some of them twenty-five cubits in length, eight in height, and twelve in breadth; others forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth. Or perhaps the numerals in case of the cubits, in both the passages of Josephus, should be the same, namely, twenty-five. The sight of stones of such vast dimensions, of enormous marble blocks, of the gorgeousness and grandeur of the buildings, would justify their remark; still the sight of all these would not vindicate it from being somewhat superficial and commonplace, natural enough to Galilean peasants, and such as might be made by very unsophisticated persons. We may perhaps be warranted, therefore, in reading a deeper meaning into their observation. Might it not be that the thought occurred to them that an edifice of such splendor and magnificence would be no way unsuitable to, nor unworthy of, Messiah's reign and of the temporal kingdom which they still clung to?
4. The point of time at which the observation was made. Jesus was leaving the temple, and leaving it for the last time. What solemn thoughts must have occupied his mind as he bade farewell to that beautiful sanctuary! How different they must have been from those of his disciples, in whatever way their words are to be understood! He is now turning his back for ever on the national temple, long the center of Jewish worship, with its august shrine, where the Shechinah glory had appeared above the cherubim, where the Divine presence in visible symbol had been manifested, where the most solemn acts of religious service had been performed, and where the one living and true God had been worshipped, while polytheism had prevailed in the nations all around. Now, however, the spirit of the theocracy was gone, Judaism had fallen into decrepitude, the national temple still stood in all its splendor; but the great Inhabitant was about to take his departure. The Messenger of the covenant had come suddenly to his temple; but with his rejection and death already determined on, life and light and liberty were on the eve of departing for ever, and the kingdom about to pass into other and more worthy hands. The disciples, who, like other Jews, still indulged the daydream of a worldly kingdom and political independence in connection with Messiah, must have been more than surprised by our Lord's reply. Their pleasant fancies are dispelled; to their fondsst aspirations a rude shock is given. They are startled, stunned, and silenced. Stone not left upon stone that shall not be loosened from its place and thrown to the ground! anal all this affirmed with the utmost positiveness of assertion! What can it mean? They roll the matter over in their thoughts; they reflect, but cannot persuade themselves that the words are to be understood in their strict, unfigurative sense. The statement is past their comprehension.
5. Their inquiry. And now they have left the temple courts, descended the side of Moriah, crossed the Kedron, and are seated on a slope of Olivet. What a lovely prospect is there presented to their gaze! Right opposite and full in view was the temple, with its white marble, its roof and pinnacles overlaid with gold, the prodigious stone substructures already the objects of such admiration, all sparkling in the clear light of an Eastern sky. Here was a sight of such surpassing splendor that it was esteemed equal to one of the wonders of the world; a spectacle of such beauty that once seen it remained ever after a part of sight. Here was a prospect corresponding to the eloquent and withal exact words of Milman, when he says, "At a distance the whole temple looked literally like a mount of snow, fretted with golden pinnacles." And was the glory of all this, like ordinary mundane things, to pass so soon away! The disciples naturally desire more information on this stupendous subject; they have by this time recovered somewhat from their surprise. They break silence by trying to ascertain with certainty and preciseness some particulars in regard to the wonderful event predicted, and its consequences, immediate and remote, implied in the expression, "these things"—an expression erroneously referred by some to the world itself, and by others to the buildings of the temple. They are at once curious and anxious to be informed of the time when what was foretold would be fulfilled; of the sign of the Savior's coming for the performance of what he had thus predicted; and further, as we are informed by St. Matthew, of the end of the world.
6. Minuteness in details. As usual, St. Mark is most minute in his record of particulars, such as an eye-witness, or one writing the words of an eye-witness, would be most likely to take note of. He tells us here the exact position of our Lord and his disciples—on a knoll of Olivet, right over against (κατέναντι, the κατὰ being intensive) the temple. He also informs us that the disciples who were closest to our Savior on the occasion, or who were most earnest and urgent in their inquiries which they probably repeated (ἐπηρώτων, imperfect), were Peter and James and John and Andrew. These were the persons who spoke in their own name and that of their brethren—acting at once for themselves and the other disciples. There was in this an evident appropriateness. These four disciples, consisting of two pairs of brothers, were the first who had enrolled themselves in the list of discipleship; they were the first of the apostolic band. They had been longest with our Lord, and, it would seem, on the most familiar terms with him; and now they are nearest to him in position, and, on the ground of their close intimacy, venture to put questions from which perhaps the others shrank. Three of these, moreover, had been specially privileged—already on two, as subsequently on another and third occasion—to accompany our Lord. Long attendance on the Master, as the consequence of early and faithful discipleship, would thus appear to have peculiar advantages, and to elevate, not by merit but by grace, to higher privileges. How important, then, for the young to join themselves early to the ranks of Christ's disciples, remembering their Creator in the days of their youth, and coming in early childhood to the Savior!
7. Peculiarity in and fulfillment of the prophecy. We may not overlook, or lose sight of, the prediction that led to the inquiries of the disciples, and of these special favourites who represented the wishes of their brethren, as well as their own, on this occasion. The prediction in question is one of the most remarkable on record, if we consider all the circumstances. There was scarcely anything more unlikely at that time than the overthrow of such a stable fabric, where the buildings and substructures were so massive that Titus himself attributed his triumph to the hand of God. The original temple had been built by Solomon, and having stood for four centuries, was destroyed, after the lapse of that period, by Nebuzaradan, commander-in-chief of the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. It was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, at the head of the restored Jews, somewhat more than five centuries before Christ. This was the second temple; and though it was renewed by Herod the Great, and had several magnificent additions made to it by that king, such as a porch with white marble slabs, towers, and so on, it was still known, not as the third, but second temple. The work of renovation commenced by Herod had continued six and forty years, as we learn from the Fourth Gospel (John 2:20), where we read," Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building." It was still much more improbable even if, contrary to all expectation and all reasonable calculation of chances, it should be destroyed, that that destruction would be carried to such an extreme of demolition that no ruins should be left—no, not so much as one stone upon another. Other temples have been destroyed by hostile attack, or fallen into decay and yielded to the corroding tooth of time; but their ruins at least remain, while the magnificence of those ruins attracts the visitor, and excites his admiration or astonishment. Witness the far-famed Parthenon or temple of Minerva at Athens, or the temple of Baalbek, or Karnak, or Luxor. But though the Roman general did his utmost to save the temple, it was destroyed by fire; and subsequently the work of demolition was carried out so thoroughly by the tenth legion, under Terentius Rufus, that the temple area and precincts were dug up The peculiarity of the prophecy was its uncommon clearness, distinctness, and definiteness at a time when all the probabilities were against it; while the exactness of its fulfillment has so puzzled infidels, that they have tried to make themselves and others believe that the prediction was post eventum; and, finding that impossible and incredible, others have resorted to such miserable shifts as coincidences, lucky guesses, or skillful prognostications. All in vain; for it remains, and must remain, an irrefragable testimony to the truth of God. There was, besides, the fulfillment of an older prophecy by Micah: "Zion shall be ploughed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps."
8. The perspective of prophecy. There is a very general agreement that in the predictions contained in this chapter of St. Mark and corresponding chapters of the other synoptists, the two events of Christ's coming at the fall of Jerusalem, and of his coming at the end of the world or present dispensation, are combined. While some explain this according to the theory of two applications, one primary and another secondary; and others by the typical theory, one event being typical of another, so that the one description covers both; others again prefer that theory of prophecy according to which it exhibits events without regard to the periods of time or portions of space that intervene between them and separate them from each other; just as in the landscape hill rises above hill, while to the spectator at a distance the valleys that lie between, or the interspaces that separate them, are not seen nor observed, and it is only when the summit of each hill is reached that the interval between it and the next is discernible. So we may conceive it to be with respect to the close of the αἰὼν which was marked by the fall of Jerusalem, and the completion, or τέλος, of the present dispensation or current age.
II. THE SIGNS SPECIFIED.
1. Enumeration. There is some slight difference in the enumeration of the signs; they are also divided by some into negative and positive. We prefer dividing them into the immediate and more remote, and enumerate them as follows:—
(1) False prophets or pretended Messiahs;
(2) wars and rumors of wars, that is, wars actually declared or commenced, and wars threatened or reported as imminent. St. Luke employs, instead of" turnouts," the somewhat different expression of "commotions," or "unsettlements" (ἀποκαταστασίας); these are the more remote premonitions, for it is added by St. Matthew and St. Mark, "The end is not yet," while St. Luke has, "The end is not immediately."
(3) Wars on a larger scale, implied in nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom. After these political agitations come physical, as
(4) earthquakes; then other providential events, as
(5) famines, and troubles, the latter word being omitted in some manuscripts and in the Revised Version; also
(6) pestilences. That all these signs preceded the fall of Jerusalem at a greater or less distance from that event, and that, on a still wider area and a still grander scale, they shall precede the winding up of the present dispensation, appears to be the teaching of this portion of Scripture. The intermingling of the predictions relating to the two great events may in some measure be accounted for by the circumstance that the Jews would regard the overthrow of the Jewish state as the signal of, and coincident with, the end of all present things. Other signs of a less general and more personal kind are subjoined, so that we have
(7) persecutions befalling the disciples both in and outside of Judaea; and
(8) sad apostasies and the evils Consequent on such defections, as we learn from the first evangelist; also
(9) the proclamation of the gospel proceeding from Jerusalem and Judea, and its diffusion among all nations, as a witness everywhere to Christ and his salvation.
2. Verification. Scripture itself bears witness to the fulfilment of the first sign; for St. John says, "Even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time;" while Josephus acquaints us with the fact that "the land was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitudes and deserts, to see the signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God." Several names, moreover, are expressly mentioned, of such persons as Dositheus, Simon Magus, Theudas, Barchochab; but it is objected that some of these were too early, and others too late, in point of time. In like manner it may be objected to the statement of the Apostle John, that, while it is so distinct in relation to the fact, it is indefinite with respect to the element of time. But if some were too early and others too late, it is not likely that the intervening period had the good fortune of being freed from their presence; while, from the statements of St. John on the one hand and Josephus on the other, we may rightly conclude a succession of pretenders, and quite a number of them all along, as true coin is seldom for long without its counterfeits. The second sign had its verification in the violent deaths of no less than four Roman emperors—Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius—within a year and a half, and the scenes of tumult and bloodshed consequent thereon; while the Jews were assailed with three threats of wars by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero respectively. There were other rumors of wars, in consequence of Bardanes, and subsequently Volageses, declaring, but not carrying out, war against the Jews; as also by Vitellius, Governor of Syria, declaring war against the Arabian king, Aretas. These two signs were among the more remote, for, as we have seen, it is added, "The end is not yet;" that is, the end of the Jewish polity at the destruction of Jerusalem was not to follow immediately. This caution was subjoined to prevent that state of excitement and alarm which the Apostle Paul, at a subsequent period, found it necessary to allay among the Thessalonians. The third sign may be illustrated by the general character of the period, which the Roman historian Tacitus describes as "rich in calamities, horrible with battles, rent with seditions, savage even in peace itself;" as also by particular catastrophes, as the conflict between the Syrians and Jews at Caesarea, in which twenty thousand of the latter perished; another at Seleucia, in which fifty thousand Jews lost their lives; with others similar at Joppa, Scythopolis, Ascalon, and Tyro, recorded by Josephus in his ' Wars of the Jews,' a title of itself significant of the state of the times; while Philo makes mention of a serious outbreak between Jews and Greeks in Alexandria, though at a much earlier period. The fourth sign consisted of tremors of the earth, by which towns and cities were often shaken and ruined. These earthquakes were to occur in divers places. Never perhaps, in an equal period of time in the history of our earth, did so many of these fearful convulsions occur, as in the interval between the Crucifixion and fall of Jerusalem. Seneca, in a somewhat rhetorical passage in one of his Epistles, mentions a surprising number of such casualties having occurred in many different quarters, and with the usual disastrous results; in his list of places where earthquakes had taken place are proconsular Asia, Achaia, Syria, Macedonia, Cyprus, and Paphus. Tacitus makes mention of several in different localities—in Crete; in Italy, one at Rome and another in Campania; in Phrygia, at Apamea, and Laodicea. Josephus speaks of one in Judaea; and several others are recorded about the same time. Of the fifth sign, or famines, we have the record in the Acts (Acts 11:28), where Agabus foretold "that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar;" and the testimony of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus to similar effect. The whole time of the reign of Claudius appears to have been one of scarcity; that in the ninth year of his reign appears to have been particularly severe. Three other famines occurred in his reign. During this period, Rome, Syria, and Greece suffered most painfully. From the famines we might naturally infer the existence of the sixth sign, or pestilences, even if we had no historical record of their occurrence, according to the old proverb, that "after famine comes pestilence," so neatly expressed in the Greek μετὰ λιμὸν λοιμός. And yet disasters of this kind are recorded—one in Babylonia, by Josephus; one in Rome, which swept away thirty thousand persons in one autumn, by Tacitus and Suetonius. The New Testament itself furnishes proof enough, and more than enough, of the persecutions which were the seventh sign. In Acts 4:3-7 we read of the Apostles Peter and John being arrested, thrown into prison, and brought before the Sanhedrim; in Acts 5:18 we read that they "laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison," and at the twenty-seventh verse of the same chapter that they "brought them and set them before the council;" in Acts 16:23, Acts 16:24, that they "laid many stripes upon them [Paul and Silas], and cast them into prison," where the jailor "thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks;" in Acts 18:12 of Paul being brought to the judgment, and in Acts 23:1 of his appearing before the council and being smitten on the mouth, by command of the high priest Ananias. One of the duties of the Chazzan, a minister of the synagogue, was to exercise discipline, and of this Paul had his share, when, as he tells us, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one;" and again, "Thrice was I beaten with rods." The εἰς before "synagogues" is pregnant, implying that they were previously brought into the synagogues and then beaten therein. The distinction that makes εἰς refer to the persons present before whose eyes the punishment was inflicted, while ἐν only indicates the place, is more than doubtful. Again, St. Paul affords an exemplification of the succeeding statement that they should "be brought before rulers and kings," having appeared before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa in succession, as recorded in Acts 24-26.; also before Nero, as we may infer from 2 Timothy 4:16, 2 Timothy 4:17, where he speaks of his first answer, and of being delivered out of the mouth of the lion. Of apostasies, the eighth sign, we have both direct and indirect evidence. The latter is found in the many and earnest warnings which the Epistle to the Hebrews contains against such, while evidence of the former kind is supplied by the heathen historian Tacitus. The rapid progress which the preaching of the gospel had made, notwithstanding all the opposition and hindrances, and cruel persecutions, and sad apostasies, is perhaps the most surprising fact of all; while of this we have such incidental notices as the following:—"Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world," writes St. Paul to the Romans; to the Galatians he writes of his own circuit to Arabia, back to Damascus, and then to the head-quarters in Jerusalem; to the Colossians he says of "the Word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you;" and again, in the same chapter (Colossians 1:23), he speaks of the hope of the gospel, and adds, "which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven." Thus was verified the ninth sign.
III. THE MORAL LESSONS INTERSPERSED.
1. Practical directions. With the important predictions of this section, and indeed of the whole chapter, practical directions of greatest consequence are blended. Similarly, in the writings of the apostles, we usually find along with exposition of doctrine the enforcement of duty. The principal practical directions of our Lord in this portion of Scripture are mostly of the nature of moral lessons, and are the following:—Heedfulness, which is several times repeated in the course of the chapter; needfulness of perseverance; prayerfulness; and watchfulness. Other lessons of great practical importance, though expressed rather as categorical statements or predictions than in the form of directions like those enumerated, are contained in it.
2. The first of these great moral lessons. The first of these lessons occurs in the fifth verse, in the words, "Take heed lest any man deceive you." The same, though slightly altered, and in a somewhat different connection, occurs in the ninth verse, in the words, "But take heed to yourselves;" again, in the twenty-third verse, we read, "But take ye heed;" and once more, in the thirty-third verse, it is set as a preface or introduction to other duties: "Take ye heed, watch and pray." In its first occurrence, it warns the disciples against being deceived by others; in the second, it cautions them in reference to their own deportment; in its third occurrence, it calls on them to do their duty, as the Savior had done his by them in full predictions and directions; while, in its last occurrence in the chapter, its repetition seems designed to add emphasis to the injunctions immediately coming after. This first lesson is as elastic in its application as practical in its nature, which is manifest from the varying context with which it is connected. In its first context in this chapter, it puts us on our guard against deception. As originally applied, it warned the disciples against pretenders to Messiahship—competitive claimants to that dignity, or rather personators of Christ himself, alleging they were himself returned again, according to the promise of his second advent. But in principle and spirit it applies to ourselves, and is needed by Christians at all times. In a world like this, where so many things are not what they seem, we are required to be upon our guard. Satan is watching to impose on us with his lies, and deceive us to our destruction; we must beware of him. Sinners are waiting to deceive us by their enticement; we must beware of them, and when they entice us not yield consent. Sin itself contains the very essence of deception. It promises pleasures; but the pleasures of sin last only for a season, and that season is a short one, while during that season, short as it is, they do not satisfy. Often instead of pleasure it brings us pain; and it is always pain in the end. In the second of its occurrences, as above specified, the warning related to the deportment of the disciples themselves, in the extremely trying circumstances in which they would often find themselves placed. Other perils and other unsettling circumstances were of a general nature; their attention is now claimed for those more imminent and more immediately affecting themselves. When arraigned before councils or shamefully maltreated in synagogues, when scourged or scorned, amid indignities and insults and injuries, it behoved them, after their Master's example, to bear themselves bravely; when they suffered, to forbear threatening; when evil entreated, to bear up with patience and meekness as well as fortitude. When brought before rulers and kings, magistrates of the lowest and highest rank, they are reminded of the duty then especially incumbent on them—to be valiant for the truth. They were to take heed to themselves, that no unfaithfulness on their part should mar their message which they had for men, high or low, rich or poor, foes or friends, or induce them to keep back aught of the testimony they had to bear. Nay, more, they were to take heed to themselves lest they should esteem Christ's yoke a weariness, or duty to him a drudgery; but, on the contrary, to consider it a privilege to have an opportunity to testify to his cause and claims, however perilous or painful the position. In like manner, whenever opportunity is fairly afforded us to present Christ's claims, or plead his cause, or testify to the truth of his religion, it is incumbent on us joyfully to avail ourselves of it, faithfully to declare the whole counsel of God, to stand up bravely for the truth, and to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints."
3. The second great moral lesson. The second of these lessons is, as already intimated, the necessity of perseverance. "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." This, in the first instance, was applicable to the apostles, and peculiarly appropriate in their case; but it has a wider scope and more general bearing. It warns against that fickleness which enters on the path of duty with eagerness and seeming earnestness, it may be, but speedily turns aside, as did the Galatians, of whom the apostle had reason to complain, "Ye did run well, but something hindered you." It cautions us against putting our hand to the plough and then turning back, as many do when they realize the arduous nature of the work, or when some discouragement comes in their way, or some formidable obstacle has to be encountered. It urges us to endurance amid the toils, the trials, the troubles, the many perplexities, the sore sufferings, and manifold afflictions which the Christian has to endure during this mortal life and strife. It exhorts us to patience, withal; we are to endure patiently, that is to say, unmurmuringly. Some endure, indeed, but their endurance loses half its virtue through the complaining and frettings that accompany it. Further, it encourages us to-perseverance—a manful holding out to the last, and to a brave persistence in the way and work of God, however arduous our task may be, and however difficult or dangerous the path we have to travel. In a word, we are to "stand fast in the faith, quit us like men, and be strong." The path of duty here, as elsewhere and often, shall prove the way of safety. If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him; if we bear the cross, we shall wear the crown.
"Then steadfast let us still remain,
Though dangers rise around,
And in the work prescribed by God
Yet more and more abound;
Assured that, though we labor now,
We labor not in vain;
But, through the grace of heaven's great Lord,
Th' eternal crown shall gain."
Parallel passages: Matthew 24:15-28; Luke 21:1-38.
The end imminent.
I. IMMEDIATELY PROXIMATE SIGNS. Hitherto we have had the signs, more or less remote, of Christ's coming at the fall of Jerusalem, and so an answer to the second part of the question contained in Luke 21:4. Here, however, we have the immediately proximate sign, or rather an answer to the first part of the question of that same verse, namely, "When shall these things be?" Along with the sign here intimated, we have instructions about the ways and means of escape. But with respect to the immediately proximate sign or time of the destruction of Jerusalem, we read that it is "the abomination of desolation" foretold by Daniel. The expression is regarded as relating to the Roman army, that brought desolation on the holy city; but whether the actual reference be to the besieging host itself, or to their standards, the eagles, as objects of idolatry, or to the outrages of the Zealots in the sacred courts, is not so certain. The parallel expression in Luke 21:20, "When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh," is deemed by some conclusive for the reference being to the Roman armies; most commentators understand the expression of the Roman eagles planted in a holy place, that is, round Jerusalem, first by Cestius Callus a.d. 66, then by Vespasian two years after, and two years later still by Titus; while a third explanation refers the sign to the atrocities of the Zealots at this time. In this way the sign was twofold—internal and external; the latter consisting of the Roman legions now drawn round the city, the former of the abominations of the Zealots, causing the cup of Jewish iniquity to overflow, and thus directly leading to the desolation that immediately ensued. Two circumstances seem to favor this last view of the matter: the holy place is properly referable to the temple, and the sign of the Roman eagles would be rather indefinite, as they had been seen in Palestine for a considerable period previously. Inward desecration caused by sin in some way issued in outward desolation.
II. PRECAUTIONS SUGGESTED. It is not the duty of Christians more than of non-Christians to rush unnecessarily into peril any more than into temptation; we are not to endanger life and limb recklessly and negligently. Our first duty is self-preservation when no principle is compromised and no matter of spiritual moment is at stake; we are required to use all legitimate means for the preservation of our own lives and the lives of others. Confessors, indeed, have taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and martyrs have cheerfully shed their blood, rather than surrender a jot of truth or renounce their allegiance to the Savior; but there are special occasions and particular circumstances when our duty is to escape from, not court, danger. The disciples, when persecuted in one city, were to flee to another. Our Lord himself, passing through the midst of the wicked Nazarenes, went his way, when they had led him to the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, and would have cast him down headlong. And now he gives directions beforehand for his followers not to imperil their lives needlessly and uselessly, when, by signs of which he forewarns them, they should know that the ruin of Jerusalem was imminent and inevitable, and when the wrath of God was about to be poured out on their unbelieving countrymen. The methods of escape were various. Those who found themselves in Judaea were to flee to the mountains. These, with caves and rocky fastnesses, were favourite places of refuge in time of danger in the land of Palestine; thus, Lot was. urgently pressed by the angel to flee to the mountain. "Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed;" David was hunted by Saul as "a partridge in the mountains." Such as were already on the house-top, or could readily reach it by the steps outside, were not to return into the house to carry off with them any article of property, however prized or valuable, but to hasten their flight with all speed along the fiat roofs of the houses till they reached the city walls, and thence make good their escape. Persons engaged in field labor, at which the outer garment (ἱμάτιον) was usually stripped off and laid aside, were not to act so indiscreetly as to run the risk of life itself by returning for the sake of saving an article of raiment probably of no great value.
III. THE THIRD GREAT MORAL LESSON. This, as we have already stated, is prayerfulness. Our Lord, after the particular directions enumerated, bethought himself of other cases to which those directions were inapplicable owing to the inability of the persons concerned to comply with them. With tender females in such circumstances of delicacy as precluded the possibility of flight, and with nursing mothers whose womanly affections forbade the thought of abandoning their offspring—with persons thus unfitted for flight, so encumbered as to retard it except through an impossible sacrifice—our Lord expresses the deepest sympathy and tenderest compassion. If, however, we may trace the sequence of thought in the mind of the Savior as in the human mind in general, the thought of weakness by the law of contrast suggests a power which the weakest can wield and the strongest cannot dispense with, and which in the most untoward circumstances commands success. "And pray ye," says our blessed Lord, "that your flight be not in the winter. "St. Matthew adds," neither on the sabbath day." The same God who has appointed the end has appointed the means that conduce to that end. One great means is prayer. The end and means are connected as links of the same chain. Other means of escape, had been prescribed, and even urged on such as could employ those means; some there would be who, from circumstances already indicated, would be precluded from availing themselves of those means; besides, both these classes must, in the dark outlook into the future, anticipate circumstances over which they could have no possible control, such as the season of the year, or the day of the week when the predicted calamities might suddenly burst over them. What, then, was the course to be pursued? Where means were available, prayer was a leverage which imparted to the means a potency multiplied manifold; where the means were not available, prayer was the only element of power that could be employed; while in both cases there were certain obstacles which human power could not overcome, and certain circumstances with which it was incompetent to grapple. It was only by prayer that difficulties of this sort could be vanquished. The subject-matter of the prayers our Lord graciously condescends to suggest. They were to pray for the avoidance of the winter, when its cold and inclemency would greatly aggravate the general distress, or when its heavy rains, swollen streams, and winter torrents might render flight or escape impossible. They were to pray that they might not be necessitated to infringe the sanctity of the sabbath, on which a lawful journey did not exceed a mile; and when, the city gates being closed, would either shut them in or shut them out, and in either case cut them off from a place of safety; or when they might expose themselves to punishment from the cruelty of fanatics for a breach of the sabbath law. Our Lord suggested to them such topics of supplication, putting desires into their hearts and words on their lips.
IV. GOD'S GOODNESS TO HIS CHOSEN. "For the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." His elect are his chosen—chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, chosen of God and precious, a chosen generation, called, chosen, and faithful. The privileges of God's people are very many and very great. God avenges his own elect; nothing shall be laid to the charge of God's elect; he will gather them at last from the four winds; while here we learn that those days of direst disasters and unspeakable horrors were shortened for their sake. How great the blessedness of being children of God! The psalmist had affirmed the blessedness of such centuries before; he had affirmed it on the highest authority and for the best of reasons. "Blessed," he said, "is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation."
V. GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. The dispensations of God's providence prove, while they illustrate, his goodness to his people. In the present instance the Savior warned his followers; this was the first link in the chain of his love. Acting on this warning, they fled; and God, in his mercy, favored their flight and facilitated it. In answer to the petitions previously taught them and presented, we may be sure, by them, their flight was not in winter, or at least needed not to be so, for the siege commenced in the October of 66 a.d.; the final siege began in the April or May of the year of our Lord 70. Thus they had the opportunity of flight before or at the beginning of the siege, and consequently before the rigours of winter had set in; or, if perchance any delayed their flight and lingered on till near the concluding catastrophe, they in like manner avoided the winter. The consequence was that the Christian Jews effected their escape to Pella, now Tabathat Fakkil, near the northern border of Peraea, among the hills of Gilead, on the other side of Jordan, and a hundred miles from the besieged city. The merciful dealings of Divine providence were also manifested by the curtailment (ἐκολόβωσε) of the period of distress. In the midst of wrath he remembered mercy, and for his elect's sake he so overruled matters that the siege was brought to a speedy termination. So terrible was the time that, in the words of the evangelist, "except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved." The Scripture statement is fully confirmed by the historical details of Josephus, who makes it abundantly evident that the wretchedness of men and the wickedness of men had then culminated. Unprecedented before, they have remained without parallel since. It was Passover time, and multitudes thronged the city. What from this state of matters inside the city and the siege outside, famine ensued; its usual attendant, pestilence, followed. Men and women seemed to have divested themselves of the instincts of humanity; nameless barbarities were perpetrated. The city was torn by sedition within—three factions being in constant conflict with each other; war raged without, hundreds of Jewish prisoners being crucified in sight of their friends. More than a million Jews perished in the siege, and ninety-seven thousand were taken captive—some of them sold into slavery, some sent to Egyptian mines, and others reserved for the gladiatorial games. "Those days shall be affliction," according to the correct rendering; and never was prediction fulfilled with more terrible literality. But two circumstances, under Providence, abridged this reign of terrors: one was the terrible energy of the besieger, who pressed the siege and at last stormed the city; and the other was the fearful infatuation of the besieged. The city, which had withstood Nebuchadnezzar more than a year and a quarter, fell before the power of the Roman general in less than five months. Had things continued much longer, Judaea itself would have been desolated, and its inhabitants, including, no doubt, many sincere Christians, would have perished. But God, for his people's sake, shortened those days of shocking suffering and unspeakable sadness. The Savior again, and for the third time, repeats his exhortation to heedfulness against those who at such a crisis deceived, either consciously or unconsciously, themselves, and who should deceive others by holding forth hopes of deliverance by the coming of the Christ.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 24:29-35; Luke 21:25-33.—
The second advent.
I. THE GREATNESS OF THE EVENT. Whether our Lord's coming shall be pro-millennial or post-millennial we stay not to inquire. The great importance attaches to the fact of the second coming of the Son of man, which this section describes and which all Christians believe. The future coming of the Son of man naturally leads us back in thought to his first coming. The world had waited long for that blessed day. Patriarchs had looked forward to it, but it was in faith; prophets saw it, but it was in vision; saints sighed for its approach, but it was still a great way off—they hoped for its arrival, but they died before the promise was fulfilled; servants of God longed for its coming, and when it at length arrived they felt so satisfied that there seemed nothing further for them to desire—the language of Simeon expressed their thoughts, "Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Angels celebrated it on the plains of Bethlehem, and sang in heavenly carol, "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will to men." The people of God look forward with equal longing and equal eagerness to the day of Christ's second coming. They look and long for it as the period of complete redemption; they expect it as the time of home-gathering of all their brethren in the Lord; in anticipation of that great deliverance and of that blessed reunion they cry, "Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly."
II. THE GLORY OF HIS COMING. He will come, we are taught to believe, personally, visibly, and gloriously. He will come "in the clouds." The clouds of heaven serve many important purposes; they screen from the heat of the sun by day, and moderate the radiation of the earth by night. Sometimes they supply from their contents moisture to plants, and bring gladness to the thirsty ground; sometimes they pour down the water that originates springs or swells rivers; sometimes they cover with snow the polar regions. Those cloud-masses, as they float in the atmosphere, now approach within a mile of the earth, again ascend to the distance of five or six miles above its surface. Sometimes they curl in thin, parallel, silvery streaks; sometimes they form dense conical or convex heaps; sometimes, at the approach of night, they spread out in wide low-lying horizontal sheets; sometimes, fraught with storm, they move like a dark canopy overhead; again they unite and form various combinations. At all times they claim our attention, and commend themselves to our admiration by their fantastic forms, their changing colors, their varying density, and their strange combinations. The views of a kaleidoscope are nothing compared with the manifold aspects of the clouds. The clouds of heaven, then, are objects of great beauty, grandeur, and glory. The ancient heathens had a just appreciation of the magnificence of the clouds, and accordingly associated them with their highest conceptions of majesty. They represented their deities as clothed with clouds, or seated on clouds, or surrounded with clouds, as if to hide from mortal gaze their excessive splendor. In Scripture, also, the true God is represented as making the clouds his chariot, and walking upon the wings of the wind; and, again, we read that "his pavilion round about him were dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies." When Isaiah predicts the destruction of Egypt and the confusion of its idols from the hand of the Lord, he uses the sublime representation, "Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt." Daniel employs similar language in relation to the Son of man: "Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him." The representation before us here is in accordance also with our Lord's reply, when, in answer to his question about his Messiahship, he directed their attention from the humility of his first to the honor of his second coming, saying, "Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." So also, when he was going to part from his disciples, when he was going to leave our world, when his feet last stood on Olivet, when he was about to ascend to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God, the cloud became his vehicle, and coming under him received (ὑπέλαβεν) him out of the disciples' sight; and in that car of cloud he rose onward, and mounted upward to the right hand of the Father everlasting. Thence he shall come again with glorious majesty, according to the promise, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Further, in the Apocalypse, the Apostle John's representation of Christ's coming with clouds is designed and calculated to signify the grandeur and the glory, the solemnity and the sublimity of his second advent: "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen."
III. THE GLORY AND POWER WITH WHICH HE COMES. Every manifestation of glory shall attend him; every symbol of unspeakable splendor shall accompany him; every token of dignity shall signalize him; every adjunct of might and magnificence shall mark his advent. The Son of man shall come with great power and glory; all the holy angels shall swell his train. The dead in Christ shall rise first, and swell that assemblage; they that are still alive, and remain till that dread day, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Can anything be grander than this? Can anything be more august? Can anything be more solemn? Can anything be more awe-inspiring? Is there anything more calculated to overwhelm with consternation the wicked? Is there anything more fitted to create deep and universal alarm among the ungodly? What, on the other hand, can be more inspiriting to the believer? What more encouraging and comforting to the child of God? What more suitable to nerve to high effort and holy purpose than the prospect of being presented faultless in that day, and amid that assembly, and before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy?
"A hope so great and so Divine
May trials well endure,
And purge the soul from sense and sin,
As Christ himself is pure."
IV. THE OBJECT or his coming. We may now reflect for a moment on the great purposes for which Christ shall come the second time. At first he came in weakness, but at his next coming he will take to him his great power and reign. At first he came in dishonor, born in a stable, cradled in a manger, being "despised and rejected of men;" but then he shall come in dignity, and so that "every eye shall see him," every tongue confess him, and every knee bow before him. At first he came in a servile, suffering state; but then in awful majesty and glory everlasting—in his own glory, and in the glory of his Father. At first he came to call sinners to repentance; but then to summon each to his reward, be it recompense or retribution, and "to give every man according as his work shall be." It is true that the coming of the Son of man described in the verses immediately before us has for its specific object the grand assemblage of his saints to meet him; the accessories of the resurrection, the transformation of the living, and the general judgment are left out of sight. From the tribulation connected with the fall of Jerusalem the Savior had looked far forward into other days, when great changes, whether literal and cosmical, or figurative and political, shall precede and serve as precursors of the second coming of the Son of man. If the language is understood figuratively, the darkening of the sun may denote the eclipse of ecclesiastical authority; that of the moon, the collapse of civil polity; while the stars or potentates shall be falling or waning (the form of the future made up of substantive verb and participle, implying a more durable effect than the simple future). In the parable of the fig tree, however, he reverts to the precursors of the dissolution of the jewish state and the destruction of its capital; and affirms that, as the tender leaf-buds of the fig tree signified the near approach of harvest-time (θέρος), so the signs already specified in an early part of this chapter indicated the fast-approaching destruction of the sanctuary and city of Jerusalem. If, then, the statement of verse 30, "that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done," be referred to the end of the Jewish state, the word γενεὰ retains its ordinary sense of generation or contemporary race, which some insist on. If, on the other hand, the end of the age or world be referred to, whether the coming of the Son of man be for the purpose of ushering in the millennium, that is, pre-millennial, or for the final winding up of all things, the word γενεὰ must be understood as equivalent γένος, race, that is, the people or nation of the Jews, or, according to some, the race of men in general, more especially the generation of the faithful.
V. THE DIFFERENT FEELINGS WITH WHICH HIS COMING IS REGARDED, The visit of some distinguished person to our neighborhood or to our habitation may, according to circumstances, awaken emotions of a very different or even diverse character. Our feelings in view of the expected visit will be either pleasant or painful, according to the character of the visitor or the object of his coming. If he comes as a friend to further our interests, to favor our fondly cherished hopes, and to confer on us certain benefits, we naturally hail his coming with delight and rejoice at the prospect of his speedy advent. If, on the contrary, we have reason to believe that his intentions are hostile, that he means to oppose our plans, that he has some unpleasant measure to enforce or some punishment to inflict, we just as naturally dread his arrival and recoil from his approach. With similarly opposite views and feelings, saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers, look forward to the coming of him to whom this passage refers.—J.J.G.
Parallel passages: Matthew 24:36-51; Luke 21:34-36.—
Preparation for Christ's coming.
I. TRANSITION FROM THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM TO THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. Again our Lord passes from the typical event to the anti-typical consummation of all things—from the destruction of the holy city to the dissolution of things visible. The limitation of our Lord's knowledge with respect to "that day and that hour" must be understood of his human nature as the Son of man, in which he was subject to such other sinless conditions of humanity as increasing in wisdom, growing in stature, feeling hunger, thirst, lassitude, and the like; or it did not come within the sphere of his prophetic office to reveal it, as it belonged to "the times or the seasons which the Father hath set within his own authority." Our Lord, according to Meyer, knew this κατὰ κτῆσιν, i.e. with respect to possession, of which, however, in his humiliation he had divested himself; not κατὰ χρῆσιν, in regard to use, viz. for revelation.
II. THE GREAT EVENTS CONSEQUENT ON HIS COMING. One of these events shall be the resurrection of the dead. "Now," says the apostle, "is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept;" but then shall be this world's great harvest-day. Then shall a shout be heard, so loud, so piercing, that it will reach the dull, cold ear of death; the voice of the archangel shall re-echo through the dismal recesses of the tomb, and call to life the buried dead; the trump of God shall resound through the caverns of earth and the caves of ocean, till earth and sea shall give up the dead that are in them. Then shall be fulfilled the saying of our Lord elsewhere recorded, that "the hour is coming, in the which all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." Further, on his coming at the day or hour here spoken of, the Son of man shall judge the world in righteousness. The dead, small and great, shall stand before him; the judgment shall be set, and the books opened. All nations, and kindreds, and tongues, and peoples shall be assembled at that bar of God; "we must all appear before that judgment-seat of Christ, to give an account of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil." The decisions of that day shall be final, allowing no alteration, no appeal, and no reversal. Not only so; based on the unvarying principles of justice and equity, righteousness and truth, they shall commend themselves to the consciences of all concerned. The condemned and justified alike shall acquiesce in them; sinners shall assent to them as just; saints shall approve of them as gracious; angels shall applaud them as worthy of the Judge; and all intelligences shall acknowledge them to be as impartial as irreversible.
III. THE FOURTH PRACTICAL DIRECTION. The fourth great moral lesson of the chapter is watchfulness. This lesson our Lord insists on, repeating it with great earnestness, and conjoining with it the duty of prayerfulness: "Take ye heed, watch and pray;" "Watch ye therefore;" and again, "Watch:" The two duties of watchfulness and prayerfulness are frequently associated; thus, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Both together represent Divine and human strength in co-operation with each other. If we watch without prayer, we depend on human strength, and dispense with Divine aid; if we pray without watching, we depend on Divine strength alone, and despise the human means of help which God himself has commanded us to employ. They are the two strong arms of defense against the evil one; and we may not, we cannot, without serious dereliction of duty and gravest danger, part with either of them. This duty of watchfulness is enforced by a beautiful parabolic illustration; though it is not a formal parable, as the words supplied in the Common Version make it. Those words, "For the Son of man is," should be struck out; equally unnatural is it to supply the words, "The kingdom of heaven is;" neither is Kuinoel's mode of supplying the ellipsis by ποιῶ any better; while Euthymius, who seems to refer the words to Christ and to understand the future of the substantive verb, as though it were, "I shall be as a man setting out on a far journey," is even less satisfactory. In addition to this, απόδημος, said of one "already abroad, or an absentee from his people," is confounded with ἀποδημῶν, which signifies "going abroad." Fritzsche rightly explains as follows:—"Res ita habet ut—die Sache verhalt sich so wie," and compares therewith the Horatian use of ut si in the words, "Ut tibi si sit opus liquidi non amplius urna." So also the Revised Version, correcting both the errors of the Common Version, renders correctly: "It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch." This translation helps us much in the right understanding of the illustration. The man is already abroad; but before he went abroad, he, as a matter of course, left his house, having previously to leaving given authority to his servants in general to manage matters for him in his absence, and having appointed to each in particular his special work; and when on the threshold, as it were, he gave a charge to the porter also to watch, and so be prepared for his return.
IV. REASONS FOR THE WATCHFULNESS ENJOINED. Though there is no express application of the illustration, a circumstance which adds much to the ease and grace of the narrative, we are at no loss for, and find no difficulty in making, that application. The Master of the house is our Lord; his disciples, in the first place, are the domestics whom he entrusted with the management of the household when he himself took his departure to the goodly land afar off, appointing each believer his own sphere of labor and the special duty he was bound to perform, and leaving a strict charge of watchfulness with the porter who kept the door; that is, either the ministry in general, who are watchmen on the walls of Zion, or Peter in particular, to whom had been entrusted the power of the keys in opening the door of faith to Jew and Gentile. Nor do we thereby concede anything to the Romanist in reference to Peter's supremacy—a rank which the apostle himself never claimed. Be this as it may, however, the duty of watchfulness is enjoined on all,
(1) because the time of the Master's coming back is unknown. We know neither the day nor the hour of our Lord's return. No fellow-creature can tell us; no minister nor man can inform us; no angel can give us any intimation; no messenger from either world can bring us word. "Of that day and of that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of God." Now, though the coming of the Son of man is not to be confounded with death—for the two events are quite distinct—yet for all practical purposes, and as far as our personal interests are concerned, death is the coming of the Son of man to us individually; for whether he come to us or he call us to him, it is virtually the same thing for us, as then our destiny is finally and for ever fixed. We are urged to watchfulness
(2) because this event, which, though not the coming of the Son of man to the Church in its universality, is tantamount to his coming to the Christian in his individuality, is uncertain as to time. This great event may be near at hand while we least expect it. This day may be our last, on earth, and our first in the spirit-world; on this very night the soul may be required. This very day our lamp may lose its oil and go out in darkness; this very day our tabernacle may totter and tumble into dust; this very day our wondrous harp, with its thousand strings, may go out of tune and lose its melody. "What is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." What is your lease of life? It is the breath in your nostrils, and at any moment that breath may be withdrawn. In any case—
"Determined are the days that fly
Successive o'er thy head;
The number'd hour is on the wing
That lays thee with the dead."
Further, watchfulness is indispensable, because
(3) at his coming he will deal with us separately and singly. We shall be assembled in the aggregate, but dealt with in detail. The great fact is as prominently stated, as it is positively sure, that we must each stand in his lot at the end of the days. You, reader, and I and all must soon give an account of our stewardship—must soon be reckoned with for the talents, whether ten, or five, or one, that God gave us; whether we have buried them in the earth, or brought them forth employed, improved, and augmented; whether we have wasted our Lord's goods, or used them in his service and for his glory; whether we have occupied till the time of his coming, or loitered out our day of life. We are required to be watchful, for
(4) in the last great day each and all—the one and the many—shall stand face to face with the Judge of all the earth. If we pause and ponder the vastness of that crowd, we are almost overwhelmed by the thought. Let us think of all the people of a single nation being brought together; what a crowd they would make! Let us think of all the subjects of a great empire being assembled at one place and at one time; what an assembly that would be I Let us then think of all the inhabitants of one of the quarters of the globe being congregated; what an immense mass-meeting would be thus formed! Yet the thought of the great congregation at the coming of the Son of man far outgoes all that. The assemblage which it implies, and which shall one day take place, shall consist, not only of the inhabitants of a province, or a nation, or an empire, or even a quarter of the globe, but shall comprehend the inhabitants of all provinces, nations, empires, and quarters of the globe, down along the ages and throughout all the centuries of time. And yet not one in all that crowd shall be hidden from the eye of him that cometh in that day; not one shall be able to evade his presence, not one escape his sentence, not one shall be so remote as to be unable to catch a glance of him, not one on whom his eye shall not rest. "Every eye shall see him!"—the eye that contemplated his goodness and his grace; the eye that "beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;" the eye that looked and longed for his appearing; the eye, on the contrary, that looked only on the objects of sense and sin, the pomps and vanities of the world, and the follies of life; the eye that never gazed upon the cross, or never cast more than a passing glance thereat, and then turned away in coldness or carelessness, or perhaps contempt; the eye of friend and follower; the eye of foe and false professor. Oh, what a sight to the unpardoned sinner, to the godless transgressor, to the swearer, to the sabbath-breaker, to the slanderer, to the adulterer, to the murderer, to the drunkard, to the liar, to the lewd and licentious, to the unholy and the unjust, to the impure and impenitent! Gladly would the wicked shut their eyes on that sight; gladly would they sink into the bowels of the earth or the depths of ocean to escape the glance of that searching eye! Earnestly will they pray, who never prayed before, for the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Judge. But no, that cannot be; for it is added in another Scripture, "They also that pierced him." We all, whether ministers or members of the Church of Christ, are bound to watchfulness—"What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch!"—and that lest
(5) we should be found among those that pierced him. This refers to his actual murderers in the first instance—the Jews that condemned him, the Romans that crucified him, the scribes and Pharisees that plotted against him, the priests and people that persecuted him, the passers-by that wagged the head, the men that scoffed him, and those that scourged him, and they that spat upon him; the fierce mob that cried, "Away with him! away with him!" the judge that condemned him, the disciple that betrayed him—all that imbrued their hands in his precious blood or had aught to do with his death. But we may not stop here. Others have pierced him, too; for we read of those who "crucify Christ afresh, and put him to an open shame." Ah! is there any of ourselves included in that number? Is there any of us who have pierced his heart by our sin, by our disobedience, by our ingratitude, by our backsliding, by our coldness, and by our carelessness? Ah! is there none of us to whom he can say, "See, here are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends"? "Watch ye therefore!" is repeated once and again and a third time. While one of the terms used signifies to keep awake and remain sleepless, the other means to awake or arouse from sleepiness; and thus the sense seems to be, if the distinction is admitted, to guard against sleep overtaking us at the post of duty; or, if unhappily we have been overtaken by drowsiness, to rouse ourselves at once from our slumber and repent of our sinful somnolence. And all the more as we are left in such entire uncertainty and ignorance of the hour when the Master shall come and reckon with us in our individual capacity, and, if we are found culpable, condemn us with the wicked. That hour may be at any of the four watches of the night—nine o'clock, or twelve, or three, or six in the morning. So important is this lesson that our Lord, in St. Matthew's Gospel, enforces it by two parables—that of the virgins and that of the talents; the former inculcating watchfulness over the spirit, and probably implied in verse 36 of the present chapter; the latter quickening faithfulness in duty, and seemingly epitomized in the two preceding verses of this same chapter.
V. OTHER LESSONS OF THE CHAPTER.
1. The truth of Scripture. Besides the lessons already noticed, there are others to which we can only advert. The lessons scattered through this chapter are like flowers in a summer field. Another of these is the truth of Scripture. "Heaven and earth shall pass away." The frame of nature, stable as it now seems, has in it the elements of change. There are changes in the geological strata of the earth beneath us, in the sky above us, in the natural world around us. Great changes have already taken place in earth and sea and sky; great physical changes are daily going on; still greater changes may be expected to occur in time to come. The surest inductions of science point to such changes and collapses. "But my words," said our Lord, "shall not pass away." His words have passed into the spiritual fibre of his people, living in their lives, exhibited in their conduct, illustrated by their character, and consoling them in the hour of dissolution. Statesmen have been guided by them, lawgivers have framed laws by them, philosophers have made more use of them in building up their systems than they have been willing to acknowledge to others, or have even been conscious of, themselves. The words of Christ have for eighteen hundred years or more blended with the inspirations of the poet; they have almost moved in the marble of the statuary, and spoken from the canvas of the painter. Time has not exhausted their fullness; no taint has touched their freshness, nor has aught of their fragrance decayed. Further, the inspiration of Scripture is safely inferred from the statement in verse 11, "It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost," compared with St. Luke's parallel statement, "I will give you a mouth," the expression," and wisdom," the matter to be expressed.
2. The publication of the gospel among all nations. The gospel must first be published. Here was the great end to be attained. We have seen how this was virtually accomplished before the fall of Jerusalem; but the world has widened its boundaries since then. Continents and islands have been added to it; navigation and travel have enlarged geography, and geography has added to the dimensions of the globe, or at least has revealed those before unknown. And still the gospel is preached, and shall be.
"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more."
3. Watchfulness the lesson of the ages. Scenes similar to those that preceded Christ's coming at the fall of Jerusalem may be repeated, and repeated over a wider area and on a grander scale. Then, as before, there may be wars—some actual, others rumoured—great international conflicts, and fatal internecine strife; then, as before, there may be physical catastrophes, providential visitations, as the travail-throes of greater events—the travail-pangs in the genesis of the new order of things; then, as before, there may be persecutions, prolonged and repeated, and the severance of the nearest ties of kinship, with universal hatred for the Savior's sake. Yet, through all, men must possess their souls in patience, or rather, according to the correcter reading, gain their souls, their real life, by patience—patient endurance, not violent resistance. Men may be worn with watching, pining for peace, and aweary for rest; still the same lesson has to be repeated, the same duty practiced: "What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch!" Watchfulness is still the duty of the Church and of the Christian.
"Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, 'How long?'
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song."