Apocalypse of the Gospels
Milton S. Terry
— (1898) —
Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament exegesis and theology
APOCALYPSE OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
The teaching of Jesus concerning "the end of the age," and "the Son of man coming in the clouds," as it is written in Mark 13, Matt. 24, and Luke 21, appears to have been given in the latter days of his ministry, and in connection with a prediction of the overthrow of the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. The entire prophecy as reported by all the synoptic gospels is so largely of an apocalyptic or eschatological character as to justify the title of "Apocalypse of the Gospels." A careful analysis of its composition, and an exposition of its occasion, scope, and meaning, are a necessary preliminary to the study of the Apocalypse of John.
I. THE DIFFERENT THEORIES OF INTERPRETATION.
The variety of opinions on this eschatological discourse is very remarkable. It is difficult to classify the different views. There is, perhaps, no other scripture in the exposition of which we may observe a greater display of dogmatic prepossession. This last named fact is the chief obstacle to a calm and dispassionate study of the prophecy. The extreme rationalist, as well as the arrogant confessional theologian, has made so many unqualified assertions as to what Jesus could and could not have intended, what he knew and what he could not have known, that one may almost despair of arriving at any general consensus. The way to a scientific exposition is, accordingly, obstructed to an extent that is quite disheartening to the sober inquirer after the truth. Nevertheless, we submit the following exposition.
There are at least three different hypotheses which have been employed to explain this scripture. There is, first,
(1) That which regards the discourse in its present form as a composition of incongruous materials. The writers who penned our synoptic gospels are supposed to have misapprehended much of what the Lord said, and to have united in one address various statements which were originally uttered on different occasions.
(2) Another class of interpreters find in these words of Jesus teachings concerning two entirely different events, widely separated in time, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.
(3) A third method of interpretation maintains that the entire prophecy may be most simply explained as finding its fulfillment in the overthrow of the temple and the introduction of Christianity into the world.
1. The hypothesis of incongruous and contradictory elements comes before us in several forms. One class of critics affirms that the discourse contains the substance of a Jewish-Christian apocalypse which very early became confounded with the traditional sayings of Jesus. A considerable portion, accordingly, of what is here attributed to Jesus belongs to a different authorship. Kern tells us that "this piece of writing is to be ascribed unquestionably, not to Jesus, but to a Jewish Christian who lived toward the close of the apostolic period, and who, in view of the impending catastrophe of the temple and the holy city, dedicated to Christians and Jews the revelations, counsels, and consolations of Jesus, and did this evidently at once in writing and not orally."1 This writer thinks it evident that this composition dates even before the investment of Jerusalem, and in this differs from several critics who bold views similar to his own but maintain that the writing belongs to a period later than the destruction of the Jewish capital. But this theory of an anonymous Jewish or Jewish-Christian document, which our gospels have incorporated without acknowledgment and complicated with some genuine sayings of Jesus, is destitute of any reasonable proof, and is obviously a mere critical conjecture. It created more difficulties than it presumes to solve.
Another form of the hypothesis is that the evangelists have added to our Lord's words some things which he did not say. In the course of transmitting orally the many sayings of Jesus certain incongruous ideas were mixed up with them, and became so closely united that when the Logia were first written down it was impossible to separate the true original from its accretions. The result is that we have not an accurate or trustworthy report of what Jesus said on the occasion referred to. All this, however, is pure theory, and might be also applied, according to the varying notions of critics, to any other sayings of Jesus which are recorded in the three synoptic gospels.
Another less objectionable form of the hypothesis is that which allows the genuineness of all these sayings of our Lord, but insists that they have become confused by the compilers of our gospels, and whole sections are here inserted out of their proper connection. Matthew records in Matt. 24:17, 23, 27, 28, 37, 40, 41, what Luke refers to a different occasion (comp. Luke 17:20-37). Comp. also Matt. 24:43-51, with Luke 12:39-46.
Any attempt to discuss the relations of the parallel sections in the gospels must of course reckon with the critical results of the so-called "Synoptic Problem." We recognize the fact that the most ancient tradition of a compilation of sayings (logia, that is, of Jesus), written in Aramaic by Matthew, is well supported by internal evidence seen in the peculiar language and structure of our present gospels of Matthew and Luke, and is to be regarded as one of the chief sources of these two gospels. The same tradition reports that Mark's gospel was written under the oversight and dictation of Peter, and everything in the peculiar character of this gospel appears to be in harmony with the hypothesis of such an origin. Here then are at least two original sources of the contents of the synoptic gospels. That Mark is older than our present Matthew, and was used in its compilation, may be readily admitted, but the question way still remain an open one whether the Logia of Matthew were not older titan Mark. Some do maintain that the author of the second gospel bad Matthew's Logia before him, and made some slight use of it, but as it was not the purpose of that gospel to incorporate long discourses very little use of Matthew's work is traceable in it. Our purpose is sufficiently answered by accepting the now current hypothesis of two main sources, namely, Matthew's Logia and Mark's gospel. Which of these may best claim priority we shall not attempt to determine.2 But our present Mark is the earliest of the synoptic gospels; Matthew's gospel came next in time, and incorporated the original Logia into the historical framework of Mark. The gospel of Luke is latest of the three, and has made use of the other two, and also of other sources now unknown to us.
These things being so, it is simply a question of comparative criticism how far the discourse of Jesus, as written in Mark 13, is trustworthy as a record of what our Lord said on the occasion referred to. It is the only example of a long discourse to be found in Mark's gospel. It agrees in the main with Matt. 24 and Luke 21. So far as the three reports agree it is certainly the best authenticated of all the discourses of similar length now preserved to us in the synoptists. We regard it, therefore, as great presumption to insist that any of those sayings which all three of the synoptists agree in attributing to Jesus on this occasion have been inserted out of their proper connection. Such a claim, to be of any value, must be supported by the most imperative kind of evidence.3
Our contention is,
(1) that Mark 13 alone contains, aside from what is peculiar to Matthew and to Luke, all the elements of supposed incongruity in these eschatological sayings of Jesus, so that no real difficulty of this kind is removed from the discourse by the removal of sections which are peculiar to Matthew and Luke, or are by them placed in a different connection. For example, we may eliminate from Matt. 24 the passages (Matt. 24:26-28, 24:43-51), which Luke assigns to another occasion (Luke 17:22-37, 12:39-46), and all the real difficulties of the exposition remain in full force.
(2) We affirm further that the parable of the ten virgins in Matt. 25, 1-13, and the sublime picture of judgment in Matt. 25:31-46, though found in no other place, contain nothing inconsistent with the teaching of what is common to all the gospels, and nothing which is out of place in the connection in which we find it. The parable of the talents is essentially equivalent in its doctrine to that of the pounds (comp. Luke 19:13-27, and Matt. 25:14-30). and the lesson of watchfulness taught in Matt. 25:1-13, is virtually expressed in similar imagery in Luke 12:35-37.
(3) Furthermore, it can be shown by valid exegesis that those words and phrases which are peculiar to either Matthew or Luke are not incongruous with what is written in Mark; and where we have reason, as in Luke 21:20, to believe that the writer has purposely changed the language of the Logia of Matthew from which he copied, it cannot be shown that he has introduced anything that materially changes the meaning and scope of the discourse as a whole.
We are, accordingly, shut up to the conclusion that no rearrangement of the material, and no theory of the composition of this discourse, which assumes that it is made up of incongruous elements, have so far succeeded in removing the difficulties of its exposition or providing a more satisfactory explanation of its words.4
2. The hypothesis which assumes two different events, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, to be the subject of this prophecy, comes before us in two forms. Both accept the genuineness of the Gospel records and hold that they supplement each other; but with one class of expositors a dividing line is found between what refers to the fall of Jerusalem and what refers to the future coming of Christ, while with the other no such dividing line is recognized, but the entire discourse is interpreted on the theory of a double sense. When, however, the one school of interpreters attempt to point out the dividing line, there are as many differences of opinion as there are interpreters. In Matt. 24 and 25, for example, the transition from the one subject to the other is placed by Bengel and others at 24, 29; by E. J. Meyer at verse 35; by Doddridge at verse 30; by Kuinoel at verse 33; by Eichhorn at 25, 14, and by Wetstein at 25, 31. In view of these notable differences of judgment another class of writers reject all such attempts at finding a point of transition from one topic to the other, and imagine that the entire discourse may have a double significance, Lange thinks that the great future is depicted in a series of cycles, each one of which exhibits in its own way the course of the world and its various judgments down to the end.5 Alford says that "two parallel interpretations run through the former part (of Matt. 24) as far as verse 28, the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment being both enwrapped in the words, but the former, in this part of the chapter, predominating. From verse 28 the lesser subject begins to be swallowed up by the greater, and our Lord's second coming is the predominant theme, with, however, certain hints thrown back, as it were, at the event which was immediately in question ; till in the latter part of the chapter, and the whole of the next, the second advent, and at last the final judgment ensuing on it, are the subjects."6
It is scarcely necessary to controvert the assumptions of a double or a triple sense, as here put forward. The exposition built upon it may be left to sink beneath its own weight. Few readers of the gospels will at the present time rest satisfied with a theory of exegesis which makes Jesus palter in such a double sense with his disciples; and as for the attempts to show a dividing line between what refers to the fall of Jerusalem and what refers to a yet future coming of Christ, the remarkable differences of opinion as to the point of transition from one subject to the other are of a nature to make one suspicious of the hypothesis.
3. There remains the hypothesis which recognizes the substantial unity of the discourse and maintains that all these sayings of Jesus are capable of a self-consistent and satisfactory explanation as a prophecy of what was in the near future when he uttered them. The overthrow of the Jewish temple and the consequent going forth of the new kingdom of Christ in the world are the main subject. We adopt this hypothesis as the only tenable explanation of the language which all three synoptists ascribe to Jesus on the occasion of his concluding his teaching in the temple.7 As for those portions which are peculiar either to Matthew or to Luke, they are to be treated according to their intrinsic merit and their relevancy to the occasion.
This interpretation has the advantage of the unquestionable facts that both the decisive overthrow of the Jewish national cult and the triumphant establishment of Christianity in the world date from about the close of the apostolic period. It was a part of the divine order of the kingdom of Christ that its gospel should first be preached to the nations and obtain an imperishable witness among men before the end of the old age.
II. PARALLEL TEACHING IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS.
Before proceeding to the exposition of the main subject-matter we will first examine the various passages of similar teaching which have been recorded in a different connection.
The statements of Matt. 10:21-23, occur in connection with the Lord's instructions to the disciples when he sent them forth to preach the great message, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand " (verse 7). The language of verses 21 and 22 is identical with that of Mark 13:12, 13, and notably parallel with Luke 21:16-19. What is peculiar to Matthew is verse 23: "But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next: for verily I say unto you, ye shall not have finished the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come." The coming of the Son of man is to be understood here as in all other passages. To reject the passage as an interpolation of the evangelist or some later writer would certainly be arbitrary. It may be that the words are here inserted in a wrong connection, but of this there is no evidence. Whether we read them in connection with the first apostolic commission or as a part of the discourse on the Mount of Olives, their meaning is the same, and not unsuitable to either context. The Lord assures hit; disciples that before they shall have completed the work of their apostolic ministry in the cities of Israel the Son of man shall come. What the coming of the Son of man may signify he does not stop to say, and for anything that is said or implied to the contrary the apostolic ministry would go on after the coming of the Lord as well as before it.8 On this point we shall have more to say in connection with Matt. 24:14; but we may here premise that the true meaning of such phrases as " the coming of the Son of man " and the "coming in his kingdom" is to be learned in the light of Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic age.
The next passage to note is Matt. 16:27, 28, which must be compared with Mark 8:38; 9:1, and Luke 9:26, 27. Here we observe some slight differences of phraseology, and Mark and Luke introduce before the passage the statement that when the Son of man shall come in his glory he will be ashamed of them that are now ashamed of him and his words. But it is to be observed that Matt. 10:32, 33, and Luke 12:8, 9, report words of Jesus strikingly parallel with these. But all three synoptists agree in placing the main statement of this passage in the same connection, and immediately before their accounts of the transfiguration. The language of Jesus, as it appears in each gospel, is as follows:
The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds. Verily I say unto you, There are some of them that stand here, who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of the Fattier with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, there are some here of them that stand by, who shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God come with power.
Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of any words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when be cometh in his glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there are some of them that stand here, who shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God. All sorts of efforts have been made to evade the simple meaning of these words, but they all spring from the dogmatic prepossession that the coming of the Son of man in his glory must needs be an event far future from the time when the words were spoken. Some have understood that the reference is to the transfiguration, which all three synoptists record immediately afterward. But two decisive objections stand in the way of such a reference:
(1) that event occurred only six or eight days afterward, and
(2) it could not with any propriety be called a coming of the Son of man in the glory of his Father with the angels, or coming in his kingdom. Others have distinguished between Christ's coming in the glory of his Father with the angels and his coming in his kingdom, or the coming of his kingdom. But we incline to the belief that very few can be finally persuaded, with the above Gospel-parallels before them, that our Lord meant to be understood as speaking of two events centuries apart. Had this been his intention he might certainly have employed language less ambiguous and less likely to confuse the minds of his disciples. The plain teaching of the passage is that before some of those who heard him speak should die the Son of man would come in glory, and his kingdom would be established in power. And this teaching is in strict accord with what is taught in Matt. 24 and its parallels in Mark and Luke.
No study of Mark 13 and its parallels in Luke and Matthew should fail to compare what is written in Luke 17:20-37:
And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.
And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to an one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, Lo, there I Lo, here! go not away, nor follow after them: for as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things and be rejected of this generation. And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded ; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all; after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away: and let him that is in the field likewise not return back. Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. And they answering say unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.
It is to be first observed that verses 20 and 21 are peculiar to Luke, and have their occasion definitely assigned. They record Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who asked him, "When cometh the kingdom of God ? " They cannot, therefore, be a part of Jesus' discourse to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Their teaching, moreover, concerning the coming of the kingdom of God seems also, at first sight, to lack harmony with what is written in Luke 21:27 : "Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." For Jesus tells the Pharisees that "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation," that is, in such a phenomenal manner that one can gaze upon it with the eyes of flesh. The word parathqhoij here translated observation, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but its cognate verb is employed three times in this same gospel of Luke (Luke 6:7, 14:1, 20:20) to denote the unfriendly and even hostile manner in which the Pharisees observed the acts of Jesus. This fact should be taken into consideration when we interpret the language of Jesus as addressed to them. The purport of his answer is: "The kingdom of God does not come in such a way that it may be watched by men possessed of a hostile spirit. It is not to be thought of as a public spectacle on which men look and say, Lo, there it is. For even now the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,9 and yet with all your watching me you have not observed it." so his words were designed to have special reference to the attitude of the Pharisees toward himself, and their most obvious meaning is that, so far as a kingdom may be represented and be present in the person of its king, the kingdom of God was already among them in the presence of the Son of man.
But whatever we may think of the occasion and purport of Luke 17:20, 21, 22-37 form a section by themselves, and were addressed to the disciples, not to the Pharisees. They may or may not have been placed here in their proper connection. So far as the subject-matter of the passage argues anything to the purpose, these words to the disciples would be as appropriate in the eschatological discourse of Luke 21 as they are here. They are in closest harmony with what appears in Luke 21:29-36, and are actually interwoven with a series of statements made in Matt. 24:26-28, 37-41. Furthermore, the statements in Luke 17:22, 25, 28, 29, 32, which are peculiar to the third gospel, contain no thought that is in the least inconsistent with what is found in Mark 13, Matt. 24, and Luke 21. The references to "the days of Lot" (verse 28) are, perhaps, more naturally connected with what Matthew writes in Matt. 24:37, than they are in Luke's context. In either case the teaching of Jesus in Mark 13 and its parallels is in no way altered or made more simple and intelligible by hypothetical readjustment of particular passages. The doctrine of a coming of the Son of man in his kingdom and glory in the near future is common to all these passages, and Jesus' words to the Pharisees in Luke 17:20, 21, so far from teaching a far future coming of Christ, declare that the kingdom of God is already among them.
One other passage, common to all the synoptic gospels, deserves notice at this point. According to Mark 14:62, when Jesus was brought before the high priest and was asked, " Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed ? " he answered, "I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coining with the clouds of heaven." Luke has (Luke 22:69), "From henceforth (apo ton vnunv) shall the Son of man be seated at the right hand of the power of God." Matthew reads (Matt. 24:64), " From this time (ap arti) ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." We maintain that this language cannot be naturally interpreted as a reference to an event belonging to a far distant period of time. It is something that is to take place from this time onward, and something which the high priests and his associates are to see. We quote with great satisfaction the comment of Gould in the International Critical Commentary on Mark (p. 252): "This Settles two things : first, that the coming is not a single event, any more than the sitting on the right hand of power; and second, that it was a thing which was to begin with the very time of our Lord's departure from the world. Moreover, the two things, the sitting on the right hand of power, and the coming, are connected in such a way as to mean that be is to assume power in heaven and exercise it here in the world. The period beginning with the departure of Jesus from the world was to be marked by this assumption of heavenly power by the Christ, and by repeated interferences in crises of the world's history, of which the destruction of Jerusalem was the first."
III. OCCASION AND SCOPE OF THE DISCOURSE.
In passing now to the exposition of the apocalyptic discourse we observe the occasion of its utterance. In all the synoptists it follows soon after the controversy with the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, who watched him with an evil eye, and sought to ensnare him in his Sayings. He warned the disciples against the scribes (Mark 12:37-40, Luke 20:45-47). Matthew in this connection adduces the series of oracular woes which fills up most of his twenty-third chapter. At the close of that chapter be introduces the terrible denunciation of Jerusalem, which Luke places in a different connection, but with substantial agreement in sentiment.
Therefore behold I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify ; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her I How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me from this time, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send unto them prophets and apostles; and some of them they shall kill and persecute ; that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation ; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zachariah who perished between the altar and the house : yea, I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation.
LUKE 13:34, 35
0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen her own brood under her wings, and ye would not ! Behold, your house is left unto you; and I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Whether now these words were uttered on the same day as the eschatological discourse, or on some other occasion, no sayings of Jesus are better attested, and no one can question their appropriateness in the context where Matthew places them. They certainly belong to the period of our Lord's latest appeals to his hostile countrymen, and most naturally to the last week of his teaching at the temple. The fact that both Mark and Luke insert the incident of the poor widow casting her farthing into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21, 1-4) immediately before the long discourse about the overthrow of the temple, and immediately after the denunciation of the scribes and hypocrites, is incidental evidence that Matthew has very properly distributed all these later sayings of Jesus. There is, moreover, every reason to suppose that some of the sayings of our Lord were in substance uttered on more than one occasion.
That which particularly called forth the apocalyptic discourse was the question of the disciples touching the time and the sign of the overthrow of the temple. Mark 13:1-4 says that as Jesus "went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Teacher, behold what manner of stones and what manner of buildings! And Jesus said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings ? There shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon 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 ? and what the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished ? " Matthew also locates the discourse on the Mount of Olives, but varies somewhat the form of the question of the disciples. Luke gives none of these details, but leaves the impression upon his reader that the discourse of Jesus was delivered in or at the temple. But the specific manner in which Mark records the details, and gives the names of four disciples who asked the question privately, bears its own internal evidence of accuracy, and is most like the vivid report of an eyewitness. Matthew confirms the statement that the sayings were uttered on the Mount of Olives, and one may appropriately call them "The Sermon on the Mount of Olives." The entire prophecy purports to be an answer to the question of the disciples. That question was twofold-when shall these things be, and what the sign of their accomplishment ? The Master responded directly, mentioned a number of things which must first take place, and a sign by which they might know the nearness of the impending catastrophe, and escape to the mountains. Immediately after the great tribulation which is to accompany the catastrophe, or in those very days, the Son of man is to be seen coming in the clouds with great power and glory. His coming is described according to the Hebrew apocalyptic style; and then it is solemnly affirmed with an emphatic Amen or Verily, "This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished " (Mark 13:30, Matt. 24:34, Luke 21: 32). It would seem from all this that the occasion and scope of this prophecy are clear beyond controversy. It was preceded by many a word of rebuke and warning to the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, and a terrible woe pronounced against Jerusalem, the murderess of saints and prophets. The time-limit so emphatically asserted accords perfectly with the assurance given on another occasion that some of those who listened to the great Teacher should not die till they had seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
These facts and considerations seem also to determine beyond reasonable controversy the meaning of the word end (teloj) as used in this discourse by all the synoptists. It is the terminal point, or time limit at which all these things are to be accomplished (ounte - leiovai) It is, according to Matthew's phraseology, the end or "consummation of the age " (ounteleia ton aiwnoj). It is the solemn termination and crisis of the dispensation which had run its course when the temple fell, and there was not left one stone upon another which was not thrown down.10 That catastrophe, which in Heb. 12:26, is conceived as a shaking of the earth and the heaven, is the end contemplated in this discourse; not "the end of the world," but the termination and consummation of the pre-Messianic age.11
IV. ANALYSIS OF SUBJECT-MATTER.
Aside from verbal variations, the substance of teaching as presented in the three synoptic reports of the discourse may be thus summarized in outline:
I. Four things before the End, Matt. 24:4-14.
1. False Christs and a great apostasy, Matt. 24:4, 5.
2. Wars, commotion of nations, famines, and earthquakes, Matt. 24:6-8.
3. Persecution, death, offenses, betrayals, hatred, false prophets, and great wickedness, Matt. 24:9-13.
4. Gospel in all the world -- [en olh oikonhenhv% Matt. 24:14.
II.Three signs when the End (Consummation) is close at hand, Matt. 24:15-28.
1. The abomination of desolation, Matt. 24:15-18.
2. The great tribulation, Matt. 24:19-22.
3. False Christs and prophets doing signs and wonders, Matt. 24:23-28.
III. Apocalyptic picture of the End and the Parousia, Matt. 24:29-31.
1. Sun and moon darkened, stars fall, and powers of heaven shaken, Matt. 24:29.
2. Sign of Son of man in heaven, and coming in clouds with power and glory, Matt. 24:30.
3. Angel ministries, trumpet, gathering the elect, Matt. 24:31.
IV. Counsels and Warnings, Matt. 24:32-51.
1. Similitude of the fig tree, Matt. 24:32, 38.
2. All to occur in this generation, Matt. 24:34, 35.
3. Day and hour unknown, Matt. 24:36.
4. Like the flood, Matt. 24:31-39.
5. Sudden separations, Matt. 24:40,41.
6. Admonition to watch, Matt. 24:42-51
I. Four things before the End, Mark 13:5-13.
1. False Christs and a great apostasy, Mark 13:5, 6.
2. War, commotion of nations, earthquakes, and famines, Mark 13:1, 8.
3. Persecution, afflictions, betrayals, hatred, and putting to death, Mark 13:9, 11-13.
4. Gospel unto all the nations -- (eij panta ta eonh), Mark 13:10.
II. Three signs when the End is close at hand, Mark 13:14-23.
1. The abomination of desolation, Mark 13:14-17.
2. The great tribulation, Mark 13:18-20.
3. False Christs and prophets doing signs and wonders, Mark 13:21-28.
III. Apocalyptic picture of the End and the Parousia, Mark 13:24-27.
1. Sun and moon dark. ened, stars fall, and powers of heaven shaken, Mark 13:24, 25.
2. Son of man in clouds with power and glory, Mark 13:26.
3. Angel ministries, gathering of the elect, Mark 13:27.
IV. Counsels and Warnings, Mark 13:28-37.
1. Similitude of the fig tree, Mark 13:28, 29.
2. All to occur in this generation, Mark 13:30, 31.
3. Day and hour unknown, Mark 13:32.
4. Admonition to watch, Mark 13:33-37.
I. Three things before the End, Luke 21:8-19.
1. False Christs, Luke 21:8.
2. Wars, tumults, commotion of nations, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, terrors and signs from heaven, Luke 21:9-11.
3. Persecution, betrayal, putting to death, and hatred, Luke 21:12-19.
II. Two signs when the End is close at hand, Luke 21:20-24.
1. Jerusalem compassed with armies, Luke 21:20, 21.
2. The great tribulation, Luke 21:22-24.
III. Apocalyptic picture of the .&ad and the Parousia, Luke 21:25-28.
1. signs in the SUN, MOON and stars, distress and terror on earth, powers of heaven shaken, Luke 21:26, 26.
2. Son of man in clouds with power and glory, Luke 21:27.
3. Redemption at hand, Luke 21:28.
IV. Counsels and Warnings, Luke 21:29-86.
1. Similitude of the fig tree, Luke 21:29-81.
2. All to occur in this generation, Luke 21:32, 33. [Comp. Luke 17:26-35 and Luke 17:12, 39,40]
3.. Admonition to watch, Luke 21:34-36.
There are at least four main divisions of this discourse common to all these gospels, and they stand in the logical order of
(1) things to transpire before the end;
(2) signs of the nearness of the catastrophe;
(3) an apocalyptic portrayal of the coming of the Son of man, and
(4) counsels and admonitions to the disciples.
V. EXPOSITION OF THE SEVERAL SAYINGS.
I. Taking up the four main divisions in their order, we now proceed to explain the prophecy and to show (1) that the three Synoptic gospels are here in substantial agreement, and (2) that all these things came to pass within the time-limit of the prophecy.
(1) Matthew and Mark mention four things, or four classes of events, which are to take place before the end, while Luke mentions but three. The few changes in the order of the words which they have in common, and the few words and expressions which are peculiar to Luke, do not in the least militate against the substantial harmony of the three
(2) That all these things came to pass in that generation, that is, before the overthrow of the Jewish capital, is questioned by many exegetes. We must therefore make appeal (a) to well authenticated facts, and (b) then inquire how far the facts really fulfill the import of the prophecy.
It will scarcely be questioned that all the items named in the second and third classes of events in section I of the above analysis found abundant fulfillment in the course of the war which ended in the overthrow of Jerusalem. It is quite possible, however, for a modern reader to import into some of the words here employed much more than was understood by the writers, and much more than the usage of the New Testament justifies. The word nation (evnsj), for example, must not be construed as meaning what modern usage so commonly associates with the term, namely, an independent body politic; an empire, or kingdom, exercising political sovereignty. We read in Acts 2:5, that " there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven;"12 but the kind of nations intended is explained in verses 9 and 10, where they are designated as Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. They were Jews or Jewish proselytes from these various tribes and provinces, which were all under the general dominion of the Roman empire. Accordingly, when mention is made of wars, rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising against one another, we are not to suppose the reference to other than the seditions, tumults, revolts, and bitter conflicts which occurred among these subject nations and kingdoms of the empire. We observe in Acts 4:27, that Herod and Pontius Pilate are regarded as kings and rulers of the earth, fulfilling the import of a prophetic oracle concerning the rage of nations and peoples against Jehovah and his Anointed (Psalm 2:1).
Nor should we ignore the tone and qualities of prophetic style in a discourse which assumes to be a prophecy of future events. A rigid literal interpretation of apocalyptic language tends to confusion and endless misunderstandings. We should bear in mind that words and phrases acquire in biblical usage a sort of conventional meaning. So all the synoptic texts contain the Hebraic couplet,
Nation shall rise against nation,
And kingdom against kingdom.
But this language is in substance a quotation from Isa. 19:2, "City shall fight against city ; kingdom against kingdom." Compare also the language of the chronicler (2 Chron. 15:6): "Nation is dashed against nation, and city against city ; for God has disturbed them with all affliction." Such language conveys a vivid impression of national tumult and civil strife, and is every way appropriate in the lips of Jesus when referring to the seditious, insurrections, revolts, and sectional wars which immediately preceded the conquest of Jerusalem, and spread famine, pestilence, and desolation through Palestine and adjacent regions.13 These were but a beginning of travail-pains" (arch/ winwn), for it was the policy of Vespasian "first to overthrow what remained elsewhere, and to leave nothing outside of Jerusalem behind him that might interrupt him in the siege."14
In view of these facts it appears like an extravagance of fantasy to assert, as Lange does, that "here all wars are meant down to the end of the world." "The passage combines in one view the whole of the various social, physical, and climatic crises of development in the whole New Testament dispensation." Such bald assertions are destructive of all sober exegesis. Let it be granted that the phrase "beginning of travail-pains " is a designed allusion to the Jewish idea of the (rillft ylgk) travail-pains of the Messiah;15 what is there in this thought or in the context to justify the notion that these birth-throes are to last for centuries? What is there in any of these statements about national wars, tumults, and their attendant woes to beget the idea of a long and indefinite period of time ? How long must birth-pangs last ? It was more than three years from the time when Vespasian marched for the subjugation of the Jews to the capture and ruin of Jerusalem by Titus, a period more than sufficient for all that the words of Jesus imply.
As for the persecutions and trial which the disciples were to undergo, we need no other witness of fulfillment than what is written in the Acts of the Apostles. They were hated, and beaten, and delivered up to councils, and brought before governors and kings, and delivered up to death, and a man's most dreadful foes were sometimes those of his own household. Among the Jewish people there was never a time of more desperate religious zeal and fanaticism than the decade preceding the fall of their great city and temple. The first Christian persecutions came mainly from Jews.
But it has been often affirmed that we have no record of false Christs before the destruction of Jerusalem. Here, however, we must first determine what is meant by "coming in my name." It cannot be supposed that he meant to say that many would come bearing the personal name of "Jesus of Nazareth." Nor does it necessarily mean the use of any one particular name or title. The receiving little children in his name (Mark 9:37) did not require the employing of a stereotyped formula or a set title. Already had the disciples reported to the Master that they had seen one casting out demons in his name (Mark 9:38). The particular title or formula used was not of importance so long as the authority and power of Christ were assumed. Any impostor, therefore, who, like Simon of Samaria, declared "himself to be some great one," and whom the deluded people followed as "the Power of God which is called Great" (Acts 8:9, 10), answered to the idea of a false Christ. But we are more naturally to think of one of those deceivers whose ideal of Messiah was that of a political chief who would liberate the people from the yoke of Rome. Josephus relates that after Nero became emperor "the affairs of the Jews grew worse and worse continually ; for the country was filled with robbers and impostors who deluded the multitude." He tells us how these "deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would show wonders and signs that should be performed by the providence of God." He mentions an Egyptian who proclaimed himself a prophet, "and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, and said that he would there show them how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down."16 Stich a pretender, or one like Theudas (Acts 5:36), or Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9), or Dositheus, or Menander, sufficiently fulfills the import of all that Jesus said about the coming of deceivers in his name "saying, I am."17 But while we refer to these as illustrative examples we are not to point to this and that particular individual and say, " Here was the word of Christ literally fulfilled." We look for no such literal correspond encea. Such minuteness in prediction savors more of the nature of fortune-telling than of biblical prophecy. It is quite enough to show that the spirit and scope of Jesus's words were amply satisfied by well-attested facts, and find abundant fulfillment in the numerous impostors who, both before and during the Jewish war, led multitudes astray. "All those are essentially false Messiahs," says Lange, "who would assume the place which belongs to Christ in the kingdom of God. It includes, therefore, the enthusiasts who before the destruction of Jerusalem appeared as seducers of the people."18
But the statement which seems to many impossible to reconcile with the time-limit of this prophecy is that "the gospel must first be preached unto all the nations." The language of Matthew is: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world (en olh th oikonhenh) for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come." No corresponding statement appears in Luke, but its absence there cannot be fairly construed into an argument against its genuineness. Nor are the different forms of expression which appear in the texts of Matthew and Mark any sufficient reason for rejecting the statement, for they convey essentially the same idea and assure the disciples that the end shall not come until this preaching of the Gospel is accomplished. Mark makes the strong statement that the Gospel must (dei) first be preached.
Two questions now arise:
(1) What is the real import of these words? and
(2) wherein lay the necessity for such preaching before the end ? On both these questions opinions seem to vary. Alford sees in the language of Matthew's gospel an example of "the pregnant meaning of prophecy. The Gospel had been preached through the whole orbis terrarum, and every nation had received its testimony, before the destruction of Jerusalem (see Col. 1:6, 23; 2 Tim. 4:17). This was necessary not only as regarded the Gentiles, but to give to God's people, the Jews, who were scattered among all these nations, the opportunity of receiving or rejecting the preaching of Christ. But in the wider sense the words imply that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world, literally taken, before the great and final end come. The apostasy of the latter days and the universal dispersion of missions are the two great signs of the end drawing nigh."19 This exposition accords with this writer's wellknown view of a double sense, or two parallel interpretations running through the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. But with those who reject such doctrine of a double sense his statements are without weight or value.
It is noticeable, however, that he admits and affirms that the Gospel had been preached through the whole world, and every nation had received its testimony before the destruction of the Jewish capital. This is a most important admission to come from such a source, for it shows that with a strict literalist the language of Jesus is seen, in the light of such statements as Col. 1:6, 23, to have been fulfilled before the close of the apostolic age. If this is so, why should anyone insist that it must mean the complete evangelisation of the world in the widest sense ?
We maintain that the occasion, scope, and time-limits of this discourse forbid our construing these words into such absolute and universal import. For surely, if such a preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom as will effect the thorough Christianizing of the world as now known to us was intended by Jesus, the end was very far off from the apostolic times, and it is utterly inexplicable how, with any such thought in mind, our Lord could have said with the emphatic assurance which all the synoptists record, "This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished." How much more reasonable and self-consistent to interpret the words in accordance with that more limited sense in which the New Testament writers use the terms world and nations! According to Luke 2:1, "all the world" (oi.konme,nh) was enrolled by a decree of Augustus. In Acts 11:28, mention is made of a great famine "over all the world; which came to pass in the days of Claudius." Paul and Silas were spoken of as those who had "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17, 6), and Paul was accused as "a pest, and a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world " (Acts 24, 5). In all these passages the same word oikonmeneh, inhabited earth, is employed. In 2 Tim. 4:17, we read : "The Lord stood by me and gave me power, that through me the preaching might be fully proclaimed, and that all the nations might hear." In Col. 1:5, 6, the apostle speaks of "the word of the truth of the Gospel which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world (en panti tw kosmw), bearing fruit and increasing, according as it also does in you ;" and in verse 23 of the same chapter he says that the Gospel "was preached in all creation under the heaven " (en pash ktisei th upo ton onranon). Here are terms more comprehensive in their import than those employed by Jesus, and yet they are used in reference to the preaching of the Gospel as it had already been proclaimed in the apostolic times.
In view of these facts it seems like the persistent blindness of a dogmatic bias to insist that the "preaching of the gospel in all the world for a testimony to the nations " must needs include all the missionary operations of the Church during the Christian centuries. According to Matt. 10:23, as we have already noticed, Jesus declared to his disciples when he gave them their apostolic commission, "Ye shall not have finished the cities of Israel until the Son of mail be come." Not even the cities and peoples of Palestine would be completely evangelized before the coming of Christ; much less may we suppose that all the other nations and regions of the world-empire of Rome must be converted to Christianity within the same period. The most natural and obvious meaning of our Lord's language is that during the latter days of the pre-Messianic era, and before the end of that age, the new Gospel must be proclaimed and witnessed among all the nations of what was commonly called "the inhabited earth " (h oikonmenh). This "world " did not signify to Galilean fishermen or to learned Jewish rabbis what it does to a modern, reader, familiar every day with telegraphic communications from remote continents and islands. Nor does Paul's comprehensive phrase, "all creation under heaven," require us to interpret it with any more rigid literalism than we do the statement at the close of John's gospel, that "the world itself would not contain the books that should be written." Such expressions are usually understood to contain an element of hyperbole and are common in all the languages of men. They are also of the nature of synecdoche, in which the whole is put for a part.
Such being the meaning of the words in New Testament usage, it remains for us to show the necessity of such a preaching of the Gospel before the end of the Jewish age. According to Mark 13, 10, it was necessary (dei) for the Gospel to be thus preached before the end, and we may reasonably look in such necessity for some intimation touching the divine order of the world. In the passing away of an old order and the introduction of a new we do not find a sudden and unlooked-for transition. God does not remove a system that has had a long career of usefulness until he has effectually provided and prepared the way for something better. Jesus had declared to the representatives of the Jewish people "that the kingdom of God should be taken from them, and be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). But the way must be duly made ready for such an historic change. It was necessary that the Gospel of Christ and the new teachings of his king. dom should be spread abroad beyond Jerusalem, and be immovably established in the civilized world, before the old system and worship which centered in the temple of Judaism were utterly broken down. The great apostle to the nations found Judaism an obstacle to the Gospel which he preached. Its persistent tendency was to "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7); to teach that circumcision was essential to salvation (Acts 15:1; Gal. 5:2); to "observe days, and months, and seasons, and years" (Gal. 4:10; Rom. 14:5); to make much of meats, and drinks, and feast days, and new moons, and sabbaths (Col. 2:i e). The old temple-cultus which bad begotten, and was striving to perpetuate, such external legal ism became thus an old, useless, decaying thing, and was "nigh unto vanishing away" (Heb. 8:13). Paul spoke of it as "the Jerusalem that now is, in bondage with her children, and bearing children unto bondage" (Gal. 4:24, 25). He proclaimed in all the world that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17).
It required the period of a generation for the thorough propagation and establishment of this new gospel of the kingdom of God. Therefore before the temple be overthrown, so that "stone shall not be left upon stone," a new and better ideal of worship must first be established. The preaching of such good news was to serve "for a testimony unto all the nations," a witness (marturionv) and evidence that a new light bad come into the world. To use the language of the Epistle to the Hebrews, it was necessary that in all the world men should " taste the powers of the age to come," and receive the doctrines and life of "a kingdom that cannot be shaken," before the final overthrow and removal of a system which had already been fundamentally shaken and was tottering to its fall (Heb. 6:5, 12, 28).
II. In the second section of our analysis (see p. 226) there is little that calls for extended discussion. Here we are told of various signs by which the disciples might know when the end was close at hand. All that is mentioned hitherto might take place some time before the end ; some of the things would require a considerable period; wars and rumors of wars and national tumults would occur in various places a considerable time before there would be occasion for special alarm for dwellers in Jerusalem; but when the invading armies began to make their appearance at the city and compass it about the great tribulation would begin, and those who would escape the calamities of those days must flee to the mountains with the utmost haste.
That what is here written refers to the siege of Jerusalem, and can by no sound principles of interpretation be otherwise explained, is quite generally conceded. The only questions of note are those concerning the meaning of several peculiar expressions.
(1) "The abomination of desolation" is a phrase appropriated from the Septuagint of Dan. 12, 11 (comp. Dan. 8:13; 9:27, and 11:31), and refers there to the desolation and profanation of the sanctuary by Antiochus Epiphanes. There is no need to understand it as referring to any particular sign or symbol, as the Roman eagles, or an imperial statue, or the sacrilege of the zealots inside the temple. It is simply an appropriate prophetic phrase employed to denote here in a general way the same idea that it conveys in the Book of Daniel, namely, a presence of something abominable to Jewish thought. Its "standing in a holy place" (Matthew), or "where it ought not " (Mark), is to be understood in accord with the same general thought. Not the site of the temple only, but the mountains about Jerusalem, and indeed the whole land of Israel (comp. Zech. 2:12), was to the Jew a holy place. When, therefore, the Roman armies began to encamp about Jerusalem, the abominable desolator occupied the places hallowed by the associations of more than a thousand years. The corresponding passage in Luke's gospel, "When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies," is a confirmation of this exposition.20
(2) The admonition to flee to the mountains, and make such haste that one should not even go down from the housetop to take any of his goods, if; to be interpreted as the emotional language of a prophetic oracle. Such language is never to be pressed into literal significance. The general thought is clear and impressive. They were to waste no time in making their escape from the doomed city. Fleeing for refuge to the mountains is an expression to be read in the light of such scriptures as Gen. 19:17, and Zech. 14:5.
(3) The great tribulation and distress (Matthew and Mark, vliyij, Luke, anagh megalh) are evidently the sufferings which must needs accompany a prolonged and bitter siege. The language of the first two gospels is appropriated in substance from Dan. 12, 1, and may be regarded as hyperbolical; but it is no more extravagant than that of the Jewish historian Josephus, who says that "the multitude of those that perished exceeded all the destructions which either men or God ever brought upon the world," and describes the horrors of famine and pestilence and suffering within the city in most appalling detail.'21
(4) The mention of false Christs and impostors, in this section as in the preceding, is to be explained as we have already shown above. The repetition serves to make it emphatic that even up to the last such false pretenders would keep putting themselves forward, to deceive if possible the elect.
(5) Luke's gospel has a passage in this connection which has no parallel in the synoptists : "There shall be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people; and they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations until times of nations be fulfilled." The only part of this which calls for discussion here is the phrase times of nations (kairoi eznwn). We notice the absence of the article from the words. It is not the times of the nations, as if some definite and well-understood period or fact were referred to. And there is nothing in the text or context to determine absolutely the precise meaning of the words. The idea of "opportunities of grace allotted to the Gentiles " which some have found in Rom. 11:25, and imported into this passage of Luke, has no relevancy to the context. "Times of the nations" are here much more naturally understood of times allotted to the nations for the treading down of the city, and thus executing the divine judgment of which the passage speaks. The closest parallel to this is seen in Rev. 11:2, where the outer court of the temple is said to have been "given to the nations; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty-two months." These Kaipoi are, accordingly, best understood as times of judgment upon Jerusalem,22 not times of salvation for the nations. But who shall say how long a period these "times" are to cover?
No answer to this last question can afford to overlook what is written in verse 22, a passage also peculiar to Luke: "For days of vengeance these are for the fulfilling of all things which are written." The words huerai ekoikhoewj, days of vengeance, are appropriated from the Septuagint of Hosea 9:7, which reads: "The days of vengeance are come, the days of thy recompense are come; and Israel shall be afflicted as the prophet who has gone mad, a man who is carried away in spirit. Because of the multitude of thy iniquities thy madness (gania) was made full." The Hebrew text of this passage reads: "The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come; Israel shall know; a fool it; the prophet, the man of the spirit is mad; because of the abundance of thy iniquity, and great is the enmity." We cite the prophecy thus fully because of its obvious analogy with the context and scope of the passage in Luke where its leading words are appropriated. In Hosea and in Luke the "days of vengeance " are days of divine penal visitation on Israel; days of which prophets have spoken and written; days when the prophets themselves are gone mad and unworthy of trust; and the iniquities of the people have become so great and multitudinous that the nation is ripe for judgment. Now the "times" which are allotted the nations for executing judgment upon the city and people whose iniquities are full may be either an indefinitely long period or one short, sharp, and decisive. There is nothing in our gospels to determine this point. If we assume with Bengel that these times of judgment include the long period during which "Jerusalem has already been trodden down by the Romans, the Persians, the Saracens, the Franks, and the Turks," we must nevertheless acknowledge that the terminus a quo of this long continued judgment dates from the overthrow of the city by the Romans. It would not in the least conflict with the definite time limits of this prophecy to say that the desolation of the city would continue centuries after its fall. Such an incidental mention of continuous judgment cannot be fairly said to conflict with the emphatic assurance that all these things shall be accomplished before the passing away of this generation. Who would think of raising such a difficulty in the exposition of Isa. 13:20-22, where the perpetual desolation of Babylon is affirmed in immediate connection with the announcement that the day of her terrible judgment is at hand? "It shall never be inhabited," says the prophet; "wild beasts of the desert shall lie there, wolves shall cry in their castles, and jackals in the palaces; and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged." Surely, the positive declaration of the nearness of the catastrophe is not in the slightest degree invalidated by the statement that the doomed city will remain a ruin, or be for a long time trodden down by nations, or by wild beasts.
It may, however, be fairly claimed that the indefinite phrase "times of nations" is, like so much else in this part of the discourse, a prophetic term of limited significance. This is favored by the suggestions of the parallel passage already cited from Rev. 11:2. The forty-two months there mentioned for the treading down of the holy city are a mystic designation, and seem to be an equivalent of the twelve hundred and sixty days mentioned immediately afterward (verse 3). The same period is again mentioned in Rev. 12:6, and yet in Rev. 12:14 of the same chapter is apparently an equivalent of the prophetic phrase "a time (kairos), and times, and half a time." The phrase is taken from Dan. 7:25; 12, 7. In every one of these texts it designates a period of suffering and disaster. In Daniel the obvious allusion is to the period of about three and a half years during which Antiochus Epiphanes despoiled the city and temple.23 Why should it mean more here than a correspondingly short period during which Jerusalem was encompassed with armies, and "the abomination of desolation" remained standing and triumphing " in a holy place ? "
III. The third section of this prophecy consists of an apocalyptic picture of the end. It is set in the form of Hebrew parallelism, and, according to Mark, reads as follows :
But in those days, after that tribulation,
The sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light,
And the stars shall be out of the heaven failing,
And the powers which are in the heavens shall be shaken.
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
And then shall he send forth the angels,
And shall gather his elect from the four winds,
From the extremity of earth to the extremity of heaven.
The text of Matthew is substantially the same, but presents some verbal differences, which it is well to note:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days,
The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
And the stars shall fall from the heaven,
And the powers of the heavens shall be shaken;
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven;
And then shall all the tribes of the land mourn,
And they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
And he shall send forth his angels with a great trumpet,
And they shall gather his elect from the four winds,
From the extremities of the heavens unto their extremities.
The corresponding passage in Luke has such peculiarities of its own that we defer our comments on it until after we have indicated what we regard as the true interpretation of the texts of the first two gospels. Our view of these apocalyptic sayings may be best set forth in a series of propositions, which seem to us so evident as scarcely to call for extended argument.
(1) The texts of Mark and Matthew are so closely parallel that we may safely accept them as in substance a portion of the best attested sayings of Jesus. The differences of phraseology are too slight to involve any important difference in the meaning.
(2) The language is appropriated in the main from the books of Isaiah and Daniel, but also from other prophets. The following passages are particularly in point :
For the stars of heaven and their constellations shall not shed forth their light;
Dark is the sun in his going forth,
And the moon shall not cause her light to shine (Isa. 13, 10).
And all the host of the heavens shall be melted,
And the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll,
And all their host shall fall,
As falls a leaf from the vine,
And as a fallen fig from the fig tree (Isa. 34:4).24
I was gazing in the visions of the night,
And behold, with the clouds of the heavens,
One like a son of man was coming,
And to the Ancient of days he approached,
And into his presence they brought him.
And to him was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom;
And all the nations, and peoples, and tongues shall serve him (Dan. 7:18, 14).
In that day great shall be the mourning in Jerusalem,
And the land shall mourn, families, families alone.
All the families [or tribes] that are left (Zech. 3:11-14).
In that day there shall be a blowing with a great trumpet,
And they that are perishing in the land of Asshur shall come,
And those that are dispersed in the land of Egypt,
And they shall worship Jehovah in the holy mountain (Isa. 27:18).
If thy dispersion be from extremity of the heaven to extremity of the heaven,
Thence shall the Lord thy God gather thee (Sept. of Deut. 21:4).
For from the four winds of the heaven will I gather you,
Saith the Lord (Sept. of Zech. 2:6).
From these quotations it is apparent that there is scarcely an expression employed in Matthew and Luke which has not been taken from the Old Testament Scriptures.
(3) Such apocalyptic forms of speech are not to be assumed to convey in the New Testament a meaning different from that which they bear in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are part and parcel of the genius of prophetic language. The language of Isa. 13, 10, is used in a prophecy of the overthrow of Babylon. That of Isa. 24, 4, refers to the desolation of Edom. The ideal of "the Son of man coming in the clouds" is taken from a prophecy of the Messianic kingdom, which kingdom, as depicted in Dan. 7:13,14, is no other than the one symbolized in the same book by a stone cut out of the mountain (Dan. 2:34, 35). It is the same kingdom of heaven which Jesus likened to a grain of mustard seed and to the working of leaven in the meal (Matt. 13, 31-33). The other citations we have given above show with equal clearness how both Jesus and his disciples were wont to express themselves in language which must have been very familiar to those who from childhood heard the law and the prophets "read in their synagogues every Sabbath" (Acts 13:27, 15:21). A strictly literal interpretation of such pictorial modes of thought leads only to absurdity. Their import must be studied in the light of the numerous parallels in the Old Testament writers, which have been extensively presented in the foregoing part of this volume. But with what show of reason, or on what principle of "interpreting Scripture by Scripture," can it be maintained that the language of Isaiah, and Joel, and Daniel, allowed by all the best exegetes to be metaphorical when employed in the Hebrew Scriptures, must be literally understood when appropriated by Jesus or his apostles ?
We sometimes, indeed, meet with a disputant who attempts to evade the force of the above question by the plea that if we interpret one part of Jesus's discourse literally we are bound in consistency to treat the entire prophecy in the same way. So, on the other hand, it is urged that if Matt. 24, 29-31, for example, be explained metaphorically, we must carry the same principle through all the rest of the chapter ; and if the words sun, moon, and heavens in verse 29 are to be taken figuratively, so should the words Judaea, and mountains, and housetop, and field in other parts of the chapter be explained metaphorically ! It is difficult to understand how such a superficial plea can be seriously put forward by one who has made a careful study of the Hebrew prophets. Every one of the Old Testament examples which we have cited above stands connected, like these apocalyptic sayings of Jesus, with other statements which all readers and expositors have understood literally. The most prosaic writer may at times express himself through a whole series of sentences in figurative terms, and incorporate the extended metaphor in the midst of a plain narrative of facts. We have shown in previous pages how the Hebrew historians interweave poetic embellishment into their vivid descriptions, and, when the subject itself becomes grand and sublime, the language naturally rises into the style of poetic parallelism with its various properties of form and figure.25 No set of mechanical rules can be drawn up for distinguishing between the language of prose and of poetry. The reader's common sense, united with a well-trained critical judgment, must needs be the court of final appeal in every case. It would be sheer folly to attempt the construction of a vocabulary of prophetic metaphors for use in biblical interpretation.
(4) Our fourth and concluding proposition is that this apocalyptic passage is a sublime symbolic picture of the crisis of ages in transition from the Old Testament dispensation to the Christian era. The word-picture must be taken as a whole, and allowed to convey its grand total impression. The attempt, in a single passage like Mark 13, 24, 25, to take each metaphor separately and give it a distinct application, ruins the whole picture. To say, with some of the older expositors,26 that the heavens represent the Jewish theocracy, the sun is its religion, and the moon its civil government, while the stars that fall from this heaven are the judges and teachers, is to misapprehend the real nature of the aggregate impression designed to be made. As well might one take a rainbow into pieces, analyze each separate color, and point out its distinct significance, with the idea of thereby elucidating the real meaning of the sign set in the cloud as a token of God's covenant with Noah. The picture of a collapsing universe symbolizes the one simple but sublime thought of supernatural interposition in the affairs of the world, involving remarkable revolution and change. The element of time does not at all appear in the picture. So the Son of man coming on the clouds means here just what it means in Daniel's vision. It is an apocalyptic concept of the Messiah, as King of heaven and earth, executing divine judgment and entering with His people upon the possession and dominion of the kingdoms of the world. Here again the element of time does not enter, except it be the associated thought of Daniel's prophecy that "his dominion is an everlasting dominion " (Dan. 7:14). It is the same coming of the Son of man in His kingdom which is referred to in Matt. 16:27, 28, the inception of which was to occur before some of those who heard these words of Jesus should taste of death. The mourning of all the tribes of the land is the universal wail and lamentation of Judaism over its national overthrow. In the fall of their city and temple the priests, scribes, and elders saw " the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power " (Matt. 26:64), and thus it was made manifest to all who read prophecy aright that "Jesus the Galiliaean" had conquered.27 The gathering of Christ's elect from the four winds is the true fulfillment of numerous prophecies which promise the chosen people that they shall be gathered out of all lands and established forever in the mountain of God (comp. Amos 9:14, 15, Jer. 23:5-8, 32:37-40, Ezek. 37:21-28). The time and manner of this universal ingathering of the elect ones cannot be determined from the language of any of these prophecies. As well might one presume to determine from Jesus's words in John 12:32, where, when, and in what manner, when the Christ is "lifted up out of the earth," he will draw all men unto himself. The point made emphatic, in the eschatological discourse of Jesus, is that all the things contemplated in the apocalyptic symbolism employed to depict his coming and reign would follow immediately after the tribulation of those days" (Matt. 24:29) or, as Mark has it, "in those days, after that tribulation." That is, the coming of the kingdom of the Son of man is coincident with the overthrow of Judaism and its temple, and follows immediately in those very days.28
Whatever in this picture necessarily pertains to the continuous administration of the kingdom on the earth must of course be permanent, and continue as long as the nature and purpose of each work requires. When, therefore, it is affirmed that "this generation shall not pass away until all these things be accomplished," no one supposes that the kingdom and the power and the glory of the Son of man are to terminate with that generation. The kingdom itself is to endure for ages of ages. It is to increase like the stone cut from the mountain, which itself "became a great mountain and filled the whole earth." It is to grow and operate like the mustard seed and the leaven until it accomplish its heavenly purpose among men. The entire New Testament teaching concerning the kingdom of Christ contemplates a long period, and the abolishing of all opposing authority and power; "for he must reign till he hath put all his enemies under his feet" (I Cor. 15:25). The overthrow of Jerusalem was one of the first triumphs of the Messiah's reign, and a sign that he was truly "seated at the right hand of power."
The corresponding passage in Luke's gospel (Luke 21:25-28) is noticeable for its different forms of expression, not for anything that appears to be of different meaning. The language is as follows:
And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars,
And upon the earth distress of nations,
In perplexity at the sound of sea and billows;
Men expiring from fear and expectation of the things which are coming on the world;
For the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.
And then shall they see the Sun of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these things begin to come to pass,
Look up and lift up your heads;
Because your redemption draweth nigh.
These lines are but a different version of the oracle as originally uttered by our Lord. They may be regarded as an example of Luke's peculiar manner of composition, and, like the parallels in Mark and Matthew, are an apocalyptic picture of the crisis of the pre-Messianic age. Let it be particularly noticed that the writer contemplates it as something which the contemporaries of Jesus might recognize, and lift up their heads in exultant expectation of their speedy redemption. There is nothing whatever that implies an event to be looked for in a distant age. The things of which he spoke were to "begin to come to pass " in the near future. But how long the Son of man would reign, "sitting at the right hand of power," before his enemies would all be put under his feet; how the Gospel would be preached in the world all through the period of his kingdom in the world; and how at other times and seasons the Son of man would be seen coming in his kingdom and coming in glory -- these are matters on which Jesus spoke no definite word on that occasion.
IV. The fourth section consists of counsel and warning, arid calls for no special comment here. Luke has a part of these admonitions in another connection, and cites the example of Lot and Sodom as an illustration of the manner "it shall be in the day the Son of man is revealed" (Luke 17:30). But whether uttered on this occasion or some other, they have obvious reference to the same subject, and may have been repeated on many occasions. Three things, however, in this concluding section, it is of prime importance to note :
(1) The counsels and admonitions were addressed to the disciples. They, and not men of subsequent generations, were to see the signs by which they might know that he was nigh, even at their doors. What peoples of other lands and future times might see and know is nothing to the purpose in this context.
(2) These counsels, as well as what has gone before in this discourse, are in direct answer to the question of the disciples, When shall these things be, and WHAT SIGN may we look for to indicate when they are about to be accomplished ? In the entire discourse he has uttered no word to inform them that the time is long after their day, and the sign of it something they shall not live to See. On the contrary, he mentioned a number of things which must first take place, and then he designated among other things one notable sign, at right of which all of them yet left in Judaea should flee in greatest haste to the mountains. So significant and ominous would be "the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not," that the most ancient records attach to the words the parenthetic admonition, "Let him that readeth understand."
(3) But what ought to settle the question of time beyond all controversy is the most emphatic declaration : "This generation shall not pass away until all these things be accomplished." These words are clearly intended to answer the disciples' question, "WHEN shall these things be ?" Their meaning is substantially the same as that of Mark 9:1, and the parallels in Matthew and Luke. The words immediately preceding them show the absurdity of applying them to another generation than that of the apostles "When Ye SEE THESE THINGS coining to pass, KNOW YE that he [or it --'the kingdom of God' -- Luke] is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I Say unto You, This generation29 Shall not pass away," etc.
But not a few expositors presume to nullify the import of these words by affirming that they are glaringly inconsistent with what follows in Mark and Matthew: " But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." It is difficult to understand how any interpreter, uninfluenced by a dogmatic prepossession, can insist on making one of these statements contradict or exclude the other. But it is not difficult to see that, when one has it already settled in his mind that the kingdom of Christ is not yet come, that the "Parousia" is an event yet future, and that "the end of the age" is not the close of the pre-Messianic age, but "the end of the world," much a weight of dogma effectually obliges him to nullify the simple meaning of words as emphatic as Jesus ever spoke.30 If the language of Mark 13:30, and its parallels in Matthew and Luke are to be arbitrarily set aside on such grounds we see not but it is just as proper a procedure to reject the statement of Jesus's ignorance of the day and the hour, which, indeed, does not appear in Luke at all. Why not reject Mark 13:32, which has no parallel in Luke, rather than verse 30, which appears in all the synoptic gospels ? Such an arbitrary procedure is a two-edged sword which may smite in one direction as well as another.
But we find in these two associate Statements of Jesus no inconsistency. The plain and obvious meaning of the two sayings is this: "I most solemnly assure you that all these things will occur before this generation shall have passed away, and I give you these signs by which ye may know when the end is close upon you ; but the particular day and hour I do not know myself. Therefore, watch and be ready at every hour." Here is no contradiction of thought or sentiment ; no inconsistency whatever. But to assume, as some do, that the day and hour intended may be centuries after that generation had passed away, would seem to be virtually implicating Jesus in a kind of preposterous trifling. For how would it differ from saying in substance: "All these things Shall assuredly come to pass in your day, before some of you taste of death ; but the day and the hour may be several thousands of years in the future,
Watch, therefore, and be ye ready ! ! "
It is entirely self-consistent and every way rational to affirm positively that a foreseen event will take place inside of fifty years, and yet disclaim knowledge of particular year, month, week, day, and hour.31 The only motive we can conceive for forcing a different construction upon the two statements is that already intimated above, namely, a belief that the Son of man has not yet come, and, consequently, that his prophecy of the end must be either a failure or else an event yet in the future. We think, on the contrary, that we have shown by a valid exegesis that the coming of the kingdom of Christ and the end of the pre-Messianic age were coincident with the overthrow of the Jewish temple at Jerusalem.
It remains to notice a few things peculiar to Matthew's report of this discourse of Jesus. According to his gospel the form of the disciples' question was, "When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming (parousia) and of the consummation of the age (ounteleia ton aiwnos)?" They seem to have already inferred or assumed that his coming and the consummation of the age would be connected in some way with the desolation of the temple. The closing words of chap. 23 were of a nature to imply all this.32 If it were not to be and Jesus knew it, it is inconceivable that he should have confirmed them in such a belief as the language of Matt. 24 was certainly adapted to do. What significance, then, are we to attach to the words coming, and consummation of the age ?
The word parousia, commonly translated coming, is so constantly associated, in current dogmatics, with the ultimate goal of human history, that ordinary readers lose sight of its simple meaning in New Testament usage. The word means presence as opposed to absence. For example, we read in Phil. 2:12, "So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence (en th parousia mon) only, but now much more in my absence (en th apousia mon), work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." But as the personal presence of anyone implies a previous coming, so this word is not improperly rendered coming in many passages, and the verb e[rcomai, to come, is often employed to denote the appearance and kingdom of Christ.33 But to assume that this coming or presence of Christ must needs be spectacular in any physical sense, a literal display of his person in the atmosphere of this earth, is to involve the doctrine in great confusion. Why must the coming of the Son of man on the clouds to execute judgment on that generation be understood or explained in any other way than we explain Jehovah's "riding upon a swift cloud," and coming to execute judgment on Egypt, as prophesied in Isa. 19:I ? Whatever the real nature of the parousia, as contemplated in this prophetic discourse, our Lord unmistakably associates it with the destruction of the temple and city, which he represents as the signal termination of the pre-Messianic age. The coming on clouds, the darkening of the heavens, the collapse of elements, are, as we have shown above, familiar forms of apocalyptic language, appropriated from. the Hebrew prophets.34
That other expression in Matthew, "the consummation of the age," is a phrase that has been much abused and widely misunderstood. The common translation, "end of the world," has been a delusion to many readers of the English Bible. It has helped to perpetuate the unscriptural notion that the coming and kingdom of Christ are not facts of the past, present, and future, but of the future only. The fundamental and distinguishing doctrine of all branches of the "Adventists," so-called, is that the coming of the Son of man to set up his kingdom in this world is solely an event of the future. Christ has as yet no kingdom among men! Even the parables of our Lord, illustrative of the spiritual character of the kingdom, are forced to harmonize with the concept of a spectacular advent and a political organization.35 Those who maintain the doctrine, and, indeed, not a few who oppose it, fall into error and inconsistency by failing to apprehend the true meaning of the phrase "the end of the age."
For, first of all, they do not determine clearly what age (aiwn) is contemplated in such a text as Matt. 24:3. They quite generally assume that the period of the Gospel dispensation is meant. But nothing is more familiar in the Jewish terminology of our Lord's time than the current phrases.- knk glnt and adknc glnt this age and the age to come. The period which preceded the coming of the Messiah was spoken of as this age; that which followed his coming was the age to come.36 It is not important to consider what various and often contradictory notions the rabbins associated with the age to come. Their notions were as various as those concerning the character of the Messiah himself. But by this age they meant and could mean nothing else than the current period in which they were living, the then present age. The question of the disciples, as recorded, could therefore only refer to the pre-Messianic age, and its consummation was, as we have seen, associated in their thought with the overthrow of the temple. But even were it admitted that their notion of "the consummation of the age" was erroneous, the teaching of Jesus was emphatic beyond all rational question that that generation should not pass away before all those things of which they inquired should be fulfilled.
The age to come, the Messianic time, would accordingly be the period that would follow immediately after the termination of the pre-Messianic age. That time had not yet come when Jesus spoke. According to the whole trend of New Testament teaching that age and the Messianic kingdom were near or at hand. Christ's ministry fell in the last days of an aiwn. The gospel of his kingdom must be firmly established in the world before the end of that age. So we read, in Heb. 9:26: "Now, once, at the end of the ages (epi ounteleia twn aiwnwn) hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Also in Heb. 1:1, it is written: "God . . . hath at the last of these days spoken unto us in his Son." Similarly Peter (1 Pet. 1:20) speaks of Christ as "foreknown before the foundation of the world, but manifested at the end of the times for your sake." Paul, too, speaks of himself as living near the consummation of an age: "These things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come" (1 Cor. 10:11). The ministry both of Jesus and his disciples must, therefore, be recognized as occurring in the latter days of an aiwn, or near the end of the pre-Messianic age. The New Testament writers, as well as Jesus, are clear on this point. They never represent themselves as already entered upon the first days, or the beginning of the age, but rather in the last days.
If, now, we ask with the disciples, WHEN shall these things be? or at what point are we to recognize the end of the pre-Messianic age? we are to find the answer in the eschatological discourse of Jesus, and at some point before that generation passed away. "The ends of the ages " may have a definite point of contact and transition from one age to another. The coming age may, like the morning twilight, cast its beams into the foregoing night, and so the preceding age may partake in its last days of many things which belong to the age to come.37 But such facts do not affect the question of the signal crisis which may conspicuously mark the end of one age and the opening of another. Was there such a crisis between the Jewish and Christian dispensations, that we can point to it and say, "That was preeminently and conspicuously an event which marked an epoch in the history of both Judaism and Christianity ? "
Some writers find such a crisis or end in the crucifixion of Jesus, and at the moment when he said, "It is finished " (teteleotai). Others say it was at the resurrection; some few designate the ascension; but many have taught that the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the coming of Christ in his kingdom, the end of the old and the beginning of the new age. To all of these theories there are two insuperable objections:
(1) They are irreconcilable with the statement of Jesus that the Gospel must first be preached "in all the habitable earth " (oikumenh), and
(2), long after the day of Pentecost, the apostles speak of their work as taking place in the last days, or near the end of the age.
Is it not strange that any careful student of our Lord's teaching should fail to understand his answer to this very question ? The disciples asked, definitely, WHEN shall it be ? And Jesus proceeded to foretell a variety of things which they would live to see -- all preliminary to the end. He foretold the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem, and an intelligible sign by which they might know the imminence of the final catastrophe of Judaism. And having told them of all these things, and of his own coming in the clouds and its glorious significance, he added: "When ye see these things coming to pass, know that it is nigh, at the door. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things be accomplished." The ruin of the temple was, accordingly, the crisis which marked the end of the pre-Messianic age.
Matthew's gospel appends to the eschatological discourse three parables of admonition, which occupy the whole of the twenty-fifth chapter. The parable of the ten virgins and the picture of the judgment are peculiar to this gospel, but the parable of the talents appears to be in substance identical with that of the pounds (mnaj, minas) in Luke 19:11-27. The three parables as they stand in Matthew, whether originally uttered in this connection or not, are every way appropriate to the context. They are admonitions to watch and be ready for the coming of the Lord, and are not essentially different from the counsels already noticed in the fourth section of the preceding discourse (for example, Matt. 24:32-51). The lemon of the parable of the virgins is, "Watch, therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour." The great lesson of the parable of the talents is that the Lord's servants have also something more to do than merely to watch. They must be diligently employed in the service and interests of their owner during his temporary absence from them, whether the time be long or short. There is, then, no difficulty as to the import of these parables, and no question as to their relevancy to the subject of which Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives.
Greater difficulty is supposed to attach to the sublime picture of judgment recorded in Matt. 25:31-46, and most expositors have thought that that picture must needs refer to a general and formal judgment of all nations of men at the conclusion of human history. But the language of Matthew is explicit in referring it to the time "when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him," and when "he shall sit on the throne of his glory." There would be obvious inconsistency in making this coming of the Son of man different from that of Matt. 24:30, and 16:27, 28. How, then, it it; asked, can this sublime ideal be brought within the time-limits of the prophecy of Matt. 24?
The difficulties which are here suggested arise either from the assumptions of a literalizing exegesis or from a failure to keep in mind that the coming and kingdom of Christ are in their nature a process, which has definite historical beginning, but stretches on indefinitely into future ages of ages. Consequently, while most of the things enumerated in the foregoing discourse had fulfillment in the fall of Judaism and the beginning of Christianity, other things, from their very nature, are such as must needs be of repeated or continual occurrence. Such especially is the execution of judgment, a function of every reigning king. The scriptural doctrine of Messiah's reign is not that God, the Father Almighty, vacates his throne at the accession of the Christ. Neither the concept of Psalm 2:7-9, nor Psalm ex, nor Dan. 7:13, 14, implies that the eternal God is any less the ruler and sovereign of the world after he sets his anointed Son at his right hand, and "gives him dominion and glory and a kingdom." From thence onward he judges the world by Jesus Christ, and the sublime picture of Matt. 25:31-46, is a parable of this great fact. Hence the force and propriety of the words: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory." But how long he shall continue to sit thus on his glorious throne of judgment-how long "he must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet" -- is not a matter of specific revelation. The ideal of judgment presented in Matt. 25:31-46, is therefore no single event, like the destruction of Jerusalem. It is not to be explained literally as a formal assize not to open until the end of human history on earth. It is, rather, a most impressive parabolic picture of the age long administration of Jesus Christ, from the hour of the signal overthrow of Jerusalem until "he shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father" (1 Cor. 15:24). The anointed King of glory is judge of the living as well as of the dead, and it is a grave error to represent "the day of the Lord" or "the day of judgment" as something deferred to the end of time. We have shown over and over again in the preceding portions of this volume that "the great and terrible day of the Lord" is a prophetic phrase of remarkable fullness of meaning. The Old Testament doctrine is that "the kingdom is Jehovah's, and he is ruler among the nations" (Psalm 22:28). "Say ye among the nations, Jehovah reigneth; he shall judge the peoples with equity. He cometh, he cometh to judge the earth ; be shall judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his truth" (Psalm 96:10-13). The day of judgment for any wicked nation, city, or individual is the time when the penal visitation comes ; and the judgment of God's saints is manifest in every signal event which magnifies goodness and condemns iniquity.38
But this divine administration of the world, which in the Hebrew Scriptures is the work of Jehovah, is portrayed in Dan. 7:13, 14, and represented in the New Testament as committed unto Christ. The Father has given him "authority to execute judgment because he is Son of man" (John 5:27). And the Son of man came, in accord with the apocalyptic picture of Dan. 7:13, and Matt. 24:30, and executed judgment upon Jerusalem, guilty of "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah " (Matt. 23:35, 36). That was the first conspicuous exhibition of his judicial power, and it marked the crisis and end of the pre-Messianic age. Christ is, therefore, now King and Judge; but all things are not yet subjected unto him, and he must reign until he shall have put all things in subjection under his feet. And this is no other than the decree, Jehovah has said to me, My Son art thou; I have this day begotten thee. Ask from me, and I will give nations for thine inheritance, And for thy possession the ends of the earth (Psalm 2:7, 8).
We conclude, then, that the additions peculiar to Matthew's version of our Lord's discourse on the Mount of Olives contain nothing inappropriate to the occasion, and nothing inconsistent with the definite time - limit of the prophecy and the analogy of New Testament eschatology.
1. History of Jesus of Nazara, vol. 5:p. 237, English translation. London 1881 -
2. It is not improbable that this eschatological sermon, as embodied in Mark 13:was copied from the original Aramaic Logia of Matthew. The fact that it is the only discourse of noticeable length in this gospel favors this view, and it seems more naturally accounted for by supposing it copied from a work like the Logia than to suppose it written from Peter's recollection and dictation. This hypothesis would of course place the Logia before Mark's gospel.-
3. A recent work (The Apostolic Gospel, with a Critical Reconstruction of NT Text, by J. F. Blair, London, 1896), remarkable for boldness and confidence of assertion, and the conjectural character of most of its contents, affirms that Mark 13:1-3, is purely editorial and unreliable, and that the corresponding passages in Matthew and Luke, which refer this apocalyptic discourse to the same occasion, are mere repetitions of Mark's mistake with sundry editorial modifications. The author offers a reconstruction of the original apostolic gospel, in which numerous explicit statements of the evangelists are arbitrarily set aside and a large portion of them is put down as untrustworthy. He declares that " the only permissible interpretation of Luke 17:24; Matt. 24:27, teaches that the coming of the kingdom " is an instantaneous, universal event," and cannot be preceded by any visible signs. The confident prepossession which controls his judgment of things compatible and things incompatible for Jesus to have said, is noteworthy, and if his principles, methods, and conclusions be accepted we cannot see that our synoptic gospels are in the main trustworthy for ascertaining the real teachings of Jesus. What the Lord said is in the analysis determined by what the critic thinks he ought to have said. -
4. The attempt of a number of critics to reconstruct the original Logia of Jesus by means of what is written in our synoptic gospels may be a helpful service to New Testament study. But when the reconstruction goes to the presumption of convicting all the synoptists of downright error we may well pause and inquire if the procedure is truly scientific, rational, and trustworthy. When it is maintained that all the writers were mistaken in referring this discourse of Jesus to the time and place assigned, or that Mark made the mistake and Luke and Matthew copied it, we have a right to demand the most convincing kind of evidence. So, too, when a statement like that of Mark 13:30, and its parallel in Matthew and Luke is cast out as apocryphal, and Mark 13:24, and Matt. 24:29, are divorced from their context on no other grounds than assumed incongruity, we ought to be furnished with the very strongest kind of proof of the incongruity. The result of such disruption of any writer's composition is to implicate him in almost incredible stupidity. -
5. Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Amer. ed., 1864), p. 418. -
6. Greek Testament with notes, in loco. -
7. Mark 13:3 and Matthew 24:3 say expressly that the discourse was given on the Mount of Olives; but Luke 21:5-8 leaves the impression that it was spoken while Jesus was yet at the temple, where his attention had been called to the costly stones and gifts. Here, however, is no real discrepancy, for Luke 21:7, simply fails to say whether the question of the disciples was asked immediately after his declaration in verse 6. Matt. 24:3, and Mark 13:8, might be stricken out of their places, and it would not alter in the least the occasion, scope, and import of the Master's words. -
8. I have not considered it necessary in this exposition to entertain the theory that Jesus himself was in error either as to the time or the manner of his coming. His acknowledged ignorance of the day and the hour does not warrant us in supposing that he ever positively affirmed an error. -
9. may certainly and most naturally mean within you, that is, in your souls. But as addressed to the Pharisees this meaning will not hold, and the phrase should be translated here in the midst of you, that is, among you, a meaning demanded by the context.
10. The claim that the temple was not demolished (), but burned with fire, and that some of its foundation stones are yet standing firmly, does not in the least, even if the claim be true, invalidate the remarkable fulfillment of this prophecy. In prophetic speech such predictions of doom naturally take on a measure of hyperbole. Comp. Isa. 13:19, 20; Jer. 50:17, 18; comp. also Luke 12:44; Micah 3:12; Jer. 26:18. It is not literal fulfillment that we are to expect in any of these prophecies. -
11. "Nothing can be more misleading to the English reader," observes Russell, " than the rendering, 'the end of the world;' which inevitably suggests the close of human history, the end of time, and the destruction of the earth -- a meaning which the words will not bear. . . . What can be more evident than that the promise of Christ to be with his disciples to the close of the age implies that they were to live to the close of the age ? That great consummation was not far off ; the Lord had often spoken of it, and always as an approaching event, one which some of them would live to lice. It was the winding up of the Mosaic dispensation; the end of the long probation of the theocratic nation; when the whole frame and fabric of the Jewish polity were to be swept away, and the kingdom of God to come with power. This great event, our Lord declared, was to fall within the limit of the existing generation." -- The Parousia, p. 121. London, 1887. -
12. Hackett observes on this passage A phrase of this kind has an aggregate sense, which is the true one, while that deduced from the import of the separate words is a false sense."- Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, in loco. -
13. One has but to read the third and fourth books of Josephus's Wars of the Jews to find an appalling record of " wars and rumors of wars," continual revolts and plots of cities incited to rebellion by seditious leaders. Thousands perished in these wars before the siege of Jerusalem began, and the calamities of slaughter, and famine, and all that makes a desperate conflict terrible, are detailed by the Jewish historian of this period with sickening minuteness. -
14. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4:chap. 7:S. -
15. That is, the agonies which the Jewish people were expected to undergo in the process of transition to the Messianic age. The idea of these dolores Messiae was derived from Hosea 13:13, and accords with the figure of the regeneration (paliggeneoi,a) as used in Matt. 19:28. For the great purpose of the Messianic reign is to regenerate the world and make all things new. -
16. Antiquities of the Jews, book 20:chap. 8:5 and 6. Comp. also Wars of the Jew, book 2:chap. 13:4 and 5. This Egyptian pretender is doubtless Identical with the one referred to in Acts 21:38. -
17. It is to be noted that only Matthew (24:5) adds the words the Christ. Mark and Luke have simply the more indefinite I am, leaving us to supply from the context the idea of a deceitful pretender to divine authority. Any such pretender, whether he expressly call himself the Christ or not, lays claim to the same great power. -
18. Commentary on Matthew 24:5. -
19. Greek Testament, with notes, etc., in loco. -
20. These words of Luke may be understood as a substitution by the writer of what be regarded as the real meaning of the enigmatic prophetic words found in the Logia; and they suggest that this third gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem ; while the parenthetic words of Mark and Matthew (" Let him that readeth understand ") imply that those gospels were written before this prophecy was fulfilled, and the parenthesis itself was not a part of the Lord's discourse, but inserted by the evangelists. -
21. See his Wars of the Jews, book 6:chap. 9:8, 4. -
22. This is the view of Bengel, Meyer, and Van Oosterzee. -
23. See the exposition of these words of Daniel on page 192 of this volume. -
24. One should compare also the analogous language of Isa. 19:1; 24:28; Ezek. 32:7, 8; Joel 2:81 ; 3:15; Micah 1:3, 4. Compare also our chapter on the apocalyptic elements in Hebrew song, pages 24-37. -
25. See especially the illustrations adduced in chap. 2:and pages 27-30. -
26. Compare Lightfoot, Horae Hebraicae in Evangelium Mattaei in loco. -
27. "The plain meaning of this is," says Dr. Adam Clarke, " that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ's power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn, and many will, in consequence of this manifestation of God, be led to acknowledge Christ slid his religion. "- Commentary, in loco. -
28. Some expositors fall into the error of identifying the coming of the Son of man with the destruction of Jerusalem. These events are rather to be spoken of as coincident, in that the Messianic reign is conceived as following immediately after the tribulation of those days. The overthrow of Jerusalem was only one act of judgment of the King of glory, and should be so distinguished. -
29. The various meanings which, under the pressure of a dogmatic exigency, have been put upon the phrase " this generation," must appear in the highest degree absurd to an unbiased critic. It has been explained as meaning the human race (Jerome), the Jewish race (Dorner, Auberlen), and the race of Christian believers (Chrysostom, Lange). But what an insignificant platitude for anyone, and especially Jesus, to say that the human race, or the Jewish race, or Christian people, shall not pass away until all these things come to pass! Who would ever imagine the contrary ? Nothing in New Testament exegesis is capable of more convincing proof than that genea means the great body of people living at one period-the period of average lifetime. Even in such a passage as Matt. 11:16, or Luke 16:8, the class of persons referred to are conceived as contemporaries. -
30. Meyer, who has no dogmatic theory to support, and seeks only the natural meaning of the words, observes: " The affirmation of Matt. 24:34, does not exclude the fact that no one knows the day and hour when the second advent, with its accompanying phenomena, is to take place. It is to occur during the lifetime of the generation then existing, but no one knows on what day or at what hour within the period thus indicated."- Critical and Exegetical Handbook on Matthew, in loco. -
31. "To have specified the day and the hour," says Russell, " to have said, 'In the seven and thirtieth year, in the sixth month and the eighth day of the month, the city shall be taken and the temple burnt with fire,' would not only have been inconsistent with the manner of prophecy, but would have taken away one of the strongest inducements to constant watchfulness and prayer-- the uncertainty of the precise time."The Parousia, p. 90. -
32. " The disciples assume as a matter of course," says Meyer, "that immediately after the destruction in question the Lord will appear, in accordance with what is said in 23:39, for the purpose of setting up his kingdom, and that with this the current (the pre-Messianic) era of the world's history will come to an end."- Critical and Exegetical Handbook on Matthew, in loco. -
33. Comp. Matt. 16:27, 28; 24:30; 25:31; John 14:8; Rev. 1, 7; 22:7. -
34. Acts 1:11, is often cited to show that Christ's coming must Deeds be spectacular, in like manner as ye beheld him going into the heaven." But (1) in the only other three places where bv rp61rov, what manner, occurs, it points to a general concept rather than the particular form of its actuality. Thus, in Acts 7:28, it is not sonic particular manner in which Moses killed the Egyptian that is notable, but rather the certain fact of it. In 2 Tim. 3:8, it is likewise the fact of strenuous opposition rather than the special manner in which Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses. And in Matt. 23:37, and Luke 13:34, it is the general thought of protection rather than the visible manner of a mother bird that is intended. Again (2), if Jesus did not come in that generation, and immediately after the great tribulation that attended the fall of Jerusalem, his words in Matt. 16:27, 28, 24:29, and parallel passages are in the highest degree misleading. (3) To make the one statement of the angel in Acts 1:11, override all the sayings of Jesus on the same subject and control their meaning is a very one-sided method of biblical interpretation. But all the angel's words necessarily mean is that as Jesus has ascended into heaven so he will come from heaven And this main thought agrees with the language of Jesus and the prophets. -
35. See, for example, the excursus of Dr. E. R. Craven on the Basileia in the American edition of Lange's Commentary on the Revelation of John, pp. 93-100. -
36. See Schurer, History of Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, English translation, vol. 2:p. 177; Schoettgen, Horae Hebraicae, 1:1153-1158. -
37. And so we should note that many things which Jesus spoke by way of counsel and admonition are as applicable to one period as another. The exhortation to watch, while having a special historical motive and force with the disciples, has its abiding lesson as one of the things ever incumbent upon the servants of the heavenly King. So many particular exhortations and counsels of Old Testament prophets have permanent value. It is in this way that the scriptures of both Testaments are profitable for instruction in righteousness. -
38. We need not assume to say how far and in what manner Christ executes his judgments or gathers his elect by the ministry of angels. He who " makes the clouds His chariot, who walks upon the wings of the wind, making his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire" (Psalm 104:3, 4; comp. Heb. 1:7), is present in all the great crises of this world's history, and he makes his angels ministering spirits to serve such as are to inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14). Our Lord represented Lazarus as carried away (airrvcXv9~vai) by the angels into Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22). But there is no warrant in Scripture for the notion that when the angels are sent forth oil missions of mercy or of judgment their operations must needs be visible to mortal eyes. When the impious Herod Agrippa allowed himself to be honored as a god, " immediately an angel of God smote him, and, becoming eaten of worms, he breathed out his spirit" (Acts 12:22, 23). Human eyes saw nothing but the curse of a foul disease, or a terrible plague; but Scripture sees of it the potent ministry of a destroying angel (comp. Exod. 12:23; 2 Sam. 24:16). So the visible e cc of divine judgment were terribly manifest in the unparalleled miseries of Jerusalem. The righteous blood of unnumbered martyrs was visited upon that generation (Matt. 23:35, 36); and where the Jewish historian saw and made record of appalling tribulation and woe the word of prophecy discerned a " revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with the angels of his power (personal or natural] in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the Gospel " (2 Thess. 1:7, 8). In like manner the King of glory is continually judging and reigning among the nations, and he will not cease from his age-long work until "he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power " (i Cor. 15:24). -