Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Matthew 24:1-22. Prediction of the Fall of Jerusalem
Mark 13:1—end. Luke 21:5-36This chapter opens with the great discourse of Jesus, which is continued to the end of ch. 25. That discourse contains (1) a prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, (2) a prediction of the end of the world, (3) Parables in relation to these predictions.
It is difficult to determine the limits of the several portions. The division adopted below has the sanction of Chrysostom and Jerome, and is followed by Maldonatus.
Another arrangement of the prophecy is: (1) A general answer of the question to the end of Matthew 24:14; (2) a specific reference to the fall of Jerusalem, 15–28; (3) in Matthew 24:29 a resumption of the subject of (i).
The view that the two predictions are inextricably intermingled seems the least probable.
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.1. went out, and departed from the temple] Read, on the highest MS. authority, “went out from the temple, and was going on his way.” On leaving the Temple Jesus would descend into the valley of Kedron and ascend the opposite slope of the Mount of Olives. Then full in view the Temple would rise with its colonnade of dazzling white marble, surmounted with golden roof and pinnacles, and founded on a substructure of huge stones. Milman writes (History of the Jews, ii. 322) “At a distance the whole Temple looked literally like a mount of snow, fretted with golden pinnacles.”
And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.2. There shall not be left here one stone upon another] Compare with the complete ruin of the Temple at Jerusalem, the still magnificent remains of temples at Karnak and Luxor, Baalbec, and Athens. The Temple was destroyed by fire, notwithstanding every effort made to save it by Titus. For a vivid description of this last awful scene in the history of the Temple, see Milman, History of the Jews, ii. Bk. xvi.
the disciples] St Mark names the four, Peter and James and John and Andrew.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?3. when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming] The twofold question points to the nearer and the more distant event. See note at beginning of chapter.
thy coming] Rather, thy presence (parousia). The precise word “coming,” or “advent,” which the Church has adopted in reference to the second “presence” of Christ, does not occur in this prophecy.
the end of the world] See ch. Matthew 13:39-40.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.5. saying, I am Christ] Rather, the Christ, the Messiah. The appearance of false Messiahs shall be the first sign. St John bears witness to the fulfilment of this sign: “Even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time,” 1 John 2:18.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.6. wars and rumours of wars] The second sign. Philo and Josephus describe the disturbed state of Judæa from this date to the siege of Jerusalem. Massacres of the Jews were perpetrated at Cæsarea, at Alexandria, in Babylonia and in Syria.—See Milman’s History of the Jews, Bks. xii.–xv. Tacitus, characterising the same period, says “opus adgredior opimum casibus, atrox præliis, discors seditionibus, ipsa etiam pace sævum.” Hist. i. 2.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.7. famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes] The commentators enumerate instances of all these calamities recorded by the contemporary historians.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.8. sorrows] Literally, pains of travail, that preceded the birth of a new order of things, a fresh æon.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.10. offended] Disappointed hopes will bring about a disruption of Christian unity and love.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.11. false prophets] At the siege of Jerusalem “false prophets suborned by the Zealots kept the people in a state of feverish excitement, as though the appointed Deliverer would still appear.” Milman’s History of the Jews, ii. 371.
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.12. iniquity] Literally, lawlessness.
shall abound] Translate, hath abounded.
the love of many] Rather, of the many, i. e. of “the majority.” Love or agapé became the leading virtue and grace of the Christian life, yet this is the only instance of the word in the Synoptic Gospels, except Luke 11:42, “the love of God.” The noun itself is not classical, and therefore lent itself the more readily to Christian use. But the thought connected with the word, “family affection,” was beautiful before it was spiritualised by Christianity. The E. V. has two renderings, “love” and “charity,” (see especially 1 Corinthians 13). The first seems to be too wide, the second too restricted, denoting a principal tendency or function of agapé rather than agapé itself. The use of the word by our Lord to express Christian unity is itself prophetic. St Paul experienced this “coldness of love:” “at my first answer no man stood with me,” 2 Timothy 4:16.
But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.13. he that shall endure] Cp. “In your patience possess ye your souls,” (rather, “by patience ye shall win your lives,”) Luke 21:19.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.14. preached in all the world] Cp. ch. Matthew 10:23 and Colossians 1:5-6, “the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world.” The principle is at last established that the Gospel may be preached to Jew and Gentile alike.
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)15. the abomination of desolation] i. e. “the abomination that maketh desolate,” “the act of sacrilege, which is a sign and a cause of desolation.” What special act of sacrilege is referred to cannot be determined for certain. The expression may refer (1) to the besieging army; cp. the parallel passage in Luke, “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies.” Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr., translates Daniel 9:27 in this sense: “Until the wing (or army) of abominations shall make desolate.” (2) The Roman eagles; the E.V. margin, Daniel 9:27, reads: “Upon the battlements shall be the idols of the desolator.” (3) The excesses of the Zealots. See Josephus, B.J. iv. 6. 3, “They (the Zealots) caused the fulfilment of the prophecies against their own country; for there was a certain ancient saying that the city would be taken at that time … for sedition would arise, and their own hands would pollute the Temple of God.”
in the holy place] i. e. within the Temple area.
whoso readeth, let him understand] These words are almost beyond a doubt an insertion of the Evangelist, and not part of our Lord’s discourse.
Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:16. let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains] Many Christians, warned by this prediction (according to Euseblus, H.E. iii. 5, “by a certain oracle”), took refuge at Pella in Peræa during the siege of Jerusalem.
Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:17. not come down to take any thing out of his house] i. e. either (1) pass from the roof to the entrance, and thence to the street, without entering any apartments, or (2) escape along the flat roofs from house to house.
Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.18. return back to take his clothes] The Greek word signifies the outer garment, which the field labourer would throw off while at work, wearing the tunic only. Cp. “Nudus ara, sere nudus.” Georg. i. 299.
And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:20. not in the winter] when swollen streams, bitter cold and long nights would increase the misery and danger of the fugitives.
on the sabbath day] when religious scruples might delay the flight. The extent of a Sabbath day’s journey was 2000 cubits. Here, however, the question meets us, how far Jewish observances would affect the Christians. Probably the early Christians observed both the Sabbath and the Lord’s day. But in any case many impediments would arise against flight on the Sabbath day. St Matthew alone records these words of warning.
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.21. great tribulation] “Jerusalem, a city that had been liable to so many miseries during the siege, that had it enjoyed as much happiness from its first foundation, it would certainly have been the envy of the world.” Josephus, B. J. vii. 6. 5.
No words can describe the unequalled horrors of this siege. It was the Passover season, and Jews from all parts were crowded within the walls. Three factions, at desperate feud with each other, were posted on the heights of Sion and on the Temple Mount. These only united to fling themselves at intervals upon the Roman entrenchments, and then resumed their hate. The Temple-courts swam with the blood of civil discord, which was literally mingled with the blood of the sacrifices. Jewish prisoners were crucified by hundreds in view of their friends, while within the city the wretched inhabitants were reduced by famine to the most loathsome of food and to deeds of unspeakable cruelty. Jerusalem was taken on the 10th August, a. d. 70. 1,100,000 Jews perished in the siege, 100,000 were sold into slavery. With the fall of Jerusalem Israel ceased to exist as a nation. It was truly the end of an æon.
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.22. those days should be shortened] Several circumstances concurred to shorten the duration of the siege, such as the scanty supply of provisions, the crowded state of the city, the internal dissensions, and the abandonment of important defences. So strong did the place seem to Titus that he exclaimed, “We have certainly had God on our side in this war; and it was God alone who ejected the Jews from these fortifications.” Josephus vi. 9. 1.
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.23. Then] The transition is marked by this word, it was possibly also marked by a pause in the Saviour’s discourse.
23–31. The Second Coming of Christ
Mark 13:21-27; Luke 21:24-28The following scheme, intended to shew a parallelism between the two Predictions, is borrowed from an interesting monograph by the Rev. W. Sherlock, who argues for the division of the prophecy at Matthew 24:22 :
the fall of jerusalem (Matthew 24:5-22). the second advent (Matthew 24:23-31).
1. False Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:11). 1. False Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24:23-24).
2. Persecution and apostasy (Matthew 24:9-10; Matthew 24:12). 2. Dangers even to the elect (Matthew 24:24).
3. Wars, famine, pestilence (Matthew 24:6-7). 3. Distress of nations (Matthew 24:29).
4. Great tribulation (Matthew 24:21). 4. The sun and moon darkened (Matthew 24:29).
5. The abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15). 5. The sign of the Son of man (Matthew 24:30).
6. The escape of the Christians (Matthew 24:16-18). 6. The salvation of the elect (Matthew 24:31).
24. shall deceive the very elect] Compare this with the less dangerous influence of false prophets before the siege of Jerusalem, “shall deceive many.”
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Behold, I have told you before.
Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.26. in the desert … in the secret chambers] i. e. whether the false Christ shall go forth into the desert and draw men to him by an ascetic life, or shall influence by teaching in the “schools” of the synagogues, be not deceived.
secret chambers] one word in the original. The same word is translated “closet” (ch. Matthew 6:6), that is the place for prayer on the top or in the upper part of an Eastern house.
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.27. as the lightning] All-pervading, swift, sudden and of dazzling brightness; such shall be the coming of the Son of man.
shineth] Translate, appeareth. The flash is instantly visible in the remotest quarter.
For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.28. wheresoever the carcase is] The spiritual perception will discern when the Lord comes and where, by a subtle sense like that by which the vulture is cognisant of his distant prey.
Another interpretation fixes upon the idea of corruption in the body, and taking the “eagles” to mean the eagles of the Roman standards reads the sense thus: “where the corrupt body of sin lies there will the eagles of vengeance be gathered.”
This view is excluded by the division of the prophecy adopted in these notes.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:29. Immediately after the tribulation of those days] i. e. the tribulation which shall precede the second advent of Christ.
shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light] Such figurative language is frequent with the Hebrew prophets; it implies (1) the perplexity and confusion of a sudden revolution, a great change; the very sources of light become darkness. Cp. Isaiah 13:10, “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine;” and (2) the darkness of distress as Ezekiel 32:7-8, “All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.”
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.30. the sign of the Son of man in heaven] What this shall be it is vain to conjecture, but when it appears its import will be instantly recognised by the faithful.
in the clouds] Translate, on the clouds.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.31. with a great sound of a trumpet] Omit “sound” on high MS. authority, translate with a great trumpet. The image would be suggestive to the Jews, who were called together in the camp by silver trumpets (Numbers 10:2 foll.). Moreover, the great festivals, the commencement of the year, and other celebrations were announced by trumpets.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:32–35. The Parable of the Fig Tree
Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:29-3332. learn a parable of the fig tree] More accurately, learn from the fig-tree its parable, the lesson that the fig-tree teaches. The parable relates to the siege of Jerusalem and the ruin of the Jewish nationality, illustrating Matthew 24:4-22.
It was spring time, and the fig tree was putting forth its leaf-buds; no more certainly does that natural sign foretell the coming harvest than the signs of Christ shall foretell the fall of the Holy City. The sequence of historical events is as certain as the sequence of natural events. And the first, at least to some extent, is within the range of the same human intelligence that discerns the promise of summer. Thus Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not discerning the signs of the times as they discerned the face of the sky.
When his branch is yet tender] Translate, as soon as its branch becomes tender, i. e. ready to sprout. Observe his for the modern its.
ye know] Rather, recognise; as also in the following verse; in Matthew 24:36 a different Greek word is rightly translated knoweth.
that summer is nigh] Or, “that harvest time is nigh,” i. e. the cornharvest, not the fig-harvest (Meyer). This is a probable rendering, because the sprouting of the fig-tree would coincide with the barley harvest, rather than with the summer; it gives force to our Lord’s words, when it is remembered that the barley harvest was actually nigh; the omer, or first sheaf, being offered on the day following the Passover. Again, the siege of Jerusalem prefigured by this “parable” took place at the time of harvest (see note, Matthew 24:21).
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.33. know that it is near] it=the harvest time of God—the end of this æon or period at the fall of Jerusalem.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.34. This generation] See note, ch. Matthew 16:28.
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.35. This verse was originally omitted in the Sinaitic MS., but is inserted by a later hand.
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.36–End of Ch. 25. Parables and Teachings concerning the Second Advent
36–51. The Coming of Christ; the Need of Watchfulness
More briefly reported in Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:34-36.
36. But of that day and hour] the Day of Judgment. The discourse turns from the type—the fall of Jerusalem—to the antitype—the Day of Judgment, and continues on this subject to the end of the following chapter.
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.37. Noe] This, the Greek form of the name, appears in E. V., Luke 17:26; “Noah” is read in the other passages where the name occurs, 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 11:7.
The Last Day will surprise men occupied in their pleasures and their business, as the Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:27-29) surprised all except those who “watched.” All such great and critical events are typical of the End of the World.
coming] See Matthew 24:3.
For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.40. shall be taken] Properly, is taken or withdrawn. For this present for future of certainty see ch. Matthew 27:63.
40, 41. Instances like these serve to bring out the reflection that the world’s work will be going on then as now; there is also the thought of a real separation in this life beneath an external sameness.
Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.41. Two women shall be grinding at the mill] In southern Palestine, where there are no mill-streams, hand-mills are to be seen and heard in every village. “Two women sit at the mill facing each other; both having hold of the handle by which the upper is turned round on the nether mill-stone.” Land and Book, p. 526.
shall be taken] See preceding verse.
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.43–45. The Lord cometh as a Thief in the Night
Luke 12:39-4043. know this] The same word as in Matthew 24:33, see note. The word is probably indicative, “ye know this,” not imperative.
the goodman of the house] “The master of the house.” “Goodman” is probably a corruption for gummann or A. S. guma, a man (Bible Word Book).
in what watch] See ch. Matthew 14:25.
the thief would come] Cp. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night,” 1 Thessalonians 5:2; see also 2 Peter 3:10.
would come] Rather, doth come, as in the preceding verse.
to be broken up] Rather, dug through; see ch. Matthew 6:19-20.
Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?45. Who then is a faithful and wise servant] The steward was generally a slave whom his master had chosen on account of his trustworthiness and intelligence to be the steward of his estate, his villicus or dispensator. The word “dispensation,” in such expressions as “the present dispensation,” “the Christian dispensation,” has passed into religious language from this and the parallel passages.
his household] all his other slaves, Lat. familia.
to give them meat in due season] The daily (diarium) or monthly (menstruum) allowance; cp. “Cum servis urbana diaria rodere mavis?” Hor. Ep. i. 14. 41. This imagery, drawn from a large Roman estate (latifundium), has given rise to the often-recurring thought of the Stewardship of the Apostles and Ministers of Christ. “Stewards of the mysteries of God,” 1 Corinthians 4:1; “blameless, as the steward of God,” Titus 1:7.
45–51. The Stewards of God
Luke 12:41-48, where this parable is joined on to the preceding one by a question of St Peter, “Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” Mark 13:37 has “what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Here, and throughout the discourse, the disciples are specially addressed.
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.51. shall cut him asunder] See Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29. “The angel of God waiteth with the sword to cut thee in two,” (Susanna, 59.) Comp. also “Multos honesti ordinis aut ad bestias condemnavit, aut serra dissecuit.” Sueton. Calig. 17, quoted by Wetstein, who gives other instances.
his portion with the hypocrites] St Luke has “with the unbelievers.” Such adaptations of the Gentile Evangelist to his readers are always interesting. Hypocrisy was especially a Jewish sin. St Luke adds our Lord’s words on the degrees of punishment, varying with the degrees of responsibility.