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11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
5 And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, 6 As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 7 And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass? 8 And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them. 9 But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by. 10 Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: 11 And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. 12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. 13 And it shall turn to you for a testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: 15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. 16 And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. 17 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. 18 But there shall not a hair of your head perish. 19 In your patience possess ye your souls.
See here, I. With what admiration some spoke of the external pomp and magnificence of the temple, and they were some of Christ's own disciples too; and they took notice of it to him how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, v. 5. The outside was built up with goodly stones, and within it was beautified and enriched with the presents that were offered up for that purpose, and were hung up in it. They thought their Master should be as much affected with those things as they were, and should as much regret the destruction of them as they did. When we speak of the temple, it should be of the presence of God in it, and of the ordinances of God administered in it, and the communion which his people there have with him. It is a poor thing, when we speak of the church, to let our discourse dwell upon its pomps and revenues, and the dignities and powers of its officers and rulers; for the king's daughter is all glorious within.
II. With what contempt Christ spoke of them, and with what assurance of their being all made desolate very shortly (v. 6): "As for those things which you behold, those dear things which you are so much in love with, behold, the days will come, and some now living may live to see them, in which there shall not be left one stone upon another. This building, which seems so beautiful that one would think none could, for pity, pull it down, and which seems so strong that one would think none would be able to pull it down, shall yet be utterly ruined; and this shall be done as soon as ever the spiritual temple of the gospel church (the substance of that shadow) begins to flourish in the world." Did we by faith foresee the blasting and withering of all external glory, we should not set our hearts upon it as those do that cannot see, or will not look, so far before them.
III. With what curiosity those about him enquire concerning the time when this great desolation should be: Master, when shall these things be? v. 7. It is natural to us to covet to know future things and the time of them, which it is not for us to know, when we are more concerned to ask what is our duty in the prospect of these things, and how we may prepare for them, which it is for us to know. They enquire what sign there shall be when these things shall come to pass. They ask not for a present sign, to confirm the prediction itself, and to induce them to believe it (Christ's word was enough for that), but what the future signs will be of the approaching accomplishment of the prediction, by which they may be put in mind of it. These signs of the times Christ had taught them to observe.
IV. With what clearness and fulness Christ answers their enquiries, as far as was necessary to direct them in their duty; for all knowledge is desirable as far as it is in order to practice.
1. They must expect to hear of false Christs and false prophets appearing, and false prophecies given out (v. 8): Many shall come in my name; he does not mean in the name of Jesus, though there were some deceivers who pretended commissions from him (as Acts xix. 13), but usurping the title and character of the Messiah. Many pretended to be the deliverers of the Jewish church and nation from the Romans, and to fix the time when the deliverance should be wrought, by which multitudes were drawn into a snare, to their ruin. They shall say, hoti ego eimi—I am he, or I am, as if they would assume that incommunicable name of God, by which he made himself known when he came to deliver Israel out of Egypt, I am; and, to encourage people to follow them, they added, "The time draws near when the kingdom shall be restored to Israel, and all who will follow me shall share in it." Now as to this, he gives them a needful caution (1.) "Take heed that you be not deceived; do not imagine that I shall myself come again in external glory, to take possession of the throne of kingdoms. No, you must not expect any such thing, for my kingdom is not of this world." When they asked solicitously and eagerly, Master, when shall these things be? the first word Christ said was, Take heed that you be not deceived. Note, Those that are most inquisitive in the things of God (though it is very good to be so) are in most danger of being imposed upon, and have most need to be upon their guard. (2.) "Go you not after them. You know the Messiah is come, and you are not to look for any other; and therefore do not so much as hearken to them, nor have any thing to do with them." If we are sure that Jesus is the Christ, and his doctrine is the gospel, of God, we must be deaf to all intimations of another Christ and another gospel.
2. They must expect to hear of great commotions in the nations, and many terrible judgments inflicted upon the Jews and their neighbours. (1.) There shall be bloody wars (v. 10): Nation shall rise against nation, one part of the Jewish nation against another, or rather the whole against the Romans. Encouraged by the false Christs, they shall wickedly endeavour to throw off the Roman yoke, by taking up arms against the Roman powers; when they had rejected the liberty with which Christ would have made them free they were left to themselves, to grasp at their civil liberty in ways that were sinful, and therefore could not be successful. (2.) There shall be earthquakes, great earthquakes, in divers places, which shall not only frighten people, but destroy towns and houses, and bury many in the ruins of them. (3.) There shall be famines and pestilences, the common effects of war, which destroys the fruits of the earth, and, by exposing men to ill weather and reducing them to ill diet, occasions infectious diseases. God has various ways of punishing a provoking people. The four sorts of judgments which the Old-Testament prophets so often speak of are threatened by the New-Testament prophets too; for, though spiritual judgments are more commonly inflicted in gospel times, yet God makes use of temporal judgments also. (4.) There shall be fearful sights and great signs from heaven, uncommon appearances in the clouds, comets and blazing stars, which frighten the ordinary sort of beholders, and have always been looked upon as ominous, and portending something bad. Now, as to these, the caution he gives them is, "Be not terrified. Others will be frightened at them, but be not you frightened, v. 2. As to the fearful sights, let them not be fearful to you, who look above the visible heavens to the throne of God's government in the highest heavens. Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them, Jer. x. 2. And, as to the famines and pestilences, you fall into the hands of God, who has promised to those who are his that in the days of famine they shall be satisfied, and that he will keep them from the noisome pestilence; trust therefore in him, and be not afraid. Nay, when you hear of wars, when without are fightings and within are fears, yet then be not you terrified; you know the worst that any of these judgments can do to you, and therefore be not afraid of them; for," [1.] "It is your interest to make the best of that which is, for all your fears cannot alter it: these things must first come to pass; there is no remedy; it will be your wisdom to make yourselves easy by accommodating yourselves to them." [2.] "There is worse behind; flatter not yourselves with a fancy that you will soon see an end of these troubles, no, not so soon as you think of: the end is not by and by, not suddenly. Be not terrified, for, if you begin so quickly to be discouraged, how will you bear up under what is yet before you?"
3. They must expect to be themselves for signs and wonders in Israel; their being persecuted would be a prognostic of the destruction of the city and temple, which he had now foretold. Nay, this would be the first sign of their ruin coming: "Before all these, they shall lay their hands on you. The judgment shall begin at the house of God; you must smart first, for warning to them, that, if they have any consideration, they may consider, If this be done to the green tree, what shall be done to the dry? See 1 Pet. iv. 17, 18. But this is not all; this must be considered not only as the suffering of the persecuted, but as the sin of the persecutors. Before God's judgments are brought upon them, they shall fill up the measure of their iniquity by laying their hands on you." Note, The ruin of a people is always introduced by their sin; and nothing introduces a surer or sorer ruin than the sin of persecution. This is a sign that God's wrath is coming upon a people to the uttermost when their wrath against the servants of God comes to the uttermost. Now as to this,
(1.) Christ tells them what hard things they should suffer for his name's sake, much to the same purport with what he had told them when he first called them to follow him, Matt. x.: They should know the wages of it, that they might sit down and count the cost. St. Paul, who was the greatest labourer and sufferer of them all, not being now among them, was told by Christ himself what great things he should suffer for his name's sake (Acts ix. 16), so necessary is it that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus should count upon persecution. The Christians, having themselves been originally Jews, and still retaining an equal veneration with them for the Old Testament and all the essentials of their religion, and differing only in ceremony, might expect fair quarter with them; but Christ bids them not expect it: "No, they shall be the most forward to persecute you." [1.] "They shall use their own church-power against you: They shall deliver you up to the synagogues to be scourged there, and stigmatized with their anathemas." [2.] "They shall incense the magistrates against you: they shall deliver you into prisons, that you may be brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake, and be punished by them." [3.] "Your own relations will betray you (v. 16), your parents, brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; so that you will not know whom to put a confidence in, or where to be safe." [4.] "Your religion will be made a capital crime, and you will be called to resist unto blood. Some of you shall they cause to be put to death; so far must you be from expecting honour and wealth that you must expect nothing but death in its most frightful shapes, death in all its dreadful pomp. Nay." [5.] "You shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." This is worse than death itself, and was fulfilled when the apostles were not only appointed to death, but made a spectacle to the world, and counted as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things, which every body loathes, 1 Cor. iv. 9, 13. They were hated of all men, that is, of all bad men, who could not bear the light of the gospel (because it discovered their evil deeds), and therefore hated those who brought in that light, flew in their faces, and would have pulled them to pieces. The wicked world, which hated to be reformed, hated Christ the great Reformer, and all that were his, for his sake. The rulers of the Jewish church, knowing very well that if the gospel obtained among the Jews their usurped abused power was at an end, raised all their forces against it, put it into an ill name, filled people's minds with prejudices against it, and so made the preachers and professors of it odious to the mob.
(2.) He encourages them to bear up under their trials, and to go on in their work, notwithstanding the opposition they would meet with.
[1.] God will bring glory both to himself and them out of their sufferings: "It shall turn to you for a testimony, v. 13. Your being set up thus for a mark, and publicly persecuted, will make you the more taken notice of and your doctrine and miracles the more enquired into; your being brought before kings and rulers will give you an opportunity of preaching the gospel to them, who otherwise would never have come within hearing of it; your suffering such severe things, and being so hated by the worst of men, men of the most vicious lives, will be a testimony that you are good, else you would not have such bad men for your enemies; your courage, and cheerfulness, and constancy under your sufferings will be a testimony for you, that you believe what you preach, that you are supported by a divine power, and that the Spirit of God and glory rests upon you."
[2.] "God will stand by you, and own you, and assist you, in your trials; you are his advocates, and you shall be well furnished with instructions, v. 14, 15. Instead of setting your hearts on work to contrive an answer to informations, indictments, articles, accusations, and interrogatories, that will be exhibited against you in the ecclesiastical and civil courts, on the contrary, settle it in your hearts, impress it upon them, take pains with them to persuade them not to meditate before what you shall answer; do not depend upon your own wit and ingenuity, your own prudence and policy, and do not distrust or despair of the immediate and extraordinary aids of the divine grace. Think not to bring yourselves off in the cause of Christ as you would in a cause of your own, by your own parts and application, with the common assistance of divine Providence, but promise yourselves, for I promise you, the special assistance of divine grace: I will give you a mouth and wisdom." This proves Christ to be God; for it is God's prerogative to give wisdom, and he it is that made man's mouth. Note, First, A mouth and wisdom together completely fit a man both for services and sufferings; wisdom to know what to say, and a mouth wherewith to say it as it should be said. It is a great happiness to have both matter and words wherewith to honour God and do good; to have in the mind a storehouse well furnished with things new and old, and a door of utterance by which to bring them forth. Secondly, Those that plead Christ's cause may depend upon him to give them a mouth and wisdom, which way soever they are called to plead it, especially when they are brought before magistrates for his name's sake. It is not said that he will send an angel from heaven to answer for them, though he could do this, but that he will give them a mouth and wisdom to enable them to answer for themselves, which puts a greater honour upon them, which requires them to use the gifts and graces Christ furnishes them with, and redounds the more to the glory of God, who stills the enemy and the avenger out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. Thirdly, When Christ gives to his witnesses a mouth and wisdom, they are enabled to say that both for him and themselves which all their adversaries are not able to gainsay or resist, so that they are silenced, and put to confusion. This was remarkably fulfilled presently after the pouring out of the Spirit, by whom Christ gave his disciples this mouth and wisdom, when the apostles were brought before the priest sand rulers, and answered them so as to make them ashamed, Acts iv., v., and vi.
[3.] "You shall suffer no real damage by all the hardships they shall put upon you (v. 18): There shall not a hair of your head perish." Shall some of them lose their heads, and yet not lose a hair? It is a proverbial expression, denoting the greatest indemnity and security imaginable; it is frequently used both in the Old Testament and New, in that sense. Some think that it refers to the preservation of the lives of all the Christians that were among the Jews when they were cut off by the Romans; historians tell us that not one Christian perished in that desolation. Others reconcile it with the deaths of multitudes in the cause of Christ, and take it figuratively in the same sense that Christ saith, He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. "Not a hair of your head shall perish but," First, "I will take cognizance of it." To this end he had said (Matt. x. 30), The hairs of your head are all numbered; and an account is kept of them, so that none of them shall perish but he will miss it. Secondly, "It shall be upon a valuable consideration." We do not reckon that lost or perishing which is laid out for good purposes, and will turn to a good account. If we drop the body itself for Christ's name's sake, it does not perish, but is well bestowed. Thirdly, "It shall be abundantly recompensed; when you come to balance profit and loss, you will find that nothing has perished, but, on the contrary, that you have great gain in present comforts, especially in the joys of a life eternal;" so that though we may be losers for Christ we shall not, we cannot, be losers by him in the end.
[4.] "It is therefore your duty and interest, in the midst of your own sufferings and those of the nation, to maintain a holy sincerity and serenity of mind, which will keep you always easy (v. 19): In your patience possess ye your souls; get and keep possession of your souls." Some read it as a promise, "You may or shall possess your souls." It comes all to one. Note, First, It is our duty and interest at all times, especially in perilous trying times, to secure the possession of our own souls; not only that they be not destroyed and lost for ever, but that they be not distempered now, nor our possession of them disturbed and interrupted. "Possess your souls, be your own men, keep up the authority and dominion of reason, and keep under the tumults of passion, that neither grief nor fear may tyrannize over you, nor turn you out of the possession and enjoyment of yourselves." In difficult times, when we can keep possession of nothing else, then let us make that sure which may be made sure, and keep possession of our souls. Secondly, It is by patience, Christian patience, that we keep possession of our own souls. "In suffering times, set patience upon the guard for the preserving of your souls; by it keep your souls composed and in a good frame, and keep out all those impressions which would ruffle you and put you out of temper."