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21. Signs of the End of the Age
1And he looked up, and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury. 2And he saw a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. 3And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all: 4for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had. 5And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and offerings, he said, 6As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 7And they asked him, saying, Teacher, when therefore shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are about to come to pass? 8And he said, Take heed that ye be not led astray: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and, The time is at hand: go ye not after them. 9And when ye shall hear of wars and tumults, be not terrified: for these things must needs come to pass first; but the end is not immediately. 10Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11and there shall be great earthquakes, and in divers places famines and pestilences; and there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12But before all these things, they shall lay their hands on you, and shall persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13It shall turn out unto you for a testimony. 14Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate beforehand how to answer: 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to withstand or to gainsay. 16But ye shall be delivered up even by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. 17And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. 18And not a hair of your head shall perish. 19In your patience ye shall win your souls. 20But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand. 21Then let them that are in Judaea flee unto the mountains; and let them that are in the midst of her depart out; and let not them that are in the country enter therein. 22For these are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23Woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! for there shall be great distress upon the land, and wrath unto this people. 24And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all the nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. 25And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; 26men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. 27And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh. 29And he spake to them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees: 30when they now shoot forth, ye see it and know of your own selves that the summer is now nigh. 31Even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh. 32Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all things be accomplished. 33Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. 34But take heed to yourselves, lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come on you suddenly as a snare: 35for so shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of all the earth. 36But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. 37And every day he was teaching in the temple; and every night he went out, and lodged in the mount that is called Olivet. 38And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, to hear him.
29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. 31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. 32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. 33 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. 34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. 35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. 37 And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. 38 And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him.
Here, in the close of this discourse,
I. Christ appoints his disciples to observe the signs of the times, which they might judge by, if they had an eye to the foregoing directions, with as much certainty and assurance as they could judge of the approach of summer by the budding forth of the trees, v. 29-31. As in the kingdom of nature there is a chain of causes, so in the kingdom of providence there is a consequence of one event upon another. When we see a nation filling up the measure of their iniquity, we may conclude that their ruin is nigh; when we see the ruin of persecuting powers hastening on, we may thence infer that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand, that when the opposition given to it is removed it shall gain ground. As we may lawfully prognosticate the change of the seasons when second causes have begun to work, so we may, in the disposal of events, expect something uncommon when God is already raised up out of his holy habitation (Zech. ii. 13); then stand still and see his salvation.
II. He charges them to look upon those things as neither doubtful nor distant (for then they would not make a due impression on them), but as sure and very near. The destruction of the Jewish nation, 1. Was near (v. 32): This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled. There were some now alive that should see it; some that now heard the prediction of it. 2. It was sure; the sentence was irreversible; it was a consumption determined; the decree was gone forth (v. 33): "Heaven and earth shall pass away sooner than any word of mine: nay, they certainly shall pass away, but my words shall not; whether they take hold or no, they will take effect, and not one of them fall to the ground," 1 Sam. iii. 19.
III. He cautions them against security and sensuality, by which they would unfit themselves for the trying times that were coming on, and make them to be a great surprise and terror to them (v. 34, 35): Take heed to yourselves. This is the word of command given to all Christ's disciples: "Take heed to yourselves, that you be not overpowered by temptations, nor betrayed by your own corruptions." Note, We cannot be safe if we be secure. It concerns us at all times, but especially at some times, to be very cautious. See here, 1. What our danger is: that the day of death and judgment should come upon us unawares, when we do not expect it, and are not prepared for it,—lest, when we are called to meet our Lord, that be found the furthest thing from our thoughts which ought always to be laid nearest our hearts, lest it come upon us as a snare; for so it will come upon the most of men, who dwell upon the earth, and mind earthly things only, and have no converse with heaven; to them it will be as a snare. See Eccl. ix. 12. It will be a terror and a destruction to them; it will put them into an inexpressible fright, and hold them fast for a doom yet more frightful. 2. What our duty is, in consideration of this danger: we must take heed lest our hearts be overcharged, lest they be burdened and overloaded, and so unfitted and disabled to do what must be done in preparation for death and judgment. Two things we must watch against, lest our hearts be overcharged with them:—(1.) The indulging of the appetites of the body, and allowing of ourselves in the gratifications of sense to an excess: Take heed lest you be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, the immoderate use of meat and drink, which burden the heart, not only with the guilt thereby contracted, but by the ill influence which such disorders of the body have upon the mind; they make men dull and lifeless to their duty, dead and listless in their duty; they stupify the conscience, and cause the mind to be unaffected with those things that are most affecting. (2.) The inordinate pursuit of the good things of this world. The heart is overcharged with the cares of this life. The former is the snare of those that are given to their pleasures: this is the snare of the men of business, that will be rich. We have need to guard on both hands, not only lest at the time when death comes, but lest at any time our hearts should be thus overcharged. Our caution against sin, and our care of our own souls, must be constant.
IV. He counsels them to prepare and get ready for this great day, v. 36. Here see, 1. What should be our aim: that we may be accounted worthy to escape all these things; that, when the judgments of God are abroad, we may be preserved from the malignity of them; that either we may not be involved in the common calamity or it may not be that to us which it is to others; that in the day of death we may escape the sting of it, which is the wrath of God, and the damnation of hell. Yet we must aim not only to escape that, but to stand before the Son of man; not only to stand acquitted before him as our Judge (Ps. i. 5), to have boldness in the day of Christ (that is supposed in our escaping all those things), but to stand before him, to attend on him as our Master, to stand continually before his throne, and serve him day and night in his temple (Rev. vii. 15), always to behold his face, as the angels, Matt. xviii. 10. The saints are here said to be accounted worthy, as before, ch. xx. 35. God, by the good work of his grace in them, makes them meet for this happiness, and, by the good will of his grace towards them, accounts them worthy of it: but, as Grotius here says, a great part of our worthiness lies in an acknowledgment of our own unworthiness. 2. What should be our actings in these aims: Watch therefore, and pray always. Watching and praying must go together, Neh. iv. 9. Those that would escape the wrath to come, and make sure of the joys to come, must watch and pray, and must do so always, must make it the constant business of their lives, (1.) To keep a guard upon themselves. "Watch against sin, watch to every duty, and to the improvement of every opportunity of doing good. Be awake, and keep awake, in expectation of your Lord's coming, that you may be in a right frame to receive him, and bid him welcome." (2.) To keep up their communion with God: "Pray always; be always in an habitual disposition to that duty; keep up stated times for it; abound in it; pray upon all occasions." Those shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise in the other world that live a life of prayer in this world.
V. In the last two verses we have an account how Christ disposed of himself during those three or four days between his riding in triumph into Jerusalem and the night in which he was betrayed. 1. He was all day teaching in the temple. Christ preached on week-days as well as sabbath days. He was an indefatigable preacher; he preached in the face of opposition, and in the midst of those that he knew sought occasion against him. 2. At night he went out to lodge at a friend's house, in the mount of Olives, about a mile out of town. It is probable that he had some friends in the city that would gladly have lodged him, but he was willing to retire in the evening out of the noise of the town, that he might have more time for secret devotion, now that his hour was at hand. 3. Early in the morning he was in the temple again, where he had a morning lecture for those that were willing to attend it; and the people were forward to hear one that they saw forward to preach (v. 38): They all came early in the morning, flocking to the temple, like doves to their windows, to hear him, though the chief priests and scribes did all they could to prejudice them against him. Sometimes the taste and relish which serious, honest, plain people have of good preaching are more to be valued and judged by than the opinion of the witty and learned, and those in authority.