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24. Signs of the End of the Age
1And Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way; and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. 2But he answered and 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.
3And as he sat on 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? 4And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man lead you astray. 5For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray. 6And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. 7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places. 8But all these things are the beginning of travail. 9Then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all the nations for my name's sake. 10And then shall many stumble, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. 11And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. 12And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold. 13But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come.
15When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand), 16then let them that are in Judaea flee unto the mountains: 17let him that is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house: 18and let him that is in the field not return back to take his cloak. 19But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! 20And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on a sabbath: 21for then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be. 22And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. 23Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, Here; believe it not. 24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25Behold, I have told you beforehand. 26If therefore they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not. 27For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. 28Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
29But 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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30and 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 on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he shall send forth 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.
32Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; 33even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors. 34Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished. 35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 36But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only. 37And as were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man. 38For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, 39and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man. 40Then shall two man be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: 41two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left. 42Watch therefore: for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through. 44Therefore be ye also ready; for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.
45Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season? 46Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47Verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. 48But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord tarrieth; 49and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken; 50the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, 51and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24:1. And Jesus went out. The disciples undoubtedly perceived that Christ was paying, as it were, his last adieu to the temple. It remained, therefor that he should erect a new temple far more magnificent, and that he should produce a more flourishing condition of the kingdom, as had been foretold by the Prophets; for he had nothing to do with that temple, in which every thing was opposed to him. But again, the disciples could not believe that the magnificent splendor of the temple would give way to Christ. And it ought to be carefully observed that, owing to the prodigious costliness of the temple, their eyes were so dazzled by the splendor of its present aspect, that they could scarcely entertain the hope that the kingdom of Christ would arise. They do not, indeed, in express terms acknowledge their hesitation, but they tacitly throw out a suggestion of it, when they allege, in opposition to Christ, the mass of stones which must be got out of the way, and which must indeed be utterly laid low if he intended to reign. Many simple persons of our own day are carried away by a similar admiration of Popery; for, perceiving it to be supported by very great wealth and by immense power, they are filled with absolute amazement, so as to despise a Church of mean and slovenly aspect. Many even think that we are mad in laboring to effect its destruction, as if this were nothing less than an attempt to draw down the sun out of heaven. And yet, there is no reason to wonder that a spectacle so imposing held the disciples of Christ in astonishment; for how great expense that building cost Herod, may be concluded from the single fact, that he kept ten thousand workmen employed on it for eight successive years. Nor is it without reason that they admire the stones which, Josephus tells us, were superlatively beautiful, and were fifteen 125125 Instead of fifteen, Josephus states the length of each of the stones to have been twenty-five cubits, (Ant. XV. xi. 3) — Ed. cubits in length, twelve in height, and eight in breadth. Besides, so great was the reverence entertained for the temple even in remote districts, that scarcely any person would venture to suppose that it could ever be destroyed.
2. Verily I say to you. As the vast size and wealth of the temple, like a veil hung before the eyes of the disciples, did not permit them to elevate their faith to the true reign of Christ, which was still future, so he affirms with an oath, that those things which occupy their attention will quickly perish. This prediction of the destruction of the temple, therefore, opened up a path for the ignorant and weak. 126126 “Afin qu’ils ne trouvassent aucun destourbier de ce costé-la;” — “that they might not find any impediment in that respect. Now, though it was advantageous that the temple should be destroyed, lest its services and shadows might exercise an undue influence on the Jews, who were already too much attached to earthly elements, yet the chief reason was, that God determined, by this dreadful example, to take vengeance on that nation, for having rejected his Son, and despised the grace which was brought by him. And, therefore, this threatening must have intimidated the disciples from taking part with a rebellious people; as the punishments which Scripture denounces against the wicked ought now to deter us from those crimes which provoke the wrath of God. Every thing that it tells us, even about the fading and transitory aspect of the world, ought to correct the vanity of our senses, which too eagerly follow pomp, and luxury, and pleasure. But more especially, what it declares respecting the fearful destruction of Antichrist and his followers, ought to remove every obstacle which hinders us from pursuing the right course of faith.
3. And while he was sitting. Mark mentions four disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew But neither he nor Luke states the matter so fully as Matthew; for they only say that the disciples inquired about the time of the destruction of the temple, and — as it was a thing difficult to be believed — what outward sign of it God would give from heaven. Matthew tells us that they inquired about the time of Christ’s coming, and of the end of the world. But it must be observed that, having believed from their infancy that the temple would stand till the end of time, and having this opinion deeply rooted in their minds, they did not suppose that, while the building of the world stood, the temple could fall to ruins. Accordingly, as soon as Christ said that the temple would be destroyed, their thoughts immediately turned to the end of the world; and—as one error leads to another—having been convinced that, as soon as the reign of Christ should commence, they would be in every respect happy, they leave warfare out of the account, and fly all at once to a triumph. They associate the coming of Christ and the end of the world as things inseparable from each other; and by the end of the world they mean the restoration of all things, so that nothing may be wanting to complete the happiness of the godly.
We now perceive that they leap at once to various questions, because they had given way to these foolish imaginations, that the temple could not fall without shaking the whole world; that the termination of the shadows of the Law, and of the whole world, would be the same; that it would be immediately followed by the exhibition of the glory of Christ’s kingdom, which would make the children of God perfectly happy; that a visible renovation of the world was at hand, which would instantly bring order out of a state of confusion. But above all, a foolish hope which they entertained, as to the immediate reign of Christ, drove them to hasten to the attainment of happiness and rest, without attending to the means. Just as, when they see that Christ is risen from the dead, (Acts 1:6,) they rush forward to grasp at that happiness, which is laid up for us in heaven, and which must be attained through faith and patience.
Now though our condition is different, because we have not been educated among the shadows of the Law, so as to be infatuated by that superstition of an earthly kingdom of Christ, yet scarcely one person in a hundred is to be found who does not labor under a very similar disease. For since all men naturally shrink from annoyances, combats, and every kind of cross, the dislike of these things urges them, without moderation and without hope, to rush forward unseasonably to the fruit of hope. Thus no man wishes to sow the seed, but all wish to reap the harvest before the season arrives. To return to the disciples, they had indeed formed in their minds some good seed of faith, but they do not wait till it arrive at maturity; and holding, at the same time, erroneous views, they confound the perfection of Christ’s reign with the commencement of it, and wish to enjoy on earth what they ought to seek for in heaven.
4. And Jesus answering said to them. They received an answer very different from what they had expected; for whereas they were eager for a triumph, as if they had already finished their warfare, Christ exhorts them to long patience. As if he had said, “You wish to seize the prize at the very outset, but you must first finish the course. You would draw down to earth the kingdom of God, which no man can obtain till he ascend to heaven.” Now while this chapter contains admonitions highly useful for regulating the course of our life, we see that, by a wonderful purpose of God, the mistake into which the apostles fell is made to turn to our advantage. The amount of the present instruction is, that the preaching of the Gospel is like sowing the seed, and therefore we ought to wait patiently for the time of reaping; and that it arises from improper delicacy or effeminacy, if we lose courage on account of the frost, or snow, or clouds of winter or other unpleasant seasons.
Take heed lest any man deceive you. There are two charges which Christ expressly gives to the disciples, to beware of false teachers, and not to be terrified by scandals. By these words he gives warning that his Church, so long as its pilgrimage in the world shall last, will be exposed to these evils. But they might be apt to think that this was inconsistent, since the prophets gave a widely different description of the future reign of Christ. Isaiah predicts that all will then be taught of God, (54:13.) The words of God are:
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;
your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,
A still more abundant light of understanding is promised by Jeremiah.
No longer shall any man teach his neighbor, nor a man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me from the least to the greatest, (Jeremiah 31:34.)
And, therefore, we need not wonder if the Jews expected, that when the Sun of righteousness had arisen, as Malachi (4:2) had predicted, they would be entirely free from every cloud of error. Hence, also, the woman of Samaria said,
When the Messiah cometh, he will teach us all things,
Now we know what splendid promises of peace, righteousness, joy, and abundance of all blessings, are to be found everywhere in Scripture. We need not, therefore, wonder if they expected that, at the coming of Christ, they would be delivered from commotions of war, from extortions and every kind of injustice, and, in short, from famine and pestilence.
But Christ warns them, that false teachers will henceforth give no less annoyance to the godly than false prophets gave to the ancient people; and that disturbances will be not less frequent under the Gospel than they formerly were under the Law. Not that those prophecies which I have just mentioned will fail to be accomplished, but because the full accomplishment of them does not immediately appear in one day; for it is enough that believers now obtain a taste of those blessings, so as to cherish the hope of the full enjoyment of them at a future period. And, therefore, they were greatly mistaken, who wished to hay at the commencement of the Gospel, an immediate and perfect exhibition of those things which we see accomplished from day to day. Besides, that happiness which the prophets ascribe to the reign of Christ, though it cannot be altogether annihilated by the depravity of man, is retarded or delayed by it. It is true that the Lord, in contending with the malice of men, opens up a way for his blessings through every obstacle; and, indeed, it would be unreasonable to suppose that what is founded on the undeserved goodness of God, and does not depend on the will of man, should be set aside through their fault.
Yet, that they may receive some punishment for their ingratitude he drops upon them in small measure his favors, which would otherwise flow on them in the richest abundance. Hence arises a labyrinth of evils, through which believers wander all their life, though they are pursuing the straight road to salvation, having Christ for their guide, who holds out to them the torch of his Gospel. Hence arises a multitude of combats, so that they have a hard warfare, though there is no danger of their being vanquished. Hence arise disturbances so numerous and so sudden, that they are kept in perpetual uneasiness, though, resting on Christ, they remain firm to the end. And since Christ enjoins his disciples to beware of impostures, let us know that the means of defense will not be wanting, provided that they are not wanting to themselves. 127127 “Pourveu qu’ils soyent songneux à en user;” — “provided that they are careful to use them.” And therefore, whatever arts Satan may employ, let us entertain no doubt that we shall be safe from them, if every one of us keep diligent watch on his own station.
5. For many shall come in my name. He does not as yet speak generally of false and perverse doctrines, but refers to one class which was sort of introduction to all errors, by which Satan has attempted, in various ways, to corrupt the pure doctrine of the Gospel. For shortly after Christ’s resurrection, there arose impostors, every one of whom professed to be the Christ. And as the true Redeemer had not only been removed from the world, but oppressed by the ignominy of the cross, and yet the minds of all were excited by the hope and inflamed with the desire of redemption, those men had in their power a plausible opportunity of deceiving. Nor can it be doubted, that God permitted such reveries to impose on the Jews, who had so basely rejected his Son. Though those mad attempts speedily disappeared, yet God determined that disturbances of this kind should arise among the Jews; first, that they might be exposed to infamy and hatred; secondly, that they might altogether abandon the hope of salvation; and, lastly, that having been so frequently disappointed, they might rush to their destruction with brutal stupidity. For when the world turned away from the Son of God, to whom it belonged to collect them into holy union, it was right that it should be driven hither and thither by tempests; and by the same vengeance of God it was brought about, that more were carried away by a foolish credulity, than were brought by a right faith to obey God. This circumstance, too, was expressly stated by Christ, that believers might not faint at perceiving the crowd of madmen; for we know how prone we are to follow a multitude, especially when we are few in number.
6 For you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. He describes here those commotions only which arose in Judea, for we shall find him soon afterwards saying that the flame will spread much wider. As he had formerly enjoined them to beware lest any man deceived them, so now he bids them meet with courage rumors of wars and wars themselves; for they would be in danger of giving way when surrounded by calamities, especially if they had promised to themselves ease and pleasure.
For all these things must take place. He adds this, not for the purpose of assigning a reason, but of warning them that none of these things happened accidentally, or without the providence of God, that they may not uselessly kick against the spur; for nothing has a more powerful efficacy to bring us into subjection, than when we acknowledge that those things which appear to be confused are regulated by the good pleasure of God. True, indeed, God himself never wants proper causes and the best reasons for allowing the world to be disturbed; but as believers ought to acquiesce in his mere good pleasure, Christ reckoned it enough to exhort the disciples to prepare their minds for endurance, and to remain firm, because such is the will of God.
But the end is not yet. He now states in plainer terms the threatening which I have already mentioned, that those events which were in themselves truly distressing would be only a sort of preparation for greater calamities; because, when the flame of war has been kindled in Judea, it will spread more widely; for ever since the doctrine of the Gospel was published, a similar ingratitude prevailing among other nations has aroused the wrath of God against them. Hence it happened that, having broken the bond of peace with God, they tore themselves by mutual contentions; having refused to obey the government of God, they yielded to the violence of their enemies; not having permitted themselves to be reconciled to God, they broke out into quarrels with one another; in short, having shut themselves out from the heavenly salvation, they raged against each other, and filled the earth with murders. Knowing how obstinate the malice of the world would be, he again adds,
8. But all these things are the beginnings of sorrows. Not that believers, who always have abundant consolations in calamities, should consume themselves with grief, but that they should lay their account with a long exercise of patience. Luke adds likewise earthquakes, and signs from heaven, with respect to which, though we have no authentic history of them, yet it is enough that they were predicted by Christ. The reader will find the rest in Josephus, (Wars of the Jews, VI. 5:3.)