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The Coming of the Son of Man

29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

the stars will fall from heaven,

and the powers of heaven will be shaken.

30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The Necessity for Watchfulness

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

The Faithful or the Unfaithful Slave

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


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Matthew 24:29. And immediately after the tribulation of those days. Christ comes now to speak of the full manifestation of his kingdom, about which he was at first interrogated by the disciples, and promises that, after they have been tried by so many distressing events, the redemption will arrive in due time. The principal object of his reply was, to confirm his disciples in good hope, that they might not be dismayed on account of the troubles and confusion that would arise. For this reason, he does not speak of his coming in simple terms, but employs those modes of expression which were common among the prophets, by which, the more attentively they were considered, so much the more severe would be the contest of temptation experienced by the reader, in consequence of the opposite character of the event. For what could be more strange than to see the kingdom of Christ not only despised, but oppressed by the cross, loaded with many reproaches, and overwhelmed by every kind of tribulation, that kingdom which the prophets had frequently described in such magnificent language? Might it not be asked, where was that majesty which would darken the sun, and moon, and stars, shake the whole frame of the world, and change the ordinary course of nature? Our Lord now meets these temptations, declaring that, though these predictions are not immediately fulfilled, they will at length be fully justified by the event. The meaning therefore is, that the predictions which had been formerly made about the miraculous shaking of heaven and earth, ought not to be restricted to the commencement of redemption, because the prophets had embraced the whole course of it, till it should arrive at perfection.

Having now ascertained Christ’s intention, we shall have no difficulty in perceiving the meaning of the words to be, that heaven will not be darkened immediately, but after that the Church shall have passed through the whole course of its tribulations. Not that the glory and majesty of the kingdom of Christ will not appear till his last coming, but because till that time is delayed the accomplishment of those things which began to take place after his resurrection, and of which God gave to his people nothing more than a taste, that he might lead them farther on in the path of hope and patience. According to this argument, Christ keeps the minds of believers in a state of suspense till the last day, that they may not imagine those declarations which the prophets made, about the future restoration, to have failed of their accomplishment, because they lie buried for a long period under the thick darkness of tribulations.

The tribulation of those days is improperly interpreted by some commentators to mean the destruction of Jerusalem; for, on the contrary, it is a general recapitulation (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις) of all the evils of which Christ had previously spoken. To encourage his followers to patience, he employs this argument, that the tribulations will at length have a happy and joyful result. As if he had said, “So long as the Church shall continue its pilgrimage in the world, there will be dark and cloudy weather; but as soon as an end shall have been put to those distresses, a day will arrive when the majesty of the Church shall be illustriously displayed.” In what manner the sun will be darkened we cannot now conjecture, but the event will show. He does not indeed mean that the stars will actually fall, but according to the apprehension of men; and accordingly Luke only predicts that there will be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars. The meaning therefore is, that there will be such a violent commotion of the firmament of heaven, that the stars themselves will be supposed to fall. Luke also adds that there will be a dreadful commotion of the sea, the sea and the waves roaring, so that men will faint through fear and alarm. In a word, all the creatures above and below will be, as it were, heralds to summon men to that tribunal, which they will continue to treat with ungodly and wanton contempt till the last day.

30. Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man. By this term Christ points out more clearly the difference between the present condition of his kingdom and its future glory; for it is a sort of admission that, amidst the darkness of tribulations, the majesty of Christ will not fully appear, and men will not perceive the redemption which he has brought. The confused mixture of things which we now perceive does certainly, on the one hand, darken our minds, and, on the other hand, bury the grace of Christ, and make it almost vanish from our sight, so that the salvation obtained by him, so far as relates to the perception of the flesh, is not comprehended. And therefore he declares that he will appear openly at his last coming and, surrounded by the heavenly power, which will be a sign erected on an elevated spot, he will turn the eyes of the whole world upon himself. 153153     “La puissance celeste, de laquelle il sera environné, servira comme d’une enseigne desployee pour contreindre tout le monde à le regarder;” — “the heavenly power, by which he shall be surrounded, will serve as a standard displayed to compel the whole world to look at him.”

Perceiving that the greater part of men would despise his doctrine and oppose his reign, he threatens also against all nations mourning and lamentation; because it is proper, that by his presence he should crush and destroy the rebels, who, while he was absent, despised his authority. He says this, partly to bring the haughty and refractory to repentance, by striking them with terror; and partly to confirm the minds of his followers amidst so great obstinacy existing in the world. For it is no slight ground of offense to see the ungodly living without concern, because they think that their mockery of God will remain unpunished; and again, there is nothing to which we are more prone than to be captivated by the allurements of the prosperity which they enjoy, so as to lose the fear of God. That the joy by which they are intoxicated may not excite the envy of believers, Christ declares that it will at length be turned into mourning and gnashing of teeth.

He alludes, I think, to Zechariah 12:11-14, where God, informing them that a striking display of his judgment will soon be made, declares that there will be lamentation in every family, such as is not usually seen at the funeral of a first-born son. There is no reason, therefore, why any person should expect the conversion of the world, for at length—when it will be too late, and will yield them no advantage—

they shall look on him whom they pierced,
(Zechariah 12:10.)

Next follows the explanation of that sin, that they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds, who at that time was living on earth in the garb of a despised servant. And thus he warns them that the glory of his kingdom will be heavenly, and not earthly, as the disciples had falsely imagined.

And he shall send his angels. He describes the effect of his power, that he will send his angels to gather his elect from the most distant parts of the world; for by the extremity of heaven is meant the most distant region. But Christ speaks hyperbolically, in order to show that the elect, even though they were carried away from the earth and scattered in the air, will again be gathered, so to be united in the enjoyment of eternal life under Him as their head, and enjoy the expected inheritance; for Christ intended to console his disciples, that they might not be altogether discouraged by the lamentable dispersion of the Church. Whenever, therefore, we perceive the Church scattered by the wiles of Satan, or torn in pieces by the cruelty of the ungodly, or disturbed by false doctrines, or tossed about by storms, let us learn to turn our eyes to this gathering of the elect. And if it appear to us a thing difficult to be believed, let us call to remembrance the power of the angels, which Christ holds out to us for the express purpose of raising our views above human means. For, though the Church be now tormented by the malice of men, or even broken by the violence of the billows, and miserably torn in pieces, so as to have no stability in the world, yet we ought always to cherish confident hope, because it will not be by human means, but by heavenly power, which will be far superior to every obstacle, that the Lord will gather his Church.

Matthew 24:32. Now learn a similitude from the fig-tree. I do not suppose the meaning of this to be merely that, during the state of confusion which has been mentioned, there will be as evident a sign that the coming of Christ is nigh, as that by which we know with certainty that the summer is at hand, when the trees begin to grow green; but, in my opinion, Christ expresses something else. For as in winter the trees, contracted by the severity of the cold, show greater vigor, but in spring lose their toughness, and appear more feeble, and are even cleft asunder to open up passage for fresh twigs, so the afflictions by which, according to the perception of the flesh, the Church is softened, do not in any way impair its vigor. As the inward sap diffused through the whole tree, after having produced this softness, collects strength to throw itself out for renovating what was dead, so the Lord draws from the corruption of the outward man the perfect restoration of his people. The general instruction conveyed is, that the weak and frail condition of the Church ought not to lead us to conclude that it is dying, but rather to expect the immortal glory for which the Lord prepares his people by the cross and by afflictions; for what Paul maintains in reference to each of the members must be fulfilled in the whole body, that

if the outward man is decayed the inward man is renewed day by day, (2 Corinthians 4:16.)

What Matthew and Mark had stated more obscurely, know you that it is nigh at the door, is more fully explained by Luke, know you that the kingdom of God is at hand; and in this passage the kingdom of God is not represented—as in many other passages—at its commencement, but at its perfection, and that according to the views of those whom Christ was teaching. For they did not view the kingdom of God in the Gospel as consisting in the peace and joy of faith and in spiritual righteousness, (Romans 14:17,) but sought that blessed rest and glory which is concealed under hope till the last day.

34. This generation shall not pass away. Though Christ employs a general expression, yet he does not extend the discourses to all the miseries which would befall the Church, but merely informs them, that before a single generation shall have been completed, they will learn by experience the truth of what he has said. For within fifty years the city was destroyed and the temple was razed, the whole country was reduced to a hideous desert, and the obstinacy of the world rose up against God. Nay more, their rage was inflamed to exterminate the doctrine of salvation, false teachers arose to corrupt the pure gospel by their impostures, religion sustained amazing shocks, and the whole company of the godly was miserably distressed. Now though the same evils were perpetrated in uninterrupted succession for many ages afterwards, yet what Christ said was true, that, before the close of a single generation, believers would feel in reality, and by undoubted experience, the truth of his prediction; for the apostles endured the same things which we see in the present day. 155155     “Que nous voyons aujourdhui advenir aux fideles;” — “which we see in the present day happen to believers.” And yet it was not the design of Christ to promise to his followers that their calamities would be terminated within a short time, (for then he would have contradicted himself, having previously warned them that the end was not yet;) but, in order to encourage them to perseverance, he expressly foretold that those things related to their own age. The meaning therefore is: “This prophecy does not relate to evils that are distant, and which posterity will see after the lapse of many centuries, but which are now hanging over you, and ready to fall in one mass, so that there is no part of it which the present generation will not experience.” So then, while our Lord heaps upon a, single generation every kind of calamities, he does not by any means exempt future ages from the same kind of sufferings, but only enjoins the disciples to be prepared for enduring them all with firmness.

35 Heaven and earth shall pass away. In order to secure greater confidence in his statements, he illustrates their certainty by this comparison, that it is more firm and stable than the entire structure of the world. 156156     “Que tout l’ordre de nature qui se voit au ciel et à la terre;” — “than the whole order of nature which is seen in heaven and in earth.” But this form of expression is explained by commentators in a variety of ways. Some refer it as the passing away of heaven and earth at the last day, by which their frail constitution will be brought to an end; while others explain it to mean, that sooner shall the entire structure of the world perish than the prophecy which we have just heard shall fail to be accomplished. But as there can be no doubt that Christ expressly intended to raise the minds of his followers above the contemplation of the world, I think that he refers to the continual changes which we see in the world, and affirms, that we ought not to judge of his sayings by the changeful character of the world, which resembles the billows of the sea; for we know how easily our minds are carried away by the affairs of the world, when it is undergoing incessant change. For this reason, Christ enjoins his disciples not to allow their attention to be occupied by the world, but to look down, from what may be called the lofty watch-tower of divine providence, on all that he foretold would happen. Yet from this passage we draw a useful doctrine, that our salvation, because it is founded on the promises of Christ, does not fluctuate according to the various agitations of the world, but remains unshaken, provided only that our faith rises above heaven and earth, and ascends to Christ himself.

36. But of that day and hour. By this sentence, Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word. That men may not feel uneasy at not knowing that day, Christ represents angels as their associates in this matter; for it would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven. 157157     “Aux anges de Paradis;” — “to the angels in Paradise.”

Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account. But many persons, thinking that this was unworthy of Christ, have endeavored to mitigate the harshness of this opinion by a contrivance of their own; and perhaps they were driven to employ a subterfuge by the malice of the Arians, who attempted to prove from it that Christ is not the true and only God. So then, according to those men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to men. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to Christ as is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable. Before stating it, however, I shall briefly dispose of the objections of those who think that it is an insult offered to the Son of God, if it be said that any kind of ignorance can properly apply to him.

As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, 158158     “La Divinité s’est tenue comme cachee; c’est à dire, n’a point demonstré sa vertu;” — “the Divine nature was kept, as it were, concealed; that is, did not display `its power.” whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefor in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (John 21:17) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us, (Hebrews 2:17.) Again, the objection urged by some—that ignorance cannot apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin — is beyond measure ridiculous. For, first, it is prodigious folly to assert that the ignorance which is ascribed to angels proceeds from sin; but they discover themselves to be equally foolish on another ground, by not perceiving that Christ clothed himself with our flesh, for the purpose of enduring the punishment due to our sins. And if Christ, as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal.

I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Matthew 20:23; Mark 5:40.) For (as I explained under that passage 159159     Harmony, vol. 2, p. 421 ) he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him, (Matthew 28:18.)

Matthew 24:37. But as the days of Noah were. Although Christ lately expressed his desire to keep the minds of his followers in suspense, that they might not inquire too anxiously about the last day; yet, lest the indifference arising out of the enjoyments of the world should lull them to sleep, he now exhorts them to solicitude. He wished them to be uncertain as to his coming, but yet to be prepared to expect him every day, or rather every moment. 163163     “De jour en jour, ou plustost d’heure en heure;” — “from day to day, or rather from hour to hour.” To shake off their sloth, and to excite them more powerfully to be on their guard, he foretells that the end will come, while the world is sunk in brutal indifference; just as in the days of Noah all the nations were swallowed up by the deluge, when they had no expectation of it, but rioted in gluttony and voluptuousness, and shortly afterwards, the inhabitants of Sodom, while they were abandoning themselves without fear to sensuality, were consumed by fire from heaven. Since indifference of this sort will exist about the time of the last day, believers ought not to indulge themselves after the example of the multitude.

We have now ascertained the design of Christ, which was, to inform believers that, in order to prevent themselves from being suddenly overtaken, they ought always to keep watch, because the day of the last judgment will come when it is not expected. Luke alone mentions Sodom, and that in the seventeenth chapter, where he takes occasion, without attending to the order of time, to relate this discourse of Christ. But it would not have been improper that the two Evangelists should have satisfied themselves with a single example, though Christ mentioned two, more especially when those examples perfectly agreed with each other in this respect, that at one time the whole human race, in the midst of unbroken indolence and pleasure, was suddenly swallowed up, 164164     “Avoit esté soudainement destruit par les eaux;” — “was suddenly destroyed by the waters.” with the exception of a few individuals. When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change. And though we shall immediately find him commanding the disciples to guard against surfeiting and earthly cares, yet in this passage he does not directly condemn the intemperance, but rather the obstinacy, of those times, in consequence of which, they despised the threatenings of God, and awaited with indifference their awful destruction. Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not scruple to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And in itself it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not with gross stupidity opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven. So now Christ declares that the last age of the world will be in a state of stupid indifference, so that men will think of nothing but the present life, and will extend their cares to a long period, pursuing their ordinary course of life, as if the world were always to remain in the same condition. The comparisons are highly appropriate; for if we consider what then happened, we shall no longer be deceived by the belief that the uniform order of events which we see in the world will always continue. For within three days of the time, when every man was conducting his affairs in the utmost tranquillity, the world was swallowed up by a deluge, and five cities were consumed by fire.

39. And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Hebrews 11:7.) And here Christ compares Noah with the rest of the world, and Lot with the inhabitants of Sodom, that believers may learn to withdraw, lest they wander and be cut off along with others. But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a salutary warning to beware in proper time. Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation. Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails. For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this ground, that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Peter 3:20, 21.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.

40. Two men shall then be in the field. Before mentioning this, Luke inserts some sentences; the first of which is presented by Matthew as belonging to the destruction of Jerusalem, Let not him who shall be on the house-top go down into his house to carry away his furniture. But it is possible that Christ applied the same words to various subjects. Luke states also a warning, that the disciples should remember Lot’s wife; that is, that they should forget those things which are behind, (Philippians 3:13) and advance towards the end of the heavenly calling. For Lot’s wife was changed into a pillar of salt, (Genesis 19:26,) because, hesitating whether there were good reasons for departing from the city, she looked behind her, by which she gave the lie to the heavenly oracle. Perhaps, too, regret at leaving her nest, in which she had dwelt with comfort, induced her to turn her head. Since, therefore, God intended that she should remain as an everlasting demonstration, our minds ought to be strengthened by the constancy of faith, that they may not hesitate and give way in the middle of the course; and they ought also to be trained to perseverance, in order that, bidding adieu to the fascinations of a transitory life, they may rise cheerfully and willingly towards heaven.

Luke adds a third sentence, whosoever shall seek to save his soul will lose it, that the desire of an earthly life may not prevent believers from passing rapidly through the midst of death, to the salvation laid up for them in heaven. And Christ employs a strong expression to denote the frailty of the present life, when he says that souls (Ζωογονοῦνται), — that is, are begotten into life when they are lost. His meaning is the same as if he had declared that inch do not live in the world, because the commencement of that life which is real, and which is worthy of the name, is, to leave the world. Luke afterwards adds what we find also in Matthew, that husbands and wives will then be separated, that the tics by which human beings are bound to each other in the world may not hinder or retard the godly; for it frequently happens that, while men are paying attention to each other, not one of them advances a step. In order, therefor that every man in his own department, freed from every bond and impediment, may run with cheerfulness, Christ informs us that, out of a single couple, one partner will be taken, while the other is left. Not that all who are united must of necessity be thus separated; for the sacred bond of piety will cause a believing wife to cleave to a believing husband, and will cause children to accompany their father. But Christ only intended, in order to cut off every occasion of delay, to enjoin every one to make haste, that those who already prepared may not waste their time in waiting for their companions. Immediately afterwards Luke adds, where the carcass is, there will the eagles also be gathered together; which must not, however, be restricted to the last day, but as the disciples had asked, Where, Lord? that is, “How shall we stand erect amidst so great shaking? and how shall we remain safe amidst such dangerous storms? and to what places of concealment shall we resort for protection, when we are united?” Christ declares, as we find in Matthew—that he is the banner of solid union, and in which all the children of God must be gathered.

42. Watch therefore. In Luke the exhortation is more pointed, or, at least, more special, Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life. And certainly he who, by living in intemperance, has his senses overloaded with food and wine, will never elevate his mind to meditation on the heavenly life. But as there is no desire of the flesh that does not intoxicate a man, they ought to take care, in all these respects, not to satiate themselves with the world, if they wish to advance with speed to the kingdom of Christ. The single word watch — which we find in Matthew — denotes that uninterrupted attention which keeps our minds in full activity, and makes us pass through the world like pilgrims.

In the account given by Mark, the disciples are first enjoined to take heed lest, through carelessness or indolence, ruin overtake them; and next are commanded to watch, because various allurements of the flesh are continually creeping upon us, and lulling our minds to sleep. Next follows an exhortation to prayer, because it is necessary to seek elsewhere the supplies that are necessary for supporting our weakness. Luke dictates the very form of prayer; first, that God may be pleased to rescue us from so deep and intricate a labyrinth; and next, that he may present us safe and sound in presence of his Son; for we shall never be able to reach it but by miraculously escaping innumerable deaths. And as it was not enough to pass through the course of the present life by rising superior to all dangers, Christ places this as the most important, that we may be permitted to stand before his tribunal.

For you know not at what hour your Lord will come. It ought to be observed, that the uncertainty as to the time of Christ’s coming — which almost all treat as an encouragement to sloth — ought to be felt by us to be an excitement to attention and watchfulness. God intended that it should be hidden from us, for the express purpose that we may keep diligent watch without the relaxation of a single hour. For what would be the trial of faith and patience, if believers, after spending their whole life in ease, and indolence, and pleasure, were to prepare themselves within the space of three days for meeting Christ?

Matthew 24:43. If the householder had known. Luke relates this discourse of Christ at a different place from Matthew; and we need not wonder at this, for in the twelfth chapter, where (as we have formerly explained) he collects out of various discourses a summary of doctrine, he inserts also this parable. Besides, he introduces a general preface that the disciples should wait for their master, with their loins girt, and carrying burning lamps in their hands. To this statement corresponds the parable, which we shall soon afterwards find in Matthew 25:1-12 about the wise and foolish virgins.

In a few words Christ glances rapidly at the manner in which believers ought to conduct their pilgrimage in the world; for first he contrasts the girding of the loins with sloth, and burning lamps with the darkness of ignorance. First, then, Christ enjoins the disciples to be ready and equipped for the journey, that they may pass rapidly through the world, and may seek no fixed abode or resting-place but in heaven. The warning is highly useful; for though ungodly men have likewise in their mouth this form of expression, “the course of life,” yet we see how they lay themselves down in the world, and remain unmoved in their attachment to it. But God does not bestow the honorable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, and who not only are at all times prepared to leave it, but likewise move forward, in an uninterrupted “course,” towards the heavenly life. Again, as they are surrounded on all sides by darkness, so long as they remain in the world, he furnishes them with lamps, as persons who are to perform a journey during the night. The first recommendation is, to run vigorously; and the next is, to have clear information as to the road, that believers may not weary themselves to no purpose by going astray; for otherwise it would be better to stumble in the way, than to perform a journey in uncertainty and mistake. As to the expression, girding the loins, it is borrowed from the ordinary custom of Eastern nations in wearing long garments.

Matthew 24:44. But know this. Another similitude is now employed by Christ, in exhorting his disciples to keep diligent watch; for if any person shall hear that robbers are prowling in the night, fear and suspicion will not allow him to sleep. Since, therefore, we are informed that Christ’s coming will be sudden and unexpected, like that of a robber, and since we are expressly forewarned that we must always watch, lest he come upon us when asleep, and we be swallowed up with the ungodly, there is no excuse for our indolence; more especially since there is reason to dread not only a breach of the wall, and a loss of our property, but a deadly wound to ruin our soul, unless we are on our guard. The tendency of these words therefore is, that the warning of Christ should arouse us; for, though the last judgment be delayed for a long time, yet it hangs over us every hour; and, therefore, when there is ground for alarm, and when danger is near, it is unreasonable that we should be sluggish.

45. Who is the faithful and wise servant? This passage is more distinctly explained by Luke, who inserts Peter’s question, which gave rise to a new parable. Christ having declared that the suddenness and uncertainty of his coming led to such danger as left no room for sloth, Peter asked, if this doctrine was general, or if it belonged to the twelve alone. For the disciples—as we have formerly seen—were always in the habit of thinking that they were unjustly treated, unless they were exempted from the common lot, and greatly excelled all others. When our Lord now represents to them a condition which is far from being pleasant or desirable, they look around them on every hand, like persons astonished. But the object of Christ’s reply is, to show that, if each of the common people ought to watch, much less ought it to be endured that the apostles should be asleep. As Christ had formerly exhorted the whole family in general to watch for his coming, so now he demands extraordinary care from the principal servants, who had been appointed over others for the purpose of pointing out, by their example, the path of sobriety, watchfulness, and strict temperance. By these words he reminds them that they were not elevated to high rank for the purpose of indulging in ease, indolence, and pleasure; but that, the higher the rank of honor which they had obtained, the heavier was the burden which was laid on them; and therefore he declares that it is especially demanded from such persons that they exercise fidelity and wisdom.

Let all who are called to an honorable office learn from this, that they are so much the more strongly bound, not only to bestow their labor faithfully, but to strive with their utmost zeal and industry to discharge their duty. For while it is enough for ordinary servants to go through their daily toil, stewards, whose office embraces the care of the whole family, ought to go much farther. Otherwise Christ charges them with ingratitude, because, while they have been chosen before others, they do not answer to their honor; for why does our Lord prefer them to the rest, but in order that they may excel all by extraordinary fidelity and wisdom? True, indeed, all are enjoined, without exception, to be sober, and to give earnest attention, but drowsiness would be peculiarly disgraceful and inexcusable in pastors. He next holds out even the hope of a reward to encourage them to diligence.

48. But if that wicked servant shall say in his heart. By these words, Christ briefly points out the source of that carelessness which creeps upon wicked servants. It is because they trust to a longer delay, and thus of their own accord involve themselves in darkness. They imagine that the day when they must render an account will never come; and, under the pretext of Christ’s absence, they promise themselves that they will remain unpunished. For it is impossible but that the expectation of him, when it does occur to our minds, shall shake off sleep, and still more, that it shall restrain us from being carried away by wicked sensuality. No excitement of exhortation, therefore, can be more powerful or efficacious, than to represent to us that rigid tribunal which no man will be able to escape. That each of us may be careful to discharge his duty earnestly, and keep himself strictly and modestly within his own limits, let us constantly make our minds familiar with the thought of that last and sudden coming of the Lord, the neglect of which leads the reprobate to indulge in wickedness.

At the same time, Christ takes a passing glance at the ease with which insolence grows, when a man has once shaken off the bridle, and given himself up to sinning. For Christ does not represent to us a servant who is merely dissolute and worthless, but one who rises up in an outrageous manner to disturb the whole house, who wickedly abuses the power committed to him, exercises cruelty on his fellow-servants, and wastefully spends the property of his master, whom he treats with open ridicule. Lastly, to excite terror, he adds the punishment, which is of no ordinary degree; for severe punishment is due to such unbounded wickedness.




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