Matthew 24Our blessed Saviour had often acquainted his disciples with his approaching death at Jerusalem. The Son of man must go up to Jerusalem to be crucified. Now in this chapter he acquaints them with the destruction that should come upon Jerusalem in general, and upon the temple in particular, for their putting him, the Son of God, to death. The disciples, looking upon the temple with wonder and admiration, were apt to think that the temple, in regard of its invincible strength, could not be destroyed; or, at the least, in regard of its incredible magnificence, it was great pity it should be destroyed; and accordingly they say to Christ, See what goodly buildings are here. As if they had said, Master, what great pity it is, that such a magnificent structure should become a ruinous heap!
But hence we learn, 1. That sin brings cities and kingdoms, as well as particular and private persons to their end. There are no places so strong, but an Almighty God is able to destroy them, and sin is sufficient to lay them waste.
Observe, 2. That the threatenings of God are to be feared, and shall be fulfilled, whatever appearing improbabilities there may be to the contrary. God had threatened Jerusalem with destruction for her sin, and now it is not all her strength that can oppose his power.
Learn, 3. That notwithstanding magnificence and worldly glory doth mightily dazzle our eye, yet how little doth it affect Christ's heart. Even the temple itself, that most magnificent structure. Christ values no more than an heap of rubbish, when the impiety of the worshippers had devoted it to destruction.
Not one stone, says Christ, shall be left upon another unthrown down. This threatening was fulfilled forty years after Christ's death, when Titus the Roman emperor destroyed the city and burnt the temple, and Turnus Rufus, the general of his army, ploughed up the very foundation upon which the temple stood. Thus was the threatening of God fulfilled, Zion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps. Jer 26:18.
The truth and veracity, the faithfulness and fidelity of God, is as much concerned in the execution of his threatenings, as in the performance of his promises.
A double question is here propounded by the disciples to our Saviour.
First, As to the time of the temple's destruction.
Secondly, as to the signs of that destruction.
As to the former, the time when the temple should be destroyed. See the curiosity of human nature, both in desiring to know what should be hereafter, and also when that hereafter should be.
Thence learn, That there is found with all of us an itching curiosity and desire, rather to inquire and pry into the hidden counsels of God's secret will, than to obey the manifest declarations of God's revealed will: Tell us when these things shall be.
As to their second question, What shall be the sign of his coming; our Saviour acquaints them with this among many others, That there should arise false Christs, false prophets, and seducers, a multitude of impostors, that would draw many after them; therefore he bids them take heed and beware.
Where observe, That Christ doth not gratify his disciples' curiosity, but acquaints them with their present duty, to watch against deceivers and seducers, who should have the impudence to affirm themselves to be Christ. Some, Christ personal, or the Messiah; others Christ doctrinal, affirming their erroneous opinions to be Christ's mind and doctrine.
From the whole, note, 1. That there will be many seducers, many erroneous persons, and false opinions, before the end of the world; for Jerusalem's destruction was a type and emblem of the world's destruction.
2. That such seducers will come in Christ's name, and their errors and false opinions shall be given out to be the mind of Christ.
3. That many will be seduced and carried away with their fair pretences and plausible deceits.
4. That Christ's own disciples had need to take heed, lest they themselves, being led away by the error of the wicked, do fall from their own steadfastness. Take heed that no man deceive you; for many will come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.
The next sign which our Saviour gives his disciples of Jerusalem's destruction, is the many broils and commotions, civil discords and dissensions, that should be found amongst the Jews: famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, fearful sights and signs in the air.
And Josephus declares, that there appeared in the air chariots and horses, men skirmishing in the clouds, and encompassing the city; and that a blazing star, in fashion of a sword, hung over the city for a year together.
Learn, 1. That war, pestilence, and famine, are judgments and calamities inflicted by God upon a sinful people for their contempt of Christ and gospel-grace. Ye shall hear of wars, famine, and pestilence.
2. That although these be mighty and terrible judgments, yet are they the forerunners of worse judgments. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Our Saviour here goes on in giving farther signs of the destruction of Jerusalem.
1. He declares the sharp persecutions which should fall upon the apostles themselves; They shall kill you.
Thence learn, That the keenest and sharpest edge of persecution is usually turned against the ambassadors of Christ, and falls heaviest on the ministers of God. You shall be hated and killed.
The next sign is the apostasy of professors upon the account of those persecutions: Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and hate one another.
Learn hence, that times of persecution for Christianity are constantly times of apostasy from the Christian profession.
2. That apostates are usually the bitterest persecutors: Omnis apostata est osor sui ordinis. They shall betray one another, and hate one another.
A third sign is the abounding of false teachers: Many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many.
Where note, That the fair pretences and subtle practices of heretical teachers have drawn off many from the truth, whom open persecution could not drive from it.
A fourth sign is the decay and abatement of zeal for God, and love one to another: The love of many shall wax cold, that is, both towards God and towards man. When iniquity abounds, trouble waxes hot; false love waxes cold, and true love waxes warmer than it was before; the cold blasts of persecution blow up the love of a few, but blow out the love of many more.
These are the signs laid down by our Saviour foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem: and forasmuch as Jerusalem's destruction was not only a forerunner, but a figure of Christ's coming to judgment, these are also the signs foretelling the approach of that dreadful day. Verse 13. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
Our Saviour closes his discourse with an exhortation to constancy and perseverance: teaching us, That there is no such way to overcome temptation and persecution, as by keeping our integrity, and persevering in our fidelity to Christ.
2. That constancy and perseverance in our integrity and fidelity towards Christ, is sometimes attended with temporal salvation and deliverance in this life, but shall certainly be rewarded with eternal salvation in the next: He that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved.
Here our blessed Saviour comforts his disciples with a threefold consideration.
1. That his gospel, how hated and persecuted soever, should be plainly and persuasively preached: The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached. Therefore called the gospel of the kingdom, because it discovers the way to the kingdom of heaven.
Observe, 2. The extent of the gospel's publication, It shall be preached unto all nations, that is, to the Gentile world; not only among the Jews, but among the chief and principal nations of the Gentiles.
Observe, 3. The design and end of the gospel's publication, and that is, for a witness or testimony; namely, for a witness of God's grace and mercy offered to sinners, and of their obstinacy who reject it.
Learn thence, That the preaching of the gospel, wherever it comes, proves a testimony to them to whom it comes. To the humble and teachable, it is a testimony for, to the scorners and despisers, it is a testimony against; or in the words of the apostle, To some it is the savour of death unto death; to others, the savour of life unto life. 2Cor 2:16
The sense is, "When ye shall see the armies of the Romans, who are an abomination unto you, and an occasion of great desolation where they go; when you shall see that abominable, dissolute army begirting the holy city of Jerusalem, then call to mind the prophecy of Daniel, which primarily belonged to Antiochus, but secondarily to Titus, and shall now be fully completed: for the seige shall not be raised till both city and temple be razed to the ground."
Learn thence, that God has instruments ready at his call to lay waste the strongest cities, and to ruin the most flourishing kingdoms which do oppose the tenders of his grace, and can make those whom men most abhor, to be the occasions of their destruction.
The meaning is, "As soon as you shall see the Roman army appear before the city of Jerusalem, let every one that values his own safety, fly as far and as fast as he can, even as Lot fled out of Sodom; and let such as fly be glad if by flight they can save their lives, though they lose their goods, thir clothes, and all things beside."
From hence learn, 1. That when Almighty God is pouring forth his fury upon a sinful people, it is lawful, yea a necessary duty, by flight to endeavour the hiding and sheltering themselves from the approaching calamity and desolation: When ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, then flee to the mountains.
2. That in the case of flight before a bloody enemy and army, if we lose all that we have, and our lives be given us, we fare well, and the Lord deals very mercifully with us.
Here our Saviour declares the doleful distress of those that could not flee from the siege of Jerusalem; as women big with child, and such as give suck, who by that means are like to lose their lives.
And he farther adds, that it should increase the calamity, if their flight should happen to be in the winter, when none can fly either fast or far; or if they should be forced to flee on the sabbath-day when the Jews scrupled travelling farther than a sabbath-day's journey, which was about two miles.
From thence learn, That it is a great addition to the trouble and disquiet of a good man's spirit, when the day of his spiritual rest is interrupted, and instead of enjoying communion with God in his house, he is driven from house and home, and flees before the face of an enraged enemy. Pray ye, says our Saviour, that your flight be not on the sabbath-day; that being a day of holy rest.
The doleful miseries and dreadful calamities which were coming upon the Jews in general, and upon Jerusalem in particular, are here foretold by our Saviour, partly from the Roman army without, and partly from the seditions and factions of the zealots within, who committed such outrages and slaughters, that there were no less than an hundred thousand slain, and ninety-seven thousand carried away captive, and made prisoners. They that bought our Saviour for thirty pence, were now themselves sold thirty for a penny. Now did the temple itself become a sacrifice, a whole burnt-offering, and was consumed to ashes.
Yet observe, Christ promises that these calamitous days shall be shortened for the elect's sake. God had a remnant, which he determined should survive this destruction, to be an holy seed; and accordingly the providence of God so ordered, that the city was taken in six months, and the whole country depopulated in eighteen.
Whence observe, How the Lord intermixes some mercy with the extremest misery that doth befall a people for their sin. On this side hell, no sinners can say that they feel the strokes of justice to the utmost, or that they have judgment without mercy.
The Jews had all along cherished in themselves a vain expectation, that the promised Messiah should be a temporal deliverer, that should set them at liberty from the power and slavery of the Romans; and accordingly Christ declares to his disciples here, that immediately before Jerusalem's destruction, several persons, taking the advantage of this expectation, would make themselves heads of parties, and pretend tha they were the true Messiah, who would save and deliver them from their enemies, if they would repair to them, and follow after them.
Hereupon our Lord cautions his disciples against such false Christs and false prophets, and bids them believe them not, though they did never so many great signs and wonders, and promised them never such glorious deliverances.
Learn hence, That the church's great danger is from seducers that come in Christ's name, and pretend to work signs and wonders by his authority.
2. That such is the power of seduction and delusion, that many are carried away with seducers and false teachers.
3. That the elect themselves, if left unto themselves, might be seduced; but divine power guards them against seduction and delusion: They shall deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. Which phrase imports not what the event would be upon the elect, but the vehemency of the endeavours of seducers; namely, that they would do the utmost that they could, to shock the Christian, and cause him to fall upon his steadfastness.
There is a threefold coming of Christ spoken of in the New Testament.
1. His coming in his spiritual kingdom by the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles.
2. His coming to destroy Jerusalem forty years after his ascension.
3. His final coming to judgment at the great day.
All these comings of the Son of man, for their suddenness and unexpectedness, are compared unto lightning, which in a moment breaketh out of the east, and shineth unto the west.
Learn hence, That the coming and appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the judging of the wicked and impenitent sinners, will be a very certain, sudden, and unexpected appearance.
If the coming of Christ be understood in the former verse of his coming to destroy Jerusalem, then by the carcass in this verse are to be understood the people of Jerusalem, and the body of the Jewish nation; and by eagles are to be understood the Roman armies, who carried an eagle in their standard. These were the instruments which Almighty God made use of, as his rod and scourge, to chastise and punish the people of Jerusalem.
Learn thence, That the appointed messengers of God's wrath, and the instruments of his vengeance, will certainly gather together, certainly find out, and severely punish and plague, an impenitent people devoted to destruction. Where the carcass is (the body of the Jewish nation) there will the eagles (the Roman soldiers) be gathered together.
Our Saviour goes on in figurative expressions to set forth the calamities that should befall the Jewish nation, immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem: The sun shall be darkened: that is, all their glory and excellency shall be eclipsed, all their wealth and prosperity shall be laid waste; the whole government, civil and ecclesiastical, destroyed; and such marks of misery found upon them, as never were seen upon a people.
By the sign of the Son of man, the papists will have understood the sign of the cross. Others understand it of those prodigies which were seen a little before the destruction of Jerusalem, which Josephus mentions; as, namely, a comet in the form of a sword hanging over the city for a year together; a light in the temple and about the altar, seen at midnight for half an hour; a cow, led by the priest to be sacrificed, calved a lamb; a voice heard in the temple, saying Abeamus hinc, "Let us go hence."
Learn hence, God premonishes before he punishes; he warns a people of destruction often, before he destroys them once.
Then shall the tribes mourn; that is, then shall the Jews be convinced that their destruction was the punishment of their sin, in rejecting and crucifying Christ; and accordingly they that pierced him shall behold him, and mourn over him. Thus it was before the destruction of Jerusalem, and thus will it be before the final judgment. They that pierced him shall be brought before him.
Lord, how will the sight of a pierced Christ pierce their souls with horror! they who have not seen a pierced Christ in the sorrows of repentence, shall hereafter see him in the sorrows of despair.
To behold Christ with the eye of sense hereafter, will be very dreadful and terrible to all those that have not beheld him with the eye of faith here.
And he shall send his angels with the sound of trumpet. Those that apply this to the destruction of Jerusalem, by the angels understand the ministers of the gospel, who by the trumpet of the word did bring in believers throughout all Judea, who were saved from that destruction. Those that understand it of the general judgment, take it literally, that Christ at the great day will send forth his holy angels, and gather all his elect to himself with the sound of a trumpet.
Probably, as there was an audible sound of a trumpet at the giving of the law, so there shall be the like sound of a trumpet, when Christ shall summon the world to judgment, for transgressing that law. A joyful sound will this be to the friends of Christ, a doleful, dreadful sound in the ears of his enemies.
Here our blessed Saviour declares two things with reference to his coming.
1. The certainty of the thing itself. 2. The uncertainty of the time.
The certainty of his coming he sets forth by the similitude of the fig-tree, whose beginning to bud declares the summer at hand. Thus when they should see the fore-mentioned signs, they might conclude the destruction of their city and temple to be nigh at hand, and that some then living should see all these predictions certainly fulfilled. What Christ foretells, shall certainly be fulfilled, his word being more firm than the fabric of heaven and earth.
Observe, 2. The uncertainty, as to the precise time, when this judgment should come. No angel in heaven nor creature on earth could determine the time, only the glorious persons in the Godhead; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Learn, 1. That all things are not revealed to the angels themselves, but such things only as it concerns them to know, and the wisdom of God thinks fit to reveal.
2. That the precise time of the day of judgment is kept by God as a secret ot himself. He will not have us know that hour, to the intent that we may be upon our watch every hour.
In these verses our Saviour declares that Jerusalem's destruction, and the world's final dissolution at the great day, would be much like the destruction of the old world; and that in two respects:
1. In regard of unexpectedness. 2. In regard of security and sensuality.
How sensual and secure was the old world before the flood! They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. That is, wholly given up to sensuality and debauchery, and did not know of the flood's coming; that is, did not consider it, till the flood swept them away.
Thus was it in the destruction of Jerusalem, and so will it be in the end of the world.
Learn hence, 1. That as the old world perished by infidelity, sins be prevailing before the destruction of this present world. As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of man cometh.
2. That the true reason why sinners are drowned in sensuality, and given over to security, is this, because they do not believe the certainty, or consider the proximity and nearness, of an approaching judgment.
The old world knew not of the flood's coming. Strange! when Noah had told them of it an hundred and twenty years together.
The meaning is, they did not consider it and prepare for it. To such as are unprepared for, and unapprehensive of death and judgment, those evils are always sudden, although men be never so often warned of them. But to such as are prepared, death is never sudden, let them die never so suddenly.
Here we have the application made by our Saviour, of the foregoing doctrine concerning the certainty and suddenness of a future judgment. Watch therefore, always; not without intermission, but without giving over; that ye may be not only in an habitual but actual readiness for my appearance.
Learn hence, That it is the indispensable duty, and ought to be the indefatigable endeavour of every Christian, to stand upon his watch in a prepared readiness for Christ's appearance, both for his coming to us, and for our going to him.
Watch always, for ye know not the hour when our Lord cometh!
These words may be applied two ways.
1. To all the faithful servants of Christ in general.
Thence learn, That for a person to spend and end his days in the service of Christ, and doing his will, gives good assurance of a blessed condition. Blessed is that servant.
2. To the ministers of the gospel in special may these words be applied.
And here observe, 1. The character and duty of a gospel-minister: He is the steward of Christ's household to give them their meat in due season.
Observe, 2. The qualifications requisite in such stewards, faithfulness and prudence: Who then is that faithful and wise steward?
Observe, 3. The reward insured to such stewards as answer these qualifications: Blessed is that servant.
Learn hence, That the ministers of the gospel are in a special sense the stewards of Christ's household.
2. That faithfulness and prudence are the necessary and indispensable qualifications of Christ's stewards.
3. That wherever these qualifications are found, Christ will graciously and abundantly reward them.
Our faithfulness must respect God, ourselves, and our flock, and includes our integrity of heart, purity of intention, industry of endeavour, impartiality in our administrations.
Prudence appears in the choice of suitable subjects, in the choice of fit language, in exciting our own affections in order to the moving of our people's.
Ministerial prudence will teach us, by the strictness and gravity of our deportment, to maintain our esteem in the consciences of our people. It will assist us to bear reproach, and direct us to give reproof; he that is silent cannot be innocent; reprove we must, or we cannot be faithful; but prudently, or we cannot be successful.
Our Lord in these verses describes an unfaithful and negligent steward, and denounces the dreadful sentence of wrath hanging over him.
He is described, 1. By the character of infidelity; he believeth not Christ's coming to judgment, though he preaches it to others: he saith in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming.
2. He is described by his hatred, envy, and malignity against his fellow-servants, that were more painful and faithful than himself. He begins to smite, at least with the virulence of his tongue, if not the violence of his hand.
3. By his associating with the wicked, and strengthening their hands by his ill example, He eateth and drinketh with the drunken; that is, as their associate and fellow-companion.
Thus the unfaithful servant is described; next his judgment and sentence are declared.
Observe, 2. The tremendous judgment that shall come upon unfaithful stewards.
1. Christ will surprise them in their sin and security, by coming in an hour when they look not for him.
2. He will execute temporal vengeance upon them: He will cut them asunder, or hew them in pieces, as the Jews did their sacrifices; that is, separate their souls from their bodies by untimely death.
Hence some observe, That God seldom suffers slothful, sensual, wicked, and debauched ministers to live out half their days.
3. Christ will punish them with eternal destruction also: appointing them their portion with hypocrites; that is, with the worst of sinners, they shall have a double damnation. As the hypocrite has a double tongue, a double heart, and is a double sinner, so shall he undergo a double damnation.
Learn hence, That such ministers as neglect the service of God, and the souls of their people; as they are ranked amongst the worst of sinners in this life, so shall they be punished with them in the severest manner in the next.
When Satan destroys the souls of men, he shall answer for it as a murderer only, not as an officer that was entrusted with the care of the soul. But is the steward doth not provide, if the shepherd doth not feed, if the watchman doth not warn, they shall answer not only for the souls that have miscarried, but for an office neglected, for a talent hidden, and for a stewardship unfaithfully administered.
Woe unto us, if at the great day we have distressed souls roaring out their complaints, and howling forth that doleful accusation against us; "Lord! our stewards have defrauded us, our watchmen have betrayed us, our guides have misled us."
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