Mat_24:1-2. And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciple came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus 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.
The King, having finished his first discourse in the temple, left it, never to return: “Jesus went out, and departed from the temple.” His ministry there was ended. As his disciples moved away with him cowards the mount of Olives, they called his attention to the great stones of which the temple was constructed, and the costly adornments of the beautiful building. To them the appearance was glorious; but to their Lord it was a sad sight. His Father’s house, which ought to have been a house of prayer for all nations, had become a den of thieves, and soon would be utterly destroyed: Jesus 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.” Josephus tells us that Titus at first tried to save the temple, even after it was set on fire, but his efforts were of no avail; and at last he gave orders that the whole city and temple should be leveled, except a small portion reserved for the garrison. This was so thoroughly done that the historian says that there was but nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. We sometimes delight in the temporal prosperity of the Church as if it were something that must certainly endure; but all that is external will pass away or be destroyed. Let us only reckon that to be substantial which comes from God, and is God’s work. The things which are seen are temporal.
Mat_24:3. And as he sat upon 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?
The little procession continued ascending the mount of Olives until Jesus reached a resting-place from which he could see the temple (Mar_13:3). There he sat down, and 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?” These are the questions that have been asked in every age sings our Saviour’s day. There are here two distinct questions, perhaps three. The disciples enquired first about the time of the destruction of the temple, and then about the sign of Christ’s coming, and of “the consummation of the age” (R.V. margin). The answers of Jesus contained much that was mysterious, and that could only be fully understood as that which he foretold actually occurred. He told his disciples some things which related to the siege of Jerusalem, some which concerned his Second Advent, and some which would immediately precede “the end of the world.” When we have clearer light, we may possibly perceive that all our Saviour’s predictions on this memorable occasion had some connection with all three of these great events.
Mat_24:4-6. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
Jesus was always practical. The most important thing for his disciples was not that they might know when “these things” would be, but that they might be preserved from the peculiar evils of the time. Therefore, Jesus answered and said unto them, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” They were to beware lest any of the pretended Messiahs should lead them astray, as they would pervert many others. A large number of impostors, came forward before the destruction of Jerusalem, giving out that they were the anointed of God, almost every page of history is blotted with the names of such deceivers; and in our own day we have seen some come in Christ’s name, saying that they are Christ’s. Such men seduce many; but they who heed their Lord’s warning will not be deluded by them. Our Saviour’s words, “Ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars,” might be applied to almost any period of the world’s history. Earth has seldom had a long spell of quiet, there have almost always been both the realities of war, and the rumors of war. There were many such ere Jerusalem was overthrown; there have been many such ever since; and there will be many such until that glorious period when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” “See that ye be not troubled” is a timely message for the disciples of Christ in every age. “For all these things must come to pass,” therefore let us not be surprised or alarmed at them, “but the end is not yet.” The destruction of Jerusalem was the beginning of the end, the great type and anticipation of all that will take place when Christ shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. It was an end; but not the end: “the end is not yet.”
Mat_24:7-8. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famine, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places, All these are the beginning of sorrows.
One would think that there was sorrow enough in “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places”, but our Lord said that “all these” were only “the beginning of sorrows”, the first birth-pangs of the travail that must precede his coming, either to Jerusalem, or to the whole world. If famines, pestilences, and earthquakes are only “the beginning of sorrows”, what may we not expect the end to be? This prophecy ought both to warn the disciples of Christ what they may expect, and wean them from the world where all these and greater sorrows are to be experienced.
Mat_24:9. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
Our Lord not only foretold the general trial that would come upon the Jews, and upon the world; but also the special persecution which would be the portion of his chosen followers: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” The New Testament gives abundant proof of the fulfillment of these words. Even in Paul’s day, “this sect” was “everywhere spoken against.” Since then, has there been any land unstained by the blood of the martyrs ? Wherever Christ’s gospel has been preached, men have risen up in arms against the messengers of mercy, and afflicted and killed them wherever they could.
Mat_24:10. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
This would be a bitter trial for the followers of Christ, yet this they have always had to endure. Persecution would reveal the traitors within the Church as well as the enemies without. In the midst of the chosen ones there would be found successors of Judas, who would be willing to betray the disciples as he betrayed his Lord. Saddest of all is the betrayal of good men by their own relatives; but even this they have many of them had to bear for Christ’s sake.
Mat_24:11-12. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
What could not be accomplished by persecutors outside the Church, and traitors inside, would be attempted by teachers of heresy: “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” They have risen in all ages; in these modern times they have risen in clouds, till the air is thick with them, as with an army of devouring locusts. These are the men who invent new doctrines, and who seem to think that the religion of Jesus Christ is something that a man may twist into any form and shape that he pleased. Alas that such teachers should have any disciples! It is doubly sad that they should be able to lead astray “many.” Yet, when it so happens, let us remember that the King said that it would be so. Is it any wonder that, where such “iniquity abounds” and such lawlessness is multiplied, “the love of many shall wax cold”? If the teachers deceive the people, and give them “another gospel which is not another”, it is no marvel that there is a lack of love and zeal. The wonder is that there is any love and zeal left after they have been subjected to such a chilling and killing process as that adopted by the advocates of the modern “destructive criticism.” Verily, it is rightly named “destructive”, for it destroys almost everything that is worth preserving.
Mat_24:13. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall he saved.
Again our Saviour reminded his disciples of the personal responsibility of each one of them in such a time of trial and testing as they were about to pass through. He would have them remember that it is not the man who starts in the race, but the one who runs to the goal, who wins the prize: “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” If this doctrine were not supplemented by another, there would be but little good tidings for poor, tempted, tried and struggling saints in such words as these. Who among us would persevere in running the heavenly race if God did not preserve us from falling, and give us persevering grace? But, blessed be his name, “the righteous shall hold on his way.” “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Mat_24:14. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
The world is to the Church like a scaffold to a building. When the Church is built, the scaffold will be taken down; the world must remain until the last elect one is saved: “Then shall the end come.” Before Jerusalem was destroyed, “this gospel of the kingdom” was probably “preached in all the world” so far as it was then known, but there is to be a fuller proclamation of it “for a witness unto all nations” before the great consummation of all things: “then shall the end come,” and the King shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and decide the eternal destiny of the whole human race.
Mat_24:15-18. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet stand in the holy place, (whose readeth, let him understand;) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
This portion of our Saviour’s words appears to relate solely to the destruction of Jerusalem. As soon as Christ’s disciples saw “the abomination of desolation”, that is, the Roman ensigns, with their idolatrous emblems, “stand in the holy place”, they knew that the time for them to escape had arrived; and they did “ flee into the mountains.” The Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and villages, “in Judaea”, availed themselves of the first opportunity for eluding the Roman armies, and fled to the mountain city of Pella, in Perea, where they were preserved from the general destruction which overthrew the Jews. There was no time to spare before the final investment of the guilty city, the man “on the house-top” could “not come down to take anything out of his house”, and the man “in the field” could not “return back to take his clothes.” They must flee to the mountains in the greatest haste the moment that they saw “Jerusalem compassed with armies” (Luk_21:20).
Mat_24:19-21. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
It must have been a peculiarly trying time for the women who had to flee from their homes just when they needed quiet and rest. How thoughtful and tender was our pitiful Saviour in thus sympathizing with suffering mothers in their hour of need! “Flight . . in the winter” or “on the sabbath day” would have been attended with special difficulties; so the disciples were exhorted to “pray” that come other time might be available. The Lord knew exactly when they would be able to escape, yet he bade them pray that their flight might not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath-day. The wise men of the present day would have said that prayer was useless under such conditions, not so the great Teacher and Example of his praying people; he taught that such a season was the very time for special supplication. The reason for this injunction was thus stated by the Saviour: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Read the record written by Josephus of the destruction of Jerusalem, and see how truly our Lord’s words were fulfilled. The Jews impiously said, concerning the death of Christ, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Never did any other people invoke such an awful curse upon themselves, and upon no other nation did such a judgment ever fall. We read of Jews crucified till there was no more wood for making crosses; of thousands of the people slaying one another in their fierce faction fights within the city; of so many of them being sold for slaves that they became a drug in the market, and all but valueless, and of the fearful carnage when the Romans at length entered the doomed capital and the blood-curdling story exactly bears out the Saviour’s statement uttered nearly forty years before the terrible events occurred.
Mat_24:22. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
These were the words of the King as well as of the Prophet, and as such, they were both authentic and authoritative. Jesus spoke of what “should be”, not only as the Seer who was able to gaze into the future, but as the Sovereign Disposer of all events. He knew what a fiery trial awaited the unbelieving nation, and that “except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.” If the horrors of the siege were to continue Long, the whole race of the Jews would be destroyed. The King had the power to cut short the evil days, and he explained his reason for using that power: “For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Those who had been hated and persecuted by their own countrymen became the means of preserving them from absolute annihilation. Thus has it often been since those days, and for the sake of his elect the Lord has withheld many judgments, and shortened others. The ungodly owe to the godly more thou they know, or would care to own.
Mat_24:23-26. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold he is in the desert; go not forth behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
It is a grand thing to have such faith in Christ that you have none to spare for imposters. It is important not to distribute your faith too widely. Those who believe in a little of everything will, in the end, believe nothing of anything. If you exercise full faith in that which is sure and steadfast, “false Christs and false prophets” will not be able to make you their dupes. In one respect, the modern teachers of heresy are more successful than their Judaean prototypes, for they do actually “deceive the very elect”, even though they cannot “shew great signs and wonders.” One of the saddest signs of the times in which we live is the ease with which “the very elect” are deceived by the smooth-tongued “false Christs and false prophets” who abound in our midst. Yet our Saviour expressly forewarned his followers against them: “Behold, I have told you before.” Forewarned is forearmed. Let it be so in our owe. Our Saviour’s expressive command may be fitly applied to the whole system of “modern thought” which is contrary to the inspired Word of God: “Believe it not.”
Mat_24:27. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
When HE comes, we shall know who he is, and why he has come. There will be no longer any mystery or secret about “the coming of the Son of man.” There will be no need to ad: any questions then; no one will make a mistake about his appearing when it actually takes place. “Every eye shall see him.” Christ’s coming will be sudden, startling, universally visible, and terrifying to the ungodly:” as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west.” His first coming to judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem had terrors about it that till then had never been realized on the earth; his last coming will be more dreadful still.
Mat_24:28. For whersoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Judaism had become a “carcass”, dead and corrupt; fit prey for the cultures or carrion-kites of Rome. By-and-by, there will arrive another day, when there will be a dead church in a dead world, and “the eagles” of divine judgment “will be gathered together” to tear in pieces those whom there shall be none to deliver. The birds of prey gather wherever dead bodies are to be found; and the judgments of Christ will be poured out when the body politic or religious becomes unbearably corrupt.