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THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPELS
The Prophecy on the Mount examined:-
I. - The Interrogatory of the Disciples.
We may conceive the surprise and and consternation felt by the disciples when Jesus announced to them the utter destruction which Was coming upon the temple of God, the beauty and splendour of which had excited their admiration. it is no marvel that four of their number, who seem to have been admitted to more intimate familiarity than the rest, sought for fuller information On a subject so intensely interesting. The only point that requires elucidation here refers to the extent of their interrogatory. St. Mark and St. Luke represent it as having reference to the time of the predicted catastrophe and the sign of As fulfilment coming to pass. St. Matthew varies the form of the question, but evidently gives the same sense, -- ' Tell us, when shall these things be ? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?' Here again it is the time and the sign which form the subject of inquiry. There is no reason whatever to suppose that they regarded in their own minds the destruction of the temple, the coming of the Lord, and the end of the age, as three distinct or widely separated events ; but, on the contrary, it is most natural to suppose that they regarded them as coincident and contemporaneous. What precise idea-, they entertained respecting the end of the age and the events therewith connected, we do not know; but we do know that they had been accustomed to hear their Master speak of His coming again ill His kingdom, coming in His glory, and that within the lifetime of some among themselves. They hall also heard Him speak of the 'end of the age ; ' and they evidently connected His ' coming ' with the end of the The three points embraced in file form of their question, is given by St. Matthew, were therefore in their view contemporaneous; and thus we find no practical difference in the terms of the question of the disciples as recorded by the three Synoptists.
(a) Events which more remotely were to precede the consummation.
It is impossible to read this section and fail to perceive its distinct reference to the period between our Lord's crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Every word is spoken to the disciples, and to them alone. To imagine that the 'ye' and 'you ' in this address apply, not to the disciples to whom Christ wits speaking, but to some unknown and yet non-existent persons in it far distant age, is so preposterous a supposition is not to deserve serious notice.
That our Lord's words were fully verified during- the interval, between His crucifixion and the end of the age, we have the most ample testimony. False Christs and false prophets began to make their appearance at it very early period of the, Christian era, and continued to infest the land down to the very close, of Jewish history. In the procuratorship of Pilate (A.D. 36), one such appeared in Samaria, and deluded great multitudes. There was another in the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus (A.D. 45). During the government of Felix (53-60), Josephus tells us 'the country was full of robbers, magicians, false prophets, false Messiahs, and impostors' who deluded the People with promises of great events." (1) The same authority informs its that civil commotions and international feuds, were rife in those days, especially between the Jews and their neighbours. In Alexandria, in Selucia, in Syria, in Babylonia, there were violent tumults between the Jews and the Greeks, the Jews and the Syrians, inhabiting, the same cities. 'Every city was divided,' says Josephus, 'into two camps.' In the reign of Caligula great apprehensions were entertained in Judea of war with the Romans, in consequence of that tyrant's proposal to place his statue in the temple. In the reign of the Emperor Claudis (A.D. (41-54), there were four seasons of great scarcity. In the fourth year of his reign the famine in Judea was so severe, that the price of food became enormous and great numbers perished. Earthquakes occurred in each of the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. (2)
Such calamities, the Lord gave His disciples to understand, would precede the 'end.' But they were not its immediate antecedents. They were the 'beginning of the end ; ' but 'the end is not yet.'
At this point (ver. 9-13), our Lord passes from the general to the particular ; from the public to tile personal ; from the fortunes of nations and kingdoms to the fortunes of the disciples themselves. While these events were proceeding, the apostles were to become objects of suspicion to tile ruling powers. They were to be brought before councils, rulers, and kings, imprisoned, beaten in the synagogues, and hated of all men for Jesus' sake,
How exactly all this was verified in the personal experience of the disciples we may read in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of St. Paul. Yet the divine promise of protection ill the hour of peril was remarkably fulfilled. With the single exception of 'James the brother of John,' no apostle seems to have fallen a victim to the malignant persecution of their enemies tip to the close of the apostolic history, as recorded in the Acts (A.D. 63).
One other sign was to precede and usher in the consummation. 'The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world [oi.koume,ne] for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come.' We have already adverted to the fulfilment of this prediction within the apostolic age. We have the authority of St. Paul for such a universal diffusion Of tile gospel in his days as to verify the saying of Our Lord. (See Col. 1. 6, 23.) But for this explicit testimony ' from all apostle if, would have been impossible to persuade some expositors that our Lord's words had been in any sense fulfilled previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, it would have been regarded as mere ex travagance, and rhodomontade. -Now, however, the objection cannot reasonably be urged.
Here it may be proper to call to mind the note of time, given on a previous occasion to the disciples as indicative of our Lord's coming: 'Verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come' (Matt. x. 23). Comparing this declaration with the prediction before us (Matt. xxiv. 14), we may see the perfect consistency of the two statements, and also the 'terminus ad quem ' in both. In the one ease it is the evangelisation of the land of Israel, in the other, the evangelisation of the Roman empire that is referred to as the precursor of the Parousia. Both statements are true. It might well occupy the space of a generation to carry the glad tidings into every city in the land of Israel. The apostles had not too much time for their home mission, though they had upon their hands so vast a foreign mission. Obviously, we must take the language employed by Paul, as well as by our Lord in a popular sense and it would be unfair to press it to the extremity of the letter. The wide diffusion of the gospel both in the land of Israel and throughout the Roman empire, is sufficient to justify the prediction of our Lord.
Thus far Own we have one continuous discourse, relating to a particular event, and spoken of and to particular persons. We find four signs, or sets of signs, which were to portend the approach of the great catastrophe.
1 . The appearance of false Christs and false prophets.
2. Great social disturbances and natural calamities and convulsions.
3. Persecution of the disciples and apostasy of professed believers.
4. The general publication of the gospel throughout the Roman empire.
This last sign especially betokened the near approach of the 'end.'
No argument is required to prove the strict and exclusive reference of this section to Jerusalem and Judea. Here we can detect no trace of it double meaning, of primary and ulterior fulfilments, of underlying and typical senses. Everything is national, local, and near :- 'the land ' is the land of Judea,-' this people ' is the people of Israel,-and the ' time the lifetime of the disciples,--' When YE therefore Shall See.'
Most expositors find an allusion to the standards of the Roman legions in the expression, "the abomination of desolation" and the explanation is highly probable. The eagles were the objects of religious worship to the soldiers ; and the parallel passage in St. Luke is all but conclusive evidence that this is the true meaning. We know from Josephus that the attempt of a Roman general (Vitellius), in the reign of Tiberius, to march his troops through Judea, was resisted by the Jewish authorities, on the ground that the idolatrous images on their ensigns would be a profanation of the law. (3) How much greater the profanation when those idolatrous emblems were displayed in full view of the temple and the Holy City ! This was the last token which portended that the hour of doom for Jerusalem had come. Its appearance was to he the. signal to all in Judea to escape beyond the mountains [e.pi. ta. o.rh] for then would ensue a period of misery and horror without a parallel in the annals of time.
That the 'great tribulation' [qliyij mega,lh ] (Matt. xxiv. 21) has express reference to the dreadful calamities attending the siege of Jerusalem, which bore With such peculiar severity on the female sex, is too evident to be questioned. That those calamities were literally unparalleled, can easily be believed by al1 who have read the ghastly narrative in the pages of Josephus. It is remarkable that the historian begins his account of the Jewish war with the affirmation, 'that the aggregate of human woes from the beginning of the world, would, in his opinion, be light in comparison with those of the Jews., (4)
The following graphic description introduces the tragic story of the wretched mother, whose horrible repast may have been in our Saviour's thoughts when he uttered the words recorded in Matt, xxiv. 19 :
That our Lord had in view the horrors which were to befall the Jews in the siege, and not any subsequent events it the end of time, is perfectly clear from the closing words of ver. 21-' No, nor ever shall be.'
As yet we have found no break in the continuity of the discourse, - not the faintest indication that any transition has taken place to any other subject or any other period. The narrative is perfectly homogeneous and consecutive, and flows on without diverging to the right hand or to the left.
The same is equally true with respect to the section now before us. The very first word is indicative of continuity Then [To,te] rid every succeeding word is plainly addressed to the disciples themselves, for their personal warning and guidance. It is clear that our Lord gives them intimation of what would shortly come to pass, or at least what they might live to witness with their own eyes. It is a vivid representation of what actually occurred in the last days of the Jewish commonwealth. The unhappy Jews, and especially the people of Jerusalem, were buoyed up with false hopes by the specious impostors who infested the land and brought ruin upon their miserable dupes. Such was the infatuation produced by the boasting pretensions of these impostors, that, as we learn from Josephus, when the temple was actually in flames a vast multitude of the deluded people fell victims to their credulity. The Jewish historian states:
Our Lord forewarns His disciples that His coming to that judgment- scene would be conspicuous and sudden as the lightning-flash, which reveals itself and seems to be everywhere at the, same moment. 'For,' He adds, ' wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together; that is, wherever the guilty and devoted children of Israel were found, there the destroying ministers of wrath, the Roman legions, -would overwhelm them.
Here also the phraseology absolutely forbids the idea of any transition from the. subject in hand to another. There is nothing to indicate that the scene has shifted, or a new topic been introduced. The section before, us connects itself most distinctly with the ' great tribulation' spoken of in ver. 21 of Matt. xxiv., and it is inadmissible to suppose any interval of time in the face of the adverb ' immediately ' (e.uqe,wj de) But the scene of the 'great tribulation' is undeniably Jerusalem and Judea (ver. 15, 16), so that no break in the subject of the discourse is allowable. Again, in ver. 30, we read that 'all the tribes of the land [pa/sai ai, fulai. th/j gh/j] shall mourn,' referring evidently to the population of the land of Judea; and nothing can be more forced and unnatural than to make it include, as Lange does, 'all the races and peoples' of the globe. The restricted sense of the word (gh) [=land] in the New Testament is common ; and when connected, as it is here, with the word 'tribes' [fulaii], its limitation to the land of Israel is obvious. This is the view adopted by Dr. Campbell and Moses Stuart, and it is indeed self- evident. We find a similar expression in Zech. xii. 12--'All the families [tribes] of the land,'- where its restricted sense is obvious and undisputed. The two passages are in fact exactly parallel, and nothing could be more misleading than to understand the phrase as including 'all the races of the earth.' The structure of the discourse, then, inflexibly resists the supposition of a change of subject. Time, place, circumstances, all continue the same. It is therefore with unfeigned wonder that we find Dean Alford commenting in the following fashion : ' All the difficulty which this word [immediately - e.uqe,wj) has been supposed to involve has arisen from confounding, the fulfillment of the prophecy with it's ultimate one. The important insertion ver. 23,24, in Luke xxi.. shows us that be " tribulation " [qliyij] includes o.rgh. e,n tw/ law tou,tw (wrath upon this people), which is yet being inflicted, and the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, still going on; and immediately after that tribulation, which shall happen when the cup of Gentile iniquity is full, and when this gospel shall have hem preached it all the world for a witness, and rejected by the Gentiles, shall the coming of the, Lord Himself happen. . . . (The expression in Mark is equally indicative of a considerable interval -- in those days after that tribulation.) The fact of His coming and its attendant circumstances being known to Him, but the exact time unknown, He speaks without regard to the interval, which would be, employed in His waiting till all things are put under His feet,' etc. (7)
It may be said that in this comment there are almost as many errors as words. Indeed, it is not the explanation of a prophecy so much as an independent prophecy of the commentator himself. First, there is the groundless hypothesis of it double sense, it partial and an ultimate fulfilment, for which there is no foundation in the text, but which is a mere arbitrary and gratuitous supposition. Next, we have it 'tribulation,' not 'shortened,' as the Lord declares, but protracted so as be 'still going on' in the present day. Then the word 'immediately ' is made to refer to a period not yet come, so that between ver. 28 and ver. 29, where the unassisted eye can perceive no trace of any line of transition, the critic intercalates an immense period of more than eighteen centuries, with the possibility of an indefinite duration in addition. Still further we have an implied contradiction of St. Paul's statement that the gospel was preached 'in all the world' (Col. i. v. 23), and the assumption that the gospel is to be rejected by the Gentiles. Then the commentator finds that St. Mark suggests a 'considerable interval,' whereas he expressly says In those very days after that tribulation' [en ekeinaij taij hmeraij meta thn qliyin ekeinhn] -precluding the possibility of any interval at all, and lastly we have what appears like an apology for the veracity of the prediction, on the ground that our Lord, not, knowing the exact time when His coming would take place, ' speaks without regard to the, interval,' etc.
It is obvious, that if this is the way in which Scripture is to be interpreted, the ordinary laws of exegesis must be thrown aside as useless. He is the best interpreter who is the boldest guesser. Is there any ancient book which a grammarian would treat after this fashion? Would it not be pronounced intolerable and uncritical if such liberties were taken with Homer or Plato ? Would it not have been a mockery to propound such riddles to the disciples as an answer to their question, 'When shall these things be ?
How could they know of partial and ultimate fulfilments, and double senses? and what effect could be produced in their minds, but titter perplexity and bewilderment? We cannot help protesting against such treatment of the words of Scripture, as not only unscholarly and uncritical, but in the highest degree presumptuous and irreverent.
But, it is answered, the character of our Lord's language in this passage necessitates. As application to a grand and awful catastrophe which is still future, and can be properly understood of nothing less than the total dissolution of the fabric of the universe, and the mid of all things. How can any one pretend it is said, that the sun has been darkened, that the moon has withdrawn her light, that the stars have fallen from heaven, that the Son of man has been seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ? Did such phenomena occur at the destruction of Jerusalem, or can they apply to anything else than the Enid consummation of all things?
To argue in this strain is to lose sight of the very nature and genius of prophecy. Symbol and metaphor belong to the grammar of prophecy, as every reader of the Old Testament prophets must know. Is it not reasonable that the doom of Jerusalem should be depicted in language as glowing and rhetorical as the destruction of Babylon, or Bozrah, or Tyre? How then does the prophet Isaiah de scribe the downfall of Babylon ?
It will at once be seen that the imagery employed in this passage is almost identical with that of our Lord. If these symbols therefore were proper to represent the fall of Babylon why should they be improper to set forth a still greater catastrophe -- the destruction of Jerusalem ?
Take another example. The prophet Isaiah announces the desolation of Bozrah, the capital of Edom, in the following language :
Here again we have the very imagery used by our Lord in His prophetic discourse ; And if the fate of Bozrah might properly be described in language so lofty, why should it be thought extravagant to employ similar terms in describing the fate of Jerusalem ?
Again, the prophet Micah speaks of a 'coming of the Lord ' to judge and punish Samaria and Jerusalem -- a coming to judgment which had unquestionably taken place long before our Saviour's time, -- and in what magnificent diction does he represent this scene !
It would be easy to multiply examples of this characteristic quality of prophetic diction. Prophecy is of the nature of poetry, and depicts events, not in the prosaic style of the historian, but in the glowing imagery of the poet. Add to this that the Bible does not speak with the cold logical correctness of the Western peoples, but with the tropical fervour of the, gorgeous East. Yet it would be improper to call such language extravagant or overcharged. The moral grandeur of the events which such symbols represent may be most fitly set forth by convulsion; and cataclysms in the natural world. Nor is it necessary to construct a grammar of symbolology and End an analogue for every sacred hieroglyphic, by which to translate each particular metaphor into its proper equivalent, for this would be to turn prophecy into allegory. The following observations on the figurative language of Scripture are judicious. What is grand in nature is used to express what is dignified and important among men, ---the heavenly bodies, mountains, stately trees, kingdoms or those in authority. . . . Political changes are represented by earthquakes, tempests, eclipses, the turning of waters and seas into blood.' (8)
The conclusion then to which we are irresistibly led, is, that the imagery employed by our lord in His prophetic discourse is not inappropriate to the dissolution of the Jewish state and polity which took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. It is appropriate, both as it is in keeping with the acknowledged style of the ancient prophets, and also because the moral grandeur of the event is such as to justify the use of such language in this particular case.
But we may go further than this, and affirm that it is not only appropriate as applied to the destruction of Jerusalem, but that this is its true and exclusive application. We find no vestige of an intimation that our Lord had any ulterior and occult signification in view. But we do find that there is scarcely a feature in this sublime and awful description which He Himself had not already anticipated, and fixed in its application to a particular event and a particular time. Let the reader carefully compare the description in the passage before us, of 'the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory' (Matt. xxiv. 30) (9), with our Lord's declaration (Matt. xvi. 27)- 'For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels,'- an event which He expressly affirms would be witnessed by some of His disciples then living. Again, the sending forth of His angels to gather together His elect, corresponds exactly with the representation of what would take place in the 'harvest,' at the end of the won, as described in the parables of the tares and the dragnet (Matt. xii. 41-50)- 'The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.' 'So shall it be at the end of the age [won]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire.' Here the prophecy and the parable represent the self- same scene, the self-same period : they alike speak of the close of the won or age, not of the end of the world, or material universe ; and they alike speak of that great judicial epoch as at hand. How plainly does St. Luke, in his record of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, represent the great catastrophe as falling within the lifetime of the disciples : 'And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads ; for your redemption draweth nigh' (Luke xxi. 28). Were not these words spoken to the disciples, who listened to the discourse ? Did they not apply to them ? Is there anywhere even a suspicion that they were meant for another audience, thousands of years distant, and not for the eager group who drank in the words of Jesus ? Surely such a hypothesis carries its own refutation in its very front.
But, its if to preclude even the possibility of misconception or mistake, our Lord in the next paragraph draws around His prophecy a line so plain and palpable, shutting it wholly within a limit so definite and distinct, that it ought to be decisive of the whole question.
Words have no meaning if this language, uttered on so solemn an occasion, and so precise and express in its import, does not affirm the near approach of the great event which occupies the -whole discourse of our Lord. First, the parable of the fig-tree intimates that as the buds on the trees betoken the near approach of summer, so the signs which He had just specified would betoken that the predicted consummation was at hand. They, the disciples to whom He was speaking, were to see them, and when they saw them to recognise that the end was ' near, even at the doors.' Next, our Lord sums up with an affirmation calculated to remove every vestige of doubt or uncertainty,
'VERILY I SAY UNTO YOU, THIS GENERATION SHALL NOT PASS,
TILL ALL THESE THINGS BE FULFILLED.'
One would reasonably suppose that after a note of time so clear and express there could not be room for controversy. Our Lord Himself has settled the question. Ninety-nine persons in every hundred would undoubtedly understand His words as meaning that the predicted catastrophe would fall within the limits of the lifetime of the existing generation. Not that all would probably live to witness it, but that most or many would. There can be no question that this would be the interpretation which the disciples would place upon the words. Unless, therefore, our Lord intended to mystify His disciples, He gave them plainly to understand that His coining, the judgment of the Jewish nation, and the close of the age, would come to pass before the existing generation had -wholly passed away, and within the limits of their own lifetime. This, as we have already seen, was no new idea, but one which on several occasions He had previously expressed.
Far, however, from accepting this decision of our Lord as final, the commentators have violently resisted that which seems the natural and coin mon -sense meaning of His words. They have insisted that because the events predicted did Hot so come, to pass in that generation, therefore the word generation (genea.) cannot possibly mean, what it is usually understood to mean, the people of that particular age or period, the contemporaries of our Lord. To affirm that these things did not conic to pass is to beg the question, and something more.
But we submit that it is the business of grammarians not to be apprehensive of possible consequences, but to settle the true meaning of words. Our Lord's predictions may be safely left to take care of themselves; it is for us to try to understand them.
It is contended by many that in this place the word genea. should be rendered 'race, or nation; ' and that our Lord's words mean no more than that the Jewish race or nation Should Hot pass away, or perish, until the predictions which He had just uttered had come to pass. This is the meaning which Lange, Stier, Alford, and many other expositors attach to the word, and it is maintained with conspicuous ability and copious learning by Dorner in his tractate, ' Do Oratione Christi Eschatologica.' It is true, no doubt, that the word genea, like most others, has different shades of meaning, and that sometimes, in the Septuagint and in classic authors it may refer to a nation or a race. But we think that it is demonstrable without any shadow of doubt that the expression ' this generation,' so often employed by our Lord, always refers solely and exclusively to His contemporaries, the Jewish people of His own period. It might safely be left to the candid judgment of every reader, whether a Greek Scholar or not, whether this is Hot so: but as the point is one of great importance, it may be desirable to adduce the proofs of this assertion.
1. In our Lord's final address to the people, delivered on the same day as this discourse on the Mount of Olives, He declared, ' All these things shall come upon this generation ' (Matt xxiii. 36). No commentator has ever proposed to understand this as referring to any other than the existing generation.
2. 'Whereunto shall I liken this generation?' (Matt. xi. 16.) Here it is admitted by Lange and Stier that the word refers to ' the then existing last generation of Israel ' (Lange, in loc. Stier, vol ii. 98).
3. 'An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.' 'The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation.' ' The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation.' ' Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation ' (Matt. xii. 39, 41, 42, 45).
In these four passages Dorner endeavours to make out That our Lord is not speaking of His contemporaries, the men of His own period, ' For,' be says, 'the Gentiles ' (the Ninevites and the Queen of the South) 'are opposed to the Jews; therefore "this generation "' [h, genea. a[uth] 'must signify the nation or race of the Jews' (Dorner, Orat. Chr. Esch., p. 81). His argument, however, is not convincing. Surely the generation which sought after a sign was the then existing generation ; and can it be supposed that it was against any other generation than that which had resisted such preaching as that of John the Baptist and of Christ that the Gentiles were to rise up in the judgment? There is only one interpretation of our Lord's language possible, and it is that which refers His words to His own perverse and unbelieving contemporaries.
4. 'That the blood of all the prophets . . . may be required of this generation.' ' It shall be required of this generation ' (Luke xi. 50, 51).
Here Dorner himself admits that it is of the existing generation (hoc ipsum hominum avum) that these words are spoken (p. 41).
5. 'Whosoever shall be ashamed of me in this adulterous and sinful generation' (Mark viii. 38).
6. ' The Son of man must be rejected of this generation (Luke xvii. 25). It is only necessary to quote these passages in order to determine their sole reference to the particular generation that rejected the Messiah.
These are all the examples in which the expression 'this generation' occurs in the sayings of our Lord, and they establish beyond all reasonable question the reference of the words in the important declaration now before us. But suppose that we were to adopt the rendering proposed, and take genea as meaning a race, what point or significance would there be in the prediction then ? Can any one believe that the assertion so solemnly made by our Lord, 'Verily I say unto you,' etc., amounts to no more than this, 'The Hebrew race shall not become extinct till all these things be fulfilled '? Imagine a prophet in our own times predicting a great catastrophe in which London would be destroyed, St. Paul's and the Houses of Parliament levelled with the ground, and a fearful slaughter of the inhabitants be perpetrated; and that when asked, 'When shall these things come to pass ? ' he should reply, 'The Anglo-Saxon race shall not become extinct till all these things be fulfilled' ! Would this be a satisfactory answer ? Would not such an answer be considered derogatory to the prophet, and an affront to his hearers ? Would they not have reason to say, 'It is safe prophesying when the event is placed at an interminable distance ! ' But the bare supposition of such a sense in our Lord's prediction shows itself to be a reductio ad absurdum. Was it for this that the disciples were to wait and watch ? Was this the lesson son that the budding fig- tree taught? Was it not until the Jewish race was about to become extinct that they were to 'look up, and lift up their beads '? Such a hypothesis is its own refutation.
We fall back, therefore, upon the only tenable and possible interpretation, and understand our Lord to mean, what in so many words He says, that the events specified in His prediction would assuredly come to pass before the existing generation had wholly passed away. This is the only interpretation which the words will bear; every other involves a wresting of language, and a violence to the understanding. Besides, it is in harmony with the uniform teaching of our Saviour. He had long before assured His disciples that some of them should live to witness His return in glory (Matt. xvi. 27, 28).
He had told them that before they had completed their apostolic mission to the cities of Israel the Son of man should come (Matt. x. 23). He had declared that all the blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, should be required of that generation (Matt. xxiii. 35, 36). It was, therefore, of that generation that He spoke. It should never be forgotten that there was a specialty about that generation. It was the last and worst of all the generations of Israel, inheriting the guilt of all its predecessors, and was about to be visited with signal and un- paralleled judgments. Whether the predicted catastrophe came to pass is another question, which will come to be considered in its proper place. (10)
Other interpretations which have been suggested, as 'the human race,' 'the generation of the righteous,' and 'the generation of the wicked,' do not require consideration.
A word or two may be needful respecting the length of time covered by a generation. Of course, it is not an exact measure of time, like a decade or a century, but has a certain indefiniteness or elasticity, yet within certain limits, say between thirty and forty years. In the book of Numbers we find that the generation which provoked the Lord to exclude them from the land of Canaan, and were doomed to fall in the wilderness, were to die out in the space of forty years. In the ninety-fifth psalm we read, ' Forty years long was I grieved with this generation.' In the genealogical table given by St. Matthew we have data for estimating the length of a generation. We there find that 'from the carrying" away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations' (Matt. 1. 17). Now the date of the captivity, in the reign of Zedekiah, is said to be circa B.C. 586, which, divided by fourteen, gives forty-one years and a fraction as the average length of each generation. The Jewish war under Nero broke Out A.D. 66, and assuming our Lord to have been about thirty-three years of age at the time of His crucifixion, this would give a space of about thirty-three years when the signs betokening the approach of 'the end' would ' begin to come to pass.' The destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem took place in September A.D. 70, that is, about thirty-seven years after the prophecy of the Mount of Olives,a space of time that amply satisfies the requirements of the case. It is neither so short as to make it inappropriate to say, 'This generation shall not pass away,' etc., nor so long as to throw it beyond the lifetime of many who might have seen and heard the Saviour, or of the disciples themselves.
'That generation' would indeed be then passing away, but it would not have wholly passed.
Although our Lord has defined the limits of the time within which the predicted consummation would take place, yet a certain amount of indefiniteness remains respecting the moment of its arrival. He does not specify the exact date, the 'hour, or the day,' or even the month or the year. This does not mean that the whole question of time is left unsettled: it refers merely to the precise date. The consummation was to fall within the term of the existing generation, but the particular hour when the knell of doom should sound was not revealed to man, nor angel, nor (what is stranger still) to the Son of man Himself. It was the secret which the Father kept 'in His own power.' There were doubtless sufficient reasons for this reserve. To have specified 'the day and the hour'-to have said, 'In the seven and-thirtieth year, in the sixth month and the eighth day of the month, the city shall be taken and the temple burnt with fire '-would not only have been inconsistent with the manner of prophecy, but would have taken away one of the strongest inducements to constant watchfulness and prayer-the uncertainty of the precise time.
All the representations given by our Lord of the coming catastrophe and its concomitant events imply that it would take men by surprise. As the deluge came suddenly upon the antediluvians, and the storm of fire and brimstone on the cities of the plain, so the final catastrophe would overtake Jerusalem and Judea at an unexpected hour, when the business and the pleasure of life occupied men's hands and hearts. In Luke xvii. we have the fullest record of our Lord's discourse on this point. Whether the passage in St. Luke has been transposed by him from its original connection, or whether our Lord uttered the same words on separate occasions, does not particularly concern us here. Neander is of opinion that 'Luke gives the natural connection of these words,' and that in St. Matthew 'they are placed with many other similar passages referring to the last crisis.' (11) We doubt this ; but, waiving this question, one thing is indubitable, viz., that both St. Matthew and St. Luke describe the same thing, the self-same period, the self-same catastrophe. It is surprising to find Alford asserting, in regard to the passage in St. Luke, ' There is not a word in all this of the destruction of Jerusalem.' It would be more correct to say,' ' Every word here is of the destruction of Jerusalem. Observe the note of time so distinctly marked by our Lord: ' But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation' (Luke xvii. 25). What other catastrophe belongs to the period of that generation which could fitly be compared with the destruction of the antediluvian world by a flood of water, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha by a deluge of fire ?
From the certainty and suddenness of the approaching consummation our Lord draws the lesson which He impresses on His disciples, -the necessity for vigilance. Here He first utters the admonition which from that time never ceased to be the watchword of His disciples throughout the apostolic age, 'Watch and pray! ' We shall find how constantly and urgently this call was addressed by the Apostles to the faithful in their day, and how it is continually repeated, down to the latest moment that we catch the sound of an apostolic -voice. This watchfulness was essential to the safety of the followers of Christ, for so sudden would be the catastrophe that it would overtake the unready and unwary, as birds that are caught in a net. 'For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole land (pashj thj ghj) - words which plainly intimate the local character of the event.
We have a striking commentary on this passage in the history of Josephus. Accounting for the prodigious numbers slaughtered in the siege of Jerusalem, -one million one hundred thousand, -he says, 'Of these the greater proportion were of Jewish blood, though not natives of the place. Having assembled from the whole country for the feast of unleavened bread, they were suddenly hemmed in by the war. On this occasion the whole nation had been shut up as in a prison, by fate; and the war encircled the city when it was crowded with, men.' (12) A more exact verification of our Lord's prediction (Luke xxi. 35) it is impossible to conceive.
In all this we observe the continuation of that direct personal address which proves that our Lord was speaking to His disciples of that in which they were personally concerned. There is not the faintest hint that there was an undercurrent of meaning in His words, and that when He said 'Jerusalem,' and 'this generation,' and 'ye,' He meant ' the world,' and ' distant ages,' and 'disciples yet unborn.'
At this point St. Mark and St. Luke close their record of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, and it cannot be denied that their ending here is natural and appropriate. We have in the Gospel of St. Matthew, however, a series of parables appended to our Lord's discourse, such as He was accustomed to employ in teaching the people. It strikes us as somewhat singular that our Lord should speak in parables to His disciples, especially on such an occasion; and there is not a little to be said for the opinion of Neander, that ' it was peculiar to the editor of our Greek Matthew to arrange together congenial sayings of Christ, though uttered at different times and in different relations. We need not therefore wonder if we find it impossible to draw the lines of distinction in this discourse with entire accuracy; nor need such It result lead us to forced interpretations, inconsistent with truth, and with the love of truth. It is much easier to make such distinctions in Luke's account (chap. xxi.), though even that is not without its difficulties. In comparing Matthew and Luke together, however, we can trace the origin of most of these difficulties to the blending of different portions together, when the discourses of Christ were arranged in collections.' (13)
But without discussing this question, it is very evident that the parables recorded by St. Matthew in connection with this discourse, even if not originally spoken on this particular occasion, are strictly germane to the subject; while, if this be their true place in the narrative, their bearing on the matter in hand is still more close and intimate.
We now proceed to consider the parables and parabolic sayings of our Lord recorded in connection with this prophecy, chiefly by St. Matthew.
Parable of the Goodman of the House.
It will be seen that this parabolic saying of our Lord is recorded in quite different connections by St. Matthew and St. Luke. The verbal resemblance, however, is too exact to render it probable that it was spoken on two different occasions. The slightest attention will satisfy the reader that St. Luke's report is the more full and circumstantial, and that be assigns to it its true chronological position. This appears from the fact that the question of St. Peter, recorded only by St. Luke, gave rise to the concluding remarks of our Lord, which, as given by St. Matthew without this connecting link, seem somewhat incoherent and abrupt. Besides, we can scarcely suppose that St. Peter, conversing in private with only three other disciples in company with the Lord, would ask, 'Speakest thou this parable to us, or even to all ? ' --a question which was most natural when, as St. Luke tells us, Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the presence of a great multitude (Luke xii. 1). It is worthy of notice also that in Mark xiii. 34-37, where we can detect evident traces of this parable, the question of St. Peter is distinctly answered, 'What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch ;' a statement which would be out of place when our Lord was speaking to four persons, but quite appropriate when speaking to a multitude.
There is no impropriety, therefore, in supposing that St. Matthew, perceiving the words of Jesus, spoken on another occasion, to be admirably illustrative of the necessity for watchfulness in view of the Lord's coming, inserted them in this eschatological discourse. Stier suggests that St. Mark gives a short abridgment of Matt. xxiv. 43, with the two parables of the servant, Matt. xxiv. 45-51 and xxv. 14, and even with a slight echo of the parable of the virgins.' (14) We have no more reason to require strict chronological arrangement in the Evangelists than strictly -verbatim reports: neither the one nor the other entered into their plan.
But what is chiefly important for us is the bearing of this parable, if it may be so called, of the goodman of the house watching against the midnight thief, on the preceding discourse of our Lord. Nothing can be more evident than that it is wrought into the very warp and woof of that discourse. There is Do introduction of a new topic at the forty- third verse of the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew: no transition to another catastrophe, or another coming different from those of which He had all along been speaking. There is no hiatus, no break, in the continuity of the discourse ; no indication of passing away from the grand event which engrossed the thoughts of the disciples to another in the far distant futurity. It seems incredible that any critical judgment should select Matt. xxiv. 43 as the commencement of a new subject of discourse. Yet this is done by Dr. Ed. Robinson, who says, ' Our Lord here makes a transition, and proceeds to speak of his final coming at the day of judgment. This appears from the fact that the matter of these sections is added by Matthew after Mark and Luke have ended their parallel reports relative to the Jewish catastrophe; and Matthew here commences, with ver. 43, the discourse which Luke has given on another occasion, Luke xii. 39, &c." (15) But there is not the faintest shadow of any transition. The finest instrument cannot draw a dividing line between the parts of the discourse, and assign one portion to the judgment of the Jewish nation and another to the judgment of the human race. There is not transition, but continuation, at ver. 43. Nothing can be more consecutive and concatenated. 'Watch therefore,' says our Lord to His disciples in ver. 42, 'for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.' 'Therefore, be ye also ready,' He says in ver. 44, ' for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.' The suggestion that a new topic, having reference to a totally different event, in a far distant age of time, is introduced here, is altogether arbitrary and groundless.
9. The phenomena described by our Lord as accompanying the Parousia (ver. 29), cannot be explained by the portents slid prodigies alleged by Josephus to have preceded the capture of Jerusalem (Jewish War, bk. vi. c. v. § 3). That some at least of those portents actually appeared there seems no reason to doubt, and they serve to verify the prediction in Luke xxi. 11, -- ' Fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.'
10. The note in Robinson's Harmony of the Four Gospels, part vii. § 128, is excellent. 'This generation,' etc. These words (genea ) cannot be understood (as some have explained them) of the Jewish nation or the human race. The meaning is, that the men of that age should not all die (See Matt. xvi. 28, in § 74) before the prophecy would be accomplished, which began to come to pass thirty-seven years after its utterance in the destruction of Jerusalem,' etc.
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