Matthew 24 and 25

Matthew 24‑25  •  43 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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Chapters 24, 25.
The nation was judged, and its restoration foretold, when its heart should be prepared to receive Him whom God had sent; but the disciples were not yet instructed in the circumstances which should take place in the interval, nor was their heart separated from the glory of the former order of things. This chapter brings us to the communications of Christ on this subject, and furnishes the warnings necessary to the faithful remnant.
The first thing that Jesus announces to them is the judgment of God upon that which existed at that time before their eyes, and of which the disciples had such an exalted idea. There should not remain there one stone on another. The Lord being seated on the mount of Olives, His disciples come to Him. That which the Lord had said to them suggested this question, or rather, these questions: When will these things take place, namely, the destruction of the temple? What will be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?
We must remember, that the age for the disciples, was not Christianity, but, on the contrary, the state of Judaism, until the coming of the Messiah; so that these things were connected in their mind. The Lord had spoken of the destruction of the temple, which has more or less connection with the same thought; nevertheless it is rather the revelation which the Lord had made thereupon that gave rise to the questions which had already pre-occupied their mind.
In His answer He does not touch upon the first of these questions, namely, the era of the destruction of the temple. In fact that did not concern them; for that temple was as nothing for them now in the eyes of the Lord. He considers their position in two points of view, namely, the general point of view, according to which they found themselves in a position of witness; and the special point of view, when the abomination of desolation would be at Jerusalem. The first extends to the end of the thirteenth verse; the second from the fifteenth verse to the twenty-eighth.
The first thing that the Lord points out is, that the ruin in which His departure was to leave Jerusalem would give place to many false Christs, which would come in His name. The disciples must not suffer themselves to be deceived by them. There would be also wars and rumors of wars, but they must not be disturbed by them; these things must take place, but the end would not be yet. For nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there would be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places, and all these things would only be the beginning of sorrows. Such is the outside, the providential events of which they would have knowledge.
Such would be the state of the world, and what would happen there in this time of waiting for the Lord and for the end of the age; when the time would draw near, and that those who should have intelligence must await His coming on the earth and for the earth, a waiting which identified itself with the interests of the Jews in a manner, it is true, more or less clear, nevertheless according to God. He speaks of His disciples as of the Jewish remnant; but, though they were surrounded by Jewish circumstances, the hatred against them, while having its source among the Jews, would extend still further; they would be hated of all the Gentiles for the name of Christ. There would be also treasons, many would be offended-false prophets among those who pretended to have the same hopes, and the excess of iniquity would chill many of them. But, whoever endured unto the end should be saved. All this supposes the disciples in Jewish relations; not that the testimony of God was limited to that; but, whatever may have been elsewhere the extent of the testimony, the Lord speaks here of those who were connected with the hopes, the thoughts, and the circumstances of the Jews. The testimony of the gospel of the kingdom would be borne effectively in all the extent of the habitable world to all the nations, to all the Gentiles. It is not a question here of salvation and of the union of the church in a single body with Christ, but of the gospel of the kingdom: " this gospel of the kingdom " (the gospel which Jesus preached to the Jews; not His death, which was not a gospel to the Jews, for it was an effect of their unbelief with regard to the gospel which He preached; but the testimony that the kingdom was at hand) would be announced to the Gentiles.
If the ground of all that abides, for the Christian, there is a specialty which is proper to the testimony of John the Baptist, of Christ on earth, and of the disciples in the latter days.
This fourteenth verse is taken quite alone as a fact which is to happen before the end of this age is come on earth. Here then the Lord, though He may have given warnings useful for His disciples, as Christians, in those days, takes the same starting-point as they take in their questions, and returns to the point whither their thoughts tended, without correcting anything as to this tendency. He interests Himself as to the same things; He does not own, it is true, the nation and the temple as they then existed; but He does not seek to raise their hopes to heaven. He supposes that their connections always subsist with the earth, with Israel, but according to God; as a remnant, and as having the testimony of God in the midst of all that. It is just what happened during part of their life; then that was, as it were, eclipsed by the church, but it will be fully accomplished in the latter times, at the beginning of the travail of bringing forth, which will introduce the end of the age.
Therefore, at the fifteenth verse, the Lord determines the thing plainly by a date, or at least by an event which is local, and which has a known relation with the end; and here is the second part of His discourse, where all is marked with precision. The abomination of desolation, of which Daniel has spoken, will be placed in the holy place; and here we must refer entirely to Daniel (" whoso readeth, let him understand "), that is to say, that this has reference to what will happen at Jerusalem and in those countries, in this locality definitely, and to nothing else, and that in the latter days. When this will happen, the disciples, instructed by the prophecy, are to flee. Here the hope is entirely Jewish. It is evident that it is not for me to save my life in flying from Jerusalem; that the aim of the Christian is no more that flesh should be saved, that is to say, that his life here below should be spared. In a word, they are Jews, having faith, but in Jewish circumstances, thoughts and intelligence. They were to pray to God that their flight might not be on the Sabbath day, etc.
Meanwhile, dear reader, see what tenderness, of God in the midst of these scenes of horror, which, if the hand of God was not extended in grace, should spare no flesh! See the majesty of the heavens, which deigns to think of the time that He will provide for the flight of His poor creatures and of the Sabbath which might shackle them! But here there is a very important remark to make, which is that the Lord says, Your flight, and When ye shall see, that is to say, that, although the circumstances might alter, He always regards His disciples under their Jewish character.
From the fifteenth verse of chapter 24, it is evident that the Lord addresses Himself to them as to the same as those of whom the question is in the preceding verses: " Take heed that no one deceive you" (v. 4); " when ye, therefore, shall see " (v. 15); that is, He views His disciples as Jewish disciples in connection with the nation, as He had done towards the nation itself in the preceding chapter, verse 37, where He identifies it with the nation in the latter days, " Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Nevertheless, there is in the circumstances a sufficiently important difference. He supposes the death of many during the first period without date. When the abomination is there, it is a question of saving one's life. In these beginnings of sorrows, which have no fixed date, but which suppose Jewish disciples in Palestine, betrayed by one another and hated by the Gentiles, the hope of many is to be founded still more upon the resurrection than upon the deliverance wrought by the advent of the Messiah. The Psalms (which present to my mind the relations with the Jews, of Christ considered either as the just man, or as the King on Zion) speak either of Himself prophetically, or of the faithful remnant, animated by His Spirit with more or less intelligence, and of His circumstances in the latter days.
Now, the book of Psalms is divided into five parts, which treat each of a different subject. In the first the hope of resurrection is very frequently found there; in the others, almost more; in all is seen the expectation of deliverance; but in the first this expectation is passed beyond which has hardly place in the others. Now, from the beginning of the second part, the Spirit of Christ, in the remnant, speaks as having been forced to abandon Jerusalem, of which the remembrance is precious to Him. He appeals from it to God against the Gentiles in Psa. 42; and against the ungodly Jews in Psa. 43.
It is very evident that the disciples, to whom Jesus addressed Himself, while they had, at the moment of His speaking with them, Jewish hopes, enjoyed at a later period the hope of the resurrection, and more beyond; but He speaks to them here according to their actual position before Him, and, as Prophet, He declares to them what concerned the faithful remnant of the people called to bear testimony, as in the preceding chapter He had shown them the fate of the nation. The disciples were those " of understanding," of Dan. 11 and 12, who are called here to understand that of which the intelligence is promised them in those chapters.
The warnings for the time of testimony are then given to the end of the thirteenth verse, and, having announced the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom among all nations, at least among all those of the prophetic (habitable) earth, we have from the fifteenth the instructions of Jesus for the time of the last twelve hundred and sixty days. Then will the false Christs seduce, if it were possible, even the elect; but the coming of the Son of man will be like the lightning, for where the carcass is, there, as the flight of the eagle, will fall the judgment of God.
Here ends the second part, which treats of the great tribulation at Jerusalem, and of the dangers which accompany it even for the very elect, dangers to which the advent of the Son of man puts an end. The circumstances of that time, when it shall come, will furnish a date and signs. Moreover, and as a general result, immediately after the tribulation of those days, all the powers of heaven shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. Many warnings had been given to the disciples, but no sign to the people on earth; it had even been refused: the sign of the Son of man would now be in heaven at His coming. The generation having been already rejected, it would have been out of place to have given it a sign; it was too late, for it was about to be judged: as the tribes of the land (of Israel) shall mourn, according to Zech. 12, and shall see the Lord come in the clouds of heaven. Every eye shall see Him; but here I believe that Jesus restricts Himself to Israel, I do not say to Jerusalem: they are all the tribes of the land of Israel who are called to mind here. But this will not be all: He will gather together the elect of this people from the four winds, from all the countries where they will be scattered in those days. Two things, as to the epoch, are here distinctly marked by the Lord:
Firstly, the circumstances of which He has just been speaking. When all these things shall come to pass, His coming and the end of the age will be at the door; secondly, the actual generation of the Jews shall not pass away till all these things should be accomplished. There are circumstances for them that understand. As to dates, if the day or hour be inquired of, the Father alone knew them.
As to the generation, I doubt not but that the Lord uses this expression morally, which is constantly done in the word. " He shall go to the generation of his fathers, they shall never see light," Psa. 49:1919He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. (Psalm 49:19). " A seed shall serve him, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation," Psa. 22:3030A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. (Psalm 22:30). See specially Deut. 32, which precisely treats of this subject, in verses 5 and 20.
If the day is not known save to the Father alone, that accords, I think, with what is said in Psalm 110: "Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool." The Lord, who expects all here below as servant of His Father, has received but this word at His mouth, "until." Nothing shall fail, no uncertainty in the events, not one word that has proceeded out of His mouth shall fall to the ground. As to the moment, it would be as in the days of Noah; that is to say, a sudden judgment, and unexpected on the earth; they should be overtaken by it, when they should least expect it. Yet the Lord will know how to distinguish them, and to leave those whom He should think worthy, even though two men should be in the same field, or two women at the same mill.
It was then for the disciples, instructed beforehand, to watch, for they did not know in what hour their Lord would come.
But it may be asked, how it is that the Lord identifies His apostles with the rebellious Jews, who will be overtaken by the judgment; and since the church is to ascend to Him in the air, how can it happen that two shall be found in the same field in the day of the Son of man? It is true, this will not happen for the church, as it is very certain that it did not happen for the apostles to whom these words were addressed; but in this discourse the Lord speaks to no one individually, but to classes, to certain categories of people. We have an evident proof of it in verse 39 of chapter 23 touching the Jews, and in verse 15 of chapter 24 touching the disciples. " When ye shall see the abomination of desolation," etc. It is certain that the disciples had never seen it; it is even certain, from the book of Daniel, that it refers to the last days. The comparison of the twenty-first verse with the commencement of chapter 12 of Daniel, then the date attached to this event at the end of this last chapter, demonstrate it with the plainest evidence.
Thus then, in the twenty-third chapter, as here, the Lord speaks of certain classes of persons: and here, of the faithful remnant of the Jews. It is true that those who composed this faithful remnant at that time were in the enjoyment of privileges far superior to the position here in question; but the Lord is not speaking of this now. He is occupied with the remnant, and He could speak to His apostles under this aspect, because they were in that moment the remnant, and put by the nation in the presence of the rejection of the Messiah, whatever may have been the superior privileges which afterward they may have individually enjoyed.
All this supposes a gospel of the kingdom, specially preached in the last times; as moreover it supposes persons who will be persecuted for Christ's name's sake, but who, at the same time, will be more or less identified with Jewish hopes, who will even be of the Jewish remnant; and I believe the word tells us so. I see, at the end of Isaiah and of Daniel, chosen ones distinguished from the mass of those who shall be spared; but they are Jews, they occupy themselves with Jewish interests, and they will enjoy the deliverance of this people and the blessings which will result from it on earth. See Dan. 10; 11; 12 Isa. 65; 66 It appears that some will be put to death, whether during the period called the beginning of sorrows, or during the last tribulation.
It is evident that these two classes will have part in the first resurrection; which is also what the Apocalypse, chapter 20, shows clearly. Also, as a principle, this ought to be sufficiently clear. We have said that the same thing is repeatedly found in the Psalms, only much more (as least as a hope) before the great tribulation of the last half-week. But this changes not the destiny of the greater part of these saints. It seems to me (but here I do not go father than that), that those who have been at this epoch faithful witnesses, but without being put to death, will be particularly identified with the Lord Jesus, as King of the Jews upon earth. They will have been, according to the measure given them, that which He Himself was upon earth; that is, a witness in the midst of a people who rejected Him. Of this the Psalms bear the imprint. Only we must add, as a fact, the testimony of the kingdom to the Gentiles; for, if there is place for mercy, the Lord could not strike without a testimony having been previously borne. Until now this preaching has not been assigned to the remnant; it was given only as a sign, as that which is to happen before the end of the age comes, and the Son of man comes down upon the earth; but it is not said that it should be the work of the Jewish remnant. It is a sign which is given them.
Definitively we have the commencement of the sorrows, and the counsels and warnings proper to this period; the time of the great tribulation when the abomination of desolation should be set up in the holy place, and the special dangers of that terrible moment; the overthrowing of all the powers of the heavens, the appearing of the Son of man, and the gathering together of the Jews dispersed in all the world. Or, if you will take the thing farther back, the Jews are put aside, and the principles on which the relations of God, whether with them or with the Gentiles, shall be renewed, are in chaps. 14, 15; then in 16 the church; in 17 the glory of the advent of the Son of man; the position of grace and lowliness that Christ took, and that His were to take in the meantime, end of chapter 17, 18; and in general all the principles of the kingdom established by faith, and the ways of God in this respect, to the twenty-eighth verse of chapter 20. It is in this part (and therefore I have made this summary) that we have the individual portion of the apostles, that is, at the end of chapter 19; then the judgment of the nation, or if you will of that generation, in chapters 21 to 23; the exposition of all that concerned the remnant, in chapter 24.
But this leads our divine Master to consider the remnant under another aspect, that the disciples scarce understood then, that is, its relations no longer with Israel and the hopes of this people, but with Himself; in other words, to consider this remnant as charged with His service, as the retinue of His joy, come forth to await His return, or finally, as charged with His interests here below in His absence. This is what follows from chap. 24:45, to 25:30. In the first case, it does but present the position and the effect of fidelity during His absence, and the manner in which unbelief would identify itself with the state of heart which puts off the thought of His return. If, during the absence of the Master, a true service is yielded by the wise and faithful servant (it is not a question here of "good") who keeps his place to accomplish, in care bestowed upon those who compose the household, that which was entrusted him in the house, blessed is that servant; at the time of the return of the Master, he will be made ruler over all His goods. Here this is a great principle of service to which the apostles were called-true for their service in Christianity, and applicable also for each of us in his place. But the position and the principle only are laid down here. If there was infidelity, if the servant put off the thought of the return of the Master, and went on his way with those who made themselves drunken in the world, he should be counted among the hypocrites and taken in an hour when he least expected it.
But the Lord pursues farther this general principle, and brings us back to the kingdom of the heavens. At that time here is that to which it would be like. It is not here the church, properly so-called, for the Lord could not present the church as the church in this manner; that is, He could not, in presenting the church as such, compare it to virgins who were in the attitude of waiting, as the retinue of the marriage supper of the Lord, with a bride quite different from the church, and the latter acting no other part than that of the companions of the marriage supper. But the state of the kingdom at this time may very well be compared to such circumstances: in effect, when the Lord will come as Son of man, to execute judgment against the wicked servant, and against Israel, and to receive Jerusalem and the Jewish people as His own, then the kingdom of heaven might be regarded in this point of view; there will be persons who will go out to meet Him; there was that which represented the kingdom. It was not a question of sowing, nor of buying fields, nor of separating good fish; nor was it any more a question of the activity of the kingdom, but of the conduct of those who, having been called, were gone out to meet the Bridegroom. The matter in hand here is not a bride, but the condition of those who wait for the return of the Bridegroom. And this is what had become of it; the expectation of the Bridegroom was lost: the virgins, at first, had acted after this principle; they could not abandon this position, however unfaithful they might have been to that which they had taken.
Here it will be asked, Does the Lord speak of the church? Is it meant by that, Do these exhortations and these parables apply to you who are members of it? I answer, assuredly so. But the explanation of the word does not stop here. Church is a word which is of all importance. If we search out the use of it in the epistles, we shall see that it is not found in those of Peter, and only accidentally in that of James, and once in 3 John 33For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. (3 John 3), in speaking of the conduct of an individual here below. In the Apocalypse, it is a question of particular churches but never of the church, save in the expression " The bride says, Come." In a word, Paul alone treats of this subject and employs this word, applying it to the unity of the members of Christ, to one sole church, or to one only body. Here we have: The kingdom of heaven shall be like, etc.
The church presents always the idea of a body, on earth during the period of her trial, but united to Christ on high; entirely for Him alone, separated to be His, as a wife to her husband. The kingdom of heaven supposes men on the earth, the government of God exercised over a certain state of things, the reign of heaven which continues the course of government of things here below, although in new circumstances; not in the same manner as in Israel: a government limited in its application, which puts on a particular form, until Christ comes, because He does not yet judge; and this is what gives place, He having been rejected, to the specialties contained in these parables. Nevertheless all those who recognize the authority of Christ are here under their responsibility. Perhaps, in certain cases, they are the same persons as those who compose the church; but they are looked at in another point of view.
Here then the kingdom would be like virgins gone forth to meet a bridegroom who comes to the house of his bride. He supposes them gone forth; but alas! while the bridegroom delays His coming, they sleep and are awakened at midnight by this cry: " Behold the bridegroom." What characterized the state of the kingdom, is, that all had forgotten their vocation; it was not that there were no faithful ones; the wise virgins had their oil in their vessels. But all, wise or foolish in the kingdom, whether the sincere and pious, or whether they deceived themselves, all had lost the sense of their vocation. This great truth, the coming of the Master, had its influence; they are awakened, but to be separated by the arrival and the judgment of the Master. Time enough had been given for the trial of their state, but it was no longer the time to get provided with oil. The return of the Lord, as to our service, is always judgment, and not grace. And here we see that it is not the church as bride, for He takes us with Himself at His advent, as His bride; crowning the work of His grace in power of life and fullness of acceptance.
But we shall find that the return of Christ here below, His manifestation, is always matter of judgment and responsibility for Christians as for others. Our rapture whensoever it may come to pass (I am not discussing that now) is always grace and full favor common to the whole church. And it is because His return is judgment that He adds "Watch"; for when He shall be there, it will no longer be the time of grace.
In the first parable we have the contrast between him who served the master humbly, and the heart which said, He delayeth His coming; in that of the virgins, the effect of this delay which should eventually take place, an effect which should be manifested even with the faithful; namely, that the kingdom should be characterized by the complete forgetfulness of the Master's return. However, the great difference was the possession of the oil of grace hidden in the heart, the Spirit of God.
For, in fact, all this would be like a man who, going to a distant country, trusts his goods to his servants, according to their ability; then, after a long interval, he returns. That is to say, the question is as to the fidelity of the servants, when they are left (to outward appearance) to themselves, and that during a long time, so that their heart is put to the proof to see whether it is truly the Master's, if they identify themselves with His interests when there is no appearance of His return; or if they forget Him, as Israel at Sinai, who believed that it was all over with Moses. But here pay attention, that it is not simply the fact of being ready in grace, but the activity which confidence in the Lord inspires, the activity of service in love of persons identified with the interests of Christ, seeking but that, and seeking it with the zeal imparted by that love, not in His presence directed by His eye, but in His absence; in the intelligence and activity which the Spirit gives, and with a knowledge of His thoughts sufficiently intimate to be able to act in His absence. The servants are left to themselves; I do not mean by this that they can do these things without grace. The contrary is sufficiently demonstrated by the case of the wicked servant. But they are placed under responsibility; their condition is put to the trial; all that the Master does is to trust His goods to them. We shall see what they are by the result. Moreover, the question here is not of the moral conduct of the servant, as in the first parable (chap. 24:45), nor of fidelity to a position in which he was actually placed; but of intelligence, of activity, of the good-will of a servant, who has for his spring of action nothing but the mark of confidence which His Master gives him in committing His goods to him.
Let us say a few words more on the parable of the talents. Here the servant is called " good and faithful." It is that which occurs during the absence of Christ. He has delivered His goods to His servants; if they have understood His grace, if they have been touched by this mark of His confidence, they will have labored with that which was given them, or else they will have wronged the character of their Master, not to have had an entire confidence in Him. There was only faithfulness, it is true, in the conduct of the two who had traded; for, why commit goods to them, if it was not to improve them? But the Lord keeps account of it; what He had confided was but a little thing in His eyes; but they had known Him and had been faithful. There was but one heart between Him and them, and now, at His return, they must enter into His joy; one heart in service, and one heart in joy. Also, " many things " were confided to them in His kingdom at the hour of His glory.
It is a sweet picture; the heart of the Lord trusts in them for His glory in His absence, and their hearts trust in Him for the result; and at His return their hearts are united in the joy. The heart of a servant on one side, and that of a Master on the other, doubtless, yet of a Master one-hearted with them, whose joy was to bless them, and to extend the sphere of their confidence according to the glory which He will have then acquired. As to His joy, they are to share it. The third servant does not lose the inheritance only; he is cast outside; he had never known his Master. This is what was wanting to him. The circumstances of the service might be the means of proving it, but there was the ground of the affair. Alas! for the details; it is that which happens too often to real Christians, and there is always the history of our failures in our service-we have not known the Master. Confidence in Him was wanting; now, can one know Him without confiding in Him? Nevertheless, to have to do with Christ takes away even the intelligence of ordinary duty from those who do not love Him, because the heart is soured by the consciousness of and only regards Jesus as a severe judge. He will have acted toward us according to our faith. Alas, how little it is! but at least the Master is good.
In these three parables we see the history of what occurs as regards those who profess to be His, during His absence and at the time of His return, with respect to their responsibility. Next, I will only add here, that I do not believe that these three parables can be applied to the special testimony of the kingdom which will be borne at the end. The first only speaks of the charge and responsibility in the house towards the people whom the Master had left there. The second does not at all speak of this activity of grace, but of the condition of persons already called to wait for the Lord, the Bridegroom who was to come. The third speaks of those to whom the Lord delivers His gifts when He goes away, telling them that He will return after a long interval: then they will enter into the joy of their Master Himself. This last is not a likening of the kingdom of heaven, because it is not a state of things, a complete whole, the object of the care or of the judgments of God; but an individual responsibility, according to that which had been entrusted to each, and in which each also will receive according to what he had done under this responsibility, and according to the confidence that his Master had in him, and that which he himself had in the goodness of his Master.
There is no more a question here of the Jews in the latter days, at least in these two last parables; in the last, above all, this is evident; for it is about those to whom Christ entrusted His goods on His departure, and during the long interval which elapses before His return. As to the second, it is a likening of the kingdom of heaven; and the Jews will not go out with intelligence to meet the Lord, nor afterward slumber in the midst of affliction, forgetting-even the wise-that He may come. Such is at least what it seems to me to be, and its connection with the parable that follows confirms this thought. That there is something analogous, in certain respects, I believe; that is, there will be those of greater intelligence, who will be morally separated from the others, and who will understand. But I do not think that the conditions of the parable can be coherently applied to them. Their state had already been the subject of the Lord's instructions, in speaking of Jerusalem and of the latter days.
We come now to the third part of the discourse: the Lord arrived. This is what our precious Master announces. When the Son of man (for it is always in this character that He is presented, when He speaks definitely of His presence here, and not merely in that of Messiah, a title in which He had been rejected), when the Son of man, I say, shall come in His glory, it will not be merely an instantaneous act of appearing. " He will sit upon the throne of his glory "; there will be something permanent there; " and before him shall be gathered all the nations, and he shall separate them, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." The Gentiles will be thus judged. I do not believe that it is necessary to prove at greater length that what is called the last judgment is not the question here. The Son of man is returned in His glory; He is not sitting on the great white throne, from whose face the heavens and the earth flee away; Rev. 20:1111And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. (Revelation 20:11). He is King now; He is about to reign, and not to give up the kingdom. He judges only the living Gentiles, for here there is no question of resurrection. He judges them on a principle inapplicable to the immense majority of those who will appear when God will judge the secrets of the heart; namely, according to the manner in which they shall have received certain messengers of Christ whom He calls His brethren. It is clear this does not apply to those who have lived in paganism before Christ, nor to the immense majority of those who have lived between His advent and His death. In a word, it is Christ who, as King here below, judges the Gentiles that shall be then on the earth-the nations.
Let us observe by the way here His tenderness to the Jewish nation. We have trouble to find the judgment of this nation in these chapters! He speaks indeed of the end of the age, but rather of tribulation than of judgment, of shortening those days for His elect. At His appearing all the tribes of the earth mourn, and He gathers together the elect (Jews) from the four winds. There is chastisement, it is true, but it terminates in blessing: the heart of Christ is busied with the remnant. He had said to the Jews, " Ye shall not see me henceforth until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." His heart turns in blessing towards the chosen people. Ungodly Jerusalem had filled His eyes with tears, but here He puts an end to her chastisement. There is one who has known to say, " How long? " Compare Psa. 74:99We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long. (Psalm 74:9). The fact is, that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, that is to say, that God does not change in His counsels with Israel. " In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it; he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind." Read the whole passage, Isa. 27:6-96He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit. 7Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him? 8In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind. 9By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up. (Isaiah 27:6‑9); for " this is all the fruit to take away his sin."
Will there then be no cutting off? Not in the absolute sense. This is what will happen, as may be seen in the last chapters of Isaiah and elsewhere (compare the end of Zech. 13); the majority of the nation will join itself to the Gentiles and will be idolatrous. The unclean spirit which had gone out will return with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and the last state of that generation shall be worse than the first. They will be joined with Antichrist, and will receive him who will come in his own name. They will thus be the cruel nation (and not the godly or holy nation) of Psa. 43, and they will perish with the apostate Gentiles. The indignation and the chastisement having, along with the testimony of God, separated the remnant, they will no more be counted as the nation, and He will " make of a remnant a strong nation."
Where then, in that which the Lord says here, is found positive judgment? It is contained, almost concealed, in these words: " For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered "; a passage which makes allusion, I think, to an expression of the book of Job 39:3030Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she. (Job 39:30), and treats the Jews, who have thus united themselves with the enemies of God, as lost and dead, without wishing to name them anew. It is but a corpse united with the Gentiles, who, haughty as they are, will be judged on earth; for as it is said elsewhere of Babylon: " Strong is the Lord God who judgeth her," likewise strong is He who judgeth them, however they may have despised Him.
Here, in order to make the application of the passage precise, Christ does not merely come, but it is told us that, when He will come, He will sit upon the throne of His glory; whilst it will be as lightning that He will come to put an end to the tribulation and the desolation which the abomination has caused. He had set the faithful servant over all His goods: those who have their portion with the hypocrites, the wicked and slothful servants have been cast outside when they waited not for Him; but here Jesus takes His place upon His throne. There is no more a question nor a doubt about His rights nor about the submission of all to the ends of the earth. He is now " the King " (v. 34).
There are in this scene three classes of persons: the goats, the sheep, and His brethren. The judgment of the two first classes depends on their conduct toward the third. To have done these things to one of His brethren is to have done them to Himself; not to have done them to one of the least of these is not to have done them to Himself. The " brethren," I have no doubt, will be the remnant who will have preached the gospel of the kingdom among the Gentiles; the reception given to those messengers decides the lot of those who appear now in judgment. No more do I doubt that they are Jews who will bear this testimony, and whom Jesus calls His brethren, at this time; as those to whom He spoke, and that, after His resurrection, He calls His brethren, according to Psa. 22 I know very well that the Gentiles were grafted in later, but the Lord speaks according to that which resulted already from the fact that the disciples followed Him at that time rejected; and He employs this expression to mark those who among the Jews should be in the latter days in a kindred position of testimony. In principle, the disciples might apply it to themselves, and the Lord would have them know well that one day He should be King, and all the Gentiles should be forced to appear in judgment before Him, the rejected Messiah, and that they should enjoy all that which the Jews hoped as to the glory of their Messiah.
The brethren of Jesus, according to the constant language of the passages where this expression is employed, are the believing Jews, the remnant that believed in the Messiah (it is clear that all the Gentile believers have been admitted to the same privilege); but in this passage Jesus occupies Himself with those who surrounded Him, to encourage and direct them. As King He judges on earth. Those among the Gentiles who received well the brethren of Jesus enjoy, as blessed of the Father, the kingdom He had prepared for them from the foundation of the world; having received the gospel of the kingdom, they enjoy the effect of their faith, namely, the kingdom itself. Those who preached it, having been in the position of Jesus in testimony, will be recognized as His brethren in the blessing. But He is now King come on earth, so that His brethren are recognized here below; those put to death will have part in the first resurrection, but such is not the subject treated of here. The King is on earth, the nations on earth; so that there is nothing which can make it supposed that the brethren spoken of here are of heaven. There will be those, but here it appears to me that they are rather the messengers of the kingdom, who have been preserved in spite of all the difficulties of the time.
This kingdom is in the counsels of the Father from the foundation of the world; the church is chosen to be the spouse of Christ before the foundation of the world. The sheep are not called children, but only blessed of the Father. They enjoy eternal life, as those who refused to receive the brethren suffer everlasting pains. It is the final judgment of the Gentiles who will be on earth when Christ shall have established His throne there. Once more, it is not a question here of the resurrection.