Notes on Matthew 24

Matthew 24
That which precedes shows how in all this we have the Jewish people under our eyes. What follows is the history of the Jews, or rather that of the testimony of the servants of Christ in the midst of the Jews, in the interval which separates the rejection of the Messiah, here in question, and His return in glory. They are still—or anew—in Palestine; not yet delivered nor publicly owned of Jehovah, but under His hand in chastening, if it is a question of those who are under the influence of His grace and of His word, and finally in judgment against those who cast themselves into the arms of Antichrist. This statement comes very naturally following up the testimony of the last verses of chapter 23, and is connected, as to its contents, with that which is there said.
The Lord quits the temple now forsaken in judgment up to His return, and sits on the mount of Olivet, separated by the valley of the brook of Cedron from the lofty plateau on which the temple was seen in all grandeur.
The disciples approach to draw His attention to the beauty of the majestic building. The Lord does not seek to turn away their eyes from the object which was pre-occupying them, but He foretells the complete destruction of what seemed to be the indestructible palace of their religion, necessary, in fact, for the accomplishment of the duties which it imposed, and the compulsory place for the offerings which were the only means of putting the people in relationship with God. All was about to be destroyed, from top to bottom, and their religion and all their relations with God, according to the ancient covenant which had to do with the temple, would be entirely abolished with it.
As far as it depended on the responsibility of man, the departure of the Savior left the temple void of its God.
The disciples ask Him when these things should come to pass, and what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age. They mean the end of the age of the law, by the arrival of the Messiah, that is to say, of Jesus in glory, for the Jews acknowledged “this age,” that is to say the age of the law, and “the age of the Messiah,” which should terminate it.
Let us examine the answer of the Lord. It is divided into two parts. The first (vers. 4-14) gives a general sketch of their position, and of what would go on to the end. The second (vers. 15-21) presents the picture, the application of which is the development of Dan. 12.
This chapter, indeed, of the prophet announces the great tribulation through which Jerusalem will pass in the last times, a tribulation that has no parallel in the history of the world; after which the Savior will appear for the deliverance of His own, and to gather together from the four quarters of the earth the dispersed of Israel, that is to say, the elect of that people. The Lord occupies Himself more particularly with those who would be witnesses to His name, whilst describing the condition of things which so closely affected them. He leaves out of the question the church and all relating to it, and speaks of witnesses among the Jews, whom He warns against false Christs.
Now that the true Christ had been rejected, the people would fall a prey to these impostors, and many would be deceived. There would also be wars, and rumors of wars; the disciples were to be quiet; the end, that is, the end of the age, would not be yet. Nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there would be famines and earthquakes in divers places. It was the beginning of sorrows that would end in the accomplishment of the ways of God.
But in those days of trouble for the nation men would only become more wicked, and would break out in hatred against the witnesses for the truth. They would be killed, given up to be tormented, and they would be hated of all nations for Christ's sake. When once the bridle is loosed, the Gentiles, like the Jews, will have neither Christ nor truth. False prophets would arise, who would deceive the mass, and the love of many would wax cold because iniquity should abound. In such cases moral courage fails when faith is not in activity to sustain the heart, by causing it to look to the Lord, who is above all difficulties, whatever they may be. The disciples were to persevere to the end, for deliverance would come in due time. Our business is to reap, applying ourselves, without discouragement, to the work of the Lord; for them it is a question of being delivered. It is true, in a general way, for us also that we must persevere to the end. When the word of God speaks to us of the desert path which has to be trodden, it insists upon perseverance, and upon the maintenance of confidence unto the end, though there is no uncertainty shout the issue for the true believer, because God will keep him to the end. He is faithful to do it, but He it is who must do it: theta is the way, and we must walk in it. Danger is there, and we need to be preserved, but the sheep shall not perish, and none shall pluck them out of the hand of the Lord. We must, however, go on to the end; it is our duty to count upon God for that, but here in the last times there should be a deliverance. The word of God, notwithstanding the predominance of evil, should not be hindered; it would go beyond the limits of Palestine, and would carry to all nations tidings of the establishment of the coming kingdom. Then the end would come. It is not here the gospel of salvation, such as we have in Eph. 1, but the gospel of the kingdom, as John the Baptist and the Savior Himself had proclaimed it. The kingdom of God is at hand.
All this is a general view of the state of things which would take place at the end, and which began to appear immediately after the departure of the Lord—a state of things of which there would be a foretaste in what was about to take place between His departure and the destruction of Jerusalem, of which verses 4-14 give us a general idea.
The church, as we have already said, is left entirely out of view, the testimony sent to the Gentiles being that of the last days, when the church will be in heaven, and which will give occasion to the judgment described in chapter 25.
The destruction of Jerusalem by Titus is not found here at all: nevertheless this destruction was of great importance, because it put an end to all relation of God with the, people, as such, until it should be resumed on their return to the land at the end of the days. Luke 21:2424And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24) speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, adding that it should be trodden under foot of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles should be accomplished. Dan. 9:2626And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:26) speaks of it thus: “The people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary;” and the desolation will be there by the judgment of God. At the end the Messiah will take the kingdom, when Jerusalem and the Jews have suffered to the utmost the judgment decreed by God.
Verse 15. The Lord comes now, in the course of His prophecy, to the moment predicted by Daniel, when the abomination which makes desolate would be set up in the place that the throne of God ought to occupy. There would then be, as we have seen, a time of testimony in Israel, which would reach to the ends of the world, to all nations; the servants of the Lord were to possess their souls in patience, and, although hated of all, to persevere unto the end. But for those who should be in Judea, the moment would come when an idol (for this is the meaning of the word “abomination") would be set up in the holy place. This idol is called the desolating idol, because the confidence placed in it, and the public affront given to God, would bring about the desolation of the people and of the holy place. When it should be placed there, the faithful ones in Judea were to flee unto the mountains. The Lord uses many figures to show the urgency of the case. He who might be upon the housetop was not to come down to take anything out of his house; he who might be in the fields was not to return back to fetch his garments; the moment would be so terrible, that it would only be a question of flight. But God ever thinks of His own. They were to pray, the Lord said, that their flight might not take place in winter, nor on the sabbath-day. When their time of tribulation—unparalleled in the history of the world—has come, God will consider the temperature most suitable for the flight, and of the conscientious spirit that would stop the faithful soul on a sabbath-day.
This passage clearly shows us that in all this it is a question of the Jews, and of Jerusalem and the neighborhood. It is the last half-week of Daniel, “a time of distress for Jacob,” but he would be delivered out of it. But woe to the women with child, and to those that give suck in those days—though in times of peace such would be subjects for joy to Jewish women: there should be a tribulation such as never had been. But the heart of the Lord thinks of all the difficulties, of all the dangers of His own. For the sake of His elect He will shorten those days, for otherwise no flesh should be saved; and in point of fact it will but be a misery prolonged according to man's will, for in three years and a half all will be ended.
The quotation from Daniel clearly shows us that it is not a question of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, for Daniel informs us that this time of tribulation is without a parallel, and consequently there cannot be two such. But further, the duration of the tribulation is twelve hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years: then followed seventy-five days for purifying everything, and then Daniel, having been raised, will have his part in these things at the end of the days. Now, whether you take the twelve hundred and sixty days as days—as I believe them to be—for a half-week of years, which corresponds to Dan. 9, or take them as twelve hundred and sixty years, the fact remains that nothing happened, either at one period or the other, corresponding to the Savior's prophetic words, nor to those of the Spirit by Daniel.
Luke does not speak of Daniel, nor of the abomination of desolation, for he occupies himself more with the present period and with the principles that belong to it. Thus he tells us on this occasion that Jerusalem would be surrounded with armies, and trodden under foot of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
After that (ver. 23) come the great signs. There will also be in those last times false Christs and false prophets, promises of deliverance which hearts will so greatly need at that terrible moment when all the false hopes of an unbelieving nation will have passed away. “Behold,” they will say, “he is in the desert; behold, he is in the secret chambers.” There will also be those who will work great signs and miracles, so as to deceive, if possible, the very elect. The wickedness of men and the deceits of Satan will again be employed to turn souls aside, and to hinder them from humbling themselves, and from seeking deliverance where alone it can be found.
It is the terrible time of the enemy's power, and of the judgment of God upon the people, by means of the instruments chosen by the people to aggrandize themselves and establish themselves in their unbelief. It is no question here of Christians; they know that Christ is in heaven. To tell them that He is in the desert, or that He is in the inner chambers, would not meet any need of a Christian, and would produce no effect on those who might be Christians only by name. For the Jew, who will undergo the agony of an unparalleled persecution, and of the anger of Satan, who, cast down from heaven, will be filled with burning rage, knowing that he has but a short time; for the Jew amidst all this suffering, the despair of a heart, bitterly deceived by the promise of a deliverer already come, will be an evident snare. It is purely and simply a question of the great tribulation of Jerusalem in the last days, the time predicted by Jeremiah (chap. 37.), and by Daniel (chap. xii. 1), the deliverance of the remnant which becomes the nation being foretold in these two passages. The power of Satan, which developer itself at this time, is shown us in Rev. 12, the order of the time in Dan. 9.
The Lord warns His disciples, for in the whole of this chapter they are looked at as witnesses in the midst of the Jews. They were not to follow any of those will-of-the-wisps lighted by Satan to deceive souls, for the Lord, the Son of man, would come as lightning, suddenly and with a brilliancy which would leave no uncertainty with regard to His person thus manifested; He would come in judgment, there where the effect of the judgment was found before the penetrating eyes of God. (Ver. 28.)
The Lord makes some allusion to Job 30, though it is a proverbial expression which one need not go far to find the meaning of. Where the carcass of Israel is, there will the judgment of God descend with the sight and rapidity of an eagle.
After this rapid and prophetic testimony of the Lord foreseeing the judgment of the latter days, he announces with greater calmness the wide results of the judgment of God, as well as the grace that will gather together the residue of the people. (Vers. 29-81.) It is not so much a prophetic transport, placing the mind in the circumstances which it announces, as the revelation of the ways of God, given with the calmness and dignity that are suitable to the One to whom all is certain. All the authority, all the power, which exists will be overthrown and will fall. I do not doubt that there will be in the last times extraordinary phenomena (Luke 21:2525And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; (Luke 21:25)), but I think that the Lord is here speaking of the fall of everything which by exalting itself governs the world. God interferes, and all the powers then in rebellion against Him will be overthrown forever.
This will happen immediately after the tribulation announced by the Lord and by the prophets. The disciples had asked what would be the sign of His coming. He had given them abundant warnings, and had declared to them the true character and dangers of those times; but the sign of His coming to the earth would be the appearing of His glory in the sky. He had laid before them what was connected with the earth, according to the need of those times. But the coming of the Savior was heavenly, and it was in heaven that the sign of His coming to the earth would be seen, the appearing, I do not doubt, of His glory in the heavens. They would see the Son of man coming in the clouds, with power and great glory, and then all the tribes of the land (the land of Israel, I think) shall wail because of Him, those who had rejected Him, and who now see Him returning in glory. The faithful sharing in a general way the fate of the nation, but delivered from their unbelief, will mourn, we know, in another manner (Zech. 12:10-1410And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. 11In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. 12And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; 13The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; 14All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. (Zechariah 12:10‑14)), looking upon the One whom they had pierced. The rebellious Gentiles, who exalted themselves against Jehovah, and against His Christ, will be destroyed, but here, I think, the Spirit has more in view the children of Israel.
But there is more; not only in Palestine will those who are written in the book of God (Dan. 12:11And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. (Daniel 12:1)) be delivered, but the Son of man will send His angels (for now the angels have become the servants of the One who inherits all the rights of man, according to the counsels of God) to gather together all the elect of Israel from the four corners of the earth from one end of heaven to the other.
This terminates the history of the Jews and of the testimony of God in their midst, from the time when they rejected the Savior up to His return. We have seen the relation of the testimony of the disciples with the Jewish people, and the circumstances in which they are to render this testimony until the Lord's return. This ends at verse 31 of chapter 24. Verses 30, 31 of this chapter are connected with verse 31 of chapter 25. The historical portion of the prophecy is taken up again in this last verse, the throne of the Lord being established, so that He judges the Gentiles. Between these two we have exhortations to the disciples, and the responsibility of Christians during the absence of the Lord. The general result for Christianity is developed at the end of chapter 24. All depended on the living expectation of the Lord. If these should fail, the servant would take the mastery over his companions in service, and would tyrannize over them; he would join himself to the world, in order to enjoy its fleshly delights; the consequence would be, that he would be cut off, counted among the hypocrites, and cast outside. This gives occasion to more precise details as to the condition and the responsibility in which Christians are placed during His absence, and this is what we are about to examine.