Remarks on Matthew 24:32-51

Matthew 24:32‑51  •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The general outline and the special view of the Jewish portion have been given thus far in chapter 24. This is next illustrated both from nature (ver. 32-35) and from Scripture (ver. 36-41) and closed by a suitable application. (Ver. 42-44.)
“From the fig-tree learn the (or, its) parable.” What is the peculiar significance and propriety of the fig-tree here? It is the well-known symbol of the Jewish nationality. Thus we saw it, in chapter 21, bearing nothing but leaves—that generation given up to the curse of perpetual fruitlessness, whatever grace may do for the generation to come. In Luke 21 the word is, “Behold the fig-tree and all the trees.” Why this striking change? Because the Holy Ghost all through, and notably in that chapter, introduces “the Gentiles.” Luke takes in a larger scope than Matthew, and expressly treats of Jerusalem's sorrows in connection with “the times of the Gentiles.” Hence the difference even in the illustrative figures. Here it is the tree not withered away, but with signs of vitality. “When its branch has now become tender and the leaves are shooting, ye know that summer is nigh; so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is nigh by the doors;” i.e., the end of this age, and the beginning of the next under Messiah and the new covenant. And how solemnly the Savior warns that “this generation,” this Christ-rejecting race in Israel, shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled! The notion that all was fulfilled in the past siege of Jerusalem, founded on a narrow and unscriptural sense of that remarkable phrase, is from not hearing what He says unto the disciples. In a genealogy (as Matt. 1), or where the context requires it (as Luke 1), a life-time might be meant; but where is it so used in the prophetic Scriptures, Psalms, &c.? The meaning herein is rather moral than chronological, as for instance in Psa. 12:77Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. (Psalm 12:7), “Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation forever.” The words “forever” prove a prolonged force, and accordingly the passage intimates that Jehovah shall preserve the godly from their evil, vain, flattering, lawless oppressors (ver. 2-5), from “this generation” forever. It is the distinct and conclusive refutation of those who would limit the phrase to a short epoch or a man's life-time. So in Deut. 32:5-205They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation. 6Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee? 7Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. 8When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. 9For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. 10He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: 12So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. 13He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; 14Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape. 15But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. 17They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. 18Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. 19And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. 20And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. (Deuteronomy 32:5‑20), we find generation similarly used, not to convey a period, but to express the moral characteristic of Israel. Again, in the Psalms we have not only “this generation,” but “the generation to come,” and neither confined to a mere term of thirty or a hundred years. (Compare also Prov. 30) But what may make the case the plainer, is the usage in the synoptic gospels. Thus, in Matt. 11:1616But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, (Matthew 11:16), “Whereunto shall I liken this generation,” means such as then lived, characterized by the moral capriciousness which set them in opposition to God's testimony, whatever it might be, in righteousness or in grace. But evidently, though people then alive are primarily in view, the moral identity of the same features might extend indefinitely, and so from age to age it would still be “this generation.” Compare Matt. 12:39, 41, 42, 4539But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: (Matthew 12:39)
41The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 42The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:41‑42)
45Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:45)
, which last verse shows the unity of the “generation” in its final judgment (not yet, I believe, exhausted) with that which emerged from the Babylonish captivity. Again, note chapter 23:36, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” This generation, chapter 24:34, shall not pass till all the predictions of judgment, &c., Christ uttered shall be fulfilled. As it is plain from what has been already shown—indeed, most of all from the plain Scripture itself—that much remains to be accomplished, “this generation” still subsists and must till all is over. And how true it is! There the Jews are, the wonder of every thoughtful mind, not merely a broken, scattered, and withal perpetuated race, not only distinct, spite of mighty effort from without to blot them out, and from within to amalgamate with others, but with the same unbelief, rejection, and scorn of Jesus, their own Messiah, as on the day He pronounced their doom. All these things—He warned of their earlier and their latest sorrows—must come to pass, before that wicked generation shall disappear. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” That which incredulity counts most stable, the scene of its idolatry or of its self-exaltation, shall vanish, but the words of Christ, let them be about Israel or not, shall abide forever.
But if all be thus sure and unfailing, the Father alone knows the day and hour. (Ver. 36.) Ample and distinct signs the Savior had announced already, and the wise shall understand; “but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand.” “But as the days of Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not till the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of man be.” Here is another testimony that our Lord in this position speaks of the Jewish disciples of the latter day, represented by those who then surrounded Him, and not of the Church. For His illustration is taken from the preservation of Noah and his house through the waters of the deluge; whereas the Holy Ghost, through Paul, illustrates our hope according to the pattern of Enoch, caught up to heaven entirely apart from the scenes and circumstances of judgment here below.
Moreover, when the Son of man thus comes in judgment of living men here below, it will not be as when the Romans or others took Jerusalem, indiscriminate slaughter or captivity; but whether in the open country or the duties of home, whether men or women, there will be righteous discernment of individuals. “Then shall two be in the field, the one is taken and the other is left; two women grinding at the mill, the one is taken and the other is left.” The meaning clearly is, that one is taken away judicially, and the other left to enjoy the blessings of His reign, who shall judge God's people with righteousness and His poor with judgment. It is the converse of our change, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air; for those who are left in our ease are left to be punished with everlasting destruction from His presence. But the Lord will also have an earthly people. He waits till the heavenly saints are gathered to Him above, and then begins to sow, if I may thus speak, for earthly blessings, in which case His coming as Son of man will be for the removal of the wicked, leaving the righteous undisturbed in peace. “There shall be a handful of corn in the earth, upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon; and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. His name shall endure forever: his name shall continue as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name forever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen.”
“Watch therefore, for ye know not in what hour (or day1) your Lord is coming.” The dealings with Israel, ending with the rescue of the just in their midst, involved, we saw, the judgment of the self secure, unconscious world. Accordingly, in these transitional verses, 42-44, we have an allusion to a wider sphere than the Jews or their land, in which the godly remnant would be found; protected, but still there. God will know how to deliver the godly out of temptation. There they are, however, surrounded by snares and foes, but preserved: a totally different position from ours, who will be then above in the sovereign grace and wisdom of our Savior. “But know this, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in an hour when ye think not, the Son of man is coming.” I suppose that if we are to apply “the good man,” or proprietor, of the house strictly, the enemy is meant as the prince of this world, who will be surprised by the sudden day of the Lord as a thief. But the object is evidently a practical warning to the godly on earth to be ready. They had been comforted in view of trouble and violence; they had been set on their guard against the religious deceits of the old serpent; they had been solemnly assured of the stability of the Lord's words in the very point where Gentile conceit has misled even true believers; they are now exhorted to vigilance and readiness for their coming Lord, that they might not only escape the fowlers, but stand before the Son of man.
From verse 45 of chapter 24 to chapter 25:30, we enter on the parables which pertain to Christendom only, and not to the Jewish remnant. Hence here we have so distinct a portraiture of profession, true and false. Whenever we touch what is properly Christian, God we find dealing with the heart and conscience. He is calling out and forming those who are to be the companions of His Son in heavenly glory. Therefore nothing is passed by; all is judged of God in its real light. Hence, too, there is no limit here of either place or people. Christianity is above time, and of and from heaven, though it may be divulged in fact on earth during the gap in the dispensations of God made by the rejection for a season of Israel. It is a revelation of grace flowing from Him who now speaks, not from earth, but heaven. It is not, I need hardly insist, that evil is slighted. No mistake can be more profound or fatal than that grace implies levity about sin. On the contrary, grace is the very strongest condemnation of all evil, as it is indeed not the mere claim of what man ought to be toward God, but the revelation of what God is toward man in the judgment of his sin in the cross of Christ. Therefore it is the fullest display of divine hatred and judgment of evil, but this in Christ, so as to save the most guilty who believe, at the cost of His own Son, the Savior. When dealing with His earthly people under the law, many things were allowed for the hardness of their heart, which never had His sanction. But it is precisely where the complete display of grace shines, as it does now, that there evil is not borne with but judged. Such is Christianity in principle and in fact. And hence it is, that for the true Christian all the time for his earthly sojourn is a season of self-judgment; or if he fail in this, the assembly is bound to judge his ways; and if they fail, the Lord judges him and them, holily but in grace, that they should not be condemned with the world. False profession He may expose now if He see fit, but the end of it We see here in all these three parables. Grace never winks at evil; and if evil takes advantage of grace for its own purposes, the issue is frightful, and will be manifestly so at the coming of the Lord.
And this leads me to remark that the Lord's coming has a two-fold character. First of all, there is His coming in full grace, entirely apart from all question of our service, and consequently of special rewards in the kingdom in which we are to be manifested along with Christ. But we must bear in mind that this manifestation to the world in the future kingdom is far from being the highest part of His glory or even ours, as it does not elicit the deepest exercise of His grace. In receiving us to Himself, on the other hand, all is purely from Himself. It is His own love who would thus have us with and as Himself. Thus we find St. John puts the coming of Christ in his gospel, chap. xiv., nor am I aware that it is ever treated otherwise there. In the Revelation we find both ways. In the first chapter the testimony is, “Behold he cometh with the clouds,” &c. Plainly there is no trace of the saints caught up there, but “every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” The Bride nowhere appears in the scene, but rather what is public and affects the world universally, and especially the blood guilty Jew; and all are mourning. But the last chapter could not close without letting us know that there is, spite of all evil and woe and judgment, such an one as the Bride awaiting her heavenly Bridegroom. No sooner does He announce Himself the root and off-spring of David, the bright and morning star, than the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. Here we have the intimate intercourse of heart between the Lord and the Church. It is impossible for any one not born of God to say “Come,” though there may be those who are so born, and yet ignorant of their full privilege of union with Christ. And for them, I doubt not, gracious provision is made in the word, “Let him that heareth, say, Come.” But in no case can the world or an unforgiven soul take up such a call; to such it would indeed be the madness of presumption, for His coming, to them, must be sure and endless destruction. Again, it is not merely saving flesh, or deliverance out of misery and danger by the overthrow of their enemies; the Holy Ghost never puts the aspect of Christ's coming for us in any such light. We shall have rest, and those who trouble us shall have tribulation in the day of His appearing; but we go to meet the Savior, and to be with Him forever; and meanwhile, it is our sweet earthly privilege to suffer for His sake now. We are left for a while in a world where everything is against us, because against Him, and we belong to Him. But we know that He waits to come for us, and we wait for Him from heaven; and while the waiting lasts, we expect nothing but suffering from the world, but are happy in it, assured that glory in heaven and the cross on earth go together. The cup of trial, the reproach and scorn of men, may be less at one time than another. This is for our Father to give as He sees fit. But if we look for aught else as our natural portion here as Christians, we are faithless to our calling. Rejection is ours because we are His: “therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”
As the Bridegroom, then, the Lord has nothing but love in His heart to the Bride. Nor is there question of any save His own. He has told them He is coming; and the greater the power of the Spirit in the soul, the more ardently does the Bride say, “Come.” How incongruous here that other eyes should see! or that wailing throngs should intrude into or witness such a meeting! Scripture does not so speak.
The Jew, the world, which refused the true Christ, will receive the antichrist. This is what men wait for and will fall into; and in the midst of their delusion and apparent triumph, the Lord will come in judgment. But when He thus comes, it will not be alone. Others, His saints, appear along with Him in glory. This is what we see in Rev. 17, and with detail in chapter 19. Not angels only, but His saints follow Him out of heaven, clothed in white linen, and on white horses, according to the striking figures of the Apocalypse. The saints had been in heaven before the day of the world's judgment. They must have been removed from earth to heaven before this, in order to. follow Him out of heaven, and be with Him when that day dawns. And this could only have been through His coming to receive them to Himself. Hence, again, it appears that His coming has a double character, according to the object of each of its steps or stages. He comes to gather above His saints, dead or living, and presents them in the Father's house, that where He is, there they may be also. In due time afterward He brings them with Him, judging the beast and the false prophet, the Jews, and the Gentiles, as well as every false profession of His name. This is still His coming, or state of presence: only now it is (what the former act, when He takes us to be with Him, is never called). His appearing, the shining forth of His coming (2 Thess. 2:88And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (2 Thessalonians 2:8)), His revelation, and His day.
With this second act of the Lord's coming or His day is connected the appraisal of our service, and the assigning of reward for work that has been done. For all must be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, and each must receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Some find a difficulty in bowing to both truths; but if subject to the Word, we shall overlook neither the common blessedness of the saints in the full grace of the Savior at His coming, nor the recognition of individual faithfulness, or the lack of it, in the rewards of the kingdom. When we read of the many mansions, we are not to dream of one being more glorious than another. The truth conveyed is that we are to be as near and dear as sons can be in the Father's presence, through the perfect love and work of the Son. In this point of view I see no difference whatever. All are brought absolutely nigh, all loved with the love wherewith Christ was loved, and having His portion as far as can be for the creature. But am I therefore to deny that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor?” or that in some cases the work will abide, as in others it will be burnt? or that, as the parable teaches, one servant may receive ten cities, and another five?
It will be found accordingly, that there is a close connection in Scripture between Christ's day or appearing and present exhortations to fidelity. Thus, Timothy is exhorted to keep the commandment without spot, unrebukeable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus. So the apostle, in 2 Tim. 4, speaks of the “crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” The results of faithfulness, or of unfaithfulness, are only manifest then. It is the day of display before the world; and “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” Hence it is as awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus that the apostle speaks of the Corinthian saints as coming short in no gift, and at once brings in the thought of His day. So Christ's day is the blessed end and solemn test of all in writing to the Philippians. Of the Epistles to the Thessalonians I need say the less, as they present in the clearest way both these truths.
Returning now to the first of the three parables which refer to the Christian profession, I would make the general remark from what we have been examining, that while the words “appearing,” “day,” &c., are special and never used, I think, except where responsibility is concerned, the word “coming” is general, and though applicable, if the context so require it, to the case of responsibility, is in itself of wider character, and is used, therefore, to express our Lord's return in nothing but grace. In other words, the appearing, day, or revelation of Christ is still His coming or presence; but His coming does not necessarily mean His appearing, revelation, or day. He may come without appearing, and I believe that there is proof from Scripture that so it is when He receives us to Himself on high; but His appearing is that further stage of His coming again, when every eye shall see Him.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household to give them meat in due season?” It is not a question of evangelizing here, but of care for the household. The principle of trading outside with the Master's gifts will come by and by (chap. 24:14 and seq.); but here the great thing is that, as the Lord loves His saints (“whose house are we”), so He makes much of faithful or faithless service within that sphere. For I need not say that faithfulness to the Lord involves no denial of ministry. Ministry when real is of God; but the mode in which it is exercised is often wrong and unscriptural. Ministry is not Jewish, but characteristic of Christianity. But it is a thing very apt to lose its true character. Instead of being Christ's servants in His household, many sink into the agents of a particular body. In such a case it always flows from the church or denomination. Real ministry is from Christ, and Him alone. Therefore the apostle says he was the servant or bondman of Jesus Christ—never deriving his mission from or being responsible for his work to the church. The gospel and the church were the spheres of his service (Col. 1), but its giver and his Lord was Christ Himself exclusively. It appears to me that this is necessary, in order that ministry should be recognized as divine; and nothing but divine ministry is owned in Scripture, nor should be by God's people now. This, then, is the first thing our Lord insists on, that the faithful and wise servant whom the Lord makes ruler over His household be found doing His work, caring for what is so near to Christ. It is a most painful proof of the low estate of the Church in these days that such service is regarded as the waste of precious ointment. So completely have even. God's children fallen from the thought of true ministry that they think it idleness or proselytism to attend to those that are within. Why not preach to those without, say they, and seek to bring such to the knowledge of Christ? But this is not the first thing our Lord presses. The “faithful and wise servant” had to do with those within his object was to give them their meat in due season; and the Lord pronounces that servant blessed. “Blessed is that servant whom his lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.” Others might raise questions as to his title; but He simply says, If I find you “so doing,” blessed are you. The great point is to be doing His will. It is not title or position, but doing the work which the Lord wishes to be done.
But now comes the other side of the picture. “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants and to eat and drink with the drunken.” There you have the great danger of the professed servants of Christ in this world. First, wronging the fellow-servants by assuming an arbitrary place. Authority is right where it is exercised under obedience to Christ. No change of circumstances or condition alters the truth that the Lord remains Head of the Church and raises up His servants at all times to carry out His wishes with authority. But here it is man's will, where the servant takes the place of His Master, and begins to smite his fellow servants. Secondly, along with that, there is evil communication with the world. It is not said that he is himself drunken; but it is association with the world. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Where the thought of the Lord is gone, ministry loses its true character. There will be oppression towards those within, and evil commerce with those without. “The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It supposes that the servant still pursues the same course, and is found there when the Lord comes; his heart thoroughly with the world. He began by saying in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming. This is far more than wrong thoughts about the coming of the Lord, which some saints might hold, without this Scripture applying to them. If there were, on the other hand, persons professing to look for the Lord's coming and acting as if they did not believe it, they are much more like the servant saying in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming. What the Lord judges is not a mere mistake or doctrinal blunder; but it is the state of heart—content that Christ should stay away. If we are desiring something great and of esteem among men, how can we say, “Come?” His coming would spoil all our schemes. We may talk about the Lord's coming and be learned about prophecy; but the Lord looks at the heart and not at the appearance. He sees where, let the profession be ever so loud or high, souls cleave to the world and do not want Him.