Matthew 24
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
After dooming the temple to desolation, "Jesus went out." The action was significant (see Luke 19:44). In every case the departure of the Saviour is a solemn event. "His disciples," viz. Peter, James, John, and Andrew (see Mark 13:3), called his attention to the magnificence of the structure. Men are naturally influenced by material glories. They had especially noticed the greatness of the stones (see Mark 13:1), and were astonished when Jesus declared that these should become disjointed and overthrown. How "slow of heart" are even good men "to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (see Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:18)! What havoc in the material world is wrought through moral obliquity! "And as they sat" in full view of the temple and city (ver. 3), where the Shechinah had rested after leaving the temple and the city, and whence it ascended into the heavens - awful presage of the desolation of the temple and city by Nebuchadnezzar, and the captivity of the people by the Babylonians (Ezekiel 11:23): - the action of Jesus here therefore was not only the expression of a tender, sorrowful, patriotic, human sympathy, but moreover a parable and a prophecy of momentous import.


1. The advent of the King Messiah was the constant subject of ancient promise.

2. It was accordingly the chief expectation of the Jews.

3. But so dazzled were they with the splendour of the imagery, in which the coming of Messiah in his glory is set forth in prophecy, that they overlooked the predictions setting forth an earlier advent of Messiah in humiliation.

4. Hence, when Jesus came in that earlier advent his people were offended in him.


1. So he came upon the memorable Day of Pentecost. Jesus had been corporeally transiently present with his disciples as their Comforter, and he promised, after his removal from them in that capacity, to come again as their permanent or abiding Comforter in his Divine Spirit (see John 14:15-21).

2. That advent was quickly followed by the "end of the world," or, more properly, the "consummation of the age." The Levitical dispensation ended with the destruction of the temple. For the temple was the very centre of that system. "The temple was destroyed:

(1) Justly; because of the sins of the Jews.

(2) Mercifully; to take away from them the occasion of continuing in Judaism.

(3) Mysteriously; to show that the ancient sacrifices were abolished, and that the whole Jewish economy was brought to an end, and the Christian dispensation introduced" (Clarke).

3. The judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem was a figure of the judgment of the great day. The scattered Jew-Christians found relief in the judgment which brought desolation to their persecutors (cf. Mark 13:13; James 5:7-9).


1. He will then come "in the clouds."

(1) He will come upon a glorious throne.

(2) He will come with a myriad retinue. Clouds of angels. Clouds of spirits of just men made perfect (see Hebrews 12:1).

2. He will come to introduce the millennium.

(1) He will begin that reign with judgments upon the obstinately wicked. The antichristian nations will be overthrown.

(2) He will end that age with the final judgment upon the dead, small and great.


1. This is the "end of the age" to us as the term of our probation.

2. It is to us virtually the day of judgment.

3. Christ comes in person to receive to himself his own (see John 14:3).

4. Let us be admonished and prepare. - J.A.M.

This term is a figure of speech. It represents something. It does not describe something. The actual ending of the world is an almost impossible conception. So far as we are able to trace Divine dealings, there are no "endings;" there are stages. But what we call an "ending" from one point of view is a "beginning" when seen from another point of view. What we ought to inquire is - Was this a familiar figure of speech in the time of our Lord. and if it was, what ideas were attached to it as familiarly used? The patriarchal age came to an end, but there was no abrupt scene which can be called an ending. The same remark may be made concerning the closing of the Mosaic age. And we need imagine no catastrophe as the close of the Christian age. The coming of Messiah was, in Jewish thought, connected with the "end of the world," and vague, wild, and extraordinary were the things associated with that "coming" (see Stapler's 'Palestine in the Time of Christ,' ch. 5.).

I. THE END OF THE WORLD IS THE END OF THE AGE. Distinctly present the truth that God ever works in stages, making each stage prepare the way for another and a higher. This may be shown by the revelations of the primeval ages made by geological researches; or by the history of separate nations; dynasties and royal houses represent distinct ages or dispensations. So we find stages within the history of Mosaism, the Jewish Church passing through several dispensations. Those who can read the philosophy of the Christian centuries can trace stages in them. One such stage was nearing completion in the time of Christ; and, with a very human tendency to exaggeration, men were imagining that an end of a particular polity for a small nation was to be the "end of the world."

II. THE END OF THE AGE IS ALWAYS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW AGE. If we did but fully grasp this idea, we should be delivered from many hindering mistakes.

1. Endings are always local. There never has been any ending that concerned the whole world.

2. Endings insensibly glide into the new scenes. Abrupt endings may belong to man's spheres, his dynasties, and his systems; but abruptness seldom, if ever, characterizes God's ending. His spring has an ending, but it is a gliding into summer. If we can think of an actual "end of the world," we must think of a gliding into the new and eternal age. - R.T.

The coming of Christ in his kingdom being the great event of prophecy to be fulfilled, the time and signs of that coming became questions of intense interest to the disciples. The time is generally indicated by the signs. These are -


1. Many antichrists appeared before the destruction of Jerusalem.

(1) Even in apostolic days the mystery of iniquity was already working (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 John 2:18). Note: Antiquity is no certain evidence of truth. Error is very nearly as ancient. The spirit of falsehood invaded the garden of Eden.

(2) Many came professing to be the Christ. "Theophylact has recorded that one Dosatheus, a Samaritan, put himself forth as the prophet foretold by Moses; that Simon of Samaria also declared himself to be the great power, that is, the 'great power of God,' mentioned in the Acts. This prophecy also seems to contemplate Theudas, and 'that Egyptian' (see Acts 21:38), and another impostor mentioned, but not named, by Josephus, all of whom styled themselves prophets, though only rebels and deceivers. Manes, in later times, presumed to call himself the Christ, and to choose twelve apostles, in imitation of our Lord" (Joachim Camerarius). Since Christ in Christianity is all that is Divine and saving, so all false systems of Christianity are false Christs.

2. Many have since been deceived by the popes.

(1) The popes affect to be vicars of Christ, and usurp his prerogatives. They claim infallibility. They assert dominion over the faith of Christians. They undertake to forgive sins committed against God.

(2) Multitudes have apostatized through their deceptions. The state of Christendom was deplorable before the Reformation. The mischief is still extensive (see Revelation 13:3).

(3) This seems to be the apostasy indicated by Paul as that destined to be developed when the restraining power of the Roman emperors should be taken out of the way (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8).

3. Many have been deceived in the Mohammedan delusion.

(1) Mohammed was an antichrist, as he set himself above the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) He made converts by hundreds of thousands by the eloquence of his sword. How extensive were the conquests of the Saracens! What an empire was once that of the Turks!

(3) Mohammedan Mahdis are ever arising. We are warned to take heed against deceivers. "The colour of the greatest good is often the cover of the greatest evil" (Henry). Seducers are enemies more dangerous to the Church than persecutors.


1. These existed before the destruction of Jerusalem.

(1) When Jesus was born there was peace. The temple of Janus was shut.

(2) But think not that he came to continue such a peace (see Luke 13:49-53). War comes of refusing the gospel.

(3) "Rumours of wars." When Caius [Caligula] resolved to erect his statue in the temple at Jerusalem, the consternation was so great that the people omitted to till the land.

(4) Christians were to "hear of wars." They are more apt to "hear" of them than to engage in them. Many of them submitted to die rather than serve in the armies.

(5) "Nation rising against nation." In Palestine, before the time of Joshua, there were "many nations and great." At this time there were many divisions in the land - Judaea with Samaria, Galilee, Ituraea, Abilene. These were in conflict and commotion (see Bishop Newton's 'Diss. on Prophecy').

2. They are to precede the millennial reign.

(1) The war spirit, born in depraved human nature, has become organized in these last times, viz. since the great prophetical era marked by the first French Revolution.

(2) Standing armies have now swollen to enormous proportions; and science has been taxed to render weapons of war terribly destructive.

(3) To support this system industry is oppressed. Ploughshares are beaten into swords - a process which was destined to precede the reverse operation of beating swords into ploughshares (cf. Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:9, 10; Micah 4:3).


1. Famines.

(1) Such there were before the destruction of Jerusalem. One of these was foretold by Agabus (see Acts 11:28). Josephus and Eusebius mention two famines which took place in the days of Claudius; and Josephus expressly says, "There was a great famine throughout Judaea" ('Ant.,' 20:2).

(2) Such have occurred in modern times, and are likely to become increasingly destructive as the population of the world increases, and the war spirit increases with it.

2. Pestilences. These are the usual attendants of famines.

(1) Epidemic disorders are generally produced from the scarcity or badness of provisions.

(2) The carnage of the battlefield is also a source of epidemic disease.

3. Earthquakes.

(1) Such there were before the destruction of Jerusalem. The first of the series was that in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus. The histories of Claudius and of the following emperors notice many in Asia and the islands of the Aegean. They took place in Crete, in Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos; in Laodicaea in the consulship of Nero; at Hierapolis and Colosse. In all these places the Jews resided. Add to these that dreadful one in Judaea mentioned by Josephus ('Wars,' 4:4), accompanied by a furious tempest, with continual lightnings, thunders, and rain.

(2) The thoughtful observer of the signs of these times cannot overlook the earthquakes by which they are ever increasingly distinguished (see Mallett's tables).


1. The publication was at first limited to the Jews.

(1) Our Lord in Person came to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel."

(2) Occasionally, however, he presaged the publication of his gospel to the Gentiles.

(3) Though he commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature, he instructed them to begin at Jerusalem.

2. When the Jews rejected it, then the apostles turned to the Gentiles.

(1) It soon was carried throughout the Roman empire, then styled the world (see Romans 1:8; Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:6, 23). Then followed "the end" in the judgment upon Jerusalem.

(2) Now, through the great evangelistic societies - Bible societies and missionary societies - the testimony of the gospel is carried into "all the world" in the wider sense. May we not therefore look for the day of judgment upon the antichristian nations? Of all these things Christians are to take heed. For the confirming of their faith. For the inspiration of their hope. For their personal safety. - J.A.M.

It is a fact of history that pretenders appeared who claimed to be sent by God for the deliverance of the Jews, and practically usurped to themselves the position of the Christ. But all this belongs to far-distant ages. In a larger application of our Lord's idea, the world has seen many other false Christs down even to our own time, for whoever or whatever assumes to do the work of Christ or claims his honours is a false Christ. Let us look at some of these usurpers.

I. THE PRIEST. Men who come between us and God, so that we are shut off from the privileges of religion, excepting as we submit to their authority, are false Christs. Priests who offer to intercede with peculiar efficacy, claim to sacrifice on the behalf of others, and assert that they are the channels of sacramental grace, take on themselves functions which rightly belong to Christ. At the head of this great assumption is the pope; but the humblest minister who would have us look for salvation through his mystic grace shares in the same offence. In fairness it should be seen that Romanist priests and their imitators do not claim to set aside the work and honour of Jesus Christ, but merely to administer his grace. Yet practically their functions are substituted for Christ's, and the people are induced to look to them instead of going to Christ, the one High Priest, and to God, as themselves kings and priests.

II. THE CREED. Theologians only profess to interpret the mind and will of Christ. Nevertheless, the scholasticism of the Church has led to the exaltation of doctrinal statements into the place which of right belongs to Christ himself. Thus it was once a popular presentation of the gospel to describe it as a group of saving truths which a person was to believe. The great thing was for him to see the way of salvation clearly. The whole idea of salvation by orthodoxy was the substitution of dogma for Christ. It taught that men are saved by believing a Creed; but the New Testament teaches that salvation is dependent on faith in Christ alone.

III. THE CHURCH. This is an institution founded by Christ himself. It is his own body, the body of which he is the Head. But there is a great perversion when the body is put in the place of the Head, and is thought to perform its functions. The Churchly notion of religion is that men are saved through their connection with the Church. It is true that all Christians maintain that salvation is in and through Christ alone. There is no formal and confessed substitution of the Church for Christ. But the perversion is not the less real in practice. As a fact, multitudes of people are led to think much more of their inclusion in the Church than of their being in Christ. The assertion that there is no salvation outside the Church is soon twisted into the idea that there is salvation for all in the Church, and that membership therein is the primary condition of salvation. Against these and all other substitutes for Christ we have to be on our guard, that we may look alone to the living personal Saviour for grace and life. - W.F.A.

There is always a tendency to exaggerate their importance. It is strange to find Christian people able to find some high prophetic allusion forevery little war or social disturbance within the sphere of their knowledge. Every national trouble is manufactured into a sign of the "coming end." Precisely of this strange tendency our Lord so anxiously warned his disciples in this discourse. "Do not run away into extravagant imaginations under the impulse of every bit of local civil commotion. There will be a good deal of that sort of thing, but the "end is not yet." The world is not going to fall to ruin, even if Jerusalem should become a desolation." Our Lord bade the disciples take warning from passing events, so that they might secure their personal safety; but he intimated that they would be wise to leave the world's future altogether in God's hands, and not attempt to be wise above what was written.

I. CHRISTIANS SHOULD LET PASSING EVENTS HELP TO GUIDE THEIR CONDUCT. Our Lord commended observing the "signs of the times." Illustrate by reference to the anticipated siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Our Lord pointed out certain events which the disciples should take as distinct warnings. They should respond to them by instant flight; and, as a matter of fact, the Christians of Jerusalem did note those signs, and did effect their escape to Pella. For Christians civil commotion is warning and education. It decides conduct, and it develops and tests character. Through the Christian ages this has been fully illustrated. There have been times of faction fight, of civil war, of invasion and national ruin. Christ prepares his disciples for such times, which give them the chance of showing noble examples and exerting holy influences.


1. Because Christians never can know God's secret, plans.

2. Because Christians could never fit their little pieces into the plan, even if they knew it. It is extraordinary that there has always been a strong disposition to expect a speedy termination of the whole system under which we live. It may be one of the forms of human conceit. We cannot imagine that things can last much longer after we are gone. J.A. Alexander works out these two points.

1. So far as we have any means of judging, the "end is not yet."

2. So far as it remains a matter of doubt, it is better to assume that "the end is not yet," than to assume the contrary. - R.T.

Religious persecution is an evil, and a serious evil, but it cannot be called an unmitigated evil. Persecutors come under Divine judgments; but persecutors, in the Divine overruling, are made to do the Lord's work. The Lord Jesus was persecuted, and we fully sympathize with him in those persecutions. And yet we only know him through them. His perfect obedience as a Son only comes to view on the background of the sufferings he endured. What is true of the Master is true of his Church. It has ever been sanctified through the persecutions it has been called to endure.


1. The conflicts of the Church have helped to formulate the doctrine of the Church. Persecutions have dealt with opinion, and have helped to make right opinion. It may even be shown that the influence on truth has not been altogether good, because the strain of persecution has tended to exaggerate particular opinions, and put them out of the Christian harmony.

2. The martyrdoms of persecuting times have vivified the leading truths of the Church. The things men have died for are all-important. They must be worth dying for; they are primary truths of the "faith."


1. The ages of persecution have been spiritual ages. Then the critical spirit is wanting. Men easily believe. The underlying meaning of God's Word is more important than its literary form. Men find they need "the sincere milk of the Word."

2. The ages of persecution have been ages of brotherhood. The common peril ensures common service. There is mutual shielding, mutual sympathy, and the records tell of heroic acts of self-sacrifice done at such times. The story of such ages acts upon us today as an inspiration to brotherhood.

III. ITS MISSION IN RELATION TO THE SPREAD OF THE CHURCH. It has been, over and over again, as it was in the first Christian age. The disciples were "scattered abroad" in consequence of the persecution that arose over the preaching of Stephen, and they "went everywhere, preaching the Word."

1. At such times there is a secret spreading of the Church. Hidden, it works like leaven. Illustrate by history of the Church in Madagascar and Uganda.

2. At such times there is the entering of new spheres, and possession of new lands in the name of Christ (see story of the pilgrim Fathers). - R.T.

Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. These verses are connected with Christ's prophecy of the history of his Church. There may be difficulty in fixing the precise references of his language, but he describes general features which are seen in every passing age. There is always a disposition to exaggerate or overestimate the evils of the age in which we happen to live, because they are specially prominent to us. But we may certainly say this much - we live in an age when outside wickedness and semi-wickedness are telling very directly and very injuriously on the Christian spirit. It cannot be said that there is general failing from the Christian profession; but there is a strange, sad "chilling of the Christian love," a "leaving of the first love." In some ages the separation of the Church from the world is more marked, and so the influence of the world on the Church is less felt. Illustrate by Slapton Sands in Devonshire. A freshwater lake well stocked with fish is divided from the sea only by a road and a narrow belt of sand. Usually the two are well kept apart. But when wind and tide unite, the sea rises, floods the sand and the road, and pours the defiling and destructive salt waters into the sweet lake.

I. EFFECT OF GROWING INIQUITY ON THE CHRISTIAN SPIRIT. "Love waxes cold." The true idea of Christian life is the sanctifying and ennobling power of a personal love to Christ. Iniquity, self-willedness, and self-willed ways chill this love

(1) by presenting to us other and rival claims to our love (preacher must be left to select illustrations of such claims);

(2) by undervaluing and putting slights on Christ. Show how human friendships are spoiled when our friends are satirized and scorned. Show how jealously, in these criticizing days, we need to watch over our high, adoring, admiring thoughts of Christ.

II. THE MASTERY OF SURROUNDING INIQUITY IS THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIAN STEADFASTNESS. "He that shall endure to the end." It will cost persistent and persevering effort if we are to keep loving Christ supremely. True endurance is not possible unless we have a strong grip of Christ. We must have and cherish warm feeling toward Christ. We must keep on

(1) trusting,

(2) obeying,

(3) following,

(4) honouring,

(5) working for Christ.

And if ever faint, it must be "taint, yet pursuing." - R.T.

It is evident that our Lord was speaking with especial reference to the series of calamities that was to accompany the death throes of the Jewish state. In them are typified and illustrated the trials which test the fidelity of the Christian in many walks of life.

I. WE ARE WARNED TO EXPECT HEAVY TRIALS. No woes can]lave been greater than the troubles of that tragedy of history, the fall of Jerusalem. But Job justly tells us that "man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). It is foolish to anticipate calamity, for "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;" but it is equally foolish to deny its possibility, or to be astounded and amazed when we have our share of what, after all, is just the common lot of mankind. Most assuredly the feeble faith that will be swamped in the first gale of adversity is not fit to be launched on the uncertain seas of life.

II. THESE TRIALS WILL REQUIRE THE GRACE OF CONTINUOUS ENDURANCE. It might be possible to muster courage for the encounter with one huge calamity in a rare crisis of life. The exceptional necessity would call out exceptional energy, and the very excitement of the novel situation would help to brace the spirit of heroism. But in many lives the trial of faith is long and tedious. There is not one brief and brilliant hour of martyrdom, but there are years of repeated difficulties and renewed troubles. To face such experiences a gift of patience and stubborn endurance is requisite. For most of us this is needed, because in some form the whole of life is a course of discipline, although it is not the purgatory pessimists paint it.

III. THE ENDURANCE OF ADVERSITY AND TEMPTATION IS NOT INDEPENDENT OF OUR OWN EFFORTS. It is not solely dependent on those efforts. Nobody can stand firm in his own strength alone. If we are enabled to be faithful, this is because God is with us, our Strength and our Stay. There is no possibility of continuous endurance excepting through his presence and help. The trials are certainly too severe for unaided human strength. But this is not all. It is but one side of the situation. The Divine grace is given to those who seek it; it is given according to the measure of faith; and it is given to inspire and energize our efforts, not to supersede them. We must strive, or we shall fail.


1. There will be an end.

"Now we fight the baffle." But the battle will not last forever. Patience and courage! The affliction is but brief. It is foolish to risk all rather than stand out its short time.

2. It is necessary to endure to the end. The ship that has weathered many a storm on her long voyage must be prepared to face the last tempest, or she will perish in sight of her haven. It is not enough that we were victorious in bygone days. The fidelity of youth will not excuse the failure of later years. The battle is not over till it is won, and the battle of life is not won till life is finished.

3. Then will be the final victory. Faithful, persistent endurance will issue in the end of the trial and in the salvation of the sufferers. Salvation is perfect and secure for those who are "faithful unto death." - W.F.A.

The expression, "in all the world," can only mean the "world" as men then thought of it. Our Lord's statement is verified in the fact that there was "hardly a province of the vast Roman empire in which the gospel had not been preached before the destruction of Jerusalem." The "world" is an altogether larger idea to us; but the gospel has to be preached to "all the world" as we apprehend it. The Apostle Paul uses very broad terms. He speaks of the gospel as having gone out into all the earth (Romans 10:18); as being present in all the world; and as having been preached in the hearing of every creature which is under heaven (Colossians 1:6, 23). A difficulty is suggested. These representations do not seem to match the facts in the apostolic age or in any other age. The gospel has not actually reached every part of the earth yet; and it has been effective unto the salvation of but a minority of the human race. Some have thought they could find explanation in the limitation "for a witness;" as if the conversion of "all nations" were not the design of the gospel preaching. This idea may, however, be presented in an exaggerated form. We may see the reasonable senses in which the gospel is a witness to all nations.

I. THE GOSPEL WITNESS IS A WITNESS FOR GOD. The right knowledge of God comes, always has come, always must come, by revelation. A creature, limited by the senses and sense relations, cannot reach the apprehension of unseen things without help. Such a creature, having the help of revelation, is yet constantly disposed to materialize its apprehension: this is seen in the disposition to make visible symbols of the unseen God. This tendency takes the coarser forms of idolatry, and the more refined forms of philosophy. The gospel, then, is a witness, because it is a fresh and corrective declaration of what God is, what God thinks, and what God requires.

II. THE GOSPEL WITNESS IS A WITNESS AGAINST IDOLATRY. This may be illustrated by St. Paul's work at Lystra and at Athens. Take such points as these.

1. Preach the gospel, and men see that the true God asks for love. So it witnesses against all religions of fear.

2. Preach the gospel, and men see that the true God can only be served by righteousness. So it witnesses against all immoralities of rites and ceremonies.

III. THE GOSPEL WITNESS IS A WITNESS CONCERNING MEN. Preach it, and the "thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." It will prove everywhere a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." What is strange is that, wherever the gospel is preached, men are discovered to themselves, and know that they are sinners. That is the beginning of the gospel mission. - R.T.

Having announced the signs of his advent, first for the destruction of the Jewish antichrist, and secondly for that of its Gentile counterpart, Christ gives to his disciples salutary warnings suited to the crises.


1. We do well to take heed to the sure Word of prophecy.

(1) "The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet," equivalent to the Roman army with its ensigns. The כנפ in Daniel 9:27 may denote the Roman wing or army (cf. Isaiah 8:8). Josephus shows that the ancient Jews understood this prophecy of Daniel to relate to the Romans. The ensign was an eagle, an unclean or abominable creature, and especially abominable as it was an idol. (cf. 1 Kings 11:5, 7). Images of the Caesars were inscribed in the shields on the ensigns. Our Lord fixes the interpretation in this sense (cf. Luke 21:20).

(2) "Standing in the holy place." This cannot be the temple, for the Romans did not stand there until after the opportunity for the flight had passed. The circuit of the holy city was in the holy place (cf. Acts 7:7). Before this time the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem, in deference to the scruples of the Jews, had ensigns without the effigies of Caesar. Pilate attempted to introduce the images, but yielded to the remonstrances of the Jews, and commanded them to be carried back to Caesarea.

(3) "Whoso readeth let him understand." Those who read the Scriptures should endeavour to understand them. We should have understanding of the times (cf. 1 Chronicles 12:32; Matthew 16:3). "The wise shall understand." Daniel is intelligible in the interpretations of Christ. When untoward things occur, the people of God should confer with the prophets.

2. Christ is a mountain of safety to those who fly to him for refuge.

(1) "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains." Cestius Gallus, Prefect of Syria, besieged Jerusalem for some years, and then raised the siege. This was the sign to the Christians to flee. They accordingly removed to Pella and other towns in the mountainous region of Gilead, east of the Jordan. In the territories of Agrippa, who remained faithful to the Romans, they were safe. When Titus came some months later, there was not one Christian remaining in the city. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly."

(2) "Let him which is on the house top not," etc. In the promptitude of obedience there is safety. Had the Christians delayed their flight when Cestius Gallus raised the siege, they must have suffered for their unbelief with the unbelieving Jews. Josephus relates that Titus completed his lines of circumvallation with incredible celerity. "None of the wicked shall understand." The Jews perished because they would not understand the salutary warning of Jesus.

(3) Life is more than property. If we sacrifice property to secure the life of the body, much more should we sacrifice it to secure the more precious life of the spirit. Flight must not be hindered by burdens. The Christian carries all his property in Christ. It is not to trust, but to tempt God, when we refuse to pass through the door which he opens for our escape.

3. Calamities are mitigated for the sake of the deer.

(1) "Woe unto them!" etc. (ver. 19). Frightful accounts are found in Josephus of the sufferings of helpless women and children in those "days of vengeance."

(2) "But pray ye," etc. (vers. 20-22). We must labour to make the best of the inevitable. The followers of Christ in times of calamity should be much in prayer. The prayer that anticipates may mitigate evil. "That your flight be not in the winter," when the ways would be scarcely passable. "Neither on the sabbath day," lest they should be exposed to the indignation of the Jews, or hindered by their own superstitions.

(3) "But for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." The prayers of the good are effective, and the wicked profit by their successes. As there is a community of suffering between the wicked anti the good, so is there a community of mitigations between the good and the bad. God rules in human affairs.


1. He warns them against false Christs.

(1) There were many such about the time of the siege. Some before it (see Acts 5:36, 37). Others soon after, as Jonathas, who formed an army in Cyrene; and Barchochebas, in the reign of Adrian.

(2) Those who observe the signs of our times cannot fail to see false Christs. Not only is there the Roman impostor (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10) and his Eastern rivals, but many minor deceivers are springing up.

(3) As the counterfeit presupposes the genuine coin, so do false Christs indicate the true. As the appearance of false Christs nearly two thousand years ago showed that the true Christ had then come (cf. Daniel 9:25), so do the appearance of false Christs now presage the approaching second advent of the true.

2. He warns them against false prophets.

(1) False Christs have also their false prophets. Every Mahomet has his Abubeker.

(2) Our Lord not only foretold the appearance of these deceivers, but the manner of their proceeding (cf. Acts 21:38; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20:7; 'War,' 6:5; 7:11).

(3) "If it be possible," etc., imports simply that it is difficult to deceive the elect of God (cf. Acts 20:16; Romans 12:18). "To fear the worst oft cures the worst" (Shakespeare). To be forewarned is to be forearmed. "A prudent man foreseeth the evil" (see Proverbs 22:3; Hebrews 11:7).

(4) Times of great trouble are times of great temptation.

3. He warns them against their deceptions.

(1) "Great signs and wonders." The Jews had magical arts, interpreted dreams, and pretended to work miracles and predict the future.

(2) The Roman antichrist comes "with all the deceivableness of unrighteousness" (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11; Revelation 13:13, 14). If not the elect, the infidels are deceived. They fly from the extreme of superstition into the opposite extreme of scepticism, and so miss the truth.

(3) The coming of the true Christ is a grand thing, like the sheet lightning. So the Roman armies came in public, as the executioners of the Judge, in contradistinction to the stealthy manner in which the false Christs came. They came suddenly, without any premonitory whispering as to the "secret chamber." They came universally, for they filled the land. Like the lightning shining from the east, they entered Judaea from that quarter, and carried their conquests westward.

(4) The coming of Christ here also refers to his second personal advent (cf. Luke 17:22-37). When a people do by their sins make themselves carcases, God will send his vultures among them (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Hebrews 8:1). - J.A.M.

For there shall arise false Christs, i.e. false Messiahs. In the period between our Lord's ascension and the destruction of Jerusalem many so called prophets arose who claimed Divine authority. It is not clear that they claimed to be the Messiah; but after the fail of Jerusalem one appeared who called himself Barchochebas, the "Son of a star," and claimed to be Messiah, and deceived many. If we can get a proper meaning to the term "antichrist," we shall see that such have appeared in every age, and repeated in every age the same mischief making. An "antichrist" is any man or any woman who, in any sphere, undoes or resists the work of Christ, or compels men to think unworthy thoughts of Christ. Fitting introductory matter would be an account of the social and religious mischiefs wrought by the antichrists of the first century, especially of Barchochebas.

I. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST. That authority is not only absolute and supreme in Christ's Church, it is also in constant, immediate, and direct administration; to it the Church can always appeal. Antichrist

(1) withdraws us from the Divine authority;

(2) criticizes the Divine authority;

(3) substitutes something for the Divine authority.

Antichrist comes between the soul and Christ.

II. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE PURITY OF CHRIST. The sinless Christ has it as his supreme aim to make sinless disciples, and present his Church perfect even as he is perfect. Purity, therefore, is the great aim of Christ's Church; and to it purity is a high ideal. Any one whose influence tends to sully the Church's purity, or to lower the Church's standard, is an antichrist. There are those who teach a liberty which is licentiousness, and a self-indulgence which is disloyalty. "Ye are called unto holiness:" this will test all antichrists.

III. THE ANTICHRIST OPPOSES THE UNITY OF CHRIST. Sectarianism is the exaltation of opinion over truth. The Church could be one if it were only based on loyalty, love, and obedience to the Lord Jesus. The Church is broken up into sections, ever-multiplying sections, by the particular opinions of men, who presume to declare Divine authority for their opinions. Christ is one with the Father by his loyalty to him; and that is the way in which we must be one in Christ.


1. There is the selfishness which shuts men up to what is called the "enjoyment" of religion, heedless of the ministry the world needs.

2. There is the bitterness of the heresy cry against those who do not happen to think exactly as we do. - R.T.

Our Lord compares his coming to a great flash of lightning which blazes out in the east and illumines earth and sky as far as the west. This is in contrast to the notion of an obscure and doubtful appearance, or one that is local and limited, or one the coming of which is so gradual that it can scarcely be discerned. In opposition to these erroneous conceptions, the advent of Christ is to be lightning like. Let us consider its characteristics as they are suggested to us by this startling image.

I. VISIBILITY. Bursting out of the darkness of the storm, the lightning blinds us with the brilliancy of its illumination. There is no mistaking the fact that it has come. We may not observe the glow worm; we cannot ignore the lightning. The awful "day of God" at the destruction of Jerusalem has made its impress on all history. Other advents of Christ in judgment, as in the sack of Rome by the Goths, the wreck of the Spanish Armada, etc., have startled the world with their terror. The present more peaceful coming of Christ to heathen nations in the spread of his gospel produces most visible effects in the transformation of degraded fetich-worshipping cannibals into civilized, humane Christians. Our Lord's words lead us to anticipate that there will be no obscurity about his great final advent. Then every eye shall behold him.

II. BREADTH. The lightning flashes from east to west; or its flash is so splendid, that while for a moment it plays in the east, the far-off west is illumined by the radiance it spreads in all directions. There is a greatness in the appearance of Christ. Even when he came in humiliation, he was "a Light to lighten the Gentiles." Perhaps he had some thought of his first appearance in the East, and of the spread of his light to Europe, when he spoke of the lightning shining in this direction. But if it is a strain of fancy to assert that any such idea is to be found in this image, the notion of breadth is certainly there. Christ's life was lived in the open. As St. Paul boldly said, "This thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). Christ is the Light of the world, and his radiance is spreading over the earth. The last advent will be for all the world to see, and it will concern all mankind.

III. SUDDENNESS. Nothing is so sudden or so startling as the lightning. In its very silence it gives us a greater shock than the roaring thunder. There is something peculiarly awful in its momentary blaze of splendour, especially as we know that there is death and destruction in its shaft. In a moment the steeple is shattered, the stout oak is blasted and riven to its core, the strong man is scathed and flung down dead. It is not clear that our Lord meant us to attach any idea of destruction to his image of the lightning. We know that there is a terror in the wrath of the Son (Psalm 2:12). In his advent to judgment Christ must smite down his foes. He is not the incarnation of unruffled amiability which modern hymns represent, although he is not the stern Judge of Byzantine art. Part of the terror of his judgment is its suddenness. We know not when he will come. Yet if we are his true people we need not fear. His sudden advent will be our sudden joy. - W.F.A.

The earlier verses of this chapter set forth principally the signs from the earth. The "tribulation" referred to here is that consequent upon the siege of Jerusalem in the first place, and in an extended sense may be viewed as continued through the whole period of the dispersion of the Jews.


1. These are described under the figure of the shaking of the powers of the heavens.

(1) The mechanical heavens bear rule over the physical earth. They are therefore made emblems of government, whether political or religious or both. The shaking of the heavens imports the removal of such governments (see Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Daniel 8:10; Joel 2:10, 30, 31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9, 10).

(2) The sun is the symbol of the supreme power in the state, and of monarchy in particular. The darkening of the sun imports the humiliation, if not extinction, of the supreme civil rulers.

(3) The moon is the emblem of the ecclesiastical system, Anciently, the times and ceremonies of the Church were measured and ordered by the revolutions and changes of the moon. As the true Church, like the moon, borrows its light from the Sun, viz. "of righteousness," so have spurious religious systems borrowed theirs from civil rulers. The moon eclipsed represents a dispensational change in the true Church, and confusion to the false Churches.

(4) Stars represent particular rulers, as princes and leaders in the state; and "angels" or ministers in the Church. The stars leaving their orbits and falling obviously imports the effects of revolution upon he leaders of religious corporations.

2. Trace now the fulfilment of the prophecy.

(1) The Jewish system literally collapsed "immediately after the tribulation" of the days of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans took away their "nation." They also took away their "place," or temple. And the destruction of the temple involved the abolition of the Levitical system, of which the temple was the very centre. Thus the sun, moon, and stars of that people came to grief together.

(2) The prophecy had a further fulfilment in the calamities, revolutions, and ultimate overthrow of the Roman empire. We find the same figures applied in the Apocalypse, first to the overthrow of the pagan powers of the empire by Constantine; and next, to the subversion of the empire itself by the northern invaders (see Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:12). The application of the word "immediately" in reference to these events will not surprise when we take into account the character of prophetic language, and the vast range of time to which it is applied.

(3) The final instalments of fulfilment will take place when the antichristian powers, civil and ecclesiastical, shall come into judgment. This event will come "immediately after the tribulation" upon the Jews comes to its end in their restoration to their land and covenants.

(4) Who can say whether this prophecy may not also have a literal accomplishment in the mechanical heavens themselves? There is a remarkable relation between astronomical and political changes.

3. In all commotions Christ will be merciful to his people. "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet," etc. (ver. 31).

(1) These words may be applied to the calling of the Gentiles. They are said to come from the "four winds" or "comers of the earth" (cf. Matthew 8:11, 12; Luke 13:28, 29). God's message comes as the sound of a trumpet (cf. Numbers 10.; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 33:3, 6; Romans 10:18).

(2) They may be applied to the gathering of the Jews. They are still in a sense God's "elect." They are destined to be gathered out of all the nations into which God has driven them in his anger. The angels with the trumpet will be God's messengers in gathering them (cf. Daniel 8:10; Esther 8:16; Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9).

(3) They may be applied to the gathering together of the elect of God, who shall be called forth from their graves "by the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God" (cf. Exodus 19:13, 16; Leviticus 25:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52).


1. This was the sign for which the sceptics clamoured.

(1) The Jewish rulers were offended at the mean appearance of Jesus. "The carpenter's Son!" "Of Nazareth!" "Have any of the rulers believed?" Pride has a natural antipathy to humility. But the pride of all false glorying must be stained.

(2) They overlooked, or refused to see, that Messiah was to come in this very quality of humiliation. The "Root out of a dry ground!" (see Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2, 3; Psalm 22:6; Mark 9:2). The antitype of "David in all his afflictions." So of the "prophets and righteous men" who suffered for righteousness' sake.

(3) The rulers had refused the "signs which Jesus did," most unreasonably accounting them insufficient. Men are not now sceptics for lack of cogent evidence. Unbelief is of the "evil heart" (cf. Psalm 14:1; Hebrews 3:12).

(4) The sign from heaven, for which they clamoured, was that of the Prophet Daniel (cf. Daniel 7:13; Matthew 16:1). That sign was not intended for this generation. The sign from the earth - that of the Prophet Jonah, was to be given to them (see Matthew 12:38-40).

2. They will receive it to their confusion.

(1) Confounded by their pride, they missed the event of the first advent of Messiah. Yet by that very pride which blinded them they were urged to fulfil the prophecies which they failed to see. So God makes the perversity of scepticism to praise him.

(2) They confounded the time of the second advent. They looked for Messiah as a King when they should have looked for him as a Priest. Here also their pride confused them.

(3) How will that pride be confounded when they shall see the very blessed Person whom they had rejected and crucified, "coming in the clouds, of heaven, with power and great glory"! As the "sign of the Prophet Jonah" was Jonah, so the "sign of the Son of man" is the Son of man. In the cloud, viz. of the Shechinah, Jesus went into heaven, and in the same cloud will he return (see Acts 1:9-11).

(4) Sooner or later, all sinners will "mourn." Those who have not mourned in contrition will "wail" in despair (cf. ver. 30; Revelation 1:7). The cloud of the Presence was a pillar - support, viz. in union, of vapour and fire. As judgment came from that Presence in the water which destroyed the old world, so from the fire of the cloud will come forth those flames which will consume in the judgment to come. - J.A.M.

The figurative character of this verse is apparent. It does not describe actual events. It belongs to astrological rather than to astronomical associations. There is no literal interpretation of these words possible. Isaiah uses similar symbols in prophesying the Divine judgments on Babylon (Isaiah 13:10), and we may reasonably think that such a scriptural passage suggested our Lord's statement. "Even the common speech of men describes a time of tribulation as one in which 'the skies are dark,' and the 'sun of a nation's glory sets in gloom.'" The verse is plainly poetical and pictorial, but what it pictures is the series of terrible civil calamities and commotions and distresses which attended the Roman siege of Jerusalem. It is not necessary to suppose any allusion to a future breaking up of the framework of the earth in the last times. Of that no man really knows; and no precise description has been or could be given.

I. SKY SIGNS THAT TEACH GOD'S WORKING IN THE WORLD. Men might be disposed, even those disciples might be disposed, to look upon the events of the siege of Jerusalem as just ordinary national incidents. Jesus therefore used figures in relation to them which lifted them to a higher plane, and made the disciples think about them, discern their relation to the whole course of God's dealing with his ancient people, and trace his direct working in them. All the events connected with the history of the Jewish nation are designedly revelational; and it is their revelational value which disciples must be helped to discern. But when once we see that this is true for the Jewish nation, we begin to see that it is true for all nations. Men make much now of the "philosophy of history." They never can read history aright until they begin to study the "religion of history." Wars, migrations, changing dynasties, are not understood till they are seen to be "sky signs."

II. SKY SIGNS THAT TEACH GOD'S REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE FOR THE WORLD. Christ's way of referring to the overthrow of organized Judaism by the destruction of the sacred city fitted that historical fact into the Divine redemptive plan. It was the removing of the scaffolding, that the complete building might come into view. It was the withdrawal of dependence on material forms, in order that the spiritual reality might fully occupy men's minds and hearts. - R.T.

Having unfolded to the disciples the manner and circumstances of the two great events respecting which they had inquired, our Lord now proceeds to speak more particularly of their certainty and of the time of their occurrence.


1. This is asserted under a simile. (Vers. 32-35.)

(1) The fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish nation (cf. Joel 1:7; Matthew 22:19). To the literal Israel these things were primarily spoken. They have relevance also to the spiritual Israel, viz. in a future fulfilment. The outside world give no heed to sacred signs. "None of the wicked shall understand" (see Daniel 12:10).

(2) The teaching is that as the budding of the fig tree, then probably visible before them (cf. Matthew 21:19; Luke 21:29), was a sure presage of summer, so must the signs indicated in the preceding discourse be taken to pledge the near approach of the sequel, glorious to the righteous, disastrous to the wicked (cf. Matthew 16:3; Luke 21:31; Revelation 1:1).

(3) "The summer is nigh." When the trees of righteousness put forth the leaf of faithful promise, it is a happy presage of good times. But that which to the good is an enlivening light is to the wicked a scorching and consuming fire.

2. The assertion is repeated in the comment.

(1) The generation that witnesses the signs will also witness the sequel. This was literally so in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 16:28; Matthew 23:36). There is a distinction between "these things," which refer to the events of the destruction of Jerusalem, and "that day" (ver. 36), which indicates the season of the final judgment. Yet was the judgment upon Jerusalem a type of the judgment of the last day.

(2) The "generation" destined to see the end of "all things" in the wider sense, is the Jewish race (see A. Clarke, Steir, and Alford). Therefore the preservation of that race amidst untoward circumstances pledges the certainty of the sequel.

(3) It is easier for the heavens and the earth to pass away than for the word of Christ to fail (see Luke 16:17). The creation had a beginning, so may have an end; but Christ's truth is from eternity, and cannot but abide. The failure of the truth of God would be, in other words, the failure of his existence, which is a supposition superlatively absurd.


1. It is particularly known to God alone.

(1) To him it is known. It is therefore distinguished as "the day of the Lord." Christ, as God, therefore, knew it. "It is necessary to distinguish between the knowledge of Christ as a Divine Person and that which he possesses as the Prophet of his Church. As Divine he knows all things; but as a Prophet he receives his messages from the Father, and makes them known to us. In this sense he knew not the day of judgment; that is, it was no part of the revelation which God gave to him to make known to men" (A. Fuller). "To know" has the idiomatic sense of "make known" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 1:6, 7; 1 Timothy 6:15).

(2) As it was not given to the Son to make it known, so neither was it given to the angels. They have great capacities for knowledge, and, dwelling at the fountain of light, have also great opportunities; but their prescience is limited, or at least it is not given to them to make it known.

(3) The day on which Titus was to invest Jerusalem was not known to the disciples when our Lord advised them to pray that their flight might not be on the sabbath. The hour or season was not known to them when he advised them to pray that it might not be in winter (ver. 20). So are we without knowledge of the day and season of the great event of which the judgment upon the Jews was but a figure. Wisdom withholds particular revelations of the future to encourage prayer.

2. Yet is it generally made known to the wise.

(1) Many ancient prophecies contain approximate anticipations of the time. Light upon this subject was progressively increasing. Daniel gave intimation of the destruction of Jerusalem to the year in his period of four hundred and ninety years, though not the day or season.

(2) Our Lord himself speaks of great political revolutions that should happen before his return; and his language plainly implies that the event was then remote (see ver. 48; Matthew 25:5, 19).

(3) Paul declares that before that great event there should occur a gradual development and subsequent gradual wasting of a great apostasy, the germs of which were already working in his day (see 2 Thessalonians 2.).

(4) Proceeding further, we find Peter using language evidently designed to prepare the Church for a long delay (see 2 Peter 3.).

(5) The series of intervening events is wonderfully disclosed in the course of the revelations given to John. The wise who study this series cannot be ignorant as to the approaching time.

3. But to the wicked it will come as a surprise.

(1) So the Flood came upon the men of that generation. "They knew not." They were warned, but did not heed. "Death never comes without a warrant, but often without a warning (Anon.). Not knowing, i.e. acknowledging, is joined with eating and drinking and marrying. They were sensual because secure; but the ignorance of wickedness is an imaginary security. The flood came." Those who will not know by faith shall be made to know by feeling. The evil day is never further off for men's putting it off. Judgments are most terrible to those who make a jest of them.

(2) "As in the days of Noah." The design here is to show that the desolation will be as general as it will be unexpected. The miserable Jews neglected the advice of Jesus to watch, and were destroyed, it is for us to learn wisdom by the things which they have suffered. The general neglect of religion is a more dangerous symptom to a people than particular instances of irreligion.

(3) The siege of Jerusalem surprised the Jews in the midst of their festivity at the Passover (cf. Judges 18:7, 27; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Man's unbelief shall not make the truth of God's threatenings of none effect (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; Revelation 18:7). "The uncertainty of the time of Christ's coming is to those who are watchful a savour of life unto life, and makes them more watchful; but to those who are careless it is a savour of death unto death, and makes them more careless" (Henry).

4. It will be a time of separation.

(1) "Then shall two men be in the field," etc. (ver. 40). Many who have been united in the closest earthly relations will then be found separated in their spiritual condition and eternal allotment.

(2) Those "taken" correspond to Noah and his family, who were taken into the ark, and to the disciples of Jesus, who removed to Pella. Those "left" correspond to the people shut out of the ark, and those shut into Jerusalem when it was devoted to destruction. In the last day the elect will be gathered out of the devoted world into the cloud of Christ's protecting presence.

(3) Here our Lord enjoins upon his disciples to watch, and that too in reference to his coming - an event so far remote that when it occurs they will be found among the dead. In like manner, we find the apostles exhorting their brethren to watchfulness, and urging the same reason, while they certainly knew that event to be remote. The lesson, then, is that it is manifestly the Divine purpose that the thoughts of the people of God should be carried forward to and fixed upon that momentous time when Christ shall come to judge the world. Observe, then:

1. That to live in a state of preparation for this event is also to live prepared for death.

2. That every exhortation of Scripture to watch for the former is alike applicable to the latter.

3. That in a most important respect the hour of death is to every man the hour of judgment. - J.A.M.

This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. The position in which these words stand is significant. Many writers see references to the commonly called "end of the world" in vers. 29-31 because the imagery is so large as to seem unsuitable for a mere national desolation. Our Lord meets that difficulty, and distinctly declares that the figures picture events which belong to that generation. What needs to be clearly seen is, that this discourse of our Lord's is not a general discourse on the "last things," but a precise anticipation of the experiences through which his disciples were about to pass, and a gracious preparation for them. He was leaving those disciples to themselves. He had indications to the very last of their unfitness to be left. They were still so hampered by their notions of a material kingdom. They were Jews, full of Jewish ideas. It would be a distress to them that the Jewish system was to be put away, as having fulfilled its mission. It might even be overwhelming to them that the very city and temple were destroyed. Our Lord would forewarn them. Their knowledge of the fact would help them to think aright, and to act aright, when the time came. This is the key to our Lord's meaning.

I. THE DISCIPLES HELPED TO THINK ARIGHT. We know how great a strain on them was the opening of the gospel to the Gentiles. St. Peter had to explain his conduct in baptizing Cornelius. St. Paul had to give account of his teachings of the Gentiles. And we can understand how much greater must have been the strain, when not only were Gentile Churches formed, but the Jewish Church was broken up. suppose that our Lord had never spoken of this removing of organized Judaism. We can quite see that the Jewish Christians would have been altogether alarmed and overwhelmed. They could think aright, and realize the permanency of the Church as a spiritual institution, independent of, if related to, any material forms.

II. THE DISCIPLES HELPED TO ACT ARIGHT. Explain that, from a Jewish point of view, the centre for the new Christian mission must be Jerusalem. Those disciples would be likely to cling to Jerusalem in a way that would involve their personal safety. Our Lord therefore forewarned them. When certain events happened, they must finally and quickly forsake the sacred city. That there might be no self-delusions, no procrastinations, he made his meaning plain by the words of the text. - R.T.

Matthew 24:36 (as in Revised Version)
This is one of the most striking words of our Lord. The record of it shows the veracity of the Gospel writers. No early Christian would have invented such a sentence as this. The words themselves testify to the truthfulness and to the humility of Christ. They are significant also in the light they throw on the limitations of knowledge.

I. THE FACT. No one but our Father in heaven knows the whole future. Some parts of it are revealed to all of us, some are within the perception of prophets, more may be specially known to angels, very much must have lain open before the eye of Christ. But God only knows the whole. The final judgment is known only to him. Why is this?

1. Perhaps the date is not fixed. To God, who is independent of time, all our uncertainties and contingencies must be visible and sure. But it is impossible for us to imagine the form of thought that comprehends such things. To us many things are uncertain, in part because they are dependent on changing conditions. Will a particular man be saved or lost? No one can say, because no fixed destiny determines his future. It will be conditioned by his conduct, by the action of his free will. It is open for him to repent at any time. So it may be that the date of the final judgment will be determined according to the conduct of men, according to the course of history. It may be hastened or it may be postponed, as the behaviour of the world changes.

2. Certainly full knowledge would be injurious. It is one of the greatest mercies of life that God hides the future. If any sorcery could reveal it, the depth of folly would belong to those people who resorted to that sorcery. The knowledge of future evil would crush us; the knowledge of future good would take the zest out of our joys and make the blessings of life stale and uninteresting. Moreover, God disciplines us by ignorances. This should not make us indifferent to truth; it must be our duty to learn what God teaches. But it cannot be healthy to attempt to pry into secrets which God means to keep to himself. Calculations of modern prophets about unfulfilled prophecy are here rebuked beforehand by our Lord.


1. The distinction between Christ and his Father. Clearly they are here seen as two Persons. Yet it is the fashion of popular theology to "confound the Persons," and to speak of Jesus as if he were just the same as the Father.

2. The comparative subordination of Christ. We dare not say, with Cyril, that the ignorance of Christ was only apparent. That must be to represent him as an unreal Actor. He meant what he said in all honesty. It may be that Athanasius was right in applying all such passages as that before us to the earthly humiliation of our Lord. Still, the statements of Scripture as to the Son being sent by the Father (e.g John 20:21), applying as they do to the first advent and the very origin of the lncarnation, suggest something like a secondary position even prior to the earthly life, as we shall see if we reverse the phrases, and think of the Son sending the Father - a most improper notion. The Sender must be in some way superior to the Sent.

3. The Divinity of Christ. This is apparent even in this passage, where the secondary position is stated:

(1) Because Christ separates himself from all other men, and even places the angels between himself and them.

(2) Because Christ shows Divine knowledge of the fact of the ignorance of angels as well as men, and of the fact of his Father's unique consciousness. - W.F.A.

What our Lord here somewhat obscurely applies to the time of the coming judgment is clearly seen in all ages and in every family where death is plying his erratic craft.

I. THE DISTINCTION. There are the greatest possible variations in providence. God does not follow any regimental orders. The ages do not march with the measured tramp of drilled battalions. Families are broken up. Aged men are left, while young men are snatched away. Bad people flourish to a green old age, and some" whom the gods love die early." The useless remain to cumber the ground, and the useful are cut down in the midst of their work.

1. Similarity of external conditions is no guarantee of similarity of fate. The two men are at the same field work, the two women are both alike grinding corn. Yet how different are their fates! We cannot judge of a man's future by his worldly position.

2. Association in life does not secure association in death. The family is grievously broken; old friends are parted; life partnerships come to an end. Two friends may be very near in life, yet death may make an awful separation, if one is called to the world of light and the other banished to the realm of darkness.


1. The one taken. Whither? There is an eerie vagueness in our Lord's language. The summons comes, and the most reluctant must obey without a shadow of resistance. But whither does it call? We vainly strive to follow the flight of the passing soul, and the utmost effort of imagination cannot trace it one step beyond the old familiar earthly scenes. A cloud receives the traveller out of sight the moment he takes his departure. Yet we know that there are tremendous possibilities in the unseen, and we know that the blessedness or woe of the future life depends on the conduct of this life. He who is taken has gone "to his own place."

2. The one left.

(1) To what is he left? To grief, desolation, and loneliness - but also to God who never leaves, to Christ who is never taken from us.

(2) Why is he left? Perhaps for further work, perhaps for finer chastening, perhaps to give one more opportunity for repentance. But let him consider that his time also must come. Before long all are taken. The distinction is temporal, not final; it is a matter of the postponement of the dreaded end, not of its avoidance.

III. THE UNCERTAINTY. Our Lord evidently desires to lay stress on this. We do not know when the final judgment will be. We do not even know when our own last day will come. This, too, may be swift and sudden as the lightning-flash, unexpected as the thief in the night. We never know which will be taken and which left. How often the feeble invalid outlives the strong man who is smitten down by some accident or fatal disease in the midst of his busy life! Such thoughts should not induce a morbid melancholy, or a listless indifference to life. They warn us to be always ready for the summons that shall call us hence. But then he is fit to die who is most truly equipped for the duties of life, and to him the sudden message will be no awful terror, but the trumpet of victory, or, better than that, the Father's voice calling his child home to himself. - W.F.A.

This suggests suitable instruction for a time when sudden death visits a family or a Church. At such times there is gracious work to be done, in sympathizing with the smitten and bereaved, and in teaching solemn lessons.

I. Illustrate the text in cases of PRESERVATION FROM DANGER. Help toward the nourishing of devout gratitude. Take cases of the few spared from a shipwreck, or recovered from a mine accident. Or case of Luther's friend Alexis, who was smitten by lightning at his side. All of us can think of friends of our school time or our youth who have been called away. Wherefore are we spared? What is it that God has for us to do? Are we doing it?

II. Illustrate the text in cases of RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. Help toward nourishing religious anxiety. Take times of mission and revival; the saved and unsaved work together, sit together.

III. Illustrate the text in cases of FAMILY BEREAVEMENTS; so bring to view and impress spiritual consolations. Family separations always causing grief and distress. Different scenes at grave-sides beheld by ministers. Extreme distress may be shown only in noble self-restraints; see Abraham's sorrow over Sarah. What must it be to sever two souls that have grown together in loving, mutual dependence and service through long, long years? It is like tearing the climbing plant from the stem round which it has clung so hard that the two seemed to share a common life. There are three great sources of consolation that may be urged.

1. The "taken" are taken from toil and suffering to rest and peace. All life must be suffering toil; all heaven must be restful toil. Illustrate by the friendship of Christian and Faithful in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' Faithful was taken away to rest by the fire chariot at Vanity Fair.

2. Those "left" are left with abundant provisions of Divine grace. The Hebrew youths in the blazing furnace were not left alone. There are

(1) promises to cheer the sadness of the way;

(2) there is a lamp to lighten the darkness of the way; and

(3) there is a Friend to guide amid the dangers of the way.

3. The "taken" and the "left" will soon be reunited where there is no separation. "A little while;" "We shall know even as we are known; They go no more out forever." - R.T.

The "household" of God is his Church (see Ephesians 3:15). In the professing Church there are two classes of persons, viz. the "wise" and the "evil." In minor particulars there may be an infinite diversity, but ultimately all will be visibly separated into these great classes. This will hold in respect to both ministers and people.


1. He that watches for the return of his Lord.

(1) "Wisdom" is a synonym for "religion." In this sense the term is commonly used in the Proverbs of Solomon. The "wise" servant, therefore, is he that has repented of his sin and has accepted his Saviour.

(2) True Christians are "of the day," and are instinctively watching for "that day" in which the Lord Jesus will appear in his glory (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6; 2 Peter 3:10-12).

(3) To such the advent of the Master can be no surprise. If Jesus threatens the angel of the Church at Sardis to come on him as a thief, it is because he was neither penitent nor watchful (see Revelation 3:3).

(4) "If the master of the house had known in what watch," etc. (ver. 43). Life, like the night, is distributed into watches. A watch in Old Testament times was four hours; at this time it was three. The Christian's vigilance should be unslumbering.

2. He that is "ready to welcome that return.

(1) Therefore be ye also ready (ver. 44). Readiness is now substituted for watchfulness. To be ready we must not only look for the coming of Christ, but so to look as to be prepared for it (see 2 Peter 3:11-14).

(2) To be ready is to have such an assured faith in Christ as a present Saviour that whensoever he may come in his Lordship he will be welcomed.

(3) But the service of God is not limited to trust and worship; obedience is the complement of these. When the Master comes the servant must be found doing." Doing the will of Christ is watching for him in readiness.

(4) He must be found "so doing." Note: There are activities in the Church which are mischievous. Ministers are in the Church rulers in the sense of being bishops or overseers to direct the work of Christ (see Hebrews 13:17). They have also to "give" or dispense the bread of life (see Ezekiel 34:8; Acts 20:35). For this they must not substitute the "stone" of profitless doctrine or the "serpent" of poisonous error. The "bread" must be sound and wholesome. It must also be given in fitting "portion" and in "due season." Note: There are certain portions of the bread of life which lose their effect by being administered to improper persons and out of proper season.

(5) He must be "found so doing," viz. when the Master comes. This implies constancy and perseverance. "It is expected of the steward that he be found faithful," so faithful that he cannot be surprised (see 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Timothy 1:12; 1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Timothy 6:14; Hebrews 3:2; Revelation 2:25).


1. He that has little faith in the speedy coming of Christ.

(1) (Ver. 48.) This is one who is nominally a Christian, but really a hypocrite. The first manifestation of the hypocrite is the heart reflection, "My Lord tarrieth." The thought, is in the heart; it is the offspring of desire. As when Jesus said to John, "Behold, I come quickly," meaning certainly, so the hypocrite saying, "My Lord tarrieth," expresses secret disbelief that his Lord would come at all.

(2) Christ knows what men say in their hearts.

(3) The evil servant through his unbelief neglects to get ready. Note: Faith influences practice.

(4) "But know this," etc. (ver. 43). This is a description of what a man would do rather than of what he should do. He would indeed watch at the hour if he knew it, but not till then. The teaching here is a discouragement of death bed repentances. It is against all procrastination. Religion is not to be separated from the duties and enjoyments of common life. He leads a heavenly life who sanctifies his earthly deeds to heavenly ends.

2. He that governs with oppression.

(1) "And shall begin to beat his fellow servants." Here is the Ishmael in the family of Abraham.

(2) Evil ministers strike their fellow servants with the fist of office. They lord it over God's heritage. Fellow service is forgotten.

(3) Rich men tyrannize over their poorer brethren sometimes by shaking in their faces the golden fist. "Do not rich men oppress you?" Here also fellow service is too often forgotten.

(4) Could such things happen but for a disbelief in the speedy coming of the Lord? The dignity of the kingdom of Christ is service. Christ was among his disciples as one that served.

3. He that leads an irregular life.

(1) He does not love the company of the children of God. Their spiritual fellowship is distasteful to him.

(2) But he "eats and drinks with the drunken." Feasting together is the sign of fellowship.

(3) The fellowship of wickedness tends to wickedness. He becomes "drunken." Perhaps not with wine. All wickedness is intoxication.

(4) The evil minister "feeds himself without fear." So does his evil lay fellow servant.

(5) Could these things take place but for a disbelief in the speedy coming of the Lord? When the Israelites concluded that Moses, through his long absence in the mount, might never return, they set about making to themselves gods.

(6) The coming of the Lord in his mercy is indeed delayed by the wickedness of his professed servants, but his coming to them in judgment is thereby hastened.


1. The faithful he will promote to honour.

(1) "Blessed is that servant." He is happy in the approbation of his Lord. The question, "Who is that wise and faithful servant?" may, perhaps, be taken as though Jesus had said, "I should very much like to know him, so rare, so valued, are such in my sight."

(2) Not only is he blessed in his present sense of the approval of Christ, but the happiness is reserved for him of a public approbation before an assembled universe: "Well done."

(3) He is blessed in the promotion which depends upon that public approbation. Having been faithful in his earlier opportunities, he is further trusted. "Verily I say unto you, He will set him over all that he hath." The bliss of heaven is not the fancied bliss of inactivity. The bliss of heaven is still the bliss of service.

2. The evil will be relegated to punishment.

(1) His death will be a degradation. It is separation from the communion of saints, and from all the gifts he had abused.

(2) "I will cut him asunder." Stone take this in the sense of severe scourging (see margin, Revised Version). It may be taken in the sense of discerning and exposing the thoughts of his heart. So the Word of God is compared to a sharp sword, which "pierces to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Such exposure to a hypocrite is a terrible mortification. Note: Death literally cuts asunder the animal soul and the rational spirit.

(3) "And appoint him his portion with the hypocrites." The hypocrite will be punished with his kind. The associations of perdition are monotonous. "If the devil ever laughs, it must be at hypocrites. They are the greatest dupes he has. They serve him better than others, and receive no wages; nay, what is still more extraordinary, they submit to greater mortifications to go to hell, than the sincerest Christian to go to heaven" (Colton).

(4) "There shall be weeping." Not, however, the weeping of contrition. It is the weeping that is associated with "gnashing of teeth." It is the weeping of helpless rage and of hopeless despair. - J.A.M.

Therefore be ye also ready. The one point which our Lord seeks to impress on his disciples is the uncertainty of the time of the great testing day, and of all testing days. The fact that a reckoning day for the Lord's servants must come has to be fully accepted. If there is any sense in which we are now in trust during our Lord's absence, it is certain that his absence can only be temporary. We can never cease to be servants in charge. We can never get a personal right in the things of which we are set in charge. Purposely our Lord withholds from his disciples of every age the date of his return. It is truest kindness to do so. It is moral training to do so. His disciples always go wrong when they try to fix dates. Christ distinctly refuses to allow any data on which such fixtures can be made. Prophets of the "second coming," and of the "end of the world," are wise above what is written, and let their imaginations run riot over Bible figures of speech.


1. It keeps the thought of the Master close, near to us at all times. So it takes us out of ourselves.

2. It keeps us thinking what the Master would like to see when he comes. So it makes us ever busy about our work.

3. It sets us upon thinking what pleasant surprises we can give our Master when he comes. So it lifts our work high above the drudgery of service.

4. It keeps in our hearts the ever-cheering confidence of the Master's smile, if he sees all has been right and is right in his home. Add that all this filling of our souls with the thought of our Master provides the healthiest deliverance from all self-centred sentimentalism. Illustrate from our Lord's picture of the good servant, who was found "watching," in the sense of being busy about his work.

II. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF FEELING THAT THE MASTER IS DELAYING HIS COMING. This represents the most striking contrast. The thought of the Master is lifted away, and self rises to fill the vacant space. No need to hurry preparations; it will be soon enough when he sends notice. Meanwhile there can be self-enjoyment. There is no fear of being taken at unawares. See the picture of the unworthy servant. Whether men think they can, or think they cannot, fix the time of Christ's coming, the fact for them all will be that he will come to them at unawares, and find them out. - R.T.

Our Lord here applies his teaching about the suddenness of the advent of the unforeseen judgment to the conduct of his servants. In view of the possibility of being called to account at any moment, what manner of men should we be? Jesus gives us contrasted pictures of two very different servants as they are found at his coming, and of their consequent fate.


1. His character. No doubt his known fidelity and wisdom furnish the reasons for his appointment to an important office.

(1) The first requisite is fidelity. Our business is not to please ourselves, but to serve our Master.

(2) The second requisite is wisdom. This is more than acuteness of intellect. It is a moral faculty, the right use of the intellect.

2. His trust.

(1) A post of responsibility. God is the supreme Lord, yet he grants to the several provinces of his kingdom a considerable measure of" home-rule." He does not humiliate by driving us like cattle; he gives us scope for the exercise of our powers and the proof of our fidelity.

(2) A post of useful service. The servant is to provide food for the household. He is a steward of the previsions of the family. God trusts his servants to feed his family. If they are unfaithful, the children will starve.

3. His conduct. He simply does what is required of him. His Master finds him "so doing." He is not expected to devise novelties of self-willed service. He cannot exceed his duty. But it is enough if he does it. Christ looks for simple obedience - service according to his will.

4. His reward. This is in the form of promotion. The faithful servant is to serve still, but in a higher position. God does not reward service by granting idleness or selfish indulgence in luxury, which would mean no reward to the true servant. As it is a great honour to be permitted to serve, it cannot be a reward to be set aside from further service; the great reward is just the privilege of larger service.


1. His excuse. "My lord tarrieth." This is but a thought of his heart, yet it bears fatal fruit in his life, Evidently the miserable man is an "eye servant." He has no sense of duty, no interest in his work. A lazy, dishonourable slave, he will not work if he can escape. The very delay of his master, which is meant to enlarge his honourable trust, he seems to regard as a mark of indifference, as though he would blame his lord for apparently neglecting the household. Here we see the hypocrisy of which the man is accused later.

2. His vile conduct.

(1) Cruelty. He beats his fellow servants. He abuses his position of trust. Instead of feeding the household, he flogs it. The very power that was given to him for good uses he turns to evil. The shepherd has become a wolf. So has it been in the Church of Christ with men in high office.

(2) Intemperance. The man is tyrannical and ill-tempered, because he is weak and self-indulgent. No men are at heart so cold and cruel as those who live for their own pleasures. Selfishness and sensuality lead directly to hardness and harshness in dealing with other people. All this is essentially degrading. The honoured steward becomes the boon companion of low drunkards.

3. His shock of surprise. Because his lord tarried, he began to think he should never be called to account. He was the more amazed and confounded with the sudden advent of his master. Christ will come in judgment to men who never expect him.

4. His awful doom. To such a man, and not to the abandoned outcast, Christ threatens the most fearful punishment. The professed servant of God, the man in trust and honour who abuses his privileges, will be the victim of the direst wrath of Heaven. - W.F.A.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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