(1) And Jesus went out.—Better, following the best MSS., Jesus departed from the Temple, and was going on His way, when His disciples. St. Mark and St. Luke report the touching incident of the widow’s mite as connected with our Lord’s departure.
His disciples came to him.—We may well think of their action as following on the words they had just heard. Was that house, with all its goodly buildings and great stones, its golden and its “beautiful” gates (Acts 3:2)—through which they had probably passed—its porticos, its marble cupolas, the structural and ornamental offerings which had accumulated during the forty-six years that had passed since Herod had begun his work of improvement (John 2:20), to be left “desolate”? Would not the sight of its glories lead Him to recall those words of evil omen? This seems a far more natural explanation than that which sees in what they were doing only the natural wonder of Galilean peasants at the splendour of the Holy City. They had seen it too often, we may add, to feel much wonder.
The sign of thy coming.—Literally, of Thy presence. The passage is memorable as the first occurrence of the word (παρονσία, parousia), which was so prominent in the teaching of the Epistles (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; James 5:7; 1 John 2:28, et al.). They had brought themselves to accept the thought of His departure and return, though time and manner were as yet hidden from them.
The end of the world.—Literally, the end of the age. In the common language of the day, which had passed from the schools of the Rabbis into popular use, “this age,” or “this world,” meant the time up to the coming of the Messiah; the “age or world to come” (Matthew 13:40; Matthew 19:28; Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 6:5), the glorious time which He was to inaugurate. The disciples had heard their Lord speak in parables of such a coming, and they naturally connected it in their thoughts with the close of the age or period in which they lived.
Wars and rumours.—St. Luke adds “commotions.” The forty years that intervened before the destruction of Jerusalem were full of these in all directions; but we may probably think of the words as referring specially to wars, actual or threatened, that affected the Jews, such, e.g., as those of which we read under Caligula, Claudius, and Nero (Jos. Ant. xx. 1, 6). The title which the historian gave to his second book, “The Wars of the Jews,” is sufficiently suggestive. As the years passed on, the watchword, “Be not troubled,” must have kept the believers in Christ calm in the midst of agitation. They were not to think that the end was to follow at once upon the wars which were preparing the way for it.
Famines.—Of these we know that of which Agabus prophesied (Acts 11:28), and which was felt severely, in the ninth year of Claudius, not only in Syria, but in Rome (Jos. Ant. xx. 2). Suetonius (Claud. c. 18) speaks of the reign of that emperor as marked by “continual scarcity.”
Pestilences.—The word is not found in the best MSS., and has probably been inserted from the parallel passage in Luke 21:11. It was, however, the inevitable attendant on famine, and the Greek words for the two (λιμὸς, and λοιμὸς, limos and loimos) were so like each other that the omission may possibly have been an error of transcription. A pestilence is recorded as sweeping off 30,000 persons at Rome (Sueton. Nero, 39; Tacitus, Ann. xvi. 13).
Earthquakes, in divers places.—Perhaps no period in the world’s history has ever been so marked by these convulsions as that which intervenes between the Crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus records one in Judæa (Wars, iv. 4, § 5); Tacitus tells of them in Crete, Rome, Apamea, Phrygia, Campania (Ann. xii. 58; xiv. 27; xv. 22); Seneca (Ep. 91), in A.D. 58, speaks of them as extending their devastations over Asia (the proconsular province, not the continent), Achaia, Syria, and Macedonia.
To be afflicted.—Literally, unto affliction. The words repeat in substance the predictions of Matthew 10:22. (See Notes there.) Here we have “hated of all the nations,” i.e., heathen nations, instead of the wider “hated of all men.” So, when Paul reached Rome, the “sect” of the Christians was “everywhere spoken against” (Acts 28:22) “as evildoers” (1 Peter 2:12). So, a little later on, Tacitus describes them as “hated for their crimes” (Ann. xv. 44).
Shall hate one another.—The words received a terrible fulfilment in the faction-fights of the Zealots and Sicarii at Jerusalem (Jos. Wars, iv. 3), in the disputes in every city between believing and unbelieving Jews (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 18:6; Acts 19:9), in the bitter hatred of the Judaisers against St. Paul (Acts 23:12).
The love of many . . .—Better, of the many; the greater part of the true Israel who would be found in the Church of Christ; perhaps, also, the greater part of the nation as such. This was the natural result of the condition of things implied in the “lawlessness.” The tendency of all such times, as seen in the histories of famines, and pestilences, and revolutions, is to intensify selfishness, both in the more excusable form of self-preservation, and in the darker form of self-aggrandisement. In the tendency to “forsake the assembling of themselves together” among the Hebrew Christians, we have, perhaps, one instance of the love waxing cold (Hebrews 10:25).
The words “spoken of by Daniel the prophet” have been urged as absolutely decisive of the questions that have been raised as to the authorship of the book that bears the name of that prophet. This is not the place to discuss those questions, but it is well in all cases not to put upon words a strain which they will scarcely bear. It has been urged, with some degree of reasonableness, that a reference of this kind was necessarily made to the book as commonly received and known, and that critical questions of this kind, as in reference to David as the writer of the Psalms, or Moses as the author of the books commonly ascribed to him, lay altogether outside the scope of our Lord’s teaching. The questions themselves had not been then raised, and were not present to the thoughts either of the hearers or the readers of his prophetic warnings.
Whoso readeth, let him understand.—The words have been supposed by some commentators to have been a marginal note in the first written report of the discourse, calling attention to this special prediction on account of its practical bearing on the action of the disciples of Christ at the time. There appears, however, to be no sufficient reason why they should not be received as part of the discourse itself, bidding one who read the words of Daniel to ponder over their meaning till he learnt to recognise their fulfilment in the events that should pass before his eyes.
For the elect’s sake.—Those who, as believers in Jesus, were the “remnant” of the visible Israel, and therefore the true Israel of God. It was for the sake of the Christians of Judæa, not for that of the rebellious Jews, that the war was not protracted, and that Titus, under the outward influences of Josephus and Bernice, tempered his conquests with compassion (Ant. xii. 3, § 2; Wars, vi. 9, § 2). The new prominence which the idea of an election gains in our Lord’s later teaching is every way remarkable. (Comp. Matthew 18:7; Matthew 20:6). The “call” had been wide; in those who received and obeyed it He taught men to recognise the “elect” whom God had chosen. Subtle questions as to whether the choice rested on foreknowledge or was absolutely arbitrary lay, if we may reverently so speak, outside the scope of His teaching.
Shall the sun be darkened.—The words reproduce the imagery in which Isaiah had described the day of the Lord’s judgment upon Babylon (Isaiah 13:10), and may naturally receive the same symbolic interpretation. Our Lord speaks here in language as essentially apocalyptic as that of the Revelation of St. John (Revelation 8:12), and it lies in the very nature of such language that it precludes a literal interpretation. 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;” and the language of Isaiah, of St. John, and of our Lord, is but the expansion of that familiar parable. Sun, moon, and stars may represent, as many have thought, kingly power, and the spiritual influence of which the Church of Christ is the embodiment, and the illuminating power of those who “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15), but even this interpretation is, it may be, over-precise and technical, and the words are better left in their dim and terrible vagueness.
The powers of the heavens.—These are, it will be noted, distinguished from the “stars,” and may be taken as the apocalyptic expression for the laws or “forces” by which moon and stars are kept in their appointed courses. The phrase is found elsewhere only in the parallel passages in St. Mark and St. Luke.
Then shall all the tribes of the earth.—It lies in the nature of the case, that the “tribes” are those who have done evil, and who therefore dread the coming of the Judge. The words find their best comment in Revelation 1:7, where St. John combines them freely with the prediction of Zechariah 12:10, “They also which pierced Him,” obviously including not only those who were sharers in the actual “piercing” of the crucified body of the Lord Jesus (John 19:37), but all who in any age “crucify the Son of God afresh” (Hebrews 6:6).
With a great sound of a trumpet.—The better MSS. omit “sound:” With a great trumpet. We know not, and cannot know, what reality will answer to this symbol, but it is interesting to note how deeply it impressed itself on the minds not only of the disciples who heard it, but of those who learnt it from them. When St. Paul speaks of the “trumpet” that shall “sound” (1 Corinthians 15:52), of “the voice of the archangel and the trump of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), we feel that he was reproducing what had been thus proclaimed, and that his eschatology, or doctrine of the last things, was based on a knowledge of, at least, the substance of the great prophetic discourse recorded in the Gospels.
They shall gather together his elect.—The “elect” are the same in idea, though not necessarily the same individuals, as those for whom the days were to be shortened in Matthew 24:22; and the work of the angels is that of gathering them, wherever they may be scattered, into the one fold. As with so many of the pregnant germs of thought in this chapter, the work of the angels is expanded by the visions of the Apocalypse, when the seer beheld the angels come and seal the hundred and forty-four thousand in their foreheads before the work of judgment should begin (Revelation 7:2). In each case the elect are those who are living on the earth at the time of the second Advent. In these chapters there is, indeed, no distinct mention of the resurrection of the dead, though they, as well as the living, are implied in the parable of judgment with which the discourse ends.
That it is near.—Better, that He is near, in accordance with James 5:9.
Till all these things be fulfilled.—Better, till all these things come to pass. The words do not necessarily imply more than the commencement of a process, the first unrolling of the scroll of the coming ages.
The goodman of the house.—Better, as in Matthew 20:1., householder.
In what watch.—The night-watches were four in number, of three hours each. So in Luke 12:38, we have “the second or the third watch” specified. The allusion to the “thief coming” would seem to have passed into the proverbial saying, that the day of the Lord would come “as a thief in the night,” quoted by St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:2.
To give them meat in due season.—Better, to give them their food. In the parallel passage of Luke 12:42, the word used means “a measure or fixed portion of meal or flour.” The comparison brings before us one function of the minister of Christ. He is to supply men with the spiritual food which they need for the sustenance of their higher life. It may be the “spiritual milk” of 1 Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:12, 1 Corinthians 3:2; it may be the “strong meat” or “solid food.” There is an art, as it were, of spiritual dietetics, which requires tact and discernment as well as faithfulness. The wise servant will seek to discover not only the right kind of food, but the right season for giving it. An apparent parallel presents itself in the common interpretation of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), but the imagery implied in that phrase is probably of an entirely different character. (See Note there.)
My lord delayeth his coming.—The temper described is identical with that portrayed in 2 Peter 3:3-4. The words are memorable as implying the prescience, even in the immediate context of words that indicate nearness, that there would be what to men would seem delay. Those who looked on that delay as St. Peter looked on it would continue watchful, but the selfish and ungodly would be tempted by it to forget that Christ comes to men in more senses and more ways than one. The tyranny and sensuality which have at times stained the annals of the Church of Christ have had their origin in this forgetfulness, that though the final coming may be delayed, the Judge is ever near, even at the doors (James 5:9).
There shall be weeping.—As elsewhere, “the weeping and the gnashing.”