Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” p. 229 f., and see note 126.
Matt. 24:1-14; Luke 21:5-19.
In the succinct account which Mark gives us of the prophetic discourse of our Lord on the Mount of Olives,126 and of the questions that led to it, we have the favoured hearers specified more particularly than elsewhere: Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Mark is characterized by this minuteness of detail, although his is much the shortest of the Gospels.
The Lord, in answer to their question to tell them when these things should be (that is, the overthrow of the great buildings of the Temple),127 and what the sign should be when all these things should be fulfilled, warns them to beware lest any man should deceive them. This admonition is common to all three Evangelists who give the discourse. But here we shall find that the Lord’s warnings and instructions are very evidently in view of their service. This has been all through the character of Mark. Christ Himself is the perfect Servant of God, the Prophet here below preaching the Gospel and doing works according to its spirit. So, accordingly, even in His prophecy, He is the Servant still giving them that which would be of such high importance, not only for their souls, but in their work. It is not only prediction of coming judgments, but forewarning and admonishing them in their testimony. They were to beware of deceivers. Next, they were not to be troubled by external appearances, such as wars and rumours of wars, etc.; but in presence of either one or the other they were to know that the end should not be yet.
In addressing the Church, there is great stress laid on an attitude entirely reversed: to it the end is at hand. The language is quite different from this, and it is the more remarkable because the Christian knows that these troublous times of the end are to fall upon the Jewish people, not upon the Church. They are retributive because of the rejection of the true Christ by the Jews; whereas the Church has received the true Christ, and therefore does not come under these judgments. Hence the Christian is always impressed in the word of God with the assurance that the end of all things is at hand. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:12). The point for the disciples at the Mount of Olives (inasmuch as they were representing, not Christians, but the Remnant of Jewish disciples in the last days) is that, although these distresses and troubles that precede the catastrophe of this age would come, the end is not yet. The Lord was providing doubly for them. He was giving instruction that would be true even then and up to the fall of Jerusalem; and He was making that instruction to suit the latter days also, when Jerusalem should be besieged a second time, and fall in a great part at least, the scourge being sent of God, the great Assyrian power, who will come down upon Jerusalem, because of the abomination that maketh desolate.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be earthquakes in different places, and there shall be famines and troubles;132 these are the beginning of throes.”128 The end, therefore, was not yet. But now He turns aside to introduce an instruction that is not given in the other Gospels in this connection. Even where there is anything similar, it is found at an anterior time and for a mission on which they had been sent out, and from which they had returned. Not that I for a moment doubt that the Lord did give it here also. The fact simply is that Matthew and Luke were led of God to convey similar language to us elsewhere, whereas Mark was inspired to give it here; the Lord no doubt gave this instruction on both occasions at least. “Take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to sanhedrims, and to synagogues: ye shall be beaten, and shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the Gospel must first be preached to all the nations.129 But when they shall lead you away to deliver you up, be not careful beforehand as to what ye shall speak [nor prepare your discourse],133 but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak: for ye are not the speakers, but the Holy Spirit.130 But brother shall deliver up brother to death, and father child; and children shall rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all on account of My name; but he that hath endured unto the end, he shall be saved.” This is clearly a guidance for their service in the midst of these prophetic events. It is evident also that it suits Mark in a way that is peculiar to himself.
Matt. 24:15-28; Luke 21:20-24.
Then we come upon the final scene. “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, standing where it134 ought not [he that reads, let him consider131], then let those in Judea flee to the mountains” (verse 14). It is plain that this is the general truth that is found elsewhere. “And let him that is on the housetop not come down into the house, neither enter therein, to take away anything out of his house. and let him that is in the field not turn back to take his garment. But woe to those who are with child, and to those who give suck in those days! And pray that it135 may not be in the winter-time. For in those days shall be distress, such as there has not been the like since the beginning of creation which God created unto now, and never shall be. And unless [the] LORD had shortened those days, no flesh should have been saved, but on account of the elect whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days.”132 Then we find an outburst of warning, not merely as before, but even more determined. “And then if any one shall say to you, Lo, here [is] the Christ; or lo, there; believe [it] not: for false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and give signs and wonders.” It is evident that there is a final appearance, a fresh cloud of these deceivers In the latter days, as there was at the earliest application of this prophecy; and this to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But they were warned, “Take ye heed: behold, I have told you all things beforehand.”
Matt. 24:29-36; Luke 21:25-33.
Then comes the power of God interfering to cut short the wickedness of man as well as the tribulation. “But in those days, after that tribulation,133 the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light.” Figures may be used, but it is clear that it is God who interposes in power; for man cannot accomplish all that is meant, neither can Satan. God alone can change or deal with the sources of power. “And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken.” The sense is plain, although in figurative language, showing a total revolution and overthrow of governmental powers. “And then shall they see the Son of man coming134 in clouds with great power and glory; and then shall He send His angels, and shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from end of earth to end of heaven.” It is still the Jewish people, or rather the remnant of the nation, the elect of Israel. Accordingly, the parable of the fig-tree is appended. “But learn the parable from the fig-tree. When its branch already becomes tender, and putteth forth the leaves, ye know that the summer is near.” The fig-tree is the acknowledged symbol of the people of God. “Thus also, when ye shall see these things happen, know that it is near at the doors. Verily I say unto you that this generation136 shall in no wise pass away till all these things take place. The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but My words shall in no wise pass away.”
But the Lord also tells us in language peculiar to this Gospel, “of that day or of that hour knoweth no one, neither the angels who are in heaven, nor the Son136, but the Father.” He had thoroughly taken the place of Son upon earth. I do not think that it refers to Him, viewed in His highest character, as one with the Father, but as Son and Prophet upon earth. The title of Son applies to Christ in more ways than one. It is true of Him in the Deity, true of Him as born into the world, and true of Him also in the resurrection. It is the second of these that we find here, as in the very first verse of this Gospel we find it said, “Jesus Christ the Son of God.” I do not doubt that refers to His being Son of God here below, begotten in time, not the only-begotten of the Father, as we find so often in John. Looking at it in this way, there is little difficulty In understanding that He should speak as not knowing that hour, because He is speaking in His capacity of minister in the place that He took here below, the prophet that was serving God upon earth. So He did not know that hour. We read of Him in Luke as growing in knowledge as well as in stature. “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). He was always perfect — perfect as a child, perfect as a young man, perfect as a servant; but, nevertheless, all these were quite distinct from what pertained to Him as the Son, one with the Father in Godhead. So here, without derogating from His own intrinsic glory, He could say that “nor the Son, but the Father” knew of that hour.
Cf. Matt. 24:42, Matt. 25:13; Luke 21:36-41.
“Take heed, watch and pray”137 is the application. And then He gives a parabolic instruction in the next two verses admirably adapted to this Gospel. “[It is] as a man gone out of the country who left his house and gave authority to his bondmen” (verse 34). Again, it does not say that He gives authority, to every man, but “to each his work.” This entirely harmonizes with Mark. Christ Himself was the great Servant. But now His service was past; He was going away, and taking the place of Lord on high. So He gives authority to His servants, and to every man his work, to each and all their due place. Remark, it is here not so much gifts as work.”
“Watch, therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh: even, or midnight, or cock-crowing, or in morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. But what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” This is decidedly a suited word for a servant watching in the absence of One who was gone, who left His house, but who was coming back again. Thus, from first to last, Mark is true to the great tone and character and object of his Gospel. It is to show the perfect Servant even in His prophetic testimony, and to maintain those in a spirit of service who are waiting and watching for Him here below. The disciples in their then state represented, not Christians, but the Remnant in the latter day, who will be substantially in the same position.
132 “And troubles”: as A, etc., all cursives, Syr. Edd. omit, as BDL, Amiat. Memph.
133 [“Nor prepare your discourse”]: as A and later uncials, most cursives, Syrpesch hcl. Edd. omit, as BL
Ψ, 1, 33, 69, Syrsin.
134 There is an interesting dubious reading, “standing where he ought not”:
ἑστηκότα, BL (followed by Edd.), instead of
ἑστώς (Elz., Griesbach, Scholz),
ἑστηκός (Lachmann and Green),
στηκόν (seven cursives, including 1, 69). If the masculine be well founded, it points to the Antichrist, the lawless one of 2 Thess. 2:4 (B.T.) Cf. Swete in loc., and see note 131a on the verse.
135 “It”: so Edd., after pmBDL, 69, Jerome’s Vulg. “Your flight” has the support of corr A, etc., 1, Syrpesch hcl Memph. Goth. AEth.
136 See “Lectures on Matthew,” p. 496 ff., and note 135.
137 ”And pray so ACL, etc., almost all cursives, the Syrr. (sin. omitting “take heed”). Edd. omit, with BD.