Jesus comes to the Mount of Olives. The Jews well knew what was prophesied concerning this mountain; they ought to have entered into the spirit of what the Lord was doing.
The sending for the colt shows the Lord as Jehovah, who has a perfect right to all. “The Lord (Jehovah) hath need of them.”15 What more thorough than His knowledge of circumstances in the womb of the future? How evident His control over the owner’s mind and feeling! Meek as He was, sitting upon an ass, the King of Zion according to the prophet, He was indeed as surely Jehovah as Messiah coming in His name — the “need of them” as amazing as the glory of His person.
The Lord goes onward to Jerusalem. And the multitude cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They apply Psalm 118 to Messiah, and they were right. They might be very unintelligent, and some perhaps may have joined later in the fearful cry, “His blood be upon us;” but here the Lord guides the scene. He comes to the city; but He is unknown: His own know Him not. They ask, “Who is this?” So little understanding had the multitude, that they answer, “This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.” But though they only see Jesus of Galilee, yet He shows Himself as King, and takes a place of authority and power. He enters into the temple, and overthrows the tables of the money-changers, etc. This may certainly be looked at as a miraculous incident; for it was astonishing that He whom they knew only as the prophet of Nazareth should so boldly enter their temple, and drive out all who were desecrating it. But they turn not upon Him. The power of the God of the temple was there, and they flee; their consciences doubtless echoing the Lord’s words, that they had made His house a den of thieves. But here we see, not only the testimony of the crowd to the kingship of Jesus, but the response to it, as it were, in the act of Jesus. As if He had said, “You hail Me as King, and I will demonstrate that I am.” Accordingly, He reigns, as it were, in righteousness, and cleanses the defiled temple. Into what a state had the Jews not fallen! ‘My house . . . the house of prayer . . . but ye have made it a den of thieves! “
There were two cleansings — one before our Lord’s public ministry, and the other at its close. John records the first; Matthew the last.
In our Gospel it is an act of Messianic power, where He cleanses His own house, or, at least, acts for God, as His King. In John it is rather zeal for the injured honour of His Father’s house — “Make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” A collateral reason, why John tells us of the first cleansing in the beginning of his Gospel, is that he assumes the rejection of Israel at once. Hence their rejection by Christ, set forth in this act, was the inevitable consequence of their rejection of Him: and this is the point from which John sets out when he begins with the ways of the Lord before His ministry.
But now the blind and the lame come to Him to be healed. “He healed their diseases and forgave their iniquities.” Both these classes were the hated of David’s soul — the effect of the taunt upon David (2 Sam. 5:6-8). How blessed the contrast in the Son of David! He turns out the selfish religionists from the temple, and receives there the poor, blind, and lame, and heals them — perfect righteousness and perfect grace.
On the one hand, there are the voices of the children crying, “Hosanna,” etc. — the ascription of praise to Him as King, the Son of David; on the other, there is the Lord acting as King, and doing that which the Jews well knew had been prophesied of their King. He was there the confessed King; yet not by the chief priests and scribes, who took umbrage, wilfully and knowingly rejecting Him — “We will not have this man to reign over us.” Naturally, therefore, they seek to stop the mouths of the children, and ask Jesus to rebuke them: “Hearest Thou what these say?” But the Lord sanctions their praises: “Have ye never heard, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise” (ver. 16). The power of Jehovah was there, and there was a mouth to own it, though only in babes and sucklings. So “He left them” — a significant and solemn act. They rejected Him, and He abandons them, turning His back upon the beloved city.
Returning to Jerusalem on the next day, the Lord is hungered, and seeks fruit from the fig-tree, but finds none. He then pronounces a curse upon it, and presently it withered away. The sentence on the fig-tree was an emblematic curse upon the people — Israel was the fig-tree. The Lord found nothing but leaves, and the word is that henceforth no fruit shall grow upon it for ever. The nation had failed in fruit to God, when they had every means and opportunity for glorifying and serving Him; and now all their advantages are taken away, and the old stock is given up — a dead tree.
Mark says that the time of figs was not yet. Many have been perplexed at this, as if the Lord sought figs at a time when there could be none. The meaning is, that the time for the gathering of figs was not come — the time of figs was not yet. There ought to have been a show of fruit, but there were only leaves — only outward profession. It was thoroughly barren. The disciples wondered; but the Lord says to them further, “If ye shall say to this mountain (symbolizing Israel’s place among the nations, as exalted among them), Be thou cast into the sea,” etc. This has been done. Not only is there no fruit borne for God, but Israel, as a nation, has been cast into the sea — as lost in the mass of people — trodden down and oppressed under the feet of the Gentiles.
The chief priests and the elders of Israel now come to attack the Lord: they demand of Him, “By what authority doest Thou these things?” — the driving out the traders from the temple precincts — “and who gave Thee this authority?” It was not given by them, indeed; and their eyes were closed as to His glory. Our Lord answers by asking what were their thoughts of John’s baptism. He appeals neither to miracles nor prophecy, but to conscience. How evident had been the accomplishment of the ancient oracles in His person, in His life and in His ministry! How full the testimony of signs and wonders wrought by Him! Yet their question proved how vain all had been, as His question proved either their dishonesty or their blindness. In either case, who were they to judge? Little did they think that as they sought to canvass the Lord of glory, they were in truth but discovering their own distance and alienation from God. So, indeed, it ever is. Our judgment, or refusal to judge, of what concerns Christ is an unfailing gauge of our own condition. In this instance (vers. 23-27) the want of conscience was manifest — nowhere so fatal as in religious guides. “They reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people: for all hold John as a prophet.” God was not in their thoughts; and thus all was false and wrong. And if God be not the object, self is the idol. These chief priests were at bottom but slaves of the people over whose faith, or superstition, they had dominion. “We fear the people.” This at least was true. “And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell.” To what a miserable subterfuge they are driven — blind guides by their own acknowledgment! To such the Lord declines to give any account of His authority. Again and again they had seen the works of His gracious power, and their question furnished the proof that an answer was useless. They would not see if they could.
But our Lord does more. In the parable of the two sons He convicts these religious leaders of being farther away from God than the most despised classes in the land. “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not,” etc. (ver. 32.) Decent lip-homage forms — “I go, sir; and went not” — such was the religion of those who stood highest in the world’s estimate of that day. Hypocrisy was there, to cover self-will and pride with the cloak of religiousness, which made them more obdurate than people who disgraced the decencies of society in riotous or otherwise disreputable ways. They were more accessible to the stirring appeals of John than these Pharisees. Deaf to the call of righteousness, they were hardened as well against the operations of God’s grace, even where it was most conspicuous. “And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” Repentance awakens the sense of relationship to God as the one sinned against. The resolutions of nature begin and end in “I go, sir.” The Spirit of God produces the deep conviction of sin against Him, with neither room for nor desire of excuse. But it is lost for worldly religion, which, resisting alike God’s testimony and the evidence of conversion in others, sinks into increasing darkness and hostility to God. The judge of all therefore pronounces these proud, self-complacent men worse than those they scorned. They were no judges now — they were judged.
Again, the Lord bids them hear another parable, setting forth not merely their conduct toward God, but God’s dealing with them, in a twofold form: first, in view of human responsibility as under law; and, secondly, in view of God’s grace under the kingdom of heaven. The former is developed in the parable of the householder (vers. 33-41); the latter, in the king’s marriage-feast for his son (Matt. 22:1-14). Let us look at the first.
“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: and when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it” (vers. 33, 34). It is a picture founded on and filling up the sketch of Isa. 5 — a picture of God’s peculiar favours to Israel. “What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it?” He had brought them out of Egypt, and settled them in a goodly land, with every advantage afforded by His goodness and power. There was definite arrangement, abundant blessing, ample protection. Then He looked for fruit, reminding them of His rights by the prophets. “And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another” (ver. 35). There was full patience too. “Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.” Was there a single possibility that remained? a hope, however forlorn? “Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.” Alas, it was but the crowning of their iniquity, and the occasion of bringing out their guilt and hopeless ruin! For “when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him” (vers. 37-39). They recognized the Messiah then, but only so as to provoke their malice and worldly lusts. “Let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.” It was not only lack of fruit, persistent refusal of all the just claims of God and robbing Him of every due return, but the fullest outbreak of rebellious hatred, when tested by the presence of the Son of God in their midst. Probation is over; the question of man’s state and of God’s efforts to get fruit from His vineyard is at an end. The death of the rejected Messiah has closed this book. Man — the Jew — ought to have made a becoming answer to God for the benefits so lavishly showered on him; but his answer was — the cross. It is too late to talk of what men should be. Tried by God under the most favourable circumstances, they betrayed and shed the innocent blood; they killed the Heir to seize on His inheritance. Hence judgment is now the only portion man under law has to expect. “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?” Seared as the poor Jews were, they could not but confess the sad truth, “He, will miserably destroy those wicked men,” etc. (ver. 41). The wickedness of the husbandmen failed to achieve its own selfish end, as surely as it had never rendered fruits meet for Him whose provident care left men without excuse. But the rights of the householder were intact; and if there was still “the lord of the vineyard,” was He indifferent to the accumulated guilt of wronged servants and of His outraged Son? It could not be. He must, themselves being the witnesses, avenge the more summarily, because of His long patience and incomparable love so shamefully spurned and defied. Others would have the vineyard let, to them, who should render Him the fruits in their seasons.
Thus the death of Christ is viewed in this parable, not as in the counsels of God, but as the climax of man’s sin and the closing scene of his responsibility. Whether law or prophets or Christ sought fruit for God, all was vain, not because God’s claim was not righteous, but because man — aye, favoured man, with every conceivable help — was hopelessly evil. In this aspect the rejection of the Messiah had the most solemn meaning; for it demonstrated, beyond appeal, that man, the Jew, had no love for God, by whom he had been blessed. it was not only that he was evil and unrighteous, but he could not endure perfect love and goodness in the person of Christ. Had there been a single particle of divine light or love in men’s heart, they would have reverenced the Son; but now the full proof stood out, that the natural man is hopelessly bad; and that the presence of a divine Person, who came in love and goodness, a Man among men, gave only the final opportunity to strike the most malicious and insulting blow at God Himself. In a word, man was now shown and pronounced to be LOST. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin. but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father.” Christ’s death was the grand turning-point in the ways of God; the moral history of man, in the most important sense, terminates there.
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” (ver. 42). It was the conduct of those who took the lead in Israel, revealed in their own Scriptures. Marvellous doing On the Lord’s part! — in manifest reversal of such as set themselves up, and were accepted, as acting in His name: yet to be marvellous in Israel’s eyes, when the now hidden but exalted Saviour comes forth, the joy of a converted people, who shall then welcome and for ever bless their once-rejected King; for truly His mercy endures for ever. Meanwhile His lips utter the sentence of sure rejection from their high estate: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom .of God [not of heaven, for this they had not] shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (ver. 43). Nor was this all: for “whosoever shall fall on this stone” (Himself in humiliation) ‘I shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall” (i.e., consequent on His exaltation), “it will grind him to powder” (ver. 44). Thus, He sets forth the ensuing stumbles of unbelief; and further, the positive execution of destructive judgment, whether individual or national, Jewish or Gentile, at His appearing in glory. (Compare Daniel 2.)
It is in all respects a notable scene, and the Lord, now drawing to the conclusion of His testimony, speaks with piercing decision. So that, spiritually impotent and dull as the chief priests and Pharisees might be, and couched as His words were in parables, the drift and aim were distinctly felt. And yet, whatever their murderous will, they could do nothing till His hour was come; for the people in a measure bowed to His word, and took Him fora prophet. He brought God in presence of their conscience, and their awe feebly answered to His words of coming woe.
We are not positively informed that the parable of the marriage feast was uttered at this time. It is introduced in so general a manner that one could well conceive it the same as that which Luke, with more definite marks of time, presents in the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel. However this may have been, nothing can exceed the beautiful propriety of its occurrence here, as the sequel to the latter part of the previous chapter. For, as the vineyard sets forth the Lord’s righteous claim from Israel, on the ground of what He had entrusted to them, so the wedding sets forth the new thing, and hence is a comparison of “the kingdom of heaven” — not now fruit sought as a debt due to God from man, but God displaying the resources of His own glory and love in honour of His Son, and man is invited to share. We have nothing properly here of the Church or assembly, but the kingdom. Consequently, though the parable goes beyond the Jewish economy, so elaborately treated in the preceding portion, and Christ’s own personal presence on earth, it does not take in corporate privilege, but individual conduct, as variously affected by God’s astonishing mercy, and this in view of and flowing from the place of Christ as glorified on high. The characteristic point is that it is an exposition, not of Israel’s ways toward the Lord, but of the King’s ways who would magnify His Son; though here, as before, unbelief and rebellion never fail to meet their just recompense. It had been proved that God could not trust man: would man now trust God, and come at His word, and be a partaker of His delight in His Son?
It is manifest that here we are no longer on Old Testament ground with its solemn prophetic warnings. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come” (vers. 2, 3). Our Evangelist, true to the plan and design of the Holy Ghost, presents this striking picture after that of the Messiah’s rejection. What would be the fresh intervention of God? and how received of man, especially of Israel? In Luke, I may mention by the way, the dispensational connection does not appear; but the Spirit gives rather a view of what God is to mankind generally, and even puts it as “a certain man” making a supper with unexampled generosity, not the “King” acting for the glory of “His Son.” In both Gospels the parable represents, not righteous requirement as under the law, but the way in which grace goes out to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. He “sent forth His servants to call them that were bidden [Israel], but they would not come.” The kingdom was not come, but announced, while the Lord was here below. “Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage” (ver. 4).
Mark the difference. On the first mission of the servants He did not say “All things are ready,” but only on the second, when Christ meanwhile had died and risen, and the kingdom was actually established on His ascension. It is the Gospel of the kingdom after His work, as compared with the Gospel before it. The two messages are thus distinguished; the rejection of Christ and His death being the turning-point. Matthew alone gives us this striking difference; Luke at once begins, with equal propriety for his task, with “Come: for all things are now ready,” dwelling, with details not found in Matthew, on the excuses made by the heart for despising the gospel.
The King was active, then, and His honour at stake in having a feast worthy of His Son. Not even the cross turned Him aside from His great purpose of having a people near Him and happy in honour of His Son. On the contrary, if grace works, as it does, the interrupted message is renewed with new and more urgent appeals to the invited; and now by other servants beyond the twelve and the seventy. So we have in the beginning of Acts (Acts 2 - 4) the special announcement to Israel as the children of the covenant — “To them that were bidden.” The first sending out, then, was during the life of the Messiah to call the privileged people; afterwards, there was the second and specific testimony of grace to the same people when the work of redemption was done.
What was the effect? “They made light of it, and went their way, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.” God was not in their thoughts, but a man’s own field or his trade; and, alas, as God increases in the testimony of His grace, man grows bolder in his slight and opposition. “And the remnant took His servants and entreated them spitefully and slew them” (vers. 5, 6). This is what you find in measure in the Acts of the Apostles. The message is disregarded in the earlier chapters; in chapters 7 and 12, the servants are outraged and slain. The issue is then fore shown — judgment on the Jews and Jerusalem. “When the king heard thereof he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (ver. 7). Who does not see in this the fate of the Jewish nation and the destruction of their city? This is not found in Luke: how suitable to Matthew, I need not point out.
But God will have His house filled with guests; and if those peculiarly favoured would not come, and incurred wrath to the uttermost, divine grace will not be thwarted by human wilfulness — evil must be overcome of good. “Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready; but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage” (vers. 8, 9). Here is an indiscriminate call to every soul by the gospel. “So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests” (ver. 10). The gospel goes out to men as they are, and wherever received produces, by grace, that which is according to God, instead of demanding it. Hence all are welcome, bad and good — a dying thief or a woman that was a sinner, a Lydia or a Cornelius. The question was not their character, but the feast for the King’s Son; and to this they were freely called. Grace, far from asking, gives fitness to stand before Him in peace.
Yes, there is produced a necessary, indispensable fitness. A wedding garment is due to the wedding-feast. This the King, of His own magnificent bounty, provided, and it was for each guest to wear it: who that honoured the King and the occasion would not? The servants did not look for such garments outside: they were not worn on the highways, but within at the wedding. Nor was it the point for the guests to appear in their best. It was the King’s affair to give. Come who might, there was enough and to spare; “all things were ready.”
This is the great essential truth of the gospel. So far from looking for anything in man agreeable to God, the glad tidings come on His part on the express ground that all is ruined, wretched, guilty, on the sinner’s part. “Let him that is athirst come; yea, whosoever will.”
But where the heart is not right with God, it never submits to His righteousness; man, in this case, prefers to stand on his own foundation. Either he thinks he can raise a claim on God by being or doing something, or he ventures. within, careless both of himself and God. Such was the man whom the king finds without the wedding-garment. It was despising the holiness as well as the grace of God, and proved that he was utterly a stranger to the feast. What did he think of, or care for, the feelings of the King bent upon the glorifying of His Son? For this is the true and real secret: God lavishes mercy on sinners for the sake of His Son. Opportunity is thus given to put honour on His name. Does my soul bow to it and Him? — it is salvation. The heart may go through much exercise, but the only key to His astonishing goodness to us is God’s feeling toward His Son. If I may venture so to speak, the Lord Jesus has put the Father under obligation so to act. He has so lived and died to glorify God at all cost, that God (I say it reverently) is bound to show this grace, show what He is, on account of His Son. Hence that remarkable expression in Paul’s epistles, “The righteousness of God.” It is no longer man’s righteousness sought by the law, but God righteous in justifying such as have faith in His Son, when man has been proved to have utterly and in every way failed. Because of the infinite value of the Cross, God loves to put honour on Christ; and if a soul but plead His name, it becomes a question of God’s righteousness in justifying him freely, of His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Strikingly is the truth shown by the King’s dealing with the Christ-despising intruder! “And when the king came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment” (ver. 11). This was the ground of immediate action. No question was started of what the man had been or done. The servants had been commissioned to bring in the bad as well as the good. “Such were some of you,” says the apostle. Indeed, this man may have been the most correct, moral, and religious of the company, like the young ruler who left the Lord in sorrow. But, whether he were a degraded sinner or a self-righteous soul, one thing is certain — he had not on a wedding-garment. This at once arrested the King’s eye. This man was setting at naught the King’s grace — it was openly dishonouring His Son.
The wedding-garment is Christ. This guest therefore came before the King without Christ. He had not put on Christ! Whatever the pretence, it was all and only himself, not Christ, and that is everlasting ruin and condemnation to a sinner. Whereas, the very chief of sinners that accepts Christ as his sole confidence to stand before God, thereby justifies and exalts Him and His grace. It is as a man broken down in thoughts of himself, looking up and saying, I cannot trust what I have been nor even what I desire to be, but I can trust what Thou art to me in the gift of Thy Son. And such confidence in God produces deep loathing of self, real uprightness of soul, as well as true desire to do the will of God. But this man knew not, believed not, that nothing from earth suits the divine presence — only what is purchased by the precious blood of Jesus. He had no sense of the grace which invited him, nor of the holiness that befits the presence of God. The King accordingly says to him, “Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless” (ver. 12). He was in spirit and before God entirely outside the feast; else he would have felt the absolute need of an array in keeping with the King’s joy and the Son’s bridals. And judgment cast him out of that scene for which he had no heart — cast him out where the unbelieving, in hopeless wretchedness and self-reproach, must honour the Son. It is not merely governmental vengeance, such as that which providentially slew the murderers and fired their city, but final judgment on him who spurned grace by presuming to draw near to God without putting on Christ. “Then said the King to the servants (not the bondmen of verses 3, 4, etc.), Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into the outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Was this solemn sentence rare because one man only exemplifies it? Nay, verily; ‘for many are called, but few are chosen” (vers. 13, 14).
Thus terminated the double trial of the nation; first, on the ground of their responsibility as under the law, and next, as tested by the message of grace. The rest of the chapter judges in detail all ‘,he various classes in Israel who successively sought to judge and ensnare the Lord, bringing into relief their position, and winding up all with a question which they could not answer without understanding His position and withal His glorious Person.
“Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent out unto Him their disciples with the Herodians.” What an alliance! The Pharisees (partisans of strict Judaism and the law) and the Herodians (the political time-servers of that day, whom the former hated cordially), join in flattering Jesus to ensnare Him by the question of Jewish title against the Gentile. Would He, the Messiah, gainsay the hopes and exalted privileges of Israel as a nation? If not, how escape the charge of treason against Caesar? Diabolical craft was there, but divine wisdom brings in the just balance of truth as to God and human authority, and the difficulty vanishes. It was the rebellion of the Jews against Jehovah which gave occasion to His subjecting them to their heathen lords. Were they humbled because of it, and seeking the resources of God’s grace? Nay, but proud and boastful; and their conflicting parties at this very time uniting in deadly opposition to God, plotting against their own, and His, Messiah. “Tell us, therefore: what thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites? Show Me the tribute money” (vers. 17-19). They brought a denarius, and owned to Caesar’s image and superscription upon it, and heard the sentence of Wisdom: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Had the Jews honoured Him, they had never been in bondage to Gentile dominion; but now, being so through their own sin and folly, they were bound to accept their humiliation. Neither Pharisee nor Herodian felt the sin; and if one felt the shame which the other gloried in, the Lord, while forcing them to face the real position to which their iniquity had reduced them, pointed out that which, if they heeded it, would be the speedy harbinger of a divine deliverance.
“The same day came to Him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked Him, saying, Moses said,” etc. (vers. 23-33). Thus unbelief is as false and dishonest as pretended human righteousness. If the Pharisees could be in league with Herodians and affect loyalty to Caesar so could the sceptic Sadducees plead Moses, as if the inspired word had plenary authority over their conscience! But the Lord, as He laid bare the hypocrisy of those who stood high as religionists, equally detected what the sceptic never suspects, that their difficulties flow not only from overlooking the power of God, but from downright ignorance — whatever maybe their self-conceit. “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” Faith, on the contrary, sees clearly, just as it counts on God according to the revelation of Himself in the Word.
The Lord not only shows their sophism to be sheer misapprehension of the resurrection-state, but proves (and that from Moses too, without going further) that the resurrection of the dead is an essential part of God’s purpose and truth. An additional statement is given in Luke as to the intermediate living of the separate spirit. But in our Gospel the one point is that the dead rise, because God declared Himself to be the God of the fathers even after their death; and confessedly He is not the God of the dead (the extinct, as the Sadducees thought), but of the living. If He were their God in their state when He spoke to Moses, He must be the God of the dead, which the Sadducees had been the first to deny. It was the more important so to reveal Himself to Moses, through whom the system of the law was given, and to which the Sadducees pretended to adhere.
But if the Pharisees retired with wonder, they were far from subdued; and, indeed, they bestir themselves afresh when their sceptical rivals were put to silence. They assemble together; then a lawyer “tempts” Him, only to elicit a perfect summary of practical righteousness. They talked and tempted: Jesus was the expression of all the perfectness of law and prophets; and far, far more — the image of God Himself in grace as well as righteousness here below: not as Adam, who rebelled against God — not as Cain, who loved not his neighbour, but slew his brother (vers. 34-40).
And now it belonged to the Lord to ask them the question of questions, not only for a Pharisee, but for any soul: “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?” He was David’s son — most true. But was this truth the whole truth? “How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, Jehovah
said unto my Lord?” etc. How was He both David’s Son and David’s Lord? It was the key to all Scripture — the way, the truth, the life — the explanation of His position, the only hope for theirs. But they were dumb. They knew nothing, and could answer nothing. “Neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions.”
They were all silenced, those who pretended to most light! Not believing in Christ, they were destitute of the only key to Scripture; and Psalm 110, bright as its testimony is to their own Messiah, was a thick cloud, not only to Egyptians now as of old, but to Israel. They saw not His glory, and were therefore hopelessly puzzled how to understand that David, speaking by the Spirit, should call his son his Lord.
In this chapter the Lord pronounces the doom of the nation, and most of all — not those whom man would chiefly denounce; not the openly lawless, licentious, or violent; nor the ease-loving, sceptical Sadducees, but — of those who stood highest in general esteem for their religious knowledge and sanctity. Conscience, man, the very world, can with more or less exactness judge of immoral grossness. God sees and eschews what looks fair to human eyes and is withal false and unholy. And the word of God is explicit that so it is to be. The heaviest woes yet in store for this world are not for heathen darkness, but, as for rebellious Judaism, so for corrupt Christendom, where most truth is known and the highest privileges conferred, but, alas, where their power is despised and denied. .Not that, when God arises to judge, the pagan nations will go unpunished. They too shall drink of the cup. Yet, “Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Even so with professing Christendom: the fuller the light bestowed, the richer the grace of God revealed in the gospel, so much the graver reasons for unsparing judgments on hypocritical profession, when the knell of divine vengeance tolls for those “who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Lord sees not as man seeth, whether in grace or in judgment; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. Thus did Jesus speak in the scene before us.
It is remarkable, however, that in the first instance He spoke “to the multitudes and to His disciples.” They were yet to a great extent viewed together — this till the death and resurrection of Christ; and even then the Holy Ghost slowly breaks one old tie after another, and only utters His last word to the Jewish remnant (then Christian, of course) by more than one witness not long before the destruction of Jerusalem. But separation there was not, nor could be, till the cross.
It was, then, part of our Lord’s Jewish mission to say that “the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do” (vers. 2, 3). But there was the careful warning against making the scribes and Pharisees in anywise personal standards of good and evil. “Do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” They were in themselves beacons, patterns of wrong, not of right (vers. 3-7). Still, not only were the disciples classed with the multitude, but in the very strongest denunciations of these religious guides they were bound as yet by the Lord to acknowledge those who sat in Moses’ seat. There they were in fact, and the Lord maintains, instead of dissolving, the obligation to own them and whatever they set forth, not of their own traditions, but from the law. This was to honour God Himself, spite of the hypocrites who only sought man’s honour for themselves, and it affords no warrant for false apostles or their self-deceived successors now. For the apostles had no seats like that of Moses; and Christianity is not a system of ordinance or formal observance like the law, but, where real, is the fruit of the Spirit through life in Christ, which is formed and fed by the word of God.
It has been urged, confidently enough of late, and in quarters where one might have hoped for better things, that as the saints in Old Testament times looked for Christ, and eternal life was theirs by faith, though they were under the law, so we who now believe in Christ are nevertheless, and in the same sense, under the law like them, though, like them, we are justified by faith. Plausible, and even fair, as this may seem to some, I have no hesitation in pronouncing it extremely evil. It is a deliberate putting souls back into the condition from which the work of Christ has extricated us. The Jews of old were placed under the law for the wise purpose of God, till the promised Seed came to work a complete deliverance; and the saints in their midst, though they rose above that position by faith, were all their lifetime subject to bondage and the spirit of fear. Christ has set us free, by the great grace of God, through His own death and resurrection; and we have thereon received the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry, Abba, Father. And yet, spite of the plainest testimony of God to the momentous change brought about by the coming of His Son, and the accomplishment of His work, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, it is openly, seriously proposed, as if it were part of the faith once delivered to the saints, that this wondrous working and display of divine grace should be set aside, with their results to the believer, and that the soul should be replaced under the old yoke and in the old condition! Doubtless ‘this is precisely what Satan aims at, an effort to blot out all that is distinctive of Christianity by a return to Judaism. Only one maybe amazed to find so barefaced an avowal of the matter in men professing evangelical light.
The true answer, then, to such misunderstandings of Matthew 23 and the misapplications of similar portions of Holy Writ, is that as yet our Lord was adhering (and so He did to the last moment) to His proper Messianic mission; and this supposed and maintained the nation and the remnant under the law, and not in the delivering power of His resurrection. Which of the disciples could yet say, “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Now, on the contrary, this is the normal language of the Christian. It is not a question of special attainment nor of extraordinary faith, but of simple present subjection to the full Christian testimony in the New Testament. Even were we Jews, the old tie is dissolved by death, and we are married to another, even to Christ raised from the dead. Thus to have the law as well as Christ for our guide and rule is like having two husbands at one time, and is a sort of spiritual adultery.
Surely also we can and ought to take the moral profit of our Lord’s censure of the scribes and Pharisees: for what is the heart! We have to beware of imposing on others that which we are remiss to observe ourselves. We have to watch against doing works to be seen of men. We have to pray against the allowance of the world’s spirit — the love of pre-eminence, both within and without (vers. 4-7). Hence the word is, “Be not ye called Rabbi; for One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no one your father upon the earth; for One is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for One is your Master, even Christ.” The question here is not of the various gifts which the Lord confers by the Holy Ghost on His members in His body the Church, but of religions authority in the world and a certain status and respect by virtue of ecclesiastical office or position. But the great moral principle of the kingdom (which is always true) is enforced here: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (vers. 8-12). The cross and the heavenly glory would but deepen the value and significance of these words of the Saviour; but even before either, and independently of the new order of things in the Church, they bore His stamp and were current for the kingdom.
In marked contrast with this pattern of true service for the disciples were the scribes and Pharisees, on whom the Lord next proceeds to pronounce eight solemn woes (vers. 13-33).16 What else could He say of men who not only entered not the kingdom of heaven, but hindered those disposed to enter? What else could be due to those who sought religious influence over the weak and defenceless for gain? Granted that their proselyting zeal was untiring, what was the fruit in souls before God? Were not the taught, as usual, the truest index of such teachers, as being more simple and unreserved as to their ways and aim and spirit? Then the Lord lays bare their hair-splitting distinctions, which really made void the authority of God, insisting, as they did, on the pettiest exactions to the neglect of the plainest everlasting moral truths. Next is detected the effort after external look, whatever might be the impurity within; and this both in their labour and in their lives and persons, which were full of guile and self-will, crowned by affected great veneration for the prophets and the righteous who had suffered of old, and no longer acted on the conscience. This last gave them the more credit. There is no cheaper nor more successful means of gaining a religious reputation than this show of honour for the righteous who are dead and gone, especially if they connect themselves with them in appearance, as being of the same association. The succession seems natural, and it sounds hard to charge those who honour the dead saints in this day with the same rebellious spirit which persecuted and slew them in their own day. But the Lord would put them to a speedy and decisive test, and prove the real bent and spirit of the world’s religion. ‘I Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (vers. 34, 35). It was morally the same race and character all through. In righteous judgment the Lord adds, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” Thus should be judged in the full measure what was begun by their fathers and completed by themselves. Hypocrites and serpents, how could such escape the judgment of hell?
But, how touching! Here is the Lord’s lament over the guilty city — His own city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (vers. 37, 38). His glory shines out more than ever; the rejected Messiah is in truth Jehovah. He would have gathered (and how often 1) but they would not. It was no longer His house nor His Father’s, but their’s, and it is left unto them desolate. Nevertheless, if it he a most solemnly judicial word, there is hope in the end: “For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Israel are yet to see their King, but not till a goodly remnant of them are converted to welcome Him in Jehovah’s name.
In this prophecy of our Lord on which we are now to enter, we see a confirmation of a great principle of God: that He never opens out the future of judgments on the rebellious, and of deliverance for His own people, till sin has so developed itself as to manifest total ruin. Take the very first instances in the Bible. When was it said that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head? When the woman was beguiled, and man was in transgression through the wiles of the enemy; when sin had entered into the world, and death by sin. Again, the prophecy of Enoch, given us by Jude, was uttered when the term of God’s patience with the then world was almost closed, and the flood was about to bear witness of His judgment on man’s corruption and violence.
Thus, whether we look at the first prediction of Christ before the expulsion from Eden, or at the testimony of the Lord’s coming to judge before the deluge, prophecy comes in when man has wholly broken down. So Noah, when failure in his own family, and in himself too, had come in, we see him led of the Holy Ghost into a prophetic summary of the whole world’s history, beginning with the judgment of him who despised his father (even though it were to his own shame), and proceeding with the blessing of Shem and the portion of Japhet. So, later on, with the prophecies of Balaam and of Moses, “yea, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those that follow after;” for Samuel’s is the striking epoch which the New Testament singles out as the commencement of the great line of the prophets. And why? It was the day when Israel openly abandoned God as their King, consummating the sin which their heart conceived in the desert, when they sought a captain in order to return into Egypt. It was a proud crisis in Israel, whose blessedness lay in being a people separated from all around by and to Jehovah their God, who would surely have provided them a king of His own choice, had they waited for Him, instead of choosing for themselves, to God’s dishonour and their own degradation and sorrow, in order to be like the nations.
The same principle conspicuously applies to the time when the great prophetic books were written — Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest. It was when all present hope had fled, and David’s sons wrought no deliverance, but rather through their towering iniquity and profane insults of God, He was at last morally forced to pronounce the nation Lo-ammi” — not My people.” Before, and during, and after the captivity, the Spirit of prophecy laid bare the sin of kings, and priests, and prophets (false ones), and people, but pointed to the coming Messiah and the new covenant. And Him we have seen in our Gospel actually come, but growingly and utterly rejected by Israel, and all their own promises and hopes in Him; and now in the near prospect of His own death at their hands, and by it their worst of deaths, the rejected Lord takes up this prophetic strain.
“And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple.” For what was it now? A corpse, and no more. “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”17 “And His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” (vers. 1, 2). The hearts of the disciples then, as too often now, were occupied with the present appearances, and the great show of grandeur in God’s service; the halo of associations was bright before their eyes. But Jesus passes sentence on all that even they admired on earth. In truth, when He left the temple, all was gone which gave it value in the sight of God. Outside Jesus, what is there in this world but vain show or worse? And how does the Lord deliver His own from the power of tradition and every other source of attraction for the heart? He opens out the communications of His own mind, and casts the light of the future on the present. How often worldliness unjudged in a Christian’s heart betrays itself by want of relish for God’s unfolding of what He is going to do! How can I enjoy the coming of the Lord if it is to throw down much that I am seeking to build up in the world? A man, for instance, may be trying to gain or keep a status by his ability, and hoping that his sons may outstrip himself by the superior advantages they enjoy. On some such idea is founded all human greatness; it is “the world,” in fact. Christ’s coming again is a truth which demolishes the whole fabric; because, if we really look for His coming as that which may be from day to day — if we realize that we are set like servants at the door with the handle in hand, waiting for Him to knock (we know not how soon), and desiring to open to Him immediately (“Blessed are those servants!”) — if such is our attitude, how can we have time or heart for that which occupies the busy Christ-forgetting world? Moreover, we are .not of the world, even as Christ is not; and as for means and agents to carry on its plans, the world will never be in lack of men to do its work. But we have a higher business, and it is beneath us to seek the honours of the world that rejects our Lord. Let our outward position be ever so menial or trying, what so glorious as in it to serve our Lord Christ? And He is coming.
In the cross we see God humbling Himself — the only One of all greatness stooping low to save my soul — the only One who commands all, becoming the Servant of all. A person cannot receive the truth of the Cross without having in measure his walk in accord with the spirit of it. Yet how much saints of God regard the cross, not so much as that by which the world is crucified unto them and they unto the world, but rather as the remedy by which they are set free from fear, to make themselves a comfortable place in the world! The Christian ought to be the happiest of men; but his happiness should consist in what he knows is his portion in and with Christ. Meanwhile, our service and obedience are to be formed according to the spirit of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Man’s evil and God’s grace thoroughly came out in the cross; all met there: and upon this great truth is founded what is said often in Scripture, “The end of all things is at hand;” because all has been brought out in moral ways and in dispensational dealings between God and man.
The Lord takes up the disciples where they were. They were believing godly Jews. Their associations connected Christ and the temple together. They knew that He was the Messiah of Israel, and they expected Him to judge the Romans and gather all the scattered ones of the seed of Abraham from the four winds of heaven. They looked for all the prophecies about the land and the city to be accomplished. There was no thought in the minds of the disciples at this time of Jesus going to heaven and staying there for a long time, nor of the scattering of Israel, and the Gentiles being brought in to the knowledge of Christ. Consequently this great prophecy on the mount of Olives starts with the disciples and with their condition. Their hearts were too much occupied with the buildings of the temple. But the Lord, now rejected, announces that “there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” This excited greatly the desire of the disciples to understand how such things were to come to pass. They were aware from the prophecies that there was a time of dismal sorrow for Israel, and they did not know how to put this together with their predicted blessing. They ask Him, therefore, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming and the end of the world (age)?” (vers. 2, 3).
“Thy coming” means “the Lord’s presence with them on earth;” and “the end of the age” is a totally different word from. that translated “world” elsewhere, it means here the end of the time during which our Lord should be absent from them. They wished to know the sign of His presence with them. They knew there could never be such desolation if their Messiah was reigning over them. They wished to know when the time of sorrow should come, and what should be the sign of His own presence that should close it and bring in unending joy.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (vers. 4, 5). In the Epistles it is never exactly such a thought as warning persons against false Christs, for the Epistles are addressed to Christians; and a Christian could not be deceived by a man’s pretensions to be Christ. It is most appropriate here, because the disciples are viewed in this chapter, not as the representatives of us Christians now, but of future godly Jews. We, as Christians, have nothing to do with the destruction of the temple; it does not affect us in any way. These disciples were, as the godly remnant of the nation, looking for the Messiah to bring in glory. The Lord, therefore, warns them that if any should arise among them, saying, I am Christ, they were not to believe them. The time was come when the true Messiah ought to appear. And He had appeared, but Israel had rejected Him, hardening themselves in the lie that our Lord could not be the promised One. But Israel had not given up the hope of the Messiah yet, and this exposes them to the delusion spoken of here (i.e., to persons saying, I am Christ). At any rate, the rejection of the true Christ lays them open to the reception of a false Christ. Our Lord had warned them of this. “I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not. If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” If a messiah were to come full of self and Satan, the nation should be given up to receive the false, as a just retribution for having rejected the True. The disciples were the representatives of godly Jews, and were warned of what should befall their nation. But take the epistle of John and what have you there? “Beloved, believe not every spirit.” Why? Because the great thing that the Church is distinguished by is the presence of the Holy Ghost; and the deceit which we have to watch against is false spirits, not false Christs, though there are many antichrists. The danger of Christians is grieving the Holy Ghost — nay, listening to false spirits. “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” There are false prophets now, and evil spirits work in them. In these days, faith both in the Holy Ghost and in Satan’s power is very much weakened. People only look at the man; whereas Scripture makes a great deal of God and of Satan. What gives Satan power over a professor of the name of Christ is the allowance of sin. Satan has not one atom of power against a child of God who is looking to Jesus; but where self is allowed, it is an opportunity for Satan to come in.
Here it is a question of false Christs, because our Lord was speaking to the disciples about Jewish circumstances and hopes, though he afterwards turns to Christian subjects. The prophecy consists of three great parts. The Jewish remnant have their history thoroughly described; then comes the portion of Christians, and afterwards that of the Gentiles. The prophecy divides itself into these three sections. The Jews are first brought forward, because the disciples were not yet taken out of their Jewish position: only when Christ was crucified was the wall of partition broken down. Our Lord’s intention was to take up a Jewish remnant and show that there would be a company in the latter day on the same ground as these disciples — the Christian would come in between. This we have described in the latter part of the chapter, and in the greater part of Matthew 25. Then we have the Gentiles, “all nations,” gathered before the Son of Man. Such is the thread of connection between the parts of this great discourse.
“Many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (vers. 5, 6). Observe, there are two great moral warnings given by our Lord. First, they were to beware of a true hope falsely applied. False Christs would take advantage of the fact that the Jews ought to be looking for Christ, and they would pretend to be Christ. Secondly, they might be terrified by the enemy who knows how to use such circumstances. Verse 6, therefore, guards them against alarms: “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars.” Clearly this is not for the Christian, for where does the Holy Ghost warn the Christian about trouble from wars and rumours of wars? We find nothing about it in the Epistles, where the Christian Church is properly brought out? Is this denying the importance of the Lord’s warning? God forbid!
But the portion we are looking at does not refer to Christians, but to the Jewish disciples as they then were, and as they will be. Our calling takes place after our Lord went to heaven and before He returns in glory, whereas the Jewish remnant will be found in the latter day on similar ground and with hopes like those the disciples had whom our Lord was here addressing. If we want to put things rightly together in the word of God, we must notice what and to whom He speaks. If I, a Gentile, take up the language of a Jew, a great mistake is made; or if a Christian adopt the language of either Jew or Gentile, there is again an equal mistake. Therefore it is that such stress is laid on “rightly dividing the word of truth.” We find various ways of God according to His sovereign will about those with whom He is dealing, and we must take care to apply His word aright. The disciples, as the Jewish remnant, having a peculiar calling in a particular land, the land of Judea, if they heard of wars and rumours of wars, they were not to be troubled: “For all these things must come to pass; but the end is not yet.” Do we ever find the apostles saying, The end is not yet, for us? On the contrary, it is said of us (1 Cor. 10), “Upon whom the ends of the world are come;” whereas, the Lord in addressing the Jewish remnant, says, “the end is not yet” — because many things must yet be accomplished before the Jews can come into their blessing. But for Christians, all things even now are ours in Christ; the blessing is never put off, though we await the crown at His coming.
Practically, too, the difference is immensely important; for the Christian is not of the world, even as Christ is not, which could not be equally said of the Jewish body to be called in the latter day. For us “wars and rumours of wars” ought not to be a source of trouble, though surely they should be an occasion of holy concern and intercession in the spirit of grace, and this for all engaged. The Jewish remnant, on the contrary, will not be separated after this heavenly manner; and the earthly struggles which will then rage in and around the land cannot but affect them greatly: so that they will need especially to cherish confidence in the Saviour’s words, and not be troubled as if the issue were a doubtful one, or themselves forgotten in that dark day. They must wait patiently; “for nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” It is evident that the language is only applicable in its full force to Jews — believing ones, no doubt, but still Jews in the midst of a nation judicially chastised for their apostasy from God and the rejection of their own Messiah.
The Lord therefore prepares the Jewish disciples or remnant for their special trials, partially true after His own departure till Jerusalem’s destruction, and to be more fully verified before Jerusalem is again owned, after the destruction of the Antichrist. “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations [or the Gentiles] for My name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (vers. 9, 10). There should be false profession and hatred of the true, even among themselves — not only troubles without: “And many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Thus there is a certain defined period of endurance — an end to come as truly as there was a beginning of sorrows. But what trial, and darkness, and suffering, and scandal before that end comes! When our Lord, in the Gospel of John, speaks of the Christian’s lot, he never names either a beginning or an end, but rather implies that tribulation should be expected throughout his career: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” And such is the constant language and thought in the Epistles, where beyond question our calling is in view.
Then follows a final sign. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (ver. 14). The gospel of God’s grace is not the same as the gospel of the kingdom. Both should be preached — that God is saving souls of His mere favour now through Christ; and that there is a kingdom which He is going to establish by His power shortly, which is to embrace all the earth. Before the end come, there will therefore be a special testimony of this coming of the Lord, as He here intimates. So in Revelation 14 an angel is seen by John in the prophetic vision, having the everlasting gospel to preach to the dwellers on earth and to every nation, and “saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come; and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” Now it cannot be said that the hour of His judgments is come; for it is, on the contrary and expressly, the day of His grace and salvation. Clearly, therefore, the inference is that, just before the close of this age, there will be a remarkable energy of the Spirit in the midst of the Jews; and from that very people who rejected Jesus of old, messengers of the kingdom shall go forth, touched by His grace, to announce the speedy fall of divine judgment and the establishment of the kingdom of the heavens in power and glory. Who, in God’s mercy, so suited to proclaim the returning Messiah as some out of the very nation who of old had nailed Him to the cross — to proclaim Him now among all the proud Gentiles whose then representative had inscribed over His cross, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews “? The testimony shall go forth universally, then. How humbling for Christendom! with popery, with Mohammedanism, and paganism too, still prevalent over Asia and Africa — the great bulk of mankind. And yet Christian men close their eyes to the plainest and most solemn facts, and boast of the triumphs of the gospel! No: the Gentiles have been wise in their own conceits, though sovereign grace has wrought, spite of all; but it is reserved for other witnesses, when the “falling away” shall have been complete in Christendom and the man of sin revealed, to proclaim the coming kingdom in all the habitable earth.
In verse 15 the Lord shows us, not general tokens of the approaching end, or what should distinguish the end in general from the earlier throes of Israel, but points to circumstances of the most definite character, which may be applied perhaps partially to what occurred before the fall of Jerusalem under Titus, but which can only be fulfilled in the future of Israel if we duly heed the peculiarity of the scene, the connection of the prophecy, and, above all, the consummation in which all is to terminate.
First, then, our Lord points to a Jewish prophet. “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand,)” etc. The parenthesis warns that the prediction might be misunderstood — at any rate, demanded attention. Two passages of the prophecy (Dan. 11:31 and Dan. 12:11) speak of this abomination; but I have no hesitation in saying that the former was a foreshadowing of the doings of Antiochus Epiphanes centuries before Christ, and that the latter is the one referred to here, and still unaccomplished. Entirely distinct from the epoch of Antiochus, Dan. 12 speaks of another idol which brings desolation in its train, and this expressly “at the time of the end.” “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.” in this we have another link of connection with our Lord’s words — “whoso readeth, let him understand.” “And from the time that the daily [sacrifice] shall be taken away and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.” Thus, besides the idolatrous evil imposed by the notorious king of the north, Antiochus, long before the Lord appeared, Daniel looks onward to a similar evil at the close of Israel’s sorrows, the destruction of which immediately precedes their final deliverance. “Blessed is he that waiteth.” As to this last, our Lord cites the Jewish prophet, and casts further light on the selfsame time and circumstances.
The conclusion is clear and certain: in verse 15 of Matthew 24 our Lord alludes to that part of Daniel which is yet future, not to what was history when He spoke this on the mount of Olives. I am aware that some have confounded the matter with what we read in Dan. 8 and 9. But “the transgression of desolation” is not the same as “the abomination of desolation”; nor can we absolutely identify “the last end of the indignation” with “the time of the end.” (Compare Isa. 10.) The distinctions of Scripture are as much to be noted as the points of resemblance and of contact. The last verse of Dan. 9 might seem to have stronger claims. There we have a covenant confirmed for one week; and then, in the midst of the week, sacrifice and oblation are made to cease; after which, because of the protection given to abominations, or idols, there is a desolator “even until the consummation and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (i.e., Jerusalem). I have thus given what I conceive to be the true sense of this important passage, because, when it is stated with precision, the supposed resemblance to “the abomination of desolation” disappears. A desolator who comes because of the wing (i.e., protection) of abominations is very distinct from the abomination that makes desolate, or the idol which is yet to stand in the sanctuary. With the setting up of this abomination the date of one thousand two hundred and ninety days is connected. Even for those who interpret this as so many years, it is impossible to apply the prophecy to the destruction of Jerusalem or its temple by the Romans. Had it been so, the period of blessing must long ere this have arrived for Israel. Has the prophecy then failed? No; but the readers have failed in understanding it. We must correct, not the language of Scripture, but our interpretations: we must go back to God’s word again and again, and see whether we have not mistaken our bearings.
The truth is that the understanding of Dan. 12 is of all moment for reaping due profit from Matt. 24. In its first verse we have a plain landmark: “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people.” There can be no just doubt that Daniel’s people means the Jews, and that a mighty intervention on their behalf is intimated; but, as usual, not without the severest trial of faith. For “there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.” This our Lord has unquestionably in view in verse 21: “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” There cannot be two tribulations for the same people, each of which is greatest: both statements refer to the same trouble. Now Daniel is positive that “at that time thy people (the Jews) shall be delivered.” Who can pretend that Michael stood up for Israel against Titus any more than against Nebuchadnezzar? Does not everybody know that at that time, far from being delivered, they were completely vanquished by the Romans, ,and that those who escaped the sword were sold as slaves and scattered over the world? God was then against, not for, Israel; and, as the King in the parable, He was wroth, sent forth His armies, destroyed those murderers, and fired their city. Here, on the contrary, the unequalled hour of sorrow is just before their deliverance on God’s part, not before their captivity.
Carrying this back to our chapter, the sight of the desolating idol in the holy place is the signal for flight. “Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains” (ver. 16). There is no thought of a sign to Christians as such, but to Jewish disciples in the holy land; and this that they may instantly retire from the scene of danger. “Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days!” (vers. 17-19.) It has been tried to find in this the warning on which some fled to Pella in the interval after the Roman lieutenant surrounded the city, and before the final sack under the victorious commander. But this arises from confounding Luke 21:20-24 with Matt. 24:15-21; whereas they are demonstrably distinct, spite of a measure of analogy between them. It perfectly fell within the province given of the Spirit to the great Gentile Evangelist to notice the past Roman siege, as well as the present supremacy of the nations which tread down Jerusalem till their times are fulfilled. Matthew, however, had his own proper task in giving the grand future crisis, at least from verse 15. And it is evident that as the abomination in the holy place differs widely from armies compassing Jerusalem, so there was ample space for the most leisurely departure from the menaced city (yes, for the most impeded and infirm of either sex to go) after Cestius Gallus withdrew. I conclude, therefore, that by Matthew our Lord gives us what bears on the time of the end; by Luke, what refers to the past, and the present too, cursorily, as well as the future. Matthew, for instance, could not speak, like Luke, of Jerusalem being trodden down of the Gentiles, because he is here occupied only with the horrors which immediately precede Israel’s blessing and deliverance. Luke has both an earlier and a later time of trouble: Matthew, from verse 15, confines himself to this latter time.
“But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (vers. 20, 21). How considerate the Lord is! And how surely His disciples in that day may count on His care, that their petitions will be answered, so that, urgent as their flight must be, neither the inclement season nor the day of Jewish rest shall hinder! Here again is another proof that not Christians, but His Jewish followers, are here contemplated. Holy as is the Sabbath, I have no hesitation in saying that the Lord’s day, with which the Church has to do, is founded on a deeper sanctity. The believer has now to beware, on the one hand of confounding the Sabbath with the Lord’s day, and on the other of supposing that, because the Lord’s day is not the Sabbath, it may therefore be turned to a selfish or worldly account. The Sabbath is the holy memorial of creation and of the law, as the Lord’s day is of grace and of the new creation in the resurrection of the Saviour. As Christians we are neither of the old creation nor under the law, but stand on the totally different ground of Christ dead and risen. The Sabbath was for man and the Jew — the last day of the week, and one simply of rest, to be shared with the ox and the ass. This is not the Christian idea, which begins the week with the Lord, gives the best to Him in worship, and is free to labour for Him to all lengths in the midst of the world’s sin and misery.
Thus we have at every step a fresh testimony to the real bearing of the prophecy. For us the holy place is in heaven, not in Jerusalem; for us it is no question of escaping some unexampled tribulation, but of being prepared for suffering with and for Christ, and rejoicing in it always; for us, gathered out of all nations and tongues, the mountains round Judea are no suited hiding-place; nor could the winter or the Sabbath day be a just source of alarm. Every word is for us to ponder and profit by; but the evidence unmistakably points to a converted body of Jews in the latter day, not standing in Church light and privilege, but having Jewish hopes; and while awaiting the Messiah, warned how to escape the deceits and overwhelming trouble of that day. It is a question of flesh being saved (ver. 22), and not of fellowship with Christ’s sufferings and conformity to His death, so as, whatever the cost, to have part in the resurrection from among the dead. Hence, too, there is no thought here of Christ’s coming to receive us to Himself and to give us mansions where He is in the Father’s house, but of His appearing in glory to destroy enemies, to judge what was dead and offensive to God, and to deliver the scattered elect of Israel. For their sake, those days of terror should be shortened. With this agree the warnings in verses 23-28: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders,” etc. (vers. 23, 24.) Could such a delusion be addressed even to the simplest Christian who waits for the Son of God from heaven? Yet it is very intelligible if we think of these future Jewish disciples, who might expect something akin from a prediction such as Zech. 14, where we find that the mount of Olives is the appointed spot on which Jehovah-Messiah is yet to stand. We can well conceive rumours for such saints that Messiah was in the desert or in the secret chambers: they might deceive those who expected to meet the Lord on earth, not those who know that they are to join Him and the risen ones in the air (1 Thess. 4; 2 Thess. 2).
The manner of His presence for delivering the Jews is then made known as the guard against their deceits: “For as the lightning cometh,” etc. The figures (vers. 27, 28), which illustrate the presence of the Son of Man, convey the thought of sudden, terrible manifestation, and of rapid, inevitable judgment on what is then but a lifeless body before God, whatever may have been its pretensions. Nothing like this is spoken of, however, when Scripture describes the descent of the Lord to receive His risen saints. And what is the result of thus misapplying these verses? The revolting interpretation that “the carcass” means Christ, and “the eagles” the transfigured saints, or the converse, calls for censure, not comment. Nor is it needful to refute the claim set up for the Roman standards. Applied to Israel, all is simple. The carcass represents the apostate part of that nation; the eagles, or vultures, are the figure of the judgments that fall upon it. It is not only that there will be the lightning-like display of Christ in judgment, but the agents of His wrath shall know where and how to deal with that which is abominable in God’s sight. The allusion is to Job 39:30.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened,” etc. (vers. 29-31). I can hardly be asked to notice the old effort to apply these verses to the Roman triumph over Jerusalem. On the face of it, could this be said to be “immediately after the tribulation?” or was it not rather the crowning of Jewish sorrow? — not the glorious reversal of their sufferings by a divine deliverance. Whatever prodigies Josephus reports, were rather during the tribulation he records; whereas the signs spoken of here, literal or figurative, are to follow “the tribulation of those days” (i.e., the future crisis of Jerusalem). No; One greater than Titus is here; and an event is announced in connection with that poor people, which will change the face and condition of all nations. “Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” The elect throughout are the chosen seed of Israel (vers. 22, 24, 31. Compare Isaiah 65.) Other elect there are, no doubt; but we, must ever interpret by the context; and this in the present case seems perfectly evident. The Son of Man in heaven, and seen there, is, I conceive, the sign to those on earth. This fills all the tribes with mourning; and Christ visibly comes to judgment. Other scriptures show that the heavenly saints have been already translated, and are then to accompany their Lord; but here nothing of this appears. It would have been premature. Besides, the object of this portion of the prophecy is to show His coming for the relief and ingathering of His elect out of Israel. Hence, it is as Son of Man (that is, judicially, see John 5:27) that He is present; and hence, too, He sends His angels with loud trumpet-sound. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13). It is the proclamation, not alone of the acceptable year of the Lord, but of the day of God’s vengeance. “And ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.” The four winds in connection with Israel are no difficulty, but rather the contrary. (See Zech. 2:6.) As the Lord had scattered and spread them abroad “as the four winds of the heaven,” so now are His chosen ones to be gathered in.
The general outline and the special view of the Jewish portion have been given thus far in chapter 24. This is next illustrated, both from nature (vers. 32, 33), and from Scripture (vers. 34, 35), and closed by a suitable application (vers. 42-44).
“From the fig-tree learn the [or, its] parable” (ver. 32). The fig-tree is the well-known symbol of Jewish nationality. We saw it, in Matthew 21, bearing nothing but leaves — that generation given up to the curse of perpetual fruitlessness, whatever grace may do for the generation to come. In Luke 21 the word is, “Behold the fig-tree and all the trees,” because the Holy Ghost all through, and notably in that chapter, introduces the Gentiles. Luke takes in a larger scope than Matthew, and expressly treats of Jerusalem’s sorrows in connection with “the times of the Gentiles.” Hence the difference even in the illustrative figures. Here it is the tree, with renewed signs of life — Jewish nationality revived: “When its branch has now become tender and the leaves are shooting, ye know that summer is nigh; so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is nigh by the doors” (i.e., the end of this age, and the beginning of the next under Messiah and the new covenant). But solemnly the Saviour warns that “this generation,” this Christ-rejecting race in Israel, shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled!
The notion that all was fulfilled in the past siege of Jerusalem, founded on a narrow and unscriptural sense of this passage, is from not hearing what the Lord says to the disciples. By the term “generation” in a genealogy (as Matt. 1), or where the context requires it (as Luke 1:50), a life-time no doubt is meant: but where is it so used in the prophetic Scriptures — the Psalms, etc.? The meaning herein is moral rather than chronological; as, for instance, in Psalm 12:7, “Thou shalt keep them, O Lord; Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” The words “for ever” prove a prolonged force; and accordingly the passage intimates that Jehovah shall preserve the godly from their lawless oppressors, “from this generation for ever.” It is a distinct and conclusive refutation of those who would limit the phrase to the short epoch of a man’s lifetime. So, in Deuteronomy 32:5, 20, we find generation similarly used, not to convey a period, but to express the moral characteristics of Israel. Again, in the Psalms we have “the generation to come,” which is not confined to a mere term of thirty or a hundred years. So also in Prov. 30:11-14: “There is a generation that curseth their father. . . There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes,” etc., where the character of certain classes is considered; even plainer, if possible, is the usage in the synoptic Gospels. Thus, in Matthew 11:16, “Whereunto shall I liken this generation?” means such as then lived, characterized by the moral capriciousness which set them in opposition to God’s testimony, whatever it might be, in righteousness or in grace. But evidently, though people then alive are primarily in view, the moral identity of the same features might extend indefinitely, and so from age to age it would still be “this generation.” Compare Matthew 12:39, 41, 42, 45, which last verse shows the unity of the “generation” in its final judgment (not yet exhausted) with that which emerged from the Babylonish captivity. Again, note chapter 23:36, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” — a generation which would continue till all the predictions of judgment that Christ uttered shall be fulfilled (chap. 24:34). As it is plain from what has been already shown, that much remains to be accomplished, “this generation” still subsists, and will, till all is over. And how true it is! Here are the Jews — the wonder of every thoughtful mind — not merely a broken, scattered, and withal perpetuated race; not only distinct, spite of mighty effort from without to blot them out, and from within to amalgamate with others, but with the same unbelief, rejection and scorn of Jesus their Messiah as on the day He pronounced their sentence. All these things — speaking of their earlier and their latest sorrows — should come to pass before that wicked generation shall disappear. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” That which incredulity counts most stable, the scene of its idolatry or )f its self-exaltation, shall vanish; but the words of Christ, let them be about Israel or others, shall abide for ever.
But if all be thus sure and unfailing, the Father alone knows the day and hour (ver. 36). Ample and distinct signs the Saviour had announced already, and the wise shall understand; “but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand.” “But as the days of Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not till the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be” (vers. 37-39). Here is another testimony that our Lord in this position speaks of the Jewish disciples of the latter day (represented by those who then surrounded Him), and not of the Church. For His illustration is taken from the preservation of Noah and his house through the waters of the deluge; whereas the Holy Ghost, through Paul, illustrates our hope according to the pattern of Enoch, caught up to heaven, entirely apart from the scenes and circumstances of judgment here below.
Moreover, when the Son of Man thus comes in judgment upon living men here below, it will not be, as when the Romans or others took Jerusalem, indiscriminate slaughter or captivity; but whether in the open country or the duties of home, whether men or women, there will be righteous discernment of individuals. “Then shall two be in the field, the one is taken and the other left; two women grinding at the mill, the one is taken and the other left” (vers. 40, 41). The meaning clearly is that one is taken away judicially, and the other left to enjoy the blessings of Christ’s reign, who shall judge God’s people with righteousness and His poor with judgment. It is the converse of our change, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air; for those who are left, in our case, are left to be punished with everlasting destruction from His presence. But the Lord will also have an earthly people. He waits till the heavenly saints are gathered to Him above, and then begins to sow, if I may thus speak, for earthly blessing, in which case His coming as Son of Man will be for the removal of the wicked, leaving the righteous undisturbed in peace. “There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon; and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. His name shall endure for ever: His name shall continue as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed. — Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen” (Ps. 72:16-19).
“Watch therefore, for ye know not at what hour (or day18) your Lord is coming.” The dealings with Israel, ending with the rescue of the just in their midst, involve the judgment of the self-secure and unconscious world. Accordingly, in these transitional verses (42-44) we have an allusion to a wider sphere than the Jews or their land, in which the godly remnant would be found — protected, but still there. God would know how to deliver the godly out of temptation. There they are, however, surrounded by snares and foes, but preserved: a totally different position from ours, who will previously be taken above, in the sovereign grace and wisdom of our Saviour. “But know this, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in an hour when ye think not the Son of Man is coming.” The object is evidently a practical warning to the godly on earth to be ready. They had been comforted in view of trouble and violence; they had been set on their guard against the religious deceits of the old serpent; they had been solemnly assured of the stability of the Lord’s words in the very point where Gentile conceit has misled even true believers; they are now exhorted to vigilance and readiness for their coming Lord, that they might not only escape the fowlers, but stand before the Son of Man. For the world, it will be like the unexpected thief, breaking in upon them in their supposed security.
From verse 45 to Matthew 25:30, we enter on the parables which pertain to Christendom only, and not to the Jewish remnant. We may regard it as an appendix to the Jewish aspect of which the Lord had been speaking thus far. Hence here we have so distinct a portraiture of profession, true and false. Whenever we touch what is properly “ Christian, God deals with the heart and conscience. He is calling out and forming those who are to be the companions of His Son in heavenly glory. Therefore nothing is passed by; all is judged of God in its real light. Hence, too, there is no limit here of either place or people. Christianity is above time, and of and for heaven, though it may be divulged in fact on earth during the gap in the dispensations of God made by the rejection of Israel for a season. Christianity is a revelation of grace flowing from Him who now speaks not from earth but from heaven. It is not, I need hardly insist, that evil is slighted. No mistake can be more profound or fatal than that grace implies levity about sin. On the contrary, grace is the very strongest condemnation of all evil, as it is indeed not the mere claim of what man ought to be toward God, but the revelation of what God is toward man in the judgment of his sin in the cross of Christ. Therefore, it is the fullest display of divine hatred and judgment of evil; but this is in Christ, at the cost of His own beloved Son, so as to save the most guilty who believe. When dealing with His earthly people under the law, many things were allowed, for the hardness of their heart, which never had His sanction. But when the complete display of grace shines, as it does now, evil is not borne with but judged. Such is Christianity in principle and in fact. And hence it is that, for the true Christian, all the time for his earthly sojourn is a season of self-judgment; or if he fail in this, the assembly is bound to judge his ways; and if they fail, the Lord judges him and them, holily, but in grace, that they should not be condemned with the world. He may expose false profession here, and now, if He see fit, but the end of it we see in all these three parables. Grace never winks at evil; and if evil take advantage of grace for its own purposes, the issue is frightful, and it will be manifestly so at the coming of the Lord.
And this leads me to remark that the Lord’s coming has a two-fold character. First of all, there is His coming in full grace, entirely apart from all question of our service, and consequently of special rewards in the kingdom in which we are to be manifested along with Christ. But we must bear in mind that this manifestation to the world in the future kingdom is far from being the highest part of His glory or even ours, as it does not elicit the deepest exercise of His grace. In receiving us to Himself, on the other hand, all is purely from Himself. It is His own love who would thus have us with and as Himself. It is thus we find John puts the coming of Christ in His Gospel (Matthew 14); nor am I aware that it is ever treated otherwise there. In the Revelation we find both ways. In the first chapter the testimony is, “Behold, He cometh with the clouds,” etc. Plainly there is no trace of the saints caught up there, but “Every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” The Bride nowhere appears in that scene, but rather what is public and affects the world universally, and especially the blood-guilty Jews; and all are mourning. But the last chapter could not close without letting us know that there is, spite of all evil and woe and judgment, such an one as the Bride awaiting her heavenly Bridegroom. No sooner does He announce Himself the root and offspring of David, the bright and Morning Star, than the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Here we have the intimate intercourse of heart between the Lord and the Church. It is impossible for any one not born of God to say “Come,” though there may be those who are so born and yet ignorant of their full privilege of union with Christ. And for them, I doubt not, gracious provision is made in the word, “Let him that heareth say, Come.” But in no case can the world or an unforgiven soul take up such a call; to such it would indeed be the madness of presumption, for to them His coming must be sure and endless destruction. Again, it is not merely saving flesh, or deliverance out of misery and danger by the overthrow of their enemies: the Holy Ghost never puts the aspect of Christ’s coming for us in any such light. We shall have rest, and those who trouble us shall have tribulation in the day of His appearing; but we go to meet the Saviour, and to be with Him for ever; and meanwhile, it is our sweet earthly privilege to suffer for His sake now. We are left for a while in a world where everything is against us because against Him, and we belong to Him. But we know that He waits to come for us, and we wait for Him from heaven; and while the waiting lasts, we are to expect, if faithful to the Lord, nothing but suffering from the world; yet happy in it, assured that glory in heaven and the cross on earth go together. The cup of trial, the reproach and scorn of men, maybe less at one time than another. This is for our Father to give as He sees fit. But if we look for aught else as our natural portion here as Christians, we are unfaithful to our calling. Rejection is ours because we are His: “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.”
As the Bridegroom, then, the Lord has nothing but love in His heart to the Bride. Nor is there a question of any save His own. He has told them He is coming; and the greater the power of the Spirit in the soul, the more ardently does the Bride say, ‘Come.” In this heavenly meeting of the Lord with the Bride, how incongruous that other eyes should see, or that wailing throngs should intrude into or witness such a meeting! Scripture does not so speak.
The Jew, the world, which refused the true Christ, will receive the Antichrist. This is what men will fall into; and in the midst of their delusion and apparent triumph the Lord will come in judgment. But when He thus comes, it will not be alone. Others, His heavenly saints, appear along with Him in glory. This is what we see in Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 3:13, and with detail in Rev. 19. Not angels only, but His saints follow Him out of heaven, clothed in white linen, and on white horses, according to the striking figures of the Apocalypse. The saints had been in heaven before the day of the world’s judgment. They must have been removed from earth to heaven before this, in order to follow Him out of heaven and be with Him when that day dawns; and this could only have been through His coming to receive them to Himself. Hence, again, it appears that His coming has a double character, according to the object of each of its steps or stages. He comes to gather to Himself all His saints, dead or living, and shall present them in the Father’s house, that where He is, there they may be also. In due time afterwards He brings them with Him, judging the Beast and the false Prophet, the Jews, and the Gentiles, as well as every false professor of His name. This is still His coming, or state of presence: only now it is (what the former act, when He takes us to be with Him, is never called) His “appearing,” the “shining forth of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8), His “revelation,” and His “day.”
With this second act of the Lord’s coming, or His “day,” is connected the appraisal of our service, and the assigning of reward for work that has been done. For all must be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, and each must receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Some find a difficulty in bowing to both truths; but if subject to the Word, we shall overlook neither the common blessedness of the saints in the full grace of the Saviour at His coming, nor the recognition of individual faithfulness, or the lack of it, in the rewards of the kingdom. When we read of the many mansions, we are not to dream of one being more glorious than another. The truth conveyed is that we are to be as near and dear as sons can be in the Father’s presence, through the perfect love and work of the Son. In this point of view I see no difference whatever. All are brought absolutely nigh, all loved with the love wherewith Christ was loved, and having His portion, as far as can be for the creature. But am I therefore to deny that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour?” or that in some cases the work will abide, as in others it will be burnt? or that, as the parable teaches, one servant may receive ten cities, and another five?
It will be found accordingly, that there is a close connection in Scripture between Christ’s day, or appearing, and present exhortations to fidelity. Thus, Timothy is exhorted to keep the commandment without spot, unrebukable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus. So the apostle, in 2 Timothy 4, speaks of the “crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” The results of faithfulness, or of unfaithfulness, are only manifested then. It is the day of display before the world; and “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Hence it is as awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus that the apostle speaks of the Corinthian saints as coming short in no gift, and at once brings in the thoughts of His day. So Christ’s day is the blessed end and solemn test of all, in writing to the Philippians. Of the epistles to the Thessalonians I need say the less, as they present in the clearest way both these truths.
Returning now to the first of the three parables (ver. 45) which refer to the Christian profession, I would make the general remark, from what we have been examining, that while the words “appearing,” “day,” etc., are special (and never used, I think, except where responsibility is concerned) the word “coming” is general; and though applicable, if the context so require it, to cases of responsibility, it is in itself of wider character and is used therefore to express our Lord’s return in nothing but grace. In other words, the appearing, day, or revelation of Christ is still His coming or presence; but His coming does not necessarily mean His appearing, revelation, or day. He may come without appearing, and I believe that there is proof from Scripture that so it is when He receives us to Himself on high; but His “appearing” is that further stage of His coming again, when every eye shall see Him.
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household to give them meat in due season?” It is not a question of evangelizing here, but of care for the household. The principle of trading outside with the Master’s gifts will come by and by (Matt. 25:14, et seq.); but here the great thing is that, as the Lord loves His saints (“whose house are we”) so He makes much of faithful or faithless service within that sphere. For I need not say that faithfulness to the Lord involves no denial of the ministry He provides. Ministry when real is of God; though the mode in which it is exercised is often wrong and unscriptural. Ministry is not Jewish, but characteristic of Christianity. But it is a thing very apt to lose its true character. Instead of being Christ’s servants in His household, many sink into the agents of a particular body. In such a case it always flows from the church or denomination. Real ministry is from Christ and Him alone. Therefore the apostle says he was the servant or bondman of Jesus Christ, never deriving his mission from the Church or being responsible to it for his work. The gospel and the Church were the spheres of his service (Col. 1); but its giver and his Lord was Christ Himself exclusively. It appears to me that this is necessary, in order that ministry should be recognized as divine; and nothing but divine Ministry is owned in Scripture, nor should be by God’s people now. This, then, is the first thing our Lord insists on, that the faithful and wise servant whom the Lord makes ruler over His household be found doing His work, caring for what is so near to Christ. It is a most painful proof of the low state of the Church in these days that such service is regarded as “waste” of precious ointment. So completely have even God’s children fallen from the thought of true ministry that they think it idleness or proselytism to attend to those that are within. Why not preach to those without, say they, and seek to bring such to the knowledge of Christ? But this is not the first thing our Lord presses. The “faithful and wise servant” had to do with those within: his object was to give them their meat in due season; and the Lord pronounces that servant blessed., “Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” Others might raise questions as to the servant’s title; but He simply says, If I find you “so doing,” blessed are you. The great point is to be doing His will. It is not title or position, but doing the work which the Lord wishes to be done.
But now comes the other side of the picture. “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants and to eat and drink with the drunken” (vers. 48, 49). There you have the great danger of the professed servants of Christ in this world. First, wronging the fellow-servants by assuming an arbitrary place. Authority is right where it is exercised under obedience to Christ. No change of circumstances or condition alters the truth that the Lord remains head of the Church, and raises up servants at all times to carry out His wishes with authority. But here it is man’s will, where the servant takes the place of the Master, and begins to smite his fellow-servants. Secondly, along with that, there is evil communication with the world. It is not said that he is himself drunken; but there is association with the world. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Where the thought of the Lord is gone, ministry loses its true character. There will be oppression towards those within, and evil commerce with those without. “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vers. 50, 51), It supposes that the servant still pursues the same course, and is found there when the Lord comes — his heart thoroughly with the world. He began by saying in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming. This is far more than wrong thoughts about the coming of the Lord, which some saints might hold without this Scripture applying to them. If there were, on the other hand, persons professing to look for the Lord’s coming and acting as if they did not believe it, they are much more like the servant saying in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming. What the Lord judges is not a mere mistake or doctrinal blunder; but it is the state of the heart — content that Christ should stay away. If we are desiring something great and of esteem among men, how can we say, “Come?” His coming would spoil all our schemes. We may talk about the Lord’s coming and be learned about prophecy; but the Lord looks at the heart and not at the appearance. Let the profession be ever so loud or high, He see where souls cleave to the world and do not want Him.
15 Matthew alone mentions “an ass tied, and a colt with her,” according to Zech. 9:9. “They brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments upon them, and He sat upon them” (vers. 2, 7). The three other Gospels mention the colt only. Here, in Matthew, the old Israel and the renewed nation are thus connected. The Lord’s entry in Jerusalem is upon the “colt, the foal of an ass” — the new Israel will bring Him in with Hosannas! The dispensational view in Matthew is thus again set before us. The ass was, according to the law, “unclean”; but its foal might be redeemed. See Job 11:12; Ex. 13:13; Ex. 34:20, etc. Ed.
16 Verse 14 is generally omitted by the editor’s as having no sufficient MSS. authority here, though found in Mark and Luke. The “woes” here pronounced upon the scribes and Pharisees therefore are seven, not eight. — [Ed.
17 The Lord of the temple was rejected; the house of Israel was given up; the Glory was returning to heaven. (Compare Ezek. 10:2-4, 18, 19, and Ezek. 11:22, 23.) When the judgments upon Israel have turned them back to the Lord, the Glory returns the same way it had departed. Compare Ezek. 43:1-4, and Zech. 14:1-9. Ed.
Ἥμέρα, day (instead of the common reading
ὥρα, “hour,”) has excellent authority.