THE LORD'S PREDICTION that the Temple should be utterly destroyed led to His prophetic discourse. The disciples did not question the fulfilment of His words, they only wished to know the time of fulfilment and, true to their Jewish instincts, what the sign of it would be. His answer to their questions is very instructive.
In the first place, He fixed no dates: any answer He gave as to the time was of an indirect sort. In the second place, He went beyond the immediate scope of their questions to the larger issues of the last days and His own advent in glory. This feature is seen in many Old Testament prophecies, which were given in view of some impending event of history, and which definitely applied to that event, and yet were so worded as to apply with yet greater fulness to events that are to transpire in the last days. In the case before us, there was a fulfilment in the destruction wrought by the Romans in A.D. 70, which comes out more clearly in Luke's account of this discourse, and yet the fulfilment is connected with the coming of the Lord. This feature of prophecy is alluded to in the saying, "No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1: 20).
In the third place, He brought the full weight of His prophecy to bear upon the consciences and hearts of His hearers. If their question was prompted by a considerable measure of curiosity, He lifted the whole matter to a much higher plane by His opening words, "Take heed lest any man deceive you." The course of things that prophecy reveals runs counter to all that men naturally would expect. The attractiveness of the false prophets lies in the fact that they ever predict things which fall in with men's desires and seem eminently reasonable. We must be on our watch, for false prophets abound today in the pulpits of Christendom.
The first warning, in verse 6, concerns those who come, impersonating the Christ. The central point of the conflict is always here. The devil knows that if he can deceive men as to Him, he can deceive them in everything else. If we are wrong as to the centre we are bound to be wrong to the far circumference. To be rooted in our knowledge of the true Christ renders us proof against the seductions of the false ones.
Next we are warned not to expect easy times as to world conditions. Wars and turmoil amongst the nations, and disturbances in the face of nature are to be expected. These things must not be interpreted as indicating the great climax, for they are but the preliminary throes. Moreover the disciples of the Lord must expect to be confronted with special difficulties. They will be subjected to opposition and persecution, and their nearest relations will turn against them, and hatred from men generally must be their portion. Against this however the Lord sets the fact that these adverse circumstances shall turn to occasions of testimony, and that they would have special support and special wisdom, as to their utterances, from the Holy Ghost.
Some have deduced from verse 10, reading it in conjunction with Matthew 24: 14, that the Lord cannot be coming for His saints until the Gospel has been carried to all the nations of today. But we have to bear in mind that the disciples, whom the Lord was addressing, were at that moment the God-fearing remnant in Israel, and had not yet been baptized into one body, the church: and also that the "Gospel" in this verse is a general term that would cover not only the Message that is being preached today, but also that "Gospel of the kingdom" of which Matthew speaks, and which will be carried forth by the God-fearing remnant, which will be raised up after the church is gone.
Verse 14 does give us the sign for which the disciples asked. Daniel speaks of "the abomination that maketh desolate" (Dan. 12: 11), and this is alluded to in our verse, for the word "desolation," we are told "is an active word," having the force of "causing desolation."
There is to be the public establishment of an idol in the sanctuary in Jerusalem-such as we have predicted in Revelation 13: 14, 15-an insult to God of a most flagrant kind. That sign will indicate two things: first, that the time of special affliction, of which Daniel 12: 1 speaks, has begun: second, that the end of the age, and the intervention of Christ in His glory, is very near. The remainder of the Lord's discourse is occupied with these two things. Verses 15-23 deal with the former; verses 24-27 deal with the latter.
The language of verse 19 shows that the Lord had the great tribulation in view, and the earlier verses show that its centre and most intense fury is found in Judaea. Verses 15 and 16 would indicate that it will set in with great suddenness. Instant flight will be the only way of escape for those who fear God. Its ferocity will be such that if it were permitted to run a lengthy course it would mean extermination. For the elect's sake it will not be permitted to continue, but will be cut short by the advent of Christ. From Daniel 9: 27 we gather that the tribulation will commence, when the head of the revived Roman empire causes "the sacrifice and the oblation to cease," in the midst of the last seven years. This being so, there will be only three and a half years to run before the Lord Jesus puts an end to it by His glorious appearing.
By the tribulation the devil will seek to crush and exterminate the elect. But this is not all, as verses 21 and 22 show. There will be at that time a special number of false Christs and prophets appearing, by whom he hopes to seduce the elect. He would accomplish it, "if it were possible." Thank God, it is not possible. The true saints will know that the real Christ is not going to hide Himself in some corner, so that men have to say, "Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, He is there." He will shine forth in His glory at His coming, and every eye shall see Him.
The tribulation will come to its end in final convulsions that will affect even the heavens, as verses 24 and 25 show. Sun, moon and stars are sometimes used in Scripture as symbols of supreme power, derived power and subordinate power respectively; and "powers that are in heaven" are in view, as the latter part of verse 25 shows. Still this discourse of the Lord is not marked by a large use of symbols, as the book of Revelation is, so we think that literal convulsions affecting the heavenly bodies must not be excluded, especially as we know there was a literal darkening of the sun when Jesus died. The darkening of that day will serve to throw into greater relief the brightness of His shining forth, when He comes in the clouds with great power and glory.
The glorious appearing of the Son of Man will be followed by the gathering together of "His elect." These were mentioned in verse 20, and they are those who "endure unto the end" (verse 13), and they shall be saved by the appearing of Christ. These elect are the God-fearing remnant of Israel in the last days; for the Lord was addressing His disciples who at that moment were the God-fearing remnant in the midst of Israel, and they would without a doubt have understood His words in that sense. These elect ones will be found in all parts of the earth, and the instruments used in their gathering together will be angels: gathered together, they will become the redeemed Israel who will enter upon the millennial reign. All this must be differentiated from the coming of the Lord for His saints as predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4, when the Lord Himself will descend from heaven and our gathering together will be unto Him.
The allusion to the fig tree in verse 28 is a parable, and therefore we must expect to find in it a meaning deeper than that which is connected with a simile or an illustration. The fig tree doubtless represents Israel, as we saw in reading Mark 11, and therefore the budding of her branches sets forth the beginning of national revival with that people. The "summer" represents the age of millennial blessedness for the earth. When real national revival sets in for Israel then indeed the appearing of Christ and the millennial age is very near.
The word "generation" in verse 30 is evidently used in a moral sense and not in a literal, meaning people of a certain type and character, just as the Lord used the word in Mark 9: 19, and in Luke 11: 29. The unbelieving generation will not pass until the second advent, nor indeed will the generation of those that seek the Lord. The coming of the Lord will mean the passing away of the evil generation, and at the same time the full establishment of all His words, which are firmer and more durable than all created things.
Verse 32 has presented much difficulty to many minds because of the words, "neither the Son." We may not be able to explain them fully, but we may at least say two things. First, that in this Gospel the Lord is presented as the great Prophet of God, and that this was a matter reserved by the Father and not given to Him as a Prophet to reveal. Second, that if Matthew 20: 23, and John 5: 30, be read and compared with our verse, we shall see that the three passages run on parallel lines, as to giving, knowing and doing, respectively. In Matthew we get the actual words, "Not mine to give." We might summarize Mark as "Not Mine to know," and John as "Not Mine to do." Unbelief has made great use of the word used in Philippians 2: 7, "made Himself of no reputation," or more literally, "emptied Himself," building upon it the theory that He divested Himself of knowledge so as to become a Jew with the notions of His time; and thus they are enabled-so they think-to impute error to Him on many points. He did empty Himself, for Scripture says He did so. The three passages we have mentioned give us a proper idea of what was involved in it, and lead us to bless His Name for His gracious stoop. The theory of unbelief would rob Him of His glory, and us of any regard for His words-words which, He has just told us, will never pass away.
The five verses which close this chapter contain a very solemn appeal, which should come home to all of us. In verse 33 we get for the fourth time the words, "Take . . . heed." The Lord opened His discourse with these words, and He closed with them, and twice between (verses 9 and 23) He uttered them. The prophetic revelations He gave are all made to bear upon our consciences and lives: He forewarns us that we may be forearmed. Knowing the infallibility of His words, but not knowing when the time is, we are to "watch," that is, be keenly awake and observant, and also to pray, for we are no match for the powers of darkness, and so we must maintain dependence upon God. We are left to do our appointed work in a spirit of expectancy, anticipating the coming of the Son of Man.
The threefold repetition of the word, "Watch," in these five verses is very striking. We must lay great emphasis on it in our minds, and the more so in that our lot is cast in the late days of this dispensation when His coming cannot be far distant. It is very easy to succumb to the lure of the world, when our minds become drowsy and unalert. A great and important word is this word-WATCH. And the last verse of our chapter shows that it certainly is intended to apply to us.
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